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.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
All Lies Lead to the Truth
"The truth is rarely pure and never simple."
- Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900), The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895, Act I
As children, we're taught 'Honesty is the best policy' but as we move towards adulthood we slowly begin to realize that might not be the case.
Now before you say anything, let me explain. Politicians will lie to get elected, car dealers will do it to make a sale, and criminals lie for more sinister reasons. But we pretty much expect *them* to lie. We never - and I do mean never - expect someone we trust to lie to us.
But it's a false expectation because we're socially engineered to do it. As children we learn to lie to avoid punishment (Honest, I don't know how mud got tracked all over the house); as adolescents we do it to explain away incomplete homework (My dog ate it); as teenagers we do it to cover up mistakes (I swear Dad, the car always had a dent in the bumper); and as adults well if anyone has ever asked for your 'honest opinion' you knew it was the last thing they wanted to hear.
And sometimes we lie to ourselves because we're all but convinced that the truth simply isn't an option.
Call it what you like; a 'little white lie' or an 'omission of the truth' but the fact is it's still a lie and we all do it.
And therein lies the problem. No pun intended.
See, it takes a very strong person to tell the truth, but it takes an even stronger person to hear it, and sadly most of us just aren't wired that way. We fear the anger and resentment that comes with honesty and will do just anything to avoid the confrontation even when the truth might have served the situation - or us - better.
Blair Warner sat down at her desk. In one hand she held a steaming cup of coffee, the other a stack of legal documents. Sighing, she set the documents down on her desk trying to decide which fire needed to be attended to first. However, her sullen mood quickly shifted to amusement as a rather irate woman stormed into her office without knocking. Setting her coffee mug aside, Blair quickly shifted her attention to her computer keyboard and began typing.
"No," she said, without bothering to look up.
"Blair, I swear it just came up. It's a work thing and-"
"You do not have a 'work' thing," she interrupted.
Detective Jo Polniaczek opened her mouth but quickly closed it as she watched Blair bang away at the keyboard. She had a sneaking suspicion her friend was typing gibberish because no one typed that fast. Shaking her head she forced her attention back to the matter at hand and began to pace. "How would you know, Farrah?"
"How would I know?" Blair finally looked up, wondering if it was the Bronx accent which allowed Jo to convey so much contempt with such a well used taunt. "I'm sorry; I don't believe we've met. I'm Blair Warner."
"I know who you are," Jo muttered back, looking as though she were trying to walk a hole in the carpet. "But I wasn't kidding. I really do have to work."
"Jo, I sit on the Board of Directors for Warner Industries. Warner Industries funds the Warner Foundation. The Warner Foundation happens to be co-sponsoring this year's Civic Awards Banquet." Without saying another word, and desperately trying not to snicker, she held out a sheet of paper.
Jo adjusted her stride just far enough to snatch it. As her eyes moved down the document she felt her agitation increase. Evidently the Police Commissioner had confirmed her and another officer's attendance that very morning. Wishing this were someone's idea of a bad joke she crumpled up the page and threw it across the room. "Forget it. I'm not going."
"Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not." The look on Jo's face told the blond she wasn't joking.
"Okay," Blair offered in what she hoped was a non-confrontational tone. "In the interest of moving this conversation in a forward direction, I'm going to indulge you." Leaning back in her chair, she gave her friend an appraising look. "Give me one good reason - that isn't a fabrication - and you're off the hook."
"You only want one? Hell, I can give you three," Jo answered quickly. "I hate listening to long boring speeches, over-cooked chicken and soggy carrots make me sick, and watching people drink more than is good for them tends to put me in a bad mood."
"Finished?" Blair asked with an eyebrow raised slightly. She waited for her friend to nod before saying, "The menu is filet mignon with baby asparagus so you needn't worry about your delicate stomach, and since pretty much everything puts you in a bad mood that line of reasoning isn't even worth addressing."
"What about the speeches?" Jo asked, hoping, but not expecting this rational to fare better than the previous two.
Blair shrugged. "You survived Eastland and Langley; one more long boring speech isn't going to kill you."
Jo cursed loudly, albeit creatively, effectively letting everyone in the building know exactly how she felt about being forced to attend the banquet.
"And here I was thinking your language would improve once you became a detective," Blair offered smoothly. "Honestly, Jo, you've known about this for weeks. Why you're acting so childish about it now is beyond me."
"Well now there's a shocker. Blair Warner stumped by logic." Jo's scowl deepened as she flopped down on the nearby leather couch. "And I'm not acting childish."
Blair was inclined to agree. Jo wasn't *acting* childish; she was *being* childish. In fact, everything about her behavior as was akin to that of a five year old child who was seconds away from sticking their tongue out. Fortunately, she had enough sense not to say any of this. Instead she pushed away from her mahogany desk and walked around to sit on the front edge. "Alright; what's wrong?"
"What makes you think something is wrong?" Jo mimicked back. "You know how much I love being forced to attend black tie events."
The words were grudging, aggressive, and belligerent, but the surly tone didn't quite mesh with the expression on Jo's face. And this was a look Blair knew all too well; frustration. However, she seriously doubted the dress code had anything to do with Jo's reluctance to attend the banquet. "Why do you care what everyone else will be wearing? You'll be in uniform."
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Blair knew she'd said nothing to defuse the situation. As a matter of fact it looked as if Jo was even more annoyed.
"All the more reason not to go," the brunette snapped.
"Jo, you're one of the honorees. That alone makes your attendance a tad bit compulsory. If it makes you feel better, you can spend the evening investigating whether or not the fruit punch is spiked."
After an extended silence, which basically amounted to both women throwing very accusatory looks at each other Jo said, "Fine. I'll go; but I refuse to enjoy myself."
"Wonderful. And I apologize for accusing you of acting childish," Blair quipped as she slid off the desk and walked back to her chair. Sitting down, she opened a folder she'd been planning to review later and began flipped through the contents. "Now that your highly mature temper tantrum is over, I'm glad you stopped by. I left a message for Karen earlier this morning but she hasn't called me back. I need to know-"
"She won't be calling you back," Jo interrupted.
"Are you two fighting again?" Blair asked without looking up.
"Then what's the problem?"
"Why does there have to be a problem?" Jo demanded.
Blair recognized an evasive answer when she heard one and lifted her head. "Because there usually is."
Jo's frown deepened as she'd been hoping her 'no' would be sufficient; however, given Blair's propensity for details that was probably asking too much. Taking in a deep breath, she said, "I think the shine of dating a cop got a bit tarnished last night."
Blair considered that for a moment. "You arrested someone in the restaurant last night, didn't you?" She waited for confirmation and when it came in the form of an indifferent shrug, it took all of her strength not to laugh. "My god, Jo, what were you thinking?"
The other woman shifted on the couch. "I was thinking how much I love it when people commit felonies right in front of me," she answered, a somewhat irritated expression on her face.
Blair took in a deep breath. Given that she'd just convinced Jo to attend the banquet for the third time in as many weeks, she really didn't want to provide the necessary ammunition for her developing yet another excuse not to go. "Is there anything I can do?"
Jo's eyes rolled so far back that Blair had to wonder if they would ever find their way home. "Well, you can stop acting all broke up about it for starters. I mean, it's not as if you liked Karen all that much."
"Why would you say something like that?" Blair demanded, startled by the accusation.
If a smirk could be manifested as a sound, Jo would have made one right then. "I'm sorry; I don't believe we've met. I'm Jo Polniaczek."
Blair frowned inwardly, wanting to argue the point, but finding it almost impossible to do so primarily because Jo was right; she hadn't liked Karen, but she hadn't disliked her either. She simply tolerated her presence because she happened to be dating her best friend. But at the same time, it made for an odd state of affairs. Jo had been 'out' for nearly three years and of all the women she had dated, Karen Jackson was the one she ought to have genuinely liked.
A soft cough interrupted Blair's silent reflection; however, when she looked up Jo seemed to be examining her fingernails. However, determining whether her attentiveness was real or assumed was a little more difficult. There had been a time when the 'disinterested hoodlum' had simply been a part of Jo's persona. But over the years Blair had come to understand that much of Jo's tough girl act was just that - an act. Very few people knew just how vulnerable she really was, and Blair counted herself as one of the privileged. Nevertheless, there were times when Jo found it difficult to drop the mask of indifference.
And then there were times when she simply opted not to.
This appeared to be one of those times.
Clearing her throat, Blair said, "Be that as it may, I am sorry." She hoped her tone conveyed that the sentiment was genuine and not just a reflex comment. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"Not really. Besides, there really isn't much to tell and at least she had the decency to break it off in person." Jo exhaled deeply as she rubbed her hands over her face. "Listen, I gotta get back to work. I'll talk to ya later." Pulling herself off the couch she headed for the office door, but just as she reached it, she paused. "You know any other time my mom would be thrilled to go to this stupid thing with me, but she's gonna be out of town this weekend."
