Drew settled back and closed his eyes, cranked up the music on his phone. Nothing like some metal to block out the chaos of the day. Even if he didn’t smoke, sometimes he needed a smoke break.
And then someone yanked his earbud out.
“Hey!” Drew’s eyes flew open and he sat bolt upright, ready to unleash on TC or Topher or Kenny or any one of the other punks who were bothering him during his break.
But it was a little boy, maybe five years old, clad in only an oversized black t-shirt, who stood before him, gazing up at him with big, solemn blue eyes.
“I’m hungry,” he said.
Drew checked left, checked right. No parents in sight. He leaned in so he and the kid were eye-level. The kid looked clean and basically healthy, but he was barefoot and about to fall out of his shirt at any moment. Obviously the t-shirt belonged to an adult.
“Hey, buddy.” Drew cleared his throat. “Where’s your mom and dad?”
“Can’t find ’em.” The boy shrugged. “Where’s food?”
For a kid to be so nonchalant about not knowing where his parents were was concerning. That meant his parents were gone all the time. Drew’s chest tightened. Poor kid.
“What’s your name?”
“What’s your mom’s name?”
“And your dad’s name?”
“What’s your last name?”
The boy smiled and drew himself up. “Lorne.”
Drew could work with that. “How old are you, Evan Lorne?”
He held up five fingers and beamed. “So, food? Where’s the mess hall?”
Mess hall? Was he some kind of military brat?
Drew stood up, tucked away his phone and earbuds. “Come with me, Evan.” He offered Evan a hand, and Evan accepted it. “Do you know your phone number? Your address?”
Evan wrinkled his nose. “Um...no.”
“How do people call your mom and dad?”
“On the radio.” Evan tapped his ear.
That could be a military comm system. Or it could be crazy hippies living out in the desert. Evan clung to Drew’s hand tightly, trusting, and trotted along beside him.
“Where do you live?” Drew asked. Five-year-olds knew that kind of thing, Drew was pretty sure.
Drew didn’t recognize the name, but there were plenty of San Antonio suburbs he didn’t know, new ones springing up all the time, and there was no guarantee that Evan was even from San Antonio, if his parents were roving hippies or homeless or something. Lantis wasn’t the name of any military bases that Drew knew either.
Drew led Evan in through the automatic doors and across the ER to the admission desk.
“What’s wrong with the city?” Evan asked.
“City?” Drew echoed.
Evan reached out, pressed his hand to the side of the desk. “It’s dead. It’s not even asleep. It’s dead .”
Damn. Not only was the kid lost, he was crazy. “I don’t know, buddy.”
Evan looked up at him. “You probably can’t feel it anyway. Is there food here?” He stretched up on his toes and peeked over the counter at Molly, who was organizing charts.
“What have we here?” Molly asked.
“Molly, this is Evan Lorne. He has misplaced his parents. Could you call in a Code Adam, and if that doesn’t work, call out to local PDs and social services, see what they can find?”
“Sure thing.” Molly smiled at Evan and ruffled his hair.
She got on the PA and asked for the parents, guardians, or caregivers of Evan Lorne to report to the ER desk.
Drew hoisted Evan up onto the desk and gave him a lollipop to suck on. Evan thanked him politely and set to it, gazing around and smiling at everyone who passed. A couple of the nurses came to coo over him, and he charmed them immediately, with his big blue eyes and dimpled smile. Even Shannon, who was not known for being warm and fuzzy, hung around long enough for Evan to braid a colored section of her hair. He thought her hair colors were awesome. After fifteen minutes, there was no response.
“What are your parents’ names?” Molly asked.
“Ronon Dex and Teyla Emmagan.” Evan nodded decisively.
Not the same last names. Divorced? Always unmarried? Something else?
Molly paged both of them, but after another fifteen minutes, during which Evan folded a piece of scrap paper into a paper crane, there was still no response.
“Plan B?” Molly asked.
Drew nodded. “Plan B.” Which was a whole host of phone calls.
Molly stood. “Come with me, little guy. And let’s get you some food. What do you like?”
“Tava root,” Evan said promptly.
Molly raised her eyebrows at Drew. Drew shrugged helplessly.
“Molly will take good care of you,” he said, and turned to go. And then he saw, at the nape of Evan’s neck, a familiar ball chain. “Hey, buddy, can I see your necklace?”
Evan beamed up at him and tugged dog tags free of his shirt. “See?”
Molly and Drew both leaned in to see them. Lorne, Evan B. Plus a serial number and a blood type. O-neg. And he was agnostic.
“Are these your father’s?” Molly asked, but no, Evan had said his father had a different name. Ronon.
“They’re mine,” Evan said, pouting.
Molly glanced at Drew. Some people had novelty dog tags, but these had rubber silencers on them, looked like the real deal. Maybe Ronon was Evan’s step-dad, and these belonged to his bio dad, and Evan had been named after him.
“They’re very nice.” Molly smiled at him. “Let’s get you some food, and I’ll make some calls.” She waggled her cell phone pointedly at Drew, then led Evan away.
Evan said, “Wait, come with me!”
Evan batted his unfairly long eyelashes and broke out a lisp. “Pwease?”
Well, damn. Drew knew he was being manipulated, but Evan batted his lashes again, and - hell. Drew had a soft spot for kids.
“Okay, I’ll come with you.”
