A/N: Sorry for another long wait! Though not quite as long as previous times, we're still a bit slow on updating. That's the challenge of writing something together, not just one schedule to deal with! Anyway, here's chapter 9, enjoy!

Chapter 9:

"Ronon, what is the matter with you?" John snapped.

"Leave me alone!" Ronon snarled. "I need time to think. To – to—" He gave up and began to pace again. "Just go away for a while."

For once the four plain grey walls of his quarters in the SGC were a welcome sight. He'd retreated immediately to his room, trying to sort through the thoughts spinning through his mind. They'd left the mall immediately, but the entire car ride home John and Rodney chattered nervously, shooting him nervous looks. He ignored them. He'd been hoping to lose them here.

No such luck.

"What's going on? What did you see at the mall? You look like you've seen a ghost!" Sheppard said, frustrated.

"Maybe I have." Ronon spun to face him again. "You know, maybe I am going crazy. Maybe I've had one knock too many on my head in my life. Maybe the girl I saw at the mall wasn't Teyla. Maybe it was her twin sister. Or maybe I just want to see her so badly, I'm hallucinating. Or maybe it is her ghost, coming back to haunt me—" He trailed off and swallowed hard. He hadn't meant to say that. Any of it. But, Ancestors be praised, the rest of what he'd been about to say hadn't come out of his mouth. Or maybe it is her ghost, coming back to haunt me, because I wasn't good enough to save her.

That certainly would have caused a few problems. . . And, probably, put in cement his own diagnosis of being senile.

Sheppard stared at him for a while. He seemed to be considering something, brooding over every word, emotion, movement, Ronon had just displayed. "Well," he said at last, "if you are losing your mind, at least you're doing it spectacularly."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Ronon demanded sullenly.

"Nothing." John sighed. "Are you sure it was Teyla?"

"No. I can't be sure. But – it looked exactly like her. It seemed for a second like, maybe, she recognized me. In her eyes, I thought I saw. . . But maybe that was just wishful thinking." Come to think of it, it probably was wishful thinking.

John stood. "I'll go report it," he sighed. He hesitated awkwardly at the doorway, as if he wanted to say more. But finally he shook his head, sighed again, and left. The door shut behind him with a thump.

At last, Ronon had the solitude he craved. He swallowed two more pain pills – would the persistent ache in his head never leave? – and flipped off the bedroom light so he could lie down. This time he made sure the bathroom door was propped open, so it wouldn't close again.

He knew he should be out there actively looking – particularly if the girl he'd seen was Teyla. But, at least for a while, he wanted to escape from reality. He wanted to sleep, to dream of what it was like before this nightmare had started.

Inevitably, his wish was not granted.

-Teyla's Apartment-

After receiving a phone call from her sister, Heather left for a while. Teyla absently went about putting away the few things she'd purchased at the mall. After seeing Ronon – someone who looks like him, rather, she wryly reminded herself – at the mall, she'd lost her enthusiasm for shopping.

Depressed, she tossed her new green blouse aside. When she purchased it, she loved the color and the general perkiness of the style. But now the deep jade color reminded her of the anguished eyes of the man in the mall. She folded it, shoving it in a drawer without cutting off the tags. Maybe, eventually, she'd be able to wear it.

With a load of clothes in the washer, Teyla got a bottle of water from the fridge and settled down on the couch. She flipped TV channels for a while, looking for something mindless – but funny – to watch. Eventually she settled on Tom and Jerry. It took her mind off her misery for all of half an hour. She flipped the TV off after the cartoon ended, her humor going black with the screen. Sighing, she tossed her bottle in the trash can she used for recyclables and went back to her family room. For a while she stood in the middle of the room, hands on hips, looking around. Everything was spic-and-span. It hadn't been long since she'd cleaned the place, so it wouldn't do her any good to dust or sweep.

Maybe a shower will help. And it did, for as long as she was under the warm spray. Then she was left with nothing to do but let the gloom take over again.

This was going to be a very, very long day.

-Earth, SGC-

"Quite frankly, I'm worried," Sheppard admitted.

