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Fool Me Twice

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18 October, 2013
Dear diary,

Starting a new diary feels like turning over a new leaf. The Fall in Manhattan is beautiful but not as beautiful as my new home. Renovating Henry's room has had a calming effect on me. Chuck insisted on a break from work, and after an apt display of defiance, I relented. My duck feet thanked me in solitude. Though in the last year, Mother has taken a backseat, but I can bet she appreciates the chance to be captain of the ship again. Eleanor may not be the warmest mothers, but she was comically glad I took the break. Every time she looked at my belly I felt like she was putting imaginary oven mitts on.

This has got me thinking the kind of mother I want to be. Eleanor does love me, I am aware. But, there is a corner of my heart where resentment hides for the way she treated a younger me. I want to try better with Henry. I already know Chuck will be a fantastic father. He is so attentive and attuned to my needs. I feel lucky and ready to enter this new phase in my life.

I wish Serena had stayed in New York. LA feels so far away and I resent calling for her when I know she is occupied with her new movie project, or selecting the perfect dress for the Golden Globes. That uncultured beau of hers wouldn't have made things easy anyway. It was no shock that Serena took LA by storm, what shocks me every once in a while is her utter lack of revelation that she is stuck with a toad. I hope she visits New York soon. Nate has taken on a role of a surrogate Serena in the time being. The Spectator has finally taken off the launch pad and he is a busy man. I do appreciate him taking time out for me, if only I didn't harass the man. I blame my hormones. It has been a wonderful seven months of blaming my hormones for every discretion. But once Henry is in my arms, I wonder if I will be a changed woman.

--x--

5 December, 2013
Dear Diary,

Nate fainted. I would have burst out laughing if it weren't for the fact that I had just given birth to an eight pound human being and was low on blood pressure. I daintily collapsed on my bed and watched my poor crying baby through a small slit in my tired eyes. He was beautiful, just perfect. No wonder his uncle Nate fainted. Chuck was away on a business trip and I just know he will be so proud of our boy when he gets to hold Henry in his arms.

Serena visited me in the afternoon. I was angry she wasn't with me the whole day, but I was in a compliant mood with my baby nestled in my arm. It was nice to have all the people I loved in the room. I was glad Humphrey had chosen to stay behind in LA. The day was just perfect. I fell asleep looking forward for my husband meeting his son.

--x--

27 May, 2014
Dear Diary,

Chuck complains about Henry and then ten minutes later I find the man cooing my son to sleep. I couldn't have expected better of Chuck, well that is when he is in Manhattan. Sometimes it's difficult to remember we both are just twenty four. My mother gives me a snide look that says I should have listened to her advice of having the baby later. But having lost a baby, I wasn't losing another. She should be glad that I didn't end up a teen mother, I suppose I have to thank Nate's utter lack of interest in me for that.

The love I have for Henry is so intense and more than any other love I have ever had, it surprises me. I couldn't resent my boy even if he demanded my very life. Not to sound like a poetic mess, but motherhood feels like an ocean from which all other kinds of love are borne. I sound as pathetic as Dan Humphrey. That should mean I am definitely sleep deprived. I might have neglected journaling in the past few months, but only because I am busy using all minutes being dead to the world whenever possible. Is that Henry I hear? Ughh. I knew I should have slept.

--x--

4 December, 2014
Dear Diary,

I thought I wouldn't be able to find words for describing today. But, I'm so angry I could write for hours. My beautiful boy turns one tomorrow. A complete year of being a mother. If there was anything I have discovered in this twelve months, I live for Henry before I live for anyone else. And maybe that's the reason I have been able to see what my love for Chuck did not allow me to see.

Our house was decorated, invites sent to our loved ones and Dorota had even curated the menu. I wanted Henry to celebrate his first birthday with the people who truly cared for him and wished him all the love. It did not even occur to me to make it into a corporate affair and utilize it as a way to socialize with my associates. It did occur to someone though and that unfortunately was my husband. Without me knowing he shifted the party to The Empire. My son will be an accessory on my husbands arm tomorrow who will parade the room showing to all what a wonderful father he has been this past year. While Henry has to stare at unknown faces, wear an uncomfortable suit getting an induction into what being a Bass man means.

I want to storm into the ballroom decorated for tomorrow and tear every chandelier and tassels down with my own hands. The only thing stopping me is to not deprive Henry of the memories of his first birthday. He might not remember them, but he will look back at the pictures and see how much he was loved and I would do nothing to ruin it. I just hope my anger does not reach it's boiling point by tomorrow or else god save the socialites who are attending tomorrow. I will leave broken limbs in my path.

---x---

23 May, 2015
Dear Diary,

I was in Paris for an entire week and I did not shop. The whole way to the airport, I expected officials to pull me aside for the cultural disrespect. But I'm back in New York now with shopping bags full of regret.
I could even feel Henry giving me judgmental glances. If there was anyone glad to have us back, it was Dorota. She said she missed Henry. I have been dethroned and though it pickles my temper sometimes, I love it.

Tomorrow I have a meeting with the other Humphrey spawn who makes me wish for partial amnesia, especially of my school years. But I had to convince Eleanor this was indeed a good idea. She gave in reluctantly. I figured she was still hurt by teen Jenny's rebellious snub. Little J has grown into her own and her designs do have character. I could swallow being in close proximity with the Humphrey's again to do what's best for W.

Speaking of Humphreys, the other devil spawn is still attached to S at the hips. I had given them six months, a hazardous miscalculation. Serena does seem happy, although that could be because of the new Japanese spa she inaugurated recently in LA.

---x---

12 January, 2016
Dear Diary,

Winter in New York has its charm. The winter designs at W were a hit. I was proud of especially this line because it included a little something for everyone. Chuck has bought us a new home in Paris. Right in the middle Rue de Marseille. Me, Chuck and Henry had spent our third anniversary and Henry second birthday at the quaint little mansion. Sometimes I look at my reflection and it is difficult to come to terms with the woman I have become. Blair Waldorf I see looking back at me has everything she had ever wished for. I am happy, truly. I couldn't have ever asked for more, god knows I have tried. Yet my reflection refuses to accept this fact. I see this glint in my eyes, accompanied by a single peculiar line below my eyes that suggest sadness. That would be mad, truly diabolically mad.

I have nothing to be sad over. I do not.

----x----

26 November, 2016
Dear Diary,

I hate Nate's new girl toy. He has this aura around him now - one of success and confidence, which is an attractive complexion on the man. But I did wish he would take more notice about the moths that his new flame attracted. He is still the oblivious, good old mama's boy. I wish Serena had stayed behind. At least moping over her would have diverted him from dating upper-east castaways. He told me last week he was thinking of moving beyond The Spectator. Though it might be a good decision, for lord knows the man is capable of much more than handling a glorified tabloid, I wonder if that will plunge him back into the phase of his life where he didn't know which day it was and which year's fashion he wore. I would never accept this to his face, but I worry about him. His eyes still stutter when I mention Serena and not to mention he has been to all across the country but conveniently never to LA.

I did share this with Chuck, but he just scoffed and told me to stop scheming to ruin Serena's current relationship. That was terrible shortsighted, because I would never dare of destroying Serena's relationship with that appalling wannabe writer when I know it is scheduled for self-imploding very soon.

Well to be honest the delay in that implosion does worry me some. Serena's wind of gaily merriment does not include someone like Dan Humphrey. He is the moon to her storm. How could they be happy? I would never ever accept this if asked. I will never again mention it here too. The person I miss the most right now is Serena, but there is a part of me that hopes to see Humphrey again. If asked for reasons, the only justifiable one would be delusion and probable early onset of dementia. No matter how many times I say to Serena I'm glad she left Humphrey behind in LA when she comes to New York, there is a slight discomfort in my heart like someone playing chess alone and disrupting the board. I want to see the man, the stupid fool who somehow had a lot in common with me. I would very much like to burn this page, but this is the only place I do not lie. So, I will let it be here for now. I cannot promise I won't violently tear it out tomorrow at the late realization of disgust.

----x----

8 April, 2017
Dear Diary,

I received a rather distressing call late at night yesterday. Usually I cannot wait to scribble it all in my diary, but this time I slept on it. I smiled to Chuck and rolled my eyes as I relayed the news. He wasn't shocked but was rather amused by it. Henry slept snuggled in my arms yesterday. That made all the unwelcome tension in my arms melt away.

In the light of the new day, I have to agree with Chuck. The news wasn't unexpected after all. Serena and Dan have been together for almost five years now. Everybody, even Dorota expected a proposal. I had never mentioned it to Serena, lest I make her wish for it, but even I knew it was bound to happen. Serena had called me as soon as the deed was done, sounding as high as Rick in Casablanca, at the throes of marriage instead of mourning a lost love. I would have been more happy with the latter situation.

Dan had proposed just after the screening of her latest movie. I want to blame her saying yes to the high of her recent success, but I know better. She was in love with the wastrel and has been since forever. She had said yes and posted a very attractive picture with her fiancé on Instagram. I had stared at the picture for so long as though I was solving a complicated puzzle with just thought. I wasn't staring at the huge reddish asscher diamond, I was looking at the droll expression on Dan and somehow I saw the smile that wasn't there in my mind. He would look at Serena and scoff inaudibly and tilt his head to the left with a smirk lingering at the left of his lips as though holding his laughter tight within. I wonder if he had indeed looked at Serena in that way, or was that expression only mine?

Was Dan Serena's epic love? Like Chuck was mine? Was Chuck truly my epic love?

Chapter Text

May 2017
The Spectator's Mixer

Blair was having difficulty between choosing whether to keep up her appetite or her temper. The food choices were limited which made going hungry easy. She looked at the wrist watch again and stared dismally at the hour hand still lingering around 10. She looked across the open air terrace party and saw Chuck smiling and sipping cocktails with the same charm that had Bass Industries succeeding better and better each year. She sighed.

Earlier in the evening Chuck had stopped her from taking Henry with them. She had dressed the poor boy with promises of Chocolate soufflé and dipped apples. But with the change of plans, she was forced to ultimately bribe him with a new set of toys and given him up to Dorota. She wasn't particularly upset with Chuck., his argument had been reasonable. It was a loud mixer for an energetic crowd who would be spent and haggard on a Friday Evening. Henry would be as out of place as the delicious looking pancakes placed on the buffet table. Who even approved the menu? She must have a word with Nate.

"If you glare at the pancakes any longer, they might catch fire." came a dry voice of her best friend and he took the seat opposite to her. Blair diverted her gaze from the delicious breakfast food.

"Pancakes Archibald? Tell me who the organizer was again, so that I can never hire them." she retorted.

Nate smirked and rolled his eyes.

"I am as clueless as you. See now that I have expanded the team beyond college graduates and do-no-gooders, I can actually afford to have a marketing team." he retorted.

Blair raise her glass of champagne and said with a transparent teasing smile. "Well, let's drink to that."

Left Hand Free by alt-J was blazing from the speaker and Blair finally felt the alcohol she had been sipping and she stopped thinking about Henry alone in their huge home.

"He looks quite in his element." Nate said nodding in the direction Chuck was holding court.

"Yes, he always does."

For a second both of their eyes met and Nate seemed to perceive the bitterness in her statement. Blair looked away and shook her head.

"You should come by the house more often. I miss you. Henry misses his uncle Nate." she said

Nate smiled at the mention of Henry. "I will, I will. He had Dorota call me last week to check if I was abducted by the aliens"

"He did what?" Blair laughed. "I guess he does take after me." she said with a proud smirk.

"I will come more often I promise. With Mom in Chicago with her latest boyfriend, you guys are my only family here anyway."

"I see your mother's latest foray into the world of dating hasn't been pleasant for you." Blair quipped

"Says the girl who wanted to give Cyrus food poisoning."

"Well I didn't! I love that old man. Well, the thought of Eleanor dating was scaring but Nate I was 18! You are older and wiser."

Nate smiled at her words because he recognized the teasing glint. Blair Waldorf definitely did not define growing up wiser. She grew up like Blair, getting wiser by the year, but no less wicked and devious.

