Disclaimer: Sadly, Mutant X and its characters do not belong to me.

Author's Note: I would like to thank all of my reviewers. This chapter is dedicated to them.

Fiery Feral
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Thanks for all your encouragement, guys.

Words in / / = Thoughts.

*

Chapter 8

"What are you waiting for, Adam?" Brennan prodded gently. "Why don't you change her back?" his eyes narrowed. "There isn't any risk, is there?"

Adam shook his head. "No, nothing like that. It's just. . ."

"It's just what, Adam?" Brennan's impatience was beginning to show in his voice. He gestured towards baby Shalimar who was practically swinging out of Adam's lab coat. "I mean, you don't want her to stay like this forever, do you. . ." He trailed off, seeing the wistful look on the older man's face. "My God! You do, don't you? You want to keep Shal like this!"

"Brennan, I. . . "

"Have you lost your mind?" Brennan cut Adam off before he could say anything. "We can't keep Shalimar like this!"

Hearing her name spoken, baby Shalimar looked up, grinning at Brennan and Adam.

"Ad, pway!" She demanded, reaching for his ear.

Adam smiled tenderly. "Not right now, sweetheart, in a little while."

Shalimar frowned but seemed to accept his answer. She started to wriggle in his arms.

"Down, Ad!"

"Oh, no you don't." Adam tightened his hold on the squirming infant he held. "I think that Brennan gave you too much caffeine!"

"I didn't give it to her!" Brennan protested. "She took it!"

Adam ignored the younger man's protest, continuing to speak to Shalimar in a slightly sing-song tone. "I don't want you getting into mischief." Baby Shalimar gave him her best 'who, me?' look. Adam chuckled. "Yes, you." He walked over to her playpen and deposited her in it. "Be a good girl for me." He told her. "I'll be back to play with you in a few minutes, okay?"

"Ess."

Not taking his eyes off Shalimar - he remembered what had happened last time - Adam moved over to his desk and gestured for Brennan to follow him.

There was a framed photograph hidden away in the corner of Adam's desk. Brennan picked it up and smiled slightly at the familiar young girl, no more than eleven or twelve years old, looking back at him.

"Shalimar." It wasn't a question.

Adam took the photograph from the elemental and put it into one of the drawers, sighing a little as he did. "I took this picture a few weeks after Shalimar came to live in Sanctuary. I was nearly as bad as Jesse when it came to taking pictures. During Shalimar's first year here I must have filled at least half a dozen photo albums. This is one of my favourites." He gave the other man a wry half smile. "I put most of the albums away as she got older. She doesn't know that I kept this one out. She would have been mortified if she knew."

"She's not a little girl any more, Adam." Brennan said, before correcting himself. "Well, she is, but she shouldn't be. She should be an adult, a part of the team. Adam, Shal's probably our best fighter. We need her!"

"How much has Shalimar told you about her life before she came here?" Adam posed the question quietly.

Brennan was slightly taken aback. "Almost nothing. Why?"

Adam sighed. "I won't break her confidence but suffice to say, her life was not easy. Even as an infant Shalimar showed signs of powers - as you have seen. As she grew, so did her powers. Her parents found it difficult to accept her as she was. . ." He trailed off, leaving Brennan silent at the thought of what his teammate must have been through. "Shalimar is now aging at the same rate as any other infant. This pathogen could be a blessing in disguise, a second chance."

"Adam, you can't be serious!" Brennan exclaimed. "You want to raise her here?"

A soft thud interrupted him and Shalimar, who had managed to climb out of her playpen a second time, crawled over to Adam, holding out her plump arms.

"Up, Ad!" she commanded, squealing in delight as Adam swung her into his lap. She snuggled into his lap and smiled up at Brennan. "Hi, Nan!"

Brennan could not stop himself smiling in return before continuing. "Look at her, Adam. She's only one and she already gets into more trouble than any child possibly could. How are we supposed to handle the terrible twos, terrible threes - God, Adam!" His face became pale as an unpleasant thought struck him. "How are we supposed to handle her when she's a teenager?"

"We'll manage." Adam's voice was firm.

"Adam, you can't be serious. . ." Brennan was cut off by the sounds of laughter. Jesse and Emma had returned.

"Why don't you go and see how their mission went." It was more of a command than a request. "I need some time to think."

Speechless, a rare occurrence for him, Brennan left the lab to tell his teammates about the latest catastrophe.

* * *

". . .And now, even though he's got the antidote ready, Adam is having second thoughts about using it." Brennan finished. "He wants to keep Shal as a baby."

"Is he insane?" Jesse was incredulous. "I mean, she's cute and all, but we can't raise a kid here!"

"I agree." Emma looked troubled. "Look at the stuff we deal with every day. It wouldn't be fair to expose a baby to that kind of danger. And if something were to happen to us, who would take care of Shal?"

"Hey, Emma, couldn't you. . ."

"No!" Emma cut off Brennan's suggestion before he could voice it. "I am not going to use my powers on Adam!"

"But. . ."

"For the last time, no! Adam would never forgive me!" Emma reflected silently for a moment. "Adam knows what the right thing to do is. He just needs a little convincing, that's all." She glared at Jesse and Brennan who were chanting 'Psi-blast! Psi-blast! Psi-blast!' under their breaths. "Not that kind of convincing!"

She stood up and strode out of the room in the direction of the lab, her features set determinedly.

Jesse sighed and rose, gathering his camcorder and the tapes he had made of baby Shalimar. "I'd better get to work."

"What do you mean?" Brennan's face was a study in confusion.

