Jo hid the letter from Montana pretty much the moment she got it, because she knew what the others would say. They'd tell her to go. They'd tell her she'll love it and she'll be fine on her own and Kat would roll her eyes and say, "What, afraid of a little distance?"
Peeta would make snickerdoodle cookies with extra cinnamon as his way of saying he'll miss her. Pepper would want to buy her an appropriate wardrobe, nevermind that she had more clothes than any human would ever use. Tony would probably make her an AI for his own piece of mind. Finn would program her phone to remind her to call them.
She was not sure what Ronon would do. Worse, she wasn;t sure what she'd do if he didn't want to go. She wanted the program. Leaving behind everything she knew was a terrible price for it, but it was one of the oldest forestry degrees in the nation, and in a place that offered her plenty of chance to get hands-on experience.
She'd probably go, regardless. She liked to think that. She'd stayed here longer than she should have to begin with. Sure, she'd had a pretty sweet apprenticeship with the parks and rec department for the two and a half years since she got her diploma. But New York was still a city, dirty and cramped, metal and concrete. Their family vacations at Christmas and during the summer, when Tony took them to his cabins and houses in places with woods and beaches and open air were the times Jo could feel her heart beat, even the odd times when Ronon wasn't there.
So, yeah, she would probably go. It'd suck, though.
Jo knew how important passing the trilogy of FAA tests so that he could take himself from engine mechanic to airplane mechanic was to Ronon, and she got it. But this conversation couldn't wait, and she wasn't having it inside, where she'd suffocate. She told him, "I need you to go hiking with me this weekend."
He opened his mouth, but then he looked up from where he was studying, looked at her. After several beats, he nodded his head. Then he went back to studying. She got the message—planning was up to her.
The weekend dawned a lot hotter than Jo had been expecting. The early summer temperatures had been hovering in the upper eighties, but Saturday she woke up to mid-nineties with a heat index of nearly one hundred when the humidity was figured in. It wasn't her favorite weather for a hike, but both of them were fairly hardy, and she needed to talk to him alone, away from everything else.
She was too nauseated to eat breakfast, but she packed them water and protein bars, and let herself try and rest as Ronon drove them further upstate in the beat-up muscle car he'd been slowly rehabilitating. It ran beautifully, all sleek and dangerous power. It still looked like someone's yard ornament.
Forty-five minutes or so later, he parked in the gravel lot of the state park, and Jo climbed out, swinging the backpack onto her shoulders. They made their way onto the trails, silence easy between them, the way it had always been. She tossed him a canteen and he caught it.
She took them in amongst the trees. There wasn't much breeze under their canopy, and the air was almost too still, but she knew where she was going, where she wanted to be when she talked about this. Halfway into the hike she noticed she was feeling a little off-balance, but she put it down to nerves. It had been a long time since she'd had so much to lose.
Sometimes she spoke up, told him little things about the birds they saw, or the flora just off the path. She sipped at the water cautiously, since she wasn't certain they'd be able to refill. Nearly two hours after they'd set off, she found the spot she wanted, a clearing near a brook with big rocks and lots of grass to settle onto.
The brook was bone dry—there hadn't been much rain yet for the year—but the area was still beautiful, open and green and alive. Ronon sat on one of the rocks and she sat down on a smaller one nearby. She wasn't feeling quite right, stretched, and like the world was flickering in strange ways.
She wasn't sure how long they'd been sitting when he asked, "Jo?"
She meant to say, "I got into Montana," meant to start telling him things so that he could make decisions, but what came out was, "My back hurts."
The words startled her as much as they did him. Her back did hurt, but so what? That wasn't the point. And there was a point. She just had to remember what it was.
"Ro," she said quietly. "Do you remember—"
She wasn't sure, and the world was spinning. She leaned away from him and brought up what was left in her stomach, which wasn't much. "Oh."
"Easy," Ronon said, rubbing her back. When the heaving passed, he held what was left in the canteen to her lips and said, "Rinse."
She rinsed, and then drank the last of the water to try and settle her stomach. It didn't really work, and she was still dizzy. She knew she probably needed to eat, but just the thought made her stomach flip over again. She dug her fingers in Ronon's arm and used him to lever herself up.
As soon as she was standing, though, her left calf cramped up. She bit the inside of her cheek. She'd had worse, and it really was probably her own fault. She should have brought some Gatorade to make sure she'd have enough electrolytes.
He was eyeing her suspiciously. She admitted, "I think I might be a little heat sick. The salt kind."
"Can you make it back?"
She was trying to focus, but the trees ahead were still swirling around her. She locked her hand into his and said, "We're gonna have to take it slow."
She tripped and fell more times than she could count and puked twice more on the way back: once after trying to eat something, and once just because. At one point he said something about going ahead, bringing her back some supplies and she lost her breath telling him not to leave her. She had the vague sense she was being irrational—and that things were getting jumbled in her mind—but she couldn't force herself to parse the slippage.
She hadn't the slightest clue how long it took them to get back to the car, but a lot longer than it should have.
Once they were there, she started saying, "Sorry, Ro, 'm sorry," and couldn't stop, even with him telling her, "You're fine, Jo, just relax, we're fine," until she passed out. She woke to him trying to get her to drink a bottle of Gatorade. The air conditioning was blasting and it was too much, too much. She might've said something, or made a noise, because he said, "I know, but we need to get your temperature down."
She sipped at the Gatorade, just aware enough she needed it. She couldn't get more than a quarter of the bottle down before her stomach threatened to rebel.
