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***

 

She can see it as clear as day, despite the camera’s flashing in her face and the undeniable fog of hairspray her mother insisted she use. 

Blair is class president of Constance Academy. The first junior in the school’s history to win. She can see her whole life laid out before her. Class president meant Yale, meant staying with Nate on his path to success, meant the perfect four story house perched on their sage green estate. It was safe in her head, warm even, and just within her reach when…

 

***

 

The alarm clock rings--no, blares out what Dan can only describe as a warning for coming bombs. It’s his newest strategy to get himself to wake up just early enough to catch the train, and then the bus ride, to school. But as he peels his cheek off his pillow, and blinks open his eyes, he sees he’s already late. Dan groans, saying a curse to the extra hour of sleep he sacrificed for studying and falls out of bed. He needs to find some pants...ones that weren’t ripped or carrying an odor of last night’s pizza and the copper smell of the subway.

 

***

 

Blair methodically hovers her fingers over the lipsticks awaiting her in the chest of drawers in her vanity. As she settles on a red gloss, Dorota comes in and lays out her uniform.

“Dorota?”

Her maid stops in her tracks, likely surprised Blair is willing to talk in the morning, or at all. She’s been “saving her voice” for a week now. It was partially because of her upcoming extra-curricular strides, partially because her mother’s back in the city.

“Yes? Do you need anything, Blair?”

Blair turns, slowly releasing her hair from it’s silk scarf and plastic curlers. “I have a question.”

Dorota wipes her hands on her apron and sits across from Blair on the bed, listening attentively. 

“Of course.”

“Does red scream…’presidential’ to you?” Blair purses her lips.

Dorota sighs, getting up and taking a laundry basket with her. “I think it screams ‘you’, Ms. Blair.”

She smiles, turning back to her reflection. “God, that’s no help.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more assistance. Will you take your breakfast downstairs?”

“No. I’m going to get breakfast with Nate.”

“Really? I thought--”

“Thank you Dorota, that’s all.”

Blair puts on a matte red instead. Definitely presidential.

 

***

As he scrubs the sleep from his face, Dan hears his dad’s happy bellows from the kitchen: adjacent to the bathroom.The smell of bacon and blueberries are wafting all around the apartment. It’s almost enough to make him want to crawl back into bed and have his dad bring him the usual spread. But when he sprints out, passing the counter, he remembers he has far too much to do.

“Morning, Sleeping Beauty,” Rufus says, flipping waffles onto a chipped plate.

Dan grabs one and then his bag, beginning to head for the door.

“Hey, hey! Take it easy for a second would you?”

“I’m late,” Dan mumbles, the waffle hanging from his mouth.

Rufus comes from around the counter and fixes his son’s otherwise wrinkled collar. He swipes the beanie off his head, ruffling his hair.

“Look presentable would you? You happen to be the son of a very important, washed-up musician.”

Jenny emerges from her room in pajamas, her hair a frizzy halo around her head. She yawns. “So you finally admit it.”

Dan laughs. “May I go now?”

Handing him his skateboard, Rufus smiled. “Might need this. Good luck today.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Dan runs out. “Bye!”

“Knock em’ dead, loser!” he hears Jenny call after him.

 

***

 

Blair is nearly able to slip past her mother when her earring falls off and makes a small clattering on the stairs. Eleanor, somehow gifted with super-human hearing, comes out of the dining room. Her black glasses sharpen her nose, sitting just at the edge of it. She looks Blair up and down, as Blair tries her best not to do a one-woman game of leapfrog.

“Good morning, Mother.”

Eleanor crosses her arms, a magazine limply hanging from in between her fingers. “I hope you weren’t planning on skipping breakfast.”

Blair rocks onto the back of her heels, and suddenly, right on those stairs, she’s a little girl again. 

“No, I wasn’t.”

Her mother breathes heavily, her body tensing.

“Nate asked me to breakfast. He’s on his way as we speak.”

“Hm.” Eleanor takes off her glasses and does her best impression of a constipated botched patient. “I feel like I haven’t seen you very much since I’ve come back. Let’s resolve that, shall we?”

“We’ll catch up tonight. Promise.”

Eleanor nods and steps aside, letting Blair make her way towards the elevator. She wasn’t aware her mother cared so much about “catching up.”

 

***

Dan makes it to the train just in the nick of time, despite the dog leashes he gets tangled up in on the way, and the five minute long conversation his dad’s usual bodega man stretches on and on. However, as he leaps down the stairs the doors begin to close. He can see Vanessa and his other friend, Eli, laugh at his expense, already on their short ride to Williamsburg Prep. Vanessa pushes a small wad of cash out the sliver of space left in the shut doors, yelling against the glass, “for cab fare!”

Dan flips her and Eli off, but takes the money once the train is good and gone.

 

***

 

Blair smooths an out of place strand of hair. She takes one more glance in the mirror, for fear of appearing too vain, and shuts it quickly. As she drops it into her bag, she notices the cold amount of space between her and Nate. His shoulder presses against the cab’s window. He doesn’t look at anything in particular, just away.

“So,” Blair straightens. “How does it feel to be in a car with Constance’s future class president?”

Nate abandons his position, and shifts closer, flashing his faithful pearly whites Blair’s been missing all morning. 

“Good.” He takes her hand like they’re thirteen again. “So, when you win...what’ll they call me? The first gentleman? The best boy?”

“Well, they could’ve been calling you president if you had decided to run…” she sing-songs.

He retreats again, she sees him shake his head. “We’ve been over this.”

“...Have we?”

“Yeah, we have, Blair. This is your thing, not mine, okay?”

“I know,  I know...but you could’ve easily--”

“Do you really wanna go over this again?”

Blair hears Hank, the driver, slowly rolling up the partition. He only gives her an apologetic look in the rearview mirror.

She sits back. “No.”

“I just don’t understand what you don’t get.” His voice rises, but not enough for it to be a shout. Nate never shouts. “I told you what my dad--”

Blair feels the car slow to a stop and she thanks whatever entity in the sky she believes in today that the traffic wasn’t as horrendous as usual.

“Let’s talk about this later.”

She barely waits for him to react before she’s stepping out into a small crowd of her friends, fawning over her and asking if they can hold her bags, offering her an umbrella as a shield from summer’s leftover humidity. Nates comes around to meet her and hand in hand they ascend the steps, smiling like the car ride over was actually pleasant.

 

***

Dan arrives with eight seconds to spare, which turns into three when he realizes he’s short ten dollars. He does his best to appear misty eyed so the driver takes pity on him. When that doesn’t work, he tries to talk himself out of it, and with a bit of convincing the cabbie lets him go. As the man peels off the curb Dan realizes he probably just wanted him to shut up. Such is life.

 

The school’s empty when he sprints in, and he remembers the assembly that’s taking place in the auditorium. So he drops down onto his skateboard and rolls down the hallway. This is about his third mistake for the day. He reaches the auditorium and less-than-gracefully bursts through the doors.

 

***

 

This morning seems to have it in for her when Blair’s speech is interrupted. This time around, it isn’t a germ-ridden freshman coughing or Headmaster Francis coming on stage to fix the microphone, it’s some ratty looking boy on a skateboard who’s now stumbling his way through the aisles to get a seat in the corner.

 

***

He finds a seat next to Nelly Yuki and Patrick Mccullen, supposedly dating (and supposedly acting as a beard for the other). Dan tries his very best to sink into himself as the other students murmur and chuckle in his direction. 

“Nice.” Patrick mumbles, nudging Nelly. Nelly says nothing and instead stares intensely forward at the girl on stage.

Blair Waldorf. He thinks that’s her name. Dan hasn’t really had the desire to memorize it given she’s the 95-pound, doe-eyed, bonmot-tossing, label-whoring package of girly evil who kicks his books aside in the hallways.

“What’s supreme lord Barbie doing up there?” Dan mutters.

This coaxes a laugh from Patrick, but Nelly just hisses at them. “Sh!”

Shouldering off his jacket, Dan supposes he has no choice but to tune into the ‘oh so interesting’ goings-ons of his stuffed up highschool.

“Now, I’m sure you all have concerns, given I am the first, female junior to pursue the honor of being your class president. And those concerns are completely valid. We all want to uphold the pristine and ambitious spirit of our school. But we also want to strive for more, strive for progress. By voting for me, you are voting for a future; a future with adequate provisions for women in the school, equal rights for all, and most importantly, promise. So come November, vote for Blair! Thank you.”

She’s given a proper, appropriate amount of applause, which surprises Dan who’s used to at most apathy in the face of student government. Then he remembers he’s on the Upper East Side where left is right and people actually give a fuck about who wants to play elected teacher’s pet. 

Blair gives a small courtesy, no doubt proud of herself, and sashays off the stage, her long hair bouncing behind her. A teacher follows after her to talk about the upcoming activities going on next week, and Dan officially checks out with about half of the student body.

“She was perfect…” Nelly says under her breath, finally sitting back.

Patrick crosses his legs, resting his chin on his fist. “Reel it in Yuki.”

“I am speaking from a purely political standpoint,” Nelly explains rapidly. “It’s exactly what I would’ve done.”

Dan chews on his fingernail, only partially listening. “You wanted to run?”

“Of course. Do you know how impressive that would look on a college application? Going to this school is already a gold medal in itself, imagine being president of it. It would get anyone an on-the-spot acceptance into the college of their choice. If not for my twenty other extra curriculars, and my fear of Blair Waldorf, I would’ve done it no question.”

“Well, I don’t think that would’ve been as entertaining.” Patrick admits.

Dan arches an eyebrow. “Why?” 

“If Nelly had run it would’ve just been two girls up there, loudly agreeing with each other. At least with Carter Baizen going up against her we’ve got some variety.”

“Carter Baizen? The guy who left halfway through last year to go trekking through South Africa?”

Nelly nods. “I heard he got gangrene.”

A kid behind them piped up, leaning forward. “I heard it was syphilis. His parents paid like ten thousand dollars to have the media cover it up. He got it from an orgey.”

Gasping, Nelly blushes.

Patrick waves the kid away. “Well, whatever he’s got, he’s back. And I don’t think he’s gonna take it easy on Blair, no matter how ‘scary’ she is...”

 

***

 

Blair catches Carter turning a corner into the Newsroom; the newly refurbished journalism classroom in the west hall. By this time of day, it’s already buzzing with students running about, a particularly lanky, pierced girl ordering them to do so. They’ve been acting as if they’re the New York Times or the Washington Post ever since Gossip Girl came into fruition. Even with all their gossip columns and fluffy pieces about school lunches, they all had to believe they were above the rumoring swill that was Gossip Girl. Although, it’s swill everyone drank down without hesitation. And Blair can’t exclude herself from the majority.

“Carter. A word?”

In the most infuriating way, Carter looks over her, his sunglasses planted firmly on his face. He gives a vacant gaze around as if Blair’s too short to see and then proceeds to enter the Newsroom.

“Carter, I’ve got an empty bladder and a bag of finished school work. I can bother you all day.”

He snorts and turns to her, hardly giving up any more of his attention. But at least it’s something. 

“What can I do for you?”

“I’m just wondering why the biggest slacker in our school is running for class President. Did you miss a turn on your way to some random public school in Nebraska? Because here, we actual care about student government—“

“Look, I’m sure you’ve exhausted this speech on someone else already, so I’ll just save us both some time. Student government is a joke wherever you are. But, it looks great on a college application, doesn’t it?”

“For those of us applying to college, yes. Whatever happened to ‘finding yourself’?”

She notices Carter’s eyes travel beyond the boundaries of the newsroom. Blair looks over her shoulder and sees his gaze has settled on Serena Van der Woodsen.

“God. You’re pathetic.”

“I’m optimistic.”

“Pull out of the race Carter, seriously. Or mark my words: Thanksgiving will be hell on earth this year.”

His eyes narrow. “I’ll bring the pie.”  

Before he can go to ruffle her hair like they’re eight again, Blair spins on her heel and marches down the hallway, not looking back.

 

***

 

Dan, for the second time today, runs around like a lost puppy dog. He considers bringing an extra change of clothes like some of the she-demons who walk the halls do. As he trails after Luci, the editor in chief (technically his boss) he realizes how much he really sweats in a day. It’s too much.

“What’s the quickest way to get rid of a shadow?” Luci asks an otherwise occupied senior plainly. The girl shrugs and continues on with her phone conversation, chasing some story. It’s only the beginning of the year and Luci’s already got everyone following some story. Except for Dan of course.

He sighs, clutching his notebook. “Look, Luci I’ll stop bothering you as soon as you give me like five minutes, tops.”

She grumbles a reluctant “fine” and leads him into the head office where Carter Baizen is lounging in her desk chair. 

Dan’s never met Carter Baizen, at least not up close. He remembers sometime at the beginning of last year he had thought the guy was waving to him across the hallway when really he was just waving to the person behind him. It wasn’t as awful as all the other unfortunate encounters Dan has had in his life since Carter still gave him a million dollar smile: the kind that can make you forgive anything. He’s an everyman--a class act, smelled of wealth in a way that isn’t too intimidating. 

“Hey! You know I recall this being a…”

Luci, always monotone and sharp at the same time, actually smiles. “Maintenance closet. That grant money came in handy.”

“I knew it would.”

“Thank your father for me.” She says, abandoning her pleasant disposition and pushing Carter’s feet off the desk.

Carter lands no problem and offers the chair to Luci. She sits. Dan still goes unnoticed. 

“So, will we be sharing an office or…?”

“No. You will be leaving, and I will be talking to…” She doesn’t even make an effort to introduce Dan, instead limply waving in his direction. 

Carter finally realizes the other person in the room and extends his hand. Dan, a bit flustered, takes it.

“Carter.”

“I know. I mean--I’m Dan.”

“Humphrey?”

“Yeah.”

“Is your dad Rufus Humphrey?”

“U-uh, yeah. How did you know that? That’s crazy.”

Carter chuckles, shaking his head like Dan’s cute, maybe a little dumb. “I’m a fan of the 90s.”

“Who isn’t?” Luci clears her throat, a pen now brandished between her two fingers like a weapon. “If you two are done flirting, I have work to do.”

Dan loses his two seconds of attention from Carter. “I’ll be outta your hair as soon as you point me in the direction of my new office.”

If it was possible for Luci’s expression to turn icier, it does. “You have no ‘office’. I was named editor in chief, and you ran off into the mountains with random Swedish girls.”

Carter turns to Dan like he’s an audience. “Is that what people are saying?”

“One dude said you had gangrene…” Dan mutters.

“Nice.”

“Carter, seriously, go.”

“If I remember correctly, last year we promised we would share the job. I’ve been a part of the newspaper as long as you have.”

“Yes--until you left for six months and then came back just to be class president...for some reason. We’ll be covering the entire election. It’s a conflict of interest.”

“I suppose the stories you ran about me are a conflict of interest too.”

“That was hardly us. If you don’t like the way you’ve been portrayed maybe you should’ve stayed, I don’t know, in the country.”

Carter swallows, his face falling for a moment. Then, like nothing’s happened at all, he nods.

“Tell Frank she’s invited to my welcome-home thing tonight. Haven’t seen her all day.” Carter pats Dan so firmly on the back he wants to cough. “You too, kid.”

“Her name’s…!” Carter’s already out the door. Luci folds her hands. “Fran.”

“Should I…?”

“Sit.”

Dan obeys the command almost immediately. They sit in silence for a moment until it dawns on him she’s waiting for him to talk.

“Right. Um. I’ve been a reporter for the past two years now...and that’s been fine...but I want to at least become an editor this year. Hopefully, take over your position.”

“And I suppose you want to write more?”

“I want to do everything. I have a lot of great ideas like, I think we should start a literary section where students can submit their work. We should start outsourcing to the art classes for design…” Dan feels he’s talking too much as Luci drums her fingernails on the table.

“Not bad.” Luci opens a drawer underneath her desk and takes out a packed-to-the-brim manila folder. “I’m going to be honest Dan. I’ve read your work. It’s good, even the unpublished stuff.”

“Thanks…”

“But if we have any chance in engaging the student body in stories outside of Gossip Girl, we need real, attention-grabbing, emotional stories.”

“Those aren’t attention-grabbing?”

“Sure. But, they’re. All. Satire. Have you actually talked to the people you write about? Do you really know what their lives are like?”

“I know they’re trust fund babies with little to no knowledge of the privilege they hold.”

Luci snorts. “Maybe that’s true. But if we have that attitude about everything, we’re no better than the tabloids--than Gossip Girl. And I assume that’s not the kind of writer you want to be.”

Dan shakes his head. “I need this, okay? Every editor-in-chief that comes through here gets a guaranteed spot in any writing program of their choice, and I have no way of getting published in Vanity Fair or the Times like these other kids do.”

“Bring me something serious, then we’ll talk.”

 

***

 

“Let’s talk.”

It’s finally lunchtime when Blair is able to steal all of her friends away for an important campaign strategy session. They link arms and begin to head to the Met steps.

“So, obviously, winning will be harder than I thought.”

Katie bobs her head. “Especially since Carter’s back.”

“That’s what I’m talking about, airhead.” Blair snaps. She sighs slowly. “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.”

“Mm, not really.” Isabelle says, applying an obscene amount of gloss to her lips when they finally find their seats, perched just at the top of the steps.

“Shut up, Isabelle,” Katie whines.

Blair gritted her teeth. “Both of you, shut up!”

“Sorry, sorry…” they murmur.

“I’m going to need a strong campaign if I even want a chance at winning..”

Roxy finally pipes up after having a fistful of sandwich pieces in her mouth. “Why are you running anyway?”

The rest of Blairs circle gasps as her eyes turn into slits. “First of all, close your mouth, you flap your gums like a fish. Second of all, why wouldn’t I run?”

“You’re practically the most popular girl in school, and you’re only a junior. Why get into politics and be exposed to the…” Roxy leans in, “ other people in the school.”

“Because…” Blair glances ahead of her and sees Serena in the crook of Chuck Bass’s arm by the coffee cart. She’s giggling, like usual--as if that’s the only way she exists--while just about every boy on the lacrosse team tries to make her laugh in passing.

“‘Other’ people don’t exactly deserve the title do they?”

Serena looks behind her and catches Blair’s eye, waving sweetly. Blair only glares back and her friends get on board soon enough, doing the same. Serena shrugs, like she’s above their feud (typical) and lets Chuck pull her along. The lacrosse team, and now the cheerleaders, follow in adoration.

“I need whatever it is that she has…” Blair mutters.

“Huh?”

Blair comes back from her haze. “Like I said, I need a good campaign. People can’t just fear me--”

“People don’t fear you!” Isabelle sang nervously.

“Of course they do. But that’s not enough anymore. I need to be adored. Talked about like…”

Roxy laughed. “Paris Hilton?”

“Ugh, no. More like…”

“Princess Diana?” Katie offered.

“Yes, Katie. Precisely; sweet but strong. Someone you can love.” Blair purses her lips “You know, you should hold back on the bleach highlights more often. It affects the chemicals in your brain.”

Before Katie can cry or complain about Blair’s not very newfound cruelty, she bounds down the steps to the coffee cart, possibly the only thing she has an appetite for. 

Just as she’s getting handed a coffee, some kid on a skateboard rolls right through her and the vendor’s hand, spilling the liquid all over the ground, some of it on her shoes. The kid briefly looks back, but continues to skate away, yelling a faded “sorry!” Blair thinks quickly and chucks a nearby bread roll at him. He skids to a stop, tumbling off his poor choice of transportation. 

“Stop right there!” Blair yells, strutting towards him.

“Ow!” He picks up his skateboard, and lightly touches the back of his head. “Did you just hit me with a croissant?”

“No. Your head just happened to be in the way of my croissant.”

“Right, because croissants normally just fly around all the time, bludgeoning unsuspecting pedestrians.”

“You’re hardly a pedestrian on that thing.” She points to the skateboard with disgust. “You’re an act of terror.”

“That’s a little dramatic, don’t you think?”

“‘Dramatic’ would be kicking you in the shins right now so you’ll stop disrupting the peace.”

“It can’t be that peaceful if the vein in your forehead is throbbing that hard.”

Blair instinctively touches her forehead, drops her hand. She gives the boy a onceover, recognizing his dirt-caked sneakers and almost all-black uniform. It’s a uniform everyone else has, yet on him it seems wrong, almost slanted to the side in a way--wrinkled too. His eyes, shadowed by his floppy, dark curls, give her a look that reeks of judgement and annoyance. Blair gives the same look right back.

“What’s your name?”

“Dan….” He finishes the thought like he’s suspicious of his own name. “Humphrey.”

Firmly taking his hand, Blair flips her hair. “I’m Blair Wal--”

“Yeah, I know who you are. We’ve been in the same English class for the past two years.”

“Excuse me if I didn’t get the memo, Humphrey.”

“Humphrey?’ He has the gall to laugh. “Who are you, my soccer coach?”

“I doubt you're in enough shape for soccer.” Blair takes out a notepad and paper from her purse and begins to scribble numbers down, adding in her head. She rips out the paper and sticks in the outside pocket of Dan’s jean jacket.

He takes the paper. “What’s this? Are you…? Are you giving me your number right now? I’ll have to politely decline.”

“Dream on.” Blair drops the pen back in her purse. “I approximated how much you owe me for my now coffee-stained shoes.”

“They hardly have anything on them!” He glances at the paper, slightly crestfallen. “And I can’t afford this.”

Blair shrugs. “Too bad. I expect you to pay your debt by tomorrow.” She begins to walk away, her heels clicking against the concrete.

“What if I don’t? You gonna send people to shake me down, Tony Soprano?” He calls after her, his voice strained.

“I’ll just have someone look by the bridges. You’ve got to live under one of them.” She calls back, doing her best to get the last word in, because he seems just as talkative as she is. And that just won’t do.

 

***

As he watches her strut away, her hips swaying, her obnoxiously shiny hair bouncing along after her, (no doubt a debt she’s owed on her mind), Dan decides he’ll have to avoid her like the plague—hate her like he hates cigarettes. What’s there to like?

 

The rest of the day is fairly eventless. However, he keeps seeing Blair Waldorf despite the vow he made to himself. 

Dan notices in English that she’s always the first to volunteer to read out loud, which he usually tunes out given he’s weeks ahead, and he learns she hums as she walks down the hallway alone, he even catches her glaring at him from across the hall, probably mouthing off to her friends about his “act of terror”. Dan feels a bit like a stalker the way he ends up always staring at the back of her head, following in her loud footsteps. He doesn’t mean to, he promises. It’s a string of mere coincidences.

 

As school ends for the day, he does his best to catch up with Luci, who looks more unbothered than usual with her girlfriend walking alongside her.

“Hey,” Dan shoulders his bag as Luci turns.

“Hey…” Her girlfriend, (Fran, Dan remembers) laughs and whispers something in Luci’s ear. They both begin to cackle, making him feel even more like a nuisance.

“No, we're not. He’s just trying to steal my newspaper gig.” She gives a smidgen of her attention to Dan who wonders what they were whispering about. “I’m off the clock right now.”

“Give me five seconds?” Dan pleads.

“Give me a ride home?”

“Uh...all I’ve got is a skateboard and a Metro card.”

“Exactly.” She puts an arm around Fran. “First thing Monday, okay?”

Dan sighs. He decides whatever wisp of an idea he had before isn’t worth it anyway.

“No problem.”

A flood of more students come out of the front doors: classes having ended in differing times. Suddenly, a billowing gust of blonde hair passes Dan, almost as if in slow motion. In the corner of his eye he sees Serena Van der Woodsen, quite possibly a walking, living angel, go hand-in-hand with Chuck Bass; a walking, living devil. He’s had an on-and-off again crush on Serena since freshman year. He forgets her until he sees her again. Dan has said as many as ten words to her, and knows she very well could be the love of his life. Well, not the love, but a love. It can’t be that special, though. Almost everyone in the school, hell the city, is in love with Serena Van der Woodsen.

Chuck leers at Luci and Fran “Oh, if it isn’t Constance High’s hottest new couple? Why don’t you kiss for me ladies?”

Serena only nudges him in the chest, giving back a soft, apologetic look behind her shoulder.

Blair comes out of nowhere, strutting past the couple, crossing right in front of their path. “Careful, Chuck. You wouldn’t want to look like you’re overcompensating for anything.” She holds up her pinky and smirks, leaving him speechless. 

Well, speechless except for two words. “Psycho bitch…”

Dan, and it seems Luci too, can’t help but laugh. Blair catches Dan in the act and rolls her eyes like he’s not allowed to indulge in her evisceration of Chuck. 

“See you later.” Luci says, finally getting an exit.

“Later?”

Carter, having materialized next to Dan, pats him on the shoulder. “My welcome home thing.”

“Oh, I don’t know…”

But he’s already walking away too, backwards. “7:00 at the Plaza. Ask for Carter okay?”

“Okay…”

Carter, like he owns the world, walks off without any hesitation or any sort of evidence he was even in school. None of these kids seem to bring backpacks. Maybe they don’t need to.

Dan exhales and drops down on his skateboard, beginning the long journey home.

 

***

 

When Blair gets home her nostrils are attacked by the smell of strong, lemon floor cleaner and empty air--appropriate for a completely empty house. 

Carefully, she takes off her heels (a stain the shape of a small island now gracing the fronts) and tip toes across the foyer, up the stairs. Finally in the comfort of her room, she crashes onto her bed, screaming into her pillow.

She considers calling Nate, even though they’ve already said their chaste goodbye for the day. She can only take so much conversation about soccer, and the weather, and worrisome family problems. Plus, she knows he would just tell her to “stay positive” or some other bullshit like that. She also knows, like everyone else on planet Earth it seems, he likes her cousin. He and Carter had been close before their small band of friends had broken up so abruptly. Nate probably couldn’t stand it to speak ill of him, however much he deserved it sometimes.

Her phone rings, the vintage one, which she got specifically got to make her room look more like a scene out of Pillow Talk. Only her mother calls it, so it’s become a source of anxiety.

“Hello, mother.”

“When were you going to tell me Carter’s back?”

Blair bites the inside of her cheek. “I...wasn’t.”

“Did you get soft while I was away? I thought you would at least attempt to lie.”

“I’ve had a very long day...” 

“That’s no excuse.” Her mother becomes distracted, and Blair hears the rustling of a cotton button up and the faint sound of Eleanor barking orders.

Then she’s back. "We’ll be making an appearance at his welcome home dinner tonight. Dress appropriately.”

“I always dress appropriately.” Blair rubs her temples. “And I would rather not go. I have so many things to do, especially with my campaign.”

“Everyone will be there. We have to support our family.”

Daddy’s family.”

Eleanor’s silent for a moment. She sighs. “He’s still your cousin. I’m not asking, Blair. I’ll send a car for you. Be ready by 6:40.”

The phone gives Blair a prompt dial tone. Her mother’s hung up, and Blair is left alone again with the incessant silence of a barren house.

 

***

 

Dan arrives back at the apartment earlier than normal despite the consistent rush hour(s) New York usually has. He collapses onto the couch, his school clothes sticking to him, and decides he’ll sleep through the weekend. Maybe an idea will come to him by Monday. 

He hears someone come in and lifts his hat from his eyes. It’s his dad, whistling happily, for the first time in a while, and carrying in an arm full of groceries. Jenny follows behind and gives Dan a quick “hey” before retreating to her bedroom with an arm full of new sewing material and fabrics.

“Hope you had a nice trip!” Rufus says, tossing Dan a water bottle, which he gulps down gratefully.

“So, am I looking at ‘regular ol’ Dan Humphrey’ or ‘editor-in-chief Dan Humphrey’?”

Dan rolls off the couch and leans against the counter as his dad packs away cans and containers of food.

“Regular ol’ Humphrey, I’m afraid.”

“Wow.” Rufus stops packing. “Sorry to hear that. What happened?”

“I’m a junior, I’m a scholarship kid, apparently I’m a bad writer, and…” Dan puts his head in his hands.

“Don’t beat yourself up. It’s not over until it’s over, right?”

Dan chuckles at his dad’s enthusiasm, something he sorely lacks. “Right.”

Sounds of metal falling and crashing onto the floor come from Jenny’s room.

“Did you buy her the whole store this time?”

Rufus continues to stuff things into the fridge. “Maybe. I want her to have everything she needs.”

“Correct if I’m wrong, but we’re kinda tight on money these days. Does she really need two-hundred dollars worth of fabric?”

“It wasn’t that much.” Rufus says into the fridge, grimacing. “I mean it was expensive but…”

“Dad--”

“I’m trying to make her life a little easier, okay?”

Dan wishes that sentiment includes him.

“Okay.”

“What are your plans for tonight?”

Dan rubs the back of his neck, a constant source of pain. “Uh...self loathing at 6:00 and then--”

“Come on, I’m serious.”

“I don’t know,” Dan shrugs. “Vanessa and Eli might come over to watch a movie.”

“Like they do every Friday night?”

His dad seems disappointed, which isn’t his usual attitude of existence. “We usually pick a new movie to watch.”

“Are you forgetting the three weeks in a row you watched ‘Spider-man’’?”

“I forgive myself for that, it’s an amazing movie--”

“Why don’t you go out?”

“We might hit the skate park...”

“No, I mean out . Don’t you get tired of doing the same thing all the time? You’re a teenager, these are the best years of your life!”

“I guess there’s a party we could…” Dan tilts his head. “Wait, are you trying to get me out of the apartment?”

Rufus’ eyes begin to wander as he bobs his head and takes out a bottle of Merlot from one of the brown shopping bags. 

“Wine? Dad, do you...do you have a date?”

“I--” Rufus cranes his neck around the corner to see if Jenny’s door is closed. It is. “Kind of.”

“Whoa.”

“It’s not a ‘date’ per say. I’m just catching up with an old friend.”

“Over wine? And…” Dan peeks into another one of the bags. “Candlelight?”

“Yep.”

Dan nods slowly.

“If you’re uncomfortable with this, I completely understand. I’ll cancel if you want.”

“No!” Dan exclaims quickly. “Don’t do that. I’m happy for you. It’s just…”

“What?”

Dan doesn’t want to say it, but he does anyway because they’ve been dancing around the subject for months now. 

“Mom’s really not coming back. Is she?”

Rufus deflates, he hangs his head low. “I don’t know.”

Dan just keeps nodding. 

Thankfully, his dad changes the subject. “You said there was a party tonight? And you were invited?”

“Um, yeah. Carter Baizen’s back in town, so of course people are throwing a parade.”

“Carter Baizen? Is that the kid who ran away from home to live in a van?”

“What--?”

“Jenny leaves her laptop open sometimes.”

Dan scoffs. “You shouldn’t let her read that crap.”

Rufus laughs at him. “Why don’t you go?”

“Because…” Dan examines, takes an apple and tosses it up in the air. “I will not be seduced by the dark side.”

“Hurt you it wouldn’t.” Rufus jokes, doing possibly the worst Yoda impression ever. “Bring Jenny!”

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

He tilts his head from side to side, apologetically. “...begging.”

Dan’s shoulders slump. “Fine.” 

He makes his short walk to Jenny’s room where she’s waiting with a dress on. 

“Do you--?”

“Yes!” She squeals into his ear and begins to jump up and down. “Oh my God you need to shower. You look like you live under a bridge.”

“You know, you’re not the first person to tell me that today…”





Chapter Text

***

 

They arrive at the Plaza by 7:05--not quite late and not quite unfashionable--to less of an intimate dinner and more of a stuffed-to-the-brim cocktail party. Adults guffaw in dark corners, dark and light bubbly liquid splashing from their cups, as their kids sneak by them to avoid the political conversations, and the juvenile cooing, and the age old question, “where are you going to college, dear?” As if all this hadn’t been predetermined years ago. Blair has a Yale sweatshirt tucked into her closet to prove it.

Her and her mother wait by the suite doors for a moment, before a swarm of Baizens usher them inside, handing them drinks and appetizers, praising their own parenting skills even though they have as much of an idea of what Carter’s been up to as Gossip Girl. Eleanor’s soft hand on Blair’s shoulder disappears into the batch of clucking, middle aged hens, and she’s left alone for a moment before Katie, Isabelle, and Roxy skip towards her. They’re drunk on bubbles, the ‘appropriate’ alcoholic drink for young girls, and they hand Blair the same ones so she’s not alone in her soberness. Blair takes the glass.

“This color is beautiful ,” Roxy gushes through hiccups, “But I did not expect you to be here.”

Isabelle agrees, blinking slowly. “Isn’t this, like, the enemy’s territory?”

Yes, it is, Blair thinks snidely. “Any good political opponent has to scope out her competition.” She sees Nate cross through the kitchen. “Plus, I need a drink.”

“Come on, we’re hanging out on the balcony.” Katie says, taking Blair’s hand.

 

***

 

“Stop it!” Jenny scolds, elbowing him in the ribs. Dan stops his fidgeting and resorts to biting his nails.

Vanessa snorts, still rifling through her camera bag. “He’s just nervous, Jen.”

“No I’m not.”

Jenny whines, “You’re acting like a five year old. It’s not like they’re teachers about to grade your test.”

“Pod people is what they are. And I don’t want you to be abducted, that’s all.”

“Okay...so first they were Sith lords, and now they’re pod people?”

Dan rests his head against the elevator’s wall. It feels like they’ve been on their way up to the Baizens’ suite for decades. 

“Evil takes many forms,” Dan replies simply.

“Just,” Jenny sighs, balling up her fist, then smoothing down her blue dress--the one Dan had called “a little much”. “Don’t embarrass me.”

“Don’t embarrass us !” Dan feigns offense, nudging Vanessa, and faking a ‘posh accent’. “We happen to be at the very pinnacle of society.”

Vanessa bursts out laughing. She squints her eyes before a fat, wide lense, panning her camera around the elevator. 

“Eli is gonna wet himself when he sees the footage from tonight.”

Dan furrows his brow. The phrasing isn’t ideal. “Is he?”

“Booze, plus rich babies, equals major documentarian interest. I’m thinking I’ll call this “The Trials of the Trust Fund”.

“Can’t be that interesting.”

The elevator doors open to a living room larger than Dan and Jenny’s apartment. He peers over at Jenny who’s already become smitten with the gold-trimmed walls, and diamond chandeliers, and just about every other architectural cliche that occupies the suite. Dan curses Carter for calling what he’s witnessing a welcome home “thing”. A “thing”, in Dan’s eyes; implies pizza, maybe a few balloons, a grocery store sheet cake with blue icing—ice cream if you’re lucky. Whatever it is Dan has walked into is called an “affair”, packed with tight-lipped socialites and canapés, the conversation less about Carter and more about the stocks; those annoying poor people on the streets...and the sting in their noses that comes from smelling people as common as Dan.