They headed for the cafeteria together, Evan holding both of their hands.
“So, Evan, what do you like to do for fun?” Drew asked.
“Draw, and sing, and play with Laura and Jenny and Johnny and Rodney and Unca Ichard and Annie and Marie and Radek and Miko.” Evan’s expression sobered. “I miss Kate.”
“Did Kate go away?” Molly asked.
“Kate’s dead,” Evan said.
Molly’s eyes went wide.
“I’m sorry,” Drew said softly.
“Mama says Kate got sick. Virus killed her.”
Immediately Drew went on alert. “Do you feel sick?”
“Just hungry. And thirsty. Are we there yet?”
“Almost.” Molly patted his hand. “Also, we need to find you some clothes.”
“I’ll get the food,” Drew said. “You make the calls?”
Molly nodded and patted Evan’s hand again before peeling away, already on her cell phone. Drew guided Evan through the food line, helped him pick out food and handle his tray. Evan selected the healthy options - a grilled chicken salad, an apple, and a bottle of water. He was polite to the cafeteria staff and the cashier, followed Drew obediently to a booth. He hoisted himself up onto the bench opposite Drew and sat up on his haunches so he could reach his food.
Drew studied him. Kid still looked healthy, okay. Definitely needed clothes, and also some shoes, or at least some socks.
Molly returned. “Called around to SAPD and Bexar County Family and Protective Services. No missing children listed for now. Family Services will send a worker sometime soon.”
“Have you tried to call down to the base? If those tags do belong to a relative, that could be a useful lead,” Drew said.
“Will do. How’s the grub, Evan?”
“Pretty good.” Evan smiled at her. He was polite enough not to talk with his mouth full. “Thank you.”
An orderly appeared, handed Molly some child-sized scrubs. She thanked him.
“When you’re done eating, let’s get you dressed, okay?”
Evan clutched his t-shirt anxiously. “You won’t throw this away, will you?”
“We won’t,” Molly assured him. “Now eat up, and we’ll find a safe place for you to stay. Dr. Drew probably has to get back to work.”
Again with the batting of the eyelashes. “Can I help? I can help. I help Jenny and Marie roll bandages and cheer up patients.”
That sounded positively medieval. “Jenny and Marie?”
“Dr. Jennifer Keller and Nurse Marie Cho,” Evan said solemnly. He sipped from his water bottle and pushed away his empty salad bowl. “Where do we bus the tray?”
“I’ll take care of the tray,” Drew said. “You go with Molly and put some real clothes on, all right?”
Evan nodded. “Okay, Dr. Drew.”
So he was on first-name basis with medical personnel. Drew lifted his chin at Molly, and she nodded. She’d follow up on those, too. Drew took the tray to the return line, then headed back down to the ER to follow up with a couple of patients. His phone buzzed briefly.
Molly had put Evan in one of the pediatric beds for now. She sent Drew the room number and said she’d run down those other leads. Also, Evan wanted to see him.
Be right there, Drew texted back.
Evan was sitting on his cot, scribbling away on a piece of paper when Drew arrived in the little private room. He lit up.
“Dr. Drew! Look, it’s you!” Evan held up the piece of paper, and - wow.
Even for a five-year-old, Evan was good. Beyond a five-year-old, Evan was good. Drew had heard Picasso was some kind of art prodigy when he was seven. Apparently Evan was the same, only younger.
“Wow, that is me.” Drew smiled. “You doing all right?”
“Check it out - Molly gave me a uniform.” Evan tugged on the collar of his scrubs.
“Yes she did. Listen, I need to check you over, make sure you’re not sick.”
“Gonna put me in a medical scanner?”
Drew, who was unwinding his stethoscope from around his neck, paused. “Ah, no. Just a quick check of your vitals. What kind of medical scanner?”
Evan scrambled to the edge of the bed obediently, held his arm out for blood pressure and pulse, didn’t even jump when Drew listened to his breathing.
“The ancient kind,” Evan said proudly. “Jenny has me lay down and she scans me and the machine shows her if anything’s wrong with me. Nothing’s ever wrong with me. You’re healthy as a horse.” He pitched his voice higher to mimic Jenny.
So Evan lived somewhere with out-of-date medical technology. “What else does Jenny do with the scanner?”
“She uses it to scan the soldiers when they come back from missions.”
Soldiers. Missions. Perhaps a military base after all. If Evan was scanned regularly, perhaps he had some kind of chronic medical condition. A blood panel would be a good idea.
“What kinds of missions?”
“Through the gate.”
“Gate?” That was sounding less like a military base. Unless Evan meant he was usually on some kind of remote base that was fenced and gated.
“What’s on the other side of the gate?”
“Bad aliens. They want to eat us.” Evan scowled. “But Daddy and Mama fight them.”
Nope, not a military base. Something pretty crazy. Drew had visions of fundamentalists out in the desert, paramilitary nuts with guns and dog tags who were tilting at windmills. Evan’s vitals checked out, he was healthy as a horse on the surface. No scars, abrasions, or contusions. But if there was a chance that Evan had suffered abuse, he’d probably need a full skeletal exam and maybe a psych eval.
“Your mom and dad sound very brave,” Drew said cautiously.
Evan nodded. “They are.”
“Okay, well, I’m going to need to run a few more tests. You ready?” Drew stood up.
