DISCLAIMER: The Facts of Life and its characters are the property of Columbia Pictures Television and Sony Pictures Television, no infringement intended. Anyone not immediately recognized, probably belongs to me.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: 10-13 is the NYPD radio call code for Assist Police Officer.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Most days Detective Jo Polniaczek loved her job - the excitement, the challenge, the opportunity to really make a difference.
Other times - tonight for instance - she would have gladly traded it in for a ham sandwich.
She stretched in the passenger seat, clasping a hand over her mouth, trying to hold back a yawn. "You know, in my old neighborhood the dopers never worked in the rain."
"Blame the recession," Detective Jack O'Callaghan mumbled as he took a sip from his coffee cup. "And it ain't raining-"
"Yet," Jo muttered as lightning flashed off in the distance, followed a split second later by the indistinct sound of thunder.
"See, that's why I love being partnered with you, Polniaczek; you're so optimistic." The elder detective flashed an annoyed glance, but the corner of his mouth turned up slightly in amusement. "Ya know I was a little surprised to run into you at the precinct. Thought you had the night off?"
"I did. But then some idiot clerk from Court Services put me on terminal hold." Jo gave a half shrug. "After thirty minutes of muzak from the eighties I figured the only way I was gonna find out when the Reynolds hearing was scheduled was to come in and look it up myself."
"You rookies never learn." Finishing off the last of his coffee, Jack crumpled the cup, then tossed it over his shoulder where it landed in the back seat. "Next time call and ask someone to look it up for ya. If nothing else it'll save you the trip."
"Yeah, right. If I had called, you still woulda asked for my help so what's the difference?" Jo gave her partner an exasperated look as her eyes drifted towards the back seat. "And I may be a rookie, but I ain't yer wife, Jack, so don't expect me to clean up your mess up when we're finished tonight."
The expression on Jack's face spoke volumes, but before Jo had the chance to say anything, he leaned forward over the steering wheel, peering out into the inky black night. "Ya just had to say 'yet' didn't ya?'
Jo said nothing as the sound of rain striking the surface of their unmarked police vehicle quickly became deafening. Nevertheless, she offered a nod of unspoken thanks, which Jack promptly ignored. They'd been partners for just over a year and trusted each other implicitly, but she really wasn't in the mood to discuss the other reason she'd been at the precinct. Following his lead, she checked her watch for the twenty-ninth time, then sighed in weary frustration. "Wanna bet how long we sit in the rain for nothing?"
"Nope," he replied, inclining his head slightly. "Showtime."
Jo sat up little straighter, craning her neck around to get a better look in the passenger side view mirror. Peering through the darkness she saw a shadowy form standing under the awning of a building half way down the block. "That's him?" she asked.
"Yeah, that's him." Jack kept his voice low, as if worried their quarry might somehow hear him over the now pounding rain. "C'mon, hammerhead. You ain't gonna melt."
Jo smirked in silent agreement. Finally, the shadowy form stepped out and began walking in their direction. He kept his head down, as if shielding his face from view, until a burst of lightening, followed by the sound of crashing thunder split the night.
The man's head jerked up. Had Jo not been watching him so intently she might have missed it: the surreptitious glance towards their car.
"Jack?" she said in a low, worried voice.
"I think he just made us."
"No way," he muttered back.
For a moment nothing happened.
Then all hell broke loose.
Jack let out a long string of very inventive - not to mention highly creative - expletives as Jo threw open the passenger door. It was an unspoken agreement of sorts. As the junior detective, she was responsible for chasing idiots who ran. As the more experienced, but somewhat overweight detective, Jack was responsible for bringing the car around.
The upside to the arrangement was that once she caught this particular idiot, Jo knew Jack would gladly throw him into the car head first.
"Stop! Police!" She yelled, as she began running.
The man barely glanced back and given his considerable head start evidently saw no reason to comply. Breaking into an all out sprint he bolted down the cracked and broken sidewalk, dodging around boxes and garbage cans which littered its length. However, it was readily apparent that no matter how fast he might be his pursuer was faster. As he approached an intersection, the man made a hard right, and disappeared from sight.
Recognizing the inherent danger associated with coming around a blind corner at break neck speed, Jo shifted from the sidewalk to the deserted street, narrowly avoiding an abandoned car in the process. Less than ten seconds later she reached the turn and as she rounded the corner another burst of lightening shattered the darkness. What she saw as the last vestiges of light burned in her eyes forced her to skid to an abrupt stop.
The street was empty.
For a moment Jo simply stood there - panting, trying to catch her breath. Where the hell did he go? Drawing in several deep cleansing breaths she set off at a tentative jog. When she reached the end of the block, she looked left, then right.
Squinting against the wind and rain, she scanned the area, looking for places a person could hide on short notice. She shuddered as an unexpected lull in the storm overpowered her senses, but in the ensuing silence she heard it; the echoing clang of metal striking concrete.
Jo felt her heart beat with renewed intensity. This was a sound she knew all too well. Someone just knocked over a garbage can.
Drawing her weapon she moved from the street back to the sidewalk. Cautiously she moved down the walkway until she found what she hadn't seen while running; the narrow entrance to an alley. Wiping rain soaked hair out of her eyes she took a ready stance, then chanced a quick glance around the corner.
"Great," she muttered under her breath as the lull ended and the downpour resumed. "C'mon, Jack where the hell are you?"