Jenny beams, glows even. “ You were saying ?”

Suddenly, he feels perfectly inadequate in his jean jacket. He would take it off but the black t-shirt beneath it says, “God is dead” which probably wouldn’t aid him in going unseen.

“Drinks?” Vanessa asks.

Jenny and Dan nod vigorously; Dan not quite sure if he likes that they’re on the same page.

As Vanessa leads the way, even though she too is completely lost in the sea of champagne and glitter, a large, warm hand claps Dan on the back. He seizes for a moment and then turns to see Carter, smiling back at him.

“You’re here!”

Dan looks around, not quite sure if he’s imagining the exchange.

“I guess I am.”

Vanessa opens her mouth, confused as Jenny tries to pull her along to something of more interest—something shinier maybe.

“Mind if I steal him for a second...?” Carter asks, flashing a smile that even Vanessa can’t resist.

“Vanessa--I’m Vanessa. Hi.” Dan’s never seen her this flustered, especially not over a guy. Carter nods happily, shaking her hand firmly like they’ve just made an opportunistic business deal. 

“Find us later, okay Dan?”

“Sure.” Dan nods. “Nothing but soda! Got it Jen?”

He sees the streak of Jenny’s small hand wave him off. Then they’re gone.

Carter ushers him deeper in the room. “I can’t believe you actually came. And you brought people!”

“Yeah, sorry about that. My sister really wanted to come. She likes all this.” Dan says, rolling his eyes up at the high ceilings, and then immediately regretting it, for fear that what he’s judging--as if it’s a lame, Disney World ride-- is where Carter comes from.

He only chuckles, thankfully. “No problem. These are so boring without crashers anyway.” 

He takes a swig of his drink and points to Vanessa, who’s filming a couple arguing quietly in the corner. 

“She your girlfriend?”

“Vanessa? No, no. I mean we tried dating when we were like fourteen, but we agreed it was like kissing a cousin. We’re just friends.”

Carter glances over his shoulder, looking at no one in particular.

“That’s cool too. We all need a solid wingwoman.”

The conversation seems to slope off there and Dan wants to take that as a cue to leave, but Carter catches on.

“So what was the deciding factor?”

“What?”

“For the party.” He runs his hand along his jawline, tilting his head into the light. “Were you convinced by my dashing looks?”

Dan swallows, laughs too, if it can escape him. 

“No...I mean they’re great looks but uh—“

Carter hands him a drink.

“Thanks.” Dan gazes into the liquid. It looks like it has glitter in it, and it’s red—like the kool aid Jenny’s probably drinking right now. 

“Honestly, my dad wanted to get us out of the house, out of the borough really. He’s got a ‘friend’ over.”

“Oh...well that’s always weird isn’t it?”

“Are your parents…?”

“Dad’s on his third wife now, mom’s on her first.”

“That’s intense, sorry.”

“It’s alright. I get about five Christmases and it keeps em’ distracted. Some people have hobbies, my parents have an extended line of ‘life’ partners.”

“Huh.”

“What about your dad? Do you know about this mystery woman?”

“No idea who she is, but as long as he’s happy.”

“You’re a better man than me!”

“I guess…” Dan shakes his head, laughing to himself. “Why’d you invite me to your uh...gala? I didn’t think you knew I existed. None of you do.”

“Ah come on, of course I did. I’ve been a big fan ever since you wrote that piece on ‘fashion fundamentals’.”

“Jesus Christ, that's embarrassing.” Dan’s head dips low. “It was supposed to come off as satire—“

“Breathe. It was hilarious, seriously.”

“Thanks.”

Dan notices he’s lost Carter’s attention when he nods to someone across the room.

“I’ll be right back.”

“You don’t have to—“ Carter’s gone, slipping his way through party-goers. “Sure.”

He forgives him almost immediately, because how could you not when in a sea of a million tides—more wealthy and well dressed than you—Carter Baizen offers to be your only, if not distracted, anchor.

***

 

After escaping yet another conversation about college (the old routine being, “I’ll be in Yale, Nate will be in Dartmouth, and I expect the promise ring within a few weeks) Blair dips back onto the balcony in the farthest corner to find her friends recounting a boating tale with Chuck Bass; the last person on Earth Blair wants to see.

“The dolphins were about this close to our face,” Chuck boasts, hovering his manicured hand right in front of his nose. “Serena screamed like a banshee--”

A prompt hush falls over the crowd with the mention of Serena, and Blair’s presence. She rolls her shoulders back and makes her way over to Nate, sitting on his lap.

“No, please continue. Tell us all about how you two wet yourselves at the sight of a sea creature.”

Chuck laughs into his cup, probably spiked with something--everyone’s is at this point. “I think I’ll go. You’ve sucked all the fun out of the room, like you suck everything.”

“Chuck.” Nate grimaces, as if he’s surprised it’s gone down this route.

“Give the mistress my best,” Blair says, smiling to seem unbothered.

“I’ll give her better than that.” Chuck leaves, bumping into Carter’s shoulder on the way out.

Carter stands in the door frame, chuckling awkwardly. “Well, I certainly didn’t invite him.”

Mumbles of “I don’t knows” sound around the half circle of a lounge chair they sit on. 

Blair feels the shakiness in her hands coming on, the sure sign of the anxiety attack she’s been fighting since morning. She gets up, kissing Nate on cheek with a chaste, “be right back”.

“Give me a cigarette,” She mutters to Carter as she goes through the door.

“Thought you quit, kid.”

Blair scoffs. “Only matters how I started, right?”

Carter reaches into his jacket and slaps it into Blair’s palm. “It’s the least I can do for the campaign.”

“Whatever.”

 

***

 

Dan is left alone for a sufficient enough amount of time to know Carter’s not coming back, or that he’s forgotten about his new, weird friend’s existence, which is also completely plausible. When he’s checked that Jenny and Vanessa are still together, Jenny chatting with some freshman boy with highlights about Chanel’s new coats, and Vanessa getting a wide shot of an empty wine bottle, he tries to find a quiet place to wait out their interest in all of this. He has a good imagination and half a joint from Eli; he figures that’ll be enough to waste some time. 

Somehow, Dan ends up outside in the alleyway between the Plaza and the building next door. For a fleeting moment, he understands the desire to be rich. Besides the obvious reasons being money, the view from this side of town is almost enough to make him cry. Although he’s made it inside, and had a glimpse at the glamor, he feels more outside than ever, looking up into the huge windows; dots of golden light above him. With the warm wind in his eyes, and the vast, ever-extending city before him, it all looks like a glossy painting.

Then he hears a whimper from around the corner, a frustrated grunt follows. Slowly he takes a step towards the sounds despite Vanessa’s voice in his head going, “never follow the noise, it says so in the movies.”

“Get away from me.” He sees Blair, her black, tulle dress billowing around her. She looks like a scorned housewife from the 50s, as angry as one too, with her pearls and cigarette hanging from between her long, french nails.

Chuck comes into view as Dan steps closer. “Adjust the attitude. I’m just trying to mend things between you and I.”

“I would rather shove a bacteria-infested icicle into my kidney. I would rather jump out of a plane with no parachute. I would rather wear jeggings .”

Dan almost laughs. She’s strong-willed, he’ll give her that. And jeggings are quite terrible.

“Fine. But if you keep running your mouth the way you have I’ll--”

She stands her ground, although she looks shaken. “You’ll what ? Are you going to throw your viagra-ridden, tiny penis at me?”

Angrily (he seems far too sensitive) Chuck grabs Blair’s wrist. The grip is tight, and although Dan never intervenes, he intervenes now and runs up to them, pushing Chuck back as hard as he can.

Chuck stumbles back, almost falling. “Who the fuck are you?”

Dan takes a breath, not sure what the coolest answer is.

“I’m simply a concerned citizen,” He glances at Blair. “You okay?”

Blair seems shocked herself, looking from him to Chuck, saying nothing.

“We’re having a private conversation.” He puts his focus back on Blair, practically licikng his chops. “Aren’t we, Blair?”

“I think you should talk to your doctor about that first. A viagra addiction is nothing to joke about.”

He hears Blair stifle a laugh behind him.

“Why don’t you just screw off?”

“Why don’t you just leave her alone. Your company can’t be that good if your counterpart would rather be jumping out of a plane.”

“Come talk to me when you’re not on your period,” Chuck spits to Blair, adjusting his collar like any bully in an 80s comedy would.

As he walks away Dan waves, yelling after him, “Many suffer from erectile dysfunction. You’re not alone!”

He turns back to Blair as she laughs incredulously, her cigarette hanging loosely from her red lips, unlit. She shuffles a hand through her purse.

Not sure what to do, or where to go, Dan does the next best thing.

“Need a light?”

She peers up at him, moving a mahogany curl from her face. After rolling her eyes, she nods. Dan takes out his lighter from his pocket, slightly embarrassed it’s decorated with flowers (it isn’t his), and runs his thumb down the spark wheel, pressing on the fork. As he gets closer he sees Blair’s lips aren’t only red in the light of the orange flame. They’re a little chapped, the lipstick peeling in the centers and wet, like she’s been chewing on them. As if a girl like her could ever be nervous.

“You know, you really shouldn’t smoke.”

“I don’t remember asking for your opinion.”

For some reason, Dan can’t stop. “My great uncle died from lung cancer, and my aunt--”

“So you just carry around a lighter for fun?”

“I--” She’s caught him, not that he cares. “I used to smoke. When I didn’t know any better.”

“And you think you do now?”

“Yeah,” Dan chuckles. “I thought it would help me lose weight.”

“It didn’t.” Her face falls a bit as she touches her knuckles to her pink cheek. “It doesn’t.”

“Who ever said fifteen year olds are smart?”

She stifles that laugh again, tightening her lips so they don’t stretch into a smile.

He figures he’s been staring too long. Dan begins to walk away.

“Humphrey.” Blair says quietly, as if she’s just recalled his name. He’s surprised she recalls it at all.

He turns, hands in his pocket. “Waldorf.”

“I suppose you think that show of male bravado means your debt is paid.”

Shit, Dan thinks. “It’s not?”

She goes to say something, but instead flicks the ash off her cigarette, and sighs. “Consider it void. I rather not see you again.”

“Thanks, I guess.” At the risk of being hit, Dan adds, “I probably wouldn’t have paid it anyway.”

“Then I suppose I’m a merciful bitch.”

Dan recalls the courtyard earlier today, the murmurs under Chuck’s breath. “That’s not--”

It seems Blair doesn’t want to talk to him anymore, but herself, a small pause in her speech. “I’m never going to win when everyone thinks I’m this ice queen.”

However much Dan wants to make fun of her efforts, student government as a whole, he finds himself just nodding slowly.

“I’ve been trying to become an editor for the newspaper, but I can’t seem to find a story that everyone likes.” She stares at him, her fiery brown eyes wide. He swallows. “I’m just saying...I know how you feel.”

Blair comes back from whatever daydream she was in. “We could not be more different. We live on completely different planets, different universes .”

So much for a moment of humanity. “Trust me, I’m well aware.”

“Everyone is.”

Blair turns away, because she thinks the sky deserves her attention more. Perhaps it does, being streaked with a purple and blue jeans color, sprinkled with what little stars you can see in a city. 

With her bare back turned, uncovered by her waterfall of hair, the odd freckle and goosebump showing itself to him, she looks less threatening, and a little cold. Dan gives her his jacket like he would a normal girl. But the gleam of her pearls and shimmering on her ears warn him she’s anything but, even when she takes it with a grateful, although disgusted, look on her face.

He walks towards the door.

“Wait.” Blair throws her cigarette away, extinguishing it with her heel. Great, she litters too. “I’ll walk with you.”

“Would you really stoop so low?”

“Don’t get too excited,” She says sharply, “I'd just rather not get stuck up here with the pigeons and hobos.”

Dan mutters, “I’m sure they wouldn’t be too excited about it either…”

They make it to the elevator, Dan refraining from screaming about the fact that he’ll have to take an awkward elevator ride yet again, when Vanessa and Jenny emerge from the door leading to the stairs, running at full speed.

“Come on!” Vanessa exclaims breathlessly, not stopping for a second.

“What? What happened?”

Jenny tugs on his sleeve desperately. “Vanessa got in a fight with some guy who looks like a cow--”

“A cow?”

Vanessa, halfway out the door, grins. “He was being a total perv, and he deserved it.”

“I think I know the type…” Blair sneers, pressing the button furiously. “Are these your...friends?”

“My sister, and my--”

“Dan, when they get down here that guy is going to tell a completely different story, so we need to go !” Vanessa urges.

“O-okay--!” Dan turns to Blair, who’s already stepped onto the elevator, the doors closing. He swears he sees her smirk, like she knows something he doesn’t. He hates that.

They run into the night, down the sidewalk, and as the air rushes over his arms, Dan remembers he’s given away his best jacket, which he’ll never get back. He’ll never hear from Blair Waldorf again.

 

***

 

Blair sinks against the back wall of the elevator, hoping the ride will be uninterrupted. She stretches her neck and realizes she’s still wearing Humphrey’s jacket, an item of clothing she never had any intention of wearing, not in a million years. Blair’s not sure what possessed her to take the jacket, but there’s no use in trying to return it now. She’s seen far too much of that boy anyway.

She runs her fingers over the fabric. It’s a pretty simple jacket with well-worn dark, denim and soft fabric on the inside--far too big for Blair, even too big for Dan who seems scrawny at best. It smells of old book pages, maple syrup--and somehow in a place with a great lack of trees--pine. Blair shifts and hears a crinkling in one the pockets, the one with a patch that says “are you nobody too?” and another one that’s a donut. She scoffs, and reaches a hand into the pocket, pulling out a ripped piece of notebook paper. On it, is a list-- story ideas, Blair assumes.

  • Op-ed on the ladies in the cafeteria?
  • Why are there less janitors than last year??
  • Correlation between depression and Chemistry classes.
  • Top 10 people who will cheat on the SATs this year. Trick question, it’s all the rich kids!
  • What’s up with that smell on the second floor?

Will Luci like any of these…? Probably not!

  • Blair Waldorf?

Most of the bullet points are crossed out with smeared ink, or accompanied with lude drawings and doodles. But, ‘Blair Waldorf’, right there at the bottom of the list; like an afterthought, remains untouched. 

Then, Blair remembers how often the student body consumes the newspaper, especially after Gossip Girl was banned in the halls; the teachers being on an anti-cyberbullying kick, how much it influences their perspectives. And how could they not vote for Blair after reading about her? Everyone only adores Carter because they read about him; consume his lavish lifestyle. What if they were reading about Blair? And what if she could control the story?

 

***

 

Dan walks into school like a zombie, again, completely exhausted from a weekend filled with Jenny incessantly imploring him to make friends with his classmates, so she can go to a party again, and full work shifts. Money’s tight since his dad and mom ‘temporarily broke up’, or separated, or whatever the fuck they were calling it now, so he’s picked up some shifts at the coffee shop down the street. It’s fine, he tells himself. Just exhausting

As he heads into the Newsroom, with no jacket and a notebook full of half-alright ideas, he sees the familiar bobbing of sherry-colored waves from the corner of his eye. Dan backs up by Luci’s office window and sees Blair, Blair Waldorf , sitting across from Luci, staring ahead primly. Her posture is irritatingly exceptional. Before he can hide, or even have a stint of confusion, Luci waves him in.

“Sorry I’m late…” He says, braving the two feet of space between him and Blair.

Luci clicks her pen and begins scribbling something down. “I’m not your mother, just get here on time.”

“Yep.”

“Sit.”

Dan listens and sits in the empty chair next to Blair. She hardly acknowledges him, however, her foot begins to bounce in it’s red heel.

Finishing whatever she’s writing, Luci looks up. “So, this is kind of unusual, but ask and you shall receive.”

“Are you kicking me out of the newspaper? Because I don’t think you can do that--”

“Shut up, Humphrey,” Blair mumbles.

“Hm. I can already tell this was a match made in heaven.” Luci slides the paper she’s been writing on over to him. “Your pitch has been approved.”

“My...what?”

“Your pitch. Your idea to do an editorial on Blair?” Luci furrows her brow. “Go grab some coffee dude.”

“I-I never…” Dan shifts uncomfortably in his seat. “Wait, editorial ?”

“Welcome to the one percent of the Daily St. 's. This will be a trial-run , to see how you’ll do next year.”

Dan laughs, shaking his head. “I don’t...um--”

“Don’t worry about the criticism you gave. It was well-deserved. I mean even I’ll admit we’ve run too many stories about Carter and his…’whereabouts’. This way we’ll level the playing field and cut off the conflict of interest. It’s a good idea Dan. Get me more.”

He glances at Blair who smiles sweetly, the smile of a snake about to eat its prey. 

Luci takes a stack of papers and rises, beginning to exit the room. “We’ll go over details and deadlines in the meeting in a sec. I’ll let you two talk first.”

She leaves, shutting the door, and gathering the rest of the team for a meeting outside around the bulletin board. Dan and Blair are alone.

Dan gets up and starts pacing the room. He hears Blair get up too and close the blinds.

“So--”

“No.”

She narrows her eyes. “ No ?”

“Yeah!” Dan runs a hand through his hair. “I mean, no. I’m saying no. My answer is--”

“Use your words . They’re an organized sequence of letters we use to communicate--”

He tries to swallow the boiling annoyance rising in his throat. No such luck. 

“Look, I know you’re used to everyone catering to your every whim, kind of like everyone else in this conceited school, but I am telling you, right now, that I will not be one of those people.”

“Are you done?”

“Sure.”

“I think you will be one of those people.” Dan turns, and Blair’s perched atop Luci’s desk, her legs crossed, her skirt riding up just enough for him to see the lace lining of the stockings that go to her thigh.

He grits his teeth. “Why is that?”

She plucks a folded piece of paper from her stocking. “Your other ideas are shit.”

“I--”

“And I’m not saying that because I happen to find your general demeanor gross and unkempt. I’m being completely objective when I say these will get you nowhere.”

“Is this how you get things? Degradation? I must say, it isn’t the best strategy...”

Blair rolls her eyes and hops down from the desk, stepping closer.

“I hate to admit it too, but we can help each other.”

Dan sighs. “I’m not convinced you’ve ever helped anyone in your life.”

That makes her sufficiently mad. She grabs her purse and swings it onto her shoulder.

“There’s a first time for everything, isn’t there?”

He stops her before she can storm off. “What do you want me to do? I’m not Gossip Girl. I don’t get the ‘inside scoop’ on people’s scandalous lives. Like you said, we live in different universes--”

“You’re a writer aren’t you? Just tell a good story.” Blair affirms. For once, her face softens, like she’s begging. But that can’t be right. 

Dan feels his shoulders slump as Blair leaves.

He says to himself, as he faces premature writer’s block.  “How the hell do I write a good story about Blair Waldorf?”

Chapter Text

***

Dan’s alarm clock is more peaceful now after having figured out how to switch the setting to ‘radio’. Yes, maybe he’ll end up a tad late--scratch a few more tardies onto his record--but at least the day doesn’t start with something resembling a fire drill. 

He rolls over for a moment, trying to savor the very last few seconds of sleep he can get before having to rush off to school.

Then, his phone rings. 

It’s an unknown number, from a city area code, but still unknown. He considers throwing it across the room, or simply declining, but he figures it might be the school calling about his lateness. He’s found ways to keep his dad as out of the academic loop as he can. As long as Dan gets good grades, it doesn’t really matter.

“Hello?”

“Humphrey--” Dan recognizes her shrill voice almost immediately, but he can’t be sure. “Ugh, you sound awful. Did you just get up?”

“Mmph,” is all he can manage before rubbing his eyes. “Who is this?”

“Take a wild guess,” Blair scoffs. “Meet me in the courtyard before first period.”

Numero sbagliato scusa… ” Dan figures his Italian classes have to be useful for something.

“What? I know this is your number, I got it from Luci--”

No hablo ingles.”

Blair's voice rises, irritation dripping in her tone. “ Muy convincente . Was it your intention to switch from Italian to Spanish, dumbass?”

“Um…” 

He resorts to making crackling, staticy noises with his mouth and then hangs up, making his first attempt to get up for the day.

“That seems settled.”

 

***

 

“Blair?”

“Urgh!” Uncomfortably, Blair adjusts herself on the stone table she sits on and continues to tap away into her phone. Humphrey’s hung up on her almost eight times now, and she’s promised herself he won’t see the light of day.

“Blair.”

She knows Nate needs her attention, but she can’t stop her fingers from flying across the keyboard. 

“Fucking, greasy, skater fuck...”

“Jesus, Blair!” Nate begins to go before Blair catches his arm, abandoning her phone, and draping her hands around his neck.

“Sorry, I'm sorry!” She does the sweetest, most innocent smile she can manage; the one Nate likes best. “I’m just getting pulled in so many directions right now. I need my campaign to be perfect.”

“It will be.” Nate’s face softens. “Will you come to my game this afternoon?”

“Absolutely. I’ll be the loud, obnoxious one handing out orange slices and terrible sports’ advice.”

He kisses her quickly, and then shoulders on his bag. “Good. I’ll see you later, okay?”

“Sandwich or wrap today?”

Nate’s already walking away, taking all the sunshine with him. “Um, I don’t know…”

“So sandwich?”

“You know me too well!” He calls over his shoulder, and then he’s gone.

Blair’s left feeling split in half. One side of her the loving, devoted soccer-mom of a girlfriend--the other completely resenting it.

It isn’t too long before Blair’s friends flock towards her after making sure they weren’t interrupting any morning, ‘couple’s bliss’ in the courtyard. Blair wouldn’t refer to it as bliss but more of a mandatory meeting (organized by her). They don’t need to know that, though.

Roxy bounces, her black curls going up and down. “I was in the bathroom and I heard Rita tell Hanna that Fran said you’re getting an article written about you.”

Blair relishes the attention, her captivated audience hanging off her every word. It’s a good distraction from, well, everything. They cluster closer together, making their own personal bubble within the bubble of Manhattan's richest children.

Blair arches an eyebrow, her lips turning upward. “It isn’t Vanity Fair, although I’m expecting that call any day now.”

“You’re practically a celebrity,” Isabelle affirms.

“No, ladies, I’m president.”

They continue to indulge in their girlish chit chat; Blair talking, her friends half understanding but still squealing with glee nevertheless. It’s a monotonous routine, maybe even vain, but it’s as it should be. Everything is just as it should be.

Then she sees Dan, slanted and unwashed Dan, breaking through the crowds of upstanding students like smeared ink. He runs into school, holding a folder covered in stickers and creases in front of his face. As if, Blair thinks. As if she wouldn’t recognize his grimy shoes and tight jeans and veiny hands that look catastrophic--broken even--compared to all the other boys’ hands in school.

“Hey!” Blair jumps down from her perch, picking up her bag.

Dan only glances over his shoulder, turning a corner with even more intensity.

“Get back here Humphrey!” With the least bit of gentleness, she pushes past the girls and runs (as much as she can in her shoes) after him.

 

***

Almost commending himself for his Olympian level speed, Dan begins to shove things into his locker with no method to it. He figures even if he brings his English textbook to Calculus he can catch up on some work while Ms. Stockson drones on about her most recent divorce, in the most metaphorical way possible, of course.

Then his locker slams shut, his fingers nearly caught in the crash. He turns and sees Blair, her large eyes merely dark lines now. She hasn’t even broken a sweat.

“I would say good morning but…” Dan unlocks his locker again. “You’re here.”

She slams the door shut once more, leaning against the wall. “And you’re late...”

“Very observant Ms. Waldorf.”

“Seeing as you look worse than the day before,” She tilts her head. The pearl earrings she wears make a small, irritating clicking sound. “I can’t assume it was because you spent extra time in the bathroom.”

“Nope…” Dan begins to put in his combination again.

“Unless,” Blair leans in, almost closer than Dan would expect her to and mutters, “You spent a lot of extra time in the bathroom.”

It takes him a moment to realize what she’s getting at. And then another moment to believe Blair Waldorf would make that joke.

“Don’t worry I hear it’s very common in frightened little boys such as yourself.”

Dan opens his locker for the last time, shedding his bag and stuffing it into the citadel of loose papers and books. He peers over at Blair as she intensely watches the stragglers in the hallways on their way to class.

“Yes, I’m terrified,” Dan gathers the last of his things and starts to head to second period, turning his back to Blair. “I’m shaking in my boots! Watch as I flee.”

“You’re in Stockson’s second period.” He hears Blair say. “You’re going the wrong way.”
Dan turns. “I’ll loop around.”

Blair doesn’t wait for him and begins to click her way down the hall. He groans and jogs to catch up with her.

“I’ll talk, you listen,” She declares lightly, with a stride that shouldn’t be so long for a person as small as her.

“If my ears can stand it,” Dan sighs.

It’s been half a day since that fateful event where Dan felt he was forced into working hard labor for Blair Waldorf, but he feels it ought to be longer. This isn’t what him--isn’t what he was set on doing with his writing. He wants to be Kurt Vonegut, viciously satirizing humanity or at least Hemmingway or Bronte, bringing people to tears with his prose. Now, Blair’s made him into some warped version of some tabloid writer who probably lives in his mom's basement in Michigan, writing against the stars, and then again, for the stars too. He can almost feel his hairline receding.

Blair interrupts his thought and takes out a pristine, leather blue notepad and hands it to Dan, almost as if it’s a gift—but the way in which she hands it to him (smacking it onto his chest) suggests it’s not.

“Ow.”

“So, we’ll have to align our schedules. I live a very, very busy life and...well I’m sure you need to get back to whatever hole you crawled out of sooner or later—“

Dan rolls his eyes. “Yes, the troll people will be wanting me back any day now.”

Blair stops abruptly, students needing to maneuver around them.

“Are you writing this down?”

“Your insults? No, but you know what, I think it’ll make for an interesting article.”

“What I’m saying , ignoramus.”

Dan can’t help but laugh. “I have never heard anyone unironically use that word in my life.”

Blair shrugs like she’s impressed with herself. They continue on to the stairwell. 

“I have a very extensive vocabulary. Get used to it. And get a pen!”

A girl, almost a carbon copy of Blair, but not quite (another minion, Dan guesses), passes with a huge cardboard and hands Blair a smaller box of buttons and pins. She begins to hand them to people they pass, interrupting the conversation with, “vote for Blair!”

“I don’t have one pen.”

“How are you a writer with no pen?! That’s your most basic requirement.”

“I borrow shit! I don’t spend my days feeding into consumerism--”

Another  girl with a bright purple backpack passes by quickly when Blair snatches one of her pens, replacing it with a button, and handing the pen to Dan. It's frilly and pink. The girl looks back with glossy eyes, but doesn’t protest, sprinting away.

“You didn’t have to traumatize some girl!”

“Vote for Blair!” She calls after the girl. Blair begins to climb the stairs, nodding Dan along. “Oh she’ll be fine . I used to sit behind her in French. She has like a million of these—pencils too. I think it’s compulsive, like proper hoarding .”

“That’s quite the diagnosis, doctor.”

“I know, I care about my constituents...write that down.”

Dan scribbles down “judgmental and nosey”.

They make it to the second floor, Blair still talking with hand gestures and pointing. “...Then after school if I don’t have debate team or Model UN, I go shopping with the girls--”

“Your minions?”

“My friends.”

“Right.”

“Then I go home for French tutoring, I’m very good, I just prefer to be ahead. I usually go to the gym after that unless it’s Monday or Friday. That’s when I have singing and piano lessons. On Saturday mornings I have brunch with Nate and my family…”

Blair pauses, like she’s realized something. As soon as the look on her face came, however, it vanished. “On Sundays I do volunteer work and then a short spa night.”

You do volunteer work?”

“Only the most well-rounded people get into college. You should let that simmer, Humphrey.” She turns a corner. “Obviously, this doesn’t cover the dinner parties, galas, and events I regularly attend, but I’ll keep you on a need-to-know basis.”

“This article will probably be a one time thing so…” Dan rocks back on his heels. “Feel free to keep me out of the loop.”

She tilts her head, smirks. “Won’t be a problem.”

They hold each other’s gaze a little too long before Dan notices they’ve reached Blair’s stop. He reaches over her head and opens the door for her to a class full of wide-eyed students.He and Blair together is probably a bizarre, Lovecraftian, sight. It is for him at least.

“Later.”

“You will be,” She whispers before slipping into the classroom, under his arm.

“Huh--?”

Over the intercom a voice bellows, “Dan Humphrey, report to room 210 immediately. You are late for class.”

Blair wags her fingers at him as he runs off.

 

***

 

Colliding with Serena is always the gloomy cloud over her afternoon, although it always seems to happen about the same time everyday. Serena, a gold tornado of clumsiness and daydreaming gets in her path as Blair walks to the cafe. 

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry.”

Without her friends with her, the trio being a turtle shell of sorts, Blair doesn’t feel up to talking to the blonde--her snarky insults always become lost when she’s alone.

“Just watch where you’re going.”

“Yeah, I got distracted. You know me.”

“No. I don’t.”

“Blair...can we please talk later?”

She begins to feel her blood boil, now ready to spew as many insults as she wants, when Serena’s mouth turns down--her perpetual smile broken. She isn’t looking at Blair anymore.

Carter walks over, almost sheepishly. “Hey, you two.”

“Hi.” Serena says, her voice dry and broken up now.

Blair bites the inside of her cheek, and steps in front of Carter before the two can close the gap between them.

“Buy me a sandwich? Mom hasn’t refilled my account yet.”

“Okay,” Carter says distractedly as he turns his attention to Blair. “Glad you’ve got an appetite.”

They leave Serena alone in the hallway, making their way towards the line of students awaiting their food. Blair feels her stomach do a sharp flip.

“Should you be seen with me?” Carter asks, nudging her on the shoulder.

“I was walking around with Dan Humphrey all morning. My reputation is irreparably tarnished by now.” 

“Dan Humphrey? I like him for you. It’s definitely an out-of-the-box choice…”

“What--? Ew, no. No . I’m still with Nate.” She swats at him, which he dodges. “Dan’s just writing an article on me. I hope you know you have some serious competition.” 

“Oh, joy.”

They step in line, Blair grabs a container from under the heat lamp. “What’s your plan here, Carter? Because I would love to hear it.”

“Oh, you know, graduate with a 4.0 and honors, go to the perfect school, not too far away from my perfect man of course, and live out the rest of my life in foggy, suburban bliss.”

“That’s my plan. A very watered down version of it but still...”

“My mistake.” He laughs. And then looks down. “I’m gonna get her back.”

“That would suggest you had her in the first place.” Blair quickly adds, “Not that she’s a thing to be won.”

“Can’t remember the last time you defended Serena. Maybe you two aren’t so doomed after all.”

“Please. If I didn’t see her every day she’d be dead to me. You should feel the same. Blood is stronger than boobs.”

“As a fan of boobs, I’d beg to differ.”

“You’re all the same. Disgusting pigs.”

“Come on, that’s not all I care about.” Carter leans against the counter. “She doesn’t love him, you know. Serena just clings onto the successful and upstanding act when she’s scared.”

“Chuck Bass is anything but ‘upstanding’.” Blair hisses. She feels nauseous as she waits for Carter to fish out money from his pocket.

He looks at her quizzically for a moment. “I agree.”

“I still don’t understand what running for president will accomplish.”

“I have to show her I’m willing to put in the effort. If she wants the starched collar, gold watch, class president guy, I’ll be that guy.”

“Your parents beg you to take school seriously and you flee to the Virgin Islands, but Serena Van der Woodsen snaps her fingers…”

“I’m sorry for what she did to you, I am, but I’m sure she regrets it. Don’t hate her for one mistake.”

“You can’t do that Carter.”

“Can’t do what?”

“Play for both teams.” Blair takes the sandwich from him, narrowing her eyes. “See you in the papers.”

 

***

 

Dan requires coffee, and although he usually spends his lunches in the Newsroom, he ventures outside of it’s bounds to the coffee cart. He sees Patrick and Nelly standing in front of it, bickering about some reality show.

“Shut up, you totally would! I would come out to my parents if it meant winning that much money.”

“I would not risk my integrity just to win that measly amount!” Nelly huffs, grabbing her order.

“Obviously, you’ve never been poor.” Patrick turns and sees Dan. “Hey, boss .”

“Boss?” Nelly’s mouth hangs open. “You got it?”

Dan smiles trying to not enjoy the spotlight too much. “Maybe. Luci’s giving me a test run. If my article does well you two may be looking at your new editor and chief.”

“Woah.” Nelly shakes her head, sipping her coffee. “It seems we have a competition on our hands.”

“No way. You?”

“Luci only talked to me yesterday. Sorry, Dan.”

“You don’t even want to go into writing. Don’t you wanna be a neurosurgeon?”

“I’d like to be in charge for once.”

“Oh come on, you’d crumble in a second. You hate confrontation and delegating.” Patrick elbows Dan. “You’ve got this, trust me.”

“Hey, what happened to undying love and support? I swear, sometimes it’s like you play for a different team.”

“You might want to rephrase that, Nelly.”

They all have a hardy, long laugh after that. It’s interrupted with a sustained whistle that comes from the steps.

It’s Blair, waving Dan over like a dog.

“Fuck me…” he mutters.

Patrick’s eyes turn to tennis balls as they bounce from Blair to Dan. “Is Blair Waldorf acknowledging your existence right now?”

“Which means, by association, she’s acknowledging us?” Nelly whispers, as if Blair has bat-level hearing.

“You guys are weird,” Dan says, arching an eyebrow at the ‘couple’.

“Dan, my funny friend, why is Constance Royalty daining to speak to you right now?”

“Oh, so their ‘royalty’ now? Last week they were the ‘one percent of the one percent’ and the week before they were a ‘pack of wolves’.”

“Powerful things go by many names.”

“Kanye West, Yeezy, Saint Pablo…” Nelly offers.

“Taylor Swift, T-Swizzle…”

“Interesting choice of examples--”

Patrick stomps his foot. “Explain already!”

“Humphrey, now!” Blair urges from afar, standing up.

“That,” Dan points to a confused, and angry, Blair. “Is my article, and my personal hell apparently.”

Patrick gasps. “Oh. My. God .”