"And I'd rather not sit next to some idiot who plans to drink them self into oblivion."
Blair thought about that for a moment. Snapping her fingers she said, "Natalie. She's between boyfriends at the moment and I'm sure she'd jump at the opportunity to attend another one of my fabulous social events." The suggestion was met with a less than amused look which prompted the blond to smile. "Relax, Jo. When Daddy heard you were one of the honorees, he canceled his trip to Tokyo. He wants to represent the Warner Foundation so that frees me up to go with you."
"Gosh, Princess, would you?"
Intertwined within the sarcastic mocking tone, Blair heard some level of sincerity; however, if Jo was going to act like - well - Jo - then logic dictated she respond accordingly.
"Please remember this is a formal event, so picking me up on your motorcycle is entirely inappropriate."
Jo rolled her eyes again, if only for appearance sake. "I'll pick you up at seven. If you're not ready-"
"You'll use that as an excuse not to go." Blair gave a dismissive wave as she turned back to her computer. Pressing the delete key she began removing the mishmash of letters she'd typed earlier. "I get it; I'll be ready."
Jo shifted uncomfortably in her chair. Taking a small sip from her water glass, she began tugging at the collar of her dress uniform. The starched white material was cutting into her neck and if she didn't get it off soon she was going to slit her own throat.
Having already received more than a few affronted looks from the Mayor's wife, she tried to keep her fidgeting to a minimum during the endless after dinner speeches. However, she couldn't resist whispering out of the side of her mouth that someone should wake her if anything interesting happen before the honorees were recognized.
However, that proved to be unnecessary. By the time her name was called, Jo was more than ready to accept her award as it meant she could stand up and move around. After walking across the stage, she shook hands with the dignitaries (receiving an extended hug from David Warner had been something of a pleasant surprise), smiled politely as a half a dozen pictures were taken, then almost reluctantly walked back to the table.
Blair gave an encouraging smile as she pulled out her chair and sat down. "See? That wasn't so bad."
Biting back her initial response, Jo muttered, "Yeah, I guess it was okay." It was one thing to irritate the Mayor's wife but irritating Blair was something else, and truthfully it hadn't been all that bad.
An hour later, the banquet room was filled with the buzzing sound of an audience now released from the obligation of polite listening. As people began standing and milling about, Jo leaned into Blair and murmured, "Can we go now?"
Blair shook her head as she rose from her chair. "You need to mingle; it gives everyone a chance to meet and congratulate you."
"I've met enough people for one night." Jo stood and immediately began pulling at her collar, which was once again squeezing her neck uncomfortably. "And I don't need any more face time. Face time is what got me in this mess in the first place."
"No, being an exceptional officer who makes a great contribution to this city is what got you here. And will you please stop fiddling with that?" Blair reached up to adjust the offending material while pointedly ignoring Jo's attempts to knock her hands away. When finished she said, "Thirty minutes. I promise."
Without waiting for a response, she turned, plucked a crystal champagne flute off the tray of a passing server, and began making her expected rounds. Having grown up in a world of affluence, she had long since learned how to make the appropriate small talk, but for some reason tonight her words felt scripted; almost forced. She offered a courteous greeting here, asked an interested question there; all the while accepting gracious praise for yet another flawlessly planned and executed event.
After respectfully excusing herself away from the Mayor's wife, who was, as Jo predicted, one of the people who'd consumed entirely too much alcohol, Blair caught sight of Jo and the other NYPD honoree standing at the far side of the room. They were picking at the desert trays, evidently looking for something edible that wouldn't require much swallowing.
Even from a distance Blair could tell the officer looked only slightly more comfortable in his dress uniform than Jo. Perhaps that was to be expected. Having made detective so quickly, Jo had worn a standard police uniform for a very short period of time. Still, she looked good and while Blair would have been hard pressed to explain why, she felt a strange sort of pride. Jo had been through so much in her life but to look at her now, no one would ever know.
Smiling, she continued her social loop until she noticed several members of the Chamber of Commerce gathered near the bar. They were clustered around a woman who was leaning against the rail, laughing and talking. She looked confident, totally at ease, and Blair felt righteous indignation spill out with a force she hadn't experienced since seeing her peach organza gown on top of Jo's motorcycle engine when they were eighteen.
What is she doing here?
Shifting direction, Blair approached the group. "Good evening everyone. I hope you all are enjoying yourselves."
"Blair Warner; as I live and breathe - what a surprise!" The woman set her drink aside, practically gushing as she pulled the blond into a tight embrace. "How long has it been?"
"Too long, Rachel," Blair said with a fixed smile as she knew this was a purely dutiful greeting. She and Rachel Dalton may have attended law school together, but they were anything but friends. In fact, they'd been downright hostile towards each from the start and the years since graduation had done nothing to temper the aversion.
"So what brings you out to our little gala?" She asked, feeling it might be rude to say, 'How did you end up at an event I know you did not receive an invitation for?'
"Why, Mark Billings of course. He's such a darling," Rachel replied as she traced a lazy finger over the arm of a man who was not Mark Billings, possibly three times her age, and looked to be in dire need of an oxygen unit. "When he extended the invitation last week, I simply couldn't resist."
Blair inclined her head slightly. Given her past experiences with hearsay and rumor mongering, she'd made a concerted effort to distance herself from all types of gossip. However, in watching her now, she found it extremely difficult to write off the ones she'd heard about Rachel as of late. The woman wasn't just flirting; she was wheedling her sexuality like a heat seeking missile and once she found a suitable target, Blair suspected there was apt to be a rather large explosion along with a substantial amount of collateral damage.
With that in mind, she made a mental note to omit the 'and guest' on invitations sent to the City Planner's office in the future.
"So how have you been?" Blair finally asked, trying to keep the conversation casual.
"How have I been?" Rachel gave a mock scowl. "Don't tell me you missed the announcement in last month's Langley Law Review?"
Blair smiled. She hadn't missed it, though she had done her best to ignore it. "Of course. Congratulations."
"And what about you?" Rachel asked, flashing a brilliantly white smile. "Still working for your father?"
Blair gave another curt nod. "I find that working in the corporate sector affords me the freedom to support worthwhile causes such as this."
"Yes, I believe Mark mentioned something about the Warner Foundation co-sponsoring tonight's event. And I must say, Blair, you've done a marvelous job. But then you were always so good at planning parties, weren't you?"
The comment was made in an off-handed way, but the tone was unmistakably patronizing and the few members of the Chamber of Commerce who'd remained for the conversation seemed to recognize where things were going. They politely said goodnight before excusing themselves and Blair could hardly blame them for leaving. At this rate the night could end as a tabloid headline. Wanting to avoid that, she once again tried to maneuver the conversation towards a more neutral subject. "I had no idea you and Mark were dating."
"Oh, we're not dating," the other woman answered smoothly. "Besides, he really isn't my type."
"Really? I didn't think you had a type."
The words were out of her mouth before Blair could stop them, but for the first time Rachel's smile seemed to falter. However, before she could respond to the highly malicious comment, Blair felt a warm hand settle on the small of her back.
"Time's up, Blondie. Let's go."
"Hell-o officer," Rachel murmured in an unnaturally low and throaty voice.
The comment, which was never meant to be voiced aloud, might have gone unnoticed had Blair not been standing less than a foot away from Rachel at the time. Fixated, Blair watched as Rachel Dalton's laser guided sights found a target in the form of Jo Polniaczek.
It was one of those rare moments when, had this been a made for television movie, Blair knew the music would have gone soft as the camera panned around Rachel's face in a slow circling arc meant to provide the audience with a sense of attraction. She would lift a hand to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear - which she did - she would smile - which she also did - and then her and Jo's eyes would meet.
That part didn't happen, which was how Blair knew this wasn't a television movie, though she suspected the last deviation had been viewed as a minor inconvenience by Rachel as opposed to the brush-off it had been on Jo's part.
"I said let's go Princess," Jo repeated. When the blond showed no inclination of moving she gave her a rough jab in the ribs. "Hey, you in there?"
"Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend, Blair?" Rachel asked in deceptively casual tone.
Blair managed to suppress a flinched as Rachel's question, and to a lesser degree Jo's painful poke, seemed to pull her out of her reprieve. For as much as she might have wanted to forgo the introductions, her social upbringing simply wouldn't allow her to do it. "Of course. Rachel, this is Detective Polniaczek. Jo - Rachel Dalton."
