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After watching yet another of Marshall's friends try, and fail, to crush a beer can against his forehead, Jo decided enough was enough. She picked up her helmet and headed over to where Blair was politely listening to some idiot talking about how much money his daddy had. Jo didn't bother waiting for a gap in the conversation. She positioned herself in between Blair and her would-be suitor.
"'Scuse me," she said, barely affording the guy a glance. She focussed her attention on Blair. "I'm gettin' outta here, I'd have more fun watchin' my broccoli grow! I think you should come with me."
Blair raised a single eyebrow and Jo knew right away that she'd chosen the wrong wording.
"That's what you think is it?" Blair asked, folding her arms.
Jo rolled her eyes.
"C'mon Blair, these guys are all buzzed, how else you plannin' on gettin' home?"
"Oh, so now you're my only option? And I'm completely reliant on you, is that it?" Blair tilted her head to look over Jo's shoulder. "Paul, could you excuse us for a second, I sense that this may be about to get heated."
Paul shrugged and went to find another beer. Blair positioned herself back in front of Jo, hands on hips.
"Jo, we may be dating," the last word was whispered, "but that does not give you the right to tell me what to do."
"Geez! I never thought it did!" Jo exclaimed. "Since when do you do what anybody tells you except the fashion writers in Vogue? Maybe I just thought you'd rather come home with me than stay at this lame party."
Blair frowned. She would rather go home with Jo than stay at the party. But if she said that now, it would be like saying Jo was right. Jo was still ranting.
"And, maybe I was just concerned because you don't have a ride home and there ain't a sober person left in this room apart from the four of us. But if you wanna stay here and listen to George burp the alphabet, be my guest," Jo said, gesturing to the very drunk college student who was currently sliding down the doorframe.
"Well I will be your guest." It wasn't the greatest comeback of all time, but she was confused.
Jo turned to leave but paused and walked back to Blair. She reached out and took hold of Blair's wrist.
"And now I am gonna tell you what to do. Do not get in a car with one of these guys. Call a cab. Call me if your pride can stand it. Hell, call your mother's driver from the city if you gotta, but do not let one of these morons drive you home."
Blair pulled her arm out of Jo's grip indignantly, despite the fact that she was touched by the concern.
"I'm not an idiot, thank you very much, I'm sure that I can negotiate my way home safely."
Jo inclined her head to where Natalie and Tootie were sitting in rapt fascination listening to tales of college life.
"Just make sure they get home safely too."
Blair nodded once and Jo walked away again. Blair bit her lip. She saw Paul lurching in her direction with a dopey grin on his face and sighed. She could be pressed against Jo's back right now, with her arms tightly around the other girl's waist, speeding through the cold darkness.
She wished she'd gone with Jo.
Jo had busied herself with tending to her plants, but she'd spent the evening watching the clock. With each passing minute, the feeling of dread in her stomach grew. When Mrs G expressed her concern that the girls were out later than they'd said they would be, she couldn't help but agree
The relief that flooded her body when Blair walked into the kitchen was immediate and a little overwhelming in its intensity. She hadn't consciously admitted to herself just how worried she had been. But the relief was tempered by the fact that something had obviously happened. Blair was hugging herself and Natalie looked like a nervous wreck. Tootie was being overly upbeat. Something had definitely happened. She had to get rid of Mrs G.
"You guys must be freezing! Mrs Garrett, could you, uh, make 'em some hot chocolate?" Jo asked.
"Oh sure, comin' right up!" Mrs Garrett headed to the kitchen, her mothering instinct kicking in.
"Thanks a lot!" Jo said, waiting until the older woman was in the other room before turning back to her friends. "You were in an accident, right?"
She couldn't help the anger in her voice, despite the concern which lay underneath, it was anger that came most naturally.
"No!" Tootie protested.
"Don't give me that! Marshall was driving and he was drunk!" Jo shouted.
"Jo, don't yell," Blair said in a weary voice that cut through Jo's fury.
"Blair, my knee won't stop shaking," Natalie piped up, sounding like a little girl.
Jo took a breath to try to calm herself down.
"Alright. What happened?" she asked in a more controlled tone.
"He knocked down a tree," Blair said, sitting down at the table, wrapped in the blanket that Jo had been using to cover her plants.
"A small tree!" Tootie amended.
"I kept telling Marshall he was going too fast," the powerlessness in Blair's voice nearly undid Jo, "and then he ran right through a red light!"
"It was yellow!" Tootie once again came to her brother's defence.
"It was red, Tootie!" Blair fired back, a little fight coming back into her tone though her voice was still shaking. "And there was another car coming and then I screamed."
Jo closed her eyes, unsuccessfully trying to block out the images running through her mind.
"You screamed?" Natalie put in.
"And then we slid right off the road," Blair continued.
"Why won't my knee stop shaking?" Natalie asked, on the verge of tears.
"It's alright, Nat, just take it easy."
Jo went to Natalie and pulled her into an embrace. She concentrated on comforting Natalie when what she really wanted to do was hold Blair close. But she was afraid if she did that she'd never let go and there were too many issues to be dealt with without that one being dropped into the mix.
Then Blair said the words which Jo had been trying not to think.
"We could have been killed."
Jo held Natalie tighter, feeling her own body start to tremble.
"Blair, please," Tootie huffed.