“She’s waving at us. She’s still waving at us.” Nelly tugs on Patricks sweater. “Patrick, she’s waving at us, what do we do?”

“Nothing.” Patrick starts to giggle, and doesn’t stop. “It’s not us she wants.”

Dan exhales, shoving his hands in his pockets and staring at Blair, and her band of friends in all of the hair-flipping, fast-texting, designer brand-wearing, sticky, glossed up bubble. And he wants to run. But he doesn’t. Instead, he falls up the stairs.

After a short bout of awkward silence the group just above him bursts out in laughter. He only sees Blair smile into her cup of coffee.

Clearing his throat, Dan rises, dusting himself off. “I usually don’t make such a big entrance.”

“That’s too bad, we could always use a laugh.” Blair says lightly.

“Sorry, do you need to get by?” A guy with fawn hair who has his arm around Blair, shifts away.

“Nate, we just had a conversation.”

Dan vaguely remembers seeing him around school and running around the field that one semester he was forced to cover school sports.

Nate stares at Dan like that might make the conversation come back to him. It doesn’t. It instead makes Dan want to shrivel into a puddle of non-perceptible goo.

“This is Dan Humphrey. He’s writing my article.”

“My article,” Dan corrects as Blair grits her teeth. “Since I’m the one writing it.”

“Oh,” Nate finally catches on, extending his hand to Dan. “I’m all over the place. Nice to meet you.”

Before Dan can shake Nate’s hand Blair takes his and yanks him down to sit.

“We don’t have to wade through the niceties and the polite small talk. Humphrey is here to observe and that’s all. So, everyone, best behavior okay?”

Her other friends nod along while Nate focuses on his sandwich.

“Next time, and no pressure, but could you try to avoid mustard?”

Blair murmurs something like ‘sorry’ and kisses him on the cheek. It would be sweet if it wasn't so matronly, and jarring considering Blair is usually snarky at best. Dan writes that down. And then scratches it out.

Once the awkward silence has dissipated Blair's “friends” smile and shove each other over for Dan’s attention like he’s less of a human being and more of a shiny camera. He supposes he can’t complain. It’s the most attention he’s gotten from girls who aren’t Vanessa or Jenny in a while.

It’s like watching an animal planet, except the violent actions of hunting and being hunted are much more miniscule, harder to define and locate unless you look close enough. Luckily, Dan’s observant enough. He watches as Blair cuts Katie down, then builds her back up with advice and insults to the girl who’s won over her crush. He almost laughs out loud when Roxie and Penelope complain about how long the lecture went on for their Civics class, and Blair offers to have the teacher fired. Then she goes back around and chastises them for not making the most of a good school.

Then, there’s Nate. Who does nothing more than quietly eat his lunch, resembling those passive husbands Dan’s seen on TV. He laughs when everyone laughs, offers Blair affection when she asks for it, and puts up with the girly-evil Dan wouldn’t stand on any given day.

But he seems tired, as if putting up the facade of the perfect boyfriend is too exhausting. Couldn’t be that hard. His girlfriend gets his lunch for him, Dan thinks, shaking his head.

A few steps below other students start to excitedly murmur about beignets and macarons in the cafeteria and the group Dan sits with begins to get up to see if they score the last of the bunch before their next class hits.

“Let’s go.” Nate says, offering his hand to Blair. “Don’t you want macarons?”

Sweetly, a word Dan would never have used to describe something in relation to Blair, she shrugs. “Dorota cooked a full spread this morning. I told you that.”

Nate hesitates, but ultimately goes.

Dan and Blair are left alone on the steps of the Met watching the tourists and other pedestrians go by. It’s still warm, the east winds of summer making their way back to the ocean to make room for fall. Dan’s not sure how, but he’s forgotten to eat so he takes out his brown paper bag, pulling forth a white, cardboard Chinese food container.

As he swirls his chopstick around he glances up at Blair. “Are you not a desert-person? I wouldn’t put it past you to commit such a heinous crime.”

“Ugh,” Blair peers into Dan’s meal. “Will that be in my article? My taste in deserts?”

“Maybe.” Dan takes a bite. “At this point, that’s the most substantial anecdote I’ve got.”

“Close your mouth, you vulgar rat!”

“Did you just call me a rat ?” Dan chuckles.

“Yes, the kind that runs around in the sewers, bringing black plague and bad opinions.”

“I’m now fully convinced you’re a time traveler from the 1600s. Has anyone ever told you that?”

“No, usually the company I keep aren’t complete idiots.”

“I’d have to disagree. Katie is going to make an excellent star of a reality television show some day, though, so, who am I to judge?”

Blair flicks her eyes away, but remains. He sees the corner of her mouth twitch--fighting a smile again.

Dan takes out his tape recorder and begins recording on a new tape. He speaks into the microphone. “Blair Waldorf, Tuesday 12:00 pm EST.”

Blair narrows her eyes quizzically, but shifts closer, clasping her hands together.

“So, Blair, as you delve deeper into this historic campaign, there must be many important questions festering in your mind.”

“Festering?” She mouths, rolling her eyes. Blair readjusts and clears her throat. “I would say that yes. It’s always daunting when you’re trying to break the mold and take on so much responsibility. I don’t just question others but I question myself.”

“Questions like…” Dan nudges the tape recorder closer to her. “Why do you hate desserts? Who hurt you?”

“You’re asking the wrong question. The right one will be “who hurt you”?, which is what the doctors will ask when I rearrange your spine.”

Blair gathers her things and stomps down the steps. Dan follows her, throwing out his garbage on the way.

“Sounds fun--”

“I thought you would at least try to take this seriously.”

“Why? We don’t know each other.”

“You know I want to win. And you want to become editor and chief.”

Dan sighs. “Yeah.”

“Then stop acting like a child.”

“Fine.’ He takes out the blue notebook and clicks his pen. “How have the pressures of popularity affected you thus far?”

“Seriously? That’s what you’re going to start with?”

“Blair. This is me trying.”

“Fine….” They begin to walk back to school. “It hasn’t really affected me at all. Of course, I’ve had to maintain a certain level of responsibility, and people really look up to me.”

“I would assume so…” Dan mumbles to himself, and then notices Blair may actually have superhuman hearing. “Because of the gargantuan heels.”

“Only one of us here is qualified to give out fashion advice, Humphrey.”

“I--”

“And it isn’t you.”

“Fair enough. Shall we continue?”



***

 

The school day ends semi-peacefully--Blair saying a definite and final goodbye to Dan once he asks the few questions he prepared--and she looks forward to a short while alone. But, Nate comes by and takes her hand without a word. Although she feels a modicum of annoyance, having looked forward to a quiet night of studying and solitude, she doesn’t mind being swept away from time to time.

They visit her favorite coffee shop, go to their usual bench in Central Park, and talk about old stories from when everything was shrouded in innocence and dreams. It still can be, Blair reassures herself. It still can.

“You’ve probably seen this coming...you see everything coming.” Nate chuckles. He looks not, and a sheepish smile on his face.

“I’m not a wily fortune teller with crystals, but I may know what you’re talking about, yes.”

Nate nods his head. He still looks down as he reaches into his pocket, pulling out a diamond ring that could be visible from space. Blair has to squint in the light it reflects. It's a Harry-Winston. She can tell it’s already lived a full life.

Blair only hears her breath catch.

“My mom gave me my grandmother’s first engagement ring last year. And--” He takes Blair’s hand gingerly again. “I thought since we’ve survived so much together...why wait?”

Nate finally looks Blair in the eyes. They’re less full of love, even lust, and more pleading. It’s almost as if he pleads, begs, Blair to tell him that this is right, that this is what they want. 

For the first time in her life, for some strange reason, Blair doesn’t know either. But she has to. That’s who she is. Isn’t it?

“You haven't asked me yet.”

A well grows in her eyes as Nate asks, and the lump in her throat echoes back into her empty stomach.

 

***

 

“YO!”

Dan jumps, scrambling off his bed and yanking the headphones off his ears. Eli laughs from the corner, smashing the buttons of a Nintendo controller with his thumbs.

“Your dad’s calling you,” He says, staring into the blue screen before him.

“It’s probably Vanessa.” Dan smacks the top of Eli’s head before jogging to the kitchen.

His Dad stands under the warm light of the kitchen, anxiously sipping a glass of water in a gray suit.

“Who died?” Dan quips, grabbing a drink himself.

“Your sense of humor,” Rufus retorts before raising his hands. “I don’t mean to sound like Jenny, but you’re not wearing that to dinner, are you?”

“Dinner?”

As if on cue Jenny bounds into the kitchen wearing a yellow dress. Rufus gives her a short applause, which she bows and courtesies to.

“Thank you, thank you. It’s a JH original!”

Dan snorts. “ JH ?” 

“Shut up.” Jenny tilts her head. “You cannot wear that.”

“Was there a Saturday evening dress code I wasn’t made aware of? Cause I think I look exceptional.”

“You have frosting on your shirt!”

“I’m comfortable!”

Rufus puts his fingers to his temples. “We’re having dinner with my…” He glances at Jenny. “My old friend and her kids tonight. I told you about this.”

“Oh. That’s why the apartment is suspiciously clean.” Dan looks down at his own outfit and suddenly feels the crust under his eyes. “ Oh .”

“Yeah.” Jenny crosses her arms. “Have you just been in your room all day? Farting with Eli?”

No , I've been working. I have a ton of homework, something an art student wouldn’t understand…”

“Hey!”

“And this Blair article is going absolutely nowhere.”

“You--” Jenny’s eyes go wide. “Blair Waldorf? Like the daughter of Eleanor Waldorf?”

“You guys can talk about this later!” Rufus lightly pushes Dan towards the shower. “Tell Eli that if he doesn’t want to go home he can stay here, but he cannot eat all the food in the house like last time.”

“Got it!”

 

By the time Rufus’ “old friend” gets to the apartment, he’s gone off to change his outfit once again (he’s really never seen his dad this nervous), and Jenny’s primping. So Dan is left alone to answer the door in his very-recently tailored suit. He still doesn’t understand why they couldn’t have gone for pizza.

When he opens the door a stern looking blonde woman with a tight updo stares at him for a moment and then briskly walks in when he moves to the side. Behind her a short, shy boy with highlights follows and then…

Serena Van der Woodsen comes in--into Dan’s house. And he has no idea what to do or if this has anything to do with Blair Waldorf.

Chapter Text

 

***

Three forks lay on the left side of Dan and an excessive amount of knives and spoons lay to the right. He wonders if a battle will ensue, given all the cutlery made available.

No, there will be no fantastical battle taking place--just an awkward dinner with his dad’s “just a friend” who just happens to be one of the richest, generationally wealthy women in the United States. Dan once saw her in a 40-under-40 Forbes’ article at the dentist to which his dad reacted with a shrug and then a lap around the waiting room. Maybe that should’ve been a clue to all this.

“Daniel--?”

Dan realizes he’s been spaced out for the past five minutes, completely uninvolved in the conversation, and trying to ignore the fact that he’s sitting about five inches away from Serena Van der Woodsen.

He looks up to see four blonde people, plus his dad, staring at him.

“Hm?” Dan finally selects a fork, it’s the salad one he thinks. He decides to just start talking and hope for the best. “You know I’ve probably walked by this restaurant a million times and never went in…”

“Uh, son…”

He’s already on a nervous ramble--a runaway train that won’t stop. “It never seemed like a place I could go into. I mean, look at me, this is the nicest restaurant in Brooklyn and I’m dressed like I’m on my way to a bar mitzvah. This suit is actually from a bar mitzvah... Do you guys ever get the feeling you’re an alien, but no one’s ever told you, so now you’re just living in a sweaty skin suit, and that’s why you’re so itchy all the time--?”

Rufus sighs, laughing. “Lily only asked how school was going, Dan.”

“Oh!” He sticks his fork into his soup. Wrong utensil. “It’s good.”

“Good.” Lily says, trying her hardest to turn her puzzled frown into a smile. 

Jenny and Eric giggle together like they’re already best friends. And Serena...well she seems almost as checked out as Dan, her cheek to her fist.

“Lily, wait can I call you Lily?” Jenny asks, her hair bouncing.

“Yes, of course dear.” “Dear” as if she’s already taken his mom’s place.

Jenny sits back in her chair, playing with the napkin in her lap. “I’ve met almost all of my dad’s old friends. He even introduced me to a roadie he used to know from his first tour but…”

“He’s never mentioned you.” Dan finishes, before he remembers he’s supposed to keep the details of these circumstances from Jenny for a little while longer.

“Um,” Rufus looks at Lily and when she doesn’t say anything he just smiles, nudging her with his shoulder. “We’re very, very old friends.”

“Speak for yourself.” Lily retorts through sips of her wine.

“I’m still young at heart, alright? I can still bust a move.”

Jenny shakes her head. “Dad, no one says ‘bust a move’ anymore.”

“Yeah that died along with ‘whack’ and ‘cray’.” Eric offers, chuckling.

Rufus extends a hand to Lily, nodding towards the mahogany dance floor just below the balcony they sit on.

“Let’s show these kids how it’s done.”

Whatever high-society stoicness Lily carried seems to leave as she takes Rufus’ hand and lets him whisk her away. Jenny’s eyes carefully follow them. Dan’s eyes follow a chunk of carrot in his soup, floating around in a clockwise motion.

Jenny leans over, muttering in Dan’s ear, “Do you think mom knows her?”

“Wait, your dad’s married?” Serena suddenly looks very interested in the conversation.

“Y-wha--yeah.” Dan stammers looking from her to Jenny. “It’s complicated.”

“Not really.” Jenny scoffs. “Our mom’s just in Hudson right now.”

“Huh.” Serena inhales. “This is a new low for Lily.”

Dan clears his throat loudly. “Should we order dessert? I’m over this soup anyway.”

This seems to peak Serena’s interest. “Why not? It’s on them.” She points her fork towards the couples dancing. “I want the most expensive thing here.”

Dan feels himself start to sweat. “Uh...maybe not the most expensive.”

“Don’t worry so much. Lily will pay if you can’t. C’est la vie !”

Although that phrase induces a mountain-sized amount of stress in Dan, he lets her go ahead and order an entire spread of sweets. Because, yes, although he can’t talk to Serena, can’t see past her beauty, he can let her buy all of the diabetes-inducing shit on the menu.

Once there’s a significant amount of chocolate, macarons, cakes, and creams on their table they begin to dig in while Rufus and Lily seem to grow more enchanted with each other.

“This is awesome .” Jenny says through a mouthful of cake. “I hope this isn’t the last time we see you guys. And it’s not just because of the food.”

“Yeah,” Eric grins. “It’s cool to hang out with nice, normal people for a change.”

Jenny snorts. “Maybe I’m normal, but Dan? No way.”

“And proud of it,” he affirms, pushing a strawberry around his plate.

Jenny and Eric branch off into their own private conversation about belts and 5th avenue.

“I can’t believe you go to my school and we haven’t met until today.” Serena laughs. “Small world.”

“I’m pretty sure we’ve met. You were getting a cab with Blair once…”

Serena furrows her eyebrows like she can’t recall the event. This makes sense since she was drunk, or high, or perhaps just food-poisoned.

“Nevermind. It was probably someone else.”

“You know Blair? Are you two…?”

Once Dan realizes what she’s getting at he wants to throw himself off the balcony. “No. No, no, no . That would be...no. I hardly know Blair. I just have to write an article about her for the newspaper.”

“I’m sure she’s loving that.”

“I can’t tell.”

“You never can with her.” Serena leans forward, putting down her fork. “Well, good luck to you. I’ll be the first to read it.”

Although it’s an open-ended statement, the conversation seems to end there. Dan looks elsewhere and notices a sprig of faded, purple hair rush into the kitchen.

“I’ll be back,'' he says to a distracted Serena before walking after Luci.

When he arrives she’s writing furiously on a notepad while balancing an empty, blue container between her stomach and a shelf. Before it can fall, Dan catches it.

“Luci?”

She glances around herself. “No I’m not.”

“Uh…yeah you are.”

“How do you know?”

“I...I just do.”

“Okay Dan, touche.” Luci says plainly as she stacks plates into the container. “What’s up?”

“Not much. Do you work here?”

“Yes, try not to pat me on the back too much.” Luci rolls her eyes. “The pay is horrible.”

“But you live on the Upper East Side, wouldn’t it make more sense to get a job there?”

Luci stops stacking and stands there with her hand on her hip. “I’ll give you a second.”

Dan searches his brain and then realizes. “You’re the other scholarship kid?”

“Yeah.” Luci continues to walk deeper into the kitchen, leaving Dan to put the container on the shelf by himself. He goes to catch up with her.

“I thought I was the only one! Plus that freshman from Ecuador.”

“His name’s Carlos, he’s from Honduras.” Luci punches some numbers into a register. “And I’m sure there are a few others. People just don’t like to admit they’re on a free ride at Constance.”

“We won an impossible merit scholarship to a top tier school. How terrible.” Dan mumbles sarcastically.

Luci stops what she’s doing. “Those classist assholes don’t even tolerate the new-money kids. Imagine how much they abuse the ones without any money at all.”

“I don’t have to imagine.”

“Let’s not throw a pity party for ourselves just yet. We’re lucky. You, especially white boy.”

“I--”

“I don’t wanna hear it.”

Dan holds up his hands. “I was just gonna say I don’t know how you do it. The commute to school is shit, and I never get any sleep. I’m barely hanging on by a thread.”

“Women hide their stress much better than men. Remember that.”

“I’ll try.”

“So,” She begins violently ripping receipts out of the register, the totals at the bottom in triple and quadruple digits. It’s probably nothing to the people who eat there. “How’s that article coming along? The deadline is coming up.”

“Do you want an honest answer?”

“Is there any other kind?”

“I’ve only written a paragraph and it’s a rant about shoes.”

Luci stops her work and glares at Dan.

“I’m sorry?”

She continues to glare.

“I don’t know what to do! Blair Waldorf is impossible.”

“Please do not blame your laziness on her. If Barbara Walters can willingly interview Monica Lewinsky, you can cover Blair Waldorf.”

“That’s not even a fair comparison!”

“What is the issue? This should be an easy assignment.”

“I have nothing good to say about Blair. You know she’s a classist asshole too.”

“I also know there’s always something beneath the surface. The only thought that comforts me is this; no matter how much money a human being has, they can still have a really shitty day.”

“How wise.”

“To be an archeologist, dig deeper. To be a journalist-- to write-- you have to open the damn book.”

 

***

 

If Blair examines the ring anymore she thinks it’ll burn her eyes straight through, the sun reflecting rainbow light off it, so she slips it back onto her finger. She glances at the journal next to her--scribbled into it: “everything is as it should be” three times in neat handwriting.

“Everything is as it should be,” Blair reassures herself.

Eleanor calls her from the bottom of the stairs, yelling, “How much can one girl possibly spend on primping!”

“Coming!” Blair calls back, checking her reflection once more in the mirror.

 

When she comes down the stairs, Eleanor sniffs disapprovingly. “I thought we agreed on eggshell.”

“This is eggshell. Does color-blindness come with old age?”

“That’s practically cream my darling.”

“Mother.”

“Fine, fine. Let’s go.”

 

It’s been like pulling teeth to get her mother to finally attend one of the Archibalds’ brunches after the divorce was finalized. But today is different, a special occasion in business and family. An entire gazebo in the park has been reserved for the event.

 

Upon her arrival, Blair is pulled one way and her mother is pulled in another as usual, Eleanor making a sweeping gesture every so often to make sure everyone knows how well they’re doing despite it being somewhat of a lie. 

Before they sit down to eat, there are the usual pleasantries, and small talk, and bottomless mimosas that are supposed to be virgins but are more well-experienced drinks. Blair decides to wait for Nate with Roxie, chatting in the corner.

“Ugh. Who picked ‘white’ as the theme?” Roxie cackles.

Blair nods. “We might as well be dropping acid and drinking the Kool-Aid. Hasn’t Ann had enough controversies to last a lifetime? I mean, Olivia looks like the priestess.

Roxie not-so-discreetly looks over at a woman in a long, flowy maxi dress. She laughs even louder. 

“Sh!” Blair scolds, stifling her own laughs.

Penelope comes over. “Who are we laughing at?’

“Blair thinks Olivia looks like a cult leader,” Roxie blurts out, accepting a nudge from Blair.

“I only implied that. Roxie came to the conclusion on her own. I think her English tutoring is finally paying off.”

Penelope grins and looks over. Her grin quickly dissipates. “That’s not Olivia.”

“Yes it, I’d recognize that blonde ponytail anywhere! I’m the one who told her to start wearing it that way. It frames her face better--” Blair begins before ‘Olivia’ turns around.

It isn’t Olivia at all. It’s Serena.

“What. The--”

 

***

 

“Taxi!” Rufus blushes as another car zooms past. “Sorry, kids.”

“I think they’ll survive. The subway’s a few blocks over.” Dan laughs.

Rufus continues to stretch his hand outwards, trying to catch a cab for Lily, Serena, and Eric. 

While he continues his efforts, Lily pulls her coat around her. “I hope you all saw this as a fun night. I certainly did.”

Fun, isn’t exactly the word Dan would use to describe it. 

“It was quite successful really,” Lily adds, her eyes glossy. “We should do it again.”

“Sure, mom, maybe a few months from now--” Serena seems eager to go.

“Would you like to go to brunch with us?”

Rufus stops his stretching and huffing and turns slowly, like this is a surprise to him too. 

“Um,” Dan doesn’t know what to say.

His dad saves him. “There’s a great diner a few blocks from here. We can meet there--”

“Oh no, Rufus. I was thinking we would do something more... special. The Archibalds are throwing a celebratory brunch. I’d like you all to attend, with us.”

Serena’s eyes grow wide. “Mom, can we not do this now?”

“Serena, sh. They haven’t even given us an answer.”
Rufus’ face looks the slightest bit crestfallen, although Jenny looks ecstatic. 

“Dad, can we go? Imagine how cool a fancy brunch would be!”

“It’s not as great as it sounds.” Eric mutters.

“It seems premature Lily--” Rufus admits, rubbing his neck.

“Nonsense! It’s perfectly logical, and I think it would be a great opportunity for Dan to get to know more of his school friends.”

“I don’t need to--”

A cab finally pulls up to the curb. The Van der Woodsens begin to pile in.

“I’ll call you with all of the details,” Lily promises, giving Rufus a quick kiss on the cheek.

They drive off and Dan swears he can see Serena screaming at her mother from the back window.

 

***

Nate passes by with a plate full of canapes, which Blair takes and slams onto a nearby waiter’s tray. 

“Why is Serena here?”

His mouth is full, so his words come out like they’re flimsy and made of cotton. “Is she?”

“Do not play dumb with me.” She sticks her ring finger up. “Was this a ploy to butter me up, so you could invite her back into our lives?”

“What?” He swallows. “No. I wouldn’t do that.”

“Then go tell her to leave.”

“Blair, come on, that’s not necessary. I’m sure my mom invited Lily and she brought her along. It’s one brunch.”

“You can’t do this one thing for me?” Blair whispers sharply, noticing her friends are staring at them.

One thing?” Nate shakes his head like wants to argue the topic further. But he doesn’t. “Fine, I’ll tell her to go.”

As he walks away she hisses, “Try not to let your tongue get ‘lost’ down her throat again.”

Blair can’t stand by, feeling bile rise in her throat and watching the pair talk again, so she leaves briskly, escaping into the gardens.

She throws up by the lavender, hoping they'll mask the smell.

 

When Blair cleans herself up (she’s gotten good at packing adequate hygiene supplies for times like these in her purse) she walks back up to the gazebo and sees Dan leaning against the far side of the stone fence, plucking the flowers off a petal. In this place she swears he could be a Tim Burton character, who obviously didn’t understand the dress code in his blue sweater and khaki pants. His shoes are exactly the same as the last time she saw him.

 

“As if this day couldn’t get any worse.” Blair’s throat is scratchy, hollow, but she can’t let up. “What are you doing here?”

“Stalking you, obviously.” He doesn’t even glance her way. “Haven’t you heard? I’m into spoiled heiresses who hate me.”

She needs to sit, the dizziness starting to set in, but she holds herself up.

“I’m not an heiress. Although that doesn’t mean you’re not still a peasant.”

“Are you trying to self-cast yourself as Lady Macbeth? If so, well done.”

“Peasant is a mindset . And I take that as an honest compliment. She was devoted and strong-willed.” Blair snaps. 

He shrugs like she makes a good point. Then, he says, “Hm. I guess that’s what they’re calling attempted murder these days.”

“Keep that in mind, Humphrey.”

Dan laughs; a real, full laugh as if Blair is funny. “If you must know, I was actually invited.”

“By who?”

A waiter passes by and Dan plucks a drink from his tray, relishing in the non-chalantness of the action.

“Do the adults here just allow you to drink? Now, that’s privilege.”

Who , Humphrey?”

“A friend of my dad’s.”

“Who’s your dad’s friend?”

“I’m sure you don’t know them.”

“I know everyone .”

“So you have Oprah on speed dial?”

“No, but I can email her if you want an introduction.”

Dan chuckles and goes to say something else, but instead he looks up--right into her eyes. Suddenly Blair feels naked.

“Hey, are you alright?”

She straightens, clears her throat which lightly throbs with pain. “I would be better if you weren’t standing in front of me in what I can only describe as the ugliest sweater I’ve ever seen.”

“My grandfather gave me this sweater before he died.”

“Maybe he should’ve been buried with it.”

Dan laughs again, always having to get the last word in. “I’ll make sure to tell him to haunt you tonight.”

“I don’t fear the undead. Honestly the undead should fear me.” Blair almost feels herself smiling, but chalks it up to an upset stomach.

 

Out of nowhere, Serena storms up to her.

Dan’s eyes follow the blonde. “Serena?”

“Blair, this has to stop!” She says.

She returns back to reality, rotten and filled with Van der Woodsens. 

“What has to stop?” She steps closer. “Oh, I know! You telling yourself we actually believe that’s your God-given nose.”

“I am not playing your sick little games. We’ve been friends since we were in diapers. Even if you're not capable of this much evil.”

“You have no idea what I’m capable of.” Blair narrows her eyes. “Want to find out?”

Dan, appearing to be a little boy in the face of conflict, comes between them. “Can we just calm down?”

“My mom’s going to send me away,” Serena’s eyes well up with phantom tears. And then real ones. “Please don’t do this.”

“What did she do?” Dan turns to Serena. 

“I told Lily what her daughter got up to last summer. That’s all.”

Rapidly, Serena says to Dan, “I made a tiny mistake--”

“Sleeping with my boyfriend wasn’t a ‘tiny mistake'.” Blair snaps. She leans forward. “I told you not to come back. This is your own fault.”

 

When she catches Dan’s eye he looks disgusted with her. Fine. Good.

 

***

 

Chuck drives over like a dark knight in chinos to take Serena home. He says ‘home’ with a sneer, so Dan’s not sure she’s in the best hands, but she insists she is. Although his family wants to stay for brunch, Dan’s had enough of the Upper East Side, so he heads towards the subway. Back to Brooklyn he goes.

On his way, and he would hate if he had to admit it, he thinks of Blair. Cruel and complicated Blair, in her silky white dress and earrings that resemble glass grapes, still elude him. It seemed that as they were getting a second, a modicum, of semi-civil conversation it was scratched out by whatever petty griping she had--yet again. Dan can’t even call it petty, it’s well-deserved anger she has towards Serena. He wishes he had known she was going through so much before he had called her Lady Macbeth.

“Dan!”

Turning, Dan sees Carter in sunglasses, wearing that smile again and jogging towards him.

“Hey.”

“What are you doing here on a weekend? Don’t you live in Brooklyn?”

“Thankfully, yeah,” Dan chuckles. “I’m going home now. I was just at...a brunch. They all wore white like it was a Klan meeting.”

“Yikes. Climbing the social ladder, huh?”

“I would rather be a recluse. My dad’s friend invited us.”

“Ah.” Carter begins to walk with him. “Is this the mystery woman?”

“Yeah. Lily Van der Woodsen . Does that ring any bells?”

Carter nods knowingly. “It does. I know the Van der Woodsens very well.”

“That makes sense. How could you not?” Dan kicks some gravel with his shoe. ”I’ve had a really weird morning.”

They arrive at a cafe. “Can I buy you a sandwich?”

“Um, I should get home…”

Carter’s already walking into the restaurant. “Come on, it's still early. Can’t I buy my friend a sandwich? They make the best sandwiches here.”

“We’re friends?”

“Yes, come on!”

 

Dan almost feels like a gigolo the way Carter orders for both of them, and guesses right on Dan’s preferences. 

“So you’re a mustard guy?” Carter says, munching on a fry.

Dan, in food heaven, nods. “Sure.”

“I prefer ketchup.”

“That’s kinda plebian of you.” 

“‘Plebeian’? God, he is a writer.” Carter wipes his hands and leans forward like he has a secret. “What do you wanna do with your life Dan?”

“Get through it,” Dan jokes.

Carter laughs. “That’s not the answer I was expecting.”

“It’s a loaded question. Plus, I’m only seventeen.”

“My parents have had me on track or Dartmouth since I was four .” Carter says it in the most casual way possible.

“I would kill with my bare hands to go to Dartmouth.”

Carter snorts. “Should I be worried?”

“Nah, I don’t have the gonads to murder someone.”

“Never say never.” Carter smirks. Dan gets the slightest bit scared. “I could put in a good word for you with the dean of admissions. I’m deferring for a year.”

“You’d do that?” Dan sits back. “Why?”

Carter shrugs. “Call me a patron of the arts, I guess.”

“Thanks. Seriously.”

“No problem. My connections have gotta be worth something.” Carter leans back and gulps down his soda. He sets it down and looks out the window. “How’s that editorial going?”

“You--?”

“Luci keeps me updated. She’s got a soft spot for burnouts.” He quickly adds, “Don’t tell her I said that.”

“I have no idea what I’m doing, honestly. I feel bad for her, but writing about Blair has been like sticking my hand in a lion’s cage.”

“Lions aren’t meant to be caged, man.”

Dan rolls his eyes. “You seniors just have a way with words.”

“It’s that extra year of life that does it,” Carter laughs. “Is she giving you a hard time?”

“It’s not just me. It’s everyone. I mean, Blair’s ruthless. She lives by the most rigid schedule I’ve ever seen, she insults me like it’s as natural as breathing, she’s spoiled rotten, and she's cruel . Today, for example, I had to be present for a fight between her and Serena. And Blair basically turned into a Satanic version of herself.”

“Well when those two fight it can get nuclear. Especially now.”

“Can I ask what happened?”

“It’s pretty simple. Serena slept with Nate. She left for a while, and when she came back Blair vowed to make her life a living hell. She’s usually one to keep her promises. When Serena first came back she had her friends put Nair in her conditioner bottles, and then when that didn’t work, she spread a rumor that Serena was sleeping with Mr. Castello.”

“Oh yeah...I remember that.” Dan shakes his head. “Jesus. That’s intense. I know Serena messed up, but it can’t be worth all that retribution.”

“The thing you’ve gotta understand is that Blair always needs something to do. It’s been like that since we were kids.”

“And you would know that how…?”

“Dude, she’s my cousin.”

“Hm.” Dan’s eyes grow large. “I’m starting to regret most, to all, of this conversation.”

“Don’t worry. We haven’t been too fond of each other since my uncle and her mom split. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s just running for class president so I don’t win.”

“Wait. She’s doing all of this over a petty vendetta?”

Dan feels his face turn red. He could’ve been doing better with his time than exacting a revenge plan that isn’t even his.

“That’s how it is with her. Some people need food to fuel them. Blair needs competition, rage .’

“Huh.” Dan’s fists clench over his napkin. “I might be willing to oblige.”

“What are you gonna do?” Carter’s mouth spreads to a half smile.

Dan smirks. “Write a good story.”

 

***

 

“We want to thank all of you for your donations. I know we’re usually all business, but this network of business partners, collaborators, and co-workers is truly a family.”

Ann Archibald flashes her perfectly white teeth for the camera as her husband cuts the ribbon before the fountain they’ve built for her latest passion project. A light applause sounds throughout the crowd as Blair is ushered forward towards Nate; another photo-op. He smells of sunscreen and lilacs. Serena’s perfume.

Blair smiles for the camera and lets Nate take her hand with the ring on it.

 

***

“Hey, speak of the devil.” Carter points the television in the corner of the room. It’s news coverage of the brunch of hell Dan’s just attended.

He turns, narrowing his eyes. “Is that an engagement ring?”

Chapter Text

Content Warning: Depictions of ED

***

Dan finishes the article at two in the morning once he’s sucked down his last cup of coffee and his fingers feel like they’re about to fall off.

As he prints out a draft for first reviews, he hears his dad come in and walk to his room, shutting the door. Jenny knocks softly on Dan’s door not long after.

Dan rubs his eyes. “Enter.”

Jenny tip toes in with a blanket wrapped around her and bunny slippers on her feet as if they’re five again. She sits on the corner of his bed.

“Dad got in late, huh?” She whispers.

“I’m sure the gig just ran long.” Dan assures her, yanking his work from the old printer by his desk.

“You’re probably right.” Jenny pulls her blanket around her tightly. “Mom didn’t call me today. Or yesterday.”

Dan swallows the tired lump in his throat. He’s too exhausted to talk. “Yeah, well, she hasn’t called me in two weeks.”

As he goes to swivel back to his desk he hears Jenny sniff and turns around. Dan sits next to her and lets his sister rest her head on his shoulder, putting an arm around her.

“Hey, don’t cry, alright?”

She sniffs again. “I’m not.”

“Mom is just taking some time to herself. You know how it goes. But, soon she’ll walk through the door, and give us a big hug, and dad will make her his world-famous, charred waffles.” Dan’s not sure who he’s reassuring anymore, Jenny or himself, but Jenny laughs.

“Yeah…” She wipes her nose. “I just miss her a lot.”

“Me too,” Dan says into her hair. “But, look at me.”

Jenny looks up.

“Everything will be okay. I promise .”

She nods and points at the papers in Dan’s hand. “What’s that?”

“Oh,” Dan folds the paper and shrugs. “An article. I mean...nothing...”

Jenny grabs it despite Dan’s efforts and begins to skim through it. “Whoa.”

“Give it back, gremlin.”

“This is harsh, even for you.”

“I’m not harsh. I’m honest.”