Minutes passed. Jo cursed softly as she realized Jack must not have seen her make the turn and a cursory search of her pockets proved pointless. She'd been in such a hurry to catch their suspect she'd taken off without a radio. Everything about the situation told her to wait but when she mentally calculated the time it would take for Jack to find her, she didn't like the answer her mind produced. Coming to a decision, she pulled a small flashlight from her pocket and fastened it to the underside of her weapon.
Taking a deep breath, she flipped on the light while simultaneously stepping around the corner and extending her arms straight out. "It's over man!" she called out. "C'mon out where I can see you!"
She all but expected that. After all, the idiot hadn't listened when she told him to stop, why bother now? Not for the first time she wished an arrest would go down by the books. She knew it happened. She'd seen it on TV.
Moving slowly, she felt tiny hairs standing up all along her body as the beam from her flashlight cut through the darkness.
She all but expected that. After all, the idiot hadn't listened when she told him to stop, why bother now? Not for the first time she wished an arrest would go down by the books. She knew it happened. She'd seen it on TV.
Moving slowly, she felt tiny hairs standing up all along her body as the beam from her flashlight cut through the darkness.Another bolt of lightning illuminated the sky, but the crack of thunder which followed was so loud it seemed to reverberate throughout the alley, coming at her from every direction.
And then her world went black.
The ground was wet. She wanted to sit up.
A siren. The sound of scuffling feet. Then a panicked voice shouted, "Son of a - Fuck! Central, I've got a 10-13 at Prospect Avenue-!"
Pressure. Then pain.
Someone knelt down beside her. The man looked like Jack, but she knew it couldn't be Jack. This man was crying and Jack didn't cry. The rain; it was playing trick on her eyes. But that didn't explain why she was on the ground. The storm; it had to be the storm. The thunder had startled her and she slipped in the muck. It was a stupid, rookie mistake, but surely this man, who for some reason still looked like Jack, wasn't holding himself responsible for that - was he?
"Damn it No C'mon "
Something told her the words were not in response to her unspoken question.
More pressure. More pain. The ground was getting colder. She really wanted to sit up.
But she never got the chance as another unexpected darkness swallowed her.
Jo gasped for air. Dropping to her knees, she began coughing, trying to catch her breath. Her heart was racing as if it wanted to leap from her body and her thoughts were muddled. Taking little notice of her surroundings, she scrambled to her feet and blindly made her way down the hall until she found a bathroom. Shoving the door open, she stumbled to the sink and splashed water on her face, trying to wipe away the terror-induced sweat that covered her like a thin film. After a few minutes she was able to breathe normally, but it still felt as if someone were standing on the middle of her chest.
As she stared at her reflection in the mirror, it gradually occurred to her that she was standing in a public restroom. Individual stalls lined the far wall along with posters instructing employees to wash their hands before returning to work. Other signs advertised the facility as a smoke free environment and that any violation of the policy would result in a sizeable fine or termination.
"Whoa." The sound of her own voice startled her; it sounded tiny and hollow. However, it wasn't until a female medical technician walked in that it finally dawned on Jo where she was.
"A hospital?" She questioned softly. "Why am I at the hospital?"
The last thing she remembered was entering the alley and-
"Ah, hell!" She pushed away from the sink. She must have hit her head when she fell and gotten a concussion. That was why she was in the hospital. It didn't explain why she'd been gasping for breath, but that would have to wait.
She needed to find Jack.
Rushing to the door, she pulled it open and sprinted down the hall searching for the Emergency Room. When she found it, she was surprised to find it filled to the point of bursting. She'd spent enough time around hospitals to know they tended to be full of injured people and panicked family members, but rarely had she seen this many uniformed and plain clothes officers on hand.
Curious, she moved towards the ambulance bay, expecting to see her partner outside smoking. She'd just reached the outer doors when a police cruiser screamed up. She wasn't familiar with the sandy haired man driving, but she immediately recognized her captain, Steven Baker, as the passenger. Groaning inwardly, she tried to formulate a plausible explanation for why she'd gone down a pitch black alley without backup.
She was reasonably sure that 'I was tired of standing in the rain' wasn't going to cut it.
The blond driver slammed the cruiser into park and Captain Baker leapt from the vehicle as if shot from a cannon. Jo held up a placating hand, but the pair blasted past her like she wasn't there.
"Hey!" Spinning around she raced to follow. She had no idea where they were going, or what was going on, but she was beginning to get a bad feeling.
Something was wrong. Very wrong.
She caught up with them in the main area of the ER, narrowing avoiding several medical technicians who were racing down one of the adjacent hallways. Jo moved to tap Captain Baker on the shoulder, but he abruptly shifted direction, moving towards the triage and information desk. "Who's in charge?"
The nurse working the desk glanced up, a stern expression on her face; however, her demeanor quickly changed. "Wait here. I'll get the doctor."
Captain Baker gave a curt nod before turning to his driver. "What's the update?"
The sandy haired man was talking on a cell phone but he cupped a hand over the receiver just long enough to answer. "Crime Scene Unit is there now. The rain is making evidence collection a nightmare but a weapon - a semi-automatic by the sounds of it - and a single shell casing have been recovered. Techs are trying to locate the slug now."
Jo's face clouded as her gaze shifted between the sandy haired man and her Captain. "There was a shooting tonight?" She asked in a low voice.
Captain Baker took no notice of the question. "They aren't gonna find it."
"Sir?" the man questioned.
