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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SEQUEL: To Welcome Home
"Did you hear the latest?" The voice was animated, full of excitement. "Ernesto caught them doing it in executive conference room last week!"
"Don't be so crass, Paula," a woman answered. "Who exactly did Ernesto catch?"
Blair paused just outside the door to the staff lounge, coffee mug in hand. She recognized the name 'Ernesto' as a member of the custodial staff and 'Paula' as that of an administrative assistant in the Public Affairs Office. However, whomever Paula was speaking with was something of a mystery.
"Who do you think?" Paula said nastily. "The Heir Apparent and New York's Finest."
Given her position, Blair wasn't able see into the lounge, but based on the change in tone and inflection she could only assume Paula was making air quotes with her fingers as she spoke. Oh Lord, she thought as her free hand went to the bridge of her nose. Is there anyone left inside Warner Industries who isn't discussing my personal life?
When the other woman offered a response that had nothing to do with her own unspoken thought, Blair flinched. She'd completely missed the actual question but the realization that she had missed 'something' forced her wandering attention to snap back to the present.
By the strictest definition she wasn't eavesdropping since she had perfectly valid reason for standing outside the staff lounge. The espresso machine in the afore mentioned executive conference room was on the fritz and the prospect of sorting through piles of corporate correspondence without the benefit of caffeine was fairly unappealing. That being said, Blair knew she was dangerously close to the fine line separating stalling and lurking.
"Without question!" Paula answered with absolute confidence. "It's practically common knowledge around here."
"You shouldn't talk about Ms. Warner that way, Paula." The unknown confidant offered casually.
Silence. Blair shut her eyes, hoping against hope that the conversation was over. However, the unknown confidant evidently had something on her mind because what she said next made it perfectly clear that she too was more than happy to discuss the 'Heir Apparent' and her sex life.
Blair felt her brow furrow as the conversation continued. Deciding that enough was enough, she took a deep breath and stepped into the lounge. "Good afternoon ladies."
The silence which followed was nothing, if not oppressive. Then, both women offered a hasty greeting as the blond walked over to the coffee station. For her part, Blair made a point of ignoring the inquisitive, albeit guilty expressions, as she filled her mug. After adding entirely too much cream and sugar, she turned and walked out as if nothing happened.
As she walked back to her office, Blair tried not to over-analyze what just happened. For years, the gossip and implied innuendos always centered on outward appearances, but now that her relationship with a female member of 'New York's Finest' had finally ventured into a more public arena, it seemed the rumor mill was taking a decidedly nasty turn.
"Yo! Detective P! Phone call! Line two!"
Jo shook her head at the absurdity of the situation. "Will somebody please put this lunatic in a holding cell?" she called out to no one in particular.
As if conjured from thin air, a uniformed officer appeared at her shoulder. He held out a roll of paper towels, then grabbed the still cuffed suspect by the arm and led him away. Jo muttered something she hoped sounded like 'thanks' as she tore off several sheets. Wiping the remaining dirt and grime from her hands, she paused to assess the damage. The abrasions weren't bad, but there was a sizable gash on her left hand, which looked semi-serious.
Irritated beyond belief, she walked over to her desk and lifted the phone receiver, hitting the release for line two in the same fluid motion. "Yeah, this is Detective Polniaczek."
"Hi," a familiar voice responded.
"Hi yourself," she answered, trying to hide her surprise. Blair rarely called while she was at work, which made the timing for this particular call highly questionable. Cradling the receiver between her shoulder and ear, Jo tried to position herself so she could watch for Jack while rummaging through her desk drawer. "Is everything okay?"
"Yes," Blair replied. "Is this a bad time?"
Without missing a beat, Jo said, "Naw, it's been a slow day." Normally she wouldn't downplay an injury, but since Natalie's coverage of the NYPD drug raid wouldn't hit The Times until the following day, she figured the details of why she would be needing another Tetanus shot could also wait. "So, what's up?" she continued in a would-be casual tone.
"Nothing. I just wanted to hear your voice."
"Oh-kay," Jo replied as she located a first aid kit. Something about Blair's rational for calling wasn't exactly tracking, so as her brain began working its way through the myriad of possibilities - which weren't related to her current predicament - one immediately jumped to the forefront of her mind. "What has the Warner Industries Rumor Mill churned out this time?"
It took a few seconds for Blair to answer. "How do you do that?"
Jo frowned as she pulled out the antiseptic wipes and laid them out on her desk. Most were expired but a few were still within date. "Do what?"
"Read me like a book."
