As soon as the mysterious girl closed the door behind her Bennet heard a mocking, sing-song voice in his ear. "Claire-Bear."
Bennet sighed. Claude was never going to let this go. "Shut it."
"Not a chance." Claude uncloaked beside him with that strange, shimmering effect his invisibility had; after almost a year of partnership Bennet was proud to have finally gotten to the point of not feeling like jumping out of his skin every time he saw it. "I knew fatherhood would soften you but I didn't think it would take less than a day."
He still felt the adrenaline rush from finding Claire alone with an intruder pulsing through his veins. "I don't believe Sandra left the baby with some stranger. Claire...."
"Was safe as houses. I was here the whole time and I never took my eyes off of her. Sandra's feeling a bit abandoned, by the way." Bennet thought Claude sounded a bit insulted. "What, did you think you were the only one with an assignment today?"
"So that's what you and Thompson were colluding on."
The baby started to fuss, giving Claude an excuse not to answer as picked her up. "I'll be bet you don't remember me, little one," he said, swaying as he held her. "Shh, shh, you miss your mum, I know."
"Why is everyone so much better with her that I am?"
"Because she can tell you're terrified of her."
"I'm not…." Bennet knew Claude was right. "Sandra didn't see you, did she?"
Claude answered with a raised-eyebrow look that told Bennet just how stupid that question was. "Right. Right, sorry."
Claude shook his head. "You haven't been a parent long enough to be this addled, Noah." He shifted Claire to one arm. "Here, you should take her. You need the practice."
Bennet somehow managed to fold his arms around the squirming bundle suddenly against his chest, and Claire started fussing immediately. "Relax," Claude said. "It's a baby, not a bomb."
Bennet took a deep breath and tried to follow his partner's advice. As Claire quieted down his thoughts turned back to that girl, to the way she'd voiced fears he hadn't been able to even admit. "I wonder who she was, really."
Claude tipped his head to the side, studying him. "I think you have an idea."
He felt Claire's tiny fingers against his chin. "It's an impossible idea."
"We live in an impossible world, Noah. It's been my experience that 'impossible' makes a thing more likely, not less." Claude leaned against the wall, his arms folded. "Not answering the phone won't keep them at bay forever, you know," he said after a long moment.
"I know." Claire's tiny fist curled around his finger. "We'll just have to learn to improvise, won't we."
He heard the sound of a key in the door; by the time he turned his head Claude was gone. A second later Sandra appeared, almost staggering under an overwhelming number of shopping bags. She let the bags fall to the floor when she saw Noah and Claire, a huge smile on her face. "Well. Don't you two make a picture."
"We were just getting acquainted," he said. He gently placed her back in her bassinet as Sandra wrapped one arm around his waist.
"You are going to be the most amazing father, you know that?" she said, kissing him on the cheek before going back to collect her bags.
"You know what, Claire-Bear?" he said, letting her hold onto his finger as her eyelids started to droop. "I think she just might be right."
He made a point of ignoring the sudden, muffled snickering.-end-