Fixing the sandy haired man with steely eyes Captain Baker said, "The slug the techs are looking for is most likely lodged in one of my officers." He paused and ran a hand through his hair before resting both hands on his hips. "Call dispatch. I want every available unit looking for this asshole; no exceptions. I want him found. I want him found, and I want him found tonight. Is that clear?"
Jo was growing tired of being ignored. "Who got shot?" she demanded, but once again the question went unanswered as Captain Baker shifted his attention over to a short, bespeckled man who'd just walked up. He looked vaguely familiar but Jo couldn't place him. She tried to read his name tag but, as luck would have it, her view was partially obstructed by the clip board he was holding. The best she could do was read: Nichols M.D.
"I need to speak with my detective," Captain Baker demanded. "Now."
Oh god Jo thought to herself. Jack.
Dr. Nichols shook his head gravely. "The location of the bullet makes removing it in the ER impossible. Once we get her stabilized, she'll be transferred to the OR." He held up a hand, recognizing that he was about to be interrupted. "I understand you need information, but your detective is still unconscious and even if she weren't, she'd be in no condition to answer questions. I promise you, we are doing everything we can. Now if you will excuse me, I have a patient to attend to and I imagine you have some calls to make. You're welcome to use the staff lounge - down the hall to the left. It should be empty and a bit more private than the lobby at the moment."
Captain Baker glared back but stepped aside, making it perfectly clear that he was less than thrilled with the idea of walking away without answers. "Keep me posted. Please."
Dr. Nichols nodded curtly, then hurried down the corridor Jo had been standing in earlier. She wanted to follow but she desperately needed air - it was stifling in there. She was half way to the ambulance bay when someone called out, "Cripes, it took you long enough to get here."
Jo stopped dead in her tracks, not because of the cutting words, but rather because the voice was familiar. Turning, she found herself staring at an impossible sight. Leaning against the wall stood a woman and as their eyes locked, Jo felt the room begin to swim around her.
This couldn't be possible! She closed her eyes and blinked hard, but when she opened them, nothing had changed.
And that's when the mirror image of Joanna Marie Polniaczek smiled. "It's been a long time. How ya doing?"
Jo pulled in a deep breath. It felt as if someone had jabbed her with a red-hot poker, thereby forcing her world to come unglued. This had to be a dream; a nightmare. A nightmare of epic proportions. "What the fuck is this?" she whispered.
"Ya know 'hello' or 'good to see you' is usually the more customary greeting," the Mirror began, but then a slight frown played upon her lips. "Unless you don't recognize me."
"No, no, I recognize you just fine," Jo replied, trying to sound confident while having an impossible conversation. "You're me."
"Well, I guess that's one way of looking at it." The Mirror held back a laugh upon seeing the troubled expression on Jo's face. It looked as though she were trying to make sense of the situation when, in all reality, it wasn't necessary. "Take it easy," she began, "I'm here to help."
"Help?" Jo challenged, still fighting to regain her composure. "Who the hell are you gonna help? You're me."
"Yeah, I think I've already addressed that. Can we move on to a new topic now?" the Mirror said with a dismissive wave. "Ya know I saw the paramedics working on you a little bit ago. Be glad you're unconscious because getting shot looks kinda painful."
"Me? I'm the one they're talkin' about?" Jo yelped, now sounding thoroughly confused. Absently she ran her hands over her body, wincing as her hand came into contact with a tender spot high up on her chest. However, beyond her initial surprise, it didn't occur to her to question where it came from. "No way."
"You callin' me a liar?"
"Hmm, let me think about that." Jo made a show of tapping a finger to her chin in mock thought. "Yeah, I am."
"Wow, you really don't listen do you?" The Mirror gestured towards the partially open curtain of the trauma room. "See for yourself."
Jo managed to stand her ground for almost a minute before curiosity got the better of her. She took a few steps forward, then peered in.
Sure enough, there she was - lying on a gurney, half covered by a sheet soaked through with blood. She had no way of knowing the extent of her injuries but it was obvious the situation was bad. A young man wearing hospital scrubs was working fervidly, trying to remove her sodden shirt and Kevlar vest while Dr. Nichols and several nurses called out instructions and vital signs to nearby technicians who annotated the information on charts.
Jo flinched when Dr. Nichols called for two units of blood. He didn't specify what type but it probably didn't matter since it would most likely end up on the gurney and floor, like so much of her own blood before.
"What the-" she stopped, unable to concentrate on what to say next.
The Mirror was suddenly at her shoulder. "Like I said; you got shot."
Jo gave a weak nod as Dr. Nichols called out, "Talk to me people! How we doing?"
"Pulse is forty-two, blood pressure is eighty over thirty, respiration is slow," an anonymous voice answered.
The bespeckled doctor gave a cursory glance to the monitors, then cursed softly under his breath. "Okay, call the OR and tell them we're on our way."
The man who'd removed Jo's vest and clothing shook his head. "She's not-"
"I know. But if we don't move now, we're gonna lose her and I'd rather that didn't happen." Dr. Nichols jerked his head towards the door as several nurses and a technician maneuvered medical equipment and gurney towards the hall. "Let's go people. Now!"
Jo stared to follow the bizarre procession but pulled short when the Mirror held up a halting hand. "Eh, surgery is boring - not to mention gross." She gave an exaggerated shudder while motioning Jo to follow. "Besides, you and I need to have a little chit-chat."
Jo nodded without truly understanding why. As they emerged from the trauma room she saw Captain Baker standing outside what must have been the staff lounge. He was talking on a cell phone, looking stressed and anxious. Instinctively she knew he was making the initial family notification; informing Rose Polniaczek that her daughter had just been shot in the line of duty.
