A Little Problem

"Adam, we have a big problem!" Even over the comm.-ring Adam could hear the sheer panic in Jesse's voice.

"You know," Adam could barely hear Brennan's feeble joke. "It's not so much a big problem as a very little one"

"Adam, you have to do something! It's terrible!" Even Emma sounded upset.

"For God's sake!" Adam was impatient with worry. "What's happening out there?"

Jesse gulped audibly. "It's Shal."

"Shalimar? What's wrong? Is she hurt?"

"Not exactly."

"Jesse, tell me exactly what happ." Adam's command was interrupted by a shrill, indignant wail. "What the ."

"Like I said," Jesse bent down to pick up the howling blonde infant who had replaced their teammate. "I think we have a problem.

* * *

By the time his team had returned, Adam had pinched himself at least half a dozen times to be sure that he wasn't dreaming, and was on the point of taking a sample of his blood to see whether someone had slipped something into his coffee. His half-hearted prayers that this was all some elaborate practical joke that his team had cooked up were dashed when Jesse, flanked by Brennan and Emma, entered the lab, a small bundle, wrapped in Brennan's leather jacket, in his arms, crying lustily.

"Adam," Jesse handed him the baby. "Allow me to introduce you to Shalimar."

Baby Shalimar's wails had ceased the moment Adam took her. She reached for his nose with short, slightly chubby fingers. "Ad!"

Jesse whistled in amazement. "Wow, she must really like you, she didn't stop crying for us all the way back here!"

"She seems to know you." Emma observed. "Why didn't she recognise us?"

"She didn't know you when she was a baby." Adam told her. "When Shal was a baby I treated her for an immuno-deficiency - the treatment was what caused her mutation."

"And she remembers that?" Brennan was sceptical.

"Shalimar is a feral." Adam explained carefully, bouncing her a little to make her laugh. "Her sense of smell is extraordinary. Cats remember people by their scent - So does Shal." He carefully unwrapped the baby girl, handing the jacket to Jesse, who caught a whiff of the smell and thrust it into Brennan's hands.

Holding his damp, smelly jacket, Brennan realised what had happened and tossed it aside in disgust. "Great, just great!" He fumed. "Of course, it would have to be my jacket she pissed on!" He scowled. "As soon as she's back to normal, Shal's paying for the dry cleaning!"

Little Shalimar, frightened by his angry tone, started to cry again.

Adam cuddled her to him, glaring at the younger man. "Don't you ever raise your voice to her again!" He snapped, rocking a whimpering baby Shalimar. "Ssh, honey, it's alright." Shalimar buried her little face in his shoulder. "Brennan's not mad at you, are you, Brennan?" He frowned pointedly at the elemental.

"No, of course not." Brennan answered quickly. He had never seen Adam so angry and did not want to rile him any further.

Shalimar looked up. "Nan!" She announced.

Adam smiled tenderly. "What, sweetheart?"

Shalimar pointed a chubby finger at Brennan. "Nan!"

"Hey, she's saying my name!" Brennan cried excitedly, before checking his enthusiasm.

"Ooh!" Emma cooed. "Aren't you clever! Can you say Emma? Em-ma."

"Em!" Shalimar clapped her hands in delight at her own cleverness.

"Try mine." Jesse told her, joining in the game. "Say Jesse! Come on, you can do it." He smiled encouragingly.

Shalimar's tiny brow furrowed in a scowl. "Des-see." She said carefully, trying and failing to pronounce the 'J'. "Des-see!"

Adam glowed with pride, smiling indulgently at Emma and Jesse who were crowded around the baby. "Yes, I know we're all impressed." He chided gently. "But I really need to do some scans, or we'll never get grown-up Shal back."

He set the burbling infant down gently on the examination chair and started the scan before she could wriggle away. Shalimar, entranced by the bright light, didn't move until the scan was finished, at which point she held her arms to Adam.

"Up!"

Adam lifted her up and held her in the crook of his arm as he read the preliminary data gathered from the scans. "Okay, Shal is exactly twelve months old and, as far as I can tell, in perfect health."

"Does she still have her powers?" Jesse wanted to know.

"Yes, she is still a feral but her powers are still almost completely undeveloped. If I remember correctly, Shal can still flash her eyes feral and she's faster and more advanced than other babies, but apart from that, nothing unusual." His expression became concerned as he continued to examine the data he had gathered. "She has some kind of pathogen in her system." He frowned. "I've never seen anything like it before - this could take some time." He tightened his grip on the baby, who was gazing at the computer readings as intently as if she understood every word. "We may have her like this for quite some time. You three will have to get in some supplies."

"Baby shopping!" Emma squealed. "Oh, this is going to be such fun!"