And that's when Marshall walked in. Jo listened incredulously as he tried to act like nothing had happened. She watched as Blair plucked listlessly at her baby broccoli plants. The fragility of the plants suddenly took on a new meaning and Jo had to swallow down a lump that had formed in her throat.
"It wasn't your fault, Marshall, it was just an accident!" Tootie assured him.
And all of Jo's earlier anger came flooding back. But Natalie got in before her.
"That was no accident; that was five beers."
"Natalie " Tootie began.
"Look, Tootie," Jo said, standing up and stalking over to where the brother and sister were, "something awful happened tonight and it could have been ten times worse!" Her voice rose on every word and she didn't even care if Mrs G heard her anymore.
"Look, I know it was awful, alright? But it's over now." Tootie tried to calm the situation.
"Is it?" Blair asked without lifting her head. "He's about to drive off to another party."
"No I'm not," Marshall said, sounding like a petulant teenager. "Honest! I'm going straight back to the motel. Slowly."
The silence that followed his statement was broken by Mrs Garrett's reappearance with a tray of hot chocolate. Jo retreated to lean against a table, arms folded, breathing heavily as Tootie effortlessly told more lies about the night's events and Marshall left, to go back out onto the road and put more people at risk.
"Uh, I think I'll take my hot chocolate upstairs," Blair said, "my feet are cold."
"Me too," Natalie said, picking up a mug and heading for the stairs.
Jo pushed herself up off the table.
"Wait up, Blair, I'll go with ya."
Blair stopped and turned to face Jo with a surprised smile.
"Jo, how sweet! But really, I'm feeling much better now."
Jo considered her possible responses and went for the one that was expected of her by the other people present.
"I want the blanket for my broccoli!" she said, gesturing at the blanket Blair still had wrapped around her shoulders.
Blair looked stunned for a second before heading to the staircase. Jo followed suit. When they reached the top of the stairs, Jo reached out and touched Blair's elbow, stopping her before she entered their room. Jo took the cup out of Blair's hand and set it down on the hallway table. Then she wrapped her arms around Blair's shoulders and held her.
"The minute you'd gone, I wished I'd gone with you. I should've gone with you," Blair whispered as she tightened her hold around Jo's waist.
"I shoulda stayed. Or I shoulda come back with Mrs G's VW to get all of you."
"I should've called you."
"I shoulda kno-"
Jo was silenced by two of Blair's fingers gently pressing down on her lips. Blair shook her head.
"We could've done things differently, we didn't, it happened and we're all alright. Let's leave it at that."
Jo nodded and kissed Blair's fingertips.
"Your hands are still cold," she commented.
"My whole body is cold. It's actually gone past cold. I'm not sure I have feet anymore. I think maybe my toes turned into little icicles, they could have broken off and be rattling around inside my shoes right now for all I know."
"That's what I like about you, Blair. You're so understated about everything."
Blair raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, so that's what you like about me, huh?"
"Yeah, mostly that. The rest is just physical."
Blair slipped a hand up Jo's sweater and pressed it against her back, making Jo squirm away from the cold appendage.
"OK, OK, I'm sorry, that's not the only thing I like about you."
Blair relented and removed her hand. Which had been warmed up by Jo's skin anyway.
"When I've had a bath and regained feeling in my body, I expect to hear this list of things you like about me."
"Well, I think list would be overstating it "
"Look, Polniaczek, I had a near-death experience tonight and I need a little TLC, is that too much to ask for?"
Blair regretted her words as Jo's face suddenly turned serious.
"Jo, I was kidding "
"Except it's true," Jo interrupted. She leaned in and pressed a kiss to Blair's mouth before tightening her hold on her once more, burying her nose in soft, blonde hair.
"I'm glad you're OK," Jo whispered.
"I'm glad we're all OK," Blair agreed.
Jo pulled away, a little embarrassed by her honest show of emotion.
"Listen, you go and drink your hot chocolate and check on Nat. I'll go draw a bath for you," she said as she headed for the bathroom.
Blair watched her retreating form for a moment.
Jo stopped and turned.
"The next time I'm being stubborn and dumb, you have my permission to tell me that I'm being stubborn and dumb."
"When have I needed your permission to do that?"
"That's true," Blair conceded, thoughtfully, "But it makes me feel better if I think I gave it to you."
Jo closed the distance between them and kissed Blair softly.
"How about you just go the whole hog and give me your permission to throw you over my shoulder and carry you out next time?" Jo asked.
"You are such a Neanderthal!" Blair cried, swatting Jo on the shoulder.
"Well, this Neanderthal has to make with the fancy Rose-Petal bubble-bath or somebody will be cranky."
Blair tilted her head to the side, surprised.
"Guess I'm a well-trained Neanderthal."
"That's the best kind."
Jo started to walk away again but Blair held onto her, waiting until their eyes met before speaking.
"Jo I "
Jo squeezed Blair's hand.
"I know, Princess. Me too."
This time when Jo pulled away, she made it all the way to the bathroom door. When she looked over her shoulder, Blair was still standing looking at her. Jo rolled her eyes.
"Will you go get changed, already? Don't you need to empty your little icicle toes outta your shoes?"
Blair laughed and opened the door to the bedroom. Jo raised her voice.
"And get that damn blanket back downstairs. My broccoli will be freezing its little leaves off!"
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