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Protection Duty

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Clef woke to his phone ringing, and suffered a moment of deja vu; but it was half a year at least since Umi had called him out in the middle of the night to be her backup. It was months since they’d started dating, and she did insist on actually contacting him now and then, so work calls were no longer the only ones he got. Plus, it was bright enough outside it had to be nearly time to wake up, not the middle of the night.

He picked up thinking Umi would be about to tell him she was being sent out of town on a mission so she wouldn’t be meeting him for lunch. Instead, she barely waited for him to say hello before crying “I need help!”

Bolting upright, Clef lost the composure he’d regained. “What’s gone wrong? Who’s shooting at you?” he demanded, as he scrambled out of bed and reached for the gun hidden below it, and headed for yesterday’s discarded clothes.

“It’s a baby!”

Clef stumbled to a halt in the middle of the room. “…A baby is shooting at you? What?”

“No - look, I don’t have people shooting at me everywhere I go, honestly. Why do you always think I’m in trouble?”

“Because you usually are? And you started this conversation saying you needed my help, so-”

“With the baby that someone left on my doorstep,” Umi told him, and she actually sounded more frightened than when guns were involved. “I don’t know what to do with her! She’s asleep, but what if she wakes up and starts crying, or-”

Out of all of this, the thing Clef processed well enough to echo back was “her?”

“There was a note, she’s called Michiko?”

“…I’ll be there in half an hour.”

oOo

Given the baby probably wasn’t that dangerous, Clef took the extra five minutes to grab clean clothes - but he still strapped the gun to his ankle, just in case. Normally he wouldn’t mix children and weaponry, but there was no good reason he could think of that anyone would pick Umi to leave a child with that didn’t involve some kind of danger. He took the bullet clip out just to be safe, and stuck it in his jacket pocket.

When he made it to Umi’s apartment, which he knew well enough by now to have a spare key to the building on his keyring, next to his own. He knocked on the apartment door, and it was opened almost immediately by a wild-eyed Umi who dragged him inside.

There was, indeed, a baby, wrapped in a soft green blanket and dressed in a little purple dress, tucked in a carry-seat, just blinking her eyes open and staring about. Clef stared for a moment, then Umi shoved him towards the child. “I think she’s going to cry!” Umi hissed, and indeed the little face was starting to screw up into displeased wrinkles.

It had been a while, but he and Emeraude had been just about teenagers when Ferio was born, and they’d done their part in looking after him. Clef had never minded baby-sitting, and his hands remembered how to curve about the little form to bring her up and cradle her against his heart, humming softly as she thumped tiny fists against him a couple of times before settling a little. She must be about three months old, she was trying to hold her head up and look about, but not managing to co-ordinate things particularly well. “Was there anything with her?” he asked, keeping his voice quiet and soft as he could. “A bag, anything?”

“Yes?” Umi said, sounding… confused, and he looked up to see her watching him hold the baby, with the most peculiar look on her face. “I - yes, it’s over here. What were you looking for?”

“Well, I’d like to see this note you mentioned, but right now I think this one is hungry. Were there any bottles or anything?”

“Oh!” Umi fled to the little kitchenette area by the door, where a bag large enough to take carrier and baby and all sat, and started digging through it. There were several bottles, and formula, and detailed instructions in a neat hand which included the line ‘if you do not disinfect things correctly I will know,’ which wasn’t ominous at all. But he talked Umi through getting a bottle ready, and once fed - and changed (nappies were also included, fortunately, and Umi’s face through the whole process was so hilarious he was tempted to lie in about ten minutes and say it needed doing again so he could make her do it), Michiko settled down again and fell asleep against his shoulder.

Only she woke every time he tried to put her down, and whimpered until she was picked up again. But one of the things Umi had flung aside in the search for the bottle turned out to be a sling, not another blanket as he’d first thought, and they got her settled in that and she fell properly asleep with her ear pressed over his heart.

That all done, Clef finally got to read the note. It was fairly short, and to the point:

Ms Ryuuzaki,

I am leaving my daughter, Michiko, in your care, for one day. I have decided I do not wish to return to work from my maternity leave, but my bosses are never going to agree, so I am taking the opportunity to clean their house out when I deliver my resignation. Your organisation will be best placed to clean up what is left, but they will only hae the chance if you keep my daughter safe. If any harm should come to her, or she should be used against me, I will act with extreme prejudice to correct the situation, no matter who gets in the way.

