A/N: Significant spoilers for Common Ground and one tiny non-spoilery item for Sunday.

More Than Meets the Eye

The clipped tones of the medical staff were the first indications of something wrong. The appearance of Dr. Caitlyn Donnelly was the second. Ignoring the pain raging in his side, Major Evan Lorne rose gingerly into an upright position when the nightshift attending emerged from the office area and headed his way. Her features were pinched, and her infectious grin was absent. Green eyes, usually sparkling, were dull, and even her fiery red hair seemed subdued. She put on a casual air as she studied Evan's chart. Forcing a smile, she began checking his vitals.

"How are you feeling today, Major?"

"What's wrong, Doc?"

"What do you mean?"

"It's the middle of the day. Why isn't Beckett here?"

An indefinable emotion flickered across her face, looking strangely like despair to Lorne, and every instinct he had screamed a warning. Something was dreadfully wrong.

"Dr. Beckett is… in a meeting."

"Wow, Doc, you really suck at lying. Tell me what's going on."

She glanced away and when she looked back, Evan was shocked to see tears in her eyes. "Col. Sheppard was captured by a man named Kolya a few hours ago."

"Kolya?" The name hit Lorne like a blow to the solar plexus. He had read the reports on the brutal Genii commander and had heard the rumors that ran rampant through the ranks. Evan's hatred of the Genii ran deep but couldn't compare to the enmity between Sheppard and Kolya.

"Tell me everything you know," he demanded.

Carson always kept his senior staff fully informed during emergency situations, and this was no exception. The young major's dismay grew exponentially at the story Donnelly told of demands that wouldn't be met and regular Wraith feedings. Lorne had been at the SGC the day the Daedalus had returned from Pegasus the first time. He had met Col. Everett on several occasions, but the weak old man that was beamed to the infirmary barely resembled the Marine he remembered. The thought of Sheppard like that, or worse, drove a spike through Evan's chest.

He threw back the sheet and turned carefully in an effort to rise.

Laying a firm hand on his shoulder, Caitlyn gently pushed him back. "What do you think you're doing, Major?"

"I need to help with the search."

"You are one day removed from emergency surgery. You aren't going anywhere. Everything that can be done is being done."

He knew she was right, but that was his CO out there. Lorne had never felt so frustrated. He had faced Unas, Goa'uld, Replicators, Wraith, the Genii and a thousand other dangers in two galaxies, and yet when he was needed most he was felled by a tiny appendix. His mind spun, searching for a way to help.

"Could I ask a favor, Doc?"

"That depends on what it is."

"I need a laptop."

"Major-"

"I am the ranking military officer until Col. Sheppard returns. I need to know what's happening, help coordinate the search teams."

"You need to rest."

"That's not going to happen until this is resolved. Please, Caitlyn."

The doctor regarded him carefully. "Do you promise not to move from this bed?"

"Yes."

"I'll see what I can do."

Evan inclined the bed and laid his head back as he waited for her return. He hadn't told her the entire truth. He knew Ronon would be leading the search for Sheppard, and there was no one Lorne trusted more to find his commander. He would monitor the logs, but his men were the best at what they did.

The major had two secret skills. They weren't secret in that no one could know, but secret in that he had never shared them with anyone in Atlantis. First, he painted. He hadn't been able to indulge in the hobby in years, but he hoped to get a chance soon. Second, he could hack any computer he found. He wasn't quite to McKay's level, but he wasn't far behind. One of his favorite pastimes was to change the screensaver on Sheppard's computer to something highly inappropriate for children and watch the man's reaction when it came on. Evan's goal in life was to make the colonel blush; he hadn't succeeded yet but not for lack of trying.

Donnelly wore a stern expression as she handed over the computer. "Remember, you promised to stay put."

"I haven't forgotten. I'll stay right here. Thanks, Doc."

She smiled grimly. "Don't overdo it, Major. I'll check back later."