He capped the bottle and put it in her less-than-steady hands so that he could continue driving them back. She floated in and out of consciousness, doing her best to drink a little whenever she was awake enough.
The next thing she was aware of what him hoisting her up. She mumbled, "Home?"
They'd lived together in an apartment in the tower for over two years now. They'd thought about something on their own, but both of them felt safer within the confines on JARVIS' sight. Roughly, he told her, "Yeah, home."
He laid her down on the bed with a new Gatorade bottle, this one colder than the room temperature the first one now was. She tried to sit up enough to drink it, but the dizziness brought her right back down. After a moment he was back with her anyway, stripping her clothes off.
She said, "This is usually sexier." It came out slurred, but at least it was a coherent thought.
He smiled. "Yeah, well, if it helps, you're really hot."
She almost perked up until she realized, "You mean that literally."
He got her to her feet and basically held her up as he herded her to the bathroom. The first touch of her feet to the water was a shock of frigidity. "Fuck."
"It's lukewarm, I promise. You've got to get in."
"Fuck," she said again, but she made herself put her other foot in and slowly sit down. Her teeth were chattering by the time her lower body was immersed. Ronon was rubbing her back, now and then, murmuring encouragements and adding more cold water as her body temperature adjusted. He held the Gatorade to her lips and she drank sips at a time.
She said, "Sorry," again.
He frowned. "Pretty sure you didn't mean to make yourself sick."
"No, but I planned the hike and I didn't eat before because I was kind of…"
"Freaking out?" he asked placidly. The fact that his hands were still keeping constant contact with her, keeping her up, working to cool her down, belied the tone.
"Something like that." She was slowly starting to stop shivering, her body cooling to the water temperature and therefore "warming up."
"Wanna tell me about whatever it is that's got you so off your game you misplanned a hike we've done a billion times before?"
Between them, there'd never been hesitation or prevarication, so she said, "I got into Montana."
Ronon blinked. "Jo, you've wanted to go to Montana since you decided trees were gonna be your thing. This is good news. Fuck, this is great news."
"Is it?" she asked, doing her best to keep her gaze steady on him.
His forehead wrinkled a bit. "Of course it is. I mean, I get that you're probably nervous about leaving Finn, Kat, Peeta, Tony, and Pepper, but it's not like we won't have more communication devices than we know what to do with."
"We," Jo mouthed. Then, "We?"
He stared at her for a second and then asked, "You're kidding, right? You thought I'd stay here without you?"
"It's not like I thought of it as betrayal," she pointed out, working so hard against utter exhaustion to keep her focus. "You've got John and Jen and Sam here. Shit, everyone's here, basically, and you don't mind the city, and there're a ton of jobs in your new field here."
Ronon narrowed his eyes. "You're falling asleep."
He fished her out, drying her off in the impossibly large and soft towels Pepper insisted on. Jo secretly loved them, which Ronon knew. He made her finish the Gatorade, and then drew her back to bed. He rooted out a t-shirt and some boxers for her, then said, "Sleep some, okay? We'll talk when you wake up, promise."
He was sitting next to her on the bed, reading one of his study guides. She couldn't have kept her eyes open if she tried.
She woke to the sound of him studying, familiar and steadying. The pen skritching across paper, his fingers click-clacking steadily across his keyboard. She asked, "What's a girl gotta do to get some food in this joint?"
Without looking back he answered, "Probably have JARVIS call Peeta."
Jo laughed. She sat up cautiously, but the dizziness had receded. There was another bottle of Gatorade by the bed, so she took a few sips. "Wanna come down to the kitchen with me? Or I can bring you up something."
The pen stilled. "You want me there when you tell them?"
She passed by him, her hand brushing the back of his neck. "Nah, you study, I've got this."
"Bring me back cookies?" The question came out more plaintively than he probably intended it to.
She squeezed his neck gently and said, "Knowing Peeta, I'll probably bring back a cookie store."
Predictably, she brought back two boxes worth of cookies. "Tony's making me a robot."
"Well, that's a shock," Ronon said.
She laughed, but it was nervous, weighted. "I'm going for my own professional reasons. I can't expect you to up and abandon your professional goals for mine."
"I can find a job, Jo, even if it's not exactly what I want. I can't—" He shook his head. "No way am I doing this without you."
"The job isn't even really what I was—"
"Five years, Jo."
"Four and three-quarters," she responded, because yeah, she knew how long it'd been since they admitted they didn't like being apart, ever. She knew what movie they'd seen on their first official date and that they'd both hated it. She knew he liked his waffles more savory than sweet. She knew he didn't remember much of his parents or his first two sets of fosters because of a beating that left whole chunks of memories missing. She knew he sometimes still thought it meant he was damaged beyond repair.
She knew everything between them, but that also meant she knew John was as much Ronon's other half as she was. She knew Sam and Jen could calm him from a nightmare in a way not even she could. She wasn't everything to him, just as he wasn't everything to her. And she wasn't staying for him, so there was no reason to think he'd leave for her.
He rolled his eyes at her. "I wouldn't know how to wake up to call Jen and Sam without you there."
"I wouldn't want to," fell out of her mouth. It was the truth, but between them they tended to assume the heavy stuff.
"So why would I?" he asked.
Jo was willing to acknowledge losing that round with a tip of her head. "If we get there, though, and you—and I'm not enough—you'll go back, right? You won't stay until you resent me?"
"Not going to happen," Ronon said, "but all right, deal."
He kissed the top of her head and murmured, "Congrats, Jojo. It's a big thing."
This felt bigger, this made it real. She didn't say that. She handed him a cookie, and when he'd taken a bite, kissed the chocolate away from his lips.