O'Neill's eyebrow went up. "We all are, but—"

"All due respect, sir, that's not what I mean. Well – granted, Teyla's being missing is putting pressure on all of us. She's our friend. But . . . I'm not – sure – but I think Ronon is more of her friend than he – or she – has been letting on." John bit his lip, somehow feeling like a traitor.

The general's other eyebrow went up to join the first. "Hmm," was all he said, however.

Enigmatic, John thought wryly. "This hasn't been causing – problems before now," he admitted.

"What kind of problems are there now?" Jack, if possible, had gone even more deadpan.

Sheppard began to wish he'd kept his mouth shut. "Nothing horrible," he said, backtracking. "It's just – Ronon seems very depressed. He about lost it the night we found the warehouse; whenever we return to base he closes up in his room, won't talk to me or Rodney; and when we finally dragged him to the mall, he said. . ." He bit his lip, wondering if he should say this. ". . . He said he saw Teyla there." Well, the damage is done. . .

"Hmm," O'Neill repeated maddeningly. "That's interesting."

What's interesting? he wanted to ask, but didn't. Instead, he kept quiet and waited for the general to ponder this a while.

"Did he?" Jack finally asked.

"See Teyla?" John needed clarification.

"Yes. Did he see her?"

Sheppard shrugged uncomfortable. "Well – he pretty much seems convinced he did."

"Then I'm inclined to believe him. Sometimes we – we in general – know things. It seems irrational, particularly in situations such as this. Against all the odds, those for whom we search still live, and wouldn't it be a darn good hiding place, to put her right under our noses, where we wouldn't look. . ." He trailed off, smiling.

John was never quite sure what to make of his conversations with Gen. O'Neill, and this one was no different. However, something did seem clear – he was, in a roundabout way, giving Sheppard clearance to keep Ronon on the search team. Which would be good, since he was the best tracker John had ever seen . . . "Yes sir."

"Any other issues you'd like to discuss?"

"No sir."

"Very good. Dismissed, then."

John left the office feeling like nothing had been resolved. Except. . . Maybe they are hiding her under our noses, like the General suggested. It's worth a look. . . He changed directions, away from where he'd been about to go. I'll talk to Rodney first. Might as well give Ronon a little more time to cool down. . .

-Earth, SGC-

Blackness. Everywhere he looked, darkness rose up. Except – there was one pinprick of light, far ahead. He followed it – her. If he could just move a little faster. . . But the dark, it seemed to be holding him back.

Teyla appeared to be unaware of him. She moved like she had somewhere very important to go, and little time in which to get there. He pursued her, calling her name every few feet that seemed to take him nowhere. She either didn't hear him – or didn't want to.

Then she vanished, and he was in complete darkness again.

He breathed in a ragged rhythm, hearing the sound bounce back to him as if in a tightly enclosed space. He swallowed back the knee-jerk reaction of his claustrophobia, brought on by years of Running, and methodically began to search the room. He knew he was dreaming: there was no other explanation for this. So he was determined not to let this one end like the others.

His breathing eased back to normal; until then he hadn't noticed the other sound in the room. There was someone else there, with him, breathing. Even in, even out. Like clockwork, that breathing. He increased his steps, feeling around the darkness. He wanted very badly for it to be Teyla, but now his voice seemed to have stopped working. He didn't want to call out, for fear it wasn't her. He couldn't take being disappointed again.

He tripped. Immediately he threw his arms out, landing on his forearms on the floor. For a moment he lay there, on his stomach, cursing inwardly at the racket he'd just made. He tried to calm his heart rate and breathing so he could find the other sound again.

There it was – only a few inches away from his right hand, it seemed. He swallowed hard and reached out, fingers brushing across the cold floor until they touched something soft, warmer than the concrete. He pulled himself forward and up onto his knees, hand seeking more of what he felt. Hair, he felt hair – it had to be Teyla's. He lifted his other hand; felt her arm. He moved his fingers up her arm to her shoulder, hoping to feel some response. At the same time he moved his right hand over her hair, trying to find her face.

His fingers encountered something warm, sticky. He yanked his hand back, breath catching in his chest. She's bleeding, he thought. No, no, not again. . .

Ronon jolted awake. There's someone at the door, he realized. The banging didn't let up, keeping perfect tune with the throb in his head. "Wait!" he yelled. He wondered whether he should just let them in and face them, or not. "Come in!" he called, then went to the bathroom and shut the door.