Jo cast a wary eye over the other woman, acknowledging her for the first time. She looked to be just another guest and presumably harmless, but something about her was tripping all her mental alarms. Nevertheless, years of etiquette tuition, most of which had been shoved down her throat by Blair, told her that certain protocols had to be adhered to. So, in extending her hand, she smiled and asked, "You with the City Council or something?"
There was a marked pause, then Rachel gave a coy laugh. "Not exactly. I'm-"
"Rachel and I went to law school together," Blair cut in. "She's an attorney with Garrison and Associates."
Jo immediately yanked her hand back. She knew she'd acted as though the woman had oozing puss coming out of her eyes, but it couldn't be helped. Defense attorneys were at the top of her list of people who needed to be thrown off a pier, right behind their clients. She chanced a momentary glance over to Blair, wanting to gauge her level of mortification and was completely taken aback to see what looked like restrained satisfaction.
"Is something wrong?" Blair asked. It almost sounded like a challenge.
Jo shook her head, trying to make sense of this unexpected development. It was entirely possible that she imagined the look but something told her this wasn't the case. Either way, she knew better than to make a scene and risk having Hurricane Blair bluster on the drive back to her apartment. In an effort to keep things cordial, she made a show of looking at her hands, then wiping them on her pants.
"Sorry I ah Crumbs from the desert tray," she muttered under her breath.
"It's a pleasure to meet you Officer Polniaczek." Rachel's tone suggested she was willing to accept the proffered explanation for not shaking her hand seconds earlier at face value. However, when Jo re-initiated the handshake, Rachel held it a bit longer than Blair felt was entirely necessary. "I've heard good things about you."
"It's Detective. And I doubt you've heard too many good things about me, at least not from your clients."
Jo's tone was amicable; however, when she made a point of wiping her hands on her pants again, her purpose for doing so could not have been clearer. And while Rachel appeared not to have noticed, or possibly didn't care, Jo was quite sure the three-time Harvest Queen and heir apparent to the Warner Empire had noticed and would care. In fact, she fully expected her behavior to trigger the full wrath of Hurricane Blair but once again there was no reaction from her.
"Now, now," Rachel offered in a bemused sort of way. "In a fair and just society, no citizen should be imprisoned or punished simply because the government *decided* they were guilty of something. Innocent until proven otherwise, Detective."
Jo managed to hold her tongue for a full ten seconds, which in many ways was something of a personal record.
"Yeah, I'll keep that in mind the next time I pull a load of cocaine and a couple of sawed-off shot guns outta the trunk of some *innocent* guy's car," she countered, keenly aware that she'd officially by-passed professional banter and was now teetering on the edge of outright hostility without any objection from the one person she fully expected to have put an end to the exchange long before now.
Rachel smiled again. "I see I'm going to have my work cut out with you, Jo."
That made Blair flinch. The shift from 'Detective' to the familiar, almost casual, use of Jo's name confirmed where the conversation was headed. Interjecting herself back into the discussion, Blair cut Jo off before she could respond. "You're right Jo, it is getting late and we really should be going." Shifting her attention back to Rachel she added, "It was lovely to see you again. Give Mark my best, won't you?"
Then, without realizing she'd done it, she stepped forward, effectively inserting herself between Jo and Rachel. It was a trademark 'back off' move to which Rachel responded with a look of 'Oh, now that's interesting.'
Now making it a point to lock eyes with Jo, Rachel smiled. "Well, it really has been a pleasure meeting you, Jo, and if you're ever interested in discussing something *other* than the Due Process Clause of the Constitution-"
She held out a business card and much to Blair's chagrin, Jo accepted it without comment. Infuriated beyond belief Blair grabbed the brunette by the arm and led her away. Once they were out of earshot she rounded on Jo. "What was that about?"
"Hey, don't get all bent out of shape at me," Jo retorted, not quite understanding why Hurricane Blair was making landfall now. "If you wanted me to play nice you shouldn't have mentioned your friend makes a living putting scumbags back on the street."
Blair wasn't sure what to say. More to the point, she wasn't sure what to feel. A part of her suspected she might be overreacting, but at the same time she was angry at Jo for suggesting, without hesitation, that this situation was somehow her fault. However, since Jo had evidently recognized the calculated introduction Blair felt justified in sidestepping the topic in-lew of the more pressing issue.
"She was hitting on you."
"I got that." The expression on Jo's face hovered somewhere between confusion and amusement. "Hell, Beverly Ann would have gotten that, and she's practically clueless."
"Are you interested?" Blair demanded.
Jo blinked, uncomprehendingly. Then her eyes went wide as she realized where Blair was going. "No, and just so we're clear, the less than subtle reference to a male companion wasn't necessary." Then without stopping for a breath she added, "Look, I've seen her type before. They might dabble on the side when pickings are slim, but if she came here with a date, I doubt she was all that interested in me. If ya wanna know the truth, I think she was way more interested in getting a rise out of you."
Interesting theory, Detective, but if you think Rachel Dalton isn't interested in you, then guess again. Blair thought defiantly. "So you aren't going to call her?"
"Hell no, I'm not gonna call her," Jo replied, sounding almost insulted by the question. As if to prove her point she tossed the business card on a nearby table. "Blair, she's a curious straight woman, with a crap job, who reeks of drama. What kind of idiot goes looking for that?"
As tempting as it was to answer, Blair said nothing because she knew exactly what kind of idiot might go looking for that: Jo.
For the next few days, Blair continued to be far more inquisitive about Jo's personal life than Jo liked, much less appreciated. It made for some rather uncomfortable conversations but after threatening to shoot her - which hadn't been effective - then warning that she wouldn't be fixing anymore parking tickets - which had been effective - Blair relented and life returned to some semblance of normalcy.
The following week Blair, Natalie and Tootie met for their monthly girls' night out dinner. Normally Jo would have been with them, but at the last minute she had to cancel. A mid-level drug dealer looking to cut a deal had agreed to provide information on his supplier in exchange for a reduced sentence. Since Jo had been the arresting officer and was trying to build a case against the supplier, the District Attorney's Office wanted her to be present for the de-briefing, effectively giving her no choice in the matter.
Because of the nature of the deal, Jo assumed her suspect would be represented by a public defender so it came as something of a nasty shock when she walked into the interview room and saw Rachel Dalton sitting next to Garrison and Associates latest revolving door client.
Her inherent distain for defense attorneys aside, the longer Jo was around Rachel Dalton, the hard she found it to keep the woman at arm's length. And after an extensive six hour interview, which resulted in more information than anyone expected, she found herself being coaxed into having a drink at a nearby bar.
Drinks led to a phone call, the phone call led to dinner; and dinner resulted in Tootie and Jeff spotting them in the restaurant bar. As luck would have it, they stopped to say hello just as Jo's name was called. When both women stood it was obvious that they were dining together, but Jo hadn't exactly been in a position to tell Tootie to keep her mouth shut at the time.
Unfortunately, the delay gave Tootie ample opportunity to call Natalie, who was working on a deadline and after speaking with Tootie, shut off her phone.
As a result Natalie had no idea that Jo and Rachel dining together was information she ought to keep under wraps when she had lunch with Blair the following day.
The bistro was small, unhurried and uncrowded. Blair and Natalie were seated almost immediately and as both were starving, they were ready to order when their waitress arrived.
"So," Blair said as the woman walked away with their orders and menus. "How are things going at work?"
"You know I never thought I would say this but - dull," Natalie replied. "I know I shouldn't complain but when the Times offered the position I thought I would get something a bit more substantial than the Food Section." She sighed heavily. "Granted I've been dinning in some of New York's finest establishments but how many times can a person write, 'The Filet mignon, stuffed with crab, was seasoned to perfection, while the marinated vegetables were simply to die for' or 'The dinner salad was somewhat wilted and manicotti a bit too salty, but those imperfections can be overlooked in light of the superb French bread which has a crust that begs to be bitten' before it becomes redundant?"
Blair graced her friend with an indulgent smile as she glanced around the restaurant. "Natalie, 'Leia's Kosher Bistro' hardly qualifies as 'Fine New York Dinning'."
"I know, but when your boss asks for an assessment of his girlfriend's latest and greatest restaurant venture, you don't argue." Natalie gave Blair knowing look. "Don't worry, if there's a finger in the Matzo Ball soup, I'll be sure to keep the Warner name out of my review."
That elicited a soft chuckle and the pair to continue to make idle chit-chat until their lunch arrived. After verifying everything was in order and refilling their water and ice tea glasses, the waitress departed.
Looking down at her plate, Natalie gave a half shrug. "Well it looks edible." Picking up her fork, she took a tentative bite of her salad.
"Well?" Blair prompted.
Another shrug. "It's different, but good."
"That's not exactly the ringing endorsement I would expect from someone who sleeps with a thesaurus under her pillow," Blair offered in a wry tone.
