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a strange fate with wandering limbs

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(1)

She’s back to "Humphrey" already.

Blair tries to get off the couch and Dan catches her wrist, pulling her back down onto his lap. It has been an hour since Blair arrived at the loft and a dull sting covers his mouth. If he licks his lips, he tastes spearmint and lipstick.

"Honestly, Humphrey," Blair laughs against his mouth. "I’m just going to fix my makeup. And the making out is going on hold; we have things to discuss."

Dan wraps an arm around her waist. "Talking is boring. And I don’t care about your makeup anyway."

Blair shakes her wrist out from his fingers and stands. "You love to talk, and either way I’m making you. Plus, I care about my makeup. Not everything is about you." Still, she leans down and kisses him again. With a hand on his cheek, she smiles at him, mouth closed. Then she stands upright, turns and disappears into the bathroom.

Which is precisely when the front door opens and Rufus tumbles in with two bags too many about to topple out of his arms.

Dan nearly leaps off the couch. "What are you doing here?" he asks his father, surely sounding far ruder than he meant to.

Rufus drops a Louis Vuitton overnight bag onto the nearest table. "Nice to see you too, son," he says.

Dan picks the bag up off the table and unsuccessfully tries to force it back into Rufus’ arms. "I am sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for you being here, but if you and Lily are in a fight I’m sure you’ll sort it out and you can’t be here."

Rufus laughs. "Lily’s just downstairs paying the cab driver. Why can’t I be here, exactly?"

"Because Blair is here," Dan says, and Rufus freezes.

"Blair is here," he repeats, and Dan nods with such force his neck cracks. He was at some odd angles for the last hour, it’s true.

"Here as in —"

"As in," Dan emphasizes. Rufus looks into the distance, thinking for a moment. Then, he picks the Louis Vuitton again. Dan exhales.

"I’ll take Lily to a hotel," Rufus says. "But this is a one-night only event. We’ll be here for a while."

"Sure, sure," Dan says, ushering him toward the door.

Rufus steps through the threshold and turns back. "Be sure to use protection —" he tries to say, and Dan slams the door in his face.

"Did I just hear your father?" Blair asks, walking into the room again and finding Dan still at the door, his back pressed against the handle.

He nods. "But he’s gone now. Don’t worry about it."

Blair purses her lips, but doesn’t say anything. Instead, she returns to sitting on the couch and after a moment Dan follows. She curls her knees in front of her so he has to sit a few feet back from her mouth, which is a shame, really, because now that Dan’s allowed to kiss her it is all he has any desire to do.

"We need rules," Blair says, rubbing her hands on her knees. Dan frowns despite himself; he’s over rules. Ever since Blair arrived, Dan feels greedier than he’s ever been. It has been a long time — if ever — that he has felt so overwhelmed by the mere act of wanting.

"I’m serious," Blair continues. "I’m a married woman."

"In name only," he points out, and then catches her split-second flinch before her expression returns to neutral — or neutral for Blair, which is anything but casual. He needs to watch what he says, he scolds himself. This isn’t about him, he remembers, and feels much of that greediness wash away. He still feels a little heady, but more like himself again, rational and calm and in love with Blair. Default states these days.

"All the same," Blair says, sitting up straight, "there’s an order." Then, she blinks. "I don’t want to mess this up," she says, quiet again and Dan leans forward and catches the fingers of her left hand.

"Blair," he starts, but Blair looks past him toward the kitchen, blinks twice, and pulls her hand away. By the time she looks back, her jaw is set again.

"Rule one," she says, "no sex until my marriage is over. However that happens."

Dan nods. Sure, he can wait. He’s done plenty of waiting already. It’s well practiced. Sure.

"Rule two," Blair continues, standing again and stepping in front of Dan. When he looks her in the eye, his throat seems to dry out completely. Dan has never seen lust on Blair before. It would knock him over if he weren’t already sitting down, but as it is? It makes him a little dizzy. No one’s ever looked at him quite like this before. Not even Serena had the sort of forward, happy sexiness that Blair brings with her as she moves forward to straddle him again. Blair kisses from his collarbone to his ear and Dan takes it all back; waiting to have sex with Blair is going to be absolutely impossible.

"Rule two," Blair whispers in his ear and there’s just no way to hide how hard he’s getting, especially not with her hands that close to the fastening of his pants. "Everything else is fair game."

(2)

She sleeps over. Fully clothed, he might add. The previous night was less x-rated than expected; sure, his fingers made it up her skirt a couple times and her hands spent some time in his pants, but it could have gone a lot further than that if they’d let it. Truth be told, Dan has been doing a terrible job of acting cool or collected or any of the other C’s he’s not. If Blair’s noticed, she hasn’t said. Dan spent the evening just trying to keep his breath even, trying to sleep and utterly failing because Blair was right next to him in his bed and that seems impossible, even by morning. He doesn’t mean to say, of course, that he has anything to complain about. On the contrary, Dan’s ecstatic; Dan can barely keep himself still; Dan doesn’t need coffee today and he won’t need it tomorrow because he’s got the fact of Blair in his bed in his bloodstream and it’ll do just fine.

So, Dan didn’t get much sleep last night, but Dan does not give a fuck because Blair slept soundly and kept grabbing at his shirt in her sleep as though Dan were even capable of going somewhere. After however few hours of rest, he woke up just after sunrise and only then did he force himself out from under the covers and into the kitchen for coffee because okay, yes, that part was a lie; he might love Blair, but he’s addicted to coffee and that’s just the way it’s going to be.

He’s made it through half of the Times before Blair manages to make her way into the kitchen wearing a pair of Jenny’s sweatpants and some t-shirt he got at a concert. Her hair is still somehow perfect, though he imagines his is running in all directions. He runs a hand through and wonders if maybe Blair was right about needing it cut.

"Morning," Blair says, smiling a little and looking him in the eye for just a moment. Dan tries to catch his breath.

"You seemed like you slept well," he finally manages.

"On the contrary," she says, pulling the coffee from his hands and sitting at a stool by the counter. "Your sheets are awful, Humphrey. It’s like sleeping on that five o’clock shadow you’ve got going."

He grabs a new mug for himself. "The Humphrey home may not be a five-star hotel, but it does have a few other perks."

She scowls and takes another wincing sip of his coffee. Dan takes his coffee black, two sugars; Blair always ends up having a nearly equal coffee to milk ratio, but never any sugar. He hands her the milk, in case she thinks she can salvage her cup.

"And what would those perks be, Humphrey?" she asks, stirring in her milk and trying the coffee again. Too sweet, probably, but suitable; she takes a second sip and then a third. "The happy sound of jackhammers down the street or that stench that I didn’t realize could be this strong outside of a sewage plant?"

Dan shrugs. "The company’s not so bad."

Blair’s halfway to a retort before she realizes he’s not fighting her. A blush spreads on her face and without any makeup on Dan gets to see all of her unobscured. She tries to bite back a smile but has to resort to hiding it behind her coffee cup. "All the same," she says, then standing and rummaging through his fridge for something to eat, he presumes, "I’m still getting you new sheets. You’ll thank me later."

"I have no doubt," he says, walking around the counter to sit on one of the stools. "What are you looking for in there anyway?"

"I don’t know," she says, her body now obscured by the door to the fridge. "A yogurt. A croissant. Cold cuts. Anything that isn’t way too many days old takeout — do you eat breakfast?"

He gestures toward the cereal above the fridge, though of course she can’t see him. "Cereal counts," he offers.

"Boring," she says, stepping back and pressing the fridge door closed. She turns to him with her hands on her hips. "Don’t you owe me brunch anyway?"

"That I do," he says, watching as she saunters — saunters — to him with her hands still on her hips, leaning against his knees as he turns from the counter to face her. Her arms loop over his shoulders and he thinks again, an old, static record on loop, how this is his life now.

