The first time Jo changed into gym shorts in high school, one of the other girls squeaked, "Oh my G-d!"
Jo could actually tell, between the horrified look on the girl's face, and the way she had her hands over her mouth, that she wasn't being mean. But suddenly there were thirty-seven fourteen-year old girls looking at Jo's legs. Honestly, it was bad enough that she was a full two years older than the rest of them, she didn't need the extra attention.
The funny thing was, having been around the others for so long, and having caught glimpses of Tony's patchwork chest, Jo had only sort of realized how bad the scarring on her own body was. Sure, she knew the nick that disrupted her left eyebrow and the line that ran from just right of her nose down to mid-chin weren't pretty, but they also weren't that much worse than anything the others sported.
And Jo was far from the only one of them to have the evidence of badly fixed compound fractures along her legs and arms. The knife wound on her thigh that had gotten infected and left considerable damage was unique, but not that much uglier than the places where Heero had once had machinery implanted in him, then removed when it began to fester. For that matter, the healed up tatters of Clint's and Nat's backs, hands, and feet were way more terrifying than anything gracing her skin.
Even Peeta had some, on his hands from cooking, one on his cheek that she knew had come from his mom. For a moment, it seemed weird these girls didn't have them, weren't used to them, but then reality reasserted itself and she remembered that most people's childhoods weren't defined by bars and concrete, at least not in first world countries.
Part of her, the part she'd trained to attack first as a survival instinct, wanted to pounce, to maul the other girls, let them have their own marks to take away. Thankfully, the part of her that never, ever wanted to hear another human being cry out in pain at her touch again won. Calmly, she walked into the teacher's office and said, "Is there a sweatpants option?"
The teacher started to say, "It's seventy—" before looking over. To her credit, all she did was blink slowly and say, "I think there's a pair about your size in the lost and found. Let me dig 'em up and you can take 'em home and wash 'em. For today, you can wear whatever you wore to school, if you want."
Jo said, "Thanks," and changed back into her jeans, thankful she hadn't begun to put on the t-shirt just yet.
There was never a defined point where Jo and Ronon had begun dating. Sure, she could tell you the first time they'd made out, but that didn't seem like any kind of a marker in her head. Ronon had already been in the fights when she'd been transferred to the cells. John wasn't there yet, so Ronon had been a unit of his own. Her second fight had been against him. She hadn't stood a chance.
Sometimes, Jo thought she'd fallen a little bit in love—as much as she knew how to love—in that cage; him being so cautious not to cause serious damage, to help her preserve some strange sense of dignity. She hadn't had the interest, or even the awareness, to do anything about it at the time, but after they were out something shifted.
And somewhere along the way, they just were.
He was probably about three years older than her, from the rough estimates they were able to manage. Jen and Sam coached him through a GED, and after working at a hardware store for a while he managed to land an apprenticeship with an electrician. He'd smiled secretly at her once and said, "I like making the lights come on."
He'd meant it as a joke about himself, she knew, but there was truth to it, too. None of them were all that fond of the dark. For her birthday that year, he'd colluded with Tony to get her out of the tower for a week, and managed to completely redo the light scheme in the rooms she shared with the others. The new scheme was a mixture of Frank Lloyd-Wright inspired fixtures and pendant lights made from repurposed crystal decanters. It was beautiful without being overwrought, and it filled the space with warmth that hadn’t been there before.
She stood in the middle of one of the rooms and said, "I got you a hoodie for your birthday."
"A really warm one," Ronon agreed. He hated the cold.
"Ro," she said, a little more firmly.
He smiled at her, boyish and quiet, and she heard all the words he never said about making the world a safer, better place for her. She said, "Yeah, okay," and kissed him until both of them were breathless.
Jo didn't face Ronon as she said, "So, I get that this is probably not, um, that we're too old for this, and everything, but I, uh, I was thinking about going to prom."
She was nineteen, verging on twenty, but Finnick had been just as old when he'd graduated the year before. Most of the ex-fighters who'd gone to school rather than home-schooling or doing a GED were two to three years behind their age mates and just managing at that level. Ronon was nearly twenty-two, though, an adult in every way in the eyes of the law. She made herself not cross her arms or give in to any of her other tells.
He said, "Really?"
She turned back around because his tone wasn't mocking; it was surprised, maybe hesitantly pleased. "It's just a dance."
"I guess," Ronon said, but he was smiling slightly.
"The fuck, Ro?"
He shrugged. "I've seen movies. And Finn went last year, that whole group from the swim team with their dates."
"It'd be nice, I guess. A real date. Everybody seeing you with me."
In deciding to go, Jo had thought about how excited Tony and Pepper had been about Finn's, all the pictures they'd taken and the sweet, sweet car they'd let him drive. She hadn't stopped to think about what it would be like, people seeing them in the restaurant, at the dance. She hadn't thought about how other people would look at Ronon in his suit, tall and fiercely beautiful, and how he would be hers, completely hers. Her stomach warmed with both desire and soft pleasure.
Even so, "Not to disappoint, but most people kind of look away in horror whenever I've got arms or legs exposed. It's probably not gonna be the trip you're expecting."
Ronon's only response for that was to reach out and tug her to him before slowly exploring and worshipping every scarred inch of skin she had.
Jo had actually contemplated going in a full-length pantsuit. It would look good, she knew, and nobody would stare, and Ronon wouldn't give a shit one way or the other. "But stupidly," she told Pepper, "I kind of feel like if I'm going to do this, like, ritual, that I should do it, frilly dress and all."
Pepper, who was helping her dress shop, since she was pretty much the only girly-girl Jo knew, said, "I think there's value in trying something out on its own terms. At least if you hate it, it's a pure hate."