"True, but now I don't have to write 'The Kosher Chef Salad will have gentiles lining up outside their local synagogue asking to convert'. And for the record I put my thesaurus back on the shelf a year ago." She paused just long enough to spear the pickle off Blair's plate. "Anyway, what I was about to tell you before we got all sidetracked with the thrilling exploits of a Times food critic is that Tootie expects rehearsal to run late next week so unless Jo plans to bring the new squeeze along, it will probably be the three of us for dinner on Friday."
Blair raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "Jo's new squeeze?"
"I know; it's so weird," Natalie continued, evidently misinterpreting what had clearly been a question. She leaned over the table, dropping her voice to an almost conspiratorial level. "I mean she's always been so down on lawyers and now-"
Blair swallowed her food quickly, nearly choking in the process. "Jo is dating Rachel Dalton?"
"Is that her name? Tootie didn't-" Natalie stopped talking and quickly sat back. The stricken look on Blair's face spoke volumes, telling her in no uncertain terms that all this was news to her. "Wait. You didn't know?" she gasped.
Blair shook her head, expelling a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "Well I knew they'd met. I introduced them at Civic Awards Banquet."
"Then why are you acting all surprised?"
"Because Jo told me she wasn't interested," Blair answered, her voice portraying none of the raw emotion running through her mind. "Rachel is straight."
"I think the word you're looking for is bi-sexual. I mean, she can't be that straight if she's dating Jo." Natalie paused to open a packet of artificial sweetener. Tipping the contents into her iced tea she began stirring it in with her straw. "So what's she like?"
"You mean aside from having the personality of a barracuda?" Blair began, now toying with her own lunch. Her appetite, once ravenous, was becoming a faint and distant memory. "She's arrogant, self-centered, obsessive, controlling-"
"No wonder Jo likes her," Natalie quipped as she took a sip from her glass.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Natalie visibly gulped, evidently realizing that she'd spoken aloud. Wiping her mouth with a napkin she said, "Well, if you factor out the 'vicious fish' persona, she sounds a little like you - and I mean that in the nicest possible way," she added playfully as she continued eating her lunch.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, a little voice told Blair to laugh. The problem was she found nothing humorous in the teasing assessment. "I am nothing like Rachel Dalton," she whispered.
Natalie glanced up. The anger expressed in Blair's eyes surprised her - but not nearly as much as the hurt it instantly switched to as the blond averted her gaze. Dropping her fork, she reached over to place an apologetic hand on top of Blair's. "Whoa, seriously I was kidding," she stammered.
"I know," Blair replied almost quickly. She gave Natalie's hand a reassuring squeeze. "I just can't believe Jo would sneak around behind my back like this. That's all."
Natalie blinked. "Ah, Blair, I hate to be the one to break this to you but Jo is your best friend - not your girlfriend. That pretty much makes 'sneaking around behind your back' nothing short of impossible-" But then she paused, peculiar expression coming over her face. "Unless-"
"Unless what?" Blair asked out of both curiosity and normality.
"Well," Natalie ran a tentative finger around the edge of her glass, "I was just going to say that if you wanted a different type of relationship with Jo, you probably could."
Blair very nearly laughed, but as the silence persisted she began thinking she must have misunderstood; however, when Natalie cocked an eyebrow slightly, evidently waiting for an answer, Blair realized she was serious. "Natalie! Why on Earth would you say something like that?"
"Because it's true." Natalie felt her lips twitch. She couldn't laugh. She wouldn't laugh. If she laughed, Blair would kill her. Oh, who am I kidding, she thought to herself. She started laughing. "Are you telling me that the thought of being with Jo *never* occurred to you?"
Blair said nothing. Natalie's casual, almost nonchalant approach to this particular topic was extremely disturbing - not to mention inappropriate. "We are not having this conversation," she finally hissed. "And for goodness sake, keep your voice down or kitchen staff will hear you."
Natalie gave a dismissive wave as she continued to gaze at Blair with feinted amusement. Having spent most her life watching Tootie prepare for auditions, she recognized an act when she saw one and Blair's was worthy of an Oscar. "Oh stop acting like I'm gonna whip out a pen and start taking notes. The thought occurred to all of us, including Tootie, and that's saying something." Pushing her half finished salad to one side, she gave her long time friend a pointed stare. "Look, I'm not trying to put you on the spot-"
"Well you have," Blair cut in. She crossed her arms over her chest, then realized how defensive that must look and uncrossed them again.
"Okay, okay, fine," Natalie said, holding her hands up in mock surrender. "It was a stupid thing to say. Forget I mentioned it."
Blair raised her eyebrows, but said nothing. And with that, the subject was dropped.
It wasn't until she'd dropped Natalie back at the Times and was heading back to her office, that Blair realized she hadn't denied having some rather 'un-best friendly' thoughts about Jo.
After two more week of silence Blair decided enough was enough. It was time her reclusive friend came clean.
She knocked on Jo's apartment door again, this time much louder. When she failed to answer within a reasonable amount of time, Blair figured Jo must be out and decided to wait inside. Reaching into her purse she pulled out a set of keys and without looking, selected a key and slipped it into the lock. She was about to turn the knob when the door opened of its own accord.
"Sorry I was - Blair?" Jo stood in the doorway, wearing a dark blue NYPD Academy sweatshirt and a pair of faded Langley sweats pants, but it was obvious that she'd just gotten out of the shower. Her hair was damp and she had a towel draped over her shoulder. "What are you-"
The rest of the question was lost as the blond strolled through the half open door. Jo stared out into the empty hallway for a moment, then said, "Sure, Blair come in. My day was crap, thanks for asking. How was yours?"
Blair ignored the sarcasm as she passed through the short entryway and into the living room. Dropping her purse on the coffee table, she sat down on the couch. She felt oddly relieved to find the apartment devoid of all life forms, save for Jo and whatever science experiment might be growing in the refrigerator. Maybe there was hope. Then she mentally kicked herself for being melodramatic and set out on the offensive. "We have a problem."
Shutting the door, Jo tossed the towel over a nearby chair and moved to lean casually against the wall. "So I gathered."
"Care to explain?"
It took a moment for Jo to make the connection but once she did, she knew Blair was right. They did have a problem. She muttered something that wasn't exactly an explanation as she pointed towards the kitchen. "You want some coffee or something?"
"No, I want you to answer the question."
There was an extended, almost uncomfortable silence. Shifting restlessly, Jo turned to face Blair a little more squarely. "I was going to."
"When?" Blair heard her voice, calm and composed, and wondered why she wasn't tearing her friend to shreds. The obvious reason was that she wanted answers and knew she wouldn't get them if she immediately began sniping.
"Soon," Jo replied, having it come out more as a noncommittal grunt than an actual word.
Blair frowned. It was a half truth at best and while she knew Jo would never flat out lie to her, she wasn't above leaving out details when it suited her to do so. It was an annoying habit really and one that in all likelihood Jo had picked up from her.
"I thought you were finished with this type of destructive behavior."
Jo said nothing, opting to stare down at the floor but after several minutes of silence she lifted her head. "What makes you think this is destructive?"
"Because it always has been," Blair said evenly. "You're walking a very fine line here."
Jo looked up at the ceiling briefly, as if expecting the right words to float across the drywall. "And what line is that?"
"The one that starts with certain women needing to satisfy their sexual curiosity and ends with you getting hurt once they have."
The glower on Jo's face at having her dating history compartmentalized in such a way made clear that Blair had touched upon on a rather sensitive matter. Nevertheless, she managed to address the assertion without yelling. "Look, I know what you're gonna say-"
"Oh I doubt that," Blair interrupted. It sounded though she was trying to explain Santa to an overly distraught child who'd just seen him without his beard at the mall. "Jo, the longer you stay with Rachel the less chance you have of developing a real relationship with someone who might actually make you happy."
"Since when did you become such an expert on my happiness?" Jo demanded, half amused but at the same time half exasperated. "When I'm single you harp on me about finding someone, and then when I do you tell me they aren't good enough."
Feeling pulled to the defensive, Blair immediately crossed her arms over her chest. "Well, in Rachel's case it's justified."
"She's a control freak."
"So are you."
Blair almost smiled. It wasn't the worst taunt Jo could have thrown, and, truthfully, she wasn't particularly surprised that she had capitalized on the opportunity, especially since she herself had opened the door to the insult. "Jo, you don't know her the way I do."
"Something you wanna tell me, Blair?"
The suggestive undertone which accompanied the question was not lost on her. Taking a slow, steadying breath she said, "Jo, Rachel Dalton is using you and if you were thinking with something other than your lower anatomy you'd see that," she finished, rather acidly.
The amused expression on Jo's face disappeared as she tilted her head to the side. "Yeah, well, what I do with my lower anatomy really isn't any of your business."