“You sound like...” she begins to read straight from the paper. “The ‘sniveling prim donna’ herself.”

Dan is finally able to steal the paper back. He begins to push Jenny out. “Go to bed.”

She sticks her tongue out. “Night, mom .”

Dan closes the door and sinks down onto the carpet. “I might as well be.”

 

***

Checking her watch, Blair affirms once again it is indeed three days till her article drops, quite possibly changing her life forever. Well, one facet of her life.

“Step up and get your homecoming tickets!” Katie bellows through a rolled up piece of paper.

“Katie calm down, this isn’t a carnival. You’re not Orville Redenbacher.” Blair scolds, and then murmurs, “Besides the mustache…”

Isabelle giggles and continues to sell tickets as Blair plays usher to the long lines of students in front of their table in the courtyard.

“How many have I sold?” Blair asks, peering into the cash box.

“A lot.” Katie furrows her eyebrows. “What’s the money for again?”

“Rain showers and ring lights in the girls’ locker rooms.”

Her friends give the appropriate amount of “oohs” before going back to selling.

“I’m amazing, I know.” 

Serena walks up to them, looking like she’s discovered some new sense of confidence, with one of the girls from the cheer squad.

“Hi.” She glares straight through Blair. “Four tickets please.”

Blair only has to look at Penelope for her to close the box and fold her hands over it.

“I am so sorry. It seems we’ve sold out.” Blair gives up a tight smile.

“Have you?” Serena nods to the cluster of tickets sitting beneath Penelope’s elbow.

Blair rolls her eyes and slowly picks up the tickets. She drops them on the floor in front of Serena. The girl from the cheer squad picks them up quickly. Blair and Serena stare each other down.

Serena tosses a few bills onto the table. “Keep the change, ladies.”

Blair watches carefully as Serena and her long, giraffe legs strut away. She runs into Dan and hands him one of the tickets. And Blair’s blood boils even more.

 

***

 

Dan gets to English early, sitting in his usual seat by the window; all the way in the back corner of the room. He drops the Homecoming ticket Serena’s just given him into his bag, with no intention of using it. He knows she only bought it for him out of embarrassment after having been seen in the crossfires with Blair. Although, this may be his perfect opening. But then again, Chuck exists and more importantly, his dad is dating her mom. So, yeah, Dan thinks; “no”.

Having forgotten about every other assignment, in favor of the article, he begins to speed read through the chapters of Pride and Prejudice he hasn’t looked through at least three times. 

Patrick slumps down next to him, eating an apple, and groaning.

“I didn't get any sleep last night.”

Dan flips a page. “Mm.”

“I was up all night…” Patrick notices Dan’s disinterest. “Frying frog legs and doing Molly with my great grandmother, after we resurrected her.”

“Uh huh…”

“God, I guess I’ll leave you alone then.”

“Hm?” Dan puts down his book for a moment. “Sorry, sorry. I didn’t do any school shit. I was working and then--”

“Me neither. A friend and I went to this club in Soho. I would’ve invited you but--”

“I’m not gay?”

“You’re not sociable .”

“Jury’s still out on the other thing?”

Patrick laughs and puts his hands up. “Hey, you said it, not me.”

“It’s fine. I was busy anyway…”

Dan sees Blair march in with purpose, without hesitation, in a blue blazer and knee-high socks. He feels his stomach drop into his balls. She walks up to Patrick.

“Patrick? I’m Blair,” she says, extending her manicured hand.

Patrick’s mouth hangs open before Dan pokes his chin to close it.  “I love your outfit.”

“I love yours.” Blair actually smiles, but the kindness of the gesture disappears when she points to the empty desk nearby and moves Patrick’s things. “You’ll sit there today.”

Before Dan can protest, Patrick just nods and mindlessly moves to the desk across from them. Blair lightly sits down and crosses her legs, placing her stuff in front of her. Her hand, her diamond ring adorned hand, rests atop a pile of books and journals. She doesn’t look at Dan.

“Uh,” Dan arches his brow. “Hi?”

The teacher comes in and begins to circle around the room, collecting last night’s homework.

Blair pulls hers out of a sleek folder. “How’s my article coming along?”

My article is well under way. And you didn’t have to kick Patrick out of his seat to ask me that.”

“I don’t think he minds.” She flutters her fingers at Patrick, who stares at them and then abruptly turns around and whispers something to the girl next to him. “Isn’t the deadline coming soon?”

Dan rolls his eyes and crosses his arms. “You’re truly a connoisseur of conversation, Blair.”

“Yes, I am.” 

Dr. Castello walks closer and Dan remembers the paper he most definitely did not write last night. Blair examines his face quizzically as he starts scribbling down something, anything to hand in.

“Thank you Blair. I can’t wait to see what male character you’ll blindly eviscerate this week.” 

Blair straightens, sucking her teeth. “Well--”

Dr. Castello puts up his hand simply and looks at Dan. “Mr. Humphrey? Your paper?”

Although he’s not too fond of Blair he’s not any fonder of the old dinosaur before him. Dan’s knee bounces.

“Why shouldn’t Blair eviscerate any male characters she comes across?”

“We can talk about this in the class discussion, Daniel.”

And here he goes again. “We are so entrenched in this patriarchy that men practicing basic human decency are seen as revolutionary, brave even. They’re not. Men need to be criticized or we’ll become complacent--”

“Mr. Humphrey that is quite enough…”

“We’ll regress! And old men will continue to think they can reprimand young girls for having their own opinions.”

 

***

“I’m sure the Headmaster would love to hear your take during lunch,” Dr. Castello sharply says, his hand still extended for the paper.

Blair smiles and stares at Dan. He looks pleased with himself if not totally nervous as he continues to pretend to look through his backpack for a paper that Blair’s sure doesn’t exist. The purple crescents beneath his eyes carry rapidly moving eyes, as if he hasn’t slept since last year.

 She mentally kicks herself as she takes out the second paper she decided to write, a polar thesis to counteract her first one, (just in case Castello gives her shit again, which he does) and hands it to the old man.

“My apologies, Dr. Castello. I was reading Dan’s paper before class began. He’s not completely boneheaded it seems.”

Dan’s shoulders slump as Dr. Castello walks back to the chalkboard with a faint grumble.

“I’m not thanking you, that was basically cheating.” Dan whispers as the lecture begins. 

“Fine.” Blair replies softly, clicking her pen. 

“This is not the part where I thank you and we become zany, unlikely friends.”

“I wouldn’t want it to be,” she hisses, opening her notebook. “However, you’re welcome Humphrey.”

She hears him murmur, “thanks, Waldorf” as he leans forward, his elbow touching hers.

 

***

Class ends and students pour out into the hallway. Dan can’t shake Blair, although he doesn’t feel the overwhelming need to as he usually does.

The knot in his stomach remains.

“Blair, the article--”

“Since when do you talk to Serena Van der Woodsen? Isn’t she like God to you?”

It’s so out of left field, Dan stops mid-step. “You don’t talk to God? That soils the ‘holier than thou’ act, doesn’t it?”

“Not holier, just... better. Although He and I are on quite good terms. I’d be willing to ask for a new pair of shoes to replace those monstrosities.” Blair flips her curls from her shoulder and steps in Dan’s path. He catches a whiff of vanilla and lavender; overpowering, but strangely warm. 

“I’ll wait for another divine entity to come along. Like, Santa Clause,” Dan quips, drumming his fingers against his books. “You’ve made it very clear you don’t want to be friends. Why so interested in my social life?”

“To have a social life you have to be social.”

“Why does everyone think I’m not social? I’m social!”

“Keep telling yourself that, creature.” Blair fidgets, flicking her eyes away from Dan’s. “Look, I just don’t need you getting distracted by blonde bimbos. There’s one available everywhere, even at your nearest ‘ToyRus’.”

Dan almost laughs, but doesn’t. “Is that all she is to you? It’s kind of objectifying.”

“Leave feminism up to me, Humphrey, you seem to merely stumble your way through it.” Blair chuckles, looks away, then sighs. “I think it would be good to set up a small photo shoot to accompany the article. Talk to Luci, we can do it at homecoming tomorrow night.”

“I’m not going--”

She taps her book to his shoulder and heads up the north hall to her next class without another word.

Dan exhales and turns the corner into the Newsroom. Luci sits at the big conference table in the center of the room. While she marks up an article Fran lounges on another chair, her legs draped over Luci’s.

“Yo,” Luci says without turning. “Hand it over.”

Dan clutches his article in his sweaty hand.

“Hi Dan,” Fran giggles, slurping up some Ramen noodles.

“Hey.” Dan slides the paper towards Luci, the last word he sees reads “a dictator of taste.” “It’s not perfect. I took some creative liberties.”

“That’s fine,” Luci says distractedly. “Put it in Henry’s folder, he’ll scan and review it tonight. I’m still trying to get through Nelly’s piece about...tai-chi in the park?”

“Sounds good.” Dan slips his papers into the folder, then immediately regrets it. “Maybe I should take another look at it.”

“Dan, we’re going to print and publish next week. There’s no time.”

“I’m sure it’s great ,” Fran reassures him.

“Don’t comfort insecure men, baby.”

“Sorry,” Fran purses her lips. “I’m sure it’s adequate.”

“Okay.” Dan shoves his hands in his pockets.

Luci finally turns. “Did you...need something?”

“Oh! Nope. I actually have to go to the headmaster’s office.” Dan begins to leave.

“Hm.” Luci laughs.

“What?”

“That visit better be for a misdemeanor,” She leans back. “Don’t let me down, Dan.”

 

***

Blair forgets she’s left her favorite crystal pen in her locker, so she sprints back to get it. She passes by the Newsroom on the way and sees Dan and Luci talking. She watches as Dan drops a substantial number of papers into a manila folder.

The article is done ?

 

***

 

Dan feels something cold and sticky run onto his hand. When he comes back from his head, the plastic glove he wears is covered in pink smoothie.

Shit .” He shakes his hand, flicking the liquid onto the floor, and goes to get a rag to clean it up.

Eli, comes in through the back with a crate of artisanal coffee (it’s just coffee) and drops it next to Dan. He scratches his neck.

“Where’s your head these days, man?”

“I’m cleaning it up, okay?”

“Better be.” He begins to unpack the crate. “What do you wanna do tonight?”

“Sleep.”

“That’s it?”

“Yep. I don’t have time for much else.”

“It’s Friday.”

“Fridays are just as mundane and void as any other day.”

“Ow. My heart.”

Dan feels bad, but he’s tired so it doesn’t last for too long. Once he’s cleaned up the mess and gotten his customer a replacement, he helps Eli unpack.

“Sorry. I’m just feeling...slimy...right now, that’s all.”

“Well, tell me all about it.” Eli pulls up a stool. “The doctor’s in.”

Dan snorts and continues. “You just don’t wanna work.”

“Do you see any customers?” Eli waves his hand around the mostly empty shop. “And yes.”

“Okay.” Dan gets the clipboard and begins the inventory. Their boss, Radisson, is a hippie-turned-hipster, but he can get mean--downright cruel--if they don’t finish everything. “You remember that girl I was telling you about? Blair?”

“Article girl? I love article girl. You haven’t shut up about her.” Eli grins.

“Stop that.”

“Stop what?”

“That look on your face, it’s creeping me out.”

“Just talk.” Eli slides his glasses down his dark nose. “I have many patients.”

“I finished the article.”

“Nice! What’s the problem? Is it bad?”

“No, I think it’s good. Too good.”

“Okay…”

Dan winces. “It’s basically a smear piece.” 

Eli claps his hands together and laughs. “There it is! You feel bad because now you’re a bully.”

“I’m not! I wrote what I saw,” Dan exclaims before rubbing his temples. “But what I saw might’ve been an intrusion.”

“Intrusion?”

“She’s wrapped in these dark, tangled situations that seemed more interesting than the surface at the time. But now…”

“Jesus, Dan.”

“I know!” Dan collapses onto the front counter by the register dramatically. “What do I do?”

“You take it back before it’s too late.”

“Too late for what?”

“I don’t know. You tell me.”

Dan groans and throws a rag at Eli. His friend just laughs and attends to the customer that walks in. Dan reaches into his pocket and pulls out the Homecoming ticket.

“Hey, Eli?”

Eli takes down an order, distracted. “Hm?”

“Wanna go to Homecoming with me?”

 

***

 

The theme is almost nonexistent after letting Katie and Isabelle take a bit more responsibility in planning the dance. It’s Starry Night, the most basic of all themes, but Blair admits it’s pretty because she doesn’t have much in her to rant after not eating all day.

Nate pulls her to a corner when they arrive, before they can bask in their adoring fans. Although it annoys Blair, she smiles like it’s a quick lovers’ rendezvous, a meeting to kiss rather than fight. The lies are the places she actually likes to live in.

“I feel like we haven’t gotten a moment alone,” Nate murmurs.

“We were alone last night,” Blair purrs in his ear, hoping it’ll distract him.

He chuckles, a polite accommodation, and takes a half-step back. “I meant to talk.”

Blair bites the inside of her cheek. “I didn’t know you were so interested in talking .”

“I’ve hurt you in the past, and I’m sorry. But it won’t happen again.”

“You’ve told me that Nate. We’re good...” She puts her hands on his neck like she would a life raft.

“Then why are you still going after Serena? I hurt you just as much as she did.”

“Are you defending her right now...?” 

“No--I’m just saying--”

“...Because Serena is not a part of the plan. She never was.”

“Blair, what plan?” His eyes are wide, foggy almost.

“I love you , Nate. Always have, always will. That is the...”

From the corner of her eye, Blair sees Dan jog into the school and turn a corner, walking down the hallway. He goes in the direction of the Newsroom.

“...plan.”

 

***

 

Dan comes in his work clothes, his apron still tied to his waist. Eli comes in a Hawaiian, floral button-up that he just happened to have in his bag.

As he rushes down the hallway, he sees Serena sitting on the East stairwell with a few girls. Dan hears Chuck’s voice below and notices white smoke billows up through the bannisters.

Dan !” Serena stands shakily and embraces him. The stench of tequila burns his nostrils. “I’m glad you came. Look guys, our club is growing!”

The girls behind her giggle and shoot Dan a suspicious look, like he’s a funny joke that doesn’t land well.

“Um, thank you for the ticket.”

“Ticket?” Serena hiccups. “Oh! The ticket, yeah. We’ll be siblings soon, so it’s the least I can do.”

“What--?”

“Who’s your friend?” Serena offers a limp hand to Eli. He shakes her finger.

“My name is Eli. Did you just fall on your face?”

“Huh?”

“Because I’m sure it was from heaven.”

Dan sighs. “I think you said that wrong dude.” 

Although she’s confused, Serena smiles. “Oh...wow.”

Dan tries to speak quickly. “I can’t stay long. I just came to grab something--”
Dan . Stay,” Serene pouts. “Dance with me.”

“I…” He looks from the empty hallways to Serena. “I have to go. But Eli will dance with you.”

Dan begins to work in the Newsroom, hearing Serena drunkenly go, “O-oh okay?”

 

***

Blair abandons Nate. Despite his face falling slightly as she leaves, he jumps back almost immediately, being whisked away by his friends from the soccer team.

Picking up her dress, Blair storms the halls, rampaging through the Newsroom. The curiosity has been killing her since seeing Dan file the article away. This could very well change the entire trajectory of the election--for the better. She can’t wait until it’s time to vote.

Blair flips through drawers, sneaks her hands into locked cabinets until she sees a few piles in the middle of the room--black containers that say “to review”. She finally lands on the manila folder, more crumpled than the others of course, labeled “Dan Humphrey”. And Blair begins to read.

 

***

Not being able to find the file where he left it, Dan begins to tear the Newsroom apart when he sees a flash of red tulle run across the courtyard. It’s Blair, with his article in her hand.

 

Dan finds her pacing by the pool next to the gymnasium, the water reflecting blue waves onto her rosy skin. She looks angry, redder than the dress she wears, as her eyes bounce about the words.

“Blair,” Dan says, not having much else to offer.

She rips her attention from the article. Her nostrils are flared, and if her hair was perfectly quaffed, if her lips weren’t painted with acute precision, she would look like a mad woman.

“This is not what I meant when I said, ‘write a good story’.” She says slowly, gripping onto the manila folder.

“Is the grammar really that awful?” Dan jokes, and then immediately regrets it.

She doesn’t laugh. “You’ve somehow managed to portray me worse than Gossip Girl. Gossip Girl , Humphrey.”

“How does she portray you?”

“Do you not know?”

“I tend to avoid the tabloids.”

Blair cranes her neck up to the sky and shakes her head. “Shame on me. Shame on me . Of course the most misinformed troglodyte in the world wouldn’t do my character justice.”

“Well after hearing that entire sentence, I think I painted a pretty solid picture,” Dan retorts. He sees she hasn’t gotten to the last page. Good. “Just give it back, alright? You’ve technically stolen school property.”

Blair briskly walks closer to him, clutching the papers tighter than ever. “I knew you would be my social death Humphrey, I just knew it. But you should know this, I can make your life miserable.”

“I think I beat you to it, since I am still here talking to you.”

Dan reaches for the paper, which Blair puts out of reach. They begin a struggle, Dan lunging for the paper and Blair swatting him away--Dan in turn yelling, “I’m not going to argue you with Blair!” and Blair responding with, “then get away from me!” They wrestle in their spat until Blair’s shoe hits a chip in the tile under their feet and begins to fall into the pull. She grabs Dan as a means to save herself, but he falls in too.

They plunge into cold water, white foam surrounds them--Blair’s dress enveloping her like a red parachute, like rose petals. 

Dan’s the first to resurface, frustratingly swimming back to the edge He realizes Blair remains where she is, desperately splashing to stay afloat.

Between sputters she screams, “My dress--it’s---stuck!”

Dan considers leaving her there to figure out she can just take off the dress but she seems to really be struggling so he dives back into the bottom of the pool and unhooks her skirts. He helps her to the edge and they emerge, exhausted and dripping water from head to toe.

Blair lets out a wet cough and lies there for a moment. Her hair is darker and curlier, a nest of chestnut knots around her face. A stream of mascara falls down her pink cheek. Dan realizes he’s staring and props himself up, standing.

He sees the article float by and grabs it. It leaks some water and he sees that the ink runs almost completely off the paper.

“Well, that’s ruined.” He drops the paper and begins to walk away.

Hello .” Blair manages, flicking her hand at him.

Dan narrows his eyes and walks back to, her majesty it seems, and helps her up. 

She winces in pain. “My ankle!”

“You’re fine . Just take off your shoes, they're ridiculously high.”

Blair hobbles to stand up, pressing down on Dan’ shoulder for support. “So you can steal them? Nice try.”

“Yes, Blair, I’m going to steal your shoes. I’ve been praying for a chance to get my feet into some skyscraper pumps.” Dan snaps sarcastically.

Blair snorts. “Obviously.”

Dan, fed up and cold, puts Blair’s arm around his neck and picks her up. She’s soft, light too. Almost too light.

He begins to walk away from the pool's edge.

She screeches. “WHAT are you doing?”

“Taking you to the infirmary, snob.”

“Demanding high quality service does not make me a snob--”

“I will throw you back into the pool Blair.”

I will pluck that toupee off your head.”

“I’m not wearing a toupee!”

“Are you sure? Those sideburns can’t be real.”

 

***

 

Blair gets set down on one of the sick beds. The school is dark, almost scary at night but she can hear the faint sound of music coming from the Grand Hall. Oh god, the dance, her friends, Nate. She had forgotten about all of it.

Dan comes back with a first aid kit and a bag of ice. He pulls up a chair and points to it. Reluctantly Blair props up her hurt ankle. Every time Dan moves, he flicks water onto her.

“You couldn’t have found towels?”

“Again, I don’t work for you,” He’s actually mad, Blair observes, genuinely upset. And vein on his forehead pulsates. “And no, I couldn’t.”

“You’re getting water everywhere.” Blair mumbles thereafter, “If you don’t give me tetanus, I’m sure to get pneumonia.”

Dan groans and disappears again. When he comes back he’s shirtless. His chest is more chiseled than she expected, although she’s never thought about him shirtless. It would’ve been a disgusting thought. Now…

“Blair!”

“Point your nipples elsewhere!”

“Shut up and give me your dress.”

“No!”

“I’ll put it under the bathroom dryers. Do you really want to go out in front of everyone like this?”

“You’re not getting me in my underwear. And this was expensive.”

“Of course it was.” Dan rolls his eyes.

Blair shifts uncomfortably, trying to stretch her ankle. No luck.

Dan sees and kneels before her, opening the first aid kit.

“Touch me, and I’ll scream.”

“Fine, have fun limping out of here soaking wet.”

He rises, and Blair can’t come up with a scenario where anyone would accept what’s just occurred as a casual nuisance. “Wait.”

Dan turns.

“I’ll make an exception just once. But if you try anything, I have mace and very, very sharp fingernails.”

‘Noted,’ She catches him in a smirk.

Blair lets Dan take her ankle and examine it. His skin is warm against hers, like he ran them under the dryer for her. He wraps a bandage around the area that grows swollen.

“This is all your fault, you know.”

“Oh yeah?” Dan asks distractedly, still wrapping.

Blair sits back. “If you had just written the article I asked you this never would’ve happened.”

“You never specified. If you wanted special treatment you should’ve asked your parents for it like everyone else in this school.”

“My mother doesn’t let me get anything for free. I have to earn everything but money.” As she says that last sentence she wants to cry.

Dan motions to the ring on her finger. It suddenly feels heavy. “Like you earned that?”

“Yes,” Blair says in a voice quieter than she intends.

“I’m sorry if I’m not weeping with sympathy,” he mutters, placing an ice pack over the bandages.

Blair leans forward. Dan stares up at her and she can feel the heat from his face seep onto hers. 

“You know what your problem is?”

“I have several, but do go on.”

“You assume you’re better than all of us--us ‘pompous brats’-- but in reality you’re the same, just waiting by the window, whining and waiting to get your ticket in. Your little article was just some sorry attempt at making me feel how you do; pathetic.” 

Dan grits his teeth, a muscle in his jaw looking strained. He releases her ankle and it drops to the ground. He stands.

“Maybe I will publish it after all.”

Blair feels a wrench in her gut. “You can’t, because I’m firing you.”

“You can’t fire me, because I don’t work for you . In fact, you’re fired .”

“I fired you first!”

Dan’s already out the door.

“Do not just leave me here like this, Humphrey.”

He tosses his t-shirt at her, and then he’s gone again. It’s not wet anymore, just warm.

 

***

Dan sees a clear shot out of the school but remembers he’s brought Eli. He looks down at his bare chest and exhales. He walks into the gym. As people gawk at him, he notices Nate laughing on the sidelines with his buddies.

Eli finds him not too long after and pats him on the shoulder.

“Yo titties out.”

“Oh, are they?” Dan huffs and makes his way over to Nate. “Hey.”

Nate furrows his brow, trying not to make eye contact with Dan’s torso. “Did someone bring out the drugs already?”

“No, uh,” Dan acknowledges how ridiculous he looks, and tries to move on. “I just wanted to make you aware…”

“Dan right?” Nate asks, fading out of focus.

“Yeah, but it doesn't matter. Blair’s in the infirmary. She hurt her ankle.”

“This is weird.”

“I’m trying to get past that. Just--” Dan sighs. “Take care of her.”

“Okay, but--”

The whispers of disapproval become too much and Dan leaves, Eli following behind. His friend gives him his ridiculous chrome jacket as they travel down the sidewalk.

Eli skips around him. “So...how’d it go?”

“Can we please walk in awkward silence?”

“Okay,” Eli shrugs.

I have to earn everything but the money ,” replays in Dan’s head.

“I’ll write a new article.”

“Thought you would.” Eli smirks. “Let’s go get hot dogs. I ate like fifty pounds of caviar in there and it did not agree with me..

 

***

 

Nate helps duck Blair’s head into the limousine. Luckily, they’re able to leave early without being detected. Unluckily, someone takes Blair’s picture just as the car pulls away from the curb--obscure, café t-shirt, wet hair and all.

“Is this…?”

Blair closes her eyes and scoots closer to the window. “I’ll explain tomorrow. I have to do some damage control because Brooklyn’s Benedict Arnold has written--”

“Who is Benedict Arnold?!” Nate rubs his eyes. “Is this your Britney Spears phase?”

“Pardon?” Blair nearly laughs.

“Are you going to go crazy?”

“Maybe I already have, Nate,” She quips, crossing her legs. They’re prickly--cold too.

“I’m not kidding, Blair. I want things to go back to normal, but you’ve changed...”

Staring outside, Blair sees the pedestrians through the water droplets that have started to fall. She sees them through the blurry traffic lights, all living their individual lives--outside the reach of Blair’s control, slipping through her fingers onto sidewalks and streets; they might as well become dirty and unkempt. She wouldn’t know.

“Have I?” Blair responds to the window in almost a whisper.

“I’m not sure if normal is even possible anymore” Nate continues, with such finality Blair wants to cry. She doesn’t, of course, she just sighs.

“It is.”

“Then I need you to stop...whatever it is you’re doing.”

“All I’m doing is ensuring our future--”

Please . Just be a high school girl; go to parties with me, relax on the weekends, t alk to Serena ...”

The car stops in front of Blair’s building. The doorman runs towards her side with an umbrella and the sweater she called ahead for.

“Benedict Arnold was an American general during the Revolutionary War. He switched sides and fought for Britain.”

Nate stares at her as she steps out of the car.

“I’ll call your girlfriend tonight. We’ll be braiding each other’s hair in no time.” Blair slams the car door before he can say another word.

 

She showers before the fateful call with Serena. And although she doesn’t plan to, although she never plans to, Blair throws up nearly five times. In the middle of the sixth time she faints. 

 

Dorota finds her in a heap on the bathroom floor with the phone in one hand, and someone’s old, faded t-shirt in the other.

Chapter Text

***

Two weeks pass.

 

Dan writes a new article; a solemn feat that takes him eight caffeinated hours to finish. Instead of a scathing expose, revealing Blair’s melodrama, it’s a puff piece--a prolonged list of Blair's hectic accomplishments with tales of her glittery life (the boyfriend, the best friends, the overwhelming wealth) sprinkled throughout. He calls it “Inside”, thinking it a bit ironic how far outside he felt from Blair’s world.

Although he manages to sneak in the odd, cynical sentence here and there, slightly satirizing the very nature of Blair being the topic of interest, Dan doesn’t think he sounds like himself at all. The piece is to the point, and (begrudgingly) kind.

To his surprise, Luci praises him, well as much as someone like her can, with an approving nod, and tells him to keep it up. She puts him onto another assignment as the new issue is released, and his life goes back to normal--well somewhat normal. Dan goes to school, he goes to work, he gets a mere modicum of the sleep he should be getting, he hangs out with Vanessa and Eli--he keeps his head down. 

The changes to life seep in slow, bizarre, and all too intense. His dad stays out later now, sometimes spends whole weekends gone, like Lily’s company is just that much better. His mom doesn’t even attempt to make her usual weekly calls, which goes on for longer than Jenny can handle. They have a new routine; Dan staying up to wait for his dad to come home with some sort of explanation, and Jenny sleeping on his bed instead of her own, because according to her, “his mattress is better”. According to her friend Sophie, it’s because she’s being bullied in art school. But she doesn’t want to talk about it, and honestly, Dan wouldn’t know how to help given he’s still entrenched in his ‘awkward phase’ too. And his mom usually handled the emotional side of things--though he supposes he’s taken over that role.

Over these couple of weeks, Blair, his mythical monster turned insulting acquaintance, is nowhere to be found. It isn’t from lack of looking, Dan admits. He sees her everywhere; in the hallways, in the courtyard, in girls with red hair that are only imitations of hers, in leather-bound journals, in skirts and knee socks and headbands, in every female antagonist in the books he reads, in the growing knot that ties itself into his stomach when he has to lie to Jenny about where Rufus spends his time. Even when she’s not around, buzzing about him like a fly, Dan still can’t shake Blair.

 

One day, the knot, the one in his stomach, grows so big that his entire body begins to tremble and sweat. This wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, Dan is always trembling and sweating in some small way, but he’s with Serena and Eric, heading to Central Park yet another forced brunch with Lily and Rufus, when it happens. Despite Dan being used to the odd “freak-out” every now and then, they are not. When he finally collapses in the middle of the pathway, in front of an old lady and her ratty dog, a self-proclaimed doctor runs over. Through mumbles that sound like they’re coming out of a glass bottle, Dan learns he has anxiety.

Dan’s reaction is something along the lines of, “so what?” and “doesn’t everybody?” But his dad takes it seriously, ushering him to the first therapist he can find (by Lily’s very hasty recommendation). Rufus makes him skip work one afternoon to visit the Ostroff Center, and Dan feels he’s officially hit rock bottom.

As his dad fills out his forms, because Dan couldn’t be bothered with this nonsensical ‘minor spell of nervousness’ in the park-to-the mental asylum pipeline, he wanders off. They’re in the adolescents’ wing of the center that looks more like the toddlers’ wing with it’s brightly colored walls and cartoonish posters that just scream “hey, don’t make your shit other peoples’ problems!” He passes a few therapists’ offices, and a recreation room with a single pool table, some board games shoved into a corner, and a vending machine. Dan heads for the vending machine and buys a candy bar. As it slowly twirls it’s way out of the metal ring he hears quiet murmurs come from behind him. He turns and sees a door, opened just a crack. After grabbing his snack and pocketing it, he peers into the room. 

In a circle, a bunch of girls (and maybe two boys) sit in a circle. Some of them look almost twenty-five and others look as young as twelve. All of them are in pajamas, hair hung in front of their faces like they’ve just woken up, except for one of them. She sits with her back to the door; upright, one leg crossed over the other, swimming in a large, over-sized robin’s egg blue sweater--a headband atop her head. He recognizes the brick-colored tendrils of hair almost immediately.

Blair?

 

***

 

Ostroff isn’t so bad, she’s been here before, but Blair still tells her mother she hates her as she’s checked in.

 

The entire affair was blown completely out of proportion, Blair affirms. “She was tired”, she says to Dorota in the bathroom, “she had food poisoning”, she yells in the car, “it isn’t happening again”, she screams to the receptionist. But for all her resistance, and denial, there's a team of doctors to tell her she’s wrong--that she needs help. Maybe she does.

Blair does the treatment--the steps she has to climb back towards normal. If she can’t get straight As at school she’ll get them here. She sleeps, she reads, and she eats--just enough to avoid the judgmental glares the nurses give. They say they judge no one, but she can feel their eyes searing holes into the back of her neck as if to say, “save us the trouble, rich girl.” It’s fair, Blair supposes, it just isn’t right.

The center sees her get better, sees some of the color come back to her cheeks, sees her trying. What they don’t see is the planning--the gears incessantly turning in her head, enough to produce smoke out of her ears, to make her return to her life, her life. Blair needed to know that the campaign was going well, that she was still safe in Nate’s love, that a certain blonde hadn’t already slithered her way into Blair’s place upon her untimely departure. 

She’s at least secure in the fact that none of her friends know where she is, not really. Eleanor is almost as terrified of saying the words “eating disorder” as Blair is. Last week, she informed Blair everyone thinks she’s in Paris with her father for an impromptu visit--even Carter, even Nate. She assures Blair it’s a good cover, it makes sense. 

 

Blair comes to her second to last day. To her mother’s disbelief, Blair progresses rapidly and the doctors give her the go-ahead to leave, seeing as she continues her therapy bi-weekly and a doctor’s visit weekly.

She gets up for group therapy that day feeling a lot better than she has in a while, trading her provided robe and slippers for real clothes. There are no mirrors in Ostroff, so she assumes she must look fine--healthy even. For all intents and purposes, she’s practically made wellness her bitch.

The other girls aren’t particularly fond of Blair, but that doesn’t matter given they’ll remain, and she’ll go. Her problem is a problem, sure, but not as severe as the others’.

“My dad can go to hell.” Gwen, the youngest and angriest of them, spits. “Like seriously, I hope he murder/suicides himself.”

Blair scoffs.

“What are you laughing at, Princess Peach?”

Narrowing her eyes, Blair sits back. “Nothing...it’s just what you said. It’s a double negative. You should’ve just said I wish he’d kill himself instead. That’s just proper English.”

“You must have the longest stick up your a--”

“Okay!” The counselor claps her hands together. “Gwen...why don’t you elaborate on those feelings. Try to avoid violent words.”

Blair smiles sweetly and stares at Gwen who sticks up her middle finger towards her. Blair simply mouths “fuck you” in response. Simple, but effective.

As Gwen continues on yet another convoluted rant about her father, Blair hears someone chuckling behind her. She shifts in her seat and sees a dark shadow quickly disappear from the door frame. Blair sucks in a breath. That couldn’t be…? No way.

“May?”

The counselor looks up from her notebook. “You have something to add?”

“...no. I left my elephant in the garden.”

“Do you need it right now ?”

Right this second . I’m feeling very anxious.” Blair makes an effort to look anxious.

“Alright. Please come back as soon as you find it.”

Blair nods and leaves, sticking her tongue out to Gwen as she goes.

By pure coincidence she finds Dan in the garden, jumping over the lilies to escape. She chases after him and swats at him with her stuffed elephant, which she found on the way--actually lost.

“Ow, I’m sorry, ow!”

“What.” Another hit. “Are.” And another. “You.” And another. “Doing.” One more. “Here?” So he gets the point.

Dan’s flighty, looking at everything but Blair. “Research?”

“That’s the best you can do?” Blair brushes past him. “Pathetic.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I asked you first!”

Dan huffs and sits on a nearby bench. He plays with the hem of his t-shirt. “I may have a small, insignificant meeting with a therapist--if you must know.”

Blair gasps, and sits next to him. She can’t help it--she loves gossip. “Let me guess, it’s schizophrenia. Or no, it’s multiple personalities disorder.”

“It’s called dissociative identity disorder actually...”

She gasps even louder.

“...Which I don’t have!”

“Oh.” Blair crosses her arms over the elephant and becomes all too aware of how ridiculous she must look. She shrugs. “Could’ve fooled me.”

Dan laughs, biting his lip and bowing his head. They’re silent for a moment, watching the gold, and brown, and red leaves rustle around. Blair’s not sure if she should hide, or lie, or hit Dan over the head with a blunt object and hope he doesn’t remember seeing her. 

“Um. That paper you pawned off to me got an A--”

“Of course--”

“Minus.” Dan finishes, satisfied.