"Ronon?" It was Sheppard.

"Just a minute!" He picked up the bottle of pain pills the doctor had given him and threw them in the trash can. No way was he taking more of those – every time he did he had a nightmare. He doubted the two were directly related . . . but there was no point in taking chances.

Ronon carefully avoided looking at his reflection in the mirror as he splashed cold water over his face. He opened his eyes to reach for a towel, then caught a glance of himself in the mirror. Face pale, eyes dark and sunken. . .

. . . And his head wound was bleeding again. Crap! He reached for the towel and pressed it to his head. The doc would kill him for this. He must have popped his stitches while he was asleep – that explained the blood he'd felt while asleep.

There came a knock on the door. "Ronon? You okay, buddy?"

Sheppard! Ronon had completely forgotten about him. "Fine," he growled sarcastically to his reflection. "Just fine." He went to open the door, meeting his team leader's gaze with an intense scowl. "I popped my stitches while I was asleep. Doc's gonna kill me."

"Yikes." Sheppard's expression flickered a little, like he wanted to say something, but then he seemed to change his mind. "Come on; let's get you to the infirmary."

"What'd you come to see me about?" Ronon asked as they left his quarters. They paused by the elevator, waiting for it to reach their floor.

Another hesitation, this one a little longer. "Nothing. It can wait."

"Sheppard . . ." Ronon growled. He wasn't in the mood for playing the avoidance game of which the Earthlings seemed so fond.

The colonel sighed and gave in. "It's just – you haven't been reacting the way I've expected you to. You must have been knocked on the head really hard."

Ronon stalked into the elevator first, propping his back against the wall. He ignored Sheppard as the shorter man punched the elevator button for the infirmary level. "What do you want?" he snapped after the doors closed.

"I don't know—" Sheppard hedged. "What do you want to tell me?"

Ronon shook his head. "I can't believe I'm standing in an elevator talking to you. We need to be out there finding Teyla."

"There we go." Sheppard nodded. "That's better."

Ronon glared. "Better than what?"

He shrugged. "You've been sulking around like a guy whose girlfriend just broke up with him. What's your problem?"

"I don't want to talk about it." The doors open, and Ronon rushed through them. "I'll meet you in the cafeteria as soon as Doc lets me go. We can discuss new strategies to find Teyla then." He let the infirmary door slap shut between him and Sheppard, making it clear he wasn't invited into the room with him.

As Dr. Lam scolded him and re-stitched his head, Ronon tried to figure out what he could possibly say to Sheppard. He had a feeling he knew what the colonel wanted – but he wasn't sure what the answer to that question was, himself.

They'd have to find Teyla, first, before he could give the man a clear answer.

-Earth, unknown location-

Heather hated being stuck in traffic. Even with the windows down to welcome in the unseasonably warm air, and the radio on to her favorite music, it still gave her far too much free time in which to think. Normally she enjoyed thinking through problems, about her latest assignments, but this one – this one was different. Over the time she'd been spending with Teyla Emmagan, she realized she'd stopped seeing her as an assignment and more like a friend. They had lots in common, and there were so many things that were inherently good about her. Usually her assignments bored her, and it wasn't hard to keep distance. But this one was far harder than any of the others her past had offered.

She knew about the Stargate Program – about other planets, and galaxies, and the once-mythical city of Atlantis. She knew the people whom Teyla thought of as "simulation characters" were real. And no matter how much the woman denied it, Heather knew the Pegasus galaxy native was in love with Ronon Dex. But not the character, like Teyla thought, but the man himself, who lived, breathed, existed, and – without a doubt – was looking for her right now. Occasionally the way Teyla talked about him, the way her eyes lit up when she said his name, gave away her attachment to him. She'd passed it off as a deliberate setting of the simulation, but Heather knew better. Sometimes the urge to tell Teyla the truth was so strong, it was hard to resist. As a romantic at heart, she wanted to let Teyla know the man she loved existed, to go after him, then hold on to him with all her strength and never let him go.

But she couldn't.

For the first time since the IOA had hired her, Heather hated her job.

­-To Be Continued-

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