"Get dressed, Humphrey," she says, leaning forward to kiss him. She smells like Blair and also like home, like his bed, like morning in the loft — which does not smell of sewage, actually, but rather of old books and laundry detergent. When she pulls back, brushes past him and calls, "No back alley hipster diners; I don’t want this to be my last meal," Dan doesn’t move for a long thirty seconds. It’s not that Blair’s completely nonchalant about this; he knows her well enough to know that’s not true. He notices the tiny tics in her expression that he’s not supposed to see, all the split seconds of panic and happiness and fear and the whole laundry list of emotions that Dan is sure are inscribed all over him every second. It’s just that Blair’s a far better actress than he could ever be. At the very least, that means she gets to pretend to be a normal, functional human being while he’s left with a rapidly cooling cup of coffee and shaky knees, like he’s sixteen again and spotting Serena in Grand Central Station.

"Dan," Blair calls from the bedroom. "I’m starving."

Dan nods and stands. There’s a place down the street he’s been meaning to take Blair to for months, actually, with unlimited mimosas on weekdays and pancakes twice the size of her face. He has a feeling she’ll love it, and Dan does tend to be right about these things. When he walks back into the bedroom, Blair is already mostly dressed, wearing the same dress as the night before and makeup reapplied, her hair down and wavy around her shoulders. He can’t help but stop and stare at her from the doorway, zipper of her dress still undone. He’s going to have to stop doing this. Pull it together, Humphrey, he hears in her voice in his head.

"Zip me up?" Blair says and Dan nods, swallows, and steps forward. Maybe he’s imagining the goose bumps on her skin when he touches her, but he’d like to pretend they’re real.

(5)

Blair calls. When he picks up, she’s already mid-sentence.

"You know you’re supposed to wait for the other person to pick up before ranting, right?" he asks. She’s not in Brooklyn today because "I have official Waldorf business to take care of," so Dan hasn’t seen her since yesterday at 8:42 PM and no, he doesn’t miss her.

"This is not a rant," she exclaims. "This is my explanation of events you might actually be interested in if you’d pay attention."

He rolls his eyes. "What’s up, Blair?" he asks, turning to get some water from the sink.

"The Grimaldis are going to let me out of my prenup," she says, and it comes out as one long word. Dan doesn’t even realize he’s stopped moving until the water overfills his glass and spills onto his hand.

"That’s — Blair, that’s —"

"I know," she says, and he imagines her face: the widest grin she’s worn in weeks, eyes shut in relief, one hand against her cheek.

"But why?" Dan asks before he can stop himself from ruining the moment.

"I’ll explain when I get there," she says, but Dan interrupts. Lily and Rufus have temporarily moved back into the loft and Dan, having honestly forgotten what it was like to share a space with other people, has spent most of his time avoiding them since they’ve arrived. He nods quietly when Lily calls him Daniel and grabs his morning coffee as quickly as possible while Lily returns to yelling on her cell phone about the apartment in Manhattan. They don’t know the details with Blair. Rufus has made some inquiries and Lily sort of watches, narrow-eyed, whenever Blair comes over, but Dan is choosing to sidestep those questions until he figures out how to talk about this — and he doesn’t know if Blair can or wants to be a public Thing yet, so —

"How about I meet you at your place instead?" he asks.

"Perfectly fine with me, Humphrey," she says. "It can’t be healthy breathing that much Brooklyn air."

Dan rolls his eyes, grabs his coat, and is sure to say goodbye before he hangs up the phone. He’s at her apartment within the hour. The doorman is long since used to him by now, but George looks him up and down when he arrives.

"You seem in a good mood today," he notes, and Dan probably blushes, embarrassingly enough. He’s not wearing anything out of the ordinary, and it’s not like he walks around the city whistling to himself, but he has a feeling he’s doing something transparent and out of character. He pauses, then shrugs at George and keeps going. If George were to assume anything, it would be that Dan got back together with Serena. Dan shifts on his feet as he waits for the elevator, breathes in when the doors open, exhales when they shut. Tries to regulate his breathing all the way up to the penthouse and Keep it together, Humphrey, he thinks, but he thinks it in her voice and it’s not helping.

When he steps out of the elevator, Blair is already standing in the foyer and every plan Dan had to act like a normal person goes out the window as soon as she sees her. If Dan has spent the day — dare he use the term — glowing, then Blair looks like a fire. He actually stops in place by the elevator and just stares at her, which is something he’s been doing a lot of lately now that he’s allowed to be open about it. If Blair notices, she makes no indication of it. Instead, she says nothing, walks up to him, throws her arms around his neck and kisses him, her mouth parted and smiling against his. Dan wraps his arms around her lower back and pulls her closer, leaning forward just slightly so her back curves under his palms. He doesn’t know how long they stay there; if he’s learned one thing about kissing Blair it’s that his brain sort of sputters out.

"Hi," he says when she pulls back a little and he learns how to use words again. Blair’s palms rest flat on his chest. She looks at her hands against his shirt and smiles the widest he’s seen from her in months — years, maybe. Relieved Blair. He’s trying to catalogue everything.

"Dan," she says, and Dan’s chest does that tightening thing it’s taken to doing whenever she says his name. She doesn’t seem to have an end to the sentence; she says his name and stops. Then, Blair exhales and takes two steps back, sliding her hand down his arm as she does. She leads him into the living room, grasping his fingertips between hers. When they sit next to each other on the couch, her knee leans against his.

Blair sits up straight. "It has been discovered that Esty and Louis have been having an affair."

"What?"

Blair shakes her head. "Georgina’s concoction, I’m sure. Either way, they’ve been caught in a — compromising position, and the Grimaldis are granting my amicable annulment in order to avoid the embarrassment."

Dan twists his torso toward her even further. "Blair, that’s —"

"Amazing," she finishes, and then she repeats the word under her breath like he’s not supposed to hear her. Not for the first time, Dan realizes that he doesn’t know how she was coping with the marriage. He means that in the literal sense: he doesn’t know how she made it through her days. It’s happened before, of course, that Blair’s felt choked by the things meant to be hers: her mother, her apartment, most of the people meant to love her. But all that is different. It’s not spending each day counting down.

"We still need to wait," Blair is saying too slowly, bending her head to try and catch his eye. "It’ll still be a few weeks before everything’s settled and I don’t want to risk anything."

Dan almost asks what she’s talking about before catching himself mid-question. "Of course," he says, making sure his grip on her hand remains in equilibrium. "Don’t worry about it."

But Blair gives that smile like she’s already been worrying about it. "I feel like you’ve been doing a lot of waiting these days."

Dan shrugs. "You don’t get to my station in life without a little patience."

Blair laughs, her first of the afternoon. "What, a loft all to yourself? And even that’s gone now. Your father and Lily are really inconsiderate of my needs, by the way."

"Excuse me," he says, dropping her hand. It bounces on the edge of the couch, palm up. "I am a best-selling author, Blair Waldorf. Highly anticipated second novel forthcoming. I’ve got to get one of these penthouse suites just to give my ego some breathing space."

Her eyebrows shoot up. "And fill it with what? Flannel shirts and vintage records you don’t even know how to play?"

"I’m sure you’d have some decorating tips," he suggests, and Blair laughs again.

"Could you handle me? Evil dictator of taste?"

And Dan almost asks how she remembers that comment but then the image pops into his head of Blair marching around some apartment he doesn’t yet own barking orders at moving crews and tossing aforementioned vintage records in the trash. Those are priceless, he would exclaim, and she’d roll her eyes. Priceless doesn’t mean things no one would ever deign to purchase.

But Dan just shrugs. "I think I could take you."

(9)

They’re watching The Thin Man in his bedroom, because it turns out that Lily and Rufus in the next room is a far better option that Serena upstairs. She’d caught them once sitting on the couch, Blair’s fingers in his hair and grumbling, "I’m not going to be seen in public with this." And though it was an everyday scene from his life, Serena looked at them and turned away, walking up the stairs with her head just slightly bowed. Blair’s hands moved back to her sides. She didn’t touch him for an hour, which is a lot for them these days. For him. He keeps finding excuses to touch her, though only tiny little things: brushing his hand against hers, his knees against hers, a hand on her waist while he reaches for a pen. He’s been collecting. What for — Dan doesn’t like to ask questions he knows the answers to.