“Your greasy paws must have had something to do with that subtraction sign.”

“I hardly touched it.”

Blair flips her hair, “Dr. Castello is a sadistic stoic.”

“Pot, please meet kettle.”

“I am not a sadist. And, I'll have you know, I am quite modern.”

“About twenty girls in Constance would beg to disagree. I witnessed you send a girl home crying for wearing crocs to school.”

“Someone had to. They’re too sensitive.”

“You’re not sensitive?” He arches an eyebrow.

Blair raises her head to meet Dan’s eyes. “No, I’m...cruel. That’s how you described it, right?”

He abandons his own snark, and his face softens. He seems guilty-almost sympathetic. And that just won’t do.

“Don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“I am not a sad case to feel sorry for or a mystery to be solved. Whatever questions about my psyche you were going to ask, don’t. I’m not telling you a thing .”

Dan’s quiet, too quiet, but then he leans over.

“Believe it or not, but I’m not going to tell anyone or black mail you. Fortunately, life isn’t a soap opera. You’re allowed to have secrets.”

Blair hears herself laugh. “You’re not dying to know what my damage is?”

He gives her a lopsided smile, his eyes crinkled and worn. “I’m sure it’s not any worse than mine.”

“Hm. Something we can agree on.”

Before she gets up to leave, Dan touches her hand, then quickly retreats to his side of the bench like she’s shocked him.

“Um, by the way, the article is doing pretty well.”

“Is this you gloating ?” Blair clicks her tongue. “That’s very poor taste, Humphrey.”

“Have you read it?”

She doesn’t want to tell him she hasn’t had access to a phone or computer for the past two weeks (complete agony by the way) so she says, “No. I rather not relive that weak assassination of my character.”

“I’m sorry for that.” His gaze bores into her sincerely.

“I suppose you want an apology as well?” Blair responds sarcastically.

“I’m afraid you won’t mean it. And I’m a fan of honesty, even if it’s...cruel”

 In the corner of her eye she sees May walking briskly towards them. “I should go.”

For once, Dan doesn’t seem so happy to get rid of her. “Will I see you in school on Monday?”

“Maybe. It depends.”

“On…?”

“If you’re still wearing this. I don't associate with children.” She motions to his faded, “Muppets” t-shirt, far too small for him and riding up his torso. Blair doesn’t know why, but she gives the collar a small tug and lets go, beginning to walk away. 

“Because you’re so mature. What’s that elephant’s name?” He mocks, calling after her.

“You never saw me, got it?” Blair barely turns. “And her name is Audrey.”

“Bye Audrey!” She hears him bellow down the hall.

And, again, Blair’s smiling.

 

***

 

A few mornings later, Dan gets to school, and like a dystopian fever dream, he sees Carter and a few other guys plastering a large sign onto the front of the school. On the sign is Carter’s face and words below it reading, “A Vote for Carter Is a Vote for Fun!” 

Dan avoids eye contact, but before he knows it, Carter is walking up to him, putting an arm around his shoulder.

“Isn’t he perfect ?” Carter asks, shedding his sunglasses and waving towards the sign.

Dan stares up at the massive thing, squinting in the sunlight. “It’s definitely...something.”

“Give me a sec, guys.” Carter begins to head into school and Dan follows. “I had to do something to combat that article you wrote. Well done, by the way.”

“Thanks, but I think you’ve still got a fighting chance,” Dan shrugs and looks out at the sea of kids chatting in the hallways, all engrossed in their phones. “No one actually reads the school paper.”

“Are you kidding?” Carter chuckles and takes out his own phone, pulling up the piece. Under the “views” it says 570, and under “likes” it says 400. “Gossip Girl’s taken a little hiatus. People are hungry for clickable stories.”

“Holy shit.” Dan takes the phone and refreshes. The numbers only grow. “People are actually reading my writing.”

“Yeah and they’re lapping it up like dogs.” Carter feigns frustration. “I mean, really Dan, I was expecting truth and ‘power to the people’, not propaganda.”

Dan distractedly agrees, still refreshing the page. “Sorry. Next time.”

“Next time. Now that’s an idea.”

A guy jogs in and taps Carter on the shoulder. He plucks his phone from Dan and nods towards the courtyard. “Come on.”

“We have class.”

“Not if I can help it.”

Dan watches as Carter and a gang of his friends, who literally look like carbon copies of the same white guy, congregate at the front of the school. Carter holds a megaphone to his mouth.

“Good morning, Constance!” A round of applause sounds back at him like this was a planned performance. “As Ivy Week rapidly approaches, for the underclassmen, I want you all to know I am committed to providing every single student with the support, motivation, and fun they need.”

Suddenly, the marching band pours out from the hallways with fake blood on their instruments and zombie make up on their faces. Patrick and Nelly bound up to Dan, watching in awe.

“How...camp of him.” Patrick mutters, he nudges Dan. “The article’s fantastic by the way--”

Nelly sighs. “How do you suppose he organized this? The populars have nothing but time.”

“Yet they’re always busy…” Dan’s not sure whether to laugh or not. “This school is a nightmare.”

The marching band begins to play a very jazzed up version of “Monster Mash” as Carter and his lackey’s throw flyers into the crowd.

“Join me for a night to die for; a night to let all your irritating college worries float away. Ladies, and gentlemen, Happy Halloween.”

Glancing around at the crowd of other students, Dan sees Luci crossing her arms. She looks at him and rolls her eyes. Dan just shrugs.

“And remember, VOTE FOR CARTER!”

Carter begins to dance ridiculously with the marching band as students scramble to grab a flyer--there ticket into what should be the “party of the century”. Singling him out, Carter abandons his impromptu stage and hands Dan one of the flyers. It’s a sleek, glossy paper--a design plucked from the 1920s. Although it’s ridiculous, Dan admires the craftsmanship.

“You’ll come won’t you?”

Dan chuckles. “You’re not mad at me for spreading ‘propaganda’?”

“I never stay mad for too long.” He pats Dan on the back. “I’ll see you there. Bring whoever you want; old friends, new friends…”

Dan’s not sure what Carter’s getting at, but he takes the flyer anyway--planning to add it to his collection of events he won’t attend.

Before Carter can make more of a rowdy mess in the courtyard, Dan sees a dark, town car pull up to the curb. A red stiletto pokes out of the door, and a good portion of Carter’s crowd flocks over to it.

“The princess returns,” Carter bellows, watching carefully as Blair emerges from her car, to be greeted by Nate and a whole slew of curious classmates. Quietly, he mutters, “Thought she’d stay in Paris.”

“Paris?” Dan then remembers what Blair had said that day they ran into each other, “you never saw me...” 

“My uncle flew Blair over for a spontaneous visit. He tends to spoil her rotten, but I’m sure you already knew that.”

Dan looks down, clears his throat. “Right.” 

As soon as Blair begins her path to the school’s doors she’s back in campaign mode, handing out flyers. Then, she pulls out her own megaphone; adorned with glitter.

“Before you all waste your time gallivanting and fornicating I would like to remind you that prestigious Ivy reps are not interested in hearing your tales of kiddies and keigers. If you’re interested in sounding like you have more than a fraction of one brain cell--please join me , for Ivy Week Prep in the library this week. I will be available--”

Carter turns his own speaker back on. “I wanna remind you all that academic burnout is real. There is such a thing as over-preparedness.”

“And I would like to remind you , Carter, of how poorly your interview with Dartmouth’s dean went because you were out drinking the night before.”

“Okay, I wasn’t drinking, I might’ve dropped a little acid--”

Dan takes the megaphone from Carter. “Can we talk about how the institution of college itself has its hands around the necks of America’s youth? Are we ready for that conversation? Hm?”

The crowds of students immediately lose interest and begin meandering back into the school. She shakes her head at Dan for a moment, pursing her lips, before continuing on her way. He can’t tell if she’s annoyed or amused.

Nevertheless, Dan smiles, because for some reason, he just might be glad to see her.

 

***

 

Blair gets to read the article in parcels; in between classes, during free periods, a small part she hears in the bathroom as she reapplies a fresh coat of lipstick. Everyone who’s anyone is talking about it. 

She suspected, when she was shipped off on her forced “vacation”, that people wouldn’t be happy to find out their fearless leader had abandoned them with no instruction, much less an explanation. But Dan’s article aided that, giving Blair more popularity than she could’ve hoped for. They might as well hold the election now, she’d be sure to win.

But everything is not butterflies and rainbows. She’s Blair Waldorf--drama and strife follow her wherever she goes, or as some would argue, she follows them.

Nate welcomes her back with open arms after she comes up with an adequate story about how sorry she is for the abrupt departure, how her father just ‘needed to see her’-- how hard it was. It isn’t a complete lie, Blair tells herself. She imagines it would be quite difficult to see her dad shacked up with an entirely new life, tucked into some French chalet with a French boyfriend.

Nate knows about the bulimia--was even there after her first trip to rehabilitation--but it isn’t something they talk about. She tends to keep life in neat, organized boxes.

Although Nate becomes more attentive, if not for love then for pity, he’s still adamant on “things returning to normal”--whatever that means. She knows what it means, really, she just pretends otherwise.

Blair wields herself to get through these next few months. All she has to do is win the election with Nate--her golden ticket, Nate-- by her side, without any more nonsensical interruptions. The plan is still the plan.

 

She reads the last paragraph of the article in the courtyard, standing against one of the stone tables. Katie, Isabelle, and Roxie lose interest in their gushing (and reading in general) huddling around Katie’s phone at another table to discuss her most recent endeavor into naked self portraits. It’s a girl thing--a “them” thing, but not a Blair thing.

Suddenly, she feels someone’s shoulder brush against hers. When she looks up she sees Dan peering over her shoulder, the collar on his shirt and his smile equally crooked.

“Have I appropriately revived your character, Waldorf?”

“I suppose.” Blair picks her sunglasses up from her eyes and sets them atop her head. “It’s…”

“Propaganda?”

Embellished . But it isn’t journalism in America without a few lies sprinkled in.”

Dan’s face falls a bit. “That’s dark.”

“No, Humphrey, it’s honest .”

“Ah, I see what you did there.” He wears that look again, the look of knowing that he wore that day Blair keeps telling herself didn’t happen. “How are you?”

Blair inhales sharply. The air smells of the usual highschool odors; sweat, and metal, and book pages, and a nauseating salad she’s supposed to eat and...Dan’s fresh pine scent--interrupting all of it.

“What are we? Friends?”

“No--I just--” He’s never stuttered so much with her before.

“Would you like to share secrets under the monkey bars, and braid each other’s hair?”

Dan puts his hands up in defense. “Keep your talons off my mane.”

Mane ?” Blair can’t help but laugh. “You do not have a…”

As if stumbling into view, just to cause her rage, Serena walks up to Dan, touching his arm like they’re best friends. Eric follows behind her sheepishly--the worst loss in their friend-divorce.

Serena glances at Blair like an afterthought. “Hi, Blair.”

Blair smiles, and flicks the hair out of Eric’s face lightly like she used to, “Hello, Eric.” She pauses in front of Serena. “Goodbye, succubus .”

Abandoning Dan, Blair walks back over to her friends, still listening in on the conversation.

 

***

 

Serena laughs Blair’s cold shoulder off. “Sorry, that’s still...she’s still…”

Dan’s not sure what to make of the exchange. He doesn’t know the intricacies of their in-fighting, he just knows for all her tyrannical ruling and insults, Blair’s hurt.

“No worries. I get it.”

Serena shoulders her bag. “You two are getting along…”

“Weird. It’s almost like you’re...friends?” Eric finishes, setting his stuff down next to Dan.

“We’re not,” Dan assures, shaking his head a bit too fast. “Uh we were just talking about the article and journalistic integrity. Normal stuff.”

Slowly, Serena nods. “I still have yet to read it. The subject is still sore, obviously.”

Eric taps his hand against the stone. “Anyway, we didn’t come over here to recount the Blair drama again…”

Dan can’t help but wince at how Serena’s actions have been watered down to “Blair-drama”, but they’re being polite, so he lets it go.

“How are you feeling?” Serena asks, snapping him from his thoughts.

“I’m, uh, good. How are you?”

“Dan, we mean how are you feeling ?” Eric stresses.

Like a smack in the face, Dan remembers their most recent outing. “Oh. Yeah, that was nothing. I had, um, low blood sugar.”

“Oh. Lily told us that Rufus said you had a panic attack.” Serena looks genuinely concerned, her eyes wide. The gesture’s nice, if not completely fucking uncomfortable.

“News travels fast on this side of the city, wow. But, seriously, I’m okay. Do you actually call your mom Lily? Like you’re friends?”

Eric and Serena stare at him, shrugging their shoulders.

Dan’s quick to change the subject, and finds an opportunity in the flyer in his pocket. “Are you guys going to this?”

“Ooh, yes. Carter’s parties are amazing. Last year, he had this ice sculpture that...” Eric grins.

Serena says, “no”, almost too quiet to hear.

“Yeah, me neither.”

“You can’t both be the boring sibling.” Eric whines. “I can’t go if you guys don’t.”

“Siblings?” Dan feels his shirt collar become tight. “What?”

“He’s kidding.” Serena chuckles awkwardly. “I have homework. And I’m sure Dan has better things to do than babysit you.”

“Since when do you do homework ?”

“Fine. I have a date with Chuck tonight. Happy?”

Having stopped listening, Dan mutters something about getting to class, although there’s thirty minutes left for lunch, and makes his way to the Newsroom. It’s quiet there, not so filled with chaos.

 

***

 

Blair overhears their whole conversation, and replays it in her head as she walks to her next class. She passes by Carter without so much as a glare, which peaks his interest. He begins to walk with her, waiting for her to notice his presence. 

“BOO!”

Yelping, Blair puts her hand over her chest. She quickens her pace. “Go away, you nuisance.”

“You look constipated, what’s up?”

“Ew.” Blair distractedly tries to wave him away.

Carter checks his watch. “Alright, well I have about five minutes to annoy you so…”

Blair stops. “Do you know Dan Humphrey?”

“I do. We’re actually friends.”

“No you’re not,” Blair blinks, her mouth hanging open. “You and him aren’t even on the same plane of existence.”

“Unlike you, dear cousin, I don’t let social class rule my life.”

“What about that time our tour guide in the Bahamas touched your bags and you screamed like a baby without his wet nurse?”

“He dropped them .” Carter puts his hands behind his back, smirking like an asshole. “Why so interested in Dan? I’ve seen you two together. Looks like you despise each other in that Sam and Diane sort of way.”

“I’m not ‘interested’, I’m confused. He was basically vapor to us a month ago and now…”

“Now?”

Blair tilts her head, clocking an obnoxious “I know what you’re thinking” look on Carter’s face. “Now Serena’s following him around like a lost dog.”

It doesn’t have the effect she hopes for. “Oh? That’s great!” 

As Carter heads off, he calls back. “I hope you know, everyone is invited to my party--even my jealous opponents.”

He’s too far away to hear Blair angrily say, “I’m not jealous…”

 

***

 

School lets out for the day and Dan begins boarding down the sidewalk as soon as he can to avoid more conversations with Serena and Eric about their parents’ dating life.

Luci, Fran, and Carter wait by the iron fence outside as if they’re a gang and stop Dan before he can go, Luci stomping on the lip of his skateboard. Dan rips his headphones off and stares at them.

“What the hell is this? Is this hazing? I got enough of that freshman year, I assure you.”

“Calm down.” Carter laughs. “Let’s take a walk.”

“I can get us a car.” Fran attests, resting her head on Luci’s shoulder.

“We’ll take the train.” She says, kissing her quickly on the lips. “See you later.”

Fran furrows her brow but doesn’t argue, walking in the opposite direction. Luci shoves her hands in her coat’s pockets and begins her way down the sidewalk, Carter follows, trying to put his arm around Luci. She shoves him away.

Dan, trailing behind, scrunches his face. “Sorry to be ‘that guy’, but what are we doing?”

“We’re hanging out.” Carter says as they cross the street.

Luci starts ordering a gyro at a nearby food truck. “No we’re not.”

Carter passes her a few twenties, which is far too much for street food. “Okay fine. We need you to help us rob a bank.”

“No.” Luci passes Dan a chicken kabob he doesn’t want.

“One-hundred percent transparency, can you be our third person in the throuple we’re doing?”

“Carter?”

“Yeah, Lu?”

“Shut up.” They retreat to a couple of leftover chairs in front of a cafe. “We wanted to talk to you about your writing.”

Dan sets his kebab down. “We couldn’t have done this tomorrow?”

“We’re far too excited, Dan.” Carter grins.

Luci rips a packet of hot sauce open and drenches her gyro. “And this isn’t something we can reasonably talk about in front of other people.”

“Okay…”

“We want you to continue the “Inside” series.”

“It’s not a series.”

“It is now.”

“Do you know how many people have read Gossip Girl’s blog over the years?” Carter asks.

“Uh, no. I don’t really care.”

“Thousands, Dan. And, since she’s taken a hiatus, there’s been a void at the top of all the city tabloids. No one can recreate the intrigue she stirred up, or the credibility.”

“Except for you.” Luci sits back. “As we speak, some Cheeto-fingered tabloid writer is using our school paper to get the information on Wall Street’s beloved brats.”

“So what?”

“We could get our names out there as credible writers before we even hit college.”

“I--” Dan glances at Carter, his fist to his cheek, smiling like he has a secret. “Sorry, no offense, but why are you here? I thought you weren’t working for the paper anymore.”

Carter gasps. “I am offended.”

Luci smacks his arm. "Tonto, just tell him.”

“Allow me to sweeten the deal, Dan. I’m willing to pay you to continue Inside.” Carter leans forward.

“I feel like I’m being redundant, but why? Why go through all this trouble?”

“A few reasons. One, I saw what your article did for Blair’s election. And two, however much we bitch and moan about Gossip Girl, she kept us in line--our parents too. My father hasn’t been behaving himself, and it’s sort of messing with my path to self-improvement. I’m sure you understand.”

“I don’t...at all.”

“You don’t have to. Look, all you need to do is write. I’ll take care of the rest.”

Dan buries his head in his hands, trying to grasp the concept of what they’re pitching. “You want me to be the new Gossip Girl? Oh my god. You want me to be the new Gossip Girl .”

“No, we want you to be better.”

Carter takes Dan’s limp hand and shakes it. “Welcome to the Upper East Side, my friend."

Chapter Text

***

Despite Blair’s best efforts, life does not return to normal.

And it’s all Humphrey’s fault…

Well, mostly.

 

However much she didn’t notice him before--walking in the hallways, bouncing his knee in English, tucking a borrowed pen behind his ear when he’s late to class (and he’s always late to class), and tying his unbelievably filthy shoes--she notices him now.

Dan was supposed to vacation in her world (more accurately take a business trip) not settle down permanently. It isn’t even her own “classist” qualms, as he describes it, manifesting. Blair knows all too well just how much Dan hates her side of the city. She can’t see any reason he would take up residence in it.

He’s always around. Blair catches him in conversations with Carter that look less amiable and more friendly , she sees Dan laughing at Serena’s dumb jokes in passing. Nate even approaches him, against Blair’s wishes, to ask him about his skateboard--like his parents would ever let him get one. 

And he knows things. Perhaps not the intricate details of those things, but nevertheless, part of “Blair’s return to normal” meant Dan’s return to...whatever it is he does.  

 

One afternoon, by some force she can’t name, Blair struts up to Dan as he talks to Nate and Carter by the Met Steps.

“Excuse us.” Blair tugs at him as discreetly as she can until they come to the coffee cart.

Dan buys a coffee, exhaling loudly. “We have to stop meeting like this. I can’t take this much flattery, really.”

Blair snatches the coffee before it reaches Dan’s hand.

“Mm. Thank you.” She takes a sip. It’s black. “This is battery acid .”

He doesn’t miss a beat, and orders another, taking the cup from her. “Your frothiest vanilla cappuccino for Miss Daisy, please.”

Blair narrows her eyes, but accepts the new one. “You sure that won’t put a dent in your piggy bank?”

“I can afford a cup of coffee, Blair.” Dan says, rolling his eyes. “What gave you the impression I’m destitute?”

“Your shoes.” Blair takes another sip, this time warm vanilla running down her throat to combat the autumn’s biting cold. “So, I should just ignore your Oliver Twist act?”

“I do love Charles Dickens…” He smirks. “Did you need something? Or have we crossed a threshold into casual conversation I was unaware of?”

“My conversations are so much more than ‘casual’. They’re literary, groundbreaking even.”

“Mm. There must be a  better word to describe it.’ They begin walking in no particular direction. “Convoluted? Abrupt? Unwelcome? Oh no, I’ve got it, sinister .”

Ha. Ha. You should be a writer.” Blair responds sarcastically.

Dan puts his hand to his chest. “A stamp of approval from Blair Waldorf. I’m horrified.”

“Can you not talk for five seconds?”

“You should know better than anyone how hard that is.” He rolls up his sleeve and taps on an imaginary watch. “But go ahead.”

Blair purses her lips and searches Dan’s face for malice--the sign to tell she shouldn’t trust him. But all she sees is two dark green eyes looking back at her. Dan lowers his arm, abandoning his bit, and looks back at her. They stare for just a moment too long.

“What’s your game?” Blair finally asks.

Dan swallows, chuckling. “My game ?”

Blair tries to shake herself from whatever warped trance she’s in. “All I’m saying is you’ve made yourself quite comfortable on those Met Steps.”

And just like that their gaze is broken as Dan grits his teeth, his jaw jutting out.

“The Met is a public museum.”

“You know what I mean.” Blair lowers her voice, glancing at a puzzled Nate. “Look, I just want to make sure you’re not verbally vomiting about things you know nothing about.

“The world, thank God, does not revolve around you.” He shrugs. “I might be expanding my social circle.”

“Or maybe you’re trolling around for more scraps of a story--one with a little more scandal.” Blair doesn’t know where her arguments come from, but they’ll suffice. “Get a taste of the limelight and you become hooked.”

“I--” Dan exhales, his face getting red--caught. “Five seconds is up at this point, isn't it?”

“It is, Brooklyn.”

Dan seems to understand, and however angry she’s made him, he just nods and begins to head back to school.

“I’ll see you later, Manhattan.”

 

***

 

After stabbing a straw into the drink he’s made, Dan angrily tells the elderly customer before him his order is $5.65, and retreats to the giant fridge in the back for a much needed cooling down.

As he covers his face with his apron, he hears Eli call his name.

“Danny, a uh...male model is here to see you.”

“Huh?” Dan leaves the fridge and rounds the corner to see Carter sitting at one the bar stools examining a menu.

“Hey, Danny. That has a nice ring to it. I’m gonna start calling you that.”

“Please don’t, Eli was supposed to stop years ago.” Dan says, playfully shoving Eli.

Carter outstretches his hand. “Hey, Eli. Carter Baizen.”

“Damn.” Eli shakes his hand rapidly. “What do y'all have in the water over there?”

“Gold and champagne,” Carter jokes, grinning.

Dan joins in, chuckling. “Great. Another thing to add on my tuition.”

“Are you free to talk?”

“Um.” Dan looks at Eli. “Could you cover me for like...ten minutes?”

Eli motions around the, once again, empty café. “Cover what? Talk away.”

 

Dan makes them each an iced coffee, and what's supposed to be a quick conversation, turns into a half an hour rant--most in part due to Dan.

“And then she accuses me of ‘trolling for scandal’! Like she isn’t the basic embodiment of a tabloid. And you know what? She was just starting to seem, I don’t know, human . After everything I thought I could stand her but... I mean I get why she would be worried that I’m…” Dan glances at Carter’s puzzled face and abandons the sentence. “I just can’t continue Inside, man. Sorry.”

“This isn’t about Blair, though. Honestly, I have no idea how we got onto the subject.”

Eli slurps the last of his cup’s content through a straw loudly. “Cause he happens to really enjoy this particular subject.”

Dan tosses a dish rag in his direction. “Go away.”

“You’re lucky we got customers now.” Eli pretends to punch Dan as he heads back to the register.

“I should get back to it.”

Carter scoffs. “You don’t have to write jack-shit about Blair. Write about me and my life.”

“I…” He rubs the back of his neck. “I’ve taken a tour of your life and I don’t plan on doing a permanent stay. I didn’t particularly like what I saw.”

“Please. You haven’t seen anything yet.” Carter grins, putting a five dollar bill on the counter and a twenty in the tip jar. “Will you at least come by tomorrow night?”

“I have...homework. Don’t you people do homework?”

“Not on a Saturday night, Jesus!” He’s already out the door. “Bring whoever you want!”

“I’m not coming!” Dan calls after him.

“See you tomorrow!”

Suddenly, Eli’s next to Dan. “You should go.”

Dan pushes past him and continues working. “I’ve had my fair share of Upper East Side parties.”

“You’re a baby.”

“Eli, you haven’t seen what I’ve seen, okay?”

“Stop acting like you’ve been to war or something. It’s a party . It won’t fundamentally change your life, but maybe it’ll be fun. Lord knows you need that.”

“I just don’t wanna go.”  Dan leans on the counter. 

Eli goes to say something, but he ends up dropping it, returning to the build up of customers by the register.

 

***

 

Blair’s letting Nate kiss her neck when the phone rings. She puts a hand on his chest and wriggles out from underneath him to answer, hoping it’s her father. It isn’t--another wrong number.

As she puts the earpiece back on the receiver, Nate presses against her again, his hands travelling down her shirt towards her stomach. Blair grabs his hand before he can lift the fabric from out of her skirt.

Nate stops for a moment, out of breath. “What’s wrong?”

Blair maintains nothing’s wrong, despite the bitter taste that comes back into her mouth when anyone dares to touch her stomach, and smiles.

“I’m a little distracted, that’s all.”

Nodding, Nate continues to slobber all over Blair’s neck and lips.

“It’s just--”

Sighing loudly, Nate buries his head in the pillow beneath Blair’s.

“Don’t you find it odd that Humphrey's still hanging around us?”

“Who?”

“Humphrey.” Blair feels the distance between them growing. “Dark, unruly hair. Terrible shoes?”

“Oh. Dan?” Nate licks his lips, slick with her gloss. He looks annoyed by the taste. “Is this really what you want to talk about right now?”

“No…” Blair gives him a peck on the cheek and then the nose. “I just want to know if it concerns you.”

Should it concern me?”

“Stop answering my questions with questions!”

Nate huffs and rolls over, laying on his back. The mood is killed, and Blair is suspect number one--she knows that.

“You’re the one who had him following us around.”

“For the article. Which is done, and did it’s job.”

“I don’t see the problem. Dan’s nice, maybe a little weird, but nice.”

“Those are exactly the people you should watch out for in this world. I think he might be…”

“Alright, I’m going home.” Nate begins buttoning his half-undone shirt. “Can’t do conspiracy theories today.”

Blair goes onto her stomach and turns his face towards her. “Wait, wait. I’m sorry, you know school and the campaign have me stressed. What do you want to talk about?”

“Have you talked to Serena?”

If the moment wasn’t killed before it’s now six feet under with a tombstone reading, “here lies Blair’s labido”.

She groans and sits up, adjusting her clothes. “Out of all the topics in the world...death, poverty, the war on drugs, Paris, Elijah Daniels, the Bling Ring--”

“Blair.”

“You had to land on Serena?” Blair rises, quickly putting on her shoes. “Is she all you think about?”

“No...no.” Nate stands too, taking Blair’s hands before she can go. “I just want everything to be the way it was. You were happy, I was happy…”

“You’re not happy?”

“I--” He kisses her slowly and deeply, like he’s holding on for dear life. If Blair holds on too maybe...just maybe… “Our lives shouldn’t be anything less than perfect.”

Our . Blair presses her face into his shoulder, trying to pretend she doesn’t hate the reflection she sees in the mirror.

“Should I pick you up for the party tomorrow?”

Releasing herself from Nate’s embrace Blair makes her way over to her closet, pulling their costumes from a plastic wrap.

“This is all I could find on such short notice. Carter’s such an awful planner.”

Nate laughs. “These are more than enough. Trust me.”

 

***

 

“HOLD STILL.” Jenny barks, pricking Dan on the ankle with a sewing needle.

Unnecessary .” He tries to kick her, but she pricks him again. He thinks it better to not move anymore.

Jenny steps back and examines her work, fluffing the tulle skirt Dan, reluctantly, wears. It isn’t that he hates Jenny’s dresses. She’s gotten to become quite the fashion designer, her work ranging from “dark and edgy” to “girly and sophisticated”. It’s him. Dan doesn’t see himself as the most attractive person around--his limbs are too skinny, and the stubble on his chin is dotted with wounds from the razor he most definitely does not know how to use. Therefore, he doesn’t wear the dress, it wears him--an otherwise ugly accessory. 

“Do you hate it?”

“Yes,” Dan jokes before seeing Jenny become heartbroken. “I’m kidding . It’s uh...pretty? Am I allowed to say that?”

“I was hoping for ‘groundbreakingly nuanced’ but ‘pretty’ is fine too. Thanks for being my doll.”

“You chased me around the house with fabric scissors, Jen. I don’t think I had much of a choice.”

Jenny laughs, rocking back on her heels. 

A knock sounds at the door. “Is that the pizza?”

“I think so.”

“You think so?”

“I was rushing back to adjust your bodice when I buzzed them up!”

“So you don’t even know if it’s the pizza or a murderer who feasts on children?”

“You get so much weirder when dad isn’t home.”

“Stay here. We can’t both be dead when he gets back.” Dan leaves Jenny’s room and almost falls on his face.

“Ha! Sorry, I forgot to cut down the train.”

Dan picks up his skirts and peaks through the hole in the door--one his mom drilled in herself when they moved in. Serena’s on the other side, resting her head against the door frame. In her hands she holds two velvet suit bags--not any kind you could find at a normal dry cleaners--and a box of pizza. 

Opening the door, Dan remembers he’s wearing a ballgown.

Serena bursts out laughing, putting a palm over her mouth. Jenny emerges from her room, and upon seeing Serena, skips towards the pair, laughing along.

“I present to you: a ‘JH’ original!”

“It’s beautiful .” Serena greets Jenny, pulling her in for a long hug. Her body is loose, like it’s being propped up by sticks, and her eyes look glossy and thin.

Dan takes the pizza from her before she can drop it, setting it on the kitchen table. As Jenny digs in, Dan gets plates and cups. Serena paces the floors, looking around their apartment, which Dan assumes looks like a storm shelter to her.

“I like it here.” She says lightly, sitting on the couch.

“What brings you by?” Dan asks, not believing Serena Van der Woodsen is casually sitting on the couch where he and Eli play video games and argue about Marxist theory.

“Lily and Rufus have taken over the penthouse, and Eric’s at a friend’s house. Plus--” She unzips the velvet bags revealing a red dress on a satin hanger. “I need a date for Carter's party.”

Jenny drops her food and kneels before Serena, examining the dress in awe. 

“He accepts!”

“Whoa, hold on. I can’t leave you home alone.”

“Then take me with you.”

“No way.”

“Then--”

Dan shakes his head. “Jen!”

“It’s okay, she can tag along.”

“No she can’t. And you have a boyfriend, don’t you? Aren’t they made for this sort of thing?” Dan laughs nervously as Serena’s face grows solemn.

“He’s busy.” Whatever sadness was there seems to fall off as she giggles. “And I’m bored . Plus, do you really want to spend your Saturday night like this?”

“Hey, he likes dress-up!” Jenny pouts. “But, seriously, you should go so dad isn’t completely shocked when I want to have a social life.”

Dan stares at Serena, her eyes pleading, almost begging. “I…I don’t even have a costume.”

She tosses the other dress bag at him. “From your fairy godmother.”

 

***

 

The party is in full swing when they arrive--champagne flowing, conversation halting for cheap songs and whoops of excitement. Carter’s really done it this time, Blair observes, gazing out at his lavishly adorned penthouse, filled to the brim with dim lighting gorey décor, and expensive booze. She feels she’s walked straight into a Clue game board. Not bad, it being without Blair’s flare of course.

As she sheds her coat, Carter cuts through the crowd of people to greet them.

“Well, if it isn’t Holly and Paul.” Carter claps Nate on the back. “Why am I not surprised?”

“Probably for the same reason I’m not surprised you’re dressed like a mobster. Like father, like--”

“Guess again.”

Nate continues the game. “Al Pacino? Clyde?”

“Still mobsters.” Blair sighs.

Carter grabs two, post stamp-sized envelopes off of a passing waitress’s tray and hands them to Nate and Blair.

“For your eyes only.”

“We’re going to go enjoy this tacky party elsewhere.”

“Try not to stink up the joint!” Carter calls after them as Blair pulls Nate towards the drinks’ table.

 

***

 

Dan and Serena get there almost obnoxiously late. The traffic out of Brooklyn being meandering and slow, and the elevator ride up being jam-packed with other drunk party-goers riding up and down just for the fun of it.

When they finally reach the penthouse Dan can’t even stare up the ceilings in awe or quiet, middle class disgust. He’s already exhausted.

Serena heads for the bar almost immediately. She orders two cocktails, one of which Dan has no intention of drinking, and sits on one of the stools.

“Isn’t this fun?”

Dan shrugs. “I don’t know yet. Check in with me later.”

Serena laughs, perhaps too loudly, and downs her drink in five seconds flat, ordering another shortly after.

Searching the room for someone, anyone, who may have the slightest tolerance for him, his eyes land on Blair--dressed quite perfectly as Holly Golightly right down the diamond tiara. Her hair perches at the top of her head in a beehive-- like a second crown, shiny and smooth. It’s perfect. The perfect costume, of course. 

She’s in a corner with Nate on the other side of the room, his lips pressed against her ears. Blair looks bored, despondent, but Dan doesn’t claim to know what she’s feeling on any given day. That is, until her eyes meet his. He expects a snarl to form out of her smile, and slight grimace even, but her face grows soft.

They stare at each other for a moment, lost in this unfathomable universe that only exists when two people are locked into a glance on opposite sides of a room--opposite sides of the Earth it seems. And for a fleeting moment, Dan understands Blair, without having done anything at all.

Then Blair’s pulled away, and so is Dan.

“Let’s dance,” Serena murmurs, grabbing Dan’s shirt.

“Hm? O-oh. Yeah.”

 

***

“She’s here,” Nate mutters into Blair’s ear.

Before she can have any sort of reaction, Carter bellows loudly from the balcony above them. The music stops, and a confused hush falls over the party.