“What kind of tests?” Evan hopped off the cot and slipped his hand into Drew’s, still as trusting as ever.
“Just some more, to make sure you’re okay.”
“I feel okay, and I’m not hungry anymore. Can I draw more pictures? Your hair’s too short to braid.”
“When we’re done with the tests, you can draw all you want.” Drew squeezed his hand. “In fact, why don’t you draw pictures of your mom and dad and your friends?”
“Yeah! You’re smart.” Evan peered up at Drew. “Are you a Marine?”
“No. I’m in the Army. I’m a Ranger. And a doctor.”
“It’s the haircut,” Evan said, nodding decisively. “You look like a Marine. The Marines are nice. They play tag with me when Daddy’s off-world.”
Marines. And they were back to a military base. But what did Evan mean by ‘off-world’?
It was Kenny who took some of Evan’s blood for a test, and Shannon - who was very proud of her pretty braided hair - who took him in for a skeletal survey.
Drew checked on his patients, then swung back by Molly’s desk.
“Any word on Evan’s parents?”
Her expression was grim. “I called over to the base - TC helped - and when I asked about Evan Lorne, read them the serial number off the tags, I was informed that Lieutenant Colonel Evan Lorne of the United States Air Force is currently posted in Antarctica, he’s away on a classified mission, and we won’t be hearing from him any time soon.”
Lieutenant Colonel Evan Lorne was an asshole. “Did you tell them we have his kid?”
“I did, and they told me that he has no children. When I asked about the people Evan said were his parents, I was informed in no uncertain terms that I would not be allowed to speak to either Specialist Ronon Dex or Ambassador Teyla Emmagan.” Molly pressed her lips into a thin line.
Drew sighed. At least now they knew Evan wasn’t from some kind of crazy fundamental camp. Although if Evan had Lieutenant Colonel Lorne’s actual dog tags, what tags was Lieutenant Colonel Lorne wearing? “And no word from social services or the police?”
Molly shook her head. “But as it turns out, Dr. Jennifer Keller is the chief medical officer of the Antarctic Base where Lieutenant Colonel Lorne is stationed, and Marie Cho is the charge nurse of the infirmary there.”
“Any chance of talking to either of them?”
“None.” Molly sighed, frustrated.
“Look at this.” Drew pushed Evan’s drawing across the desk.
“Wow.” Molly picked it up. “Good likeness. Shannon do it?”
Molly’s eyebrow shot toward her hairline. “Really?”
“Yeah. I wanted to get him some more drawing supplies,” Drew said. “Figured maybe he could draw us pictures of his parents.”
“Kid’s some kind of prodigy.” Molly rooted through her desk for more paper and some more pencils.
“Yeah. He seems healthy, and he’s well-behaved, which neglected children usually aren’t, but this response from the military is baffling.” Drew shook his head.
And then something tugged at his pant leg.
He looked down, and there was Evan, trailing the blanket off his cot. “I had a bad dream.” His blue eyes were filled with tears, and his chin was trembling, but he wasn’t crying.
Drew bit his lip. He remembered Riley and how much he loved her and how she’d been taken away and he didn’t think he could handle it, how much vulnerable children made him feel.
But he couldn’t let Evan just be afraid. So he scooped Evan up into his arms and smoothed a hand up and down his back.
“Do you remember what your dream was about?”
“The aliens. They were trying to eat you.” Evan buried his face against Drew’s neck and sniffled.
“I’m fine,” Drew murmured. “You’re fine. It’s safe here. There’s no aliens.” He glanced at Molly over Evan’s shoulder.
She cleared her throat. “Hey Evan, why don’t you stay here and help me? You can be my assistant.”
Evan lifted his head and twisted around to peer at her. “Help you?”
Molly nodded. “Yes. I need someone to smile at patients and give them lollipops. Think you can do that?”
Evan nodded. “But what about Dr. Drew?”
“I have to take care of my patients, buddy,” Drew said, smoothing a hand over Evan’s soft hair. “But I’ll be here all night.”
Evan stared up at him for a long time. Then he nodded. “Okay. See you later?”
Drew nodded. “Yeah, buddy. Later.” The last person who’d looked at him like that, wide-eyed and trusting and hopeful, was Riley.
And then Topher was hollering about incoming patients, and Drew wheeled away to dive back into the chaos.
Whenever he glanced over his shoulder, Evan was sitting on the counter, smiling and waving at someone, or leaning down and doling out a lollipop to another child (and in one instance a toothless old lady). Several other long-haired staff, male and female alike, stopped by and cooed at Evan, had their hair braided.
Between patients, Drew came back to check on Evan. In addition to handing out lollipops, braiding hair, and occasionally answering the phone for Molly, he’d continued drawing and making origami animals.
The phone rang, and Evan pounced on it. “San Antonio Memorial ER, how may I direct your call?” He sounded frighteningly adult and polite, but for his high, piping child’s voice.
Drew leaned against the counter and studied Evan’s drawings. A beautiful woman with a straight, narrow nose, dark eyes, and shoulder-length hair. According to the very neat print, she was Mama. She was beautiful. Daddy was a man with a strong brow, dark eyes and a curious scar above his left eye bisecting his eyebrow, an unruly goatee, and thick dreadlocks. Neither of them bore any resemblance to Evan. Johnny looked to be in his early forties, with spiky dark hair, pointy ears, and a sardonic smile. Rodney also looked to be in his early to mid-forties with thinning hair, a square jaw, and a curiously crooked smile.