The realization made her feel strangely disconnected from the entire situation. Silently, she moved to lean against the wall, unconsciously taking the same stance as her double. For the first time since laying eyes on her, Jo forced herself to truly scrutinize her mirror image.
Aside from the worn leather jacket, she was wearing clothing Jo knew had never been on her body, yet they were stylish and consistent with her own tastes. There was an obvious physical resemblance, and while their voices sounded almost identical, there were subtle differences in tone and inflection which made Jo wonder if this was how she actually sounded to other people.
The Mirror gave a half smile as she stared back in mild curiosity. "If it helps, you sound different to me too."
"Wonderful," Jo muttered, trying not to look completely unnerved by the Mirror's apparent ability to read her mind. "So what are you supposed to be? Some kind of guardian angel, sent down from on high to protect me? Because if that's the case, I hope they don't pay you based on performance because your timing sucks."
"There is nothing wrong with my timing," the Mirror answered succinctly.
Jo stared back. She didn't even know where to begin with this statement. "Right. So you intended for me to get shot."
"Of course not. Look, I'm not gonna argue performance with you." The Mirror pushed off from the wall, stretched her back, and then rotated her neck from left to right. "Especially since you don't listen."
Judging by the tone, Jo knew this was supposed to mean something to her the problem was it didn't. "What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded.
"It means if you'd been paying attention earlier, you might not be on your way to emergency surgery with a sucking chest wound."
Jo started to object but the instant she opened her mouth the words vanished as a memory flashed to the forefront of her mind. "A cold chill in the middle of a rain storm isn't a warning!" she barked. "A burning bush is a warning. How about next time you need to warn me about something ya whip out a burning bush?"
"Okay, first off, you're not a prophet so communication via the foliage ain't happening, and secondly, there is no way you would've listened to a talking shrub, and certainly not one that was on fire." The Mirror raised an eyebrows in an 'allow me to prove my point' kind of way. "Remember the fiasco with the Camero?"
"Son of a-" Jo immediately pushed away from the wall and in the blink of an eye was standing less than foot away from her mirror. "Are you saying Jessie and I got caught pinched because of you?"
"No, you got pinched because Mrs. Lombardo overheard Jessie telling another Diablo that she was going to snatch it out from under the nose of the Bronx Barbarian who owned it," the Mirror snapped back, a bit more angrily than intended. "Seriously, what kind of idiot discusses grand theft auto in a public place?"
"Jessie was not an idiot!" Jo yelled back. "And Mrs. Lombardo was half deaf!"
"Alright. Maybe - and I do mean *maybe* - Mrs. Lombardo got a little nudge, but only because you were hell bent on helping Jessie boost that stupid car," the Mirror asserted, and though her words were harsh, when she next spoke her tone was not unkind. "Look, I know you two were tight but let's not kid ourselves. Jessie wasn't exactly a rocket scientist and if you two brain trusts had actually managed to-"
Without warning, Jo dropped to her knees, clutching her head in agony. She thought she might have been screaming, but couldn't be sure. A thousand pulsing points of lights blinded her vision and her ears throbbed with the amplified sound of her heart. Claws of fire ripped into her mind, quickly becoming unbearable as the mental trauma abruptly manifested itself as a physical nightmare. Tears ran down her face and trickled through her now trembling fingers.
"What the hell was that?" she wheezed between ragged gasps for air. Just asking the question caused ripples of pain to cut through her body like a knife.
"Anesthesia. Don't fight it. The feeling will pass soon enough." The Mirror cocked her head as if listening for something only she was aware of. "Damn. That doesn't give me much time maybe a couple of hours "
After what felt like an eternity, Jo was able to get back on her feet. Locking eyes on the Mirror she asked, "A couple of hours before what? I mean, am I gonna-"
"Ah, let's not go there just yet," the other woman cut in. "For now you're in a holding pattern."
"Holding pattern? What is that supposed to mean?"
"It means you're at a crossroad because no definitive decision has been made."
Jo frowned. "Is that a good thing?" she asked.
"Well," the Mirror shifted uneasily as this was a rather direct question; however, it required more than a yes or no answer. "It's better than the alternative."
Jo rubbed her eyes, wishing away the dull lingering ache in her head that was making concentration difficult. Death didn't frighten her, at least not her own. She understood the inherent danger associated with her profession and it was a price she was willing to pay. However, she also knew that dying now left no opportunity for good-byes.
Or the chance to make amends.
That was going to be a problem.
Taking a deep breath she said, "Okay, I'll be the first to admit that I've done some incredibly stupid things in my life, but you obviously got me through them, so why-"
The Mirror once again seemed to know, or at least suspect, what Jo was about to say and cut her off. "I'm here to help; not fix. But even if I could fix, I wouldn't be able to change what happened tonight. I can't just override something you've done simply because the end result - well - might suck. Eh, wait, okay, that's not exactly true, I mean, sure, I can make adjustments when necessary, but changing your *will* - well that kind of thing just isn't done," she finished. "Think of it as an ethical faux paw."
"An 'ethical' faux paw?" Jo's eyebrows shot up. "Ya know what? I'm gonna take back what I said earlier; your timing doesn't suck - you do."