“Don’t worry. Nobody died.”

Laughter erupts, an applause following. Carter grins. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the best, or quite possibly, worst night of your lives...depending on who you are. I am Carter Baizen, your very handsome and sexy host for the evening, and tonight--”

Suddenly, the lights flicker off and a faint scream can be heard in the distance. Nate gasps, but Blair just rolls her eyes.

“There’s been a murder! Because what’s a party without a little intrigue.” Carter takes a swig of his drink and tosses it to no one in particular. “There are two murderers among you. If you get paint, you’re dead. The first ones to find out who they are wins.”

“Wins what?!” Some guy yells.

Carter outstretches his arms. “Look at where you are! Sky’s the limit. Happy hunting everyone.”

 

***

 

The music begins to play again. Dan has to hand it to Carter, when it comes to theatrics, he might be the best.

Serena doesn’t move an inch, just stares at the spot where Carter was.

“Do you still wanna dance--?’

She touches his shoulder abruptly. “I need some air.”

“Okay.” Dan’s unsure, putting his hands in his pockets. “Want some company?”

“Um. No thanks, I’m good.” Serena picks up her dress and disappears into the crowd.

 

***

 

As Nate tries harder and harder to get Blair to talk to Serena, she travels deeper into the sea of dancing buffoons. She almost trips over her long dress when someone catches her hand. When she turns she sees the masked stranger dressed as a character from the Princess Bride; the one who’s been staring at her since he came in. Pink lips, perfect hairline...

“I-uhm...”

“Isn’t ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ terribly racist?”

“Humphrey?” Blair pushes him away. “Ugh. Should you be out this late? Isn’t there a protocol I should follow for when gremlins escape and wreak havoc?”

He narrows his eyes and smiles. How could she not recognize that crooked smile? “I’m peeing myself.”

“My comedic genius prevails.”

“Carter invited me, not that you care.”

“I don’t. And he shouldn’t have.”

‘I’m not too excited about it either. My date left me and I have no one to talk to but...you.”

“You don’t even have that.”

Blair begins to walk away in the opposite direction when she sees Chuck, in the most horrendous Halloween costume imaginable mind you (insert here), ushering some poor girl into a room branching off from the main hall.

“Come with me.”

 

***

 

Despite his objection, Dan is pulled along--Blair taking his hand like it’s a reflex. 

They snake their way through loads of people, the purple lighting and thick fog disrupting Dan’s vision.

“If this is how you kill me--”

“Sew your mouth closed for five measly seconds and be useful for once.” Blair hisses, leading him through a door with a narrow hallway on the other side of it.

“Is this what we’re doing now? Going on zany adventures like we’re buddy cops?”

“I loathe you.” Blair presses her back against the nearest wall and silently commands Dan to do the same.

He does, sandwiching himself between the corner and Blair. Up ahead Chuck, and a girl Dan can’t place, laugh and duck into another room.

Stoically, Blair takes a breath and marches after them. 

“Hey.” Dan whispers, cutting off her path. “Don’t go in there.”

She glares back at him, her lips pressed tightly together. She’s determined, but he doesn’t know why.

“Neither of us want to be traumatized that badly tonight. It’s none of our business.”

“I won’t be the one who’s traumatized,” Blair pushes past him with considerable effort and tip-toes towards the sliver of space in the door, peeking in.

 

***

 

She sees Chuck sitting on the bed, his thick legs spread, propped up on his elbows. The girl looks slightly inebriated, but not enough to be slurring her speech or falling on her face. 

“Chuck…”

“I’m a changed man,” Chuck lies, his smirk more of a sneer. “We shouldn’t.”

Self control? Yeah, right. 

The girl ignores his remarks and climbs on top of him. Chuck’s hesitation disappears as he kisses her back, hungrily pulling her towards him.

Dan shuts the door quietly.

 

***

 

Blair rests her head against the wall, closing her eyes. She swallows, a quiver of disgust coming to her mouth.

“I suppose I was special,” she mutters. It seems she realizes Dan’s presence. “Not a word.”

“So you’re going to tell her?”

“We’ll see.”

 

When they emerge, back into the hot, sweaty arms of the loud party they left, Luci is passing by. She raises her glass in Dan and Blair’s direction, as if she knows something.

Blair shifts, glancing at Dan. “We weren’t--I would never…”

“Don’t worry,” She raises her right shoulder to reveal a splotch of glowing red paint. “I’m dead.”

Luci winks and takes off onto the dance floor.

“Right, the game…”

“It’s hardly a game. I’ve read enough mysteries to spot the murderer in a minute.” Blair snaps her fingers.  

Dan arches an eyebrow. “Prove it.”

Blair faces him, crossing her arms. He finally sees the details of her face, the meticulous lining around her eyes--the glitter in just the right places, the curve of her cupid’s bow.

“Let’s see--”

“Seriously?” Nate’s standing there, his mouth hanging wide open. He’s mad--no--hungry, no, jealous? That’s not possible.

 

***

 

Following Nate is a hard task but Blair manages to catch his arm amidst the cluster of people by the bar on the other side of the room. 

“Nate!” She catches her breath. “What’s wrong?”

What’s wrong ?” Nate pinches the bridge of his nose. “What wrong is I’ve been trying to talk to you all night and I find you all up close and personal with Dan.”

“First of all, the mere fact you would even insinuate I would ever be ‘up close and personal’ with Humphrey is offensive, second--”

“Do you even want to make this work? Because I am trying .”

“Try harder!” Blair exclaims before realizing they’re around listening ears. Plastering a smile on her face, she runs a soft hand down his shoulder. “Let’s go somewhere private.”

“No,” Nate puts his hands up, stepping back. “I’m going home. You stay. Have fun.”

Blair doesn’t even get another word in. He’s already gone.



***

 

Dan’s a bystander again--a pedestrian in his own life as he watches Blair and Nate argue from across the room, as he sees Chuck and the girl who is not his girlfriend leave together, as Carter keeps disappearing from his own party to talk in hushed tones with Luci. And it’s all so god damn dramatic.

Serena materializes next to him, much drunker, and tugs on Dan’s sleeve. She takes him to the middle of the main hall and dances within a circle of equally, if not more, drunk people. Her neck hangs over his shoulder. She feels hot--feverish almost.

“Serena?” Dan says, basically propping her up at this point.

“Mm,” is all she says back as she sways in an offbeat manner to the music.

“I’m going to get you some water, okay?”

“Oh, Dan. You’ll make the best big brother,” She manages through sighs. Then, her legs give out.

“You and Eric really have to cut the sibling shit out.”

Blair runs over, helping Dan lift her back onto her feet.

“Let’s take her to the library.”

“There’s a library ?”

 

***

 

She knows this routine all too well.

 

They lay Serena on a green, fainting couch. Carter's father may be the shadiest of all men, but Blair can’t deny his good taste. 

Dan closes the door and stands there for a moment. He’s breathing hard, too hard for Blair to think.

“Humphrey, I need--”

“That’s not just alcohol in her system. She has a fever and--” He begins pacing. “I should’ve--I should’ve kept an eye on her--”

“Dan.”

He stops.

“There’s a bathroom across the hall. I need you to get towels, a glass of water, and a bucket.”

Dan leaves and comes back a few minutes later. Despite a small struggle, Blair spills some of the water into Serena’s mouth. She begins to throw up. Blair rubs her back, puts her hair up, hums “it’s okay” into her neck.

Serena just keeps whispering “I’m sorry, he cheated, I’m sorry”.

After passing Blair another towel, Dan flicks on one of the lamps in the corner and walks around the room, running his fingers against the books. Blair feels naked like this, taking care of someone she’s claimed to despise. She’s glad he doesn’t look at her.

 

***

 

But he does.

He can’t stop.

 

***

 

Once Serena’s completely emptied herself out, Blair tucks her into the couch. She falls asleep right away.

Blair rests by the window, her hair tumbling from it’s up-do, enveloping her shoulders. Dan joins her, sitting on the sill too, taking off his mask and wiping the sliver of mustache Serena must’ve drawn on.

“I’m sorry I froze like that um--”

Blair blinks slowly, her vision blurry. “Don’t mention it. Seriously .”

“Maybe I’ll make a list of things I shouldn’t mention.”

“Maybe.” Blair sniffs. She finally meets Dan’s gaze. “I said I would never do this for her again.”

Dan nods, knowingly somehow. “But you did.”

“Don’t name me a saint just yet,” Blair snarks. She adjusts the ring on her finger.  “Serena is...unorganized, and silly, and inconsiderate, and a complete mess, but sometimes I think she may be the most interesting thing about me.”

Blair inhales, not believing what she's said--what she’s confessed.

“That’s not true. Novels, and argumentative essays, and articles, and presidential debates will be written about you. I promise.” Dan stares at his shoes, but a smile sneaks onto his face.

With nothing to combat that Blair just whispers. “That’ll be the tagline for my book.”

“Or the unbearingly long biopic.”

She laughs, tipping her head against the glass of the window. It’s raining, warm light reflecting off the street lights outside. Dan runs his finger over the condensation, drawing swirling patterns. Blair observes his worn fingers, his side profile glowing in the radiance of the night sky, his long lashes.

“What are you doing here?”

“Lily’s on a date with my dad, and Serena didn’t want to be alone so--”

“No. What are you doing here ? Still?”

Dan dropped his shoulders, exhaling a shaky breath. “Oh. I don’t know. I’m just here.”

“You can’t tell anyone.” However threatening that sentence was supposed to sound, it comes out a squeak.

“And I wouldn’t know what to tell.” He tilts his head. “You’ve never had to make friends before have you?”

“They usually just flock to me and offer gifts, yes. And we are not friends.”

“I agree. It’s too preposterous.”

“Too frightening.”

They share a small laugh, followed by quiet as the rain pours harder.

“Did you ever figure it out?”

“What?”

“The murderers.”

Blair takes out her envelope while Dan takes out his. They switch, and on his it reads “murderer one”, on hers it reads “murderer two”.

“I think we’ve won.”

“I won. I don’t recall you killing anyone.”

Dan’s already taken off. “Westley and Holly. What a crossover, what a team .”

“I’ve never seen ‘The Princess Bride’.”

“All I know is that it’s better than ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’.”

“You can’t possibly be of sound mind to say that you tasteless street urchin.”

“I’m a street urchin for denouncing racism?!”

“Oh my god, I agree that Mickey Rooney is awful, but he’s only in ten percent of the movie!”

“That’s ten percent too much--”

The doors open ahead of them and Carter briskly walks in, kneeling down to look at Serena.

“I’ve been looking for you guys everywhere! What’d she take?”

Blair unfurls herself from the window seat. “The usual cocktail. She’s fine.”

He obviously wants to touch Serena, comfort her, but he doesn’t. “I didn’t even know she came, and it was for her…”

“Serena hates horror movies,” Blair mutters. “She’ll stay at my house, but we need to get out of here. Unseen.”

Dan gets up. “W-what am I supposed to tell Lily? I was supposed to drop her off.”

“Tell Lily…tell her we made up.”

“Go out the back way. Text me when you get home.”

“Okay.”

“I’m not kidding around, Blair.”

“Neither am I.”

Carter gives Serena one last glance and then jogs out to where the party rages on. He yells something like, “get the fuck out”. Dan carries Serena out the back way, Blair following behind.

 

 ***

 

She catches a cab, and although on any other day Dan would argue for the subway, he doesn’t. It just isn’t the night.

They sit down, wet and slick with rain, and as Blair gives the driver directions, Dan studies Serena’s face; snuggled up in a blanket in the passenger seat. It’s like nothing’s happened between them at all--like the slate is clean. For all of the lies and deception and betrayal, he never thought he would find forgiveness under all the rubble.

“Is your friend gonna vomit?” The driver says, turning to Blair.

“If she does I’m sure it’d be an improvement to this--”

Dan clears his throat loudly. “She won’t.”

The guy sucks his teeth and pulls off the curb.

“Not everyone is as gracious as I am when it comes to sparring with you.”

“You’re less gracious and more...cowardly.”

“Believe what you want. I’m still standing.”

“You did not just quote Elton John to me. You’re a walking sweater vest, I swear.”

He chuckles, watching a droplet trickle down the windshield. “So Carter and Serena…?”

“A twisted story for the ages,” Blair finishes sharply, her thin body rocking with the motion of the car. “He’s in love with her.”

“I’ve hardly seen them talk.”

“Some people don’t need conversation--just pure pining and passion.”

“Fuck them.”

Blair laughs out loud; it’s melodic and soft, and Dan thinks, just for a second, that he’d like to do that forever--make her laugh.

“It’s just too easy.” The smile melts from her face as they come to their first stop.

As Blair gets out, something inspires Dan to take her hand--not grab, just take. It’s a soft gesture and her hand’s cold, so soft it feels fuzzy, unreal.

 

***

 

Blair’s stomach twinges, and she feels heat rush up to her face.

Dan opens his mouth, then closes it again, then says, “Good night, Waldorf.”

Words fail her. What comes out at first is a squeak, then a small, “Good night, Humphrey.”

She snatches her hand back and goes to get Serena. Lawrence, one of the doormen, rushes out with an umbrella.

The cab rushes away.

Blair never breaks her gaze with Dan. Why?

It’s a mystery to her.

Chapter Text

 

 

***

“Are you sure you don’t want any?”

Blair and Serena sit on the Met steps, back where they both belong, eating lunch. Blair munches down the kale nightmare Nate’s bought her from the cafeteria, and Serena (with her Olympian-like metabolism) has Shake Shack driven over.

Serena sits one step down, although Blair would like to think she finally realizes her as true Queen B of Constance, the real reason most likely has to do with guilt rather than power. Still, a girl can dream.

Looking at the rest of the kids who go off-campus for lunch, she sees the usual old-money spawn--the kids with carefully crafted and quaffed hair, daddy’s credit card, and polished shoes shining in the autumn sun. Typical. But she sees no skateboards, no dirty sneakers, no unruly hair curling every which way.

Where the hell is Humphrey?

 

***

 

Stress colds, Dan decides, are a completely valid (and real) reason to stay home from school. He also decides, for about three mornings in a row, that he can’t possibly stomach the commute. His dad, preoccupied with all things “Lily” and all the luxury she has to offer, doesn’t notice much. 

It isn’t like he does absolutely nothing. No, there’s plenty to do with Jenny prodding at him everyday for bus money, extra arms to carry her extravagant projects to school, and a talking down every once in a while when Allison doesn’t call--again. He too is now on a first name basis with his own mom. 

And the therapy doesn’t work, an “unnecessary extravagance”. Well, that’s at least what he assures his dad when the bill comes for just a few sessions and Rufus’ eyes practically pop out of his head.

 

Dan’s considering taking another day off, “he gets more work done at home anyway” he tells his dad, when there’s a knock at the door. His sister and Rufus look at each other as bacon sizzles on a pan nearby. 

“Lily makes morning calls now?” Dan half-jokes, half-groans.

Rufus shrugs and grins, going back to breakfast. “See who it is for me, will you? I’m creating culinary art over here.”

Jenny pops a grape in her mouth. “The toast is burning.”

Yawning, Dan opens the door. Carter stands before him, all dressed and clean, contrasting Dan’s bed-head and pajamas.

“You’re here,” Dan rubs his eyes. “I must still be asleep.”

“How else was I supposed to get a hold of you? You’ve kind of gone M.I.A.”

“Carrier pigeon?”

Carter laughs loudly and smacks Dan on the back, letting himself in. “Next time.”

The grapes fall out of Jenny’s mouth one by one as she realizes Carter Baizen has walked into their apartment. Then, she releases something between a yelp and a squeal and scurries to her room.

“That was Jenny.”

“And I’m Rufus.” Rufus wipes his hand on his jeans and take’s Carter’s, shaking it. “Sorry, I didn’t know Dan was having anyone from school over.”

Dan nods. “Neither did I.”

“I’m giving him a ride if that’s okay. We need to do a newspaper thing.” Carter flicks his eyes at Dan while he rolls his own.

“Which I have been working on comfortably from home.”

“I’m sure a change of scenery would do you some good.”

“I don’t think so.”

Rufus flips some eggs onto a plate and slides it towards Carter. “He came all this way Dan. Plus, I don’t want you missing any more days. You’re starting to look like a hermit and attendance is important for your scholarship.”

“I have a cold!”

“It’s passed by now. Go get dressed.”

Dan glares at Carter as he discreetly hands him a packet of vitamin C powder. “For the ‘cold’.

 

Carter’s dad drives, weaves and zips down the bridge, with no concern for traffic laws, in a bright red sports car with the hood down--a bold choice in the middle of November. Dan feels like his skin might freeze and flap off in the wind.

With a quick internet search anyone can know, in a matter of minutes, that Mr. Baizen isn’t your run-of-the-mill father. For one thing, he’s filthy rich--a hand in every shady business imaginable; cheaply made hotels and restaurants, blood diamonds, fast fashion--the list goes on. And it isn’t like he tries very hard to hide it. He talks like an old-timey oil tycoon and dresses like one too. But Dan assumes it’s just as bad as the business everyone else’s parents get up to at Constance and St. Jude’s. He can’t imagine why Carter would care so much.

“So, Daniel .” “Dan” just doesn’t seem to cut it for the uber-wealthy. It must be harder to sneer.

“Yes, sir?”

“Call me Roger.”

Carter glances back from the passenger seat as “Roger” stares at Dan in the rearview mirror. He wishes he would just look at the road.

“Don’t call him Roger.” Carter sighs. “One of my father’s favorite hobbies is lying.”

Mr. Baizen wheezes out a laugh, slapping his knee. “I had you for a second there, didn’t I?”

Not sure what the joke is, Dan just stays silent, praying he doesn’t die in a car with Carter and a man who has several gold teeth.

“Would you consider yourself an upstanding gentleman, Daniel?”

“I guess?”

“I can hardly hear you!” Mr. Baizen bellows. “Say it with some fervor!”

“I-I GUESS?”

“That’s better! So, what are your plans after you graduate?”

Dan almost always has an answer for this question prepared. “Dartmouth--for writing.”

“A man who knows what he wants.” Mr. Baizen roughly ruffles Carter’s hair--to Carter’s obvious disdain. “I can’t get this one to decide on anything.”

“I decide just fine. You just don’t like my decisions.”

“And your family...are they supportive?”

“Yeah, really supportive.”

“Financially as well?”

“Uh--”

Carter scoffs. “Walt Baizen, making everyone and their mothers uncomfortable since ‘32.”

“That’s not when I was born and you know it!” “Walt” inhales. “Daniel, I want you to know that although my family wears many hats...we are mainly in the business of making friends. You understand don’t you?”

“Not really.”

Reaching back, Mr. Baizen hands Dan a sleek, black business card. “If you ever need anything, like work perhaps, I’m only a call away.”

A cell phone chimes in the front seat and Mr. Baizen picks up, suddenly talking quietly. 

“Shred everything if you have to…”

Carter turns his head. Dan shifts and reveals the tape recorder in his pocket before putting it out of Mr. Baizen’s eyeline.

 

***

 

Bubbles erupt into Blair’s glass, and all over the limo’s seats, as Serena pours them a (as she puts it) “well deserved” drink.

“Be careful! This coat is velvet.”

Serena gasps, laughing. “Oh no !’

“What do we have to celebrate at eight ‘o’ clock in the morning?”

“Us.” Serena taps her glass against Blair’s, taking a sip. “Our friendship.”

“Back by popular demand...” Blair mutters.

She’s not sure when it happened, or how Serena slipped her way past Blair’s very carefully built walls, but they’re friends again (after some very long conversation, and a slight stunt of scratching and pulling)--everything just how it was, with promises of better behavior tapped onto the end of it.

“Okay, let’s go” Blair takes the flutes and puts them away. She steps out of the car. “I cannot be late today. I have a test first period and the first round of debates--”

Parked behind them, Blair sees her uncle, Mr. Baizen’s, ridiculous, red sports car. It isn’t unusual for Carter to show up in the most obnoxious vehicle known to man in a city of car service and pedestrians. What is un usual is the Humphrey-sized indent in the car’s white seats, and the Humphrey-sized Humphrey stepping out of the car.

The wind’s chapped his lips, and his cheeks are pink from the cold. His face is the slightest bit more angular, like he hasn’t been eating.

Oh God, what is she? An italian grandmother?

“Praise be. My morning’s been properly ruined.” Blair looks at Serena, who’s already on her way up the sidewalk--probably to escape Carter’s “are you okays”. “Shall we?”

 

She makes it until third period before her friends are asking what the Serena situation is--why she’s been spending more and more time with them. They catch her on the East stairwell.

“I’m just confused,” Katie says, pursing her lips.

Blair lifts a shoulder lightly and smiles. “What’s new?.”

“A better word is concerned,” Roxie offers, clutching her books to her chest. “Serena’s hurt you in the past, who’s to say she won’t do it again?”

I say.”

“We’re just looking out for you.”

“No, you’re acting like a pack of hungry hyenas wondering what you’ll pounce on next.”

Katie tilts her head. “I thought hyenas only eat plants.”

Blair’s eyes widen as she knocks on Katie’s forehead. “Anyone in there?”

Isabelle huffs. “Just watch out or else…”

“Or else what?”

Blair’s sharp words hang in the air.

Then, someone comes stomping down the stairs. She turns and sees Dan pretending to speak into his phone. He coughs and sniffs.

“Yeah, I think it might be that river disease that’s going around. How was I supposed to know you can’t swim in the Hudson?”

Horrified, the girls flee.

Blair fights the tug that pulls at the corners of her mouth and rolls her eyes.

“To be completely honest I wouldn’t put it past you to jump into the Hudson.”

“If I’m around you enough, I’ll do anything.” His shoulder brushes against hers as he heads to the window overlooking the courtyard. “You're welcome by the way.”

You’re not.” She joins him, trying her best not to ask him where he’s been, which would imply she cares. “May I ask what you are fraternizing with my uncle now? This is nearing restraining order territory, Humphrey.”

“Yes, it is. You have far too many questions about my personal life.” Dan smirks. “We were carpooling. It’s good for the environment.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Ranger Rick.”

Dan chuckles, bowing his head. “How are you? How’s Serena?”

“Fine.” Blair sucks in a breath. “Shouldn’t you know these things already as her soon-to-be creepy step brother?”

“God, no. I’ve, um, been at home.” Dan winces, and turns his back to the window as if he’ll go. He doesn’t. “And you?”

“Me what?”

“How are you?”

Blair doesn’t abandon her snark. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

“I would. That’s why I asked.” His face is plain if not unsure, as if it’s a simple gesture she should be used to.

“Oh. Well, I am about to be the first female class president in this school’s history. My skin is glowing, I just got a new coat, I have a boyfriend who worships me, and Nelly Yuki is about to be knocked down from highest GPA to second by yours truly.”

“So…good?”

Blair blinks. She thought she had implied that. “Yes.”

“Glad to hear someone’s doing well.” He touches his forehead against the glass and gives her a side eye, smiling. “Even if it’s you.”

She feels herself reaching up to gently lift a strand of his hair. “Your macabre mood is ruining mine. Maybe a haircut will help.”

“You want to recreate our little wrestling match by the pool?”

“You wouldn’t stand a chance.” Blair chuckles. “Don’t be mad just because you look like a muppet. That isn’t my fault.”

“I--” Dan looks up suddenly, his eyes following something out on the courtyard. “That’s, uh, disappointing.”

Blair follows his gaze and sees Serena standing in front of Chuck, her arms crossed, his arms around her.

“Over my dead, beautiful, rotting corpse.”

“Blair... it isn’t--”

“When it comes to people I love, I make it my business.”

 

***

 

He gets hit in the face with a fistful of hair as Blair begins to charge down her war path. Hm. Vanilla.

“You’re gonna make a scene and I’m sure that’s the last thing Serena wants…” Dan pleads, rushing after her, trying not to fall down the stairs.

“I’m handling things Upper East Side style, Humphrey.”

“So you’re going to ask to speak to Chuck’s manager? Tell him he looks fat in his dress?” Dan chuckles.

Blair stops and turns, flicking Dan between the eyes. “This is serious, you classless producer of corniness.”

She continues on to the courtyard and so does he. “When has confrontation ever worked out for you, Blair?”

“When has it not ?”



“Chuck Bass.” He glances over his shoulder, turning when he sees it’s Blair. “As future class president and a morally sane person I hereby decree that you stay the fuck away from Serena and start walking in that direction until you start to see fish and feel the deep water pressure on the ocean’s floor.”

Other students start to circle around them, licking their chops at the sight of strife.

“You two are best friends again? Invite me next time you kiss and make up--”

“Shut up. Just shut up. If I wanted you to speak I would’ve whistled.”

“Blair stop,” Serena urges, her eyes flighty.

Blair keeps her eyes lasered in on Chuck. “I haven’t even gotten started.”

“Look, you annoying little bitch,” he takes a step closer to Blair.

Dan steps in, despite his better judgement, and pushes Chuck back. “Okay. I think everyone’s had quite enough of this episode of the Young and the Restless--”

“Have we?!” Patrick says from somewhere in the crowd.

“Yeah. We have.”

“You’ve really just crawled your way in haven’t you? My friends, my school...” Chucks nods to Blair. “Her panties no doubt.”

Feeling his nostrils flare, Dan narrows his eyes. “Trust me, I am still very much from Brooklyn and I’m pretty sure the vitamin C powder Carter gave me is laced with something. So you need to go.”

“Back to hell!” Blair sing-songs.

Chuck throws his head back and laughs, turning around. Dan feels the tension leave his body, but that doesn't last long. He gets punched in the face.

 

And then Dan’s in a fight. His first one at that.

He knew he should’ve stayed home.

 

***

 

The fight is broken up quickly; the administration being scared to death of Constance and St. Jude’s resembling any part of a public school. Dan and Chuck are sent to the headmaster’s office along with Blair and Serena who apparently “incited” the violence. But no one believes Serena could do that, no, that must all have been “Bad Girl Blair”.

Adequately pissed off, Serena crosses her arms and sits next to Chuck. They don’t talk, but Blair glares at them all the same to make sure whatever twisted sexual tension is left between them is tarnished by her disapproval.

Next to her, Dan groans. His knuckles are bruised and his lip is practically cut open--courtesy of Chuck’s large, gaudy rings.

Blair opens up her bag, rifling through it for a while, until she finds a packet of tissues. “Here. Apply pressure.”

Slowly, Dan takes a tissue and presses it to his swollen lip--more pouted than usual. 

“Gee, thanks.”

Blair catches a quick glance at Chuck. He looks fairly beaten up, and his purposely messy hair is just...messy. 

She feels Dan’s eyes on her.

“If you want me to applaud that embarrassing display of male bravado I suggest you look elsewhere.”

Dan huffs. His knee begins to bounce, and when Blair looks down his hands are shaking.

“Humphrey?”

“Fuck,” he hisses under his breath, before getting up and rushing into the hallway.

Blair follows him, finding Dan in an empty hallway with his back pressed against the lockers. He’s doubled over, his hands grasping onto his knees. His chest caves in and out as he breathes out hard, shallow breaths.

“If I had known you had such complex rage issues, I would have never insulted your hair. Although it is quite nest-like.” Blair tries to joke.

Dan remains in his position. “I am not like you. I’m not like any of you, which you love to remind me.”

“What?”

He’s louder this time, rising and resting his head back. “I’m the scholarship kid.”

“I gathered that.” Blair looks down. “Calm down. Everything will be fine.”

“Oh I’m sure you, Chuck, and Serena will be just peachy.” He shakes his head and laughs bitterly. “You know what? You were right. I don’t belong here in this tornado of drama, and lies, and all of your other bullshit.”

Blair’s face grows hot. “ My bullshit? I never asked you to get in a fight! I never asked you to get involved, period.”

“You didn’t have to.” Dan says in almost a whisper. His eyes bore into her, his breath slows.

The headmaster pokes his head out of the front office door and clears his throat. 

“Daniel. I’m ready for you now.”

Dan follows him. And he doesn’t look back.

 

***

 

It’s made clear Dan won’t simply get a slap on the wrist almost immediately. The headmaster tells him they’ll get the board involved to decide the fate of him and his scholarship. “We’ll call you as this develops.”

 They spew the usual bullshit, “you started the fight, we expect more from you, and bla, bla, bla, but Dan’s sure it has much more to do with his bank account--how much is in it that is. 

He’s sent home early, and he thanks an empty sky that his dad’s working. Then again, he wishes he wasn’t.

 

***

 

“May I ask you a question?”

Headmistress Cooley pinches the bridge of her nose. “No, Ms. Waldorf, this is not a conversation. This is a disciplinary meeting.”

Blair leans forward, folding her hands over the woman’s desk. “Of course, but I’m disappointed you aren’t eager to foster curiosity in your students--”

“Go ahead!” Cooley exclaims, gritting her teeth.

Sitting back, Blair smiles her sweetest smile. “How much money does Waldorf Designs put towards this school’s arts’ scholarship programs?”

Cooley narrows her eyes. “I’m sure you know.”

“Remind me. My memory is so foggy these days.

“It’s a considerably high sum of money. Let’s leave it at that shall we?”

“Over a hundred thousand dollars. It would be a shame if all of that were to say...disappear. I know how much this school prides itself on alumni support. Students would start dropping like flies. And I hear Williamsburg Prep is climbing in the ranks for best school in the city.”

“Hm.” Cooley nods. “Consider yourself warned this time Ms. Waldorf. You may leave now.”

“Please. We both know the most I would ever get was a warning. I want to talk about Dan Humphrey.”

“He’ll be punished accordingly.”

“No, he won’t.”

“Ms. Waldorf you’ll do well to remember I still have some authority at this school. We hold our scholarship students to a different standard so we can avoid these situations--”

“You should examine that. It’s quite problematic,” Blair looks away, and rises. “If you so much as yell in Dan’s direction I’ll have every alumni and parent pull their donations within eight hours.”

“Ms.--”

“Have a lovely day!”



The rest of the day--the rest of the week really--goes by slow, painfully slow. Blair does what she always does; class, Nate, the campaign. All that’s missing is Dan, nudging her in the hallways, and being an annoyance in general. But that wasn’t part of her intricately detailed life before and it isn’t now. Everything is as it should be.

Perhaps that’s the problem--perhaps that's what 's making her stomach churn.

Even though she gets him an infinite number of “get out of jail free” cards Dan doesn’t talk to Blair for what seems like decades. They don’t even have their glares in passing--just the complete radio silence. They’re worse than interruptions, they’re strangers.

 

But it’s okay. Because it’s her birthday. Finally, and if sixteen had to be as sour as it was then seventeen must be sweet.

Serena comes in as usual, like when they’re five again, just as she wakes up, and jumps onto her bed, smothering her with golden hair. Dorota follows in shortly after with breakfast, and they eat in bed. Blair forgot how much she’s missed chocolate croissants in the morning with her best friend.

“You’re surprisingly calm,” Serena says, biting into a strawberry.

Blair lifts her sleeping mask off her head and smooths her hair. “Am I?”

“Yes. Usually at this point on your birthday you’re screaming at caterers and calling Nate to see if he’s picked up what you’ve put on hold at Tiffany's.”

The phone on her nightstand rings. Blair immediately picks it up, hoping to hear from her father at least once today.

It’s only a telemarketer. 

Grimacing, Blair forces a laugh, twirling the ring on her finger. “...I’m trying to loosen my iron grip on the reins, for now. Plus, at this point Nate has to know what I want. He practically has the “map of Blair” committed to memory. Who needs calls from fathers when I have prospective diamonds from Nate.”

“He’ll call. I promise. He’s never missed a birthday, right?”

“Let’s change the subject.”

Serena giggles, “If we can’t talk about our daddy issues, what else do we have?”

“Hm, let me mull that over… Oh! How about you tell me why you’re inviting Chuck to my surprise birthday party despite his sliminess.”

Serena’s mouth hangs open. “How did you find out this time?! I was so careful. I even had Katie, Isabelle, and Roxie to help.”

“Katie dropped your gift here rather than the dry cleaners.” Blair points to the pink, tulle dress plucked straight from an 80s movie hung on her closet door. “You know I hate 16 Candles, don’t you?”

Serena scrunches her nose cheekily. “Yeah, which is why tonight will be a dream come true.”

“Dream…? Flowers...forest…? Midsummer Night’s Dream?”

The girls burst out laughing.

“You’re the worst! That is seriously disturbing, Blair.”

“I have a gift.”

As she gathers her things, Serena kisses Blair’s cheek. “I’ll see you tonight. Make sure to at least act surprised.”

“Make sure to leave your dog in it’s cage.”

“I…” Serena’s shoulders drop. “It’s not that simple. We have this whole history.”

“How much of that history made you happy?” Blair sighs. “Look, I wasn’t going to say anything, because ew, but whatever happened between you and Carter…”

From downstairs, Dorota calls up, “Serena I need you to...uh...help me with something--very much unrelated to centerpieces.”

“Duty calls.” Serena heads out the door.

“Pink icing.”

“What?”

“For the cake. Pink icing.”

“Of course.”



***

 

“TWENTY-FOUR!” The woman at the front counter of the deli shouts, although the numbers are clearly displayed above her head.

Dan and his dad shuffle forward, his dad’s arms filled with a brown bag of bread. In his quest to become “reinvolved” in Dan and Jenny’s life he’s offered to make dinner like he used to--five courses to “bust the button on anyone’s jeans”. Rufus’ words not Dan’s.

“So, fill me in.”

Dan gnaws on a sample of cheese he doesn’t enjoy. “On?”

“Everything! School, the newspaper, friends, girls, a particular girl..?” Rufus nudges him.

Although his life has been filled to the brim with all of those things it hasn’t been in the way his dad thinks. And Dan isn’t eager to spill the chaotic happenings of the Upper East Side just yet. How can he casually say, “well, I watched Blair save Serena from an overdose, and Carter’s mobster father might’ve offered me a job as a henchman, and I didn’t really fall down the stairs while biting my lip too hard--I got into a fight.”? That was something he’d keep to himself until...maybe the memoirs.

“There’s been nothing. Nothing at all. I feel like you have more of a social life than me honestly,” Dan laughs, trying not to sound too bitter.

“Yeah...I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that--”

“Dan! Rufus!”

Turning, they see Serena, walking, teetering, with a handful of shopping bags on one arm and a huge box in the other.

Dan catches the box just in time, before it falls on the floor. 