"I'm a cop, Blondie. It's kinda what I do." Her voice took on a more distracted tone as she tried to rip one of the packets open with her teeth. "Besides, we've known each other for like a million years. You stopped being a mystery a long time ago."
"My, my," the other woman replied curtly. "Aren't you the charmer?"
"Hey, if ya wanted charm then ya shoulda called Tootie." Jo winced as the medicated pad made contact with her raw and exposed skin. "C'mon, I wanna know what the secretarial pool is sayin'. I warn you though; if we're still doin' it in the company limo, Jack is gonna be really disappointed."
"No, I'm sure your partner will be thrilled to hear the custodial staff caught us in flagrante delicto in the executive conference room last week."
"Hmmm. Same plot; new location. Not real creative if you ask me." Leaning back in her chair, Jo continued to dab at her wounds, wondering how long she could reasonably put off going to the hospital. "Especially since you were in Spain last week."
"Yes, well, the remainder of the conversation was more distasteful than creative."
"Distasteful?" Jo muttered as she fished a few sterile pads and a roll of gauze from the kit. The gash was still bleeding, but having already interacted with at least one of the 'Drug Suspects Turns Cannibal During NYPD Raid' the last thing she wanted to do was walk into an interview room with a hand that might resemble steak tartare. "What's more distasteful than office sex?"
"The fact that our relationship is completely one-sided."
"Apparently I am a Pillow Princess."
The gauze roll fell to the floor as Jo sat up bolt right in the chair. "What did you just say?"
"Yeah, yeah. I heard ya the first time," the brunette interjected quickly. "What else did they say? And don't bother tellin' me you don't remember."
Silence. Then, "Well, depending on whom you speak with in Accounting, I'm also paying you for 'services rendered'."
"Wow, I guess I aught to give them props. 'Team Snark' really came out swinging this time, didn't they?" Jo mumbled under her breath. The 'Pillow Princess' moniker was crude enough in its own right; however, the 'payment for services rendered' remark was similar to those expressed by the handful officers and detectives who still took perverse pleasure in discussing her relationship with the only daughter of David Warner and 'Heir Apparent' to the Warner Empire whenever they believed Jo was out of earshot. Nevertheless, now probably wasn't the time to compare the creative distinctions between narrow-minded slurs. "Do I need to call the Crime Scene Unit?"
"You got that right. I mean its one thing for me fix the occasional parking ticket, but getting rid of a body-"
"Don't be flippant, Jo." Blair cut in.
"I'm not being flippant."
"Yes, you are."
After an extended silence Jo sighed. "Okay, you're right. I am being flippant."
"Is this some new way of apologizing?" Blair snapped back. "Because it certainly doesn't sound like one."
"Well maybe that's because I'm not apologizing," Jo answered flatly. "Blair, for as long as we've known each other, people have been discussing what might or might not be happening between us behind closed doors."
"And this doesn't bother you?"
It wasn't really a question; more of an observation, but Jo understood the underlying meaning and responded accordingly. "What bothers me isn't the point." She shifted around in her chair so that her forearms were now resting on her thighs. Taking in a deep breath she said, "Look, I know you're perfectly capable of dealing with the idiots you work with, but I'm more than willing drive over there and clarify matters for anyone who still doesn't get it."
"That won't be necessary," Blair answered firmly, but in a much softer tone. "And for the record, if the NYPD is going to roust and man-handle Warner Industries employees I'd rather it happen in the privacy of our own home; not my office."
Jo flushed as the unexpected - but unmistakably sexual - innuendo ignited a slow burning desire. She glanced in the direction of the interview room and saw that her partner was removing the cuffs from the one suspect who hadn't tried to chew her hand off an hour earlier. "Uh, listen I hate to do this, but I gotta get back to work."
Blair gave a small chuckle. "Oh? So this was a bad time."
"Not exactly, but it's probably best that I have some blood flowing into my brain before I start talking to this idiot."
"Very well, Detective." Blair drew in a deep breath, and exhaled. "Will you be late?"
"Depends," Jo answered while signaling to Jack that she needed one more minute. In doing so she noted the gash on her hand was no longer bleeding. "Can you reserve the executive conference room for tonight?"
"I'm going to hang up now."
There was a distinct click as the line went dead. Despite the abrupt end of their conversation, Jo grinned as she dropped the receiver back on the cradle. Leaning forward, she retrieved the gauze from the floor, understanding that Blair really hadn't called because of the office gossip, nor had she been looking for validation in their relationship, and she certainly hadn't expected Jo to show up at Warner Industries to defend her honor.
No, the blond had called for precisely the reason she stated.
She simply wanted to hear Jo's voice.
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