"Thanks. Are you done being sarcastic?" The Mirror quickly held up a silencing hand knowing full well that Jo was nowhere near finished being sarcastic. "Look, when you were a child, yes, I could exert some level of influence in your life but that time has long since passed. You're an adult now. What happens from this point forward is entirely up to you."
"Wow, thanks. That's really helpful," Jo deadpanned. "Any chance you could be a little more obscure?"
"Obscure? Please, I've told you far more than I should have already." The Mirror studied Jo's face intently. "Listen, as an adult there is no such thing as right or wrong decisions; however, some decisions are just better than others."
Jo's body went rigid as a flash of white hot pain coursed through her, but at the exact same instant an icy shiver seemed to run down her spine. As the conflicting sensations intensified, a feeling of vertigo swept over her, causing her to moan as her stomach began doing somersaults. But for as quickly as it came on, within seconds it was over. Pressing fingertips against her temple, Jo took a deep breath, wondering if she might throw-up. "I think I just came out of surgery," she whispered.
"Okay, that's go-" The Mirror's brow pulled tight; something was still wrong. "Come on," she muttered under her breath. "We need to figure out what room we're - I mean you're - oh, just come on."
Together the pair made their way through the hospital until they eventually found themselves outside the Intensive Care Unit. Jo considered opening the door but opted not to. She knew she had the ability because of the incident in the restroom, but that was before she ran into herself and learned she was standing on the cusp of death. Instead she waited until Dr. Nichols and her parents entered and then followed behind.
Standing just behind her parents, Jo listened as the doctor briefed them on her condition. When he mentioned that she'd survived five hours of surgery, she reflexively glanced down at her watch. It had indeed been over five hours, yet in her mind it felt like only a matter of minutes had passed since she found herself in the hospital.
She was on the verge of asking the Mirror about the disparity when Dr. Nichols excused himself. As he walked out of the ICU three women came rushing in. Distracted by their presence, Jo watched as Natalie, Tootie, and Beverly Ann each pulled her mother into what must have been a bone crushing hug.
"We got here as soon as we could. What happened?" Beverly Ann asked.
Jo glanced at her father. It looked as though he were waiting to see if Rose would answer, but once it became clear that she wouldn't - or possibly couldn't - he did. When Charley finished speaking, the ensuing silence was almost deafening. It was obvious that each of her friends wanted to say something comforting but all three were failing miserably.
Eventually Tootie said, "But Jo's gonna be okay, right?" as she wiped the tears from her eyes. "I mean she was wearing a vest and-"
"She was shot at close range," Rose said in a low voice. "And she lost a lot of blood." With those words Jo's mother started to cry again. Beverly-Ann slowly stepped back, allowing Charley to move in and embrace his ex-wife.
Jo lost track of the conversation from there. She'd just realized one person was conspicuously absent and judging by the expression on the Mirror's face, it hadn't gone unnoticed by her either.
"Where is she?" she asked.
There was no need to ask who 'she' was. "How should I know?" It wasn't exactly a true statement, but it was close enough. Jo didn't know where Blair was; however, she suspected she knew why her long time friend wasn't present and she was none too keen to discuss the reason with anyone, least of all a phantom image of herself, and certainly not one who defined 'ethical faux paw' in the loosest of terms.
The Mirror watched as a flood of emotions crossed her counterpart's face. Part of her wanted to say something comforting but the time for coddling was over. Pulling in a deep breath she said, "I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess the fight is why you didn't tell her."
Startled, Jo looked up. "What are you talking about?"
"The fight. You didn't tell Blair because of the fight, correct?"
"Fight?" Jo replied, sounding confused.
"Oh c'mon. You know what a fight is." The Mirror gave an exasperated sigh. "That's when you have one opinion, and Blair has a different opinion, and then both of you start yelling."
"I know what a fight is," Jo muttered, shooting the Mirror a distinct go-to-hell look. "I just meant that you're gonna have to be more specific. Blair and I fight all the time."
"No, you don't." The Mirror let the statement drip with meaning before continuing. "See, in all the time the two of you have been friends you've bickered, disagreed, and sometimes even argued - quite heatedly and very impressively I might add but the two of you have never *really* fought. Until now. Tonight, something was said that was vindictive, spiteful, and all too personal. And that's why you *decided* not to tell her."
For several long, tense, minutes neither woman spoke. Then slowly, almost deliberately, Jo's eyes drifted back to the corporeal form lying on the hospital bed, yet her attention seemed to be focused elsewhere. "What exactly is it that I'm supposed to have told Blair?" she asked.
"That you're in love with her."
Jo's head jerked up, and while she tried to keep the shock out of her face hiding it was impossible. She suddenly felt stripped bare as a certain indefinable but overwhelming sensation began building inside her. "I am not in love with Blair Warner," she whispered.
"Yes. You are." The Mirror's voice was soft but intense as she spoke. "And not telling her is killing you."
As she waited for a response, the Mirror had to wonder how things had gotten so far off track. It was one thing for her charge to remain as guarded with her emotions as she had been as a teen, but just how far did that protectiveness go?
Would she allow herself to die to avoid the truth?
The Mirror was about to present the question when Jo said, in a low strangled voice, "I can't tell her."
The words were no sooner out of her mouth when an alarm went off in the room.
Jo froze, grabbed her head, and this time she did scream as the all-too-familiar pulsating wave of knives plunge through her body. Shock wave after shock wave thundered over her. The sensation was similar to the one she experienced while going under for surgery, but this time it felt as if the source of the pain were virtually on top of her.
"Code blue! Code blue! ICU! Flat line! No pulse!"