The lull in the conversation prompted another glance at the clock for Blair, who was irritated to find time was quite crawling today. Nate ordered another chute of champagne and took a quick sip so as to imbibe courage.

"So, is it true then?" Nate asked looking deeply into his champagne chute.

Blair didn't have to ask what he was talking about. His strained jaws and focused eyes spoke volumes.

"Yes" she answered in a tone as to confer a terrible befallen fortune. "Although" she continued "I figured the first call would be to you. Aren't you friends with the infamous Brooklyn poet?"

Nate smiled and the tension left his jaw and lifted his eyes to her.

"I don't think Dan's a poet."

"Aghh" Blair dismissed the specifics

"Why would he call me first? Haven't spoken to either Dan or Serena in years." he shrugged

Blair frowned. That was news. After the Inside Out finale came out in The Spectator, Dan's ultimate exposé of Gossip Girl had made The Spectator what it was today. She had always assumed they were still in touch and were fast friends. Just because she avoided any and all news about the elder Humphrey sibling did not mean she was deluded into think he wasn't friends with her friends.

"Don't tell me you ostracized him after revealing to the world what a masked voyeuristic sociopath the man is?" she demanded.

Nate laughed out loud this time. "That is new. Maybe I can ask the editorial team to use the phrase when they review his next book."

"Wait, do you actually dislike the man? Nate Archibald! How could you let me believe he was your good friend? I would have liked you so much better if I had known Humphrey was a sour topic to you too!"

"When have we ever spoken about Dan anyway?" he said with a dismissive tilt to his head.

Blair opened her mouth to say often, but the truth glared back at her. She had followed the 'never mention the man' policy with Dan Humphrey and had hardly spoke about the banished boy in the last few years. It helped that he was out of their sight for good.

Whenever the topic of one Dan Humphrey was waken up from the grave, Blair felt this sense of uncomfortableness similar to passive smoking or eating too many Danishes. She had hoped that absence would convince her mind to do her a favour and erase all her memories of her foe, who was now her closest friend's fiancé. The last two words rang in her ears. She gave up keeping time and decided to make excuses and retreat to home. Chuck can socialize and make contacts if he wanted to, she needed the calm and the familiar of her home and her Henry.

"Did we just conjure the devil?" Nate's question brought her out of her reverie. She startled in confusion until she followed Nate's line of gaze.

The party was pretty crowded and people kept entering and leaving her line of sight. Just when she thought Nate's champagne had him hallucinating, her line of sight cleared as though Moses parting the sea and there should the object of their discussion. There was the very man of their discussion in flesh looking confused and pained but still effectively present, his grey coat and copper tie shimmering under the lighting of the party.

'He cut his hair' was Blair's first thought, quickly followed by 'What in the world is Dan Humphrey doing in New York?'

Blair felt as though the dominoes she had erected carefully in the past years were being teased by a crafty wind. She stood up because sitting didn't seem just right. She felt Nate come stand beside her.

"Did you invite him?" she asked

"Hell no." Nate answered instantly.

The unwanted intrusion reminded her of the very first time she had noticed lonely boy at her Kiss on the Lips party years ago. Looks like Dan Humphrey hadn't broken the habit of barging in uninvited.

It was comical the way she and Nate stood frozen not quite knowing what to do next. The choice was taken away when Dan's gaze fell on the duo and he hesitated only a couple of seconds before making a start towards them.

There was quite no elegant explanation to what Blair did next. She scoffed at the audacity and picked a passing glass of what looked like bourbon and downed it in one swallow.

"He's all yours Nate." she said and sauntered away before Dan could reach her earshot. Her leisure walk and unaffected smile was betrayed to only her by her wildly beating heart.

*

Dan saw Blair walk away and felt a sense of relief. He walked towards Nate with bold strides and stubborn intent. The man had managed to avoid him for over four years now. The weekend trip to Hudson to visit his mother had been a perfect opportunity to catch hold of him. When he saw the Instagram post for The Spectator party he felt this was his one golden chance to get hold of Nate. One wouldn't miss the party they were throwing would they?

Nate was clearly looking for an escape hatch and when Dan finally stood in front of him, he was pissed. Dan hadn't expected any better.

"Nate."

"Humphrey."

Dan rubbed his fingers on his left palm nervously. He had prepared a speech of course, which radiated practicality and maturity. Now he felt like he was walking nude in the fifth avenue.

Nate raised his eyebrows impatiently and Dan felt like there was a timer running out.

"How are you?" was what he finally said. He wanted to swallow the foot in his mouth.

"Not better than you I believe. Congratulations on the engagement." said Nate Archibald, not his friend Nate who Dan was seeking.

Dan felt like a he was doused in ice cold water when he heard Nate speak about his engagement. Suddenly the idea of a weekend trip to Manhattan seemed a very bad idea.

"Ah thanks." he said awkwardly. He bit his lips to keep himself punching his face. "I have to talk to you..."

Nate turned to leave before he could finish but was cut short by Dan stepping in his way.

"We need to talk."

"Look man, I've had a long night and it's barely 11. Now is not the good time."

"We are this close, Nate."

"Close to what? Ending it all for me?" Nate turned on Dan. "Close to taking everything away from me again? Trust me Humphrey, you do not want to talk to me now."

Dan had thought this over in his head many times on the way over. They needed Nate Archibald on their side. Without that everything would fall apart. But now he found himself searching words.

"We won't let it come to that. Listen Nate, you need to trust me...."

Nate didn't let him finish.

"Trust you?" he said it with such distaste as though the new batch of oysters being circulated had gone bad. "You have some nerve standing in front of me and asking me to trust you. Now get out of my line of sight before I punch you in your face. You can enjoy the leftovers on your way out. Consider that my engagement gift."

Having delivered the cut down that was somehow worse than Dan had ever imagined, Nate stormed off and was swallowed by the crowd within seconds. Having ruined the golden chance, Dan didn't know what he wanted to do next. Being back on the Upper East Side brought back so many memories. The party and the crowd around him had faces that felt familiar and intimidating as though they all knew how ineligible he was to be here.

He saw the crowd around the elevator and the unmistakable brazen figure of Chuck Bass and clenched his tooth. He might have forced Nate to confront him but he would rather confront Blair Waldorf herself than ever come face to face with one Chuck Bass. He headed towards the fire exit.

Having failed in his mission, he wonder what they would do next. They desperately needed Nate's help or else they had no way to proceed. It had been over four years and the more they delayed the more farther their goal seemed. Dan shook his head. He had completely forgotten that this was the first time he was facing Nate after proposing to Serena last month. This entire visit had the fingerprints of disaster all over it.

He rapidly climbed down the stairs with his thoughts raging and almost stumbled and fell on his head when he saw the gloomy figure sitting at the top of the stairs below him looking forlorn and lost. Dan stopped so suddenly he had to catch hold of the bannister for support. The noise he made didn't make the occupant of the staircase startle or even turn. She was lost in her thought.

Dan swore inaudibly. He really should be careful with what he wished for. His avoiding of Chuck Bass was rewarded by a run in with the man's wife. Blair sat with her blue silk gown pooled around her and it felt like she was floating in the ocean under the dimly lit staircase, the only thing glittering was her emerald necklace. She sat with her head in her palm, her hair delicately braided back to her nape. She shouldn't have missed Dan coming down the stairs, but a single tear gliding down her simple and ethereal face was his answer.

Dan was transfixed, because he really couldn't not stare. She looked like the damsels in one of the 50s movies she loved so much, waiting for someone to rescue her. And that would never be Dan Humphrey. The thought acted as a catalyst and he shook himself of the stupor that seeing her up close and vulnerable had put him in. He would never again try to be Blair's savior, been there done that and wore the scars. He walked down and cleared his throat.

"Excuse me." he said fearing he might need to touch her if she didn't respond. Maybe he would shake her bare shoulders or tap her arms that looked cold and in need of a jacket and a hug.

Blair looked up and blinked her eyes a couple of times. Dan felt a vice tighten around him. Four years. It had been four years since he had set his eyes on her and yet Blair Waldorf affected him the same.

"Dan?" she whispered so lightly that when Dan replayed the entire conversation on his way back to the airport he was sure she never said it.

"Humphrey!" came the expected exclaim as she rushed to stand.

Dan held his hand out just in case but Blair ignored it and stood up with flourish, picking her clutch and phone and wiping her tear somewhere along the way. This was done in such alacrity that when she stood face to face opposite him she looked her icy composed self, the Blair Waldorf the world was familiar with.

"I was just leaving." He muttered and tried to move around her billowy gown. The thing was huge and felt like it flowed endlessly.

"Still getting banished to fire exists I see." Blair commented.

"Well, I never much liked elevators."

Dan should have walked down, the path was cleared and Blair had gotten one snide comment out of her. But he saw her clutching the satin gown with white fingers and he couldn't resist turning back again. He really hadn't learnt anything had he?

"What's wrong?" he asked

He felt Blair startle as though shocked by the concern, but she turned on him in a second for him to confirm.

She looked adorably confused for a few seconds with that crinkle above her eyes. And then she titled her head and Dan smiled without realizing because he recognized the 'Blair Waldorf set down stance'.

"Just because you cut your hair and learnt to dress well doesn't mean we are friends again Humphrey." she said with narrowed eyes.

"Of course not" Dan said with a nod.

She frowned as though she wasn't sure not to say next. Everything about her was so familiar, fresh and new and old that he felt like he'd been stabbed in the chest. His eyes fell on the wedding ring on her clutched hand and he realized all he needed to do was be here for her now to get sucked back into the void of his past.

"How's Serena? Is she here?" Blair asked

"Ah no. I was in Hudson visiting my mother. Serena's in LA."

"Oh." she said softly.

Something wasn't right, Dan could tell. With Blair, you'll never be able to force anything out of her. If she wanted to share she will, you just have to wait. It felt like a defining moment. Was be ready to be a friend to Blair Waldorf? Just last month he'd felt like he'd finally recovered from his last attempt but this showed him how horribly wrong he was. He really wasn't ready to face another round in the torture chamber.

"I have to go Blair. I've to catch my flight at 1. I'll... I'll tell Serena I saw you." He said hoping to end this now before he opened any old scars.

"What?" Blair said looking shaken "What time is it?" She demanded

He looked from the phone in her hand to his watch. "11: 20"

"No!" She looked wild for a second and the tears that had looked shy a few moments ago rushed to her eyes. "I have to leave."

"What's wrong Blair? You're scaring me."

"Have you seen Chuck?"

"Yes he was near the elevators." He said and flinched. "Ah he was among the people there. He was entertaining a pretty big crowd."

She had turned to head towards the stairs up but hearing his pathetic cover up for the fact that he'd taken the fire exit to avoid Chuck Bass, she turned towards him and all her earlier chaotic energy seemed to fizz out of her.

"I.. I have to go too." Saying that she switched directions and started downstairs.

Dan didn't know whether to shake her, follow her or just let her go. He followed her, really there was no choice.

"Blair. come on let me help you. I know! I know I'm not your friend but I could lend a hand. Think of me as Serena's replacement."

Blair looked back for a sec and turned back again.

"I don't need any help. I just need to get home." She stopped walking and waited for him to catch up.

She looked unsure at him for a second and said "Henry's alone at home." And there came the tears again caught at the eyelids refusing to touch her cheeks.

"Alone? What do you mean alone?" He felt like his heart dropped. Had she left the kid all alone to come to the party?

"Well Dorota is with him." She said wiping away her tears. "But I've never stayed out late without him"

He almost laughed at the wretched expression on her face. But as his mirth subsided, he felt a sweet anguish as he realized Blair had become a wonderful mother.

"Blair you do realise Dorota practically raised you right?"

"Yes I do! But he likes it when I put him to sleep, me! Not Dorota."

Dan didn't know when he'd decided, but he would play her knight in drab armour tonight. It was inevitable. Blair Waldorf had just to look at him with pain in her eyes and he was ready for her to command. And what truly scared him was how he didn't mind it one bit.

"Well, let's get you to him them." He said and started walking downstairs.

