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.
SEQUEL: To 10-13

Welcome Home
By ShadowRunner


I knew I would be irritable after a twenty-three hour Trans-Atlantic flight - I just didn't expect to be so touchy, not to mention bad-tempered, that I would be snapping at Jo within five minutes of her picking me up at the airport.

As we drive to the restaurant she quietly endures my unwavering diatribe. That alone should have signaled there was a problem, but as usual, I'm too focused on myself to notice. As one might expect brunch with my mother is a rather restrained affair and perhaps that's why I snap at Jo again the second we're back in the car.

Given that she wasn't overly thrilled with the prospect of brunch with my mother in the first place, she's a little less tolerant of my ranting this time around. It doesn't take long for our bickering to become an argument and by the time we reach my apartment we are well on our way to having a full-blown fight.

"Is there a reason we're still having this conversation?" Jo calls over her shoulder, as she drags the last of my Louis Vuitton bags down the hall.

"Yes, because you're acting like this is somehow my fault," I counter as I slip off my coat and hang it neatly in the entryway closet. "How was I supposed to know my mother would insist on meeting for brunch the second my plane landed?"

Under normal circumstances her response might have been: 'Because Monica has always insisted on seeing you the second you get back from a business trip and you always agree' but she evidently knows better than to say this as it will only add fuel to fire.

Unfortunately what she opts to say instead proves to be even more effective in that department.

"Did I say you should have?" she replies, returning to the living room.

"No, but you were obviously thinking it."

The look on her face tells me I'm right, but it's a hollow victory and does nothing to defuse the situation.

"Oh, for the last time; I am not blaming you, Blair! I just thought-" Her voice falters as she slips her jacket and scarf off, tossing them haphazardly over the back of the couch. "Look, it's over and done with so let's just drop it, okay?"

"No, say what's on your mind," I retort, finally losing my temper. "Because we both know what will happen if you don't."

This comment triggers a somewhat confused expression. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"You know full well what that means."

Turning on my heels, I walk into the kitchen and lift a bottle of Pellegrino out of the refrigerator. As I turn, I'm surprised to find Jo standing directly behind me. She snatches the bottle out of my hand and slams the refrigerator door closed.

"No, your highness, I don't," she challenges, her green eyes sparking dangerously. "So why don't you do both of us a favor and fill me in."

"Fine, you heathen! For once I'd like you to say what's on your mind because I'd rather finish this argument today and not six months from now!"

The accusation is completely unwarranted and I know it even before I say it. Jo doesn't hold grudges, at least not ones that last months at a time. That's something I do. But as I watch the color drain from her face, I realize I've said something far more malicious.

"Heathen." Jo gives a soft chuckle, but there is nothing humorous about the sound as her lips curl up into an expression I've never seen directed towards me. Softly, she repeats the word; "Heathen," as if questioning its use in the context of English grammar.

I try to swallow around the lump that has jumped to my throat. "Oh, Jo - wait - I didn't mean…"

"No." Her voice is barely above a whisper as she hands the bottle back to me. "You meant it."

Without thinking I accept it as she turns away and walks out of the kitchen. Placing it on the counter I close my eyes, mentally calculating the time it will take for Jo to reach the living room, put her jacket and scarf back on, then walk to the front door. I wait for the sound of the door chime, then the click of the lock that will signal her departure. Silently, I wait.


I listen a bit more intently. Still nothing.

By the time I finally open my eyes, I'm absolutely certain Jo has not left, which can only mean she intends to finish this argument in person and not over the phone as per our usual custom. I'm also able to grasp her rational for walking out of the kitchen; she knows better than to argue in a room full of sharp and potentially lethal objects.

Sighing deeply, I lean back against the counter, rubbing at the bridge of my nose. What was I thinking? Arguing is nothing new for us - we've been doing that for years. Our clashes were, and still are, legendary. But over the years, the damage inflicted by our verbal sparring has diminished and the insults we once used to harm gradually became monikers; inside jokes really.

However, when one of us aims to wound the other - and unfortunately we still do that from time to time - we know exactly which words will cut and do the most damage - and those are the ones we use.

But this time I'm afraid my stiletto may have gone too deep because in using this particular insult, I've drawn blood.

How am I supposed to fix this?

Maybe… maybe if I give Jo her present and try apologizing again...

Buying affection, or even forgiveness, has never worked in the past but I have nothing to lose by trying. I push away from the counter and walk out of the kitchen. As I enter the living room, I see that the television has been turned on; however, the sound is muted. Jo is sitting on the couch, but she isn't watching the game. Instead, she's leaning forward, staring at the carpet as though it were the most fascinating thing she'd ever seen.