“Thank you,” Serena says breathlessly. “Katie and Isabelle abandoned me somewhere between the fifth and sixth store.”

“TWENTY-FIVE!”

“I’ll let you two talk,” Rufus says, making his way to the counter to order.

Dan balances the huge box. “Jesus, did you buy a person?”

“Is that what you think people with money do?”
He shrugs. “Is there anything you guys can’t do?”

Serena shakes her head and laughs. “That happens to be a cake for Blair. Be careful.”

“So now that you two are best friends again, you’re her errand girl?”

“I owe her a kidney at this point.” As Dan feels even more of an idiot, Serena clears her throat. “You’re coming tonight aren’t you? I’m sure Blair’s already filled you in on all the details. God, she’s probably known for weeks…”

“Um, we aren’t exactly--”

“Hey! Here’s an idea I just came up with; you and I should go to the party together!”

“That idea isn’t great--”

“No, it’s perfect!” Serena fidgets desperately, shouldering her heavy bags.

Dan inhales, looking around for anyone to save him. There’s no one--just a questioning look from his dad who he remembers wants to divulge something about his social life.

“Alright, let’s do it. But I won’t stay for long.”

“Great!”

Serena nods to the cab waiting outside. Dan yells a quick “I’m going to help Serena, I’ll be home later”, and before Rufus can object, their ride is peeling off the curb.

 

***

She checks her lipstick in the reflection of the elevator's walls. It’s perfect.

She checks her messages. They’re empty.

 

One must arrive at a not-so-surprise party thirty minutes late. Usually the host, Serena, sets the arrival time to fifteen minutes late. But Blair accounts for the additional five minutes it takes for them to finalize the decorations and the extra ten minutes Isabelle spends looking for a hiding place.

When she walks in, the apartment is dark save for the few warm, twinkly lights strung between the fake vines and foliage hung on the ceiling.

“SURPRISE!”

Blair smiles accordingly, opening her mouth and showing all of her teeth. Serena, and a crowd of other girls she doesn’t have the time to place, sprint up to her, placing a floral headband on her head. It presses against her temples.

“There’s games in that room…” Serena beams

Roxies links arms with Blair, “Who cares, we both know you’re all about the presents.”

Isabelle catches up with them. “You just have to open my present first. I went all out.”

Katie snorts. “You can say that again.”

Blair presses her lips together, breathing in the attention when her mother steals her away. Eleanor gives her a fast, if not cold, kiss on the cheek and hands her a glass of chilled champagne.

“Wow, we’re not even pretending anymore,” Blair takes a sip, letting the bubbles run down her throat--cooling it. “And I was getting so good at this one act play of ours.”

“You’re old enough for champagne--nothing else,” Eleanor warns, running her finger down an already smooth tendril of Blair’s hair. “And it’s no secret you’ve had a hard year.”

Blair straightens. “It couldn’t have been that hard. We’re Waldorf women.” 

“That’s my girl.” Eleanor looks past her at a man across the room Blair’s never seen before. “I must go brag about you now. I heard your debate went very well.”

She catches her mother’s arm. “Please don’t network tonight.”

“Really, Blair, to calm down. I’m chatting, being amiable. Try it some time.” Eleanor disappears.

 

Blair finds Serena having what looks like a very intimate conversation with Carter in the guest room.

Serena jumps away from him rapidly. “Blair! We were just…”

“Have you seen Nate?”

Carter chuckles, gulping down the stolen scotch in his glass. “Lover boy is never late.”

Serena stands, squeezing Blair’s shoulder softly. “He isn’t here? I told him to come at seven.”

Blair leaves them alone again--useless.

Sighing, she stares at the DJ in the corner of the next room. “This is our song.”

“Come do karaoke with us!” Roxie demands, pulling her away.

“I really don’t feel like having Katie screech Dancing Queen into my ears right now.”

“Trust me, you want to do karaoke. Trina and Garreth are having an extremely public break up by the bar.”

 

After five half-hearted 80s songs, Blair escapes onto the balcony--the frigid fall air rushing through her. She shivers, holding the railings until her knuckles turn white. 

A shadow crosses her vision.

 

***

 

You.

Dan’s caught, again it seems, as he tries to slip back into the party. He looks over his shoulder. Blair hasn’t even turned around, her back muscles tensing in their cream white casing, and a few freckles peeking out from her lavender dress.

And once again, Dan’s made inadequate in his simple flannel and jeans.

“Me.” He says, setting his drink, one he’s been holding more out of anxiety than thirst on the railing--in the five inch space between them.

Blair puts her eyes on him just to flick them away and then put them back on him like a light switch.

“That’s it?”

Dan purses his lips, but he still says nothing. He’s not sure if anything lies past the banter and he doesn’t want to know.

“You’re giving me the silent treatment?” Blair exhales heavily. “Good. I needed a break from you and your constant ramblings that, by the way, are fit for a deranged lunatic with the hygiene of an unwashed busker.”

He can only stare at her as the veins become more prominent at the sides of her forehead.

Her voice rises. “I am being ignored by my mother, my father hasn’t called me all day, this headband is probably murdering some of my brain cells, Nate doesn’t have a romantic bone in his body, and to top it all off, the world’s biggest social outcast isn’t even talking to me.”

Swallowing, Dan feels his hand move towards Blair’s head and slowly remove the flowery thing off her hair. As wisp of red strands float before her face, she stares back at him.

He bite the inside of his cheek and hands her the headband. 

And just like that she’s back, spouting off words a mile a minute. “Our generation has completely lost the art of grand gestures and poetry--and--and I know Nate can’t write me a poem, but he can do something passionate. I can’t spend all my time working towards that. Iit has to be now or never...wait. Who invited you ?”

Before Dan can say anything Serena comes over with her phone in hand. “Nate got caught up in something, but he says happy birthday.”

He called you ?”

The cake, a towering pink-tiered masterpiece, comes out, equipped with a crowd of adoring eyes.

Happy birthday to you…

Dan watches as Blair begins to breathe hard, tears welling up in her eyes.

Happy birthday to you…

She hikes up her dress and runs.

 

***

 

As she stares at the wall, tears stream from her eyes onto the pillow beneath her head. Alone, and on her birthday no less, Blair tries not to send everyone home, tries not to eat everything just to deprive herself of it, tries not to shatter into a million little pieces. 

Someone knocks softly on the door.

“Go away. I’m...bleeding.” She rolls over so her back is to whoever’s there.

The right side of the bed dips, and she smells...pine and the old scent of books. Dan.

“Crimson puss is pouring out of me. Be gone!”

“Did I take a wrong turn into a bad horror movie?”

Frustrated, Blair sits up, ignoring her mascara stained cheeks. “You--”

“I happen to love horror movies.”

Dan nudges a plate with a perfectly cut slice of cake towards her, a single candle stuck in the middle of it.

“Your gift madame..”

Feigning excitement, Blair claps her hands together. “ Wow ! A slice of birthday cake from my own party. Congratulations, Humphrey, you've lowered the bar back into hell.”

“I wasn’t aware I would be attending this party until an hour ago. Plus, if I had gotten you a real present it would mean we’re friends. And we can’t have that.

“No, we can’t.” Blair straightens and furrows her brow. “I thought you were making some pathetic attempt not to talk to me..”

“Oh I pause grudges for weddings, funerals, and birthday parties. Tsk, I thought you wealthy people understood contracts better than that.

“Lucky me,” Blair says sarcastically, although she might mean it.

“My sentiments exactly.” He takes out his lighter and a flames bursts forth. Before he can light it Blair takes out a cigarette from her nightstand, her secret stash, and guides Dan’s hand towards the end of it, his warm finger shaking a bit when she touches them. He watches her as the flame catches the paper and begins to eat away at the tobacco.

“For good luck,” Blair mutters, blowing smoke out the side of her mouth.

To her surprise, instead of chastising her on the dangers of smoking, Dan simply lights the candle and snatches the cigarette from her mouth, putting in his own.

“Excuse me!”

“For good luck. Who am I to stand in the way of your warped birthday traditions? Let’s get you as far as eighteen though.” Dan lifts the now-lit slice of cake so it’s floating in midair between them. “Make a wish.”

Blair feels her eyes begin to well up again.

“It already didn’t come true.”

Dan chuckles, shrugs like a little boy. “Make a new one.”

“This can’t possibly be my life.”

“Blair, I will start singing Feliz Cumpleanos at the top of my lungs if you don’t make a wish right now.”

“Okay, okay.” 

Blair tucks her hair behind her ears and leans forward. She glances up at Dan, his face illuminated by the orange and yellow flames. It’s warm, inviting even--like she could dive into his glistening eyes.

Make a new one.

She closes her eyes and blows out the candle.

“Another Louis bag? Brand new car?” Dan pries, smirking.

“Brand new Blair.”

Dan takes a dime sized amount of frosting and dots Blair’s nose slowly. She’s too stunned to react as he licks the frosting off his thumb.

“That’s too bad. The older model was starting to grow on me.”

Blair shoves the entire slice of cake in his face.

It’s quite hilarious.

“Happy Birthday, Waldorf.”

Chapter Text

Content Warning: Depictions of ED, Anxiety, and Panic Attacks

***

 

Dan stands in the middle of a busy crosswalk when it happens again; the heavy, shallow breathing, the shaky hands, the racing heart. 

He’s remembering the conversation he’s just had with his dad. Every word, every pause between sentences is committed to memory. He can’t stop replaying it in his head.

A stream of sun-soaked red hair passes by him. It’s Blair, and before he can explain what he’s doing in the middle of the street, she grabs his arm and yanks him forward.

“If you have a death wish, inform me first. I have connections.”

Dan swallows, trying to brush off the feeling of overwhelming nervousness. 

“You want me dead?”

“Yes. You know too much.”

“Why? Because I saw your room?”

“Among other things--”

“Don’t worry Waldorf, I’m sure it’s perfectly normal to have seven Audrey Hepburn posters in your room. Even if it’s of the homo-erotic persuasion.”

It’s not his best zinger but making fun of Blair makes him feel better, if you discount the shove she gives him back.

“She is my idol , you ass.” She narrows her eyes as they come across one of the freshmen from the Daily St. 's handing out newspapers like it’s the 1800s. Blair takes one and hands it to Dan with a loud smack. “Speaking of the homo-erotic persuasion...your article on Carter came out.”

Dan rolls his eyes. “I’m aware.”

“When you’re not describing his “perfect hair” you’re actually quite harsh.” They stop walking right before the corner they have to turn before the school gate. “If I knew you had such an affinity for me and my presidency I wouldn’t have been so nice .”

Laughing, Dan continues, his shoulder bumping into Blair’s. “I would hate to find out what you’re like when you’re mean.”

“Let’s hope you’ll never have to…” Blair begins to branch off with the rest of the crowd meandering into Constance.

Dan stops her, fully aware he’s about to make an idiot out of himself for the hundredth time in his life. 

Blair arches an eyebrow. “I do have a life outside of making you miserable. Move along.” 

Taking a deep breath, Dan smiles.

Don’t go through that door!

There lies Blair Waldorf;

Dormant, if not evil, soul,

Cesarean morality

Makes and makes a fool out of me--

She looks up at him incredulously, holding a hand out. “What is this?”

“Your poem, as requested.”

“Okay, you’re not allowed to address me anymore.”

“I'll write down the rest!” He calls after her.

Blair’s already skipped ahead, meeting her friends as they head inside. She glances over her shoulder to either smile at him or laugh--either is acceptable enough.

Then Nate joins her too, putting an arm around like they’re perfectly fine. Maybe they are.

Dan wouldn’t know.

 

***

 

“You have to be there.”

Nate nods slowly, looking down. “I’ll try. But you know how my mom is about tradition. Missing an Archibald Thanksgiving is basically punishable by death.”

“If you’re not there I will become physically ill.”

He knits his eyebrows, concerned. “Not funny.”

“So I’m not even allowed to joke about it?”

“Honestly, I’m not sure. There’s no rule book.”

“Fair enough.” Blair drapes her hands around his neck. “My parents haven’t directly spoken in months. They’ll go Cold War nuclear unless there’s common ground--a buffer. And they love us together.”

“Who doesn’t?” Nate laughs, but his eyes remain on the floor. “Okay. I’ll try.”

“I forgave you for missing my birthday.” Blair holds up her ring finger. “If this means anything you’ll do more than try.”

 

As she and Nate release each other, she sees Cater walking towards the Newsroom. She brightly walks next to him, taking the “Vote Carter pin” off his lapel. 

“I can’t imagine you’d need this anymore.”

“You’re chipper.” He groans. “Has someone died?”

“No, better. Someone’s lost.”

Carter stops and glances around the hallway. “Did that kid get in here again? Security at this school has taken a tumble.”

“Being related to you is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Don’t worry, half of these are Walt's genes.” He taps his temple. “And if you’re referring to the presidential race, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings.”

“Or until your rent-a-friend writes a scathing article about your heinous whereabouts and Uncle Walt’s shady dealings. Good luck explaining that away after Thanksgiving break.”

“The people like to be involved, Blair. They don’t want the glossed over plastic princess. They want the raw, flawed man--a guy they can have a beer with.”

“Is that what your campaign manager told you?”

“Close, but no. That would be Dan.”

Blair’s face drops. “Seriously?”

Carter laughs, his feet shuffling about giddily. “Nah, but you should’ve seen your face! Maybe I should rent my ‘rent-a-friend’ for a few more weeks since you seem like him so much.”

“I do not!”

Pretending to swipe at her face, Carter sticks his thumb through his knuckles. “I’ve got your nose, and it seems to be growing, Pinocchio.”

“You--”

He’s already walking away, calling back, “I got your nose now, you can’t talk!”

“That’s not how it works!” Blair yells after him before straightening herself and heading off.

 

***

 

And then he’s back there again, worrying and biting his nails again.

This time, he does it in a much more appropriate place: the skate park, sitting on his board in the middle of a cement bowl as annoyed skaters maneuver around him.

Dan spends his last day of school before the break invisible--basically--seeing as old patterns are easy to repeat. But he isn’t eager to go home and continue his and his dad's conversation, so he settles for a much needed, if not delayed, trip to the park with Vanessa and Eli.

He knows he looks ridiculous in his crumpled school uniform (Vanessa’s been teasing him mercilessly), but he rather be here than the apartment, which has caught a peculiar strain of the “Lily virus”. Even Jenny, a girl who adores and idolizes her mother completely, loves Lily like all of that is vapor.

“And here…” Vanessa slowly walks around Dan, her camera only inches from his face. “We have the restless, and sad, wooly mammoth.”

Dan hugs his knees. “I am not wooly .”

“Yeah, you are,” Eli chortles.

When he only responds with a few mumbles and “herumphs”, Vanessa’s shoulders drop and she kicks Dan lightly with the toe of her boot.

“Bullying you isn’t as hilarious when you’re sad.”

“Agreed.” Eli sits too, to the disappointment of the already pissed off skaters waiting to drop in. “I feel like a dick now.”

Dan smiles. “And that’s new…?”

“There he is!” Vanessa exclaims, flipping her camera back on.

Squinting up at her in the sun, Dan puts a hand up. “I don’t feel like being documented.”

Vanessa sits too--equaling more curses and groans from the skaters above. “Okay, what is going on dude? You’re bumming me out.”

Eli pouts. “Are you spending too much time with the bad kids?”

“Aren’t you guys the bad kids?”

“No, and it’s racist to say so!” Eli puts his head on Vanessa’s shoulder. “ We are the cool kids. Your little rich friends are the bad kids.”

“I wouldn’t call them friends. Although two of them really want to call me a sibling.”

Vanessa wheezes. “What?!”

“We haven’t caught up in a while have we?” Dan chuckles to the ground. “My dad’s dating Lily Van der Woodsen.”

“Oh, Eli filled me in on that. Didn’t know it was so serious, though.”

“Yeah I--”

“Just wait until he starts dating, dating . I mean I knew my mother was a serial monogamist, but what I didn’t know was that her taste in men plummeted after the late 90s.”

Eli and Vanessa help Dan up and they continue to skate and talk, this consisting mostly of Eli and Vanessa comparing prospective “father figures” they’ve encountered; “the clumsy, the creepy, and the downright catastrophic”. He figures his problems can be on the back burner. In all honesty, he wouldn’t know where to start anyway.

As they leave, Eli pulls Dan aside. “Just chill out. This whole thing will blow over in no time.”

“I highly doubt that.”

“When have I been wrong?” He makes a good point. “You’ll come over for pie tomorrow right?”

“When have I ever missed desserts?”

“Good point, ‘Chubby Cheeks’, I'll see you later!”

“I liked ‘Danny’ better....”

 

***

 

It’s Thanksgiving morning, and Blair wakes up like it’s Christmas. 

Downstairs, she can already hear the caterers and cooks rattling about with pots and pans of the most divine food on Earth. 

She rushes past Dorota, who offers an array of outfit options, making her way downstairs as her robe billows behind her like a cape. Making a few stops to taste test the beginning of a feast fit for royalty, Blair finds her mother delegating over centerpiece placement.

“Good morning.”

Her mother mumbles a few more things to a woman jotting notes down and waves her off. She turns to Blair and adjusts her daughter’s garments.

“Blair please go put something decent on. We have people in the house.”

“It’s just the staff,” Blair chirps.

“You seem...bubbly. Has someone cloned you?” Eleanor chuckles, having got a kick out of herself--as she always does.

“No mother, haven’t been cloned. I’m excited.”

“Ah.”

“Has Daddy arrived yet?”

“I hope that’s not the source of your excitement. The man missed your birthday.”

“But he practically sent me an entire parade of flowers the next to make up for it,” Blair argues, looking around. “So, is he on his way up or…?”

Distractedly, Eleanor begins to attend to the floral arrangements. “He was a bit delayed.”

“Oh.”

“Don’t worry about that, alright?” Blair’s mother does her best to be warm, putting her hands on Blair’s shoulders. “Go get dressed. I want you to look your very best, our guest list has extended vastly and a few very important people are coming.”

“To our Thanksgiving?”

“Darling, this is the Thanksgiving. Go on.”

Blair is ushered off towards the stairs where Dorota waits with dresses.

“Dorota, you should feel lucky your family is tied up in their mob business.”

“How did you--?”

“When I’m bored I go through your purse,” Selecting two of her choices, Blair begins walking upstairs. “Stop stealing ketchup packets, by the way. We have adequate condiments right here.”

 

***

 

Typing in his mom’s phone number, Dan hits the green “dial” button and again, listening to the monotonous, buzzing hum reverberate into his ears. 

Hi, you’ve reached Allison. I can’t get to the phone right now, but leave me a message and I’ll get back to you.

“Hey, mom um…” Dan pinches the bridge of his nose. “Your voicemail is really misleading, do you know that? ‘I’ll get back to you’ implies lack of longevity between your aforementioned unavailability and you getting back to me. You-you can’t keep lying like that, okay? When you say you’ll get back to someone, you should. When you promise to be together with someone forever and raise their kids, you should.”

If you would like to delete your message press one. If--

Dan presses one, furiously shoving his phone back in his pocket. He considers throwing it off the fire escape he sits on. By the time his mom returns his call it’ll be unavailable, and she’ll get so concerned she’ll come over. 

No, that’s crazy.

Jenny pokes her head through the window. “We need you in the kitchen ASAP.”

When Dan looks behind him he sees that Jenny’s face is covered in flour and the apron she wears is charred at the bottom.

“This is a journey you’ll have to take without me.”

“Come on, stupid. It’s cold out here.”

Sniffing, Dan nods and climbs back into the apartment. When they get to the kitchen his dad is indeed struggling, fanning and whipping a dish towel at the screaming fire alarm.

“Leave the windows open!”

“When’s mom getting here?” Jenny says, “We can have ruined mashed potatoes but we can’t have ruined turkey!”

Rufus looks away, fidgeting with the dial on the stove. “No need to worry. I just don’t do well with an audience.”

Serena, lying on the couch, sits up. “We should leave then.”

“Whoa, whoa park it. I was kidding. I’m glad you guys are here, I’ve missed big Thanksgivings.”

Dan recalls the small family meals he’s had since birth--just him, Jenny, and his parents with a quick stop at Eli’s house for dessert. A tradition he thought all of them loved.

“You have?”

“Sure, when I was your age, Thanksgiving dinner fed a small town.”

Lily laughs, leaning on the counter, the counter where they usually put out all the food, where his mom would give him and Jenny one spoonful of the pie filling before throwing it into the oven.

“As I recall, those dinners were particularly messy. And it wasn’t the food.”

Rufus laughs like that’s the funniest memory on planet earth. “It was exclusively your family that dealt in drama.”

Eric gets up, examining the bread, which can be compared to small boulders. “We really don’t want to intrude. China Town Thanksgiving isn’t that bad.”

“Nonsense! We’ll help.” Lily assures him. “We’re spending the day with...friends, what’s better than that?”

Dan snorts, which he wishes he had kept to himself when everyone looks at him all at once.

“Sorry...uhm...Dad, the cranberry sauce is boiling over.”

“Hm?” Rufus spins arounds and gasps, beginning to swat at the syrupy, magenta goo spilling over the stove. “I promise I’m usually a better cook than this!”

The fire alarm starts blaring again.

Clapping his palms over his ears, Eric yells, “You guys can come to Chinatown Thanksgiving too!”

Dan jumps up and down, waving to the smoke detector. “That’s okay. We Humphrey’s are a traditional folk.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Rufus exhales as the alarm makes it’s last beep. “Maybe it wouldn’t be the worst idea to do something else.”

Jenny slumps. “What?”

“I’ve already wasted so many potatoes. And Chinese food sounds nice right about now.”

Serena smiles. “I agree. We aren’t a family of cooks and we’ve gotten along fine...sort of.”

Now Jenny’s pouting, the hem of her apron clutched in her hands. 

“If you’re both really bothered by a non-traditional dinner there is another option.” Lily's lips fold into a smile, “Eleanor Waldorf holds a massive dinner party every year. We could make an appearance.”

“ELEANOR WALDORF?” Jenny exclaims, and suddenly the frown on her face is gone.

Another party? These people need to get new hobbies.

“A dinner party?” Rufus questions, crossing his arms. “Lily, I don’t know. It seems…”

“Weird? Last minute?” Dan offers begrudgingly.

“Shut up, Dan!” Jenny beams. “You mean to tell me I have a chance to breathe the same air that Eleanor Waldorf breathes?”

Lily guffaws. “Yes. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me bringing a few extra guests.”

“It’s definitely a sharp detour, mom,” Serena says, glancing at Dan, “Maybe we should go and leave you guys to your--”

“No, no. I want us to spend this day together,” Rufus murmurs. “What the heck, let’s do it! Dinner at the Waldorf's. I’m sure Eleanor will be overjoyed to see me.”

Dan begs for a hail mary. “Wait, wait…what about mom? She’ll be over any minute now.”

Jenny’s face slumps again. “Oh, yeah.”

“I’ll call her with the address.”

Yeah, right.

Rufus claps his hands together. “Let me clean up here. You two can go get dressed.”

Everyone goes their separate ways; Jenny and Serena off to Jenny’s room to pick out outfits, and Eric and Lily downstairs to call a car.

“Huh.” Dan drums his hands on the kitchen counter as his Dad dumps dishes into the sink. “How does this keep happening? How do I keep ending up on the Upper East Side? Did I die? Is this purgatory?”

Rufus sighs, his back facing Dan. “I know this isn’t ideal.”

“No, it’s not.”

They’re silent for a moment, letting the running water and the cars outside fill the space.

“Why are you giving up on her so easily?”

I’m not the one who gave up. ” He finally turns. “Look, can we please just try to make this a nice day? For your sister? I know I have to have a conversation with her but I rather not do it now, especially not without Allison--”

“Fine. Let me just go find a tie for this unnecessarily fancy dinner party.”

“Dan--”

“Because apparently this is my life now!”

 

***

 

The guests begin to arrive at 4:00, a good cluster of people consisting of Eleanor’s inner circle, the Baizens, and some strangers that, to Blair, are obviously reporters there to cover the “dinner party of the century”.

There’s the obligatory pre-feast chatter, several pairs and trios talking quietly in corners about the state of the economy, or the state of the house, or the state of the canapes. Although they may turn their noses up at anything they turn their eyes to, Blair knows Eleanor’s made everything for the highest of standards. Every napkin, every fake leaf, every light fixture, every good smell swimming in narrow streams from the kitchen is placed strategically. When her father arrives, in his good spirits and hilariously on point holiday attire, then--and only then--will it be perfect.

“You’re looking rather marvelous. Autumn tones suit you so much better.”

Stephanie, her mother’s first assistant, hands Blair a glass of sparkling liquid that could either be apple cider or hard apple cider. Blair’s not sure which one of the two she really wants.

“Thank you. I’ve always been my mother’s best advertisement.”

“Very true, but you don’t have to act like it.”

Blair scoffs.

“You’ve been standing in this corner for over ten minutes as still as a mannequin.” Stephanie chuckles, “Mingling won’t hurt you or the business, I promise.”

Glancing across the room, Blair sees her mother glance back at her expectantly, then quickly turn away. 

“Didn’t you have other plans on this special day? Or are you still a bitter hag? I can never remember.”

Stephanie sucks her teeth, forcing them into a smile. “I’m on the clock. Just like you.”

She leaves Blair alone after that, returning to snobby conversation with the designer creeps in the opposite corner. Blair knocks back her drink, dreading the sweetness of the apple cider. She checks her phone once more.

“Where are you…?”

 

***

 

The tie around Dan’s neck grows tighter even when he goes to tug and pull at the thing. It doesn’t help that Jenny keeps swatting his hands to his sides, scolding him for fidgeting too much.

They catch the elevator just before it closes, another group of people holding the door for them. The people look like a family, the same color of fawn hair on their heads and stern attitude plastered to their face. Then, he sees Nate emerge from the far side of the elevator, peering over what seems to be his father like a kid.

“Hey.”

Serena jumps a bit, turning. “Oh, hey.”

“Hey,” Dan adds, trying to be helpful and failing.

Jenny giggles, waving at Nate. “Hi.”

Dan nudges her, warning, “ Hey .” 

Lily clears her throat, reaching over to the man and woman guarding Nate. She kisses the woman on the cheek and hugs the man.

“Ann, Captain!”

“Captain…?”

Eric laughs, leaning over to Dan. “We’ll explain later.”

“It is so good to see you both. This is…” Lily catches Jenny’s eye, exhaling. “This is Rufus, his son Dan, and his daughter Jenny.”

The “Captain” nods towards them as Ann gives a tight-lipped smile--like her lips are glued together. “Do you go to school with Nate?”

“Uh, I do yeah.” Dan extends his hand. It’s left alone until the doors open. Serena takes it and pulls him into the penthouse.

“We’re going to find Blair! Come on Eric, Jenny.”

Dan feels like his hand might fall off. “We are?”

 

***

In the corner of her eye she finally spots Serena and Eric. A little grateful that she no longer has to be alone in a room full of adults she doesn’t know, she begins to walk towards them. Then, Dan comes out of nowhere, appearing as if out of thin air by Serena’s side. A petite blonde girl follows closely behind, her neck craned up to the ceiling like she’s a just-born giraffe.

Blair almost throws herself onto the balcony when Serena spots her too, her eyes wide for some reason. Discreetly as possible, Blair cocks her head to the side where the stairs are. 

They meet outside of Blair’s bedroom.

“You have a lot--”

A loud rustling of Blair’s sheets interrupts her. She delves further into her room and finds Carter sprawled out on her bed, one of his shoes missing.

Blair bats him with a pillow until he wakes up.

“WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU!”

Carter removes the sunglasses from his eyes and sits up. “I was napping.”

“Not in my bedroom you’re not!”

“Thank you for your concern, but it was actually quite comfortable.”

Blair pushes him off the bed, adjusting herself and sighing. She hears Dan stifle a laugh.

“Oh no, this is not funny.” Blair points a finger in Serena’s direction. “You. What is he doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be spending Thanksgiving with your grandmother? And who is this?”

She turns her attention to the blonde girl clutching onto Dan’s arm.

“This is Jenny. My sister.”

“There’s no Earthly way Tinker Bell is your sister.”

Jenny smiles, slowly venturing from her hiding spot. “Blair, I just want to say I admire you so much. think your style is impeccable and--”

Blair shakes her hand, leading her towards the door.

“I’m actually studying to become a fashion designer like your mother and it would be great if you could introduce me...”

“Okay, good bye now.”

Blair ushers her out the room and slams the door closed.

“Were you born to be evil?” Dan winces, going for the door. 

Blair pushes him back. “Sit. All of you, sit.”

Everyone obeys, except for Eric who slips out as Nate comes in.

“So this is what we’re doing? Hiding in here like kids?”

Carter rolls his eyes. “By all means, go back out there. Enjoy the conversation and caviar.”

Blair catches Dan mouthing “caviar” to himself with furrowed eyebrows.

Serena crosses her arms like she wants to fold herself into a ball. “It’s getting crammed in here, huh?”

“Yes, but this will only take a minute.” Blair says, pulling out a whiteboard and scribbling down circles and webs. Once she’s done, she smacks her pen cap against it. “This is Eleanor Waldorf.”

Dan tilts his head. “That’s a banana…”

Carter laughs. “Or a pe--”

“It’s Eleanor, you pea-brained neanderthals!” Blair huffs. “Today, her and my father will be in the same room for the first time in months, and everything needs to go smoothly or it won’t happen again.”

“Is he bringing Roman?”

Blair’s face grows red. “Carter!”

Dan arches an eyebrow. “Who’s Roman?”

“His boyfriend.” Nate offers.

“Oh. Cool.”

“It doesn’t matter, he’s not coming, and even if he does I have devised a plan in which it won’t bother my mother in the slightest.”

“I wouldn’t even try, Blair. A classic Waldorf blow up is inevitable.”

“Which one of our fathers is a literal criminal again?”

“Carter’s,” Dan answers before Carter punches him in the arm. “Sorry.”

“Glad to have you on board, Humphrey. Even though it is a nightmarishly odd scenario.” Blair rubs her hands together. “Now, here’s the plan; Eleanor cannot go without a drink in her hand for more than twenty minutes.

 

***

 

“Aunt Eleanor! Have you met Dan?”

“Hi. I thought I’d get you a drink. Your glass looked empty.”

Eleanor smiles. “Thank you…”

 

***

 

“My mother and I are very similar, that being said, she can be somewhat of a…”

“Narcissist?”

“I could have you polishing the silverware right now if I wanted, Humphrey.”

“Noted.”

“Eleanor likes to be admired--for her work to be seen as art.”

 

***

 

As Serena splashes a bit more sherry liquor into Eleanor’s glass, Dan uses the biggest words in his arsenal.

“I think your juxtaposition of the classic postmodern business attire and romantic era formal wear was handled quite artfully. It breathed life into an otherwise dying industry.”

“That is exactly what I was going for. It’s very rare that young people understand my work so intricately.”

 

***

 

“And, for heaven's sake, do not let anyone bring up the divorce.”

 

***

 

A man with dark glasses and what looks to be a penciled-in mustache walks over suddenly, a notepad flapping in his hand.

“Beautiful job, Eleanor. Will Harold be--?”

Dan panics and takes the man’s hand rapidly. “Dan Humphrey!”

“Okay?”

“Are you a reporter? You look like a reporter,”

“I have a column in the New York Times, yes.”

“Me too. I mean, not in the New York Times although that would be amazing. I write for my school newspaper. Have you read it? We’re online. The internet is a really interesting place.”

“Um…”

 

***

 

Nate trails after Blair while she checks that all the dishes are ready for consumption for her mother. Lifting up her skirts, she leaves the kitchen and returns to the party as people begin to sit down at the massive, long dining tables.

“It’s nice of everyone to help out with your mom.”

Distracted, Blair nods.

“So did you invite Dan or…?”

“Serena did. I would’ve thrown more of a fit, but they’re entrenched in family drama right now. Plus, I want to be completely stress free when Daddy gets here.”

“Right. Are you and Dan friends now?”

“What? No.” Blair turns. “You’re acting cagey. I need you to be normal more than ever now. It’s showtime at the Apollo and we’re the opening act.”

“Yeah, yeah it’s just...”

Looking past Nate, Blair sees Dan, Serena, and her mother with a man who looks very much like a reporter. Dan looks like a fish on land, gasping for air and articulate words.

“Hold that thought.”

She strides up to the group, patting Dan’s shoulder.

“May I steal you away for a moment?”

Dan mutters under his breath, “But the reporter…”

“Tap out Humphrey,” Blair quietly replies, giving her mother a smile. “I’m sure Serena wants to tell you all about her travels. It’d make a wonderful article; ‘It-Girl Takes On the World’.

The reporter nods approvingly as Blair prods Dan into a different direction. 

“I’m not sure that was the best strategy. God forbid the attention be on anyone else.”

“I’ll survive…”

“So, how’d I do?”

“Better than I thought.”

Dan brushing imaginary dust off his shoulder. “I’ve impressed you.”

“My expectations were very low. I’m shocked you were helpful at all.”

He rocks onto his heels, staring past her. “Yeah, well…”

Blair follows his eyeline and lands on Lily and Rufus hanging off each other by the bar.

“You can ask, you know.” Dan says, shoving his hands in his pockets.

They edge along the outskirts of the party as caterers place food on the tables.

“Ask what?” Blair sighs.

Dan narrows his eyes and smiles.

“I’m sure I would’ve found out one way or another--perhaps in the ten ‘o’ clock news after I’ve caught you stealing fine china.”

“Oh I wouldn’t go for the tea cups,” He points to a ceramic tiger head in the corner. “That’s more my speed. It would look great in my bathroom.”

“Fine, I’ll bite. Why am I so unfortunate to be standing in front of you on the most sacred of days?”

“You mean the day in which we pat ourselves on the back for not committing acts of atrocities on the Native Americans that one time out of the hundred other times?”

“What’s your favorite holiday, then? Christmas?”

“Maybe.”

“Christmas. Otherwise known as an over-commercialized month in which sugar companies convince us that to be happy we need to consume everything in sight.”

“Touche. I suppose every holiday sucks in it’s own special way.”

“Exactly. The world is a dark, dark place.” 

Dan laughs, licking his lips. “My Thanksgiving was upended by the Van der Woodsens of you must know. My mom didn’t come through to help with the cooking...so here I am.”