None of them looked like the kind of people who’d cruelly abandon a small, innocent child, but as Drew well knew from training, you could never tell by looking who’d treat a child how.
“Hold one moment please,” Evan said, and tapped a button on the phone. He cradled the receiver against his chest like Drew had seen Molly do a thousand times and reached out, tapped her on the shoulder. “Molly, it’s a lady from social services. I put her on hold.”
“Thanks, pumpkin.” Molly actually pinched Evan’s cheek before she accepted the phone from him.
“How are you doing?” Drew asked. “Are you sleepy? Want me to take you back to your room?”
“I’m hungry,” Evan said. “Can we get a snack?”
“Sure, Evan.” Drew held his hands out so he could lift Evan onto the floor, but Evan wrapped his legs around Drew’s middle and hung on to his shoulders, beaming at him.
“Thanks, Dr. Drew. How are your patients doing?”
Drew carried him away from the desk. “They’re good. More than that is -”
“Classified.” Evan nodded wisely.
Drew might have gone with confidential, but if that was the term Evan understood, Drew would roll with it. He picked the healthiest snack he could find in the vending machine - a granola bar - and unwrapped it for Evan, sat with him down a side hallway while Evan gobbled it down.
“Are you sure you’re okay, buddy? Do you miss your mom and dad?”
“Mama and Daddy have to work sometimes, but they always make sure I’m safe,” he said. “They’ll be back.” He kicked his legs for a bit. “Is this the Alpha Site? Is that why I can’t feel the city?”
Right. In all the chaos, Drew had forgotten to get a psych consult.
“No, this isn’t the Alpha Site,” Drew said cautiously. That was a military term. Evan had some connection to the actual military, but something very strange was going on.
Evan’s eyes went wide. “Did they send me back to Earth? Was I - was I bad?” And he began to sniffle.
“You weren’t bad,” Drew said, “but you are on Earth.”
Evan crawled up onto Drew’s lap, peered into his eyes. His little hands were sticky with honey from the granola bar. “Did something happen to Lantis? Or is Lantis on Earth again?”
Yeah, psych consult. Pronto. “I’m sorry, buddy, I don’t know.” Drew patted Evan’s back gently.
Evan poked Drew in the jaw. “Are you a Replicator?”
Drew frowned. “Like the thing on Star Trek that makes food?”
“No. They’re robots that look like people. Or spiders.”
“I’m just an ordinary human,” Drew said.
“Prove it.” Evan crossed his arms over his chest.
Drew unwound his stethoscope. “Here. You can listen to my heart.”
Evan fitted the eartips in his ears very solemnly, put his hand on the bell and guided the diaphragm to Drew’s scrub top. Drew gently repositioned the diaphragm over his own heart and waited.
Evan’s eyes closed, and he murmured along with Drew’s heartbeat, Thump-thump, thump-thump. Then he wriggled out of the stethoscope and handed it back. “Okay. You’re human.”
“See? Not a replicator.” Drew’s cell phone buzzed. “Looks like break time’s over, buddy. Molly needs you again.” And Topher needed Drew.
Evan slipped his hand into Drew’s, and together they walked back out to the ER. Drew hoisted Evan up onto Molly’s desk, patted him on the head, and dove back into the fray. Between patients, he remembered to send a text to psych, ask for a consult.
Half an hour later, things had settled down enough that Drew could pop back over to the desk, where Evan was sucking on a red lollipop and gazing at Landry with wide, guileless eyes.
“Tell me more about Lantis,” she was saying, leaning on the counter and smiling down at him.
“It’s classified,” Evan said primly.
Landry reached out, tapped one of the drawings. “Can you tell me more about your mama?”
“It’s classified,” Evan said again. He lit up when he saw Drew coming toward him, but then Jordan popped out of one of the trauma bays.
“Hey, Drew, I could use your manly assistance,” she said. She drew back the curtain, and there was a little boy, clutching his arm to his chest and glaring balefully at Jordan.
“She’s a mean doctor,” the boy said. “She hurts me.”
“His arm’s broken. I need to reduce it, but he won’t let me give him a sedative before I reduce it,” Jordan said quietly.
Drew hunkered down so he was eye-level with the little boy, who had curly red hair and lots and lots of freckles. “Hey, buddy. I know it hurts. But if you don’t let her give you the medicine, it’ll hurt even more when she fixes your arm, all right? I need you to be really brave for me. Can you be brave?”
Drew tugged his dog tags out from under his collar. “Like a soldier.”
The boy’s mulish expression faded some. “My mommy’s a soldier. She’s in Iraq.”
“Then your mommy is very brave. Can you be brave like her?”
The boy nodded. Drew held out his hand. “Here, you can squeeze my hand if it hurts, but Dr. Jordan has to give you the medicine now, okay?”
The boy nodded again and latched onto his hand. Drew had heard men complain how their wives nearly broke their hands when during childbirth. This was probably about as close as he would get to the experience. But Jordan injected the boy’s arm, and then it was done.
The little boy let go of Drew’s hand only when Jordan put a little Superman bandaid on his arm.
“Was I brave enough?” he asked.
