Disclaimer: Gatchaman and all related characters belong to Tatsunoko Studios and ADV.

Chapter 7: Zero Hour

Ken returned to the base an hour later, now awake and more than slightly apprehensive. Red Impulse had left a short time before so he only found Nambu and Chihiro still in the ready room. Nambu was reviewing the latest intelligence reports while Chihiro played contentedly nearby, gnawing on a fist while attempting to stack a few blocks together. The toys were the first thing that caught Ken's eye and he questioned, "Where did those come from?"

Nambu looked up from the report he was reading, "My assistant was kind enough to bring in a few things this morning to keep her entertained. Chihiro seems to have taken a liking to that bear," he indicated a brown toy bear that had obviously been drooled on, "so you may want to take it with you when you leave. The other things can be left here if you like, in case she spends some time here. At least you'd have something to keep her entertained with."

Ken took a moment to process that suggestion; this whole babysitting gig was starting to sound a whole lot more complicated than just keeping Chihiro's stomach full and her bottom dry. Picking up the list that Nambu had set aside earlier, as well as the credit card that Jun had left behind, he had to suppress a groan as he read over the items he 'needed'; he didn't know what a full two thirds of this stuff was. He sighed and pocketed both items as he looked over at the bags Jun had left on the couch the night before. This could get messy. Picking them up, he sighed again and said, "I'll take these down to the car and be right back to get her." His mentor nodded from behind his reports as he left the room. When he returned a few minutes later, he found that Nambu had set the reports aside and picked up Chihiro once more, the little girl now clutching the stuffed bear. "Hakase?"

"I will carry her down so that you can get the car seat set up." Both men looked to the box lying innocently nearby and Ken hefted it easily, missing the smirk that crossed the doctor's face.

The three made their way down to where Ken had left his car and Nambu leaned against the side of the vehicle as he watched his foster son try to put the car seat in the back seat, soon finding that little red sports cars were not exactly designed with a baby seat in mind. A tanto blade had been sufficient to make opening the box easy enough but for Ken, things went downhill as soon as the tape had been sliced away.

Nambu watched in amusement as the Eagle cursed under his breath as he tried to get the car seat assembled. He struggled to get the straps threaded through the proper places in the car seat frame and finally succeeded, only to realize after a glance at Chihiro and a longer look at the previously tossed aside directions, that he'd set them in the places suited for a much smaller infant and had to start all over again, muttering the entire time. Other than the phrase '…going to kill Joe…' Nambu couldn't make out most of what he was saying but could easily guess at the gist of it. He was distracted by Chihiro tugging at his moustache and turned his full attention to the little girl, keeping her amused until Ken was done.

Ken slid the last strap into place with a sigh of relief then turned his attention to getting the seat properly set in the backseat so that it wouldn't slide around while he was driving. The fact that baby seats were not designed for sports cars and vice versa was obvious the moment he attempted to settle it into place, facing it backwards on some dimly recalled memory from somewhere or another that babies were supposed to face the rear, but another look at the directions for the seat told him that he had to turn it around and start again, because Chihiro was old enough to face forwards.

It took another ten minutes to get the thing firmly enough in place that it didn't move around. He fastened the safety strap as the directions said and sighed in relief before turning to take Chihiro from Nambu and he had to grin at the sight that met his eyes. The little girl had her bear in one hand and was feeling Nambu's moustache with the other, looking curiously between him and the bear, apparently comparing the feel of the two. She rubbed her hand over the moustache once more and made a face before hugging her bear, the soft fur of the toy apparently winning the contest of which she preferred. Both men chuckled at this and Ken reached to the child from Nambu and settled her into the car seat. Actually strapping her into the seat was the easiest part of the whole ordeal and they were off a few minutes later, after confirming a meeting time at Ken's place with Nambu. As he drove, Ken found himself talking to Chihiro, who seemed content in her seat for the moment as she looked out the window.

"You know Chihiro, I hate to admit it but I think I'm in over my head here. I'm not very good with babies. Heck, I hardly know how to change your diaper, let alone all the other stuff you have to do for a little kid. And don't even ask about that list Hakase gave me...I don't even want to think about that yet." The little girl turned and looked at him as he met her dark eyes in the rearview mirror, "You know it too, don't you?" Chihiro just grinned and began chewing on her fist, "I'll take that as a yes. Hang on a moment."