Judging from the look Jesse and Brennan exchanged, they did not agree with her assessment.

* * *

The shopping trip took far longer than expected. Emma had spent a good hour weighing the merits of the various cribs, playpens and highchairs and at least another two hours oohing and aahing over every item in the shop she found particularly adorable. The guys trudged helplessly in her wake, weighed down by more clothes, equipment and toys than would have been necessary for a dozen babies.

When they finally returned to Sanctuary, Brennan collapsed on a couch in the rec room, wishing that baby stores had never been invented, while Jesse was put to work assembling the playpen and Emma showed off her purchases, tempting little Shalimar with her new toys.

"Here, Adam, let me take her. I'll give her a bath and get her diapered and dressed."

Adam ignored her outstretched arms, clutching baby Shalimar to his chest. "I'll do it." He insisted, taking a diaper and a little outfit and carrying Shalimar away, leaving Emma puzzled both by his rebuff and by the tension and obsessive protectiveness he could sense coming off him in waves.

* * *

At his own insistence, the crib was placed in Adam's room and the playpen in the lab. Shalimar, bathed and dressed, was guzzling a bottle of milk when Adam carried her into the rec room where the other three were watching a movie. Sitting down on the couch, away from the others, Adam held Shalimar on his lap while she finished off her bottle. As soon as she had drunk her fill, baby Shalimar dropped the bottle and began to wriggle.

"Down!" She demanded, crawling across the room when Adam set her on the floor, never taking his eyes off her. Shalimar came to a halt in front of Brennan, lifting her arms. "Up, Nan!"

Brennan just stared at her, making no move to pick her up. Shalimar's tiny lower lip trembled and she drew breath to yell.

Emma, who was closest, picked her up, projecting soothing images into the baby's mind as she rocked her. Shalimar gave Brennan a reproachful look, frowning her displeasure.

"Adam, maybe you should try to do some work on that pathogen." Emma suggested carefully. "We'll keep an eye on Shal."

Adam nodded absently. "Yes, I'll get started. Hopefully we'll find an antidote." He reached over and took baby Shalimar from Emma's arms, ignoring her hint, and left the room.

"You know, Adam's not going to get much work done if he's bouncing Shal on his knee the whole time." Brennan remarked.

"He doesn't want us near her." Emma was rather hurt.

Brennan rose and stretched. "Whatever, if Adam wants baby detail, he's welcome to it. I'll be in my room if you guys need me." He departed, leaving two bewildered teammates in his wake.

"Okay, this is weird." Jesse announced. "Adam won't let go of Shal, Brennan won't touch her - I don't understand it."

Emma gave a knowing half-smile. "I know what's wrong with Brennan, anyhow - he likes Shal."

"So why is he avoiding her?" Jesse was thoroughly confused.

Emma rolled her eyes. "Men!" She sighed. "He's avoiding her because he likes her." Jesse's face was still blank. "Would you be able to have a relationship with a woman whose diapers you had changed? He's worried that it will be weird between them when Shal gets back to normal. He's also afraid of what'll happen if she doesn't change back. Adam's the one I can't understand. He'd acting like an overprotective father."

"In a way, Adam kind of sees himself as Shal's father." Jesse explained. "Not just her, all of us, but especially Shal, he's known her since she was a kid." He chuckled. "Shal and I were thirteen when I came to live in Sanctuary. She'd been living here for a couple of years by then and Adam was like a mother hen with a single duckling. He barely let her out of his sight before I came, and even after that he was worried every time Shal was gone. You should have seen him the night of her first date - he stayed awake the whole night waiting for her and checked on her every ten minutes after nine o'clock. He terrorized the guy she was going out with, ran a full background check; driver's licence, criminal record, school reports, the works. He'd have implanted a tracking device if Shal had let him. Sometimes I think that he doesn't realise that she's an adult and, now that she's a baby, his protective instincts are on the alert."

"But it's not healthy!" Emma objected. "If worst comes to worst and Shal has to stay as she is, Adam will have to let go of her for the sake of her mental development. If Adam turns her back, he mightn't be able to reconcile the baby with the woman who can take care of herself. In any case, Brennan's right; Adam won't get much work done if he's spending all of his time taking care of Shalimar."

Jesse looked uncomfortable. "Do you think that we should talk to him?"

Emma considered for a moment before shaking her head decisively. "No, he'll just get defensive, tell us we're imagining things. Ugh!" She exhaled in frustration. "I almost wish that it wasn't against my principles to psi- blast some sense into him!"

* * *

Baby Shalimar had been content to sit on Adam's lap for the past hour or so, playing with one of the plush teddies Emma had given her, however, as midnight approached, she began to grow tired and cranky, first whimpering, then wailing at the top of her lungs.