"What?" came her confused voice

"I have my car waiting downstairs. I think I have the time to drop you and then leave to the airport. So let's get you home so you can tuck Henry in yourself. You're not going to find a cab anyway, they are on a strike or something."

When he didn't hear the sound of her stilettos he turned back to she was frozen on few steps behind him.

"You would do that?" She asked him in a haunted voice and they both knew in that moment the question asked so many other questions. And the need for her to know the answer and the need for him to reply was so strong they swayed towards each other. And he gave his answer with complete honesty.

"Always."

Chapter Text

"Oh no! no no no. This cannot be happening Humphrey!" Blair exclaimed on the sidewalk as she and Dan stood side by side staring at their car broken down in the middle of the street.

Dan stared at the driver burrowed under the hood without saying a word. Blair paced on the sidewalk, her heels clicking intermittently when it met concrete. She was this close to losing her calm and running into the traffic demanding justice.

"Why are there no cabs? What would they be protesting about? Bolder yellow color for their dingy and smelly dens?"

Dan went to have a quick word with the driver and she paused in her relentless pacing to overhear what he was saying. They exchanged a few words that was drowned by the traffic and then Dan nodded and pulled some money from his wallet. She hoped to god he was bribing the man to do whatever was humanly possible to get the car running again. Instead of rushing back and telling her some good news, Dan walked to the bunker, pulled his suitcase out and turned around and started walking away from her, the rollers of the suitcase making sharp noises. It took her two seconds to overcome her shock and run after him.

"Humphrey! What do you think you're doing?" she exclaimed with gasping breath as she caught up to him. He sure could walk fast.

"Walking to the airport." he answered without looking at her.

"Look who dementia finally claimed. Start making sense Humphrey!" she stomped her feet and stood in front of him cutting his path

He tried to side step her, but she was nimble and he glared holes into her eyes.

"The car broke down, Blair. He said he needs to have it towed. Since we have no cabs, I figured walking is the only solution." he said with clenched jaw

"But what about me? Were you seriously about to leave me in the middle of the damn road?"

"I offered you help Blair. I didn't offer my service. I'm not some getaway driver anymore."

He took advantage of her shock to sidestep and continue walking. Blair stood in the newfound knowledge that the four years apart meant Blair didn't know everything about Dan anymore. She started walking after him because there really wasn't any other solution and her home was four blocks away in the direction he was walking. She could order car service but that would take forever, and since urgency was the need, she took off her heals and picked up her pace.

A few minutes later she felt Humphrey slow his own pace and when she looked up from her deep thought about past friendships, he had stopped and was looking at her.

"What are you doing Blair?" he asked like you would ask a child who had sneaked away from their bedroom at night.

"Walking home." she said lifting her chin.

"I asked Percy to order another car. It's on his way. You can wait with him. I.. I verified with the company."

"Who's Percy?"

"The driver."

Blair shot a nasty look at that. "No need Humphrey. You can tell your new best friend Percy to cancel the service. With this traffic it'll take another half hour and I need to get home to Henry. Oh maybe I should tell Serena you've found yourself a best man."

She started walking with her heavy gown and stilettos in one hand and her clutch in the other. Dan had no choice but to walk along her side.

"Blair, it's half past midnight. I don't think Henry will be up. Dorota could tell you the same, if you would just call her."

"Doesn't matter." she dismissed him.

Blair wanted to explain why she felt this incessant need to go home and check on Henry, but she didn't know how to. Everyone around her assured her Henry would be fine, he was older now and didn't need his mother as often as he used to. She listened to all of them but never could agree with them. She needed to go home, now.

She heard Dan sigh.

"No one's asking you to walk with me Humphrey. I think you missed a turn to the airport."

"Yeah I was just thinking why I didn't take that turn. Maybe I'll take the next one."

"Good."

"Fine."

They walked with only the sound of the suitcase wheels between them. Blair found herself thinking how in the world she had wound up on the sidewalk walking home with Dan Humphrey this night. It's like nothing between them had changed and yet everything had. She was married to Chuck and he was set to marry the love of his life very soon. She was a mother and they were no longer friends. They stayed in two separate times zones, rarely met, and yet in time of need she had turned to him without hesitation and as always he had been there to assist.

Blair felt an anger within her. Anger at the contradiction of her situation and her feelings and the unfairness of it all. Nothing made sense anymore. She had done everything right. Married the only person who could love someone like her, found a home, a family, but her mind would not give up showing her glimpses of 'what could have been'.

"What are you doing in Manhatten anyway? Haven't you had enough with torturing Nate after stealing his girl and his city." she snapped her anger founding an outlet.

"His city?" Dan asked confused.

"Nate had plans to move The Spectator to LA before you made it your home. Please don't tell me you didn't know that."

"Wow. I had no idea. Although, I would think not moving to LA has a little less to do with me and more to do with my fiancé."

The word fiancé sat heavily between them and neither one of them dared to acknowledge it.

"Well it doesn't matter. You could have done us a favour and flied to LA from Hudson." she said to end the awkward silence.

"Think of it this way, if I hadn't come to the party, you wouldn't have had someone to practice your punches on your way home. By the way, your gown is sweeping the street."

She picked up her gown flustered and felt like practicing actual punches on the man. She wasn't used to this Dan who called her out at every turn.

"Let me spare you from the company of someone who 'has different faces... that she puts on in order to get what she wants' Humphrey. Go away."

She saw Dan startle and she walked faster to gain some distance.

"Did you just quote from my four year old article on Inside Out?" he asked shocked.

"It was an article on me and I have an impeccable memory." she retorted

"Blair..."

His sentence was cut short as her gown that she had been desperately clutching in one hand gave out and she almost stumbled. Dan steadied her with his hand and she stood panting and thankful she hadn't fallen face first on the sidewalk.

"This is ridiculous. We are waiting for the car. You. Just stay right where you are." he exclaimed with a comical angry face that never worked for him. He just looked boyish with his jaws clenched like that.

"No. We are walking." she issued and made to go but was stopped by Dan clutching her hand.

"Blair, for god's sake!"

His action broke her patience and she pushed him hand away and faced him.

"Yes I know Dan! I know! I am being ridiculous, childish and illogical. My son is happily sleeping safe in his home. I needn't worry. It's not benefiting anyone. I am making a fool of myself. I can't coddle him forever. I have to let him grow without me. I know! Believe me I have heard. But this is the first time I have stayed late away from him and he is confused and sad and I will be there next to him whenever he wakes up and hope to god he wasn't just given a first taste of parental disappointment. So, I am walking home and you can either walk with me with a proverbial tape on your mouth or walk all the way to LA for all I care!"

Blair would have thrown her hands up in the air for effect if it wasn't so occupied. She settled for giving him a nasty glare and barged on without having a care. The tears threatened to appear again and she sniffled angrily. She had become someone disgusting, who felt helpless, made speeches on the sidewalk and cried like an airhead.

Dan eventually caught up with her and they walked in comfortable silence rest of the way. The absence of conversation accentuated little things around them. The dew drops on the leaves, the chill of the summer night, the lull in the traffic. Blair didn't know how far they walked but houses became familiar again and she sighed in relief when her home came to sight. She picked up her pace and felt a calmness that only a mother can understand.

Blair was halfway up the stairs when she realized she had left Dan behind her. She turned around to find him standing at the foot of the stairs looking like her old friend. Whatever words she had ready in her mouth died, replaced by a cognizant pause. She had missed him. The truth was visible in the way she wanted to hold on to him and not let him disappear again.

"I can ask Vanya to drop you to the airport." she said as a peace offering.

"It's ok." he shook his head. "The car must be here any moment."

"When did you order a new car?"

"It's an app Blair. I just changed the address."

"It will take a while. And I think you missed your flight."

"It's no worry really."

"You can come in and..."

"I'll be fine, Blair." he said softly but firmly.

She had nothing to do but go inside. She turned around conflicted and confused.

"Blair." Dan called out and she turned around with embarrassing speed.

"You are a good mother Blair. Don't let anyone or anything take that away from you." he said softly with a look in his eyes that seemed to say 'I believe in you.' and Blair felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulder.

"Thank you." she said trying to add she was feeling into those two words. "And Dan? Thank you for everything tonight."

Dan smiled that small smile titled on the left that held all the mirth locked in, the smile he reserved only for her. But Blair saw something sad in it this time and she turned around and raced up the stairs before she realized that the pain in Dan's smile was a reflection of her own.

Chapter Text

Dan landed in LA around 9 AM in the morning. After missing his flight he was lucky enough to find another on the same night. The whole way he kept thinking about Blair. He had tried to put a distance between them for more than four damn years and one glimpse at her had resurfaced every feeling he had ever had for Blair Waldorf. This brought forth an unpleasant fact that all he had done was lock all his feelings for the woman out of his reach into a casket and push it into the farthest corner of his heart. But now the casket had washed up on the shore refusing to sink again wanting to be opened.

All Blair had done was look at him with pain in her eyes and he had left everything and forgotten everyone to help her. The wish for him to see her happy and more specifically for himself be the instrument that made her happy was as dominant as ever. He kept reminding himself that he was engaged, set to marry Serena.

He did love Serena, a love that was old, comfortable and safe. Going to Serena felt like going home. A home you didn't like, complained about everything in it, hated the tapestry and the paint but at the end of the day you knew it would be there for you stagnant and unmoving. He cringed at the pathetic image he had just drawn. Serena damn well deserved better than that bullshit.

When he had begun his relationship with Serena four years ago, it was a form of friendship he was looking for. And they both had found it. Not for one moment had he regretted it in the time they had spent together. Because the one he loved more than he could ever understand, the one that got away, was safely married, unavailable and in another city very far away. But one night of disarray with her made one fact very obvious to him. He hadn't moved on, far from it.

His chest hurt as through his heart which he had put together carefully was cracking all over again. His head felt full with her thoughts and rethinking all the time they had spent together tonight. Never mind she was married and a mother of a three-year old, the whole evening he had resisted the urge to whisk her away far from this world where they could be together and happy. He was desperately in love with Blair Waldorf and would be for the rest of his life. There he had finally admitted the truth to himself. The truth that had haunted him for four years and was refusing to be snubbed anymore.

Now the right thing to do was let Serena go. She was a dynamic, wonderful woman and deserved more than being a placeholder in his heart and life.

It was almost 10 when the taxi dropped him off at their house. It was an upbeat studio apartment that they rented and it had been almost two years since they had moved in. He walked in expecting quiet because Serena was on a night shooting schedule for her latest movie, but he found her sitting at the kitchen counter talking on the phone and looking like she had just won the lottery. She smiled big when she saw him and waved at the coffee pot and mouthed 'two minutes'. He smiled a little and lugged his suitcase to their room. As he placed it near the dressing table he felt surreal seeing it, as he realized he might not need to unpack.

There was nothing he could do. No matter how happy she looked Dan had to tell her the truth because the last four years would amount to nothing if he continued to lie after realizing the truth himself.

"Dan!" Serena rushed to the room and hugged him in excitement.

"Woah!" he caught her just in time as she didn't wait to see if he could hold his balance. "What happened?"

"That was Blair." she said pulling back to face him. She would his hands around his neck and had a coquettish smile on her face.

He felt his stomach drop. There was just a seconds pause before Serena said the next sentence but he knew before she even uttered the words that he was about to get his second lesson at heartbreak at the hand of Blair Waldorf.

"She said she wants to plan the wedding and offered her home as the venue. I always thought the only thing she would organize on our wedding was a getaway car, but she seemed happy! And she said she wants to help make this the most happiest day of my life..."

Dan froze, everything around him froze. He kept listening to Serena and holding her in his arms but he felt like he was falling. An endless fall with no sight of the hard floor and arrested in the perpetual fear of breaking.

"Dan!"

He was pulled into the present when Serena shook him.

"Have you been listening?" Serena asked laughingly. "I know marrying in Blair's home isn't what you may want, but the thought of the cozy wedding with all the people I love around me would make me happy. Would that be alright with you?" she asked with a pleading look and a teasing smile.