Ken pulled into a gas station and took the list out of his pocket to study while the attendant filled the tank, "I can't believe I forgot to tank up this morning. Well, since we can't avoid it forever, let's take a look at Hakase's list." He studied the list for a couple of minutes, then sighed, "I still don't know what a lot of this stuff is, so I"ll tell you what; you look like you're hungry and so am I, so let's go see Jun and get something to eat. And if we're lucky, we might be able to talk her into helping us shop. What do you say?"

Chihiro pulled her fist from her mouth to smile at him, babbling something that Ken chose to interpret as an agreement, 'I"m glad you agree." He paid the attendant and pulled away from the station, altering his original course to head to the J instead. If the lunch crowd hadn't decided to swamp the place early today, he should be able to talk Jun into helping him with the shopping...or so he hoped.

Ten minutes later, he pulled into the J's small parking lot and killed the engine. "Here we are Chihiro. Nice place huh?" He unbuckled the straps and lifted her out of her car seat, trying to find a comfortable way to hold her, "Believe me, if it weren't for this place, I'd starve to death. Jun's not really much of a cook but she makes Jinpei feed me...what's the matter?" The little girl had begun to squirm in his arms and was reaching for something in the car. Looking down, he saw that the stuffed bear had fallen to the floor, "You want the bear?" Chihiro strained against his arm once more so he balanced her carefully, retrieved the toy and handed it to her. The moment she had the bear back she calmed down, much to his relief, and allowed him to carry her into the bar.

Inside, Jun was putting away the last of the clean dishes when the sound of the door opening had her turning to greet her customer. Her polite businesswoman's smile was quickly replaced by a genuine one at the sight of Ken trying to keep hold of Chihiro as she squirmed around to look at this new place. The sight was both endearing and amusing at the same time. A giggle escaped her as she watched Ken juggle the girl again and the Eagle shot her an aggravated look.

"I'm so glad you find this amusing Jun."

"You two look adorable together. Rough morning?" Jun rounded the counter and reached for Chihiro, "Come here cutie. Is he taking good care of you?"

Chihiro grinned at her and held out the bear, "I see you have a new friend. She shifted Chihiro to her hip and raised an eyebrow, "And I see we have a little problem. Ken, where's her diaper bag?"

Ken blinked at her for a moment, understanding coming quickly, "She needs to be changed again?" He thought for a moment, "Uh, I don't think Hakase put a diaper bag together."

Jun just shook her head at his cluelessness, 'Remind me to help you put one together later. Go get a diaper and some wipes from the car; I'll change her for you this time."

"You're a lifesaver Jun." Ken got up quickly and rushed out the door, his teammate's voice floating behind him.

"And don't you forget it!"

At the car, Ken rummaged through the bags for the necessary items and brought them back to Jun. She smiled at him, obviously still amused, then left the room with Chihiro at her hip. Ken let out a sigh of relief and made a beeline for his usual seat at the bar then stopped short at the realization that Chihiro would not be able to sit on one of the stools. Not wishing to attempt to feed her while she was sitting on his lap, he detoured to a nearby booth, grabbing one of the plastic highchairs that Jun kept on hand for her customers as he passed. Jun and Chihiro rejoined him a few minutes later and Jun settled the girl into the highchair.

"I assume you two are hungry. Your usual Ken?"

"Please Jun, if you don't mind and something for Chihiro if you could."

"I suppose I can take pity on you this time." She ruffled Chihiro's hair and left them, calling for Jinpei. The boy's voice could be heard complaining in the kitchen as usual and Jun's reply floated back to them through the swinging door.

"Just do it ototo!"

Ken chuckled and looked at Chihiro, "They do that a lot." Chihiro just grinned at him around a gummy fist, the bear still clutched in her other hand, "Are you ever going to let that thing go?" She hugged the bear closer, "Not anytime soon I guess." He sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes; what had he gotten himself into?"

Jun rejoined them a few minutes later carrying a burger for Ken and a bowl of applesauce and some dry cereal for Chihiro, "Here you go. Sorry, I don't have any baby food on hand so this was the best I could do for now."

"Thanks Jun. Could you...?" Ken gave her his best helpless look, an unspoken plea for help.

Jun shook her head at him with a quiet laugh, "You really don't know what you're doing, do you?"

Ken blew out a breath, "You think? The poor kid's going to end up starving at this rate because I haven't the slightest idea as to how to feed her or even what to give her. What the heck was Hakase thinking Jun, trusting me with this job?"