Jesse grinned roguishly. "I'm sending copies to all the safehouses while I still can." He explained, as though to a dim-witted toddler. "With Emma looking like that, Adam has no chance. We'll have our Shal back within the hour. I want these tapes gone by then."

* * *

The sugar/caffeine high had finally worn off and Adam had no trouble putting the now very sleepy baby Shalimar down for her afternoon nap.

He had just tucked the covers around her and planted a gentle kiss on her forehead when Emma entered the room.

"I suppose that Brennan has told you." He didn't look up at her.

"Yes, he has." Emma kept her voice carefully neutral. "Congratulations. It can't have been easy to find that antidote."

"That's not what I mean."

"I know."

Adam bent down, rescuing Shalimar's long-suffering teddy from the floor and tucking it under the covers with her. "She's happy like this, Emma. She's better off."

"For how long?" Emma spoke gently. "How long do you think that we can keep her safe here? Even if Sanctuary's security was never breached, we couldn't keep Shal here forever. Remember what happened when Jesse took her to the park? What about when she was old enough to go to school? Would you keep her here, like a prisoner, for her whole childhood? Adam, that's not a life."

"I know." Adam sighed. "I'll have to leave Mutant X. I'll take Shalimar and go abroad, maybe to Europe. I'll raise her there."

Emma was momentarily stunned. She had not foreseen that. It took her a moment to find her voice. "Are you saying that you would abandon your work? I know how important that is to you."

"It's not as important as Shalimar." Adam was resolved. "Once she and I are out of the country, I have friends who will set us up with new identities and more than enough money to keep us. Eckhart would never be able to find us. You, Jesse and Brennan would be more than welcome to join us."

"And just abandon Mutant X?" Emma was indignant. "We couldn't do that and neither could you, even for Shalimar."

His determined expression told her that he could. No words were needed.

Emma took a deep breath to calm herself. "Adam, even if you could leave Mutant X behind and take Shalimar out of the country and guarantee her safety, you still don't have the right to make that decision. Only one person does."

"Shalimar is in no position to make that decision." Adam pointed out, gesturing towards the peacefully sleeping infant.

"ADAM JEROME KANE!" Emma was perilously close to losing her temper. "You know what I mean!" Baby Shalimar, troubled by the raised voice, whimpered in her sleep. Emma lowered her voice. "You have known Shalimar longer than any of us, since she was a child. If she was here, you know what she would decide."

"Yes, but. . ."

"Adam Kane, do not make me psi-blast you!"

The threat shocked him. He had not credited Emma with being capable of such ferocity.

"Shalimar would want to be an adult again." He acknowledged, sighing in defeat. "I don't have the right to go against that, whatever I may think." He stroked baby Shalimar's golden hair. "I will change her back."

* * *

Jesse and Brennan, who had been just outside, listening intently to the conversation, exchanged an impressed glance.

"Wow!" Jesse exclaimed softly. "Remind me never to get on Emma's bad side."

* * *

A slightly groggy baby Shalimar, still clutching her teddy, was carried into the lab in Adam's arms and gently set down on the examination chair.

He undressed her and covered her with a sheet before moving over to the bench where the vial containing the antidote was laid out.

Emma covered Shalimar's eyes as Adam filled a syringe with the cure and injected her arm, wincing at her pained cry.

The team stood back as the antidote took hold.

The aging process lasted only a few seconds but it seemed to take longer. The baby's limbs stretched, her hair grew and her face lost its roundness, reforming into the features they remembered.

"Hey, guys." The now adult Shalimar sounded slightly disorientated. "What's going on?" She looked down. "Why am I wearing a sheet?"

Emma handed her friend the bundle of clothes that she had had the foresight to bring and she and the guys turned away as their teammate dressed.

"You can turn around now." Shalimar was still very confused. "What happened to me?"

"You don't remember?" Jesse looked positively gleeful.

"No. What happened?"

Emma giggled. "Shal, you've been a baby for the past two weeks!"

"No, seriously, what happened?" Shalimar demanded. "Brennan? Adam?"

"It's true, Shalimar." Adam told her gently. "You were infected with a pathogen during your last fight. It left you as a one-year-old baby. It took me a long time to develop the cure."

Adam never lied to her. Shalimar looked around the lab, seeing the playpen in the corner, the frilly dress on Adam's desk and the teddy at her side.

"You guys are serious, aren't you?"

They nodded solemnly, rather amused by her horror.

"Was I a brat?"

"No, no, of course not!" Adam tried to reassure her.

"You were evil in a little package." Brennan told her bluntly as Emma and Jesse nodded their agreement.

"But you were really cute." Emma added, as if that could console her friend. "And you were good most of the time."

"You owe me for dry cleaning." Brennan informed her.

"Why?" Shalimar was confused.

"You don't want to know." Emma told her hastily.

Jesse, who had been very quiet for the past few minutes, sat down on the examination chair next to Shalimar, putting an arm around her shoulders.

"It doesn't matter now." He told her. "You're back. That's all that counts." Butter wouldn't have melted in his mouth. "You've been through a lot." He patted her hand sympathetically. "I know what will make you feel better." He suggested, looking innocent. "There's a new movie that's proving very popular in the safehouses. I'm sure that you'll love it."

He steered her out of the room before she could see the expression on Emma and Brennan's faces. They followed their teammates out of the room, leaving Adam alone.

A minute later, Shalimar's indignant voice shattered the peace of Sanctuary.

"JESSE KILMARTIN! I'M GOING TO KILL YOU, YOU BASTARD!"

Sighing, Adam picked up the teddy that had fallen to the ground when Shalimar had left the lab. Opening his desk drawer, he put it in next to the photograph, feeling as though he could choke on his sorrow.

/Goodbye, little one. I will miss you./

*

THE END.