In that moment Dan made a decision. This woman in his arms loved him. He may not deserve that love, but he seemed to make her happy. And he would continue to do that as long as he was capable, because the woman he loved had just drove a dagger through his heart and he might as well be dead to her.

"Whatever you want." he answered Serena with a smile.

Serena squealed and kissed him.

"You know what. I can't wait to marry you. Let's get married next week." he said in a moment of vindictiveness that had nothing to do with making Serena happy.

"Next week?" Serena asked shocked. But her eyes softened and her smile became sweet and Dan felt guilty.

"Dan. You would do that?" she asked softly.

And this time he answered with sincerity "I would be honored to."

*

Eight Hours Ago

Blair felt Chuck enter Henry's room and stand behind her. She was sitting on the side of bed stroking henry's hair and singing softly. She had found him sleeping when she had rushed home and the sight of her son had calmed all the torment of the evening.

"You left without saying a word Blair." he said softly, more for the sake of Henry because his words retained the hardness. "I searched the whole terrace for you. If Dorota hadn't called me, I would have dialed the commissioner. Blair.." he paused and Blair could feel his frustration rolling off in waves around her.

"Where's your phone?" he asked after he calmed himself.

"It lost it's charge." she answered without looking away from Henry.

"Would you look at me please? I was worried Blair. How could you do that to me?"

Blair sighed and bent down to kiss Henry and got up. She walked to their room and heard Chuck follow behind.

"I am a good mother Chuck." she said firmly.

Chuck frowned and looked taken aback.

"I know that Blair. I would never..."

"Let me finish please." she swallowed and continued with a finality "I am a good mother and you need to let me be a good mother. I cannot leave my son alone when he is three to go partying. I can't. I am not coddling him, I am not being paranoid. I am being his mother. I don't want to argue with you about that again."

She took a breath after finally pouring her frustration out and found Chuck seeing her intensely. After what felt like an hour he walked towards her.

"I'm sorry Blair." he took her hand and kissed them. "You're a good mother, but I guess I haven't been either a good father or a good husband. I will try to do better." he said earnestly.

Blair smiled and kissed Chuck. She was happy and relieved that he seemed to understand her.

"Ughh. I need to get my makeup off and just because I left the party early doesn't mean we can't finish the evening with alcohol." she said and moved away.

"I'll get the best bottle of wine." he said and left the room.

Sometime half a bottle wine later Blair was feeling compliant and safe. Her world that had tilted on it's axis that evening had righted itself and she felt more centered now. She was sitting at her dressing table and Chuck had stepped out to receive a phone call.

He entered as she was applying serum on her eyelids and he looked up from his phone to her in the mirror.

"I thought I saw Humphrey earlier tonight."

Blair's hands froze for a split second before she continued applying the serum as though the sentence hadn't threatened to tilt her world again.

"I saw him talking to Nate and Nate did not look happy. Wonder what that was about." Chuck continued.

Blair blamed the wine for what came out of her mouth next. If she had been lucid she would have never been so careless.

"He was visiting his mother in Hudson and dropped on the way. Did Nate say anything?"

"How did you know he came from Hudson? Did you two catch up?" Chuck asked casually.

If Chuck had asked the question with even a little ounce of doubt or insecurity Blair wouldn't have felt so wretched, but the guileless question felt like cold ice flowing over her arms.

She felt like the air in the room could sense her guilt, her uncertain feelings and the betraying emotions of the night. She looked at Chuck and saw her husband and felt like the worst wife ever. The guilt manifested what she said next which she regretted immediately.

"Yes he wanted to ask me a favour. If I could help organize his and Serena's wedding, in New York, in her hometown."

Before Chuck could absorb that Blair continued embellishing the lie and couldn't stop herself.

"I wanted to say no, but he made a compelling argument. Serena always wanted a quite wedding around the people she loved and who could plan that better than her bff? So, I said yes."

"Blair..."

"I even offered our house as the venue!" she hit the final nail in the coffin.

Every sentence Blair uttered felt like a compensation to Chuck for spending the evening away from him. Well, not just away, but with Dan feeling like he had never left her and they had never stopped speaking, feeling safe, loved, good and everything she was only supposed to feel with Chuck.

"Blair." Chuck had drawn closer to her and stooped low and kissed her cheek. "It's Serena, I would never say no to that."

Blair watched his retreating back as he walked away and realized she had just betrayed the one person she thought she would never betray in her life: herself.

Chapter Text

Blair Waldorf stood at the foyer of her house with a frown that hadn't left her forehead in the last week. She had outdone herself this time. Everything was perfect for Serena's wedding. The flowers, the fabrics, the guest table, the alter, the clothing, perfume, bouquet, everything.

Serena was upstairs in Blair's room getting ready and the groom party would be arriving any moment. All was set for the Big Day.

"Dorota! Those are the pink Hyacinths need to go over at the alter not the tables. Are you trying to ruin my color pattern?" She snapped.

Dorota calmly removed the flowers from their glass beaded vases and took them over to the alter. 'The alter' was actually the staircase that lead to their living room. The bannister was decorated delicately and an arch put up for symbol. In just a week Blair has managed to make Serena's dream wedding vision come true. It had been nearly impossible but Blair was proud of the result. This was a charming wedding she was gifting her best friend and that made her feel better despite all the other troubling thoughts that she had pushed away again and again the whole week.

"Dorota! It's half past nine! The groom party would be arriving any minute, why is the carpet bare? Where are the petals?" she snapped again and Dorota shot her a dark glare.

Blair chose to ignore that. She had been riding Dorota hard for the past week and she didn't mind a glare if that meant she did what was asked.

Henry ran past her followed by Eleanor and Blair opened her mouth to chastise him but them thought better of it. He seemed happy. Wearing a little suit, pocket square, bow tie and trousers like a little man. She smiled thinking about how excited he had seemed for Aunt Serena's wedding.

"Blair." came the voice from behind her and she turned to find Dan standing in all his glory.

He was wearing a silver suit with golden lapels that matched Serena's outfit. His hair was pulled back and it highlighted his eyes golden brown eyes. He was looking at her like he had never before as though he wanted to choke her. Blair gasped softly and took a very small step back which he noticed immediately.

Before either could say anything she saw Rufus and Eric enter the foyer.

"Blair! The place looks amazing." Rufus said who entered her house holding his girlfriends hand.

Eric looked between Blair and Dan and sighed. "I will go see Serena. The place looks magical Blair." he gave a pause and looked unsure. "Try not to kill each other."

Before she could ask what he meant, Eric disappeared down the hallway. Even if she wanted to follow him she didn't get the chance, as Dan clutched her hand and pulled her into the coat room and closed the door behind them.

"Humphrey!" she exclaimed catching her breath.

"Have you had fun Blair? The past week, planning my wedding to your best friend?" he asked menacingly.

She didn't know how to react to this Dan. He looked feral and hurt and Blair wanted to badly deny the reason for it.

"What? I don't understand what..."

Dan didn't let her finish, he advanced on her.

"Do you want me to spell it out Blair? Would you like that? Well let me say how I exactly feet at..."

"Humphrey!" she hissed cutting him off. A band of fear surrounded her as she looked into Dan's eyes and realized he wasn't holding back today.

"We will be late. Serena is waiting for me." she said and tried walking around him and surprisingly he let her.

"You can't run away forever Blair" he said before she opened the door.

The statement made her angry. Blair Waldorf wasn't the kind to run away from people. She turned around with a huff.

"I am not running away from anything. I am stopping you from saying anything that you will regret after today."

"Well then. You must be ecstatic today. About Serena getting married."

"Aside from her dismal choice of groom, yes! I am happy for her. Very happy in fact." she said with utter confidence.

Dan folded his hands.

"All right then. I will believe you when you go through this day with the same smile on your face you had the day you won the declamation competition."

"You remember that?" she asked surprised.

She saw Dan's jaw tighten and he just looked at her as though she should already know the answer to that question.

"Of course I will have that smile. It'll be even bigger, cause I'm happier!" she said tilting her chin indicating she had accepted his challenge.

"We'll see." he said looking doubtful.

*

Blair glared at him and pulled the door open hardly and without looking back left him standing alone among coats of the guests at his wedding.

Dan felt exhausted. Today was supposed to be one of the happiest days of his life, yet he only felt tired. His decision hadn't changed. He would marry Serena. But the moment he had seen Blair standing at the foyer looking petite, delicate and dictatorial he had wanted to give himself one last shot at something undeniably out of his reach. He was nothing to her, he had never mattered and would never matter in the future. That glaring fact somehow made him feel better as it gave him the motivation to marry someone he could at least love as a friend.

The door of the closet opened and he started as Georgina Sparks entered the coat room.

"Oh look, the Hideaway Groom." she said smirking.

He saw Jack Bass standing behind and both men stared at each other in confusion.

"Dan." he said with a nod and pass his coat to Georgina along with a kiss and went down the hallway.

"Georgina." Dan said with a frown. "Since when are you two a thing?"

Georgina rolled her eyes. "Looks like you've been out of the loop ever since you stopped being Gossip Girl."

"Well."

"I am part of the family now. Isn't that just ironic and marvelous. Just how I like things."

"Blair invited you?"

"She invited Jack and I'm his plus one. Hmm I'm his plus one forever mow." she smiled and looked content.

Dan felt like he had just entered a bad dream.

"I guess I should congratulate you. You look happy."

"One of us should. At least today." she said and quickly placed their coats on the rack and walked out.

"Hey Georgina." Dan followed her. "What does that mean?"

She looked back and gave him a droll look. "You don't fool me for a minute Humphrey. Marrying the best friend of the woman you love in her very home. You do have a knack for punishing yourself."

Having the situation presented in such a naked manner as though the whole predicament could be summed in a single sentence affected him deeply. Dan did not know how to react. He stood gaping and waiting for the right words to come out of his mouth. That didn't stop Georgina.

"Don't look so haunted. I won't say a word." she sighed. "Unfortunately, I have retired from creating a mess in all your lives. But you should do better to look happy. You look like you're being led to the Guillotine."

"I do not." Dan said defensively. He adjusted his tie and hair as though fixing his attire would make him look 'happy'

Georgina looked at him with what looked like disgust and shook her head.

"Let me give you a little advice Humphrey. Marriage works best when you go through with it for either money, love or pregnancy, in that order. It becomes a difficult pill to swallow if you do it for anything else, especially self pity."

"I am not..."

"Shush. Now smile and maybe try not to look so pale."

She left him standing with that. Dan looked at the glass window nearly at his own reflection. He did look pale. He tried to smile, but every version of his smile looked fake and pained. He closed his eyes. The day was getting incredibly more harder than he had imagined. He had been so sure yesterday that he would be able to go through with it, but he hadn't imagined it would be this torturous.

Someone slammed into him and ran past without pausing and Dan balanced himself just in time before crashing into the nearest Swarovski vase.

"Woah"

"Sorry!" said a small voice from a boy who ran around the couch being chased by Dorota.

"Master Henry!" Dorota said huffing "Stop running away."

The little boy giggled and ran away from her leading her on a chase all around the living room. Dan watched the boy, Blair's son and felt like a bottomless pit had opened inside his stomach. He had never truly accepted to himself that he wanted Blair and what that would mean to people around them. Now as he looked at her son for the first time he realized he was wishing to break the little boy's family. Dan swallowed hard. His eyes felt blurry and his throat burned because somehow he was realizing just how impossible his dream was.

His parents had divorced when he was 17 and he had been affected by it. The boy was three! And without anyone telling him, he knew that Henry was Blair's first priority. All his earlier doubts melted away with that realization.

"Master Henry!" Dorota said in dismay and sat down on the couch tired. He saw her holding a bowtie and when the boy tried to run pass him next time, he caught him in his arms.

"Hey!" Henry exclaimed.

"Will you let me put the bow tie back on?" Dan said setting the boy down next to Dorota and crouching down in front of him.

Henry looked from him to Dorota and said "It itches."

Dan smiled and took the bow tie from Dorota. "Well, I just happen to know how to make it not itch."

