This is in response to June Odyssey's challenge to write a pre-show fic, though it maybe sort of doesn't qualify, as the pre-show moments are technically flashbacks. I have chosen Ronon, because he is the best thing that ever happened to that show.

To summarise this fic: Ronon's got a lot of guilt.


The world was burning, and Ronon Dex burned with it.

The darts had set fire to the forest to flush him out. He ran ahead of the flames, heading towards a river he had seen the previous day, or at least in the direction that he prayed the river was in. Embers drifted through the air, alighting on his skin, burning out on his clothing, leaving angry pink marks. Luckily, his hair was drenched with sweat, otherwise it too would have caught fire. He had lost his pack, everything but his weapons and the clothes he was wearing. Darts screamed overhead, trying to anticipate where he would emerge, thwarted by the canopy.

The fire was slow and insidious, creeping through the dense underbrush. This planet was mostly tall-trunked trees, long grass and tough thornbushes. The thornbushes were hard to burn, he had discovered that the night before… they were the only reason he wasn't toast right now.

He thanked every deity he had ever even heard of that this planet was uninhabited. If he had caused the death of another village… The fear spurred him on and the grass parted in front of him and he fell into the river as the flames howled behind him.

Sound faded from his world. He held his breath. The water was cool and pleasant after the superheated air, but something… was… wrong… the water was getting hotter too. Warm, hot, boiling!

Ronon writhed and screamed as the water became fire. He flailed, trying to get to the other bank, to climb out of the river, but the other bank was on fire and his world was flames and something was stabbing him in the arm and it hurt despite the agony in his veins.

The fire was receding, drawing away, convalescing into a shape. Ronon turned his head to look at. It was a star, and it was getting smaller, and now he was floating in the vast lightlessness of space. It was cool and quiet here. Ronon didn't mind quiet. In his experience, quiet meant that you were alone, and so safe, or that at the very least you could hear your enemies sneaking up on you and react accordingly.

He spread his arms and fell backwards, as light as a leaf. The darkness disturbed him more than the quiet did; he wanted light, to see, to keep watch.

You always had to keep watch. Always. It was when he hadn't that, to quote Sheppard, the shit had hit the fan (Ronon didn't quite understand what a fan was, but he liked the saying all the same.)

Where was he? He could hear a soft female voice. Melena's? No, not Melena's. This voice was too confident, too sure of herself. Melena had been timid. Melena had been beautiful.

"Melena," Ronon said allowed. From a great distance, he felt someone take his hand.

The darkness was really bothering him now. He couldn't even see his hand to identify who was holding it. A tiny pinprick of light appeared in the distance: it was his star.

"It will cleanse you."

"I don't need to be cleansed. I need to get this thing out of me."

The old man held up the bowl. "Drink this. The dreams will cleanse your spirit, and with it, your body."

"What he's trying to say," the old man's daughter added shyly, "Is that unless you drink that, it will be too painful for us to operate on you."

"He could have just said that," Ronon told her.

"That is not my way," the old man said serenely.

The daughter rolled her eyes at Ronon. Ronon was too distracted to do more than twitch the corner of his mouth in reply. "How long will it last."

"A few hours. Normally a day, but you're so big…" The daughter's voice trailed off, suggesting that she might not think this was a bad thing.

"Alright," Ronon said. "I'll drink it."

"Remove your shirt."

Ronon did so, much to the daughter's delight. The old man offered him the bowl. Ronon accepted it, and looked down with some misgivings. This had seemed like a brilliant plan at the beginning, but the prospect of this crazy operating on him was losing some appeal.

"Are you afraid?" the woman asked.

"No." Ronon drained the bowl in one defiant swallow, and almost gagged. The mixture was the foulest thing he had ever tasted, and he'd been running from planet to planet non-stop for three years now.

"Lie down," the old man urged. "Quickly!"

Ronon lay on his stomach reluctantly. A strange lethargy was stealing over him. His limbs were heavy and suffocating, and his flesh felt… numb.

Something cut into his back. He didn't feel pain, only the sensation of a blade moving through flesh. He began to hyperventilate, flashbacks of the surgery that had inserted the damn tracker racing through his head.

"Stop… I can't…" he grunted, trying to get up.

He couldn't move.

"Be calm," the girl urged him. "My father is looking for the device now, be calm–"

"No… need… don't…" he gasped, twitching his head feebly. He could see the hive ship around him now. The girl was kneeling where the wraith scientist had stood. For a moment, her hair turned white and her skin became pale, but he blinked a few times, and she returned to her normal state.