"Are you sleeping with her?"
"Why do you care?"
Jo's response came so quickly and was voiced with such annoyance that both women seemed caught off guard. For a moment neither of them spoke; however, as the silence loomed, Blair realized the answer to her question was now self-evident.
"I don't know why I thought I could talk some sense into you," she said as she rose from the couch. "You never listen."
"Oh don't give me that," Jo snapped back, her agitation becoming more evident by the second. "I've always listened to you."
However, the look on Blair's face told her this had been anticipated, and that she expected more than that from her. "No, you haven't. I'm a lawyer, Jo. Trust me, I can make a compelling argument for you not listening to me. Our entire friendship has been based on you not listening to me."
Jo took a step forward, her eyes darkening and her spine ramrod straight. "Damn it, Blair! The Warners might own most of New York but you don't own me, so stop acting like my life is yours to run."
There was an abrupt, icy silence, punctuated by Blair's ragged inhalation. Then, with an explosive huff, the blond lunged forward. Whatever her intent might have been was lost as surprisingly strong arms enveloped her. In the struggle to break free, Blair landed a few kicks that were sure to bruise, all the while demanding that Jo let her go.
Jo quickly clamped a hand over Blair's mouth and immediately wished she hadn't as she felt teeth make contact with her skin. Suppressing a yelp of pain, she adjusted her grip. "Knock it off, Blair." The request went largely ignored. Jo winced again as Blair managed to land an elbow to her gut, which forced some air out of her lungs; however, she didn't loosen her grip. "Are you finished?" she asked through tightly clinched teeth.
"Jo!" Blair hissed back. "Let me go!"
"I will once you've calmed down because if you don't I'm gonna cuff you."
Her voice was calm but deadly serious and instantly Blair knew she'd officially tested the limits of their friendship. With that realization, the fight seemed to slowly ebb its way from her body.
However, Jo seemed unconvinced that the storm was over. "If I let you go will you keep your elbows to yourself?"
Blair nodded, but said nothing. It might have taken hours, or perhaps a matter of minutes, but little by little she felt Jo's grip relax. However, instead of immediately pulling away, Blair spun around and buried her head in the crook of Jo's neck.
Jo blinked in surprise, not able to process this reaction any more than she had been able to sort out the reason for the frenzied attack moments before. Feeling somewhat at a loss, she tentatively draped her arms around the shorter woman's shoulders and allowed them to settle there, not holding her in restraint, but more in a gesture of comfort.
After a few minutes Blair seemed to gather herself and stepped back, looking sheepish. "I shouldn't have bit you."
"Among other things," Jo replied in a dead pan sort of way but her voice held the hint of a tease. "If I end up needing a tetanus shot, I'm sending you the bill."
Blair smiled thinly and was about to voice a retort of her own when a knock at the door made both of them jump. Shocked and surprised, Blair looked from Jo, to the door, then back to Jo. The stricken look on the brunette's face told her exactly who was outside.
"I should go," Blair whispered as she moved to pick up her purse. Turning she moved to leave.
For a split second Jo considered grabbing her again, but then thought better of it. "Blair - wait - I wasn't - I didn't-" she stammered hastily.
Blair shook her head. "You don't have to explain. As you said, what you do with your lower anatomy really isn't any of my business." Without another word, she walked to the door and twisted the knob. Stepping out into the hallway, she barely acknowledged the rather smug looking defense attorney, and left the highly distressed NYPD detective in her wake.
Her lips pressed together in concentration, Blair flipped to the last page of the report she'd been reviewing. It had taken the better part of the afternoon to get through the document but everything appeared to be in order. Tucking a strand of hair back behind her ear, she drew a pen from the holder on her desk. After scratching her signature on the approval line she laid it neatly on top of her 'Out' tray.
More out of habit than anything else, she reached for her desk phone. She was half way through dialing Jo's number when she hastily dropped the receiver back on the cradle.
They hadn't seen or spoken to each other in nearly two months.
The mutual silence made her wonder how something so simple had gone so wrong. The absence of their arguments, the insolent and strong-willed clashes that were so vital to their friendship; the lack of teasing - of the light quips they'd shared since first meeting so many years ago felt oppressive.
It was an ironic end to a friendship that had survived so much, suffered through so many upheavals, to end without a sound of protest from either of them - to have it end in silence.
All because they couldn't agree on the true nature and character of one person; Rachel Dalton.
*Rachel isn't the problem,* a little voice inside her head taunted. *You are.*
There was probably more than just a little truth to that, but Blair wasn't ready to admit that, even to herself. It was easier to blame Jo for allowing her libido to take precedence over their friendship. In her estimation, that alone gave her the right to be angry.
Then again, maybe it was for the best. Jo was an adult and perfectly capable of making her own choices - no matter how wrong and misguided they might be.
Glancing at her watch Blair realized she was going to be late for her meeting. Gathering the documents she needed, she slid them in her portfolio and grabbed her jacket. She was half way to the door when her intercom chirped.
"Ms. Warner, you have a call on line one."
"I'm sure I do, Nathan," she answered in a weary voice. "Tell my father I'm on my way."
"It's not your father; it's Ms. Green." There was a pause. "She says it's urgent."
Blair hesitated, then sighed. "Put her through. And please call my father to let him know I'm running late. Again."
There was a soft chuckle. "I'll make the call now, Ms. Warner."
"Thank you Nathan." The intercom clicked off and a second later her desk phone rang. Picking up the receiver she said, "This isn't a great time, Natalie."
"Like it ever is," the other woman interjected quickly. "You need to get over here."
Blair cocked her head slightly as Natalie didn't sound like her usual chipper self. In fact, she sounded rather distressed but it was hard to tell because she could hear what sounded like Tootie's agitated voice in the background. "Where are you?"
There was a slight pause. "I'd give you three guesses but I'm betting you'll only need one."
Blair winced as a rather large, albeit justified, wave of irritation spilled out of her body and into her voice. "Jo's a big girl, Nat. She can take care of herself."
"Not this time." And then she hung up.
Fifteen minutes later, Blair entered Jo's apartment. Walking through the living room, she stood at the edge of the kitchen and saw Tootie standing in front of the sink rinsing out what appeared to be a bloody washcloth. "Tootie? What's going on?"
"Oh, thank God you're here. Maybe now she'll listen to reason." Setting the washcloth aside, Tootie pulled Blair into a tight hug before gesturing to the rear of the apartment. "Go easy on her; she's having kind of a rough day."
Blair nodded without really understanding why, and turned down the hall. The lights were off in the bedroom but even so, she could see the shadowy form of someone kneeling on the floor next to the bed. Upon hearing her approach the shadow glanced in her direction.
"Perfect timing, as always."
Getting to her feet, Natalie flicked the bedside lamp on, making Blair gasp. Her immediate thought was car accident but it seemed an unlikely scenario given that Jo was lying on her bed rather than a gurney in an emergency room.
"What happened?" she whispered.
"No idea and she won't say. She's pretty banged up though," Natalie replied in an equally low voice. "Lots of bruises and scrapes. The cut over her eye definitely needs stitches and if her wrist isn't broken, it's most likely fractured. Beyond that, I'd say a concussion and few cracked ribs are pretty safe bets too."
"Why isn't she at the hospital?" Blair couched her question in a flat tone, her blazing eyes making up for the lack of expression.
"You think we didn't try?" Natalie tried not to look affronted, but couldn't quite pull it off. "Believe me; we tried. That's why I called you. You; Jo listens to. Me and Tootie; not so much."
Blair said nothing. Part of her wanted to debate that issue, but now wasn't the time. "Is she asleep?" she finally asked.
"No," Natalie gave a half glance over to the bed. "Listen Blair, if Jo won't go to the hospital-"
"Oh, make no mistake. She's going to the hospital." Searching through her purse, Blair fished out a pen and a piece of paper. Scribbling down a phone number she thrust the paper into Natalie's hand. "I want you to call my assistant Nathan. Tell him I want a car sent here right away and that he should contact Manhattan General to let them know we're bringing Jo in."
"Belleview is closer," Tootie interjected softly as she walked in with a fresh ice pack.
"I know," Blair replied absently. "But Jo's been treated at Manhattan General before. They'll have her records on file and I don't want anything to delay her getting medical treatment."
"We'll handle it." Natalie took the ice pack from Tootie and handed it Blair. She turned to leave, but then stopped just short of the doorway. "Hey Blair?"
"You know when I called earlier For a minute there-"
Blair knew what she was going to say but didn't think she could stand to hear the words voiced aloud. Cutting her off, she said, "It's Jo, Nat. Nothing would have kept me away."
"She's going to be okay," Tootie offered in a would-be reassuring voice.