"Really?" Henry asked with wonder as though Dan had just said he'd seen an angel in fifth avenue.

"Hmm hmm" Dan said and proceeded to fix the tie, not too tight not too loose and shielded by the collar fabric so it wouldn't 'itch'

"What do you think?" he asked after he was finished.

Henry look skeptical and turned his neck around trying it out. When he realized his bow tie didn't itch anymore he looked at Dan in amazement.

"Wow!" he said, quickly hugged Dan and ran away before Dan could even have a chance to pat his back.

"Thank you Mr. Humphrey." Dorota said

"I think you can do away with the Mr or Humphrey." Dan muttered and stood up.

Dorota smiled at him but there was something unsaid behind her eyes and having had one confrontation with Georgina, Dan wasn't in the mood for another. He helped her up and quietly left to join the others. Whenever Henry came into his line of vision he couldn't help but think of the little hug and what could have been if things had been different.

*

Blair noticed a change in Dan. He spoke to Rufus, William and even Chuck with a natural ease unlike how he had seemed earlier today. He even looked happy. Nate had arrived finally and though they kept a distance she had seen them nod cordially at each other. She had assumed Nate would miss the ceremony altogether but she had underestimated him.

As for her, she maintained her winning smile at every moment of the day. She had been so conscious so as to not let it slip that it felt heavy and uncomfortable like a piece of jewelry. She was sure every time Dan had glanced at her, she had worn the smile and looked pretty and happy.

Blair smiled when Dan finally took his place at the alter and all the guests assembled around him. She smiled when Serena walked down the stairs looking radiant and glowing. She smiled when they said their vows. She even smiled when Dan and Serena were declared man and wife and a cheer went around the room.

The newly weds kissed for the first time and as Dan pulled back he smiled at Serena and Blair felt like she had seen a ghost. He smiled at his new wife with all the softness and mischief and love that had only ever been present in the smiles that he usually reserved for her. Her heart beat faster, the room felt congested and every thought in her mind was screaming at her accusing her for what she had done. It was such a small moment in the whole day, might have been just two seconds, but Blair felt as though it dragged on for ages.

When Dan looked at Blair in the next instant, she had her smile back on and this time he even smiled back at her. Blair really was proud of the way she hadn't let her pain leak into her smile the whole day.

Chapter Text

8 Months Later
February 2018

"I can't believe I am really here." Nate said over the phone.

Blair balanced the mobile on her shoulders and did a last touch of to her lip color. She smacked her lips for good measure and satisfied with the result she left the washroom.

"Nate, you've always wanted to take The Spectator to LA. And now that your dream is coming true, just focus on how great it would be when all you ever wanted would culminate." she said

She heard Nate sign and his discomfort was almost visible through the cell phone.

"Nate Archibald! We are adults now. We don't run from things because of doomed romance or haunting exes. We are in control of our emotions. So buckle up and go tell your investors you're all in."

Nate chuckled "Well, easier said than done Blair." he said bitterly but with his usual charm that Blair didn't take any offense.

Before Blair could get a word in, he continued "But... thank you. I think I will see this through. You're right. This was my dream after all."

"Yay! That's the spirit. Oh and let's not pretend you won't inevitably run into Serena. Say hi to her."

"I think I could handle seeing Serena, it's her husband I worry about. I still owe him a couple of punches I think."

'her husband' the words still sat heavily and Blair cleared her throat. "Then punch him one from my side."

"Gladly. Bye Blair. Oh and tell Henry he's gonna do great. Did he get his uncle Nate's gift?"

"Ugh You spoil him. He was already wearing his new jacket yesterday and even slept in it. Now, I will pass along your wishes and we both should get back to business."

"Aye Captain."

Blair disconnected the call and looked at her phone for a moment. Nate was busy in LA speaking with investors with regards to branching out with The Spectator and still he remembered today was Henry's first day in Kindergarten. Chuck didn't even have that excuse. She shook the gloomy thoughts and decided today would be all about Henry and she would do all in her power make it perfect.

*

That night Blair dressed for the St Vincent Cancer Benefit Ball. She was wearing plated muslin green gown with boat neck and beaded work done over her torso and ending near her thigh. The dress flowed like a waterfall down and she paired it up with cream silk gloves till her elbows. She wore her hair down with a little twist done behind.

Henry was with Eleanor and Cyrus, leaving her evening open. His first day at school had been surprisingly incident free. Eleanor had wanted to pamper him for his monumental day and Blair had relented.

She arrived at the venue without an escort, but with a heavy purse and a beatific smile. This was her one night out, where she wasn't the Blair Waldorf that her friends and family knew, but she was the woman single-handedly running Waldorf Designs. This part of the world, she would navigate without much effort and with flourish. She was in her element.

She walked around the ballroom speaking to friends, friends of her friends, clients, potential clients, notorious socialites and uptight businessmen. This was her world and Blair was the queen. At around half past eleven when she had relaxed even more with the help of some champagne. She felt someone's gaze on her but when she surveyed the audience she found no gawker. She chalked that up as the result of an additional indulgent glass of alcohol and continued speaking about what plans she had for the fall line.

Soon the music began and couples took to stage dancing under the influence of soft music and free flowing alcohol. The song 'Reading In Bed' by Emily Haynes & The Soft Skeleton started playing and Blair had this urge to venture into the dance floor alone and dance on her own. She loved this song. She closed her eyes and basked in the music.

"Care for a Dance?" said a voice to her right.

When she opened her eyes, she found Dan Humphrey standing with his hand extended.

"It's rude to leave a Gentleman hanging at a Ball." he continued.

Never had she thought throughout the day the she would end up in the arms of Dan Humphrey dancing to a sad ballad.

"Humphrey!" she exclaimed when she came over the shock of the situation. "What are you doing here?"

"Dancing with you Blair. I thought it was evident." he replied.

"Wha..."

"I know you love this song." he said with a frown and a smile, and Blair didn't know to which she should react.

"I might be pliant due to alcohol but I'm no fool. Answer my question!" she swatted his hand.

"Shh. She's singing your favorite lines." he said tilting his head.

She opened her mouth, but then she did want to listen to her favourite lines.

"Close your eyes." he said softly.

She complied but couldn't erase a frown that was brought forth by her accepting his request.

Slowly she left Dan to handle the dance moves and he did not disappoint. They were gliding, as though her feet never met the floor, she felt like she was flying just an inch above the ground.

The rhythm of the music matched perfectly with their every move and Blair felt like they were one with the music. They were nothing but an extension of the song. The moment felt transcendental and she didn't want it to end.

Something cool blew over her eyes and she reluctantly opened them. Dan was staring at her. Blair slowly realized the song had ended and they had come to a halt. Her hands felt heavy in his as she realized she didn't want to let go. There was no words needed as they looked into each others eyes and Blair could read everything he had never said in his naked eye. She wondered was he reading hers just as easily?

The sudden blaring sound of the new song startled them both. Blair dropped her hand and turned away realizing Dan had manoeuvered them into the edge of the ballroom. She shook her head and tried to come back to reality.

Blair heard Dan clear his throat and a glace showed him agitated and running a slightly shaking hand through his hair. She had never wanted more to hug him, because whatever was said and done through their eyes, she knew they could do nothing about it. The only thing left was to hold on firmly to the reality that could exist between them.

"Can you answer my question now?" she asked turning to him with arms folded.

Dan looked at her and gave a knowing smile tilting his head.

"I would say I am attending the St Vincent Cancer Benefit. What about you?" he said

"Ha ha."

Dan sighed "I'm meeting someone here Blair."

"In New York?" she asked skeptical.

"Well yes I believe we are in New York."

Blair scoffed a fake laugh. "While I am amused with your new found wit, I would prefer straight answers Humphrey."

"Then start asking straight questions Waldorf."

Blair resisted the temptation to clobber him with her clutch which was still surprisingly in her hand after that dance.

"Who are you meeting here?" she asked with raised eyebrows.

"Dean Luther."

"Dean Arnold Luther? The new Dean at Columbia?"

"Yes."

"Why? Are you enrolling to college?" she gave a unbelievable scoff. "What for?"

"I know it's hard for you to believe that a powerless striver like me would amount to anything. But I am here at the request of the Dean because he is courting me for a Guest Lecturer position at the University." Dan said with a tick in his jaw.

Blair gaped. There was just too much to take in that one sentence that she needed a moment to recollect. First came guilt as she recognized his words as her own and he had heard them when it hadn't been intended to. Next came shock as she realized he would be much closer to home if Dean Luther succeeded in this courtship.

"What.. How.. Wait wait wait." she said and held up her hand. She needed to first stop stuttering like a fool and ask questions in a row. She exhaled and looked up.

"First, yes it is hard to believe, but people are known to make mistakes. What do you mean Dean Luther is courting you? Are you sure he has the right Dan Humphrey?"

Dan just glared with his jaws clenched. Blair swallowed a smile. She did love tormenting him.

"You cannot possibly take this position. Isn't it too far away from home?" she continued

"I think I can manage." he said through gritted teeth.

"What do you mean you can manage? That's preposterous!"

"Blair!" he exclaimed gesturing his hand as though he wanted to shake her. "I know you think Brooklyn is a world away from Manhattan, but people travel between the boroughs every day. I think I can manage the transit."

"Brooklyn? What do you mean Brooklyn? Are you thinking of moving here? That would be stupid Humphrey! Long distance relationships are for clerks and people with student loans! You cannot possibly move away from LA!" Blair exclaimed.

Dan looked at her as though a third eye had sprouted on her face. His anger was displaced by shock and Blair couldn't understand why.

"Humphrey!" she shook his arm when he didn't give any indication of coming unstruck.

Dan shook his head and blinked his eyes rapidly. "Ughh. What?.. ok... uh.. Serena didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what?"

"We... well.." He looked around, pausing longingly at the exit. Blair glared and hit him on his hand. He raised his hand in surrender.

"We're no longer married." he said softly

If he had said anything else, Blair would have probably believed it. Hell, if he had said he would fly from LA to Manhattan every morning there would have been a better chance at making her believe it. She was so angry at his misguided attempt at joking that she wanted to break a limb or two.

"Now is not the time for practical jokes Humphrey." she said giving him a death stare.

Dan saw her anger and confusion and his own eyes softened. He took a step towards her in a way as to comfort her and said softly.

"I'm saying the truth Blair. We had our marriage annulled three months ago."

Chapter Text

"What do you mean you were just about to tell me? It's been three months! Serena, we planned the surprise for Lily's birthday few weeks ago!" Blair exclaimed

"Blair" Serena sighed "I just didn't know what you say. 'Hey remember the wedding you planned for us at your home. Oh yeah that one. It didn't last 10 weeks. Sorry, my bad.'? I couldn't possibly say that."

"Yes you could have! That would have worked perfectly."

Blair alighted from her car and gave a sigh of relief as she stood at the foyer of her home. She had left the ball early after the disastrous news hand-delivered by Brooklyn's devil.

"Can you imagine how mortifying it was to find out about your failed marriage at the hand of Dan Humphrey?" Blair continued. "I didn't even have a retort. Could you think of a worse fate?"

"I could think of a couple. Maybe having your marriage crumble around your ears while hoping the tabloids don't make a meal of it counts?" Serena said dryly.

"Speaking of tabloids, how was it not splashed across Page 5 and 6 all across the country? You are Hollywood's new darling! How did you pull this off?"

"We kept it private and people still think we're madly in love. I just saw us featured in one of the listicles at Vanity Fair under a headline that said something like 'Couple who found true love in Hollywood'"

"Serena!" Blair nodded at their butler and handed the coat off to him. She entered the morning room and headed straight to the liquor cabinet.

"Blair, I know this is news to you but I've actually had some time to absorb it and I think whatever happened was for the best. Trust me it wasn't just meant to be."

"Ughh" Blair shuddered in disgust. "Amicable spit? Really? That is so Kramer vs Kramer. Tell me you at least made him suffer with a heavy alimony or rightful retribution!"

Blair heard Serena laugh "Retribution? What for Blair?"