Jo grinned. It was easy to be lulled into thinking Pepper was perfect sometimes, and she actually kind of was, to Jo and the others, but because of all the things that made her not perfect, like her ability to verbally tear something to shreds in fifteen seconds or less. "That said, can we avoid actual frills? Because it might end with me publically stripping in disgust."
"No frills, noted. How are we on sparkles or lace?"
Jo made a face. Pepper laughed. "I'm sure we have some burlap sacks at home…"
"Might be easier," Jo grumbled.
Pepper nodded. "But easy's not really our style."
"Not so much," Jo agreed.
When Pepper brought the dress to the dressing room—which was a virtual battlefield of discarded evening gowns—Jo made a face. "Sparkles. And my back would show."
"Please," Pepper said in that straightforward way that probably wasn't intended to be manipulative, but got Jo every time. She looked at the dress. On the upside, it was black and mostly plain and the sleeves, which had a sea-shellish appearance to them, reminded her of Finn.
Jo shrugged. What was one more dress? She closed the door and slipped into it, zipping her way up. She did like that it covered her shoulders. One of her worst scars was on her left shoulder, which she'd accidentally-on-purpose gotten caught in the cage wire to throw a fight against Dory. She'd almost lost the arm trying to get free, and then later, from infection, and Dory had died anyway, but even so, it was one of the scars she didn't regret.
Her lower back was a mass of electrical burns, compliments of the same foster dad who'd precipitated her fear of water, but her upper back was less of a disaster, if still marred by the beating she'd taken with the pronged end of an extension cord. She had to admit, though, even with that showing, the line of the dress made her seem…elegant, which wasn't a word she'd ever associated with herself.
She stepped out of the room for Pepper to see, because she'd promised to let her have an opinion on everything, and Pepper's face went open and soft as she said, "Oh. Sweetheart. That's—that really is the dress. Sparkles and all."
Jo turned around for one more look in the mirror. She found herself unable to disagree.
While waiting for Ronon to come pick Jo up, Kat spent time being impressed by the way the hair stylist had worked matching sparkles into Jo's short hair, and somehow managed to spike it in a manner that seemed more formal. Finn liked the smoky cat eyes Pepper had given her. That had been an ordeal. But Jo had to admit, it had been fun, looking in the mirror and seeing someone who, minus the two infected bite scars on her upper left bicep and the compound fracture one over her right wrist, could be in a TV show or a magazine.
Tony paced and told her, "As your father, I would officially like to find you an afghan and make you wear it all night."
Pepper rolled her eyes in concert with Jo, who said, "Ronon's taking me, for fuck's sake."
"And me trusting him with your virtue is the only thing saving you from plaid wool, young lady."
Jo blinked. "Please, please tell me you know we've already sailed that ship out of the harbor and halfway 'round to the new world."
Tony gave her a plaintive look. "Why must you crush my soul?"
She shrugged. "A girl's gotta have fun somehow."
Tony considered this, tilting his head to the side for a moment, before acknowledging, "Point."
It was possible Jo should have thought a little more deeply about what seeing Ronon in what was basically a traditional black suit, with a black dress shirt perfectly fitted to him and finished with a wide burgundy tie, would do to her brain. Because she kind of lost the plot for a moment or two when he stepped off the elevator. As it turned out, that was okay, since when she recovered enough to say, "Wow," he was still just staring.
Tony informed him, "It's rude to stare."
Ronon shook himself a little. "I didn't know someone could be beautiful in a million different ways."
Jo blinked at him. Ronon wasn't much for words, not about emotions. He walked toward her and touched his fingers to the bite scars. She flinched, but he held her steady. "I need to know you're real."
And, well, Jo kind of understood that. Nothing about this situation lent itself to being understood as reality, and their scars were about the only grounding element either of them had at the moment. She reached up and touched the divot in his right ear. She remembered how he'd gotten that scar. He was lucky he hadn’t lost the ear. She said, "Hi."
He ran a finger down the line of her spine, over three raised patches of skin. She shivered and he smiled, sweet and predatory all at once. She asked, "Convinced?"
His smiled deepened and he shook his head. "But I'm staying in the dream as long as I can."
She laughed. "I'll drink to that."
Tony said, "Try not to get arrested for underage drinking, please."
"But if you do, we're your first call," Pepper added.
Jo threaded her fingers into Ronon's, the feel of the two fingers on his left hand that had never healed entirely straight perfect in its familiarity. "I'll keep that in mind. Try not to set the house on fire while I'm gone."
Everyone looked at Tony and said in tandem, "No promises."
Tony flipped them all the bird, smiling sweetly at Jo and Ronon, "Now, if you'll just stand for roughly eight million pictures, you can be on your way, to do whatever it is young people do these days."
Jo wasn't entirely sure what that was, but she was sure Ronon and she would make their own fun.
Afterward, as they were leaving the prom, slipping back into the limo Tony had hired for them, Ronon said, "I was right, everyone was jealous."
Jo thought of the oh-so-polite way other girls had consciously not stared at her upper arms, but she also thought of the way they had looked at Ronon, and the way more than one person had swept his or her eyes boldly up Jo and smoldered with interest. "Yeah, well, I suppose everyone has to be right once in a great while."
Ronon's laugh was a quiet rumble, one she could feel through her entire body when she leaned into him. Softly, he said, "I'm always right when it comes to you."
Jo reached up to pat his shoulder a couple of times condescendingly and say, "Mmhm, dear."
But Ronon wasn't the kind of guy who needed to prove himself, so she wasn't surprised when he didn't argue. She closed her eyes and decided she was going to keep dreaming.