Blair tried to return her sympathetic smile but a sick feeling was building in the pit of her stomach. As her friends left the whole of her attention shifted back to Jo. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, she laid a trembling hand on the prone woman's shoulder.
"Jo?" She said in a low voice. "Jo, can you open your eyes? Just open them and look at me."
Jo muttered something unintelligible, which probably didn't warrant deciphering anyway, before rousing slightly. When she opened her eyes, they looked glazed and bloodshot. It took a moment but eventually she seemed to focus on Blair. "Hey."
Without preamble Blair said, "We're taking you to the hospital."
More cause for alarm. Jo and hospitals didn't mix. If she was acquiescing this easily it could only mean she was in far more pain than she was letting on. But now that she was talking and to some extent alert, Blair wanted to make sure she stayed that way. "What happened?"
There was pronounced pause. "I fell."
"You fell?" Blair repeated disbelievingly. "Off of what? The Empire State Building?"
This earned a soft laugh. "No, down some stairs at Rachel's apartment."
Blair cocked her head slightly, her brow now creased in anger. "Why didn't she take you to the hospital?"
"I'm not sure she knows it happened. She was a little preoccupied at the time." Jo made an inarticulate sound as she tried to sit up. "You know I'm no expert in this arena, but it can't be healthy for a man to lose his hard on that fast."
This surprised Blair. Not that Rachel had evidently been cheating on Jo, with a man no less - that much she'd been expecting. That Jo was making light about it; that was a surprise.
"I was gonna wait, then go back in and try and talk to her. But this guy he musta' been worried about running into me in the lobby-"
"So he took the stairs," Blair guessed. "And ran into you anyway."
"Yeah, but not how you're thinkin'," Jo half smirked, half winced, as she pulled her injured arm in close to her chest. "I mean he literally ran into me. He had no idea I was there because he couldn't see me. He was trying to put his clothes on at the time. We musta tumbled down about three flights, but when we hit bottom, he took off." She tried to laugh but it came out as more of a half groan. "Musta known I'm a cop. Probably figured I was armed and might shoot him."
Once again, Blair found herself surprised. How could Jo joke about something like this?
"Anyway, I knew I was in no condition to ride the bike so I limped over to a pay phone and called Nat. She came and picked me up."
Blair nodded numbly as she traced a slow finger over Jo's brow, brushing back an errant strand of hair in the process. "You should've called me."
There was a brief flash of hurt in Jo's eyes which she tried to suppress, but not before Blair caught it. "No, I think hearing you say 'I told you so' would have been a bit much for me to take right then."
Blair opened her mouth to reply but the words were lost as Natalie walked back into the room. "The car is on its way."
Natalie's assessment of Jo's injuries, both seen and unseen, proved to be eerily correct.
She spent three days in the hospital.
Blair stayed with her the entire time.
Neither of them was of a mind to discuss what happened at least not then.
Four days after she was released from the hospital, Jo went back to work. Her ribs were still sore but the pain was manageable and she knew she'd suffered worse in her life. Her arm; however, was a different story. The fracture wasn't bad and probably would have healed just fine in a splint, but Blair torpedoed the idea when she 'inadvertently' told the doctor that Jo would never wear it. The argument that inspired still rankled, especially since the doctor sided with Blair and would only grant a return to limited duty provided Jo consent to the hard cast.
However, after spending half her shift reviewing case files and reports for detectives who were actually doing something constructive, Jo felt her arm was sufficiently healed. She wanted the cast off and if that meant removing it herself, then so be it. Thinking there might be a hacksaw in the property room she rose from her desk intent on finding it before common sense got the better of her.
She'd just reached the booking area when she saw several officers trying to wrestle a young man into a holding cell. He wasn't exactly resisting, but he wasn't making it easy on them either. Taking it as a sign from on high, she valiantly offered to take over figuring it might be easier to process a half stoned suspect than it would be to explain how her cast 'accidently' fell off three weeks early.
An hour later, Jo was regretting the decision. Wearily, she ran a hand over her face. "Ok Pal, let's try this again; Name?"
The young man seated next to her seemed to give the question a serious amount of thought, then reached for the tape dispenser sitting on Jo's desk. Within seconds, the entire roll was wrapped around his hands and head. Under normal circumstances she wouldn't have cared, but the tape appeared to be cutting off the circulation to his fingers and allowing that to happen would only mean more paperwork. Halfheartedly, Jo pulled open a desk drawer, looking for a pair of scissors.
"So this is what 'Protecting and Serving' is all about. Strange; you always make it sound more exciting."
Jo glanced up. Blair was standing next to her desk, a visitor's badge pinned primly to the lapel of her suit coat. "Don't start with me, Princess, I'm not in the mood," she growled.
Looking highly amused, Blair watched as Jo began removing scotch tape from the man's eyebrows. He whimpered softly, but once freed, quickly found a new diversion in the form of the stapler, which Jo promptly jerked out of his hands.
"Yeah, like I want you stapling your lips together," she muttered under her breath. "You got an office supply fetish or something?"
If the grin on the man's face was any indication, Blair suspected that might be part of the problem. Rather than pointing that out she asked, "I don't suppose dinner would put you in a better mood?"
"No, but I'll go anyway. I'll need to stop by my place first." Jo scratched at her cast absently as she motioned to one of the police aids. "See if you can't cram this mutt into a holding cell. When he comes down from whatever high he's on, get someone to run his prints. Given his propensity for office supplies I'm betting he's already in the system."
"Sure thing, Detective." The Police Aid hoisted the young man to his feet. "C'mon Office Max. Let's go."
As the pair left, Jo began collecting her belongings. She'd just slipped into her jacket when something on her desk caught her eye. Actually it was the 'lack' of something. "Damn," she said in a low voice.
"Something wrong?" Blair asked.
"Yeah, I had a bottle of white out on my desk earlier. It's missing now." Spinning on her heels, she half trotted down the hallway. "But I'm pretty sure I know where it went."
An hour later, Blair watched patiently as Jo wrestled with the lock on her apartment door. "I don't understand why you insist on living here," she pressed for the umpteenth time. "Especially when there is a perfectly lovely rent controlled building right around the corner."
"I'm not moving to Warner Towers so quit pestering me about it," Jo said as she continued to fight with the lock. It took another few seconds but she finally managed to get the door open. "See? The lock works fine; it's this stupid cast that's the problem." She stepped inside and Blair moved to follow, but pulled short when she heard Jo say, "What the hell?"
From her position, Blair could just see into the living room. Sitting on the couch, was an impeccably dressed Rachel Dalton.
"How did you get in here?" Jo answered, sounding genuinely shocked.
"I let myself in." Rachel stood up, a key in her hand. "I didn't think you'd mind."
"Well I do. You're trespassing, Counselor. I ought to arrest you."
"Counselor?" Rachel mused lightly. "That's a first."
"Only because you think I'm kidding about arresting you."
"Why haven't you returned any of my calls?"
"I've been busy."
Blair suddenly realized that Rachel hadn't acknowledged her presence which could only mean that from her position, she couldn't see her. She waited to see if Jo would say anything, but as usual her body language remained fixed and betrayed nothing.
And then she practically bounced across the room in her haste to reach Rachel's side.
On some level Blair knew that wasn't what actually happened. In all likelihood, Jo simply walked over in the same manor she might use to approach a dumpster to drop off the trash. It made for a rather interesting mental image but in either case, she would have preferred Jo walk away from Rachel rather than towards her.
"What do you want?"
Rachel either missed, or ignored, the hostile tone in which Jo asked the question, because her smile never wavered. "I understand you're upset, and you have every right to be."
"Well how about that," Jo answered easily, but her tone remained guarded. "We're finally in agreement on something."
A tense silence filled the apartment as the former lovers stared at each other. Blair remained where she was as she doubted her presence would help matters any.
"It was an accident," Rachel continued.
"No, getting knocked down three flights of stairs and having my skull cracked open was an accident. I saw you making a naked pretzel with some random guy and I gotta say; it looked pretty goddamn deliberate."
"Don't be like this." Rachel's voice was soft and low, like a caress, and it annoyed Blair to no end because it reminded her the tone she used when trying to get Jo to do something she had no intention of doing. "I love you, Joey. You know that."
"Don't call me that, Rachel. I didn't like it when we were together, and I like it even less now."
Something about the way she said Rachel's name pushed the remaining doubt from Blair's mind. Bad situation or not, it was time she made her presence known. Clearing her throat softly, she stepped into the living room. "Jo," she said in a firm voice. "We need to get going if we're going to make that reservation."
Watching the color rise in Rachel Dalton's face was an interesting experience. But to her credit, she remained composed and didn't look away. "What is *she* doing here?"