"Well I figured he must have cheated on you. There is no other way he managed to screw up the marriage to girl he had harbored unrequited love for since he was a ten."

"No he didn't cheat on me." Serena was still chuckling.

"I fail to see what is so funny" Blair said begrudgingly

It was difficult to process that not only had Serena and Dan's marriage had ended, but Serena seemed to be completely fine with it.

"Oh Blair." Serena said with love "I realized very soon that we weren't meant to spend our lives together. I asked him for an annulment and he agreed. I know its coming as a surprise to you, but I am fine with it all. It just wasn't something built to last."

Blair's carefully structured world had developed a fracture this evening. She made Serena promise she would tell the whole story and never hide anything this monumental from her and disconnected the call.

She poured herself a glass of wine and settled on the couch. She stared at the sky through the open window. It had been easier to picture Serena and Dan living their life in blissful happiness on the west coast. The new picture that presented itself was hard to swallow. What could have possibly happened that their marriage lasted less than that of hers and Louis'. A sad smile hovered around her lips as she sipped her wine.

No matter how hard she tried to rein in all the pieces that kept her world upright, there was turbulence and unforeseen accidents that made it an impossible task. All Blair had ever wanted to build a family and a career with a person whom she madly loved and who loved her equally back. On paper all her wishes had come true, but she felt as though a corner of this painting of her life was broken and soon the crack would spread throughout and the painting would crumble from within.

The door opened and the chill of the wind had her sitting upright expecting something hostile. Blair saw a figure pass through the corridor and head towards the stairs and set her wine glass aside.

"Chuck?" she called out.

She walked outside to find Chuck standing on the bottom of the stairs. He looked disheveled and tired.

"What happened? Are you ok?" she asked worried.

Chuck picked his coat that had been wound around his arm and dangled it over his back.

"Not now Blair." he said and made to leave

"Not now what?"

"I don't want to hear how I didn't make it back in time for Henry's first day at school. I've had a very tiring journey and I lost the bid to the property I'd set my eyes on in Boston. So, now's really not the time for you to harp me."

"So, you did remember." she stated swallowing the bitterness that came with that realization.

He just looked at her in a blank way as though he was letting her have her outburst so he could move on. Blair wanted nothing more than to rail and rant, tell him how disappointing his son was dangerously close to becoming a habit for him, tell him how he had failed her but she refused to give him the satisfaction. He looked ready to take in all the accusations and chalk it up to Blair's hysteria and her inability to understand how busy a man he was.

It was pathetic and Blair felt disgust at the sight of him which had only happened long ago in forgotten times when he had been Chuck Bass, the wastrel son of Bart Bass, the black sheep of their group of friends and her notorious morally handicapped classmate. She had never felt that for the Chuck she loved and who had promised her all of the happiness in the world.

Incapable of doing anything other than express her disappointment through her silence, Blair nodded at Chuck acknowledging his priorities and the tear that had just become visible in their relationship. She left him standing and hoped this tear wouldn't grow and rupture her family.

 

***

 

2 Months Later
April 2018

Blair stood at the doorstep of her home and looked at Henry down her nose.

"I can do this all day." she said with a droll tone.

They were late for his pre-school and her meeting with the suppliers, but Blair stood looking as though they had all the time in the world. She had Henry's backpack over one shoulder and her soft pink Gucci shoulder bag on the other.

"I don't want to go." Henry said with vehemence. He looked like he have run away upstairs and hid in his room, but he was stopped by Dorota who stood looking nervous behind him.

"Miss Blair. Maybe we could..." Dorota started to say but was cut short by Blair's withering glare.

"Henry. I don't think you realize who you've got as your mamma. She's a terror." Blair said softly as though taming a deranged horse. She crouched down and swept his hair on the side. "You should be very glad she loves you so much. But if you want to take your bets with a stand-down, you're not going to win sweetie. Now let Dorota put your shoes on and we can be on the way to your school."

Henry looked at her for a second with a frown and she really believed he would give in any moment. But instead he turned and darted around Dorota and before either woman could react, he was halfway up the stairs yelling "I am never going back there. I hate that place."

Blair groaned "I do not have time." she handed Henry's backpack to Dorota. "Tell him if he goes to school he will get a new video game."

"Should we really be bribing him?" Dorota asked

"Just do it!" Blair snapped and climbed down the front stairs with so much frustration that she was just short of pulling her hair out.

She spent the next half of the day busy with buying the right fabrics and beads and lining for her fall line. When she wasn't on calls with her design team or the suppliers, she was thinking about how she would handle the recent crisis with Henry. It's not like she had the best blueprint to follow, she thought looking at Eleanor's photo on the wall of her cabin.

At around half past three when she had finally relented and allowed a lunch break for her staff, she got a call from Nate.

"Nate!" Blair answered with relief. "Just the person I wanted to talk to."

"Hello to you too Blair." Nate answered amused.

"Do you remember your pre-school years?"

"Not really. I mean, it was 20 years ago. I'm assuming this is about Henry."

"Well yes obviously. He's refusing to set foot out of the house worried we'll kidnapped him and send him to the fiery pits of playschool! I've been placating and bribing him for the whole week, but today he was just so obstinate."

"Looks like you finally found someone you couldn't bend to your will after all."

"So not the time to crack wise jokes Archibald. I'm at a loss. You know it physically pains me to accept that!"

"Blair, pause and take a deep breath."

"Nate.."

"Now."

Blair groaned but acquiesced. She just wanted to help her son but her inability to do so was killing her.

"Listen now. I may be able to help you with that. I just got off the phone with Henry."

"You spoke to him? Well what did he say! This is the best pre-school on the Upper East Side and he did seem to love it when he started. What's wrong now with the same place? What could possibly..."

"Bullies." Nate answered cutting her off.

Blair paused in her tirade to absorb the single word answer to all her question.

"He's being bullied?" she whispered.

"The older kids are being a menace. They steal his lunch, shove him, harass him with words. Henry sounded shit scared on the phone."

With each sentence Blair felt her temper raise a notch.

"How dare they!" she said slowly enunciating each word. "Do they even know who his mom is. I will ruin the lives of those little knuckleheads, it will bloodbath when I'm done."

"Blair!" Nate exclaimed sounding like he was just controlling his laugh. "You seem to be ignoring just a little fact over here. They just happen to be five or six-year-olds."

"I don't care! I will end them!" Blair sat down on her leather chair with a huff.

There was a pause and Blair just looked at the walls in her cabin hands fisted and wanting to squish little toddler heads.

"Are you calm now?" Nate asked after a while.

"Far from it. I just don't understand why they would bully Henry. He is always immaculately dressed, well-behaved, already knows his letters, even recites the numbers perfectly! They should adore him."

"That just might be the problem."

"What do you mean? Wait... are you saying they are bullying him because he is smart?" she said with a disbelieving tone.

"Blair you know better than anyone how vicious children can be."

"Because I was a bully myself?"

"Well..."

"It is true." Blair finished his sentence with a sigh. "What do I do Archibald?"

"I wish I could help. I would have spoken to Henry and maybe visited the school even, but I am stuck in Belfast paying the debt off to the Van der Bilt side of my family."

"What debt?"

"Cousin's wedding."

"Who? Oh don't tell me Chelsea. She was always such a tramp." Blair sat upright as though stung "Oh my god. I am such a bully."

She heard Nate laugh over the phone.

"Blair you really need to calm down. I think you're forgetting we became bullies because we had the biggest bullies in our lives - our parents."

"Not 'we'! You were a saint." Blair said bitterly. "I dealt with the bully by becoming a bigger bully myself. I don't want that for Henry. I genuinely want him to have a chance to become whoever he wants to be. Chuck is at some goddamn auction in some forsaken city in Massachusetts. You're in Belfast, Serena is in LA and I have as little confidence in Eleanor and Dorota as I have in the my best tailor. Who do I even ask for help! Which I desperately need, if I may add."

She head Nate sigh over the phone and felt a little bleak. Her son was being bullied and apart from booking the first available appointment with the best child psychologist in New York, Blair had no idea how to help him.

"There is someone who could help you out." Nate said very reluctantly sounding like he doubted this mysterious person himself.

"Apart from Jesus who?"

"You could head to Brooklyn and knock on the door of..."

"Don't you dare say..."

"... Dan Humphrey." Nate finished.

Blair pressed her lips together.

"You didn't!"

"As much as I hate to admit it, he could help you. If there was anyone more bullied than him it would be Nelly Yuki. I really think he might come handy."

"The only time Dan Humphrey would come handy was if I needed a cater waiter!"

"Blair..."

"No! Nate you seem to be forgetting he was the biggest bully of us all. He was Gossip Girl! I do not want him to advice Henry to start an anonymous blog and stalk people's lives!"

There was silence on the other end and Blair thought she might have lost Nate.

"Nate?"

"Yes." Nate sighed. "I.. Listen just give it a thought. He needn't talk to Henry, he could just advice you what to do. I.. I have to go. I see my grandfather looking for me and he might be just worse than Dan Humphrey."

He disconnected the call. Blair looked at the blank screen of her phone and whispered.

"I doubt it"

Chapter Text

August 2018

"I have been here for only the past five months and I think I have done a good job." Dan said looking at their old loft that had been left abandoned for over three years ever since Rufus moved to Colorado to spend his 'retirement' among the mountains.

Eric Van der Woodsen scoffed and didn't take his eyes off the laptop. He was sitting at the dining table with a frown, furiously typing away. Dan had cleaned up only his bedroom, the rest of the house was in shambles.

"I saw a couple of cobwebs when I came in." Eric muttered.

Dan swirled around to check the ceiling. He hated spiders. He vowed he would clean the house the next weekend, since this one had been reserved for detective chores.

He really liked being back in New York. LA was a different city with a radically shocking culture. He had never felt at home there. It had always felt like he had left something behind in New York and his time was running out to recollect it.

When his marriage had ended, he hadn't thought twice about moving back. It had felt like an obvious solution.

"Any luck?" he asked Eric.

Eric looked up with a disbelieving arch to his eyebrows.

"Any luck hacking into The Spectator server? Oh I don't know since I started only half an hour ago and it's a sophisticated firewall with top-notch data security measures, NO!"

Dan chuckled. "Hey! I have no idea what half of that meant, but have I told you how much I appreciate that you've taken Cyber Security as your major?"

Eric rolled his eyes and went back to his work.

The only help Dan could do was check periodically and keep Eric fed. It wasn't so difficult. He wished he could help more, but until they knew more their hands were tied. Things would have been different if Nate had agreed to cooperate, but despite multiple mails and phone calls and an ill-fated visit, the man had proven relentless.

"What's our plan after this?" Eric asked offhandedly.

"What do you mean?"

"What do you plan to do after we get the details we want?"

To be frank, Dan had no clue. He just knew this information would help them but help them how specifically? he found that difficult to answer.

"Listen, I know you have taken this on like a mission and all, but you need to know no one blames you." Eric said

"Nate does."

"No one except Nate."

"Nate is enough. I need to make this right for him."

"Even Nate knows why you did what you did five years ago man. He may be angry, but he isn't blind to it."

"He's never going to forgive me and my only hope is he will once I make it all right for him."

"How about what you did to yourself! Half your friends are scared of you because they think you'll just anonymously blog about them if they piss you off."

"Which I did do." Dan said abashedly

"Inside Out?" Eric laughed

"It's not funny. I honestly don't know what I was thinking."

"You were scorned and heart broken. It's been reason for far worse."

"I don't know why you're so forgiving." Dan said confused.

"That's because I look at you and see someone lost, like me. You've not done any crime, Dan. You lashed out, people do that. You're not yet at the level of Blair or Chuck or wait, frankly even Serena" Eric said in a matter-of-fact tone.

Dan smiled and went to his room to get his own laptop. He might as well look get some work done while Eric was scaling the firewalls.

"Did you ever believe that I was..." He called out from his bedroom

"Gossip Girl?" Eric finished his sentence with a scoff "Not for one sec. Not only do you not have the aptitude for a scheme like that which lasted years, but contrary to what people think I don't think you're a sociopath."

