Title: "Object Permanence"

Rating: G

Category: Sheppard/Weir friendship/UST. Ford/Teyla implied. Baby!fic.

Summary: At a certain stage of development, children learn that things still exist even when they are out of sight.

Author's Note: Pooh and Qwirky are enabling me, and contributing to the total downfall of me never being able to say anything bad about bad!fic cliches ever. again. Yay? Qwirky inspired a seekwel by making me think the Sparky relationship in this possible future is actually interesting... but I wrote this fluffy prequel first. Oops.


***


John finds Elizabeth playing peek-a-boo.

"Where's the spoon?" She asks, draping what looks like a cloth napkin over a steel dining spoon. She's kneeling on the floor of her office in front of Teyla's six-month-old baby. "Is it... over here?" Elizabeth makes a show of searching for the spoon in all the wrong places within reach -- including under one of Kamala's legs -- before removing the napkin with a flourish and a triumphant "There it is!"

Kamala giggles. John bites his tongue to keep from joining her. He leans against the doorway, momentarily forgetting the question he came to ask Elizabeth, trying not to give himself away.

She sets up the magic trick again, pointing out the spoon and then obviously hiding it under the napkin.

This time, Kamala leans forward and tugs the napkin away, though she still looks a bit surprised to have actually found the spoon.

"I think she's on to you," John says.

Elizabeth doesn't ask him how long he's been standing there, only tosses a smirk his way and grabs one end of the spoon before Kamala can get it to her mouth. "I'm teaching her object permanence."

"Oh?" He crouches next to her, tousling Kamala's hair as a form of greeting. The baby ignores him, reaching instead for Elizabeth's spoon-containing hand with a rush of incoherent vowels. "Isn't she a bit young for lessons?"

"It's an important developmental step," Elizabeth replies, moving the spoon out of reach and grabbing a teething ring to hide next. "Babies her age don't realize that this," she holds up the ring, "still exists if she can't see it."

John looks at Kamala in a whole new light. "They don't?" He has bonded with the little tyke, even had her sleep on his chest through whole football videos, but he's never put all that much thought into what the world must look like from inside her head.

"No. Why do you think babies like to play peek-a-boo?"

Kamala has lost interest in the teething ring altogether and is instead busily trying to get the napkin into her mouth.

"They don't just... like the attention?" He has played peek-a-boo with this baby more than once, to the indulgent smirks of both Teyla and Ford, but never thought he might be teaching her something.

"Well, that too," Elizabeth admits. She tugs the napkin loose and, with a big, excited smile, drapes it gently over the baby's head. "Where's Kamala?" she asks.

Kamala tugs the mask off and laughs with delight, then pauses, as if waiting expectantly for it to happen again. Elizabeth obliges, with the exact same results.

"Come on, Elizabeth. She just likes the game. How do you know what she's thinking?"

Elizabeth shoots him a mischievous look, and then, with reflexes faster than he expects, drops the napkin over his head.

"Hey!"

Elizabeth just gets time to coo, "Where's John?" at the baby before he snatches it off and pretends to glare at her. Kamala slaps her hands on the ground and babbles at them both.

He balls up the napkin and tosses it at Elizabeth's chest. "How'd you get tapped for babysitting duty, anyway?"

"Oh, it's just for half an hour," she shrugs. "Ford got called away to help Monroe, I didn't have anything to do..."

"... except play peek-a-boo. Got it." He musses Kamala's baby curls again, and then slides one of his hands down a few inches in front of her eyes. "Where's Elizabeth?"

"What did you need, John?" Elizabeth asks, her voice still a bit higher-pitched than normal, but definitely mostly business. "Did you come to my office for something in particular?"

"It can wait," he shrugs. He waves his fingers in front of Kamala, who makes an annoyed noise and looks the other way. "I'm not sure I'm doing this right. What's this supposed to teach her?"

Elizabeth's the one who laughs this time, and it's contagious. "It's not really that important. Babies do learn this themselves at a certain age." Her attention is definitely divided, eyes constantly darting back to the baby even as she speaks to him, but it's nice to see her this relaxed. Really nice. It's been a while, and though they spend ridiculous amounts of work-related time together, he misses her when he goes too long without the chance to talk to her like a person.

"That's good," he says, still grinning. "I'd hate to still think that the world disappears whenever I put my hands over my eyes. Although..." He glances back out the door of her office toward the control room and the Stargate and, symbolically, toward the Wraith and all other dangers they've encountered. "I can see the appeal."

Elizabeth covers her eyes with her hands, peek-a-boo style, and calls Kamala's name.

John snickers. "Does it work?"

She lifts a hand long enough to shoot him a look with one eye, and then calls again, "Kamaaaaala." The baby ignores her, instead trying to grab John's nearest boot, just at the edge of her grabbing radius.

Before she gets the idea that she wants to eat it, John retreats behind Elizabeth. "You're doing it wrong," he informs her. He's familiar with this kid, after all. He snaps his fingers. "Hey! Kamala!"

The baby looks up at the loud noise, and John reaches around Elizabeth to cover her eyes with his hands. "Where's Elizabeth?"

"John!" She reaches her hands up to swat his away, but he laughs and puts up a half-hearted struggle when she grabs his wrists. As soon as he starts laughing, Kamala joins him.

"Hey! It's an important lesson," he reminds Elizabeth. "And you started it."

"Oh, fine."

Her eyelashes brush against his fingertips, and it makes him shiver. He pulls his hands away.

She turns her head to give him another look, but it's only a quick one before she turns back to her babysitting charge. John's heart pounds inexplicably, and he makes to stand up and excuse himself right as Ford walks in.

"Hey, Colonel. Doctor," he greets them both before breaking into a proud grin at his baby. Ford doesn't seem at all surprised to see the highest-ranking personnel on Atlantis on the floor, but, after loaning out Kamala to just about everyone, he's probably used to it. "Thanks for keeping an eye on her."

"My pleasure," Elizabeth says, kissing Kamala's forehead before handing her over. She collects the teething ring and other toys as she asks, "Is everything set with Monroe?"

Ford nods, and there's a bit of business talk before he leaves.

Elizabeth turns back to John once they're alone. Her cheeks have a bit more color than usual, and she's still smiling. "Okay, now what did you want to talk to me about?"

His chest still feels a bit weird. It has been a while since he has felt this way around her, and it's taking him a little by surprise. "I... don't remember. Oh! I was going ask when you wanted to go over the harvest personnel rotation. It's not urgent -- we can talk about it later."

"No, I'm not busy. Lunch?"

He swallows the feeling that makes him want to touch her again. "Sure." He bends down and retrieves something from the floor, using the momentary break from looking at her to completely return his thoughts to where they belong -- where they're coworkers and friends and that's all, and that's the way they like it. In a flash, he wonders if they've done a bit of covering their own eyes with napkins in this one particular regard, but this isn't the time to think about that.

With a grin, he extends his offering towards her. "Don't forget your spoon."

*end*

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