Jo shrugged. "Sounds like she's planning to take me to dinner." Turning to Blair she said, "Give me a few minutes to get cleaned up, then we can go."
Without another word, she walked to the bathroom. Rachel seemed to be waiting for something and when the bathroom closed and the lock clicked, she rounded on Blair, finally acknowledging her directly for the first time. "Leave. Now. Jo and I have matters we need to discuss which don't concern you."
Blair glanced towards the bathroom. She could hear water running now. Shifting her attention back to Rachel she shook her head in a bemused sort of way. "I might be mistaken but I don't think Jo's very interested in discussing anything with you."
"You have no right to be here." The overly-sugary voice she'd used earlier was gone. Her words were now clipped; precise, measured.
"Well, I have more of a right than you do, seeing how I was invited."
Rachel's eyes shot daggers. It was obvious the reference to her unsolicited presence hit where it hurt most and Blair suspected they'd just reached an impasse. One in which neither woman planned to concede. They remained locked in a stony silence and were it not for the muted sound of Jo banging around in the bathroom, the quite would have been deafening.
"How is she?" Rachel finally asked.
Blair kept as neutral a face as she could. It wasn't easy. This was not conversational territory she wanted to be treading in. If Jo had wanted Rachel to know how she was doing, she would have told her. On the other hand, and from a legal standpoint, Rachel did have a right to know. After all, Jo had been seriously injured in her building and if she opted to file a claim (and Blair sincerely hoped she would consider it since she was half way through drawing up the papers) Rachel would find out anyway.
Taking a breath to steady herself, she said, "Physically she'll recover. The concussion was a concern but the dizziness has stopped and despite her earlier assertion the MRI was negative for any type of skull fracture. She didn't object to the stitches though she was rather combative about wearing a hard cast. I imagine the only reason she's still wearing it is because she hasn't been able to locate a tool suitable for removing it. That being said, once it's removed by a member of the medical community, and not some officer who owes her a favor, she'll be cleared for full duty."
Rachel listened with slightly raised eyebrows and Blair mentally translated the look to mean: How is it that you know all this? However, the contention went unaddressed when Rachel said, "Good, I've been worried."
She sounded sincere, but Blair knew better. Rachel's ability to convey false emotion was what made her an exceptional defense attorney. It was also what made her so dangerous.
"I thought you might be. The engraved toolset you sent was quite thoughtful."
The comment carried the unmistakable sound of someone who knew the gift had been sent but that its intended recipient had no idea. And with that, the reason she hadn't been able to see or contact Jo for the past week was answered in Rachel's mind.
"Jo hasn't been avoiding me. You've been preventing her from seeing me."
Blair nodded; evidently pleased that Rachel correctly identified what she'd done so quickly. That was fine; she hadn't meant to be anything but transparent about it. "The hospital was easy. My father holds a seat on the Board of Directors at Manhattan General. Once he explained the situation to the Hospital Director, he was more than happy to speak with the head of security." She paused for a moment. "Convincing Jo to stay at her mother's for a few days after her release, well, that took a little work."
Rachel glared back at her with barely concealed disdain. "You arrogant, conniving, manipulative bitch."
"Normally I would find those words highly insulting," Blair replied with a raised eyebrow. "But as they are coming from you; I'll take them as a complement."
Whether or not Rachel heard those words was debatable as she started walking towards the bathroom. As she moved to pass Blair, the blond's hand shot out and clamped down on her arm, stopping her rather abruptly.
Rachel glanced down at the bracing hand, then tugged gently. "Do you mind?" she asked with frosty politeness.
"It's over, Rachel."
"That's not for you to decide."
"Yes, it is."
The words were matter-of-fact; however, Rachel reacted as though Blair just announced that gravity did not exist. "Is this the part where I concede to the all mighty 'Blair Warner' and run away with my tail between my legs?"
"You don't have to concede anything and what you do with your 'tail' is your business." The hostility Blair saw in response to her words generated a reciprocal sentiment. "However, you are going to leave because if you think for one second that I'm going to allow you anywhere near Jo again, you are sorely mistaken."
Rachel returned her frosty gaze, evidently pleased to see the guarded look in Blair's eyes. "Afraid you'll lose her to me for a second time?" she asserted in a tone that conveyed absolute certainty.
Blair shook her head. "No, I'm afraid that Jo will end up hating me for interfering in her personal life again. But if she does, at least I know she'll survive. I don't know if that would be the case if you remained in the picture." Releasing her grip, she walked to the front door and pulled it open. "You should go."
For one tense moment it looked as though Rachel might refuse, but it quickly passed. Turning slightly she walked to the door. As she came even with Blair, she leaned forward so that their faces were inches apart. Her voice was barely above a whisper, but it held a threat which was grave and explicit. "This. Is not. Over."
And then she left.
Blair closed the door behind her, resting her forehead against the cool steel. "Yes, it is," she whispered softly.
"Hey. You ready?"
Blair jumped as she had no idea how long she'd been standing in that position. Turning, she saw Jo standing in the middle of the living room wearing a tasteful gray-blue sweater, dark denim jeans, and black boots.
She was also holding a pair of motorcycle helmets.
That effectively pushed the exchange with Rachel from Blair's mind. Opening her purse, she pulled out her car keys. "If you didn't feel up to driving all you had to do was say so."
When they returned to Jo's apartment a few hours later, the message light was blinking on her answering machine. Reluctantly she punched in her access code and was rewarded not with the voice of her former lover, but with that of a highly incensed desk sergeant advising that her suspect had somehow got his hands on container of paperclips while he was being printed and subsequently swallowed half of them before anyone could stop him.
When the message ended, Blair asked, "Do you need to go?"
"I doubt it. If the idiot had died O'Riley would have mentioned it. Right now he just sounds pissed, which means I need to make a call." Pulling off her jacket Jo tossed it aside, and walked down the hall towards her bedroom. "Hang tight. This shouldn't take long."
Blair nodded and wandered to the kitchen. Glancing over the wine rack, she noted a rather interesting selection of reds. Nearly all were vintages she approved of, though a few were of a lesser quality and probably more suited to Rose Polniaczek's homemade pizza recipe.
After selecting a bottle, she located a corkscrew and opened it. Filling two glasses, she moved back to the living room, slipped off her high heel shoes, and sat down on the couch.
Five minutes later, Jo joined her. Nodding her thanks, she accepted the proffered wine glass, then flopped down on the couch with her back to the armrest. Lifting it to eye level, she swirled the contents lightly, sniffed, then took a sip.
That's when she caught Blair staring at her. "What?"
"Nothing," she replied, a bemused tone to her voice. "I just never thought of you as a wine snob."
"Neither had I." Jo frowned into her glass. "I knew I should've picked up a six-pack on the way home."
"If you say 'barbaric' I will toss you out on your ear," Jo cut in with a derisive scowl. Settling back, she kicked off her shoes, propped her feet up on the coffee table and closed her eyes.
Blair took another sip of wine. It warmed her throat and stomach, but in reality she hoped it might give her courage to start a conversation she'd been unwilling to begin until now.
After several minutes of silence she said, "Jo?"
"Yeah?" she answered, sounding half asleep.
"I need to talk to you about something."
Jo opened a single eye. Sitting up, she shifted around on the couch so that her cast rest now on her thigh. She toyed with the base of her wine glass with her other hand, then sighed. "If this is about the hospital, I already know."
Blair blinked as the unanticipated comment completely sidetracked her from her original line of thought. "You already know *what* about the hospital?"
"While you and Natalie were filling out the admitting forms, I asked Tootie why you guys brought me to there instead of Belleview. She said you were pretty adamant that I go to Manhattan General because they'd treated me before." Jo sighed again. "But I figured there might be more to it so before they transferred me up stairs, I called a friend from the department and told her where I was."
Her; meaning a female. Blair's brow pulled in as she tried to recall who visited Jo while she was in the hospital. There had been a number of male visitors, but aside from Natalie, Tootie, and Rose Polniaczek; only one woman had come by. "Quinn Renard, right? The prostitute?"
"She's a Vice detective, Blair," Jo chuckled softly. "But yeah, that would be who I called."
Blair started to ask why but stopped. "Didn't she bring you a crash helmet?"
"Hello? Telling a story here," Jo interjected, sounding annoyed by the referenced 'get well' gift. "Anyway, Quinn was detained by security down in the lobby. To hear her tell it, she had to hit the guy in the head with her shield because he wasn't gonna let her up." She waited to see if Blair would make the connection but once it became apparent that she wouldn't, Jo said, "To the untrained eye, Quinn looks a little like Rachel."