"Thanks." Dan said sarcastically. "I mean I expected all our friends and family to deny I could ever be Gossip Girl and ask if I was being blackmailed."

He said our friends and family, but he mostly meant one person.

"Dan..." he heard Eric say

"All I had to do was write one article saying I'm Gossip Girl and everyone obviously ignored the fact that I had no reason to be her and how the blog had played with my life as much as others'."

"Dan.."

"I wouldn't have felt bad if I had got at least one vote of confidence. Someone saying 'No it couldn't be Dan, he isn't so deceitful' But nope, apparently it was very easy to believe that I was Gossip Girl."

"Oh good lord"

Dan found his laptop and wasn't paying attention to Eric when he walked out of the room.

"Can you believe that Blair even went so far as to..." his words died on his lips as he came out of the bedroom and found the subject of his tirade, Blair Waldorf standing in his living room looking at him with shock, anger and betrayal all shining from her eyes through a withering glare.

 

***

 

Dan froze with his laptop in his hands held against his chest which somehow made him feel safe if Blair decided to launch a stealth attack on him. He didn't know just how much Blair had heard, but judging from Eric's deer in the headlight expression he figured she had heard enough.

The three of them looked at each other unaware what to do next. Blair was wearing a pistachio cardigan, grey skirt and greyer heels. She was holding her purse with a death grip and looking at Dan as though he had just revealed he was a serial killer.

"Blair..." he tried to say something but was immediately silenced by Blair lifting one finger and clenching her jaws.

She removed her hat, set down her purse and sat at the dining table opposite to Eric. Dan found himself sitting on the chair next to her hoping he could somehow control the damage. Eric silently closed the laptop lid and they all sat in utter silence.

After it seemed like Blair was just happy staring at nowhere and wasn't going to initiate the conversation, Dan cleared his throat hoping to bring her back from her glazed thoughts.

"Blair..."

"You better complete that sentence explaining why you were just saying you weren't Gossip Girl. Was the identity crisis or an ill attempt at remaking your past?" she snapped and glared daggers at him anew.

"Identity crisis Blair. It was identity crisis." he said boldly knowing she would only get more pissed.

She pressed her lips together and Dan knew they were in dangerous territory. She turned on Eric.

"And you! Shouldn't you be team Serena? Who hangs out at their brother in law's downtrodden loft three months after the divorce!"

"Uh.. it was an amicable spilt."

"There is no such thing as an amicable split." she said enunciating each word.

"Blair..."

"No! No. You have one minute to make me make sense of the conversation I just heard. If there is even one loophole, I will push you through that hole to your death!"

Dan felt like he was staring a barrel pointed at his head. He had always knew there would come a day when he would have to tell the world the truth to Blair, but it had always been an abstract moment in the future. He didn't know where to start or how much to say.

"You chose silence? Really?" She said in a menacing voice and got up to leave.

Dan acted on instinct and caught hold of her hand in their living room.

"Blair you cannot tell anyone!" he beseeched

Blair pulled her hand from his swiftly and turned on him ferally.

"I had almost convinced myself what you did wasn't deviant or deplorable. That starting Gossip Girl was a means to asserting power that you didn't have. You were just a teenager who was lashing out. But this is worse! You know what is more pathetic than being Gossip Girl? It's pretending to be Gossip Girl!"

"I didn't have a choice Blair!" Dan raised his own voice. He considered himself to be reasonable and patient. But, if there was ever a person to make him lose his calm, it was the woman standing in front of him.

His claim seemed to infuriate her more.

"Didn't have a choice but to pretend to be a glorified stalker who played with all our lives like it was chess at tea party?!"

"Yes! Trust me, I wish I'd never done it!"

"Then why did you?" she yelled

"For you! you goddamn infuriating woman!" he yelled louder.

The silence that followed that declaration was deafening. They stared at each other with animosity, confusion and inability to bend the other person to their will.

"Maybe we should take this inside." Eric's voice startled Dan. "And maybe not yell."

It surprised Dan that Blair followed meekly back to the dining table. She was silent and looking intently at the floor. He could see her trying to make sense of it all.

She finally glanced at him again when they were seated opposite to each other with Erin at the head of the table to make peace.

Blair opened her mouth and then closed it again. Dan took pity on her.

"I'll explain." he said with a sigh

"Please" Blair said and her shoulders relaxed. It was rare to see her speech bound.

"You fled New York after Bart's death. Everyone noticed yours and Chuck's absence. I was worried that any moment now Gossip Girl would drop a blast about where you were hidden."

Dan felt like he was about to open all his secrets in front of her and would still come short and easily dismissible. Having been Gossip Girl in Blair's eyes for the past five eyes had not been pleasant, but it had given him a sense of power. If he revealed the truth to her, it meant going back to being the powerless striver who had no chance to be in Blair Waldorf's life.

"I thought it was you who wasn't revealing our location because you didn't want us arrested and tortured." Blair said slowly trying to piece together the story.

Dan glanced at Eric to see he was back to hacking away on the laptop. He would get no help from that front.

"What does that have anything to do with you claiming to be Gossip Girl anyway?" Blair continued.

"I asked her to not reveal where you were at any point. And in return she asked me a favor."

"There was nothing to reveal in the first place. We were careful, no one knew where we were."

"Yeah, Blair. Not everything ends up with no loose ends like a perfect little fairy tale. You were hidden in a limo and that is hardly inconspicuous. Chuck had just announced to the entire world that his father wanted to kill him! And Bart ends up dead. The first person they would go to was Chuck!" Dan snapped.

It made him mad having her sit opposite to him and discredit everything he was saying.

"And you..." he continued barely controlling his temper " you fled with him Blair. I couldn't have cared less for Chuck Bass, but you became an accomplice. I had to do something."

There was something happening between them right at that moment. A change in dynamics, a thread of understanding, a moment of solidarity, he couldn't identify, but Blair was looking at him like she'd never seen him before.

"What happened?" she asked softly

"Gossip Girl wanted a fall guy in return. I still don't know why she decided then and there to end the blog, to give up being Gossip Girl. Maybe because Nate was onto her or maybe because she was simply tired. But she said that she wouldn't reveal where you were at, if I found her a fall guy. Someone who would tell the world they were Gossip Girl and accept all consequences that came with it."

"She wanted you to tell the world that you were Gossip Girl and in return she let us be off radar until me and Chuck married?" Blair looked like she had never heard a more unpleasant news.

"Well.. not me.. anyone.. but yeah it was me in the end."

"What do you mean?"

Eric laughed and he saw Blair startle just like him. They had forgotten he was present in the room until then.

"He almost made Jenny Gossip Girl. At the last moment he had change of heart."

"What!?"

"Dude!"

Eric raised an eyebrow at their reaction.

"What? I thought we were confessing."

Dan wanted to hit him with his fancy laptop. Blair didn't have to know that.

"Humphrey. Do not leave anything out." Blair said with a warning glare.

"I.. well I thought Jenny would like to be Gossip Girl. Be the tormentor instead of the tormented for a change. And I spoke to her and had almost convinced her, but I changed my mind in the last minute."

"Why?"

"Does it matter Blair?" he exclaimed throwing his hands up. "Gossip Girl wanted a fall person and I became that. If I'd known about your ingenious idea of marrying Chuck Bass, I wouldn't have bothered."

"What does that mean? It was a remarkable plan."

"Marrying a man who killed his father?" he said bluntly

"Chcuk did not kill Bart!"

"He didn't save him either."

Dan didn't know why he was being tactless. But Blair had to confront the truth and he wasn't about to go lenient on her. Her face blanched and she averted her eyes from him. Dan didn't like seeing her like that. He liked her tyrannical and confident and messing with his mind.

"I could have saved him too." she said so slightly that Dan felt like she was talking to a memory.

"Anyway!" Dan said to divert her mind. "I had a ticking clock and I had to announce to the world I was Gossip Girl before your wedding and I barely managed in time. So, that's that."

Blair looked like she was still fixing the big picture together. She was sitting with her eyes narrowed but unfocused, her lips parted and her brow drawn together. Dan felt a thaw in his anger as he looked at her and realized how endearing she truly was.

"So, you, Jenny, Eric and Nate knew the whole time that you were just bluffing." she concluded.

"Actually Nate found out two years ago." Eric added absentmindedly

"What?" Blair turned to him

Before Dan could stop Eric or strangle him, the fool revealed the whole truth.

"Nate only found out the truth two years when Gossip Girl decided to blackmail him. We're been trying to find who she is since then."

When there was no response from either Dan or Blair, Eric looked up from his laptop and saw Dan staring holes into his head and Blair gaping at him with stunned look.

"Uh oh"

Chapter Text

Blair didn't know who or what to get mad at first. Not only wasn't Humphrey Gossip Girl, he had taken on the infamous identity to save her? Why would he do that? She had so many questions and she still didn't understand it all. And Eric hadn't even given her time to grasp the truth, which seemed like an elaborate backstory in a spy novel, before he dropped another big bomb on her.

Nate was being blackmailed by Gossip Girl? How? Why hadn't anyone said anything to her? Before she could explode and leave Dan and Eric as part of the debris, her phone rang.

The moment she saw the caller id, she sprang from her seat and headed away from the Brooklyn duo. The conversation she had for the next two minutes was one of the most difficult ones she had had in her life. She came back inside with troubled eyes and shaking hands. She took her bag and hurried to leave. She didn't register anything around her until someone grasped both her hands and halted her.

"Humphrey! What are you doing? I have to go."

"Hey! Is everything ok? Blair you look like you just saw a ghost."

She looked up and focused on Dan's face, his eyes. They were narrowed with crinkles of worry around them. He looked angry, no he looked attuned, ready to pounce into action the moment she revealed the source of her distress. Her heart beat came down to a normal and she swallowed trying to gain her balance.

"I have to go to Henry's school. He was found inside his locker unconscious. The headmistress said he's fine now, the school nurse assured me he's fine and resting. He's fine."

"Blair.. Blair.. "

"He's fine."

"Yes. I'm sure he's fine Blair. Look at me. Hey! You'll be fine too. I promise. Let's go."

"What?"

"I'm driving you. Let's go."

She didn't even try to protest. Dan caught hold of her hand and held it the whole way to his car and she hung on to it like it was her anchor.

 

--x--

 

Blair sat in the corridor of St Judes holding Henry's sleeping body in her lap. She kept soothing his hair, kissing his face and running her hands down her legs and arms.

The moment she and Dan had walked into the Headmistress cabin, she had seen Henry coloring and she had almost collapsed at the door if Dan hadn't caught her. Henry had rushed to her and she only calmed down when his tiny body clung to her legs.

He had looked tired and troubled, but he was coloring and hugging, so that was good. Blair had left Henry under Dan's supervision as she'd spoken to the headmistress. Some kids from the class above Henry's had bullied him and locked him in the locker. The headmistress promised Blair that the teacher noticed Henry's absence only few minutes after the recess and had found him before anything could happen. Of course, the school would take strict actions against the boys responsible. They had already launched an investigation.

Blair listened to it all in a numb way that shocked the headmistress. It would be hard to deny that the conversation held a tinge of fear on the headmistress' part who was very well aware of Blair's reputation. She had expected a fire-breathing mama dragon, but the Blair Waldorf who sat opposite to her was silent and meek as a candle.

Blair hadn't said a word from the time she left Dan's loft. She felt someone sit next to her and she looked to find Dan holding a cup of what looked like cheap vending machine coffee towards her. She scrunched her nose and Dan smiled with brows raised. He thrust the coffee cup and gave her a look that said he wouldn't budge. She adjusted Henry in her arms and took the cup that was offered.

"Uh.. Is he ok?" Dan asked nodding at Henry

Blair shot her first glare in the last two hours which made Dan suppress another smile.

"You're right. Wrong question." he said sipping his coffee. "What about you? How are you holding up?"

The hot coffee singed her hand, but she held on tight. Blair looked ahead unfocused hearing Dan's question over and over in her head.