So back to Brooklyn it was, where Lily always gives Blair a curt hello because her loyalties lie with Serena and Chuck, and Blair listens at Dan’s bedroom door for noise in the kitchen before running to get a glass of water. Blair decides she’s thirsty around fifteen minutes in and pauses the movie, only to spend the next five minutes with her ear pressed to the door.

"It’s not like she’s going to stab you with a carving knife," Dan says from the bed, one arm behind his head and leaning against a pile of pillows.

Blair doesn’t turn away from the door. "Lily van der Woodsen would never murder someone with anything so bourgeois as a carving knife."

He smirks. "What then, a revolver?"

"Most definitely. Vintage. Or a cashmere scarf, if it was more readily available."

Dan shuffles himself up to sitting a bit more and thinks that maybe they shouldn’t be watching this movie, that maybe it’s giving Blair ideas about murder mysteries already. "Either way, it’s Lily Humphrey now."

Blair does lift her head from the door at that, and rolls her eyes. "No need to remind me. Your stepmother, Serena’s mother, and then there’s me, who made the unfortunate decision to wear a cream sweater that blood will never come out of. For the record, it’s the daggers from her eyes that’ll get me."

"You know those are metaphorical daggers, right?"

Blair frowns and presses her ear to the door again. "Never underestimate a Rhodes woman, Humphrey. It’s gotten your kind into trouble before."

Dan is about to respond with some retort that’s most definitely not Serena but is actually about Serena because Blair won’t talk about it when she picks her head up and loudly whispers, "I think she’s gone," opening the door and rushing out of the room before Dan can say anything at all.

She returns a minute later with a glass of water in one hand and a bag of kettle corn in the other. "Supplies," she says, tossing him the bag. "You never know when an opportunity like that will strike again."

"Opportunity to go into my kitchen unobserved by the hit man in the next room over?" he asks as Blair climbs back onto the bed and next to him, lying down and resting her head on his chest. His arm drapes over her shoulder and Dan wonders if she can hear the thunderstorm under his ribs.

If Blair notices the abnormal pace of his heart under her ear, she says nothing. She just rests her palm against him and says, "Exactly, Humphrey. Nice to see you keeping up."

"I thought we’d moved on to Dan," he asks, trying to be nonchalant as he reaches for the remote on the bedside table. He has to turn his head to do so and immediately wishes he hadn’t; any visual response Blair had to the question — if she even flinched at all — has been packed away by the time he looks back.

Still, she does seem to smile just a little. Dan thinks it looks a little sad, but maybe he’s imagining. He’d like to think that one day he’ll understand every facial expression in Blair’s infinite catalogue. Until then, he’s left studying the angles of her jaw or the degree of the lift in her mouth. No matter how well he understands her or at least thinks he understands her, she’s still Blair, and that means she’s profoundly capable of being absolutely present one second and miles away the next.

Maybe that’s why he’s always writing about her. Maybe he writes stories about Blair because Blair can’t be encapsulated, but Dan understands the world in punctuation and similes and he tries to express her the only way he knows how. Maybe he wants to share her with the world too, just because he thinks she’s a person worth seeing. They’ve never talked about Inside. She doesn’t know about his second book proposal, inspired by her as well. He doesn’t say how she was right when she said Serena took over the part of him that let him write things down, and he definitely doesn’t say that Blair’s the thing that jump-started that in him again. Rules are rules, Humphrey, and it’s too early.

"Focus, Humphrey," she says, sitting up and snapping a finger in front of his face, her hair tossed over her shoulder. "Movie."

"Sorry," he says, pressing play, and Blair returns to lying against him.

"I’ll get around to the Dan thing," she says after a moment, even though people on screen are talking. His breath pauses before he hums an affirmation he’s listening. "Old habits," is her explanation.

He doesn’t say anything and she curls closer into him. Dan doesn’t really care about the names anyway; he just wants to know why. Dan wants to know everything. Something happens in the movie that he doesn’t catch and Blair laughs against his chest. It reverberates into his bones and right then Dan doesn’t give a shit what she calls him, to be honest.

"You've got types?"
"Only you, darling. Lanky brunettes with wicked jaws."

(12)

"Favorite city?" he asks. They’re eating pizza. Blair is too Upper East Side even for this, and eats with a knife and fork.

"New York," she says as though it were obvious, dabbing at the corner of her mouth with a napkin. Serena is at some party for the evening and Dan and Blair are sitting on the floor of her room eating pizza with outdated Vogue magazines covering the carpet because she’s not going to be responsible for any messes that result from his uncouth ways and would he please agree to eating at the dining table and just pretend to be a civilized person? But she’d said all of that while arranging the magazines so that the most outdated were in the direct line of fire from any spillover because who cares about March 2007 anyway, she supposes, and Dan won the argument.

"You seem surprised," she says, glancing up from her slippery attempts to cut her pizza.

He shrugs, the left shoulder reaching toward his ear. "I thought you’d pick somewhere, you know, else. Paris, maybe."

Blair shrugs, her legs tucked under her. "That’s my favorite city to visit. But in the end, I belong here."

"I’ve never been to Paris," Dan says without thinking about it, but when he looks up Blair has frozen with a cut-up piece of pizza halfway to her mouth. She puts her fork back on her plate.

"Unbelievable, Humphrey," she says, shaking her head. "We’ll go for your birthday. I hear you’re a best selling author these days, so no protestations that you can’t afford it."

Dan blinks as Blair goes back to eating her pizza, and then he grins.

"What?" Blair asks from behind her napkin.

"My birthday is in ten months," he points out.

Blair frowns. "So? Are you going somewhere?"

"No," he sputters out. Which is kind of the point.

Blair takes a sip of water. "Well, I don’t have any plans. Except that I’m not taking you to Paris with anything resembling that current haircut. It’s painful enough to be seen in public with you now."

Dan grins. "Well, if you’d rather just stay inside I’m sure I could come up with a few activities."

She throws her napkin at him. It bounces off his shoulder and lands on August 2008.

(17)

Chuck calls.

"Who is it?" Blair asks as she walks into his bedroom from the living room, a DVD box in hand. Lily and Rufus are out of town for the weekend and they are spending the day on his bed watching movies and talking and kissing a lot. She’s still doing that thing where she sighs into his mouth like it’s the first time he’s kissing her all over again, but this time he’s allowed to put his hand up her skirt without question. On a certain level it’s all so very high school, except that by default nothing about him and Blair will ever be very high school.

"Chuck," Dan says, and can’t imagine his voice is level. He holds the phone toward her, but Blair’s frozen in the doorway, staring at the phone like it could give her boils if she touches it. Neither of them says anything and the phone just keeps on ringing. It seems to go on forever, or at least far longer than a ringtone should, echoing in a room that shouldn’t have the acoustics to do that.

The phone finally stops. Blair grabs it from him and turns it off before Chuck can call back or leave a voicemail or wreak whatever havoc Chuck Bass can with a cell phone which, Dan knows, is probably quite a lot. All Chuck has done so far is call Blair and he feels twenty feet further away from her.

"Are you worried about him?" Dan asks after too many moments because someone has to speak first.

Blair scoffs. "You mean do I think he’s about to propel himself off the roof of the Empire? Hardly. If there’s anything to be worried about it’s that he’ll pull another award-winning stunt."

"That’s what I meant," Dan clarifies and Blair plops down on the edge of the bed with her back to him. He doesn’t know if she heard him. Her hands press flat against the covers, staring off to someplace Dan can’t see. If she asked, which she won’t, Dan would be honest: he’s beyond worried about what Chuck will do; he is borderline terrified. It keeps him up too late a couple nights, thinking how Chuck will ruin his life or his relationship with Blair or more likely both. And it makes him sick, it makes his hands shake, it makes him some crazy inversion of himself that thinks about calling her at three in the morning to beg her not to leave him for Chuck because he knows how people can circle around each other and what if she’s just so used to the pattern and he knows it’s crazy, it’s crazy and it’s stupid and horrible, but he can’t turn his brain off; not even Augustine would be capable of this much faith. Faith in them, he means, of course. It’s not Blair he’s worried about. He’s worried about everything else.