Lorne powered on the laptop and began searching the communications database. He needed to know what to expect. He quickly found the day's transmissions, and the analog videos were easy to spot. Verifying the volume was low enough to not draw attention, he clicked on the first file. The onscreen conversation flowed around him as he concentrated on observing Sheppard. When the Wraith thrust his feeding hand to John's chest, Lorne almost jumped out of the bed. Biting back a curse, he watched as the colonel writhed in pain.

Evan stared with unbelieving eyes as Kolya repeated the process twice. He had heard the Genii man was cruel, but this went beyond anything he'd anticipated. The only thing more horrifying to Lorne than witnessing Sheppard's torture was watching the vibrant commander age prematurely.

Seething with rage, the soldier slammed the laptop closed and set it aside; the image of John, bound, gagged, struggling but not begging, was burned into his psyche forever. He had never admired the colonel more than he did at that moment. They had to find Sheppard before it was too late. The last video had given a two hour deadline, but the time stamp was almost three hours earlier.

Jaw clenched, he vowed to never stop looking. There was no planet in this galaxy big enough to hide Acastus Kolya from Lorne and his men. And Ronon. The satisfaction of that thought was short-lived as the memory of Everett returned. This couldn't be happening, not to John Sheppard. The man had been the best CO the major had ever had, although he would have never suspected it the first time they met.

OoOoOoOoO

Evan stepped from the communal shower, scrubbing his hair with a towel. "Who's getting promoted?"

"I don't know. Some guy from Atlantis."

"They aren't replacing Sumner?" The military commander's death had been big news around the SGC when the transmission from the expedition had been received.

Michaels shrugged. "Guess not. Apparently this guy, Sheldon, Sherlock, Shetland, something like that, has been running the show since Sumner died. I hear the expedition leader went to bat for him, convinced the brass to promote him."

"You mean Dr. Weir?" Lorne had liked her for the two seconds she had been in charge of the Stargate program.

"Yeah, I think that's right. Do you suppose there's something going on there?"

Evan considered it for a moment. "Nah, she doesn't strike me as the sexual favors type."

"Too uptight?"

"Takes her job too seriously. I don't think she would risk lives just to keep some guy happy. You know anything about him?"

"Just the scuttlebutt around here – Air Force major, some blot on his record but has the right gene, used to fly helos in Antarctica."

"An Air Force pilot that flies choppers?"

"What? You can't?" Michaels teased.

"No. I'm a fighter pilot. Helicopters are more of an Army or Marine thing, unless…."

"Unless what?"

"Never mind. Look, I've been off-world for three days. Can you cover for me?"

"Not a chance. Landry ordered every officer to the gateroom in two hours, dress blues. That includes you, Major. You know The Man will be taking roll."

Lorne sighed. "You're right. Want to grab a bite to eat first?"

"You bet."

Evan was not overly wowed at his first glimpse of the soon-to-be-promoted Major. He and Michaels had filled their trays and taken a seat when a lanky officer entered the mess hall with three civilians, one of whom he recognized as Weir.

"Is that him?"

"Yep."

"They're promoting that guy to lieutenant colonel and giving him command of Atlantis' military?" Lorne asked incredulously.

"Crazy, isn't it?"

The man had the most non-regulation haircut Evan had ever seen, his BDUs were improperly bloused, and his boots were untied.

"What the hell did Weir say to Landry?"

"I have no idea, but it must have been good. I will say that I've read a couple of reports they submitted. Sounds like the guy is tough as nails."

After the ceremony, Lorne found an empty room and an unused computer. He skimmed through a few reports of the early days of the expedition, grudgingly impressed with how John had conducted himself. Then he read Weir's account of the Genii invasion of Atlantis.

Staring at the screen, he tried to reconcile the description of that soldier to the man he'd seen earlier. Sheppard had single-handedly killed over sixty men. Evan searched for the military man's report of the incident, reading between the lines. An Air Force pilot that could fly choppers, shoot like a sniper, and not only plan but also execute a brilliant strategic assault. Lorne had met only one other Air Force man like that.