She's aware of my presence but doesn't look up nor does she offer any comment as I continue through the room and down the hallway. As I enter my bedroom, I stop short. Something feels off. There's nothing definitive; things just feel different… but at the same time the difference feel vaguely familiar… almost… comforting.

Conceivably it's the sensation of 'comfort' which causes me to look over to my bed, or perhaps I merely glimpsed it out of the corner of my eye when I entered the room. In the end, it doesn't matter why the bed captured my attention because the instant I realize my three thousand dollar custom made Japanese silk comforter has been replaced with a hand-quilted blanket, I know Jo had an extremely good reason for wanting to forgo brunch.

Feeling as though my feet are cemented to the carpet I have to will them free. As I move towards the closet, I cautiously push open the door, and enter.

Tucked back in a corner, hanging neatly next to an assortment of formal gowns, designer suits and dresses are several pairs of jeans, some casual dress pants, and handful of shirts and blouses. A brief glance to the shelf above verifies the presence of a motorcycle helmet and as my eyes drift down to the floor I note that two pairs of boots, several sets of tennis shoes, and a tool box have also made the cross-town journey.

As the seconds tick by I feel a weight pressing down on my chest and realize I've been holding my breath. Gradually I let it out, and while the heaviness lifts almost immediately, a faint lingering ache remains. For as overjoyed as I feel at this turn of events, I can't help but sense that I'm missing something important. But for now I'm willing to ignore the impression. I want to enjoy the moment; even if it means listening to Jo explain why she thought putting her tool box in the closet was a good idea.

Spinning around, I walk back to the living room.

The television is off now. Jo is standing in the center of the room, her arms folded defensively over her chest. She has a somewhat uncomfortable look on her face and for several minutes neither of us speaks. Then she breaks the silence by saying, "Surprise," in a deadpan sort of way.

"To say the least," I offer with a reserved smile. "Why on Earth didn't you say something to me earlier?"

A half shrug. "I figured it could wait. Besides, it's really not that big a deal."

"Not a big deal? Jo, this is-" As I move to step around the couch, Jo steps back. I can almost feel her pulling away. That's when I realize that although she's looking directly at me, it feels as though she's looking through, or perhaps past me. "What's going on?" I ask.

"Nothing. Why?"

To the untrained eye, Jo appears genuinely confused by the question, but I know better. More importantly I can hear the forced control in her voice and it stops me cold. In the space of a heartbeat I recall a time when she was on the cusp of sacrificing her own happiness for the sake of another. And then, with the next heartbeat, my thoughts flash back to the bedroom closet.

I know what's missing.

"Jo," I venture slowly. "Why aren't your uniforms in the closet?"

This elicits a snort of mock amusement. "I'm surprised you noticed with all the pink taffeta you have crammed in there."

Sarcasm is an old defense mechanism for both of us, but when Jo uses it as means of answering a rather direct question, there's a reason and it usually involves some type of avoidance. And that's when my feeling of unease shifts to abject alarm.

"When were you planning to discuss this with me?" I ask, trying to inject as much neutrality as I can into my voice. And though I haven't specified a topic, Jo's response tells me she knows exactly what I'm referring to.

"I wasn't."

"Why not?"

"I didn't see the point."

My eyebrow arches. It sounds as though she just asked me to pass the salt shaker. "I beg your pardon?"

"Look, I've made up my mind so this isn't open to debate," she answers evenly, but I can tell she is bracing herself to argue the very topic she just implied isn't open for discussion. "It'll take a few days for the paperwork to clear division, but once my letter of resignation is accepted, I'll be able to take the job as head of security for Warner Industries. End of story."

The realization that Jo's resignation from the NYPD has yet to be processed ought to have eased some of my tensions, but it doesn't - it escalates them. Because Jo hadn't been interested in the security position when my father offered it two weeks ago and being called a heathen for declining hadn't helped matters.

Of course the only reason I know the offer was made is because my father inadvertently said something to me about it the following day. However, once he realized that I had no idea that he and Jo even met, he became quite closed lipped about the matter. As had Jo when I asked her about it later that night.

But their shared silence hadn't prevented me from finding out what actually happened.

As luck would have it, my father's Executive Assistant was privy to the meeting and, unbeknownst to him, she is something of a gossip. For most CEOs this would be cause for concern; however, her favorite confidant happens to be a young man who is actively campaigning to become my Executive Assistant. And once I confront Jo with what I already know, she is forced to consider the question of why she would change her mind now for an extraordinarily long period of time.

Eventually she says, "Yeah, well, things change."

"What kind of things?" I press.

She looks at her hands, as if hoping the answer might be scribbled on her palms like a crib sheet. "Lots of things."

Things like our living together. I take in a deep breath. "Fine. Jo, I want you to move out."

My request is greeted with a rather irritated look which, I must admit, is far better than the blank expression I've been staring at for the past few minutes.