"I don’t know why he called," Blair says and it sounds like an explanation.

"I know that."

"I don’t care." He’s not sure if he believes that, but she sounds like she does.

"It’s okay if you do," he offers. It is. Their lives are complicated, and Blair’s most of all. He’s more than willing to wait it out with her. He’ll put up the storm shutters.

Blair twists around to look at him. "Are you worried?"

"About Chuck? A little." He’ll admit to it. He hasn’t made it through this many years with these people without understanding just how powerful they really are. And there’s also, "I’m worried —"

She turns her whole body around now, pulling her legs back up onto the bed with her. They sit on opposite corners of the bed, legs crossed, hands at their sides, on their knees, fidgeting. Dan knew going into this that Chuck was going to be the poltergeist in the halls, but he never thought about how to deal with it.

"I’m worried about patterns," he confesses, not looking at her. He’s ashamed of it, ashamed to even think it, but he does. More often than he’d like.

"Me and Chuck?" Blair asks, and there’s that hurt in her voice and Dan winces. He wants to take it back, to swallow the entire conversation from the start, lie about who called if he had to or say the right thing as soon as she asked or pick up the phone and tell Chuck to fuck off. "Do you not trust me?"

Dan shakes his head. "I trust you. It’s him I don’t. And, I don’t know, I just worry and I know it’s stupid, but I can’t help it and I’m sorry, Blair, I shouldn’t —"

But by then she’s already stood and walked over to his corner of the bed, sitting next to him and grabbing one of the hands he has been flailing around as he speaks. "Shut up, Humphrey," she says, and he does.

"Two things," she says, keeping hold of his hand. "First of all, you think too much for your own good and it’s going to get you into trouble one day. Second, you’re an idiot. An idiot I picked of my own incredibly discerning volition, so don’t mess it up by letting that Basshole mess with your head with a simple phone call, because we both know far worse things are coming."

Dan almost laughs. "It’s always easier to forget then when we’re just holed up in one of our bedrooms."

She smiles just a little too sadly and drops her head against his shoulder. "I know what you mean."

It’s mid-day, but the blinds have long since been pulled shut. This is the way they have always been: shuttered away, kept secret, plausibly deniable. He imagines they’re both a little nervous about what comes after. Will they walk down the street holding hands?

"I like Brooklyn," she confesses then, though he doesn’t imagine she means that in the literal sense. "I like being off the grid." That would be literal. He thinks.

He kisses the top of her head. "I’ll take you to Tribeca."

"How exotic," she deadpans. "The film festival is coming up." Which he knows, of course. He’s gone every year since high school. Last year, he nearly asked her to go with him until he chickened out, and so spent most of the festival searching for her in movie theaters and ticket lines rather than planning his schedule. She was probably there and he just missed her.

"Request to alternate one English-language film for every one of your French art films."

She gives that exasperated sigh he’s so used to, standing and getting whatever DVD she’d left the room to get. He doesn’t know what it is, but he suspects Lauren Bacall because Blair’s been in a phase lately. "You’re so picky," she says, slipping the DVD into the television.

"Discerning," he notes, sitting back, legs straight out, one ankle crossed over the other.

"Whatever," she says, climbing over him and onto the bed, pretending to ignore the way Dan just stops breathing for a moment there. "Besides, you love French cinema and don’t pretend you don’t. I remember Nanette. You cried."

"I didn’t cry," he insists, but Blair just grabs the remote out of his hands and pushes play. "You were sitting two seats over, anyway; you probably just saw a trick of the light."

"The lady doth protest too much," she says, and then she stops, looks at him for a moment too long, and kisses him on the cheek. It lasts less than a second and then she rests her head against his chest again, but he thinks he caught her blush.

(20)

Dan’s phone buzzes in his pocket. He’s been in enough meetings with Alessandra to know that no one particularly cares about texting during meetings, and he’s mostly just sitting there while Alessandra and Jonathan talk about press releases and minute details that really aren’t his responsibility. Dan takes his phone out and doesn’t attempt to be subtle, though he does try to look attentive, watching Alessandra debate the strengths of an October release date. He’s not surprised when the text is from Blair; to be honest, he only hears from her or Nate these days.

He does pause when he opens the message, though. What are you wearing?

Dan looks up from his phone. Neither Alessandra or Jonathan are paying him any mind, but he still shields the phone from them anyway. Not that he should assume that Blair is up to what he thinks she’s up to. Maybe she’s just concerned about his choices in ties. Maybe she now remembers he left the loft this morning wearing mismatched socks.

You saw me leave for my meeting, so I think you know, he types as quickly as possible, reminding her of the meeting just in case she forgot. Which Blair never would.

His phone buzzes again. Dan ignores it, but then it reminds him again and he makes the mistake of opening it. Maybe he’s just easily tempted. Maybe that explains so many of his failings.

Because I was thinking about that shirt you’re wearing, and then I thought about what you’d look like with it off.

Dan swallows, looks up again at Alessandro and Jonathan who now might as well be speaking Latin because he doesn’t understand anything. Still staring at Blair’s text, he gets another one, and again opens it despite his better judgment.

And so now here I am, in your bed and thinking about how you’re not in it with me.

He’s going to kill her. Dan crosses his legs and this time really does attempt to be subtle. This really isn’t the time, Blair, he sends back.

Tell me about it, she replies. Here I am all alone wearing absolutely nothing and you’re nowhere to be found. But I’ve started thinking about what we should do when you get back.

"Are you okay, Dan?" Alessandra asks, and Dan looks up from his phone. "You look a little ill."

Dan shakes his head. Blair Waldorf is not messing with his meeting, no matter what the incoming picture message is about to reveal. "I’m fine," Dan stutters. "Too much coffee."

Alessandra smiles. "Too much of a good thing," she points out and Dan gives a strangled nod. She keeps talking to Jonathan and Dan opens the picture message and thinks about what self-restraint means and if he can buy some as a belated birthday present to himself.

But the picture is just Blair, fully clothed, and holding up a ratty old t-shirt with a disturbed look on her face. At the bottom, the text reads Spring cleaning. And a cold shower for you, Humphrey.

He adds Kill Blair in whatever bourgeois fashion I see fit to the To Do list in his Filofax.

(24)

Blair pulls him through the doors of the New York Public Library by the wrist.

"Come on," she says, nearly giddy. Dan always laughs at her when she’s like this, over-enthused and light in her stilettos, temporarily unconcerned with pretense. He lets her lead him; he’s been to the Library before, but it’s more fun with Blair directing him to the requests desk.

When they stop at the back of the line he says, "Waldorf, I didn’t even know you remembered Bryant Park existed when there was no fashion in it. Like a Brigadoon of New York."

"Disappearing into the fog for months on end until Chanel returns?" she says, not looking at him but rather standing on her toes to see above the line. "That does sound have the makings of a heart wrenching love story."

The line isn’t long, maybe ten people between four librarians, but Blair still spends the brief wait making impatient little noises. "I need this book," she says when they reach the desk, handing the librarian a slip of paper and not saying please. Dan says it for her, and the librarian gives a grimace of a smile as she disappears to get whatever Blair’s requested. Blair stands on her toes again to see into the stacks.

"You’re a crazy person," Dan notes. "I don’t think anyone’s told you lately and I think you should know."

Blair doesn’t look at him. "If you haven’t told me, no one has. Everyone else is far more respectful."

"Everyone else is just afraid of hurting your feelings."

Blair scoffs and keeps her eyes on the stacks. "Let’s not kid ourselves on that count, Humphrey." She takes his hand to shut him up and it works. Blair hasn’t held his hand in public before. He doesn’t even think Blair’s touched him in public since that night she turned up at the loft, and every time before that was some sort of pretext. Blair keeps watching the stacks and Dan stares at their hands until the librarian returns and Blair lets go of him to grab at the book. She doesn’t say thank you; Dan does and then looks at the book she’s holding. It’s his — Inside.