“More than enough.” Drew reached into his pocket and found a little roll of yellow smiley face stickers. “Here. For your bravery, you’ve earned a medal. Hold out your hand?”
The boy did.
Drew placed one of the stickers on the back of the boy’s hand, saluted him.
The boy saluted back, smiling. Jordan patted Drew on the arm. “Thanks.”
“I do what I can.” Drew ducked away from the trauma bay and back to the desk, where Landry was letting Evan braid her hair and failing to get any useful information out of him.
“So Lantis is classified, your Mama and Daddy are classified, and all your friends are classified,” Landry said.
“Well, Johnny’s in the Air Force,” Evan offered after some thought. “That’s not classified.”
“But you can’t say what he does in the Air Force.” Landry tilted her head so Evan could get at the roots of her hair.
“He’s a full bird,” Evan said.
Landry raised her eyebrows. To the untrained, that did sound a little crazy.
“Colonel,” Drew said, “as opposed to a light bird, or a lieutenant colonel. The rank insignia for a colonel looks like a bird.”
Landry took a deep breath. “Okay. Is Johnny your daddy’s boss?”
“Classified,” Evan sing-songed.
“Is Johnny nice?” Landry asked.
Evan nodded. “He’s fun. He plays with me. Shows me golf and takes me flying. He plays guitar! Can you play guitar, Dr. Drew?”
“Ah, no, and you wouldn’t want me to sing either,” Drew said.
Evan flicked a glance up at him. “Dr. Drew, what are the yellow smiley stickers for?”
So he’d seen that. “They’re for boys and girls who have been very brave.”
“How brave?” Evan asked.
“Brave like a soldier,” Drew said, since that was what he’d told the other boy.
“I can be brave like a soldier.” Evan finished braiding Landry’s hair and squirmed off the edge of the desk before Drew or Landry could catch him.
Evan planted himself beside Drew and stood up as tall as he could. “What do you need me to do, Captain?”
“It’s not quite that simple,” Drew began, and then his pocket buzzed.
“We’ve got incoming, MVA.” Topher sped past him, yanking on gloves.
“Hold that thought,” Drew said to Evan and dashed after Topher.
The patient was a woman, young, barely in her twenties, with long tangled dark hair and blood soaking her shirt. She was clutching her abdomen. Gwen rattled off her stats. A man hurried along beside the gurney.
“Is she gonna be all right? I have to stay with her.” He had blood on his shirt but didn’t appear to be bleeding.
Jordan was already running a FAST. “We have internal bleeding. Call Scott. We need an OR.”
“Let me stay with her,” the man said.
Drew stepped in front of him. “Sir, she needs surgery, and I need to check you over. If you’ll come with me -”
And then the man drew a gun. “I said let me stay with her.”
Drew froze, raised his hands in surrender, his mind already racing with a dozen ways to disarm the man before he could shoot anyone. “Sir, please calm down, we’re trying to save her life, but you need to be checked, and you can’t be in the operating room distracting the staff.”
The woman panted, “The drugs. He wants the drugs.”
The woman was a drug mule. Shit.
“Shut up!” the man snarled. He was still aiming his gun at Drew. “You get me those drugs and no one has to get hurt.”
And suddenly he crumpled with a howl. The gun clattered from his hands. Drew scooped it up.
Evan was standing behind the man, his little hands covered in blood. “Got him,” he said, with that same frighteningly adult tone he’d used to answer the phone. “Target subdued.”
Drew stared at Evan in horror.
The man on the floor was screaming.
Evan said, “Was I brave?”
And then the man on the floor was staggering to his feet, reaching for Evan. A bloody scalpel clattered to the floor. Blood poured from between the man’s legs. Femoral artery? Drew panicked. Evan swung around and lashed out, punched the man right in the throat.
Seconds later, security burst onto the scene. Two of them pounced on the injured gunman. Another pounced on Evan, who promptly burst into tears. Drew swooped in, plucked Evan from the guard’s arms and held him tightly, rocking him.
Drew was terrified and horrified. What the hell had possessed Evan to stab someone? And to risk himself like that? He was probably traumatized. Evan fisted his hands in Drew’s shirt, hiccuping and sobbing, tears soaking Drew’s shoulder.
Drew bustled him toward one of the side rooms with an actual door and sat down on the bed, holding him tightly and rocking him some more.
“Hey, shh, you’re safe now, you were brave, you’re safe, I’ve got you, I’ll protect you.” It was a litany of nonsense and sweet nothings, because Evan hadn’t been brave, he’d been insane. What the hell had come over Drew, that he hadn’t acted fast enough, that Evan had had to do that?
Only Evan hadn’t had to do that. Evan knew Drew was a soldier, could handle himself. Had Drew so profoundly impacted Evan with talk of being brave like a soldier? No. No child would stab a stranger to get a sticker. Evan’s bouts of uncanny maturity, his drawing skill, his sudden violence - there was so much more under the surface.
Drew gazed down at his soft dark hair and trembling body and wondered what Evan had gone through, that he was capable of such violence.
Landry appeared in the doorway, shaken. With her was a security guard, a police officer, and young black woman in a sensible cardigan, blouse, and dark jeans. Social worker.
“Drew,” Landry said, “we need to talk to Evan.”
Evan curled tighter against Drew, still sobbing.
“Give him a minute,” Drew said, smoothing a hand up and down Evan’s back.