Several nurses raced in to the room followed closely by Dr. Nichols. "Get a crash cart!" he yelled. "Epinephrine!"
One of the nurses held out a large syringe, then watched the monitor as Dr. Nichols administered the injection. "Still flat," she said firmly.
The room was growing colder. Jo shivered and dropped to her knees, distantly aware of the Mirror's presence next to her. "Damn it, why is this so hard for you?!" she demanded.
"Truth-" Jo convulsed as the pain intensified. It wouldn't stop. It surrounded her, pressing against her chest, scorching her lungs. Her breathing had become shallow, coming in short puffs, almost desperate. "wrecks "
"Oh yeah? Well, guess what? So does dying!" The Mirror glanced frantically around the room. She knew the medical personnel working on the corporeal form of Jo Polniaczek were fighting what would amount to a losing battle if something didn't change. She tried to think of a solution but her mind failed to produce one. She closed her eyes, trying desperately to draw air into her own failing lungs. She could feel her own labored heart beating as a cold numbness began to creep up in her throat.
She was dying and she didn't particularly care for the experience.
There had to be a way to fix this a way to get it right, without getting it wrong.
Opening her eyes, she asked, "If the opportunity presented itself, would you tell her?"
If she hadn't been hoping for a reaction, the Mirror might have missed it: a nod. "Close enough." Granted it could have been a reflex response but she wasn't exactly in a position to split hairs. Getting to her feet, the Mirror walked resolutely across the room. When she reached the window, she turned and saw that Jo was staring at her, a pained expression on her face.
"Remember your promise, Jo, because if you don't, then all this will have been for nothing." With that, the Mirror averted her gaze. It looked as though she were listening for something - or possibly someone.
Dr. Nichols glanced over to the monitor as if to confirm what he'd already been told. He turned to another nurse. "Get the paddles." When the man had them in position, Dr. Nichols ordered, "Four hundred watt seconds. Clear!"
Acting instinctively, Jo reached out to touch her corporeal body. She made contact just as the paddles hit her chest, and with that, there was an enormous flash of light that seemed to illuminate the whole room. She gasped as the radiance enveloped her in its brilliance. Her breathing evened as the numbness in her chest was quickly replaced by a comforting warmth.
She felt as if she were floating in a sea of white light and as her eyelids grew heavy; her gaze fell to the window.
And then the darkness swallowed her.
"Normal sinus rhythm."
Dr. Nichols sighed in relief. "That was close."
Sounds. Muffled voices. An annoying beep.
If Rose Polniaczek hadn't been watching her daughter so intently, she would have missed it: a small flutter of eyelids. "Charley," she gasped.
More sounds. Someone shifted in a vinyl chair. "I'll get the doctor."
Rapid footsteps. A door opened, then closed.
Jo wanted to open her eyes but it felt as if someone had glued them shut. "Ma?" she said hoarsely.
"I'm here." Rose took her daughter's hand in her own, kissing her fingers. "Oh, Sweetheart, you had us so worried."
Jo tried to sit up but stopped as a bolt of pain coursed through her body. "Hurts," she gasped.
"Take it easy, Honey," Charley whispered as he leaned in close, kissing his daughter lightly on the forehead. "The doctors had to immobilize your arm so you wouldn't pull the chest tube out."
Jo nodded numbly as the crust around her eyes began to loosen. "Can I sit up?"
Rose pressed a button on the control pad near the bedrail and gradually the rest of the room came into view. Still feeling disorientated, Jo blinked several times. Once her vision cleared she was surprised to see Natalie and Tootie standing next to her bed, just behind her parents. "What are you guys doing here?" she asked in a raspy voice.
"C'mon Jo, you know how this city works. Bad news travels fast," Natalie quipped effortlessly. "When the bad news involves a good cop getting shot, well, that kind of information travels at light speed."
"Do you remember what happened?" Tootie asked in a somewhat shaky voice.
Jo said nothing. She knew she'd been shot but something about the question triggered a memory something happened something important. Something she was supposed to remember.
The hush which had fallen over the room was broken as the ICU door opened and Beverly Ann walked in. "The doctor is on his way." She let out a heavy sigh as she sat down in a nearby chair. "I still haven't been able to reach Blair. I'm starting to worry. It's so unlike her to not return calls."
Rose and Charley both exchanged puzzled looks but before either could speak Natalie cut in.
"Beverly Ann, you know how Blair feels about Jo's job. She can't stand - Ow!" She yelped in pain as someone elbowed her hard in the ribs. Turning, she saw Tootie bring her right hand up to her neck to make a slashing motion while mouthing the words 'shut up'.
Further discussion was halted as Dr. Nichols and two nurses entered the room. Everyone stepped back as the nurses began checking Jo's IV and vitals. Dr. Nichols lifted a stethoscope from his neck and placed it against Jo's chest. She said nothing; though she did wince when he touched a particularly tender area.
"Did that hurt?" he asked.
Jo thought about her answer. The question was decidedly the stupidest one she'd ever heard but to say 'no' was patently untrue and saying 'yes' would likely upset everyone in the room. In the end she settled for a half shrug.
"Well, the next time you want lead in your body I suggest you eat paint chips. It's much less intrusive and much easier to treat." He gave a tight lipped grin, but his tone was serious. "You're a very fortunate woman, Detective Polniaczek. Vest or not, one millimeter to the left and we wouldn't even be having this conversation."