Adam scooped her up in his arms. "Bedtime, huh? Are you sure you don't want to stay up?" He asked, making a face to draw a smile from her. Shalimar frowned reprovingly at him, her expression comically serious. Adam laughed, bouncing her a little. "Alright, you win - bedtime." She rested her little head on his shoulder as he carried her to his room, changing her diaper and dressing her in the pink footie pyjamas Emma had bought before laying her down in her crib. He offered her a bottle, but she wasn't interested, falling asleep almost immediately. Adam could have sworn that he heard her purr. He touched one of her chubby cheeks reverently. "Goodnight, princess." He whispered. "Sweet dreams."

* * *

At around six o'clock in the morning, Emma sensed a wakefulness in baby Shalimar. Slipping into Adam's room, she saw that he was still fast asleep. Shalimar was just stirring and, when she saw Emma, she beamed, displaying her incomplete collection of teeth.

"Em!" Seeing her, Shalimar lifted her plump arms. "Up, Em!"

Casting a quick glance at the still sleeping Adam, Emma picked up her infant teammate and stole out of the room, carrying her down to the kitchen.

"Hung'y!" Shalimar announced as Emma sat her down in her highchair. "B'fast!" Emma suppressed a smile. Her friend was as confident at one year old as she was as an adult.

* * *

About half an hour later, Brennan entered the kitchen and beheld what was perhaps the most bizarre sight he had ever seen in Sanctuary; Emma was edging as close as she could to an over-excited Shalimar, who was eating a bowl of oatmeal, getting more of it on her face, bib and chair - even on the walls - than she was in her mouth. Every time Emma got too close Shal started waving her spoon about like a red flag before a bull, shouting 'No, mine!'.

Jesse, who could barely control his laughter, was filming everything on his camcorder.

Shalimar squealed in excitement when Brennan entered, calling "Nan!" and waving her spoon at him in greeting, sending a large glob of oatmeal sailing across the room to catch him square in the face. Dropping her spoon, she clapped her chubby hands, delighted by the sight.

Jesse turned the camera on the astonished Brennan while Emma darted forward to rescue the spoon.

"Sorry about that." Emma said sheepishly, getting to her feet, keeping the spoon out of reach of baby Shalimar's eager fingers. "She insisted on feeding herself."

Jesse, laughing like a hyena, was capturing every moment of Brennan's humiliation on film. The elemental glared at him and he quickly turned the camera back to Shalimar who smiled angelically and turned the bowl of oatmeal over her head.

"What's with the camera?" Brennan asked, curiosity overcoming irritation.

Jesse grinned evilly. "In a word - blackmail! Shal's going to freak when she sees this!"

"Adam's going to freak when he sees the state of this kitchen." He glanced at the very messy infant singing to herself in the highchair. "And of her." He added. "How'd you get Adam to let go, anyway?"

Emma didn't meet his eye. "Well, uh."

Adam's voice, frantically calling Shalimar's name, interrupted her.

"I, uh, kind of didn't." Emma finished lamely.

The words were barely out of her mouth when a panic-stricken Adam burst into the room.

"Have you guys seen." He let out a deep sigh of relief when he saw Shalimar, lifting her out of her highchair and hugging her, ignoring the fact that she was wearing her breakfast, checking her anxiously. "Thank God!" He visibly relaxed. "I thought.are you alright, sweetheart?"

Shalimar offered him a toothy grin. "Ad!"

Adam settled her more comfortably on his hip before turning to glare at the other three members of his team. "I thought something had happened." He said accusingly. "I need to know if you're taking her anywhere, do you understand?"

"Adam, she's fine!" Emma protested. "I just took her to get some breakfast."

"We'd never let anything happen to Shal, Adam, you know that." Jesse's voice was gently reproachful.

"All I know is that Eckhart or his men could get into my room just as easily as Emma did - for all we know, Eckhart did this to Shalimar to make her vulnerable. I need to know that she's safe at all times." He gave them a slight smile, trying to make up for his harshness. "Right now, I think that Shalimar has an appointment with the bathtub." He tickled her gently; causing her to giggle in delight, then turned and made to carry her out of the room.

"Adam, wait!" Emma called, halting his movements. "Why not leave her with us?" She suggested, keeping her tone as light as possible. "You'd be able to work faster."

Adam looked uncomfortable. "No, I don't mind, that is, I'd rather." He exhaled slowly. "I'd prefer to keep her where I can see her." Not allowing any argument, Adam marched out of the kitchen, Shalimar held securely in his arms.

It was left to Brennan to say what both of his teammates were already thinking. "Are you sure that Adam wants to change Shal back?"