“Does he need a sedative?” the police officer asked.
“He’s five,” Drew said flatly. “Let him cry it out.”
Landry added, “Memory right after a traumatic event is pretty unreliable. The best thing to let him do is sleep and talk to him in the morning.”
“You can’t question a child without his parent or guardian,” the social worker said.
“Charge nurse says he has none,” the police officer said.
“That has yet to be determined,” the social worker fired back. “Until it is, he needs a place to stay, somewhere he’s not a danger to himself and others.”
Evan’s sobs had subsided to hiccups. His spine was tense as a bowstring beneath Drew’s hand.
“What about me? Could he stay with me? He knows me, my husband and I both have military training, and we pass background checks,” Drew said.
The social worker bit her lip. “We could categorize you as a family friend for one night, maybe two, but -”
“Where is he?”
Landry, the police officer, and the social worker turned.
The man who burst into the room was none other than Rodney, unmistakable from Evan’s drawing, which Drew now knew was downright uncanny in its skill given that he was seeing the subject in the flesh.
Evan lifted his head, sniffling. “Rodney?”
“Who are you?” the social worker asked. “Are you his parent?”
“Well, no,” Rodney began, reaching for Evan. He hesitated when he saw the blood. “What the hell did you do to him?”
“I stabbed him,” Evan said, and his eyes filled with tears once more. “He was gonna shoot Dr. Drew, and -”
Rodney looked horrified. “You stabbed somebody? I mean, hey, buddy, you were, um, very brave for protecting - Dr. Drew, was it? But it’s time to go now. We’ve been looking everywhere for you. John and Woolsey have been very worried.”
Evan wiped at his face, trying to wipe away the tears, and only succeeded in getting blood everywhere. He started crying all over again.
“Did I kill him, Dr. Drew? Is he dead?”
Drew snagged paper towel, dampened it, and began cleaning Evan’s face. Drew had never imagined hearing those words from a child. “I don’t know, buddy. I can find out from Dr. Jordan.”
The social worker stepped in front of Rodney. “Sir, we need proof that you are this child’s parent or legal guardian or that you have authority from them before we can release him to you.”
Rodney started turning red. “Listen, you jumped-up excuse for a government agent, this is a matter of national security. I need Lorne and I need him now.”
Lorne instead of Evan. How curious.
Drew finished cleaning Evan’s face. “Is that better?”
Evan held out his tiny, trembling, bloodstained hands, and Drew scrubbed them off too. Drew fished his phone out of his pocket, called Molly, asked her for more clothes.
Rodney was in a shouting match with both the social worker and the police officer when Molly arrived with clean child-sized scrubs for Evan. Drew helped Evan change into them, and then he tucked Evan into the bed.
“Don’t go,” Evan whispered. “Stay here. I have to protect you.”
“I’ll be just outside,” Drew promised. “We need to have a grown-up talk, okay?”
Evan blinked watery blue eyes up at him. “I was brave, wasn’t I?”
Drew still wasn’t sure that was the word for it, but he nodded, pressed a kiss to Evan’s forehead, and reached into his pocket for the roll of stickers. “Give me your hand?”
Evan held out his left hand. He was still shaking ever so faintly. Drew pressed a sticker to the back of his hand. Evan stared at it for a long moment, and then he curled up on his side, closing his eyes.
Drew turned to the social worker, security guard, Landry, and Rodney. “He needs rest. Let’s take this outside.” He herded them all out of the room on sheer dint of physical presence.
“Look,” Rodney was saying, “clearly none of you people are equipped to handle Evan -”
“And I have no proof that you are either,” the social worker snapped. “Look, Rodney -”
“That’s Dr. Rodney McKay, PhD, PhD,” he said, and he paused. “How do you know my name?”
“Evan drew pictures of you.” Drew signaled to Molly, and she bustled over, sketches in hand.
Rodney accepted them, brow furrowed. He flipped through them, and his eyes went wide. He didn’t look surprised at Evan’s skill level. But he looked - pained, which made no sense. He held up the picture labeled Mama. “Clearly Evan identifies with us as his psychological family. Keeping him from us is harming him.”
“You’re not either of the people identified as a parent, psychological or otherwise.” The social worker snatched the drawings from Rodney, held up the ones labeled Mama and Daddy. “Besides, he sketched Dr. Alister as well.” Then she blinked. “Wait, are you saying that little boy in there drew these?”
“Watched him do it myself,” Molly said. She cast Rodney a look and added, “Evan didn’t seem too worried about his parents’ absence. Didn’t ask about them much, other than at the beginning of the night when Drew found him.”
Rodney wheeled around scanned their faces, and Drew said, “Me. Dr. Drew Alister.”
“Doctor? You look like a Marine.”
“Army Ranger, actually.”
“Oh? Well, good for you. When did you find him?”
“A couple hours into the shift, while I was on a smoke break,” Drew said.
Rodney’s expression turned thunderous. “You were smoking around him? What kind of medical doctor smokes?”
Drew rolled his eyes. “I wasn’t actually smoking. I was just taking a break. He came to me and told me he was hungry.”
“And you - what? Started using him to violate child labor laws and fight your battles?”
“We’ve been trying all night to find his parents,” Molly said sharply, “but so far no one wants to help us.”