"Surprise," Blair says, stepping out of the line with the book resting face up on her palms. He takes it from her, running his thumb along the author line. Later editions of the book have his name on it, and so there it is, embossed: Daniel Humphrey. His picture is on the back flap. He doesn’t turn to look at it; as soon as he’d seen the prints he thought about how Blair would hate them. What he hadn’t thought about is how his book would be in the Library now, a place where he once used to hide out in the summers to stare at the books people would take out, imagining one day he’d write one of them. But he grew up and stopped coming up here and forgot about that dream entirely until right now.

"You’ve probably already thought to come here," Blair says, and if he didn’t know her better he’d think she sounded bashful. "But I thought it would be nice to see. Congrats, Dan. You’ve made it. And you wrote a book that didn’t entirely suck while you were at it."

His eyes snap up to hers. "You read it?"

"Yes," she says, looking him in the eye and twisting the rings on her left hand.

A crowd of pushy school kids walks past them; one actually runs into Dan but he doesn’t even notice. He knew, of course he knew, that publishing Inside meant Blair would know everything. He knew — or assumed, though up until now incorrectly — that she would read the entire story, and he also assumed it would be so obvious that he was in love with her that she’d march over to his loft and laugh in his face. But Blair read only bits and pieces and somehow never figured it out (specialty of hers, warped logic), but now she has read the whole thing and she’s definitely not laughing in his face. Blair isn’t saying anything; Blair is just looking at him and holding his fingers in her own.

"We should go outside," Dan says eventually because he can’t breathe in here right now with its high ceilings and too many dusty windows. Everyone is staring at the two of them stilled in the center of the room, which isn’t something Dan sees because he’s not looking away from Blair, he doesn’t dare to, but it’s something he can feel on the back of his neck. She gives a little nod, but he turns to the door first, watching her out of the corner of his eye the entire walk out. It is easier to breathe outside; the pale March sun stings his eyes just enough to snap him out of whatever had taken hold of him. Blair squints and then slips her sunglasses back on. He wishes she’d kept them off; he wants to be able to see all of her right now.

Dan shifts on the balls of his feet. "What did you think?"

"Of the book?" There’s a sound to the left, a car horn, a dog bark in response. Blair glances over and then back at him. "It was great. The praise was well-deserved. You’re — you’re very talented, Dan."

He wants to make some joke, Don’t sound so surprised, but she doesn’t sound surprised and his tongue tastes like sandpaper. He doesn’t even know why; obviously, when he published the book he imagined this conversation would happen. But he tried not to think about that, and then it never happened, and so they’re having it now.

"I like the way you see me," she says, quieter than usual. His mouth lifts. She almost smiles back, but then she turns to look out toward the street. "I wish it were true."

He leans forward and takes her hand for just a second, thumb brushes against the pulse beneath her wrist. She turns back to him and he lets go. "I meant it," he says, and she nods. She knew that, of course. Dan imagines some things about him are pretty clear, looking back.

Blair smiles just slightly, turns away from the afternoon sun and pulls her sunglasses on top of her head. "What’s your second book about? You never said."

Dan is rather used to keeping his projects to himself until publication, really. Old habits, but he doesn’t mind telling Blair, of course. "Manhattan re-imagined as a monarchy."

She laughs. Dan grins in response, which is by now common enough to be a reflex. "Oh," she says. "so you mean like real life?"

He nods, and Blair laughs again. Then, she bites her lip and leans forward just a centimeter as though to share a secret. It’s a tiny movement; Dan doesn’t think she did it on purpose. "Is it about me too?" she asks, quiet and maybe a bit hopeful if he dares imagine her that way.

"Yes," he says. It’s a confession, wary, that sandpaper feeling back in his mouth again.

She laughs a little and then gives him a look he can’t quite place. She still smiles though, so he assumes it can’t be bad.

"What’s so funny?" he asks.

"Do you recognize what the term fiction means, Humphrey?" she asks, feigning concern and taking one step, then another step toward him.

Dan coughs. One of these days he really is going to have to get used to Blair looking at him like this, wanting and wanting and wanting. "Are you complaining?" he asks, trying to make a joke and probably failing.

Blair smiles wider. "Not at all," she says, and kisses him on the steps with the sun in his eyes.

(25)

As it turns out, of course, waiting for Blair’s annulment to come through is really fucking hard. No pun intended.

"I have an idea," Blair murmurs in his ear, her legs falling open. And Dan — say what one will about Dan, but he is very good at cues. Still, he does stare at her for a moment, the way she bites her lip, the way she looks like she wants to ask the question but doesn’t quite know how to ask the question. He wonders what she can read off him too, because right now Dan doesn’t care to pretend to be suave; he’s not. Blair Waldorf is in his bedroom with all the pins in her hair come loose from too much kissing and she is asking him, in not so many words, to go down on her and this is unbelievable.

He tries to make some loser joke out of it. "You have a very heteronormative notion of intercourse, you know," he says, pulling down her stockings anyway.

She wiggles her toes out, left foot then the right, and rolls her eyes. "Your Foucauldian concepts of sexuality aren’t the theme right now, Humphrey."

He actually stops for a moment, just a moment, and then laughs. "You know Foucault?"

Blair sighs, long and exaggerated as always. "I read. Now, focus."

But Dan is already attentive. He pushes her skirt up to her hips and pulls her underwear down. He’s starting to learn these things: if he kisses Blair’s hip, right above the bone, she’ll take in a sharp inhale he can only hear if he focuses on her breathing; if he puts his fingers inside her and twists them just this way the grip she has on his shoulder will tighten; if he kisses the inside of her right thigh, her hips will tilt up to his mouth, but if he kisses the left then she’ll give her first moan of the evening; if he tongues her cunt she’ll gasp out a please; if he finds her clit, she’ll hold onto whatever body parts of his she can grasp with one hand and the other hand will end up around her collarbone, trying to catch a breath he imagines she’d rather not catch at all; when she comes, she’s not as loud as Dan expects; after, she laughs. It borders on a giggle, actually, with air in her lungs so it sounds breathy and young and Blair. Dan likes this, loves this, the details of her that he gets to learn.

"Not bad, Humphrey," she says when he pokes his head out from between her legs to find her face just barely shimmering with sweat. "Not bad at all."

Dan stares. The dim lighting from his bedside table makes her skin shine.

"Don’t look so thunderstruck," Blair says, curling one leg under her and sitting up, her hand against the collar of his t-shirt. He’s going to have to learn to control his expressions better because this is just embarrassing. "You’ve made women orgasm before, I hope."

But they weren’t you, he doesn’t say. He doesn’t want to belittle; it’s not like he didn’t love Serena or Vanessa or — well, just really want to fuck Georgina, it’s just this is different. This has always been different.

"Dan," Blair says with her mouth an inch from his so she doesn’t quite look him in the eye and her consonants brush against his lips. "You need to work on that poker face."

He entertains the possibility of saying something intelligent or snippy or even just coherent in return, but she kisses him instead. He takes the out.

(28)

Dan wakes up with his arm looped around Blair’s waist, slipped under the t-shirt of his that she stole from him last night. It takes him a minute to recognize where he is, because this is the first time he ever slept at Blair’s. He can see how she would find his sheets uncomfortable being used to these, he will admit, but home is still home and he’s not getting satin sheets for his everyday. Still, here he pulls the blanket up over his shoulders and relaxes into it, his thumb drawing small circles on Blair’s hip.

"Do you understand the problem with your sheets now, Humphrey?" she asks, still mostly asleep.

He kisses the nape of her neck. With Serena in the Hamptons for the weekend dealing with Cece’s affairs and Dan a little too used to sleeping with Blair next to him, Blair had suggested he stay at her place for once so that "I can get a decent night’s sleep for once." Of course, Blair sleeps soundly through the night these days, which is something Dan knows wasn’t common in the weeks and months prior, but he allows her the jibes and parades. Dan certainly still has enough of his own.