When Evan had joined the SGC, then-Colonel Jack O'Neill required personnel to complete a lengthy training regimen before being assigned to a team. It had taken Lorne three months to complete, three grueling months. At the end, he could shoot with the best of them, run for miles and hold his own in hand-to-hand combat. Except against Teal'c, of course. Not even O'Neill could beat him, although the colonel occasionally would pull a fancy special ops move that surprised the Jaffa.

Lorne read through the rest of Weir's summaries, stopping to find the detailed report of the Wraith siege they had just battled. He gaped at the description of Sheppard's solution and bravery. Evan didn't care what rumor said about the lieutenant colonel; this was no ordinary pilot. The major went straight to Landry's office to volunteer for the Atlantis expedition.

OoOoOoOoO

Michaels had thought he was nuts, but Lorne had never regretted the decision. There was so much more to John Sheppard than met the eye. The cocky grin and casual attitude covered a brilliant mind and a ferocity equal to Ronon's. Evan had long suspected that the military commander had special ops experience but had never hacked into his service record. Sheppard was a private man, rarely speaking of his past, and Lorne respected him too much to invade that privacy.

But Evan was an observer, and the colonel had too many skills to be just a pilot. The definitive answer had been given on M1X-948. Civil war had broken out in the middle of trade negotiations. His team and Sheppard's had been pinned down, fighting for a day and a half. They were tired, wet, cold, and out of ammunition. The rebels overran their position, and the Lantians had no choice but to fight hand to hand.

Lorne had seen John fight numerous times, typically sparring with Ronon or Teyla, but sometimes in combat situations. The major had always thought of his CO as an average fighter, capable of defending himself but nothing more. This day, though, the colonel was trying to protect McKay as well as lead them to the gate. The scientist had been hit in the leg by shrapnel and was doing what he could to stay upright and out of the way. A rebel spotted him and took aim. Evan couldn't get away and shouted a warning. Sheppard heard him and executed a move straight out of O'Neill's special ops book. Lorne had worked for three months during training and the three years since trying to master that spin-kick combination with absolutely no success, and John did it without thinking. Definitely more than just a pilot.

OoOoOoOoO

Intending to check email, the major reached for the laptop when the infirmary burst to life. Shouts could be heard from the office, and personnel began to scurry. No one stopped long enough to answer his questions, but the looks on their faces were jubilant rather than sorrowful. He heard running feet in the hall, and the doors slid open to reveal Beckett pulling a gurney with a perfectly healthy and young Sheppard sitting on it, his team surrounding him.

The Scot wheeled the gurney to a spot across the room and turned to face the other three.

"I know you want to be here, but I need a few minutes to examine Col. Sheppard."

"Carson-"

"Don't 'Carson' me, Rodney. I'll let you know when you can come back."

John's eyes had never lifted from his hands as they clenched and unclenched in his lap. "Thanks, Doc." His breathing was ragged, and sweat dripped from his face.

The medical staff had stopped in their tracks when they'd entered, staring in disbelief. Beckett glared a silent warning, and they hurried away to attend to their duties. He handed Sheppard a set of scrubs.

"Carson-"

"Don't you 'Carson' me either, Colonel. I can tell by looking at you that your system is filled with the enzyme, plus your body has been through unmentionable trauma today. Put on those scrubs, and let me take a look at you."

Sheppard bit his lip but nodded. "OK, Doc. But please, I can't be around people right now. I know McKay and the others mean well, but I just… I can't. I don't want them to see me like this."

The physician smiled gently. "Don't you worry about a thing. I can handle Rodney. I'll close off this section of the infirmary to everyone but me and a couple of my staff. Will that be sufficient?"

"Yeah. Thanks."

Beckett pulled the privacy curtain and hurried out. It was a testament to how shaken everyone was that no one had noticed Lorne, and he had no idea what to do. He desperately wanted to be close if his CO needed anything and yet wanted to be far enough away to not witness the man fighting his demons as the enzyme wore off. His sense of duty asserted itself, and he vowed to stay right where he was unless specifically ordered out. He was second in command; he belonged by his CO's side.