"That's not funny, Blair."

"Good, because it wasn't meant to be," I retort, all pretence of neutrality vanishing from my voice. "Jo, if you think for one second I'm going to let you commit professional suicide because of some misguided belief that our living together requires some form of financial-"

She cuts me off almost immediately. "This isn't about the money, Blair! Christ, you really don't get it, do you? I can't-"

"You can't what?" I interrupt.

Whatever Jo had been planning to say evaporates as she begins to struggle with some new emotion; it could have been frustration, but I suspect it might be something a little more primal - like anger. In either case, it takes several minutes for her to regain a modicum of self-control, and once she has it, she knows the only way to maintain it is to avoid eye contact with me.

"Look, being a cop isn't exactly the safest profession in the world and if something bad was to happen to me-"

The change in my expression occurs so fast it would have been comical had this particular statement not been so ludicrous. "Jo, something bad has happened to you! And while I'd rather it not happen again, if it does I'm perfectly capable of dealing with it!"

This forces her attention back to me. "But you shouldn't have to. And it's pretty god damn selfish for me to expect you to."

"Yes, Jo, risking your life to protect the citizens of New York makes you the epitome of selfish behavior. I expect that's why my father called you a heathen."

The statement made perfect sense in my head; however, it isn't until the words are out of my mouth that I realize how condescending and accusatory they sound. But before I can begin to formulate yet another apology Jo lets out a heavy sigh.

"You're right; it was."

I feel my jaw drop. I don't know what I was expecting her to say but it certainly wasn't this, nor was I expecting the tone in which she said it in. "Excuse me?"

The room is once again filled with an uneasy silence but this time when Jo finally breaks it, there is an all too familiar edge to her voice. "Two months ago some lame-ass photographer managed to snap a couple of pictures of you and that idiot, Bradley Hoffman, eating lunch at the Plaza Hotel." She pauses, looks down at her hands, and then back up at me. "Those pictures had half the newspapers in New York proclaiming Blair Warner just snatched New York's most eligible bachelor off the market."

In spite of my earlier shock, I can almost feel my lips twitch in amusement. "Jo, the paparazzi has always followed the public and private lives of the rich and famous. They are as much a nuisance as the tabloids they work for. But they thrive on scandal and sensationalism and once it became apparent that no one was going to come forward or comment about me, or even Brad, the pictures and the stories went away," I answer evenly. "Now would you please explain how that situation lends itself to my father calling you a heathen?"

This elicits an exasperated sigh. "Blair, the only reason the tabloids ran the story was because they had pictures." Jo pauses, then shakes her head as if trying to brush off old hurts and resentments she isn't willing to give voice to. But it's a half-hearted effort at best and her tone reflects that. "Your dad is right. If I'm gonna put my life on the line to protect anyone, it really ought to be you."

I take a deep breath. "Jo, I appreciate what you're willing to do, but do you honestly think anyone in this city cares who I'm dating?"

"Yeah, I do. Blair, the tabloids got the story wrong. This time. Eventually, they are gonna get it right. Trust me, when people find out you're knocking boots with someone like me, they are gonna care and probably in more places than New York. That kind of publicity makes stockholders nervous."

All this is voiced in a very non-accusatory way, and while I could have lived without the juvenile vernacular, I know Jo is simply paraphrasing the facts as they were presented to her. And only now do I understand, with a sickening, obvious sort of clarity, that her use of the word 'protect' meant something other than 'to defend; to save from harm; to watch over; to guard'.

She's referring to damage control and while Jo Polniaczek has never cared the least bit about public opinion, I know for a fact that David Warner does.

A part of me wants to be surprised, but in all honesty – I'm not. My father has a long standing history of placing the needs of his corporation before those of his daughter. As a child I never quite understood - and as an adult I still don't - but I have come to accept it.

However, the realization he used Jo's inherent protective nature as the mechanism for shielding Warner Industries from a possible scandal strikes a nerve I hadn't realized might still be exposed.

"Jo, I want you to listen very carefully to what I'm about to say." Bracing my hands against the back of the couch, I lean forward and speak quietly, making my voice as low and calm as I can. "David Warner is my father, and I will always love him. But I'm no longer a child and therefore do not need or require his protection. If he has some level of angst with my personal life then he needs to address it with me; not you. So, with that in mind, if you think for one second that I'm going to stand by and do nothing while he manipulates you in a way that undermines everything you are and everything you've accomplished then you are sorely mistaken. I owe you that much."

For several long, tense minutes, Jo's eyes remain fixed on some point across the room that is obviously important to her only because it isn't me. I, on the other hand, am shaking like a leaf because I have no idea if my message has been received or if I've somehow made matters worse. But just as I begin to think the latter might be the case, Jo turns away.