“That’s…” Blair stares at the elevator as it opens. Walt Baizen and his most recent trophy wife walks in--no one else. “That’s hard, I’m sorry.”

“I must really be pathetic. Was that empathy you just expressed, Waldorf?”

“Don’t get used to it, Humphrey.”

“Dinner is served!”

Before she knows it, Nate grabs Blair’s hand and leads them to their seats at the head table with Eleanor and the Baizens. Dan sits somewhere else, out of her eyeline at the second table.

Placing her napkin on her lap, Blair leans over to catch her mother’s attention.

“We shouldn’t start without Daddy.”

Eleanor’s mother hangs open like she needs to formulate a response when Walt taps his fork against his plate.

“Will he be conference calling in for dinner? Technology is fascinating.”

Carter shakes his head. “Dad.”

Food begins to be passed around but all the clattering of plates and stabbing of potatoes is paused and muted under Blair’s confusion.

“I’m having trouble following. Why would Daddy have to call me?”

“Darling--”

“That would imply a large distance is between us and it’s not. Is it?”

Eleanor lowers her tone. “We will talk about this later.”

“We’ll talk about it now. Where is he? Is he coming?” Blair can feel a lump forming in her throat, billing rising after it.

“He refused to.”

“Daddy wouldn’t do that to me. This is our holiday. He promised me .”

“Harold wanted to bring Roman. I couldn’t allow that.”

Blair’s voice rises. “Why not?!”

“It’s completely inappropriate.”

“What’s inappropriate is you deciding to keep me away from my own father!”

“Do your breathing exercises and lower your voice..”

“You won’t be satisfied until everyone around you is just as unhappy as you are.” Blair hisses, slamming down her napkin and rushing away from the table.

 

***

 

The food’s good enough Dan thinks, watching as Rufus and Lily laugh, sharing things from off their plates completely disregarding the Jenny sized plot hole of it all. 

“I saw you talking to Eleanor. Introduce me?” Jenny murmurs, her mouth full.

He ruffles her hair, glad she’s distracted. “Sure. We might as well commit to the dark side as a family.”

She chuckles, pushing him away. “Yeah, okay.”

“Is this your official outing?” A lady, a designer judging by her eccentrically bright outfit, asks.

Lily looks up. “We’re friends.”

Rufus moves his arm from around Lily’s chair. “Yes, I don't think that warrants an event.”

“Please, we’re not in kindergarten. It must’ve been a date I was styling you for Lily.”

Dan’s face grows hot as Jenny looks from the lady to Lily and Rufus.

“My dad’s married--to my mom. She’s in Hudson for now but... ” Her polite smile declines to a frown as the table falls quiet. “Dad? Tell them.”

Rufus looks at a loss for words, pushing his stuffing around his plate. “Um, Jenny why don’t you tell everyone about art school--?”

“Oh my God,” Jenny mutters, starting to get up. “I’m an idiot…”

“No, you’re not,” Dan assures her by touching her forearm. “He just told me…”

Serena twists the napkin in her lap. “It’s okay--”

Jenny bottom lip quivers. “You knew. You all knew.”

She starts to walk away--turning it into a jog once she reaches the adjacent hallways. Rufus only sits there still and as pale as a statue. Dan follows after her instead. He’s the only one.

 

***

 

Blair hides in her mother’s study, hugging herself tightly when she hears a door open. She hides in between the bookshelf and wall, knowing it’s Nate or Serena coming to offer something close to comfort. But she’d rather be alone.

It’s Nate and his father who come in, the Captain basically pushing him into the room and commanding him to listen.

“I was eating.”

“Find her.”

“She won’t want to talk.”

Make her talk. That’s what you do for people you love.”

“I...I don’t--”

“Hey, hey.” The Captain grasps his son’s shoulder. “We already had this conversation.”

“No, you and mom ranted at me for twelve minutes.”

“Because we care about you. I’m not going to repeat myself again; you are on a path. Dartmouth and Blair. It’s simple.”

“What if I don’t want something simple?”

“You’re sixteen. You don’t know what you want.”

“I know it’s not this. Dad, I’m suffocating and I feel like--”

“You’ve hit a rough pat.ch Just make it right.” The Captain warns, leaving the room.

Nate remains for a moment, rubbing his palms over his face and exhaling heavily. Then, he leaves.



***

 

“Jenny!” Dan sprints to catch up with his sister before she can run into the elevator.

“Leave me alone!” She cries, jamming her finger onto the down button.

Dan swallows, trying to catch his breath. “You can’t just run away, we have to talk about this.”

“God, I knew something was going on.” She turns to him, tears in her eyes. “So now you want to talk?”

“I wanted to tell you, I swear. But Dad want to protect you--”

“Screw Dad. We don’t lie to each other, Dan. Or at least I thought we didn’t.”

“I--”

“You promised me it would be okay,” The elevator doors open. Jenny steps in.

“Do not leave by yourself Jenny.”

“Contrary to what every man in this family thinks, I’m not a baby! I can catch a cab by myself.” The doors close and Jenny disappears.

Something falls in the pit of Dan’s stomach as it twists into knots. His face flushes with heat, he feels his vision start to go blurry around the edges. He feels sick, but hollow, and finds the nearest bathroom, stumbling through the door frame.

“Occupied!” A shrill voice screeches.

Dan ignores the voice and presses his forehead against the wall across from the sink. His hands, clammy with sweat, remain balled up by his sides.

 

***

 

Muscling through the lump in her throat, Blair peels her knees off the tile bathroom floor and rises slowly, picking up the emerald green hem of her dress.

Dan’s breathing hard and shallow again, like in the hallway after his fight with Chuck. This seems more urgent, however, the way his face strains as if he’s hurt.

“Humphrey?”

He lets out something close to grunt out, muttering over and over again, “I messed up, I messed up…”

“Messed up what?”

“I-” Dan exhales shakily. “I’m having a heart attack, call a hospital.”

“I don’t think this is a heart attack.”

“Who are you? The surgeon general?”

“I’m the girl who’s about to kick you in the balls…” Blair mutters.

“What?”

“Nothing…”

Carefully, Blair makes a few light towards him feeling pulled in his direction and yet scared to follow her instinct. 

“I’m going to try something.”

Visibly trembling, Dan only responds with a muffled “mhm”.

Nodding, Blair touches Dan’s back, as warm as she expected, and slips off the jacket that constricts him. Once she’s closer, only a thin, white button up between them, Blair wraps her arms around Dan as tightly as her strength allows. 

He exhales again, a small sob escaping his throat. “What--”

Travelling her hands up his chest, Blair loosens Dan’s tie. He gasps softly, but still remains in his state, his teeth chattering. 

Blair keeps holding him, listening to his heart beating heavily and quicken like a ticking clock as her cheek rests against his back. He breathes in shallow increments, like his chest is caving in on itself. Minutes, hours (she doesn’t know) go by before Dan unsticks himself from the wall. Blair closes her eyes.

He startles her when he finally speaks, his hands now on top of hers. “I’m okay.”

As fast as she can, Blair untangles herself from Dan. He turns around, awkwardly looking at the floor and wiping the sweat off his brow and then lips.

“I-” Flustered, Blair plays with the rings on her fingers. “I learned that from a psychologist. It’s called the ‘Sky-Dive’ method. When one person falls in a panic attack you fall too--hence the...hug.”

“Right.”

She doesn’t want to give him the chance to tease her. “I just didn’t need you getting your forehead grease and oils all over our bathroom wall. This isn’t the Middle East.”

“Hey.”

“What?”

Leaning back, Dan closes his eyes as if he’s scared of Blair. “Do you want to get the fuck out of here?”

She hears herself say something along the lines of, “God, yes.”

 

***

 

He decides not to look at Blair. All he remembers when he glances at her is her soft hands under his, the beating of her heart against his back, the hints of vanilla and Chanel perfume enveloping his nostrils. The wisps of chestnut hair brushing against his neck.

Instead, he focuses on the mission at hand; escaping through the staff entrance without being detected.

They hide behind a plant watching the other guests continue to eat and chatter.

“What’s the plan?”

“Distract them.”

“Okay I’ll call my dad and tell him that there’s something outside that he has to look at. Like a crazy pigeon. Hopefully--”

Suddenly, Dan smells smoke. When he turns. he sees Blair’s lit cigarette being held directly under the smoke detector. Once the hallway is adequately smokey enough, Blair grabs Dan’s arms and they make a run for the service elevator as the fire alarm blares behind them.

 

Somehow, in a strange haze of unspoken decisions, they end up in a diner. Dan undoes his tie, pocketing it, and Blair puts her hair up. They do everything but talk, Dan staring out the big, neon-lit window that they sit by in between staring at Blair and then his shoes.

A man waddles over with a notepad and a chef’s hat sloping off his head.

“Happy Thanksgiving. What can I get you two?”

“Busy night?” Dan jokes looking around at the empty restaurant.

The man, “Doug” judging by his nametag, shrugs. “We get a few stragglers every year. You two are the last ones.”

Blair scoffs. still looking away.

“Um, I’ll have the waffles with a side of bacon, hash browns and coleslaw. And a slice of apple pie.”

Doug scribbles down the order quickly, turning to Blair. “And for you.”

‘Coffee. Here’s how I want it; pour out half as soon as it finishes brewing, whisk for one full minute with one teaspoon of sugar, then add condensed and a small dollop of whipped cream to finish. Then pour the rest of the coffee into the mug. If it comes out cold I’ll send it back.”

“Okay…” 

As Doug lumbers away Dan rests his cheek on his fist, finally giving up on his eye dance and just looking at her straight on.

“Problem?”

“You’re just as strange as I am.”

“Please.”

“It’s true.” Dan sits back in the booth. “You just hide it well, that’s all.”

“I suppose your impish, goblin-like charm hides some real imperfections too. For example, ordering enough food to feed a small village only to eat it yourself.”

“Veiled under all that snark was a compliment, I’m sure of it.” 

They’re quiet for a while until they’re not as Blair begins to laugh incredulously.

“This is the worst Thanksgiving in the history of Thanksgivings.”

“I’m sure shitting in holes and getting smallpox wasn’t great for the Pilgrims.” Dan sighs. “But yeah, this day did suck.”

“And to top it all off, I’m sitting here with Dan Humphrey speaking ill of the dead, discussing their bowel movements.” 

“I’m sorry that the conversation isn’t to your liking madam. What do you want to talk about?”

“Pie.”

“Pie?”

“Every year, since I could remember, caterers and cooks would make Thanksgiving dinner but the dessert…” Blair’s voice reaches a hitch, like she might cry. Instead she straightens, clearing her throat. “We made the dessert--apple pie.”

“What about this year?” Dan hears himself ask.

“I made it. I thought I would surprise him, but my mother scared him off.”

“I’m sure she didn’t mean to.”

“No, she did, and I can’t even blame her. Daddy cheated, he ran away, and she’s still trying to hold on to a semblance of our old life while ignoring reality.”

Dan solemnly nods. “Everyone’s moved on.”

“Yeah.” Her doe-eyes become glassy and wide.

Their food comes shortly after and all the appetite Dan had had disappears as he looks into the pools of syrup forming under the mush of waffles. He glances at the slice of apple pie, steaming from the oven, and nudges it towards Blair.

She stabs her fork into it and takes a bite. He watches as she gratefully chews and swallows, wincing when it goes down like it hurts her throat.

“Now I’ll ask you a question.”

“Is this how conversations work? We’ve really been missin’ out.”

“Sh.” Blair scoops a bit of whipped cream up, her fork colliding with Dan’s. “Do you usually experience panic attacks?”

Dan hesitates, figuring she’ll make fun of him. But it’s not like that doesn’t derive from their usual repertoire. 

“I’ve had a few before, I think. None that bad though.”

“Why?”

“I can’t speak for brain chemistry. That’s like asking me to tell you why death is inevitable or why apple pie needs vanilla ice cream. I don’t know.”

“Not ready to divulge your sob story, Humphrey?”

He feels a chill go up his spine as her lashes flick upwards to meet his eyes. “My mom and my dad are splitting up--officially. Jenny--”

“Polly Pocket?”

“Watch it.”

“Don’t mind me.”

Dan chuckles, glad to see Blair feeling better. “She didn’t see any of this coming and I’m pretty sure she’s convinced I’m the one who blind-sided her.”

“Hm.”

“Maybe I did. I just--I wanted her to be a kid for a little while longer, longer than I got at least.”

Blair leans forward, crossing her arms on the table. “She’s going to grow up eventually. Childhoods weren’t built to last. They were built to be broken.”

“Is that a direct quote Ms. Waldorf?”

“It is.” A smile peeks out from behind the curly tendrils that fall in her face. “Save it for the memoirs.”

“Will do.” Dan sets down his fork. “We should go. I’m sure your presence is missed.”

“By an erratic mother and indifferent boyfriend? Not likely.”

Dan laughs. Blair doesn’t seem to get the joke.

“I can’t imagine anyone being indifferent to you, that’s all.”

 

They finish their meal, well Dan does considering Blair only takes a few bites of pie and an equal amount of sips of coffee, and they leave. Blair passes Doug a wad of cash as they go out the door.

“The coffee was perfect.”

It’s dark all of a sudden, the night inky and black save for the streaks and pockets of violet and twirling orange leaves falling to the ground. The streets are empty save for those few “sad” stragglers you hear about--no home, no family to flock to for Thanksgiving. Dan adds himself into the mix of these forgotten people now, forlornly hoping Jenny ended up home.

He gazes down at Blair as she pulls her brown coat tightly around her. Looking at her legs, by pure accident and coincidence of course, he sees them shake slightly as she walks. The stockings must not be substantial. Dan would have guessed that.

“In the spirit of this impromptu bonding session…”

“We are not bonding.”

“No?”

“You were purely a means to escape. I could easily replace you with a scooter, or a tricycle.”

Dan laughs, observing the cold crinkling lines into Blair’s cheeks. “No tricycle can replicate these dashing looks or this sparkling personality of mine.”

She lightly shoves him. “Don’t push your luck with me.”

“As tradition commands, I’m gonna have to ignore your request.” Dan inhales. “What were you doing in the bathroom?”

“Primping,” Blair snaps, “Some of us enjoy looking nice.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?” She shakes her head, abruptly stopping. “You are the most frustrating person I’ve ever met.”

“Took the words right out of my mouth.”

“Ha. Right,” Blair says sharply, tucking a bit of hair behind her ear. Dan almost reaches out to do it for her when she curls her lips in and stares at the ground.

“You don’t have to tell me--”

“I have bulimia…” She sighs, her breath wavering. “Among other things.”

“Blair--”

“Just shut up, Humphrey. Let’s skip the pity, and the questions, and the ‘awes’ and ‘oh nos’ and just shut up.”

Dan nods. He stands across from her for a moment, looking at her hands. She cracks her knuckles, folds them over, rubs the skin over itself.

“Are your hands cold?”

 

***

 

She shrugs a shoulder and brings her hands to her chest, not having anything left in her to talk. Dan takes them in his own and clasps tightly, pressing his lips, smooth and a little chapped from the cold, to her fingers and blowing hot air from his mouth.

Goosebumps erupt all over his skin as he warms her hands with so much care it could be his job.

Finally, he stops, a crooked smile developing on his face. 

“We’re gonna be friends.”

For the first time, Blair thinks Dan might be right.

Chapter Text

 

***

 

After walking Blair back to her building, Dan gets home around midnight. Exhausted, he almost forgets about the events of the day until he opens the door to find his dad sitting on the couch with Jenny resting her head in his lap and a can of beer hanging limply from his hand. 

“Hi…” Dan mutters, dropping his keys and jacket on the kitchen counter.

Rufus whispers-screams back, careful not to wake Jenny. “ Where have you been ?”

“Sorry.”

“I called the police!”

“No, you didn’t.” Dan argues not being able to stop himself from chuckling. The last people on Rufus’ list of people to call during a catastrophe are the cops.

“Well, I strongly considered it.”

Collapsing into the arm chair across from the couch, Dan anxiously looks at his fingers. 

“Mom never called back, did she?”

“No.” Glancing at Jenny, Rufus hands Dan the beer. He exhales. “I tried to make it work. I really did. She just--she…”

As Rufus tries to find his words, Dan gets up and sits next to his dad, taking a sip out of the can. He grimaces and rests his head back.

“I know.”

“I’m sorry, Dan.”

“It’s okay.” 

Dan believes it because he has to. He assumes the same goes for Rufus--for Jenny too.

“We’ll be okay.”

 

***

 

Blair gets home as caterers are packing away their trucks and vans--throwing away what’s left of Thanksgiving. Dan doesn’t say much save for a quick goodbye and what he thinks is a reassuring, “talk to her.” Then he’s gone, sauntering off to deal with his own familial war zone.

Once she’s on her floor, the doors open to a dressed down (very angry) Eleanor, her robe hanging off her party clothes and the make up washed from her face.

Blair brushes past her and continues to the stairs, seeing that the Baizens sit in the living room on the way there. Her aunt, Penelope Waldorf, finds it in her to chuckle as Eleanor follows after Blair.

“See, she’s fine!”

“Penelope, I can parent my own child, thank you.”

Blair snorts as she climbs the stairs. “And for best joke of the night, the award goes to Eleanor Waldorf!”

Gritting her teeth, Eleanor turns towards the living room. “Thank you all for waiting with me. I think we can end the night here.”

Carter shoots up like a bullet, climbing over the couch. He gives Eleanor a hug and salutes Blair. “The food was fantastic. And the drama was better.”

“We’re a phone call away.” Walt buttons up his coat. “Have a little more respect next time, Blair. It’s not your mother’s fault your father is a--”

“Have a little more toothpaste , Walt, I can smell your breath from here.” Blair spits, narrowing her eyes.

Walt wheezes as he and his family file out. The elevator doors close and Blair’s left alone with Eleanor.

“Blair, we need to talk.”

“I’ve done enough talking to last a lifetime.”

Eleanor grows more frustrated. “We both know that is a lie. You live to talk.”

“Not anymore, mother! Congratulations, your only child is catatonic.”

“You obviously don’t know the meaning of that word!”

Blair’s already escaping up to her room, sprinting to lock her door. Eleanor is persistent, however, following her before she can even close it.

“I am not engaging in your childish games.”

“I--”

“SIT. DOWN.”

Shocked, Blair finds herself plopping down onto her bed as Eleanor seems to grow six feet above her.

Then, she deflates, shrinking into a woman Blair doesn’t recognize. Eleanor throws her hands up, dropping them to her sides again and shakes her head. She wipes her mouth as her eyes become misty.

“I-”

“Mom?”

“I’m...sorry.” Eleanor breathes. She sits down next to Blair, wrapping her robe more tightly around her. It’s a bit lumpy over the blazer she still wears. Blair almost laughs. Almost. 

“For what?”

“You never make things easy do you?”

“Learned from the best.” Blair responds quietly.

Eleanor laughs softly, nodding. “I’m sorry I’ve been trying to keep you from your father. It isn’t fair. He…”

Never having seen her mother at a loss for words, Blair blinks her wide eyes, a little taken aback.

“I bet everything on the idea that he was the person I would spend my life with; my business, my body...you. But he’s not, he was just playing a part and I couldn’t handle that. I still can’t.”

“Oh,” Blair mutters, her hands falling to her lap.

“You deserve a father, and God knows I can’t do this on my own. I just--I need more time.”

She shifts closer to her mother, putting an arm around her as she begins to cry.

“It’s okay.”

Eleanor sits up, holding Blair’s cheeks in her hands. “I never meant to drag you into this. I absolutely detest mothers who share this much with their daughters.”

Blair embraces Eleanor, holding on as tightly as she can. Her mother deflates again, sniffling into Blair’s hair.

“We’ll be okay.”

 

As she holds her mother, as Eleanor grieves the death of a perfectly fake life, Blair can’t help but think of Nate--the conversation he had with his father earlier in the afternoon. She wonders what part he’s playing, if it should even be a performance at all.

 

***

 

The rest of the break is uneventful--thankfully. Dan’s not sure how much more it will take before he really does have a stress-induced heart attack.

Allison ends up calling on the last night before school starts up again. Dan and Jenny hang out in Dan’s room, an unspoken forgiveness between them, when Rufus comes in, the phone trembling in his hand. His nose is red, but he wears a small smile on his face. Dan’s not sure who it’s for.”

“She wants to talk to you. Both of you.”

Jenny hardly looks up from the magazine she flips through. “No thanks.”

Rufus’ shoulders slump. “Are you sure?”

When she says nothing, Dan takes the phone from his dad, patting his shoulder on the way out. He goes into the hallway to take the call.

“Hi, Mom.”

Allison laughs, almost out of relief it seems, “Hi, Danny.”

“Look, um--”

“How are you? How’s your writing? Is Jenny eating enough? She was so small the last time I saw her.”

And although he’s livid, filled with rage and things he has yet to say, Dan just answers her questions--fills Allison in on the things she’s intentionally missed. He even tells her about Blair; the girl in a perpetual state of red who gives him a hard time yet still sticks around despite their polarizing personalities.

“Sounds like a handful.”

“She’s, uh…” Dan rolls his eyes, not believing what he’s about to say. “She’s actually not that bad.”

“I’m glad you’re making friends at Constance. I was always worried about you going there.”

Dan closes his eyes, swallowing the lump in his throat. “Yeah.”

“Just don’t let them change you.”

“I won’t.”

“I’ve got to go sweetheart. But um…” Allison sighs laboriously. “I love you, alright?”

“Right.”

She hangs up. When Dan goes back inside Rufus is there to take the phone and give him a hug.

 

He goes to school the next day on a whim. Dan figures it’ll be about the same as it always is; remaining completely invisible until he isn’t, but when he gets there he’s berated and flocked by a crowd of students he’s never even seen before. It’s enough to suffocate a man.

“When are you gonna write another article?” One girl squeals, clutching the Daily St.’s in her hand.

“Uh--”

A boy grabs his hand, shaking it vigorously. “Hi, big fan. So do you think Serena and Carter will end up together or--?”

“Will Walt Baizen actually go to jail?!”

People’s voices begin to blend into one another, overlapping on whispers and then screams of excitement. Dan puts on his headphones and makes a straight b-line for the Newsroom, shutting the door as soon as he gets there. He backs up into the room only to be jumped by Patrick and Nelly.

“AH!”

“AH!” Nelly reciprocates.

Patrick laughs. “Someone hasn’t had their morning coffee.”

Dan turns to see the newspaper club in full celebration mode, paper shreddings being used as confetti and a huge cake sitting in the middle of the conference table.

Luci jumps down from where she stands, atop her desk, and strides over to Dan. “Ladies and gentlemen the prophet himself has arrived!”

Cheers sound back at her.

“Prophet?”

“I know, it’s an overstatement,” Nelly scoffs, pulling Patrick into another conversation.

“Okay, Nelly being annoying; normal. Me being the center of attention; completely out the fucking ordinary.”

Luci, smiling for once, shakes her head. “You haven’t heard, have you?”

“Heard what?”

Grabbing a remote, she points it at the boxy television in the corner. She turns up “Good Morning America”.

“Just watch.”

 

“For those of you just tuning in, we are discussing the most recent strides in youth creativity and literature. Most notable, has been the ‘Inside’ series that is being produced from New York’s very own Constance and St. Jude’s Academy’s newspaper the Daily St.’s. Receiving a whopping one million views online (and growing), these in-depth looks in the lives of Manhattan’s elite have teens across the nation looking at their phones and reading!”

 

“That’s a little condescending. Teens read. I read.”

“You’re missing the point.” Luci raises her arms. “We’ve gone mainstream motherfuckers!”

More cheers sound out across the room. 

“All thanks to you, and me obviously for giving you a chance, and marketing, and developing a website...Why don’t we split the glory 50/50?”

Dan furrows his brow, still reeling from his writing's new-found fame. “Sure.”

Luci goes off to brag to someone else as Dan mutes the television. He couldn’t possibly take criticism or feedback right now, even if it is positive. He was forced into this.

Carter comes in suddenly with a bottle of what looks to be champagne.

“Hello, news people!”

“Hi Carter!” They yell back.

Luci grabs the champagne from him, hiding it under her shirt--an obvious bulge forming. “We’re in school ..”

“It’s non-alcoholic…” Carter winks. “At least that’s what it says on the bottle.”

“I am putting this in my office. Do not take that as me accepting it. Because I’m not.” Luci discreetly goes into her office and locks the door.’

“I’ve put worse women down darker paths…” Grinning at Dan, Carter leads him back into the hallway. “How does it feel to be the city’s most ‘gifted young writer’?”

“It doesn’t feel like anything. Because I’m not.”

“Oh, really? Then whose work is this morning’s number two trending topic?”

Dan glances at Carter’s phone when he takes it out, scrolling through the top New York stories.

“What’s number one?”

“Some kid got stuck in a snake pit at the zoo, I don’t know.”

“Jesus!”

“He’s fine ...I think. And since you won’t ask, I am fantastic.”

“Glad to hear it, Carter.” They make it to Dan’s locker.

“Yep and it’s all thanks to you. I’m up in the polls. Apparently people do appreciate that transparency crap and, of course, a good love story...unnecessary by the way.”

Dan winces. “Sorry, Blair told me about your um…’thing’ with Serena, it just tied everything together I guess. How is she?”

“Serena?”

“Blair.”

Carter smirks. “Last I heard she was having a rather heated conversation with Eleanor. I almost feel bad for sweeping the rug out from under her.”

Over the intercom and crackling pitch plays, then a girl's voice chirps, “Katie, also known as Kit Kat, also known as very interested in Ryan Hooverman from the swim team…”

Another girl scolds, “Just read the cards . No one calls you Kit Kat.”

“Ahem, anyway, we would like to announce there will be gourmet food trucks parked outside!”

“Brought to by the Blair Waldorf campaign!”

Sighing, Carter leans against the lockers. “And then again, I don’t feel bad at all.”

Laughing, Dan grabs a few books. “Come on, free food has its place in politics.”

“Sure but--”

Out of nowhere, Nate briskly walks up to Dan and slams him against his own locker, holding a fistful of collar in his hands.

“Okay, come on.” Carter grabs Nate’s shoulder. “It’s too early for this.”

Their faces close, Dan sees Nate’s eyes are bloodshot and angry, but tired too.

“W-what did I do?”

Carter wedges himself between the boys and pushes Nate back. Slowly, Nate loosens his grip and sniffs. He continues down the hallway. “Nothing.”

Dan adjusts himself and inhales, glad his second fight didn’t occur so soon. Carter picks up the books Dan dropped in the midst of pulverizing and hands them to him.

“You gonna go after him?”

“Hm?” Carter watches Nate until he turns a corner. “No, I’m not.”

A quiet hush has fallen over everyone as they look and gawk at Dan.

Carter bows. “That’s just a taste of how I’ll protect your best interest as president. Anyway, show's over folks! You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”

Still shaken, Dan closes his locker. “What just happened?”

 

***

 

For once, Blair does not have a plan.

Her mother offers to let her skip the first day back after all the dramatics of the break that was meant to be “perfect” and spent with her father. Although Blair strongly considers it for half a second, between school work, and extracurriculars, and the final debates, and the ever-present “Ivy Week” looming over her, she couldn’t possibly, no matter how enticing her silk sheets seem..

Then there’s Nate. What once was a pure, unequivocal “yes” in her life, is now a fat question mark that’s been leaving a tiny imprint on her ring finger, taunting and oddly gaudy. She had always imagined herself with a diamond from Tiffany’s.

Nate is everything Blair’s wanted, everything she should want. He has the immediate beauty that made people gravitate towards him like flies to honey. And he was one of the closest friends she’d ever had, oldest might’ve been a better word. It doesn’t matter though, because now, Blair feels farther away than ever.

Especially as she watches him laugh effortlessly with Serena, something that takes so much effort with her.

Striding up to them, Blair links her arm around Nate’s. “I’m stealing him back, if you don’t mind.”

Serena’s happy expression gradually melts into a guilty one. “Of course. I was just going actually.”

“Save me a seat in Chem,” Blair calls over her shoulder as she ushers Nate into a nearby art classroom. 

It’s empty, most likely for the next two periods.

Nate sighs, taking Blair’s hands in his. “Hi.”

Gazing at her shoes, Blair tries to smile. “Hi.”

“I, um,” Nate swallows. He was never one for sweeping, long sentences. “Where’d you go? You just disappeared that night.”

“You noticed?”

“Of course I noticed. It’s not like you.”

“I needed some air.”

“I wish you had talked to me. Serena told me--”

“I have a cell phone.”

Nate looks down. “I should’ve called you.”

“Yeah. You should’ve.” Blair drops his hands, hugging herself.

“I’m--”

Without knowing she will, Blair blurts out, “Why did you sleep with Serena?”

Backing up to brace himself on a desk, Nate’s shoulders drop. “Haven’t we already had this conversation?.”

“No, we didn’t. Not really.”

“Yes we did. I was drunk, and she was drunk--”

“Be honest with me. Please.”

He sighs, rubbing his temples. Finally, he looks at Blair. “I just wanted to feel something.”

Something stings within Blair’s chest.

“It doesn’t matter though,” Nate finishes quickly, “I-I’m past it--”

“What do you want, Nate?” She holds up her hand, flat and still. “Do you even want this?”

He’s silent, his mouth hanging open, searching for the words. “I don’t know.”

And then and there, Blair knows that isn’t the right answer--isn’t the answer of a boy who loves a girl, but of one belonging to a boy who’s trapped by a girl--trapped by a million things. 

“I don’t love you anymore.”

“What?” Nate stands up, his jaw clenched.

“I think we should break up.”

“Blair, where is this coming from? Is there someone else? Is it Dan?”

“God, Nate...” Blair kisses Nate’s cheek softly, slipping the ring he gave to her back into his hand. “It’s us.”

Nate doesn’t stick around to hear whatever speech Blair formulates in her head. He storms out of the room quickly, taking almost a decade of Blair’s life with him, and the slight hope of forever--she’s not sure if it was there to begin with.

 

***

 

Dan jogs towards his next class. After a few detours to avoid his adoring “fans”, he’s late to Math, and he’s well aware Stockson’s usual, and embarrassing, “nice of you to join us” will turn into a mortifying “where the hell have you been.”

Then, as he passes an empty art room, he hears sniffling coming from behind it’s door. Pressing his ear against the wood, he realizes it’s Blair. Dan peaks through the small glass window and sees her curled up into a ball, her back to the door.

“Um, hey.”

Blair doesn’t answer.

Checking the clock in the room, Dan tries to disregard his tardiness and slides down the door, sitting on the floor himself. He can hear her better now, softly letting out sobs.

“Are you okay?”

Still nothing.

“Your boyfriend just slammed me against a locker.” Dan sighs. “It’s a good thing he didn’t damage my swingin’ arm. Baseball season is rapidly approaching.”

Blair snorts. “I can’t imagine you having anything to do with physical activity or balls. The first more than the second.”

“Ha!” Dan bites his thumbnail, trying to take the situation seriously, ignoring Blair’s jabs. “Now that I’ve warmed up the crowd, are you gonna tell me what’s wrong?”

She’s quiet for a long time, and then she isn’t. It almost makes Dan jump.

“I broke up with Nate...” Blair sniffs again.  “ I broke up with him .”

She says it like it’s some revelation. Like it wasn’t possible she could ever want out.

“Oh.”

“Oh? That’s what you’ve got for me?”

“I’m sorry! I’m not equipped to handle the follies of love.”

“I wouldn’t call a four year relationship a folly. I also wouldn’t use the word folly at all.”

Four years ? I have chest hairs younger than that.”

She scoffs. “Ugh, what do you know about it?”

Dan sighs, remembering the declaration of prospective friendship he had made to Blair--wondering what he was high on. But there’s no return, no way he can take it back, so he stays, sitting on the dusty linoleum tile.

“Not much, I guess. I’ve um, I’ve never been in love.”

“Well, I don’t recommend it.” Her voice becomes muffled like she’s buried her head in her hands. “Oh, God what am I doing? He was supposed to be the love of my life and I just...I broke up with him. What is wrong with me?”

“May I speak freely?”

“No you may not.”

Dan laughs. He exhales. “There’s nothing wrong with you. Not pertaining to this anyway.”

“You’d make a horrific therapist, Humphrey.”

“Freud’s crying right now, I know. I just...I mean um--” Suddenly his throat feels very dry. He clears it and deflates, resting his weight against the door. “Love shouldn’t be something you’re ‘supposed’ to do. It should be something you just do; despite everything.”

Blair’s quiet. Dan listens to her breath slow.

“Forgive me if that isn’t eloquent enough for her majesty.”

“It’ll suffice,” Blair retorts. She sighs. “I have to debate Carter today, and appear eloquent and leader-worthy. Shit.”

“Just pretend you’re talking to me. You have no problem bossing me around. And fifty percent of the time you’re successful.”

“True.”

Dan feels the material he rests against give and he tips backwards. Blair steps over him carefully as he rises.

“A warning would’ve been nice.”

“I can’t imagine that sweater could get any dirtier.”

Chuckling, Dan checks the clock again. He’s about fifteen minutes late now.

“Well, I’m officially screwed.”

Blair takes out a pristine, pink notepad from her bag and rips off two pages. She scribbles something on one of them and hands it to Dan.

“Is this...a signed tardy slip?” Dan examines it. “How…?”

“My connection knows no bounds.” She’s already clopping down the hallway.

Dan looks back down at the slip of paper in his hand. On the line marked “reason for tardiness” it says “excessive stool”.

“You’re a real treat, Waldorf!”

“Why, thank you!”

 

***

The world seems to slow down as Blair is asked her final question--their final question. Surprisingly enough, even without the help of a “minion-organized” (as Dan calls it) campaign team, Carter’s managed to spout coherent arguments and facts. He has an entire fan club rooting for him too, mostly one of adoring, fantasizing girls who have lapped up Dan’s writing like cats do milk, but still, they’re present, very present.

Her hands become clammy when it’s her turn to speak, and suddenly, for the first time in forever, Blair’s not sure what to say. She’s not quite sure of anything. Why is she even doing this? Wasn’t it all for Nate? For pride? For the comforting notion that she didn’t just take power, she deserved it?

Then, out of the corner of her eye a bright camera flashes. Squinting, she looks in it’s direction. Behind the camera is Dan, his crooked smile gleaming up at her, his dark eyes gazing into hers.

Just pretend you’re talking to me.

Okay, Dan. For you.

Blair draws closer to the mic.