Title: "Strategic Planning"

Author: Little Red

Category: baby!fic, Sheppard/Weir friendship/UST, mentions of Ford/Teyla

Rating: G

WARNINGS: There's a baby. It is spawned of Teyla and Ford. There is also related babycuteness. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Summary: It always helps to have backup.

Author's Note: Pooh's fault. I had shame before I met her, I swear.


***


It's been a drawn-out struggle, but finally, John Sheppard has to admit that he's losing this particular battle.

"You do realize that it's a lost cause, right?" McKay asks, as far as possible from the zone of fire.

John shoots him a glare out of the corner of his eye before reconsidering his angle of attack. If he can create a diversion...

"John, come on." Elizabeth's voice is lighter than he's heard it for quite a while as she observes, "You've got more oatmeal in your hair than in the child."

John finally turns to properly shoot down his naysayers, who are eating their own lunches at the far end of the mess hall table. "I don't see either of you offering to help," he complains.

Kamala takes advantage of his divided attention to bonk him on the head with a spoon.

"Ow!" He turns his best glare on her.

Instead of being chastised, she shrieks with amusement. No respect, he fumes, using the opportunity of her open mouth to attack the eleven-month-old monster with another spoon of oatmeal.

Elizabeth is laughing, too. Rodney, of course, still looks disgusted. He has told Teyla and Ford that it isn't that he doesn't like their "squawling infant," he just chooses to wait until "it" learns to speak in complete sentences and stops trying to eat her own fingers before acknowledging that she's a real live person.

"We didn't volunteer to baby-sit," Elizabeth points out.

"He finds it relaxing," Rodney tattles with a giant roll of his eyes. "Personally, I think I'm going to have to eat my lunch somewhere else. That's disgusting -- what do they put in that baby food?"

"You think babysitting Kamala is relaxing?" Elizabeth ignores Rodney and shoots John a curious expression. "I find it exhausting."

"Not always relaxing," John mutters. Kamala seizes hold of one of his fingers, foolishly left in grabbing distance, and attempts to bite it. "Hey! Hey, hey, hey!"

"Kamaaaala," Elizabeth calls in her sweetest voice, making the baby turn her head toward that end of the table and distracting the little monster enough for John to retrieve his hand. Kamala grabs a handful of dropped oatmeal from the tray of her high chair and holds it out. Elizabeth ignores the offer, so the baby smooshes it into her own forehead.

McKay snorts. "Oh, yeah. This one's going to be a real genius. Oh, look! Look. Now she's trying to eat the high-chair instead."

"I'm sure you were just as much trouble when you were a child," Elizabeth offers diplomatically, smothering a grin.

"No one is making you stay here, McKay," John snaps, less diplomatically. He and Ford have been attempting to train Kamala to stick her tongue out at Rodney whenever she sees him, but she's being deliberately difficult (it's not that she doesn't know how -- she sticks her tongue out at everyone else all the time). At least she comes by her desire to torment him honestly. Motherhood has made Teyla no less evil. (Or, and this part is only a bit embarrassing, no less able to knock him flat on his back in two minutes or less.)

McKay bids goodbye and takes off. Elizabeth appears to have abandoned her own lunch completely, watching the scene play out with both affection and horror.

"She's not going to starve if you give up now, you know."

"She's trying to eat the furniture, Elizabeth. This could well be a sign of starvation."

Elizabeth slides her chair a few inches closer. "I doubt she's suffering from a plastic deficiency."

John sighs. "Teyla says she hasn't been eating well this week."

Elizabeth frowns. "Really?"

"Ford took her to Beckett... she's not sick or anything, just stubborn."

"Babies do that, you know." Elizabeth is leaning towards him over the table, looking like she's trying very hard to suppress a smile, an expression of hers that always makes butterflies dance around inside him. "Get finicky about eating sometimes."

"Maybe she doesn't like this new stuff we traded for." He pokes the spoon around the oatmeal still left in the bowl. It's not really oatmeal, specifically, just prepared in an oatmeal-style way from an alien grain they acquired from a planet currently in harvest season. At least it's not the purple rice stuff they had back when Kamala was first discovering the wonder of solid foods. Everything in sight had been stained for months.

Elizabeth smiles that not-quite-smile again. "You're worried about her."

He shrugs. "Of course." When it comes to the baby, at least, he has no trouble admitting how he feels. "Aren't you?"

"Sometimes," Elizabeth admits. "But I just..." she smiles, a real smile, and the butterflies take off again. "I think it's sweet, that's all."

"Doesn't fit with the tough-guy image?"

She raises her eyebrows like she's about to laugh, and he shoots her a look.

Kamala is reaching forward, as far as she can while strapped into her high chair, making a grab for his hair. She squawks indignantly upon realizing it's out of reach and, to distract her and get her back a bit for always trying to gnaw on him, John pretends he's about to eat her outstretched hand.

Kamala just shoots him a vaguely amused look -- something else she inherited from her mother -- while Elizabeth cracks up completely.

"Oh, all right," she says, crossing over to his side of the table.

"What?"

"You distract. I'll feed."

He gamely hands over the bowl. Kamala, forced to succumb in the face of superior numbers, eats a few bites more. Elizabeth stays mostly clean, somehow, but the baby manages to fling more food at John in the process. He makes an easy target for her, distracted by the way Elizabeth smiles at Kamala as she sneaks in stealth bites of alien oatmeal.

Something rises up inside him as he watches her, something sharp and strong, like a kick in the chest. Before he can stop it, he's imagining a baby much paler than Kamala, with Elizabeth's hair and nose and just enough of his own features to recognize...

"Baba!" Kamala shrieks -- her name for him (and for "bear" and "water" and "hang me upside-down, please") -- and then laughs hysterically at a joke of her own making before trying to escape from the high-chair again.