She slid onto the bench across from him and picked up the bowl of applesauce as she replied, "He was thinking that you would do an admirable job, just as you do with every other assignment you're given, no matter what it involves. Granted, this is a tad more unusual, but you'll do fine. Taking care of a baby isn't that hard, you just need a little practice." She took a small teaspoon and Ken watched carefully as she began spooning the fruit into Chihiro's mouth, one small bite at a time. She paused for a moment to clean off some of the fruit that had dribbled onto Chihiro's chin, then reached for a napkin to tuck into the girl's collar as a temporary bib, smiling at Chihiro as she protested the pause in incoming food, "Sorry Chihiro, I forgot about the bib. I'm a little rusty at this myself. It's been a long time since Jinpei was your size." She resumed feeding her the fruit as Ken finally began to eat his own meal.

A few minutes later both teens had to duck as Chihiro grabbed for the spoon Jun held, sending applesauce flying. Ken pulled a few napkins from the dispenser and started to wipe up the mess while Jun held both bowl and spoon well out of Chihiro's reach, "Now don't be fresh young lady." Chihiro pouted and Jun relented quickly, resuming her interrupted rhythm, "Save that for when you two get home, okay?"

"Jun, don't tell her that!" Ken blinked at his teammate in astonishment, but she just giggled. "You'll give her ideas!"

"Never!"

"Riiight." He ate the last few bites of his burger before speaking again, "Do you know that you have applesauce in your hair?"

"Gee thanks." Jun set down the now empty bowl and reached for a napkin, "You could have told me sooner." She cleaned the fruit from her hair then set a handful of dry cereal on the highchair tray for Chihiro to nibble on. "Just wait until she decides to decorate you."

"What did I say about giving her ideas?" A grin was his only response.

A few minutes passed in silence before Ken spoke again, pulling Nambu's list from his pocket, "Listen Jun, do you think you could do me a favor?"

"That would depend on the favor." Jun wiped Chihiro's face clear of more applesauce and replenished the cereal on the tray, "What did you need me to do?"

Ken handed her the list, "Hakase says I need to get these things for Chihiro but I don't have a clue as to what half of it is. Do you think you could come shopping with me and make sure I get all the right things? You know I don't know anything about this stuff."

Jun bit her lip, "I don't know Ken. We're going to have the lunch crowd in here within a couple of hours and I hate to leave Jinpei to deal with them alone."

"Please Jun. You know I wouldn't ask unless I really needed your help." Ken gave her his best helpless look and was relieved when she nodded a moment later.

"Alright, but I can't be gone for more than an hour or so."

Ken grinned in relief, "Thanks Jun; I owe you one."

Jun smiled back and rose to her feet, "I'll think of a way you can pay me back later. Give me a couple of minutes and I'll be ready; I just need to talk to Jinpei before we go." Ken nodded and she walked away, the doors to the kitchen slapping lightly as she passed through them.

Ken sighed and looked at Chihiro, who had somehow managed to get cereal stuck in her hair as the two teens were talking. Shaking his head, he reached for a napkin, "Chihiro, you're a mess. I guess I'd better clean you up before we go anywhere." He set to work cleaning the protesting little girl up while he waited for his teammate to reappear.

In the kitchen, Jinpei was protesting this latest development, "Oneechan, it's not fair! You can't just leave me to deal with everything on my own while you're off playing house with Aniki!."

Jun rolled her eyes in exasperation, "Jinpei, I"m not going to 'play house' as you call it." She had to fight back a blush at the mental picture that phrase brought to mind, "I'll be back in an hour or so. And this is team business, or have you forgotten that we've be tasked with taking care of Chihiro? Ken needs help getting this stuff; you know he doesn't know much about little kids."

"You got that right!" Jinpei snickered at the memory of the expression on Ken's face yesterday, "He'd probably try to feed the kid dog food or something. Alright, I'll handle things here for now. But make sure you tell Aniki that he owes me big time!"

Jun ruffled his hair, "Hai ototo, I will. Don't blow the place up while I'm gone, ok?"

"You have so little faith in the great Swallow Jinpei!" He followed her back out into the main part of the diner and grinned at the sight of Ken trying to clean up the sticky toddler before fixing a pre-teen's scowl on his face, making sure that the Eagle noticed his displeasure. As Jun picked up the baby and the three walked out the door, he crossed over to the window to watch them get into Ken's car. Once they'd pulled away a wicked smirk crossed his face and he ran upstairs to locate his sister's camera.

'This is going to be way too much fun to watch. Time to get some blackmail material on Aniki!'