When he finished his examination, Dr. Nichols spoke quietly with the nurses while making a few notations on Jo's chart. Turning back to Rose and Charley, he said, "I think we can pull the chest tube. It's a fairly simple procedure and we can do it here in the ICU. Takes about ten minutes, and then we'll sew her up." Glancing back at Jo he added, "It won't be pleasant."
"Is that supposed to mean getting shot was somehow enjoyable?" Natalie muttered under her breath, however, she quickly took a step away from Tootie who looked poised to elbow her again.
"So... Jo is going to be all right?" Rose asked tentatively.
"Well, we still don't know what caused your daughter to flat line earlier, but she's awake and alert now, her vitals are strong, and her latest EKG was normal. She may have had an allergic reaction to the pain medication or possibly the antibiotics, so I've ordered both be changed just to be safe. I'd like to keep her in ICU for another day or two before transferring her to a room on the ward." Dr. Nichols smiled. "All things considered, I'd say her prognosis is excellent provided she gets some rest."
Rose relaxed visibly, her body going limp with relief and fatigue. Charley once again put himself beside his former wife, letting her rest her weight against his. Beverly-Ann and Tootie let out collective sighs of relief, but only Natalie seemed to understand that Dr. Nichols statement wasn't an assessment of Jo's condition but an order for them to leave.
"We'll check back on you later, Jo." She motioned for Tootie to follow. Half way out the door, the actress smacked her hard on the back of the head. "Ow! Tootie! Knock it off!"
"Nice one, Nat," she chastised. "I can't believe you said that in front of Jo's parents."
"Well it's not like " The rest of Natalie's response was lost as the ICU door closed behind them. After what felt like an excessive amount of pillow fluffing and doting, Beverly-Ann managed to convince Rose and Charley to accompany her down to the cafeteria for some coffee.
Once alone, Jo slumped back against her pillows, lost in thought. Something happened; of that she was absolutely positive. However, the harder she tried to recall the details, the more fragmented and disjointed they became.
She lay there in silence, half thinking, half listening to sounds of the monitors. Gradually, the beeping and humming lulled her, allowing the shadows of sleep to creep up on her. Bit by bit they pulled her back down into the murky depths of oblivion.
Having been able to sleep, without interruption, for several hours Jo finally stirred, feeling better than she had after initially regaining consciousness. The chest tube had been pulled; however, her arm remained in the sling. Not that it really mattered; she really wasn't up to moving it, or any other part of her body, at the moment.
And Dr. Nichols hadn't been lying. Removal of the chest tube had been extremely unpleasant.
As her senses sharpened, she realized she wasn't alone. There had been no physical declaration of the person's arrival she didn't speak or clear her throat but instinctively Jo knew who it was.
"Hey," she voiced softly, as she opened her eyes.
"Hey yourself." Blair remained in the shadows for a moment before walking over to the bed. "How are you feeling?"
"Oh, like I got shot," she answered, trying to add some mirth to her tone. However, the reality of her words felt jagged and they hung painfully between them for a long time.
Blair eventually sighed, filling the awkward silence. "Don't joke," she responded, a little harsher than she perhaps intended. "It's not funny."
Jo was inclined to agree, though she refrained from saying as much. "Hit the light will ya?"
Blair reached up and the light above the bed flickered to life, bathing them in soft light, yet both women remained locked in silence. It wasn't the usual silence one associates with a long time familiarity, but a new and undeniably uncomfortable lack of communication that made both of them fidget.
As Jo tried to shift into a more comfortable position, Blair willed herself to ignore the bandages covering her friend's torso and chest. However, the pained look on the brunette's face proved to be too much and she found herself unable to maintain her composure any longer. "My god, nothing is ever simple with you, is it?"
"Yeah, well, simple has never been a big part of my vocabulary."
"It used to be."
Tendrils of resentment were unquestionably entwined with genuine relief making it difficult for Jo to determine if Blair was being argumentative or sympathetic. Hoping to push more towards the former Jo muttered. "I don't want to argue with you, Blair."
The other woman's expression sharpened. "It's a shame you didn't feel that way last night."
However deficient she might be in the realm of Rank-Out sessions, when it came to gloating Blair could generally come up with six different ways of saying 'I told you so', and that each one was designed to make the recipient feel even more stupid. Nevertheless, and despite her earlier assertion that she didn't want to argue, Jo couldn't stop herself from saying, "Hey, you hung up on me. Remember?"
"Yes, I did, because I was furious with you. And when you didn't call back I assumed you were just being stubborn so I tried calling you but got no answer. I know you don't screen your calls so I knew you couldn't be at home. The funny thing is, I actually had to think about where you might have gone."
Jo dug her tongue into her cheek, feeling very annoyed and not at all amused. "You know where I went."
"No, I assumed you might go into work." Blair's voice trailed off as she pulled up a chair and sat down. "Finding out that you were on your way to emergency surgery - well, that came as something of a surprise."
The obvious aside, the problem with having recently been shot was that while Jo's brain was telling her to say something logical and sensible like - Hey Blair, I'm little thirsty, could you hand me that water glass? - there didn't seem to be a reliable connection with her mouth. "You're acting like I got shot just to piss you off," she snapped.
"No, I'm sure if that had been the case Captain Baker would have mentioned it when he called."
A mask fell over Jo's face. It went absolutely still. "Baker called you? Why?"
"Well, I can't say for certain," Blair began, wetting her lips as she spoke. "But I imagine it had something to do with you listing me as 'person to notify in the event of an emergency'."