Please remain home until at least mid-afternoon. Things should be too far advanced for anyone to interfere by then. But you may call one of your friends or your lover if you need assistance, that should not arouse too much suspicion.

If I have not made it home safe by the evening, I will not make it at all. Find her a safe home.

Regards,

And then there was no signature, just a cross.

Clef blinked at it, and then read it again. “…You could have called Hikaru or Fuu, but you chose me?” he asked, feeling strangely proud of that.

“They’re both youngest child,” Umi pointed out. “I don’t think either of them have spent much time looking after children.”

“I’m an only child.”

“…Not really.” Umi shrugged, and she was right enough; Em and Ferio had been pretty much his siblings from the moment they were born. “Besides, anytime anyone brings a baby in the office, you make some excuse to go see them. You just don’t demand cuddles, so you’re more subtle about it than most people.”

He took a photo of the note and texted it to Em’s personal phone, with the message ‘We’ll both be in at 2pm. Pls can someone analyse the writing, I think I recognise it.’ Then he turned to Umi. “Any chance of getting camera footage from the building?”

“No, there isn’t any. And I picked this place because there isn’t anything close enough to the entrances to track me in or out. Though obviously someone did.” She scowled. “There was a knock on the door, and by the time I got myself out of bed and unlocked it, they were probably out of the building.”

Clef side-eyed her. “You live on the eighth floor.”

“I was asleep! I wasn’t moving fast! I thought it was, I don’t know, you coming over for breakfast or something. It wasn’t any of the coded knocks, it was just a knock, so I didn’t exactly rush. And then there was a baby!”

Adjusting the sling slightly, Clef sat down on the sofa. Umi perched beside him, eyeing the sling like it contained something which might explode, not a baby. “We’ll have to hope we come up with a handwriting match, then. But we can look after her here for now,” he said, and tried not to laugh too much when she turned horrified eyes on him.

“I don’t know how to look after a baby!”

“Well, you just shoot anyone who tries to take the baby away. I’m pretty certain that’s what you’ve been charged with, anyway.”

“I know how to do that,” Umi muttered, and he couldn’t help it. He started laughing for real, out loud; she just looked so much like she’d rather people turned up so she could start shooting and no one would ask her to hold a baby for ten seconds.

Which meant they were probably safe from that happening.

…He wouldn’t point that out just yet.

oOo

Ferio took one look at the two of them walking in with a baby strapped to Clef’s chest, and his eyebrows shot up. “Well, congratulations. I’d have got you two a present but you didn’t tell me you were expecting…”

Umi picked up a box of tissues from the closest desk and threw it at Ferio. It bounced off his shoulder as he cracked up. But the rest of the room was staring as well; she hurried as much as she could to make sure the doors were open for Clef to come through, heading straight for the director’s office.

Emeraude looked up as Clef knocked and walked in, and shook her head at the sight. “I got your text, but I’m not sure I actually believed it,” she said, looking from Clef to Umi with a grin. “How do you get into the strangest sorts of situations?”

“A strange kind of luck, I guess,” Clef retorted. “Did anyone in analysis have any luck with the handwriting?”

“You know how big a haystack there is to find your little needle in, right?” Em asked, with one raised eyebrow.

Clef just grinned at her. “That means yes. I knew I recognised it - who is it?”

“Oh, only one of the lead enforcers for the cartel up north who have been resisting all attempts to infiltrate them for decades. We’re keeping an eye on the area, but we’ve never actually managed to pin-point their headquarters, so…”

“We’re waiting for the fireworks?” He glanced back at the door. “…Is someone going to meet us here to take on Michiko, or-”

“What?” Umi asked, at the same time as Emeraude shook her head, managing somehow to look innocent.

“But you seem to be doing so well with her!” Em declared, and Clef glanced down at the tiny sleeping figure, who looked far too small for the racket she’d made when she decided it was lunchtime and they weren’t moving fast enough. “I figure as it’s only another half a day until we find out if her mother is coming back, there’s no point changing things on her again by handing her over to anyone else when you’re perfectly capable of babysitting her.”

Sighing, Clef closed his eyes. “You just want to record people’s reactions when I wander about with a baby, don’t you.”

“The looks when you walked in were brilliant. Anyway, I’ve cleared both of you for the whole day. I figured you would probably want to try running down where the mother is on your own, I’ve sent you a link to the file.”