Evan could hear fumbling, a few curses and even a muffled scream of frustration from behind the curtain followed by a grunt and a flying boot. After a few minutes, the room grew quiet. Carson returned carrying a tray of syringes and vials and headed straight to Sheppard's bed, once again never looking Lorne's direction. The conversation behind the curtain was too low for the major to hear, but he'd been in the infirmary often enough under the Scot's care to imagine what was being said.

Emerging with vials now filled with blood, Beckett slid the curtain closed and froze as his eyes met Evan's. He stared at Lorne for a brief second and then nodded before taking the samples to the lab. As the minutes stretched to an hour, the major decided no one was coming to move him so he picked up the laptop and began reading email.

Not knowing how long the head of Atlantis' military would be out of rotation, Evan perused the duty roster for the next three days, making a few adjustments and notifying Major Crenshaw, next in the command structure. Lorne shut down the computer and reclined the bed slightly as his body's need for rest began to make itself known. His consciousness registered a nurse taking vitals and adjusting IVs even as he slid into sleep.

An unholy scream rang through the infirmary, propelling Evan instantly awake. Pain rippled through his right side as he attempted to sit up, and the adrenaline racing through his veins caused his heart to pound. Carson sprinted from the office, disappearing behind the privacy curtain, and sounds of a struggle ensued. Unintelligible shouts from Sheppard drowned out Beckett's call for help although Donnelly and the nurse came running at the noise.

Dragging his IV pole, Lorne eased from the bed and maneuvered his way to the colonel's bed. He pulled back the curtain to find Carson holding John down while the two women tried to put on restraints.

"Stop!"

Beckett looked up in irritation. "Get back to bed, Major."

"Look at his wrists, Carson."

Sorrow colored the Scot's face. "I understand that, son, but between the nightmares and the enzyme effects he could seriously injure himself or someone else."

Sheppard's face was red with exertion, and sweat poured off him as he fought against the hands holding him. Eyes clenched shut, he was on the verge of hyperventilating.

"Please, Doc. There has to be another way. Can't you knock him out or something?"

"The enzyme breaks down the sedative before it can take effect. He just has to ride this out."

"Being restrained like that is going to kill him. I know he doesn't want anyone to see him this way, but I've got an idea."

"What do you want to do?"

"Call Ronon."

"Major, I gave Colonel Sheppard my word."

"He's the one guy that can control the colonel, and he won't breathe a word. If Sheppard asks, we were never here. As far as he will know, we were just a drug-induced hallucination."

"Still-"

"You'd rather put him in restraints?"

"No." The physician rubbed tired eyes. Clicking his earpiece, he called the Satedan, confirming he was alone and asking him to come to the infirmary.

Five minutes later, Dex strode in, anger and frustration rolling off him in waves. Kolya was definitely a dead man. Ronon's jaw clenched as he took in John's condition, and he glanced at Beckett.

"What do you need me to do, Doc?"

"Make sure he stays in this bed."

"I can do that."

The medical personnel released their hold on the pilot, and he curled into a fetal position, tremors shaking his body. Ronon pulled a chair next to the bed and sat with his legs stretched in front of him and an arm lying just close enough to Sheppard to provide comfort without actually touching.

The two women left, and Carson turned to Evan. "Time for you to get back in bed, Major."

"OK, Doc." He allowed the physician to guide him back and help him get settled. After checking the IV lines, Beckett bid them goodnight, promising to return in a couple of hours.

"Lorne."

Evan rose on an elbow to find Ronon looking at him. "Yeah?"

"Was this your idea?"

"I couldn't let him put those restraints on."

The Satedan gave him a small smile. "Good."

"I'd sit with him myself if I could."

"I know."

"Remember, he can't ever know we were here."

"I won't forget."

Lorne lay down and closed his eyes, able to relax for the first time since he'd heard of the capture. Some days he wondered what he'd been thinking when he volunteered to come to Atlantis, but most days he was grateful he'd been allowed to be a part of this crazy, often dysfunctional, always amazing family. This was one of those days.

The End.

Written for Hiatus Challenge #2 on shepsatlantis for prompt #2: Pick an episode in Season 2 or 3 in which Lorne was absent and either explain his absence or insert him into the episode without making the episode significantly AU.