Had Jo been capable of making the movement, she would've slapped herself in the forehead. She'd completely forgotten about doing that. "Oh. I probably should have mentioned that to you," she offered lamely.
"Yes, you probably should have," Blair answered coolly. "He seemed equally surprised to be talking to me, but he was quite professional about it. He even offered to send a car to pick me up. Of course I declined. After all, I needed to call your mother and tell her you'd been shot. That was a fun conversation. Remind me to thank you for that later." She paused to pick non-existent lint from the material of her designer suit. "I took a note from Captain Baker's book though and sent a car to pick her and your father up."
Another uneasy silence filled the room. For as badly as she felt about Blair getting the call, Jo's patience with this line of conversation was growing thin. "Listen, Blair-"
"No, you listen to me," Blair countered as she leaned forward slightly in her chair. "I don't remember driving to the hospital. I barely remember sitting in the chapel waiting to hear if you were going to live or die. But what I do remember thinking is that if you weren't a police officer none of this would have happened."
"Don't blame the job!" Jo hissed between clinched teeth. "What happened was an accident a mistake."
Blair immediately sat back, her arms crossed over her chest. "Jo, getting shot by some 'perp' hardly meets the criteria of an accident or a mistake."
Jo blinked. Not only had Blair Warner used slang, she had used it in the appropriate context. And while there was a distinct note of bitterness in her voice, it was mixed with something Jo couldn't readily identify, yet it seemed vaguely familiar.
"Perp?" she ventured. "Have you been watching reruns of 21 Jumpstreet again?" She was hoping her amused tone might sway the conversation back towards a safer topic; however, Blair took no notice.
"My hanging up on you wasn't an accident either but it sure as hell was a mistake." Her face remained impassive as she continued. "A mistake you nearly paid for with your life."
"Blair, you are not the reason I got shot," Jo began, but the other woman quickly cut her off.
"No, I'm the reason you were working on your night off."
Silence. What could Jo say to that? She had anticipated the malicious comments about her job. She even expected to be berated about the argument. But if someone were to ask her if that event was the catalyst for everything that followed, Jo's answer would have been an emphatic 'no'.
Obviously Blair felt otherwise, but what Jo found most troubling was that Blair had driven her point home in the same tone of voice she might use to announce that cocktails would be served in the main dining room in twenty minutes.
Blair rose from her chair and moved to sit on the edge of the hospital bed. Once again, she toyed with the hem of her skirt before speaking. "When you initially applied to the NYPD I wasn't just upset; I was livid. I remember thinking 'How dare she enter a profession that might one day take her away from me.' Not for a day, a week, or even a month; but forever." Her breath hitched as the tumble of words came to a halt. It took some time but eventually she said, "Jo, being a Warner affords me a great many things but I can't afford to lose you not because of a mistake."
And before she could react, Jo found her arms full of a very distraught blond. Blair was crying, great racking, silent sobs that shook her whole body. Not knowing what to do or say, Jo simply held her, willing herself to ignore the excruciating pain that now accompanied the iron grip Blair had on her but also fighting to contain her own despair which felt too powerful for tears.
Jo's mind went blank. It felt as though the synapses in her brain had frozen. All the little chemical and electrical processes in her head stopped, every thought suspended.
If the opportunity presented itself, would you tell her?
As her brain slowly reengaged and her memory snapped back into focus, Jo automatically looked to the window not sure what she was expecting to see, but unsurprised to find empty space. She had no idea if what she experienced actually happened, or if her unconscious mind had simply picked that particular moment to reconcile the events of her life. Perhaps it didn't matter because at that very moment the woman she loved more than life itself was in her arms, telling her in no uncertain terms that she needed her.
Never being one to rely heavily on words Jo did what came naturally; she took action. Relaxing her grip she pushed Blair back and slowly lowered her lips to hers, brushing them softly at first, then increasing the pressure. For a fraction of a second there was nothing, then came the willing response as Blair opened her lips inviting her in.
When the kiss ended, Jo pulled back. She closed her eyes half expecting Blair to say that she'd been humoring her and really didn't want to take their friendship to this level. However, when she reopened them, she saw only acceptance, a hope for the future, but most importantly love reflected in Blair's overly bright eyes.
"Blair, I-" she began.
Pressing her fingers against Jo's lips, Blair cut her off. "Apology accepted."
Jo gave a half-scowl as she pulled her head back. "What makes you think I was gonna apologize?"
"I don't. But anything else you might say could be attributed to some rather intense pain medication and I'd rather you didn't have an excuse to take it back later. Now, move over. You're supposed to be resting," Blair instructed as she stood, kicked off her shoes and removed her jacket. Settling back down on the bed, she laid her head down on Jo's shoulder, mindful not to jostle her any more than she already had.
Once settled, she carefully draped an arm over Jo's chest. From beneath the bandages, she could feel the gentle thumping of her heart. They lay there for several minutes before she whispered, "Jo?"
"Hmmm?" she answered, her voice already sounding thick and drowsy.
"If you ever enter a dark alley without your partner again, I will shoot you myself."
"Yeah, yeah," Jo mumbled back, but she couldn't quite suppress a snort of amusement as she felt Blair relax into their somewhat awkward, but no less mutually protective embrace.
And with that, Jo drifted off, knowing they had a bumpy road ahead of them, but feeling that things were going to work out... maybe not today, probably not tomorrow, perhaps not even next month.
But for now, everything was as it should be.
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