"I see," Blair began slowly. "I should probably explain-"
"Why bother." Sliding off the couch, Jo walked back to the kitchen and returned with the wine. After refilling both glasses she set the empty bottle aside and sat back down. Her next words all but confirmed that she could have cared less what Blair's rational was. "I'm sure if it had been Nat or Tootie you'd have done the same thing."
Blair thought about that, then shook her head. "No, I don't believe I would have."
"Having Rachel barred from the hospital was-" her voice faltered for a moment. "Personally motivated."
Jo said nothing. Something about the look on Blair's face, an expression she wasn't sure she'd ever seen before, forced her brain to shift gears. "Why? Because the two of you couldn't play nice in law school?"
Another pause. "No, because she was a threat."
"A threat to what?
It was a semi-valid question yet Blair felt the answer should have been fairly obvious. "Our friendship," she offered in a low voice. Then, almost as an afterthought, she added, "Among other things."
Jo's frown deepened. Something about the non-answer told her they were now having two separate conversations but that both were somehow linked to the subject of Rachel Dalton. "What's going on?"
Blair let out a heavy sigh. "Aside from Rachel, name one woman you've dated for any significant period of time after you introduced them to the Eastland/Langley Approval Board."
The question, which was better classified as a statement, was presented just as Jo tipped her glass back. It was also so unexpected, not to mention off topic, that she choked on her wine. Sputtering, she wiped her lips with the back of her hand. "The what?" she gasped.
"Natalie, Tootie, and me," Blair offered by means of clarification.
To her credit, Jo didn't roll her eyes, but it was obvious that she wanted to. "I have no idea."
"Well I do. None. Why do you think that is?"
"No idea, but I'm willing to bet it had more to do with my job than meeting you three idiots," Jo replied quickly. "I mean most women don't appreciate it when their calls go unreturned for days at a time because a body was found in a dumpster; or that me showing up two hours late for dinner because some idiot beat up his wife and kid again was more important. And when you factor in the very real possibility of some nutcase blowing my head off it takes a toll."
Blair winced. She understood the inherent dangers associated with police work; she'd just never thought about them in such graphic terms. "Yes, I can see where that last part would be a concern," she said as she set her own wine glass down. "However, I expect the constant reminders of how the more seedy aspects of your job always take priority played a much larger role in expediting their departures."
It took nearly a full minute for the comment to register. Jo felt frozen - even her heartbeat seemed to stop. Then she understood, really understood what Blair was saying and something deep in her stomach seemed to explode.
"Please tell me that *isn't* what the three of you have been doing," she hissed.
"No, Natalie and Tootie have been nothing but warm and welcoming to the women you've dated. I, however, may have been a bit more vocal in letting them know where they stood." On some level Blair wanted to justify her actions, but she wasn't the least bit sorry for what she'd been doing; only that it had gone on as long as it had. "I don't expect you to forgive me."
Her contrition was real, but Jo seemed unimpressed. "Good, because forgiveness is about the furthest thing from my mind at the moment," she interjected angrily. "Christ Blair! Ya know, we've spent the better part of our lives ignoring behavior that would've ended most friendships a long time ago but this this crosses the line! What the hell were you thinking?"
Blair stared back, solidly meeting her gaze. It was a near replay of their fight two months earlier but this time she intended to make her case without a physical attack and in terms Jo would no doubt understand.
"Jo, when you came out I knew being gay didn't change who you were, so I naturally assumed I would be fine with it. But once you began actively dating women I had to accept that I had a serious problem with it."
"Why? Because you're closed minded, egotistical, harebrained lunatic, control freak who gets weirded out by my dating preferences?"
"No," Blair answered calmly. "Because it made me realize that I'm in love with you."
And with that, she rose from the couch and walked back into the kitchen.
The tactic was deliberate, designed to give Jo time alone to ponder this new information. It didn't take nearly as long as Blair assumed it would so when Jo entered the kitchen she was somewhat taken aback by the incensed expression on her face.
This wasn't an 'I'll be fine in a minute' kind of angry, but an 'I'd kinda like to shoot you' kind of angry.
"Try saying that last part again, but this time with a straight face," Jo challenged.
"I'm in love with you." The words came without hesitation. Blair could almost see Jo's mind racing, evaluating this statement and the consequences that would follow.
"Again," the brunette demanded.
"I love you, Jo," she repeated, hoping that the use of her name might make the words seem more real.
Jo continued to stare at Blair with such intensity she could almost feel it on her skin. Finally she said, "Look, if this is some kind of sick joke you're playing to get back at me for dating Rachel, then do us both a favor and say so now."
"It's not a joke."
"I don't believe you," Jo answered, but the words sounded more reflexive than vehement.
Nevertheless, the assertion covered a multitude of subjects and Blair knew it. "And you have good reason not to. After all, I haven't exactly been a pillar of trust as of late."
"Don't give me that crap. Why? Why are you telling me this now?"
This was a much harder question. Blair thought for a long time before replying, not because she didn't know the answer, but because she knew she had to explain it properly. "I'm telling you this now because I can't change the fact that you and Rachel share a past and seeing the way she affected you tonight made me feel threatened."
"Made *you* feel threatened?" Jo's eyes suddenly darkened to the shade of emeralds. "Do you know how territorial, not to mention presumptuous and arrogant that sounds?"
"Of course I do," Blair retorted hotly. "Jo, I knew I was in love with you long before Rachel Dalton came along. But I wasn't willing to take that step so I took measures to ensure no one else did either. I won't pretend my actions weren't presumptuous, and yes, I've been extremely territorial where you're concerned. But all that stops right now."
Before Jo could say or do anything, Blair closed the distance between them. Without speaking, she took the other woman's face in her hands, tilted her own head slightly, leaned in and kissed her. It took a moment for her to realize Jo was reciprocating because on some level she'd been afraid she'd over played her hand and was now making a monumental fool of herself.
When the kiss ended, Jo quickly stepped back. It felt as if something in her brain had short-circuited. She couldn't pretend this had been just a friendly kiss which meant there would be no returning to the status quo. In truth, she didn't want to because on some level, she knew that every woman she ever dated was, at some point, compared to the blond standing before her. She also suspected that most, if not all the women, knew her heart belonged to another long before they were introduced to the Chairwoman of the Eastland/Langley Approval Board.
And with that realization, absolution became far more necessary than forgiveness.
Neither woman spoke for a very long time. Finally Blair said, "Jo, I'm not proud of what I've done. But I won't apologize for it either." Her voice had fallen to a whisper, but it was the best she could do at the moment. "I can't."
Silence. Then Jo asked, "Are you referring to the kiss or the fact that you've been interfering in my personal life on level that borders on psychotic?"
The question, which seemed rather amusing on the surface, struck Blair with the force of a lightning bolt. "Well, I guess that depends."
She arched a brow. "Were you planning to tell me that you're in love with me too, or are you going to throw me out on my ear for being presumptuous and arrogant?"
"I dunno. I haven't decided yet," Jo replied, not sure if she should be saying anything at all. She was having a hard time accepting that what was happening was real. Tentatively, she reached to brush her fingers along Blair's jaw line, softly running her fingers through her hair, down to the nape of her neck. She felt Blair tremble as she tilted her head into the palm of her hand and a part of her delighted in the fact that she would react to such a simple touch. "There's a lot at stake."
"No, there isn't," Blair voiced gently, feeling that for the first time in history she and Jo might actually be on the same page. "I've experienced calls that went unreturned for days at a time because someone committed an unspeakable act. And I survived. And in my estimation a late dinner is a small price to pay for keeping a family safe. I won't pretend certain aspects of your job don't scare me, but I know you're very good at what you do and that makes the fear a little easier to deal with. But the decision to move forward is entirely up to you. I can't make this one for you. I just can't."
More silence. "I'm not sure we can move forward," Jo sighed, but upon seeing Blair's stricken expression she gave a sly grin. "See, the woman I love more than life itself once warned me about curious straight women. She seemed to think nothing good would come of it."
"Sound advice. She must be an absolutely brilliant woman," Blair replied as she curled her fingers around Jo's sweater, pulling her close.
This kiss was different from their first but in her estimation it was better because - this time - both of them were ready for it. All the same, she wished she hadn't been so insistent on the hard cast. She could tell the fiberglass material was wreaking havoc on her silk blouse.
When they finally came up for air, Blair pulled back, smiling faintly as Jo slid her hand out from behind her neck. Turning away, she walked out of the kitchen. "It's fortunate that you don't listen to her."
"Hey!" Jo protested as she spun around. "I listen to you all the time."
"Then why are you still standing in the kitchen," Blair called over her shoulder as she continued down the hall towards the bedroom. "Instead of getting naked with me in your bed and making me scream your name?"
It took a split second for Jo to process what she'd just heard and although Blair didn't see it, this time Jo did bounce down the hall in her haste to join her.
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