Much later will occur to me that this was probably the defining moment in our relationship, and if I ever recount this incident to anyone, I will never mention this portion of our conversation because to the casual listener, it will sound as though Jo acquiesced to me.

But that isn't what happened.

Stepping around the couch I slowly close the distance between us. She can't see me, but she's cognizant of my proximity and the fact that she doesn't move away gives me some measure of comfort. Nevertheless, once I'm within arms reach, I make no effort to touch her. Instead, I wait patiently behind her.

What comes is a tiny concession; at least physically as she reaches back and takes my hand in her own. As she pulls me in close, I lean in with my head coming to rest against her back. Only her labored breathing tells me that it's taking every bit of her resolve not to pull away.

Not because she's upset or angry; but because she's just realized that while I am the daughter of David Warner and heir apparent to his empire, when faced with what could become a very uncomfortable situation for him, she is my first priority.

I feel my chest constrict a little with that knowledge and wrap my other arm around Jo's waist, holding her tight. Silently, I begin counting and when I reach fifty-seven, her voice startles me.

"You don't owe me anything, Blair," she whispers.

"Oh, Jo, Honey." Shifting around, I move to stand in front of her without relinquishing my hold. "You have no idea how badly I wish that were true."

My words may sound insensitive but with this simple, albeit sarcastic statement, I'm able to tell her just how empty and meaningless my existence was before she came into my life, and that I have never regretted a single moment we've spent together.

Because the truth is; I owe her everything.

Lowering her head she whispers, "I should have said something to you awhile back."

"Yes, you should have." I pause and add, "But I understand why you didn't."

She doesn't look up and when she speaks again, she doesn't sound convinced. "Do you?"

A simple 'yes' might have ended the conversation right there but the word alone seems woefully inadequate. I know in the depth of my being that I've always been Jo's first priority and she has always protected me - emotionally and physically – so she's more than earned the right to hear me say the words.

"Jo, I can't fault you for accepting what my father said at face value because you've never assumed anything, nor have you ever taken anything for granted; especially when it concerned me."

There is a brief silence. Then she snorts a laugh, not a particularly humorous sound, but her shoulders relax as she lifts her head to look at me. "Yeah, well, I guess I'm gonna have to start working on that, hun?"

I brush an errant strand of hair out of her eyes. "I hope you will because I'd like to think we've reached a point in our relationship where you know you can expect certain things from me as a right."

This elicits a scowl. "I said I'd work on it, Blair."

"Yes, but you made it sound like such a chore," I reply blandly, though I am more than relieved to hear a hint of the old Bronx swagger in her voice. If nothing else it tells me that we are moving back towards an even keel. "Now, would you like to see the new Paris fashion line?"

"Would it matter if I said no?" She questions, only semi-humorously.

"Not really."

"Then why bother asking me?" She demands, but there is a hint of curiosity in her voice as she studies me with new-found interest.

"Because life revolves around the choices we make and this really ought to be an easy one – even for a heathen like you."

She winces. For an instant I wonder if my father used similar, if not these exact same words, when speaking to her so many weeks ago. But the moment quickly passes as Jo sighs and rubs her eyes. "Blair, do you honestly think that a private lingerie show is going to somehow make up for subjecting me to brunch with your mother?"

I smile. We've come full circle but this time I'm able to recognize her barbed comment for what it truly is; an acceptance of whatever apology I chose to offer.

"Actually, I'm hoping a lingerie show followed by an afternoon of unbridled love making might smooth over a number of matters," I answer honestly. "However, if you'd rather explain why you thought putting that infernal tool box in the bedroom closet was a good idea, I'd be more than happy to explain why it wasn't."

"Hey, be thankful I didn't leave it in the middle of the living room. Damn thing is heavy," she replies tersely, but then a small devious smile creeps across her face. "Though it might make a pretty decent coffee table and you gotta admit - moving it out here would free up space in the closet for my gear and uniforms."

Part of me wants to hit her, laugh, and cry. In that order. Yet I can't quite pull off any of the three as I have to admire Jo's tenacity. Somehow she's managed to reference the offending tool box, her continued status as a member of the NYPD, our living together, and me making concessions to that fact in the same sentence, effectively ending any further discussion on any of the matters.

For a long time neither of us speaks. Eventually Jo slides an arm around my back, pulling me in tight against her. Leaning in, she touches her forehead lightly to mine. "Ya know I really am glad you're back, Princess. I missed ya."

"I missed you too," I answer in the same quiet voice. Closing my eyes I add, "Jo…?"

Dipping her head, she nuzzles my neck lightly. "Yeah?"

I feel her shudder slightly as my hands slip under her sweater to caress her back. "Welcome home."

The End

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