"You’re just a prissy princess," he mumbles against her skin. Blair shrugs before he can flinch.

"Just because my favorite fairytale was the Princess and the Pea doesn’t bespeak a character flaw," she notes.

Dan laughs. "Maybe not a flaw, but it does seem alarmingly indicative."

Blair twists in the bed and turns to look at him with a sleepy grin. "I’m simply a woman of refined tastes," she says, and then she kisses him with her eyes closed. His mouth parts and she immediately pushes back.

"Brush your teeth, Humphrey," she tries to scold, but she’s laughing just a bit too much for him to take her seriously. "I haven’t reached morning breath kissing levels of liking you yet."

Dan rolls his eyes and sits up. "You have that level of liking people?" he asks, and Blair grabs his wrist just as he’s about to stand. Her grip tightens and she uses his body to pull herself up to sitting and leans over to kiss him again, mouth closed. When she moves away Dan waits for her to say something. When she does, it’s "Get a move on, Humphrey," and she pushes his arm to nudge him along. He complies, of course, heading to the bathroom and grabbing his toothbrush out of his overnight bag on the way.

"Am I going to be the only one practicing dental hygiene here?" he says as he begins to brush his teeth and from the bedroom Blair replies, "You disrupted my beauty sleep; I need five more minutes."

"Five minutes isn’t going to fix your problems," he tries to call back but it gets completely jumbled by the toothpaste in his mouth and comes out a long string of sounds.

"Did no one ever tell you to not speak with your mouth full?" Blair asks, and Dan rolls his eyes and turns to wash out his mouth. As he does, though, the other side of the bathroom door opens and there he finds Serena, still in her pajamas, hair still a mess, and hands on her hips.

Dan stares at her with his mouth full of water for a full two seconds before remembering he has to spit it out before he can talk. When he does, he apologizes, reaching for a hand towel and really wishing he were wearing the t-shirt Blair currently has on, leaving Dan in just his sweatpants.

"Hi," he manages. Serena doesn’t respond, and Dan doesn’t know if it’s because she just woke up or because he probably woke her up by yelling at Blair or because he’s standing in her bathroom shirtless and it’s not because of Serena this time or all of the above. He’s still trying to figure out a follow-up sentence that functions as damage control when Blair says from behind him, "I’m up," and steps into the bathroom.

Dan turns to look at her just as she steps into view. Blair sees Serena first, her eyes automatically widening as she takes a step forward.

"S," Blair says, a hand gripping the fabric of Dan’s shirt and pulling down just a bit, stretching out the collar. "You’re here."

Serena gives the slightest of nods. "I couldn’t quite bring myself to go. Too much reality."

Blair nods. "Do you want to talk about it? Fruit muesli for breakfast?"

Serena gives a bitter laugh, short and curt, eyes ticking to Dan and then back to Blair. "I think I’ll manage on my own," she says. Then, she steps back and closes the door to her bedroom. Blair glances at Dan for less than a second before following Serena into the neighboring room. Dan stays in the bathroom, his back pressed against the cool marble of the sink.

"I didn’t know you were going to be here," Blair says, trying to keep her voice steady. Dan winces; he’s long since learned what Blair sounds like when she’s about to cry.

"I know that," Serena says, her voice already beginning to rise. Dan keeps his hands pressed palm down against the corner of the sink. If he interferes in this it’ll make things worse. "That’s not the problem."

"I know," Blair says, still trying to keep her voice level, though now it sounds more like to try and keep from yelling, which Dan prefers. "And I’m sorry that you ran into him —"

"Dan isn’t the problem here," Serena says. "It’s you."

Dan grips the ledge. He’ll be of no help, of course, but he just wants to get Blair out of there. But she doesn’t need him to save her, so he is going to stay exactly where he is.

"Me?" Blair asks, surprised and quiet enough that Dan just barely hears her. He leans closer to the door. "What did I do?"

"Look at you," Serena says. "Sleeping in your boyfriend’s t-shirt? Blair Waldorf wears silk and lace in bed."

Blair doesn’t say anything for a moment. Dan imagines her staring at Serena for a moment, her fingers once again twisting around the hem of his shirt.

"So, maybe I’m changing," she says, finally. "Maybe I like it."

Serena scoffs. "We’ll see how long that lasts." Dan shuts his eyes.

"What’s that supposed to mean?" Blair asks, her voice rising again. The sound travels into the bathroom and seems to echo off the walls. Dan looks up at the ceiling. Part of him really thinks he should walk away from this conversation. It’s not a matter of being polite; to be honest, Dan doesn’t much care about that at this juncture. But he has a feeling this is heading in directions he’d rather not overhear. Still, he stays pressed against the marble.

"It means," Serena yells back, with her voice now echoing into the bathroom, "that you’re not yourself at all lately."

"Why?" Blair yells. "Because I’m happy? Why is that so difficult for you to deal with?"

"Because it’s just another act! You’ll just end up back where you started like always and Dan is going to be left doing damage control."

Dan tries to keep control of his breathing, his hands still gripping tightly to the edge of the sink. He doesn’t like his fears about all this out in the open from someone else’s mouth. It makes him think he’s not hiding them very well and, worse, that everyone else knows something he doesn’t.

"No," Blair says, straining her voice back to level. "You don’t know what you’re talking about."

Serena laughs again, short and loud and bitter. "I know you, Blair. So I know exactly what I’m talking about."

After another pause, Blair storms into the bathroom and slams Serena’s door behind her, locking it shut. She needn’t have; Serena doesn’t try to follow. Blair presses her back against the door and shuts her eyes. What Serena said stops being important as soon as Dan sees Blair’s face, a few thin tears already beginning to trace down her cheeks. In some strange way, he can’t help but feel just a little responsible. While he might know that’s not true on a logical level, he also knows that this is the first time Blair has cried because of anything related to her relationship with him. It’s a new twist on an old knife in his gut.

Dan takes her hand, pulling her off the door and into a hug. Her hands rest on his back and he holds her closer still, arms wrapped around her just tightly enough, he hopes, to create refuge without constriction.

"It shouldn’t be this difficult," Blair whispers, and a few more tears fall on his shoulder. "I just want to have this. God," she sniffles, "I sound so petulant."

Dan shakes his head, rustling her hair. "You don’t. It shouldn’t be this hard. But you do have this, Blair. You have me." For as long as you want me, he doesn’t add.

"Yeah," Blair says with her head resting against his chest. "I suppose I do."

(31)

Dan keeps his head down while he walks past George at the entrance to Blair’s building. Of course, as Dan has never been good at subtlety, George stops him almost as soon as he spots him.

"Are you feeling okay, Dan?" George asks. "You look a little sick."

Dan mumbles something about "Just feeling a bit under the weather" and George nods sympathetically. "I think Miss Waldorf has come down with a bug too. She didn’t look very well when I saw her earlier."

Great, Dan thinks, but he just sort of gives George a quick nod and walks to the elevator. It takes him a few seconds to convince himself to push the button. When he does, he holds his breath as the elevator ticks down to the ground floor, Nate’s advice on loop in his head.

Basically, it’s been a long day. He thought his first time having sex with Blair would have gone better. This morning, the annulment came through. When Blair told Dan, he barely had time to breathe it in before she took off her coat and pressed her body against his. "Ready to go?" she asked in a low voice that didn't sound like Blair at all. Dan simultaneously felt like he was touching a woman completely unlike Blair and yet was still shaped just like Blair, which made him uneasy and terrified all at once.

So needless to say, the sex was a mess. He felt reduced to his unpracticed high school self, the boy who still kissed like the way he saw girls liked it in movies. For her part, Blair was simply too much; too much because it's Blair and Dan is always overwhelmed by her even when she is just sitting across the room, but also because Blair put herself in a show he never asked her to put on. Dan didn't know why, at the time. But this is several hours and many conversations with Nate later, and Dan thinks he has some clarity as he arrives at Blair's a bit past eight in the evening.