"I think that might be the sign," Elizabeth suggests, putting the bowl aside. "But you put up a valiant struggle."

John smiles, but it feels a bit weak, and swallows until his throat is clear enough to speak. "Thanks for the backup. Ford and Teyla should probably be done with their training session by now." He assumes that's not a euphemism, since he did actually see them head for the gym, but he doesn't ask.

It takes a few tries to free Kamala with all the squirming she's doing, and he doesn't even attempt to mop her off with napkins first. This will require bigger guns.

"You're not leaving me to clean this up, are you?"

"I'll be back," John promises. "I've got to hose this one off first." Kamala squirms in his arms to be set down on the floor, or perhaps just because she enjoys kicking him in the ribs whenever she gets the chance, but the oatmeal doesn't need to be spread around any further. Even as she struggles and gets him even more grainy, she's warm against his chest. Elizabeth's right about babysitting being tiring, but it is relaxing in its own way. Besides, as Teyla archly pointed out when he "borrowed" Kamala once and let her touch an Ancient "toy" that turned her bright orange for a week, he needs the practice.

"Might want to hose yourself off, too," Elizabeth observes, before waving goodbye to Kamala with a baby-grin.

He's actually still not quite sure on the proper procedure for washing a baby, but Teyla comes back before he decides to go ahead with plan B (sticking Kamala in the bathtub fully clothed, splashing water at her, and then sticking her out in the sun to dry).

After changing his shirt (his hair, unfortunately, will have to wait), he heads back to the mess hall. At first glance, it's empty, and upon a closer look, the high chair has been put away and the oatmeal mess is gone.

He does a double-take to make sure he's got the right table, and then sees Elizabeth rinsing a sponge at the sink in the corner.

"You really didn't have to do this."

She shrugs. "You had your hands full. To be honest, it's a nice break for me to do something like this."

"You could always offer to baby-sit," he points out, sitting on the edge of the nearest table.

She stares at him for a moment, a strange look on her face that he has never seen before. "It surprises me that you're so good with her."

She says it like it's a compliment, but he's almost hurt. "You don't think I'd be good with kids?"

"No, no, not that. I always figured you'd have a lot in common with most children."

He gives a grudging nod.

"But I never really pictured you with babies."

He doesn't say that he's pictured her with babies, but he thinks it. "I like them," he says instead, ignoring the butterflies and hoping he doesn't sound like an idiot. "Sure, they're more fun once they can through a football around... but they're pretty cute. And you can teach them to talk." He has a long list of things he really can't wait to teach Kamala to say, in fact, but first he has to decide if he really wants Teyla coming after him in the middle of the night. Ford is completely behind teaching his baby monkey to call the scientists names, but he has other ways of appeasing Teyla's maternal wrath.

Elizabeth takes a seat next to him on the table. "I worried a lot," she admits. "When Kamala was born... this really isn't a safe galaxy for kids, and we're not set up to be a nursery."

"You must see now that you were wrong."

She doesn't answer right away. After a moment, she turns back to him. "Do you plan on having children?"

The question is so fresh in his own mind that it's easy to answer. "Yeah."

She pushes on. "Here? Like this? With any number of unknown dangers lurking in the next pier?"

He has no idea where she's going with this, but can feel his ears getting hot. "Those are all concerns... but if I found the right woman, yes."

Her eyes widen a bit, and he realizes that might have come across more intense than he realized. There was a time, a long time, when he'd felt like they were careening towards something wonderful, when he could almost taste sex in every other interaction with her, but something happened to cool it off and he isn't sure what. They're friends now, a deeper and closer friendship than he's ever had with... well, with anyone, female or otherwise, but their relationship never turned sexual.

Most of the time he doesn't mind that. What they have is enough. The rest of the time, when wakes up dreaming about her or sees her flirting with the latest alien diplomat to visit Atlantis, he curses himself for waiting too long.

"I've always wanted kids," she confesses. "At least, in the abstract. But... I've never wanted them enough."

He grabs her hand from where it's lying between them on the table and squeezes it. She entwines her fingers with his, and his stomach tightens a bit. "Hey," he says, "It's not too late."

"I have a city to run," she reminds him. "It's not really my most pressing concern. I think it would be irresponsible. Not for Ford, maybe, but... for me."

He nods, and doesn't let go of her hand. He finds himself fervently hoping that no one comes into the mess hall to interrupt them, not when Elizabeth is being so unusually vulnerable.

She looks over at him, brow furrowed like she's covering another expression. "Is it a deal-breaker for you?"

"What?"

"Kids. Would that be... a deal-breaker? For a relationship with someone?"

He wasn't expecting that, and his mouth dries completely at the thought that she might see him the same way he sees her. As a mistake of inaction, maybe, but still somehow... unavoidable.

He thinks that kids might be a deal-breaker for anyone except her.

"No."

She nods slowly, computing this, and he breaks their usual barrier of what behavior is acceptable when neither of them has just cheated death. He pulls her into a hug.

It's awkward and sideways and she reciprocates only tentatively, but still, it feels good.

"For what it's worth," he says, "I think you could handle it. Kids and a city."

She snorts a laugh near his ear.

He continues, "You handle me, after all."

"Sometimes," she concedes. "Thanks."

She pulls back, smiling shyly, and then reaches up to touch her hair with a look of escalating concern. "Oatmeal," she identifies.

"I should probably take care of that." He hops off the table and makes to slink out in vague embarrassment, but she stops him with a hand on his arm.

"Thank you," she says again.

"Anytime. You know that."

He drops a kiss on her cheek -- the kind of friendly kiss they give each other these days -- and lingers just a second longer than usual.

Even with the oatmeal, she lets him.

*end*

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