Elizabeth's eyes went wide. That was a child's voice. She stood up and stepped out of her office and peered around. Where there were children there were usually refugees, but she hadn't heard any unscheduled off-world gate activations or other emergency calls come through.
"Where's my mom? I want my mom."
Elizabeth proceeded around the corner cautiously and saw Major Lorne standing between two children. One was wearing brown pants and a rough brown tunic and had long, thick hair, but Elizabeth was pretty sure he was a boy.
The other child was also a boy. He had wildly messy black hair and was wearing denim overalls over a black Batman t-shirt.
"Now," Lorne said firmly, "we talked about this. John, Ronon, neither of you are the boss of each other. Until Ronon's grandpa gets back and John's mom gets back, I'm the boss, all right? You heard Dr. Beckett."
"He pushed me," the little black-haired boy protested, jabbing an accusatory finger at the other.
The other boy - Ronon - sneered at him. "You're a whiny baby."
John's expression startled to crumple. He tugged on Lorne's pant leg. "Where's my mom?"
Lorne sighed and knelt down, scooped him up into a hug and held him while he cried.
Ronon's expression was smug.
"Don't," Lorne said firmly. "He's just tired and hungry. You're both in trouble for running away from me. Dr. Beckett's orders were very strict. To the mess hall and back. Let's go get some food."
Elizabeth cleared her throat. "Major? Is there something you want to tell me?"
Lorne froze mid-step and turned to her. John's crying had subsided, and he was rubbing his eyes with tiny fists.
"Ma'am," he began.
"Who're you?" John asked.
Ronon squinted at her. "Are you my mother?"
"Boys, this is Elizabeth," Lorne said. "She - she's the queen of Atlantis, and everyone has to do everything she says."
Ronon looked disappointed.
"Pleased to meet you, John Sheppard, Ronon Dex," Elizabeth said. "Major Lorne, why was I not informed about this situation?"
"McKay and Zelenka had a bit of a hiccup with the machine Teldy's team brought back from their last recon mission. We thought it was a healing device. Apparently it was a, um, cosmetic device intended to preserve a person's youthful appearance, but it's...malfunctioning. Zelenka didn't want to tell you till we had a better sense of what's going on and McKay is...very upset."
Elizabeth could only imagine how upset Rodney was, with John like this.
Lorne looked exhausted. Elizabeth had no children or nieces and nephews of her own, and she generally tended to avoid children. Something about the way Ronon was studying her so intently made her uncomfortable.
"How did she know our names?" John whispered, too loudly.
Lorne stage-whispered back, "She's the queen. She knows everything."
John's eyes went wide with awe. He ducked his head, suddenly shy, and pressed his face against Lorne's neck.
"I'll get them fed and back to the infirmary, ma'am," Lorne said.
"I'll walk with you," Elizabeth said. She held out a hand. "Ronon, you walk with me."
He slipped his hand into hers immediately and fell into step beside her. He must have been only about five or six. John looked to be about the same age. After a whispered conversation with Lorne, John consented to be let down, and he held Lorne's hand as they walked to the mess hall.
More than one person stopped to say hello to the boys, smiling and asking them how they liked Atlantis, and both of them cheered up, flattered by the attention. After the meal, Lorne wanted to take them back to the infirmary, but Stackhouse challenged little Ronon to a cartwheel contest, and it turned out that at five years old, Ronon was incredibly agile and acrobatic. John, not about to be outdone, managed to convince Bates to give over his ukelele, and at five years old he was a talented musician. His singing voice was high and sweet and clear, and his little hands were practiced and sure on the strings. Even Ronon was impressed, swaying along to Somewhere Over The Rainbow.
Elizabeth had always assumed John had been born deaf, what with the way he never spoke (in some schools of deaf etiquette, apparently, if someone could use their voice, they would, for the benefit of hearing people involved in a discussion). She wondered how old he'd been when he'd lost his hearing. And she wondered what kind of musician he'd have become, what kind of man, had he kept his hearing.
It was easy to convince both boys to show off again for a camera, and once Strickland had one set up, they hammed it up for the video. Elizabeth didn't know if either of them would care to see what was recorded once they were restored to their normal selves, but Elizabeth couldn't pass it up.
Everyone in the mess hall cheered loudly for the two little boys when their performance ended.
Elizabeth was pretty sure she was the only one who noticed Rodney standing in the doorway, watching, a proud smile on his face mingled with silently falling tears.