Blair walks down the stairs when he arrives unannounced.

"Dan?" she asks when he steps out of the elevator, her hand at her collarbone and drawing lines with her index finger.

"Hey," he says, hands in his pockets.

She just looks at him for a minute before turning back toward the stairs and waving for him to follow. Dan pauses at the bottom of the stairs to watch her for a moment. She doesn't notice until she gets to the second floor and turns to find him still at the bottom.

"Serena’s at dinner," she says, thinking this explains his hesitation. Dan doesn’t correct her, and climbs up the stairs. Blair lets him follow her into her bedroom and sits cross-legged in the chair at her dresser so Dan has to sit across from her on the bed.

Blair clasps her hands in her lap. Even from a distance, Dan can see her knuckles go white. "So, what brings you all the way up here at this hour?"

He blinks. "It’s eight o’clock."

"It’s the middle of the night somewhere," she manages, her voice higher than normal.

"Blair," he says. "Can we not?"

She blinks twice. Then, she sighs, the upright pull of her shoulders falling forward. One leg crosses over the other. "Okay. You can start."

Dan shifts in his seat. He really does not want to have this conversation. He knows he has to, but that doesn’t mean he likes it. "So I went and talked to Nate —"

"You talked to Nate about our sex problems?" Blair gasps, and Dan is so glad to know he’s already starting off on such good footing.

"He’s my best friend, Blair," he points out, and she shakes her head.

"You men can’t keep anything to yourselves."

He raises his eyebrows. "Are you going to tell me that you didn’t talk to anyone about this?"

Blair opens her mouth to protest and then clamps her jaw shut again. "Fine," she confesses after a moment. "I talked to Dorota. Who I pay to keep silent, unlike your choice in confidantes."

"Not the point," he says. "And stop evading."

She crosses her arms. "I’m not evading. Keep going."

"I feel," Dan begins, remembering Nate’s advice, I statements and remedial mediation bullshit he learned in some elective that Dan doesn’t trust, "that we both need to address the, uh, complications in our sexual activity so as to improve our future enjoyment."

"You sound like a textbook, Humphrey," she says, standing from her chair and walking to her desk to do nothing. "And besides, I am good at sex. I doubt I’m responsible."

"Well, so am I," he points out, watching her continue to flit around the room so she doesn’t have to actually look at him. "No complaints before this."

"Maybe it’s just that Serena didn’t have the heart to see your sad junior year puppy face."

"I doubt it," he says, smirking despite himself and then shaking it off. "Either way, this isn’t a you or me thing. This is an us thing, and you know that."

Blair sits back down in front of him, arms and legs crossed immediately. "Fine. I take it we’re doing I statements? I knew that class of Nate’s would go to his head. One B+ and the man thinks he’s qualified to counsel people on their problems, which is pretty hilarious given, you know, Nate Archibald."

"Blair," Dan says, again rolling his eyes.

She frowns, pulling her arms closer to her chest. "Sorry. Fine. I feel like you were touching me like I’m dainty. I’m a person, not a doily. I’m not going to wither if you graduate a bit above vanilla. Happy?"

Dan winces. So much for sugarcoating. "Okay. I feel like you felt like you had to put on a — I don’t know, a performance. And I don’t need the shows, Blair."

"Maybe I like the performance," Blair says, her voice creeping louder. "Why are you always asking me to be someone I’m not?"

His eyes widen. "When have I ever done that?" he asks, trying to remember some misinterpreted comment or unintended remark before he recalls: "Is this about what Serena said?"

Blair stares at him for a moment and then turns her head away. "It’s about a lot of things."

He leans forward onto his knees. "Do you want to talk about it?"

She turns back to him with a small scowl. "No. And besides, why are we only talking about me here? You were a mess too. Honestly, Humphrey, you need to brush up on your female anatomy, and that was not a euphemism."

Dan pushes against his palms to sit up straight again. "I was nervous," he says, and it bothers him to use a sentence so short for a panic so enormous. Dan doesn’t want to exaggerate, which he’s definitely prone to, but there have been fewer times that he’s been more nervous than earlier today.

Blair laughs a little. It’s not malicious, and her arms uncross and rest at her sides. He gives a sheepish sort of shrug in response. He knows it sounds silly and juvenile and she’s used to people who can play at keeping it together, but Dan’s not like that and that’s always been his problem. He can teeter on the edges of the Upper East Side all he wants, but the people who grew up in it just play the game better than he can, and that includes being able to fake collected.

"I’m really not that scary," Blair says, her tone softer than it’s been since he arrived. Then it’s Dan’s turn to laugh.

"You kind of are," he points out. "Not normally to me, but you are sort of terrifying when you want to be. And sometimes when you don’t want to be."

"Fair," she concedes, nodding her head. "But not normally to you. So —"

So why, then? The question lingers for a moment before Dan figures out how to respond. He had planned for the question on the walk over, prepared the requisite explanation that was kind but not overly emotional. But Dan can’t remember it now, looking at Blair, and he thinks whatever he’d prepared was fairly paltry.

"It’s just this is different," is what he offers in the end. Also paltry.

Still, the corner of Blair’s mouth lifts just a bit. It’s fractional, really, but he can see it across the few feet between them. "I assume that’s a good thing?"

Dan almost laughs. Here’s what different is: different is that he hears her voice in his head when he decides which new tie to buy; different is the mere act of putting Blair Waldorf as number four on his speed dial; different is scrubbing out the last remnants of Serena, which Dan had previously thought were in some way or another a permanent condition; different is how she makes him feel dizzy and grounded all at once; different is how he holds her hand as they fall asleep just because he gets to touch her.

But Dan can’t say any of that, not yet. He thinks Blair knows he loves her, if only because it’s incredibly obvious and he wrote a book about it. Still, it’s early yet and he assumes that it’s best not to share that sort of thing in a conversation about if he and his girlfriend are sexually compatible. So Dan just sort of shrugs and hopes it’s convincing. "It’s not so bad."

Blair pauses and then stands from her chair, coming and sitting next to him on the bed. He looks at her and she stays staring straight ahead at their reflection in the mirror. Their thighs brush together and even after all this time it still feels like a light hum under his skin. He doesn’t imagine he’ll ever quite get used to it, and he doesn’t want to.

"We’ll try again," Blair says, taking his hand from his knee and wrapping it between both of hers. "No nerves for either of us. You don’t treat me like I’ll break and no shows for me."

"Easier said than done," he points out, and Blair nods.

"I am a woman of many innovative ideas," she says, rising to her feet but keeping his hand in hers. "Just leave it to me. Either way, it’s been a long day and Serena is going to be home soon. We don’t need a repeat performance."

"No," Dan says, standing as well. "Definitely not."

She shows him out, dropping his hand somewhere around the top of the stairs. When they get to the elevator, she reaches around and pushes the button for him.

"I’ll see you at your place tomorrow," she says as they wait. "And if it is at all possible for Lily to not be there, please make that happen."

Dan laughs. "I’ll see what I can do."

"Thanks," she says, and then the elevator dings open. As Dan steps inside, Blair catches his hand again, her free hand holding the elevator open.

"It’s different for me too," she says, watching him as the door closes before Dan can process what she’s referring to and formulate a question. Still, he walks to the subway and thinks about the scaffolding of the rewritten world she might be living in. He wants to see maps and pictures, to know how she walks through it, if she too looks back on her history and laughs because this shouldn’t have happened. Loving Blair is a different gear in an engine; it roars in his ears. But Blair would never make a car reference. Maybe violins, then, but Dan has never been one for orchestra.

(32)

Blair shows up at 9:30 with two bottles of very expensive champagne and an overnight bag. She doesn’t say hello as she walks into the loft, and Dan is already doing a bad job of trying not to be nervous. Pull it together, Humphrey, he hears in her voice in his head, but it doesn’t work very well.

"Is Lily here?" Blair asks, looking toward the back of the loft where Rufus and Lily’s makeshift room is.