"This will cleanse you, my child," the old man said serenely over his head. "Allow the dreams to come. They will show you who you are. They will show you your life."

Before Ronon could do more than resolve to throttle the serenity right out of the old man, his world dissolved in a wash of colour.

Someone was wiping his brow with a damp cloth. It felt nice. When he finally managed to force his eyes open, he could see it was a woman.

She began to turn away, perhaps unaware that he was now awake. Ronon's hand shot out – nothing wrong with his reflexes, at least – to grab her wrist. The poor girl flinched in fright, but this was urgent. Ronon was about five seconds from passing out once more from exhaustion, and he had to say this.

"Thank you."

He released her wrist and waited for the blackness to claim him, but nothing happened. "You're not really tired," the girl told him, placing the bowl on the floor. "And I'm not really alive."

"What?" This wasn't what had happened.

"You killed me, Ronon Dex." She looked at him with big, sad eyes. "I'm dead. You killed my father, Keturah, as well."

It was hard to think of a time when Ronon had been more confused. Then again, it was getting hard to think at all. "No. No, I gave myself up so that he would live…"

"You don't even remember my name, do you?" She gave him a reproachful glance.

"I never knew your name. I was sick–"

"And I was the one healed you."

"I'm sorry," Ronon whispered, shame burning through him. "I wish I could make it right."

The girl smiled down at him. "You can. You just have to remember." She bent over and kissed him on the forehead. "My name was Linor."

"Linor," Ronon repeated. "Linor. Do I follow the star?"

"I don't know. That's up to you."

He was back in space, and the star had grown closer.

"Are you afraid?"

That voice was one he knew. "Tyre."

"You were never afraid before. You weren't afraid in battle–"

"That was battle. This is… I don't know what this is."

"Isn't that when you're meant to be brave?" Tyre cocked his head, his trademark devil-may-care grin on his face. "Where's the bravery if you know what you're doing?"

"I don't know what will happen," Ronon admitted. "I don't know where I'll go."

"I'll tell you one thing," Tyre announced, looking around. "It has to be better than this place." He was fading as he spoke, his voice the last thing to go.

"I want to speak to Melena," Ronon said to the universe at large. "I want to see her."

"Since when do you get what you want?"

"KELL!" Ronon lunged forwards, hands outstretched. Some huge force grabbed his shoulders and threw him back. Kell stood there, his back ramrod-straight, his lips curled with disdain.

"You never did have discipline, did you, Dex?"

"Do not talk to me about disciple, you coward." Ronon was so angry he was barely coherent.

"Is that really necessary?" Kell raised an eyebrow. "I never did anything to you. I was even going to take your wife with me. You should be thanking me."

"You ordered thousands to their deaths just to save yourself," Ronon roared. "You think I'm going to thank you?"

"Don't yell at me just because you let your wife die, boy-o," Kell advised. "That wasn't my fault."

"I didn't let her die," Ronon snarled.

"She let herself die? Well, she can't have been a clever woman if she was with you."

"I will kill you again and again," Ronon said, his voice pure rage. "You will die more painfully than anything the Wraith ever did to me because of you."

"You blame me for that too?" Kell snorted. "The Wraith chose you for a Runner because you slit the throat of the one that culled you. That was your fault."

"NONE OF THIS WAS MY FAULT!" Ronon paused, breathing heavily. "None of it."

"If you've got nothing to hide," Kell said, sinking backwards into the star as he spoke, "Why are you so afraid to come out of the dark?"

It was the final straw. Without a second thought, Ronon plunged after him. He fell into the light, let the heat scour his veins. His mind was being burned, and with it, his guilt, his pain, his regret: all were going up like the forest of that long-ago planet.

For a moment, he couldn't bear it. His heartbeat thundered in his ears, and he could hear it slow, falter, and stop.

"Like hell!" he yelled into the fire. With a feral war cry, the Satedan threw himself forwards, swimming through the heat. It couldn't go on forever. The fire had burned itself out, and McKay had told him once that even stars die. Ronon thrust himself forwards, snarling. It wasn't enough; he was dissolving into pure white flame.

A bolt of lightning came from nowhere and struck him. Ronon felt his body spasm, but he seized the energy with both hands, absorbing it, holding onto it like it was a rope dragging him forwards.

Then he was through the heart of the star, emerging on the other side, into blissful coolness and a sense of peace that was pain beyond feeling. He heard his heart restart reluctantly, and smiled to himself.

He opened his eyes.