“Well, I’m here to help you by taking him home,” Rodney said.
The police officer said, “Sir, this level of neglect requires further investigation. The child was not properly clothed or shod or, by all accounts, fed when he arrived here. Clearly he was improperly supervised.”
Rodney threw his hands up. “Look, yes, we did lose track of Evan. There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for how that happened. Unfortunately, it’s classified, and none of you have a snowball’s chance in a volcano of getting clearance, so give me the boy and we will be on our way.” He started for the door.
Both the security guard and the police officer stepped in front of him.
Rodney sighed. “Look, call the Air Force, they can tell you -”
“We called the Air Force,” Molly said, “and they informed us in no uncertain terms that we wouldn’t be speaking to Evan Lorne Senior or the two individuals Evan named as his parents.”
“Obviously you didn’t call the right part of the Air Force,” Rodney muttered. He reached for his wallet. “Look, how much will it cost for me to just get the kid and go?”
The police officer raised her eyebrows. “Sir, are you suggesting we engage in human trafficking?”
“Then were you trying to bribe a government official?” she countered.
Before Rodney could dig himself into a deeper hole - because that was precisely what he’d been trying to do - another man appeared. None other than Johnny. In person, he was even more handsome than the drawing, a few inches taller than Rodney, and lean, the kind of slender that Drew associated with some black ops guys he’d met, not an ounce of fat, not an inch of wasted mass anywhere on their bodies. While Johnny was wearing dark jeans and a button-down shirt and a jacket, had a pair of mirrored aviator shades tucked into his collar, looked casual, he carried himself with an air Drew was all too familiar with. The man saw combat on a regular basis.
“Rodney, what’s the hold up?”
“They won’t give him to me,” Rodney said. “I explained that it’s a matter of national security, but -”
“I’m sure your winning personality helped,” Johnny drawled. This guy was a full-bird colonel, with that crazy hair?
“Well, what did you expect?” Rodney muttered, crossing his arms over his chest defensively. “It’s not like anyone thought to make up papers on the kid, not even after that thing in the Springs with that cop who used to date Sam.”
Johnny scratched the back of his neck. “Look, I’m Colonel John Sheppard, United States Air Force, and this is a very delicate situation. Can we at least see Lorne? Evan. Make sure he’s okay.”
Rodney said, in a low voice, “There was some kind of security incident in the ER. He stabbed a guy in the groin with a scalpel. In defense of hospital personnel, of course.”
“Of course. Going for the femoral artery,” Johnny said distractedly. Then his gaze sharpened. “Wait, he what?”
“He drew those, too.” Rodney nodded in the direction of the social worker.
She held up the drawings, expression deeply skeptical.
Johnny’s expression was pained, just like Rodney’s had been, when he saw them. “Dammit. System’s breaking down.”
“The system,” Rodney said quietly. “Or just him.”
And suddenly Drew remembered Evan’s crazy talk, about medical scanners and doctors and ancient healing devices, about replicators that looked like people. The way he could sound uncanny and adult. The way he’d stabbed the gunman without hesitation. The way he was able to draw so well.
What if Evan wasn’t a human at all? What if he was some kind of advanced robot? Drew knew the military always had tech light years ahead of the civilian world, and Rodney had said he was a doctor, had two PhDs. Evan said his entire life was classified.
No. That was impossible. No way was technology and robotics to that point. Evan was a little boy. Drew had checked him out personally, heard his breaths and his beating heart. He was a human.
Mama and Daddy - or rather, Teyla and Ronon - appeared. Teyla looked concerned, and she had a bag of children’s things with her. She was even more beautiful in person, moved with the grace of a dancer, but Drew could see how she was alert to her surroundings. She, too, saw combat on a regular basis.
Ronon was a veritable mountain of a man, solid muscle and half a head taller than everyone else. He stood behind Johnny with his arms crossed over his chest, glaring at anyone who came too close.
Teyla inquired after Evan’s well being, his emotional state. She had his favorite stuffed toy and his favorite superhero pajamas. Compared to Rodney, she seemed like the pinnacle of parenthood.
Ronon said but one thing: “Where’s Evan?”
“I’ll go check on him. Wait here.” Drew was loathe to wake Evan up if he was sleeping well. He turned and eased open the door, slipped inside, closed it behind him to block out the noise from the adults arguing over the fate of a little boy.
Only there was no little boy.
Drew twitched for the nearest item he could use as a weapon on instinct, because Evan was gone, and lying in the bed was a man. By all accounts a naked man. The covers Drew had tucked around little Evan were pooled around the man’s waist.
Drew opened his mouth to call for back-up or help or something, and then he saw - the man was wearing dog tags, the real deal, with black rubber silencers around the edges. And on the back of his left hand was a yellow smiley face sticker.
Drew whispered, “Evan?”
The man stirred, rolled over, sat up. He opened his eyes, looked down at himself, and immediately yanked the covers higher.
“Shit. Where are my clothes? Where am I?” He looked Drew up and down. “Did they issue the medical staff new uniforms?”
“My name is Dr. Alister, and you’re in the ER at San Antonio Memorial Hospital.”
“San Antonio - Texas? On Earth?”
What the hell was the Air Force doing these days, that being on Earth was a surprise to anyone? “Yes, Earth,” Drew said.
The man pressed a hand to his forehead. “Right. On leave. Dammit. It must have happened again. Is there any chance I can get some clothes?”