With another sigh, Clef turned and walked out, gathering Umi on the way. She was trying not to glare at him, and almost succeeding. “I thought you were terrified of her,” he said, rather amused by how prickly she had gone. “You don’t know how to look after babies, isn’t that what you said?”

“Maybe, but she was trusted to me. I should - you know. Be there.” Umi pulled a face at him. “So I can shoot anyone who tries to hurt her.”

“In the middle of HQ?”

“You never know!”

They headed into his office, and Clef carefully untangled himself and Michiko from the sling, before holding her out to Umi. “Well then, if you think you should be helping, you can hold her while I look at what Emeraude’s sent us.”

“I- no- help?” Umi said, eyes wide, but her hands coming up to take the baby in a secure and terrified grip.

Clef grinned at her. “I’ll put things up on the big screen so you review them too. And she’ll probably want feeding again in another half hour or so, I’ll get a bottle ready for you when she does.”

Umi sank into one of the spare chairs with a look of betrayal on her face.

oOo

Another meal, another nap, and the baby rested a while again but eventually she did grow restless. “I agree,” Clef said, as she made a grumbling noise. “Your mother is particularly hard to find, little one. It’s quite frustrating.”

“You could take her again?” Umi suggested. “I mean, if you can’t find her mother, then you might as well, right?”

Clef looked up at her. “She’s being quieter for you, right now.”

“…I don’t know why.” Umi pulled a face at the tiny head resting against her chest. “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“They can smell fear. She probably thinks it’s funny to terrify you.” Clef turned back to his screen, typing faster. “Give me another ten minutes to get this through, and I can take her back?”

“Please? I’m going to break her somehow, I know I am-”

“Babies aren’t that easy to break,” Clef told her, hands typing away fast. “Not really.”

“Tell that to my nerves,” she muttered. “It’s not even like I had nine months to get used to the idea, just ‘bam, here’s a child!’

Clef did look up at that, distracted a moment, but Umi was barely paying attention to him, just jogging Michiko gently.

He set that image aside to think about later (at a safe distance from Umi), and got back to work. It took a little longer than ten minutes, but he eventually sat back, pleased, and sent the satellite footage through to the screen on the office wall. “I think I may have found the fireworks site.”

“Oh!” Umi turned towards it - then turned back and handed him Michiko complete with sling before going to really look at the image. “How far is that? Can we send people in?”

“I’ve sent the location to the Director already, but I’m not sure we’re going to have much to do,” he said, pointing to the one figure walking out the entrance to the huge warehouse, a white scrap of cloth attached to the end of the rifle she was holding. “Looks like your mother made it, Michiko.”

oOo

Three hours later, Clef watched from the doorway as Umi handed Michiko back to her mother’s one unbroken arm, and the woman smiled down at her child so joyfully it was hard to connect her with the person who had walked coolly into the headquarters of one of the roughest criminal organisations in the world and either killed or captured every one of her former bosses.

But she’d done it for the child now cradled against her, who woke up as she was handed over, smiled, and started babbling with her hands waving towards her mother’s hair. “Hey, little one, did you miss me?” her mother asked, grinning back.

Umi stood back, arms crossed, and the question burst out of her like a dam breaking; “why me?

“Because I knew you would kill anyone you had to in order to protect someone in your care,” the woman said, lips twitching in amusement as Umi failed to rebut this. “When someone is yours, you can’t be stopped. And by giving you this one without asking you first, I gave you a duty you couldn’t get out of. Plus, I didn’t know where your boyfriend lived. He’s irritatingly paranoid about leading people back to his home.”

“Thank you for the compliment,” Clef said from the doorway, looking amused. “And the promotion, too.”

Umi glanced back. “Promotion?”

“I was only your lover in the letter this morning, I get to be your boyfriend now. That feels like a promotion to me.”

They slipped out of the room together a few minutes later, completely ignored by both mother and child. Umi leaned into Clef’s side, and wrapped an arm about him. “You’re going to take me home and apologise for making me hold a baby for hours,” she told him, around a yawn.

“It wasn’t even an hour and a half,” he protested, amused.

Hours,” Umi insisted. “Plus, my place has been compromised. I’m staying with you until I find somewhere else.”

“Oh really?” Grinning, he steered her up towards the exits, as Umi yawned and leaned into him harder. "I can live with that."