He was flying through the stars, in a craft this time. He turned his head, as unfamiliar with the movement as he was with his surroundings. Three others were in the strange craft with him. They knelt beside him, a soft-looking man who Ronon reckoned he could take on with both hands tied behind his back, a pretty woman with skin so warm he wanted to touch it, and another man, with blue eyes like pools of water. The man was holding two odd devices over Ronon's chest.

"Thirsty," Ronon mumbled.

"I know, son." The blue-eyed man's voice was the strangest thing Ronon had ever heard. "We'll get you some water, I promise. You just have to stay with us…"

"What's he saying, Doc?"

He had been wrong: there were four others. The fourth, a dark-haired man with a lean face and build, emerged from the front of the craft, or did he step straight out of the star they were flying towards? Ronon couldn't tell.

"The defibrillator revived him, but the poison is still spreading. We need to get him home."

"ETA three minutes. I radioed ahead. They know–"

At this point, Ronon stopped listening.

Teyla sat by the bed in the infirmary and watched Ronon sleep.

She could hear Sheppard and Carson behind her, and the conversation was doing nothing to ease her nerves.

"How's he doing, doc?"

"Not so well, I'm afraid."

"But… We gave him the antidote!"

"Yes, and the poison has been neutralised, but we don't know what it did to him. He was hallucinating and delirious, he had a fever…what it boils down to is that he should have woken up by now."

"Ronon is tough. He is not going to let some twerp the size of his foot with a blowgun put him down!"

"It might not be up to him, Colonel."

Teyla stared at Ronon intently, willing him to wake up. She felt more than heard Sheppard walk over to stand beside her.

"He will wake up," she announced with feigned confidence.

"Yeah." Sheppard sounded a bit more doubtful. "Did you hear what he was saying, anyway?"

Teyla tilted her head. "Words. I could not make them out." That was a bit of a fib, but the only name she had heard clearly was 'Kell.' Ronon had become so agitated that McKay, Beckett and herself had had to restrain him. She wasn't going to admit to Sheppard the background of that little expedition.

"He'll be fine," Sheppard said uncertainly.

"He will," Teyla agreed.

They lapsed once more into tense silence. Sheppard shifted uncomfortably. "He seemed pretty upset."

"That is understandable."

"His eyes are moving," Sheppard realised, watching the tiny shifts in Ronon's eyelids.

"He is still dreaming."

He is still dreaming.

The words echoed in Ronon's mind. He knew that voice.

What do you think he's dreaming about?

Another familiar voice. Ronon took a deep breath, conscious of the feeling of air rushing through his nose, down his throat, of the wonderful tightness of his chest expanding. He was warm, his skin felt clean, his arms were bare and light – they had removed his knives. He took another breath, analysing the smells. Chemicals, warm fabric, a tiny hint of human sweat.

I do not know.

I gotta go. I have to report to Weir–

Ronon Dex opened his eyes.

The ceiling was white, blindingly so. He squinted, to shield his eyes from the light, and turned his head slightly. The warm-skinned woman was sitting by his bed, talking with the lean man. "Tey…la," he mumbled, through lips so dry he was amazed that they parted.

Teyla jerked upright in her seat. A second later, Sheppard leaned over Ronon's bed, looking relieved. "Hey, buddy. How're you feeling?"

Ronon thought about that one for approximately five seconds. "Hungry."

Sheppard laughed in clear relief. "He's fine."

"I'm in Atlantis?" Ronon mumbled, to clarify. The memories were already fading, but he had to make sure.

"Yeah, you're in the infirmary. I would have thought you'd recognise it. You come here to get stitched up enough."

Teyla beamed down at him. "You were asleep for several days. The people of the planet we visited on our last mission poisoned you with a dart."

"How come?" Ronon asked. He couldn't remember doing anything to offend them.

"They were ignorant and afraid," Sheppard said scornfully. "You sure you're alright? You were talking a lot in your sleep. What were you dreaming of, anyway?"

Ronon considered for a moment how best to phrase it, then gave up.

"I dreamed of stars."

Later, when he had been poked, prodded, and, after a discussion that was a small part bribery and a large part pleading, gratefully received a sandwich McKay had smuggled in, Ronon lay back and thought.

They hadn't sicced Heightmeyer on him yet. Carson and the others thought he was just throwing off the effects of the poison. In a way, he was.

The Satedans believed that when you died you became a star. It did not surprise Ronon that he had seen a star in his fevered hallucinations: Carson had told him in no uncertain terms that he had never been so close to death.

None of it was his fault. The deaths, the fire, the destruction… not his fault.

He had carried the burden with him for years. Now, he felt relaxed, weightless, cleansed…reborn.

Ronon Dex, one of the last Satedans, the only former Runner, closed his eyes and dreamed of stars.