"Nope," Dan says. "I convinced my dad to take her on a romantic getaway upstate."

Blair turns to him and scowls. "So you told him that we’re going to sleep together."

"Yes," he says. No point in denying. Blair sighs and rolls her eyes, but she puts the shopping bag of alcohol down on the kitchen table and doesn’t say anything else about it.

She sets the bottles down on the table. "I’m not quite sure what one drinks in this situation, but you can’t go wrong with Veuve Clicquot."

"I’m not sure either. What exactly are your intentions?"

Blair reaches around him for the champagne. "I thought it was fairly obvious. Liquid courage, Humphrey. We’ll just have a few drinks and everything will be smooth sailing."

He raises his eyebrows. "I feel like this could go awry easily."

"You know your limits, don’t you?" she asks, poking around in his cabinets. "Do you seriously not have champagne flutes? I guess there’s not much to celebrate in Brooklyn."

"You’ll have to make do with wine glasses," he says, but Blair is already pulling them out from the back of the cupboard.

"Anyway," she continues, "limits are limits. Just don’t cross them. No one likes a sloppy drunk."

And so, about an hour later, Blair drapes her arms around his shoulders as he sits on a stool in the kitchen. "Do you feel relaxed, Humphrey?"

Dan laughs and shakes his head. "Not in the slightest, Waldorf."

She pouts. They’re both well into tipsy by now, it’s just not doing much to make Dan calm. Everything is a little too make or break about this. She never had these problems with Chuck.

"You don’t need to be so nervous, you know," she says, nudging his knees apart to stand between them. "I’m here because I like you."

Dan smiles. "Always nice to hear, Blair, but I don’t think my brain is registering that very well."

Her eyes tick up to his forehead. "You probably just have too much going on up there," she says, and then she kisses him. It does have the intended effect; for a moment, Dan stops thinking anything at all. When she pulls back, she keeps her arms tight around his shoulders so he has to lean into her.

"I’ve noticed some things about you, Dan Humphrey," she whispers in his ear before pulling back a bit to look at him. "One, I make you a little crazy. When I kiss you it looks like you’ve been drugged."

"That’s fair," he tries to say. He’s right; it’s difficult to think, let alone speak, with this much Blair and alcohol around.

"I’m not finished," she says with a laugh. "Two, you keep looking at me like I’m about to disappear."

"You do that to me too," he points out, and she gives a begrudging nod.

"I do," she admits. "Which brings me to three: I really like you. It’s different than with — with other people. I don’t feel like I have to lose anything to be standing here in this kitchen with you. It’s lighter, like you don’t run the risk of tying yourself to my ankle and drowning me in the Hudson."

Dan swallows. "That one wasn’t really stuff you noticed about me."

Blair rolls her eyes. "Not everything is about you, Humphrey. Four: you wrote a novel about me. And then you wrote another novel about me. So — and I just realized this on the drive over here — I don’t think you’re going anywhere, because if you did you’d probably just fall into the creativity vacuum you were in before I made the mistake of going to see Nanette with you."

His chin lifts in mock indignation. "Mistake?"

She just laughs. "A terrible, terrible mistake I just can’t manage to take back. So stop worrying so much."

"When did you get so reflective anyway?" he asks, twirling the hem of her shirt between his fingers.

"About two glasses of champagne ago," she grins. "Now, Dan. Will you please have sex with me?"

"So pushy," he says, but he stands anyway, taking her hand and leading her into the bedroom, Blair giggling behind him all the way.

"Now," Blair says, basically pushing Dan back on the bed. "Let’s remember the rules."

Dan grabs her ass just a bit more firmly than he’d like to. Blair gasps and then laughs again. "Such a quick study," she says.

"It’s been said," Dan says, but then Blair pulls her top over her head and unclips her blue lace bra herself and Dan has other things to concern himself with. Of course he saw Blair completely naked yesterday, but that was rushed, panicked, not knowing where or how to touch her. Now, he reaches for her slowly, keeping one hand on her lower back and cupping her breast with the other. She shivers; his hands are cold.

"Sorry," he whispers, but she shakes her head.

"It’s okay," she breathes. "It’s okay."

They slip each other’s clothes off with his desk lamp still on and neither of them moves to turn it off. From there, he lets Blair direct. She guides his hand between her legs, biting her lip when he finds the right spot, the right speed. He bites when he kisses, small catches of her mouth in his teeth, hands tight on her body and thinks Like this? "Yes," Blair says, as though she could hear him, and maybe she can, maybe the question is written all over his face and skin and bones. He slides into her and she gasps. "Dan," she whispers, her mouth close to his, and he leans up to catch her mouth. When she comes, she says his name again, says it as she climaxes and as she comes down from it with her palms on his shoulders. He follows not long after, his mouth breaking away from her skin catch his breath.

After, she laughs. "Okay, then," she says, moving to lie beside him with one leg still strewn across his.

He raises his eyebrows. "Just okay?"

She props herself up on her forearms to kiss him. "Good job, Humphrey. But don’t let it go to your head."

(33)

Blair wakes up before him. She wakes him up, actually, with light kisses along his jaw until he stirs. "Let’s go, sleepy head," she whispers in his ear. "I want coffee."

He turns to look at her. "You wouldn’t need coffee if you slept more."

She shakes her head. "Doesn’t work that way. I’m up, I want caffeine and you’re coming with me. The last thing I need is to get lost in Brooklyn. I’d be eaten alive down here. Women would kill for my flats."

He rolls his eyes. "You do know how to get to that coffee shop I took you to. It’s literally three blocks from here. We’ve been there at least four times."

Blair shakes her head, her loose hair bouncing off her cheeks as she grins. "I can’t seem to recall. Up you go, Humphrey."

Dan turns his back on her, shutting his eyes and trying to block out the incoming sun. Blair drapes her arms and torso across his upper body and rests her forehead on his temple. "Dan," she murmurs, "please?"

And so of course Dan groans and sits up as Blair grins at him, keeping her arms locked around his shoulders.

"There you go," she says. "That wasn’t so hard now was it?"

"Easy for you to say," he grumbles. "You have the pleasure of waking up next to me in the morning."

Blair might snort. "Unfortunately, Humphrey, we are still judged by the company we keep. And unfortunately that means the only pleasure I have is being judged by the presence of your particular — brand of company, shall we say?"

Dan pretends to scowl. "You really are a mean one, Blair Waldorf."

Her hands cover her mouth in a mock gasp. "You shouldn’t say such terrible things."

"I don’t know if you deserve the niceties," he says with his lips hovering just above her mouth.

Blair breathes into a smile. "What do you think I deserve, Dan?"

He looks at her. Really looks at her, the details of Blair, the toss of her hair, the lightly smudged eyeliner she forgot to wash away the night before, the naked skin of her shoulders, how she stares at his lips the way he knows he stares at hers, her thumb brushing against the corner of his mouth. So, what does Blair deserve?

"I love you," he says. Blair tenses immediately, though she doesn’t pull back. Her body doesn’t shift at all, actually; the only movement at all is her eyes ticking up toward his. Then, she laughs, quiet and light.

"What?" Dan asks, the corners of his mouth lifting.

Blair shrugs, blushing now and looking away for a moment. "I forgot people could say it so easily," she confesses, and then turns away, keeping that smile that strongly resembles the one she wore when she came to the loft last month and changed everything. Dan thinks it’s a look he should name, catalogue, put in a book. After all, Dan writes about Blair because he’s trying to express her. Maybe he’s trying to preserve her, or maybe he wants everyone to see her. Most of all, though, he’s disentangling his sights, sounds and feelings of her, trying to put it all down on paper so he can read it back in a language he understands. So, really, it’s not that saying he loves Blair is easy. It’s that he’s built novels of her and, in the end, that’s just how it translates.

"Stop daydreaming, Humphrey," Blair says, her dress for the day already on and her hair pulled back into a ponytail. "We’re on a mission."

"So pushy," Dan says, and reaches for a shirt.