“On leave?” Drew asked.
“Yeah. Lieutenant Colonel Evan Lorne. United States Air Force.”
Molly had said the Air Force told her that Evan Lorne had no children.
“Captain Drew Alister, Army Ranger Reserves,” he said.
The man blinked at him with wide blue eyes. Drew knew those eyes, those long dark lashes. “Dr. Drew? Not a dream, then. Look, about those clothes -”
“Of course,” Drew said. “Just a moment. Should I let your friends know you’re awake?”
“Friends?” the man echoed.
“Rodney, Johnny -”
“Colonel Sheppard is here?” the man looked downright panicked, the kind of panic Drew knew all too well, when a senior officer was about to catch a junior officer with his proverbial pants down. He yanked the covers even higher, and Drew noticed, for the first time, that he was doing things left-handed, and awkwardly at that.
Evan had done things right-handed, had sketched and used the phone and handed out lollipops left-handed. Not the same person, then.
Except for the tags and the sticker and -
And the man’s right arm was missing below the elbow. The scar was small and neat, and the wound looked fully healed.
The man noticed Drew looking and curled in on himself the same way Rick had, after the accident, whenever he caught strangers staring.
“What happened?” Drew asked softly.
The man’s gaze slid away. “That’s classified.”
Drew really hated those two words.
The door burst open.
Drew spun around to keep Landry and the social worker and everyone else out, because how would he explain where Evan had gone?
Only it was Ronon and Teyla.
“Evan, buddy,” Ronon began, and he came up short. “Colonel Lorne.”
“Ronon,” Lorne said cautiously.
Teyla immediately folded up the little pajamas she’d been holding up, her smile fading. “Lorne, are you well?”
“I could be better, especially if you happen to have my clothes and -” He waved the stump of his right arm awkwardly. Gestured with it.
Rodney and Johnny - Colonel Sheppard - appeared in the doorway.
Rodney said, “Oh, hell.”
Colonel Sheppard sighed. “Better call Woolsey, get some JAG officers with NDAs down here. We need you to round up everyone who had contact with the kid last night.”
“No wonder you wanted him back,” Drew murmured.
Rodney stabbed a finger at him. “And you should have given him to me.”
“I’m right here, you know,” Lorne said. He gazed at Drew with too much knowledge in too-familiar eyes. “Did it really happen, then? Did I stab that guy?”
“Yeah,” Drew said. “Saved me and everyone in the ER and the girl, so -” He cut himself off before he said thanks.
Lorne nodded tightly. “So, clothes?”
“I can get you some scrubs.” Drew ducked out of the room, let Lorne’s friends in to speak to him.
“Is Evan all right?” Molly asked.
“Don’t go in there,” Drew said flatly. “And - I need some scrubs.”
“Oh dear. Did Evan have an accident?”
“I need them in adult sizes,” Drew said.
Molly blinked, but Drew nodded, and she walked away, looking a little dazed.
The police officer cornered Drew, and Drew explained that Evan was fine for now, and the Air Force wasn’t about to kidnap him, and yes, he had a few moments to answer questions about the incident on the trauma floor.
Drew was just about finished with his interview when half a dozen blue-uniformed JAG officers arrived, helmed by Colonel Paul Davis of the Pentagon. Everyone who’d come into contact with Evan for more than a couple of seconds was herded into the break room and forced to sign their way to carpal tunnel syndrome on an NDA thick enough to be a phone book.
Drew thought of all the times little Evan had insisted something was classified, and now he understood why. He signed the paperwork without fuss, well acquainted with the ways of the military.
The JAG officers gathered their paperwork into identical black leather briefcases and rallied around Colonel Davis, who did a head count before he strode out of the automatic doors.
Drew tucked his pen back into his pocket and sighed, sank against Molly’s desk.
Then he saw Rodney, Colonel Sheppard, Ronon, Teyla, and Lorne step out of the side room where Drew had put Evan a couple of hours ago. Lorne was wearing scrubs and a pair of slippers and looking incredibly sheepish. He shuffled over to Drew.
“Hey, Dr. Alister, I just wanted to say - thanks. For keeping me safe.”
“You kept me safe too,” Drew said softly. Then he remembered, reached over the barrier on the desk and grabbed the sketches. “You did these. I didn’t know if you wanted to keep them or not.”
Lorne looked stricken for a moment. Then he recovered. “No, but thanks. I’ve done much better portraits of my friends. Although - although you’d probably better give McKay the ones of Ronon and Teyla. For disposal.”
Drew shuffled through the drawings, still amazed by how lifelike they were, not even considering the hand that had produced them. Then he glanced at the stump of Lorne’s right elbow and wondered what better portraits would have looked like. He handed over the drawings of Ronon and Teyla. Lorne didn’t even look at them, gripped them too tightly with his left hand, knuckles white, paper crumpling.
“Keep up the good work, Captain.”
“And you, Colonel.”
Lorne turned away, returned to his friends. He handed the papers to Rodney and headed out the doors without looking back.
Drew kept his own portrait pinned to the inside of his locker, and he’d look at it sometimes, remember Evan’s little hand in his, remember his dimpled smile and sweet voice.
He didn’t tell Rick, that he’d almost brought a child home, a child who could have been theirs.
And then he met Brianna.