"I failed him Dan. I failed my son." she said and bit her tongue. The words seemed like they escaped before her thought could stop them. She looked at Dan expecting judgement but found him staring at her with his head tilted and eyes soft. He looked like he wanted to kiss her. The thought startled her but she didn't look away.

"You could never fail anyone you love Blair." he said with a sincerity that moved her.

"I cannot stop thinking about the time he spent in that locker. What must have gone through his head? Did he yell? Ask for help?"

"Blair." Dan said taking the coffee cup out of her hand. He seemed to be wiping the spilled coffee on her hand and she hadn't even noticed. "Listen. He is safe in your arms and hopefully he fill forget about it all one day."

"He told me he didn't want to go to school today."

"Blair you cannot predict the future, although if there was anyone who might ever succeed, it would be you."

"What if..."

Dan cut her off before she spoke further.

"Right now let's get him home and you can obsess over all the what ifs you want in leisure later ok?"

Blair nodded because she didn't know what else to do.

"Can you help him?" she said unprecedented and an immediate fear rose in her, anticipating Dan's rejection.

Dan had been about to get up but at her plea he froze and turned to her with sharp eyes. She wanted to say so much. The reason why she had turned to him, why she felt an inexplicable rush to not let him go just yet and so much she herself hadn't been able to understand. But all she could do was stare at him holding her breath in trepidation.

 

--x--

 

Blair laid Henry down gently on his bed and pulled the duvet up till his chin. He hadn't woken up once since he had dozed off in the chair outside headmistress' office. He kissed him softly and sighed. She always like running a losing marathon with Henry. No matter how much she tried, she was being left behind in this role as a mother.

She walked out of the room expecting Dan to be outside, but when she didn't find him anywhere on the floor, she rushed down the stairs wondering whether he had just driven off. She almost ran into him in the vestibule.

"Woah." he exclaimed as he caught her just in time. "Were you running?" he asked amazed.

His eyes held this alluring teasing light that made her want to smile and share in the joke.

"No, I was rushing to see if Dorota was back home."

"Hmm." he said looking at her face hair to lips in a unbelieving stance.

"What?"

"Nothing. I was about to leave."

"Oh."

Somewhere between rushing to Henry's school and placing his sleeping body onto his bed, Blair had lost her gusto and she was assaulted by a terrible case of nerves like never before. She felt unsure and conflicted about what words to say and what not to. This had so rarely happened in her life, that she could count them on a single hand.

"Well ok then I guess..."

"I'll help him." Dan said rushed and closed his eyes for a brief moment of reproach.

"What?"

"I wasn't able to answer because... well because you shocked me. But of course I will help. I would be very happy to help Henry Blair. Any way you want."

Blair felt like she'd just been declared the Best Dressed Women by Vanity Fair. When Dan hadn't answered her back at the school, she had been dejected. She hadn't spoken a word on the whole way home because no matter how badly she wanted to deny it, she had been hurt by Dan's silence.

"You will?" she asked with a excited smile.

Dan looked at that smile with a beat longer and nodded.

Her smile became so huge yet she couldn't contain her joy in just them. She jumped a step and squeaked.

"Thank you Humphrey!"

Dan was smiling too and the foyer seemed brighter and cheerful than it had ever been.

"You're welcome Waldorf."

They stood like they were suspended in time and she felt years younger as though so many burdens of the present and the sins of the past had been taken away from her in a surprising moment of solidarity with the one person she had always relied on.

She took a step towards him and felt him get nearer and she laid her head on his shoulder. Not much of a hug but an embrace of thanks. She could hear his heartbeat, or maybe she just thought she did. Blair closed her eyes and took a deep breath in. Everything about Dan felt familiar and right. His sandalwood scent, the rough fabric of his jacket, the texture of his beard as he rested his head on hers and the warmth of his hand and he hugged her back.

She felt content to stay like this stationary and in a pleasant limbo. A minute or ten later they strayed apart and Blair was amazed that her smile had remained intact. Seeing her smile Dan's eyes narrowed as though confused.

"I.. I have to go." he said in a sudden burst of awkwardness.

She nodded and watched him walk out of the door. He was almost at the foot of the stairs when she remembered the conversation in his loft and rushed to catch up.

"Wait! Humphrey! I still have so many questions about Gossip Girl and what you and Eric are planning and about Nate..."

"Blair!" he cut her tirade off and looked up at her from the steps below. "We have it in hand."

"What?"

"You don't have to worry, we'll take care of it."

"How could that be possible? You and Eric planned one scheme in your life and that blew up in your face on my birthday. Admit it Humphrey, you need my help."

"No!" he exclaimed but when she looked like she would protest, he added "Look, you have hands full with Henry. I don't want to worry you. We'll figure out a way."

"But..."

"We've got this. Trust me" he said and before she could change his mind got into his car as though the hounds of hell was after him.

"Like hell you've got this." she whispered. If Humphrey thought she would forget about the whole thing, he was giantly mistaken.

She rolled her eyes at his naivety and climbed back. She felt like a different person altogether. In a turn of events, she felt like she could ace being Henry's mother after all. She will take Dan's help and fix Henry's problem and all would be right in her world.

Somewhere in the night after their dinner and when Henry snuck into bed with her and asked where papa was, she realized that she hadn't once thought about Chuck the whole day. She had sought help from someone else and her heart said it was for the best.

---x---

Chapter Text

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Dan asked 

"Yup" Eric said from the driver seat. He looked intently ahead and barely glanced at Dan

"We're tailing Nate."

"I know. I'm driving" 

"Is there no other way? Maybe we could... uh we could.. ok there's no other way." 

Eric sniggered. "What had you expected?" 

"That we would find an Cayman account where Nate siphoning the blackmail money to." 

Eric laughed "Someone's watching a lot of spy movies lately. Gossip Girl is most likely an introverted assistant columnist in Glamour.  At least they were smart to know that transferring money directly to an account would leave lose ends. So, old school money bag drop off it is." 

Dan groaned. "I don't know I have a bad feeling about this man. And why would Nate go himself anyway. Wouldn't he hire some lackey for this?" 

"A lackey? And leave behind evidence. Ugh you moron. You use only people you trust with your life in a blackmail scheme. And I don't think there are many people in Nate's life." 

"Yeah and after what I did, he probably likes it that way." 

"You really leave no chance to go on a guilt-trip do you?" Eric scoffed. 

Dan opened his mouth to deny, but signed and said "Yeah I don't" 

Nate was driving took a turn towards the St. Paul's Chapel and Dan and Eric exchanged glances. Their suspicion was confirmed. 

Every third Tuesday of the month, Nate had one-hour blocked on his calendar under the name St. Paul's. Eric had suspected that this could be the meeting place to hand over the money to the infamous blogger turned blackmailer. 

They saw Nate take a turn towards the parking lot and Eric stopped the car. 

"What are you doing?" 

"We can't go in. He'll spot us." 

"So, what do we do?" 

"We wait for him to come out and stalk the place."

They waited for over twenty minutes, but Nate's car reappeared again and Dan ducked for good measure. He pulled Eric's sleeve and signaled to duck. Every moment he was crouching Dan felt like Nate would tap on his window with a furious face any moment. 

"He's gone." Eric said

Once they were inside the church they hid behind one of the columns keeping an eye on the suspicious looking black duffle bag that was lying on the third row. It was uncanny that their first hunch had proven true. So, this was where Nate dropped off money every month to keep Gossip Girl silent. 

Dan felt guilty thinking what his friend was going through for past two years. If only he hadn't used The Spectator as the scape goat for running his infamous article. Dan had thought that the media company was dying a slow but sure death. He hadn't anticipated that Bart's death meant a new lease to Nate's company. And the article cemented The Spectator's standing in New Your digital landscape. Now if people found out that the company's reputation was built on fraud, there was no telling what the backlash would be like. 

Eric slouched on the pillar and was playing some sort of arcade game on his phone. 

"Hey!" Dan slapped his shoulder. "Focus." 

"Ugh it's been thirty minutes. What if that's just a bag with someone's sweatpants?"

"What are the chances there is a black bag in an empty Church?" 

"Why is the church empty anyway? Whatever man. I don't think she's going to show up. Nate must have stalked the premises himself at least once. He's no fool right?" 

"Maybe he didn't want to rock the boat and piss her off. Just keep your eyes open." Dan said

Apart from them no one had appeared in the church in the last half hour, although he didn't tell Eric, he himself was unsure about the whole thing. Had Nate even dropped a bag, or had he just said a silent prayer and left? Maybe this was actually his spiritual time. How much did he know Nate anyway? 

A violent sound startled them both and Eric looked at Dan with a disgusted look when they realized it's Dan's phone. 

"You didn't put your phone to silent!?" Eric exclaimed.

"I forgot." Dan said hunting through his coat pockets. 

"Who forgets to silence their phone while following someone! That's the first rule dude."

Dan finally found his phone after what felt like three hours and glanced at the called id to see 'Nate Archibald'

"It's Nate." he muttered and for a change Eric remained silent, maybe too shocked to speak. 

Dan answered the call with a raging heart. 

"What the hell have you done Humphrey!?" 

***

Dorota looked at Blair again and turned away abruptly leaving Blair rolling her eyes at her retreating back. 

"If you have anything to say, spit it out." Blair said with a pleasant voice and smiled at Henry who was reluctantly eating his evening snack. 

Dorota glared at the table as she picked up empty dishes and said nothing. This had been going on since the morning. Blair had revealed to Dorota about the incident at the school and both had been extra vigilant with Henry, but the boy himself looked unfazed and totally unaffected. 

Blair had spent the night worrying but come morning she had woken up with a purpose. She would solve all Henry's problems. She was good at that, finding crooks and crannies when she hit a wall. 

Her cell phone rang and Dorota startled as though stuck by a whip. Blair gave a pointed look and answered the phone. 

"Mother. How's Rome treating you?" she asked putting on an extra cheer 

"Explain to me why I have to find out from Dorota that Henry was bullied and locked in the school locker?" her mother snapped. 

Blair was very rarely caught off guard and this was one of those instances. She stared agape at Dorota and the women scurried away in evident guilt. She cleared her throat. 

"Mother. Not to worry, I am taking care of him and I will right everything." 

"How exactly? With the useless father of his in other state 90 days out of 30." 

"Mother! I think I know how to take care of my son regardless of whether or Chuck is at home." 

"Hmm. I am coming home." 

"Absolutely not!" Blair protested. "I am on top of it and I have friends to help, so you are going to complete that trip of yours. I won't have Cyrus giving me the evil eye for having to cut short your exotic vacation. " 

"Thank god for Nate." her mother sighed and Blair was taken aback by that. 

Nate? oh she had said she had friends to help. Was Dan a friend now? And why did her heart beat faster. Why didn't her mouth move to correct her mother. Before she could react in any way possible, her mother was making her promise to call her if the situation escalated and asked to speak to Henry. 

Blair transferred the phone and stared at the salt shakers unfocused. The new found confidence and the relieved spring in her step was because Dan had agreed to help her? 

Long after she was sitting on the settee in the living room and staring at her unfinished design samples and thinking about what to do with Henry when Dorota came downstairs and announced Henry was napping peacefully. 

"I don't understand. It's like nothing happened. Shouldn't he be scarred? afraid?" 

Dorota shrugged. "He your son. Ms. Blair." 

Blair rolled her eyes. He might have been her son, but as a four-year old he was required to get traumatized by incidents like getting locked in a claustrophobic school locker. Why was Henry behaving like he was just back from a trip to La Jolla? 

"But..." Blair sighed. She better wait for Dan to unravel the mystery. She really needed his perspective in this situation. 

"Anyway, Did Chuck call back?" she asked

Dorota gave her a look which Blair ignored. It was look of disappointment and knowledge that said of course her elusive husband hadn't called her back. Dorota opened her mouth, probably to say some scathing comment on the state of absence of Henry's father at the house. But she was cut off by the doorbell. Blair sprang up immediately, anything to escape Dorota's censure. 

Before she could reach the door, it barred open shaking on its hinges and in stumbled two alley cats. Or at least that's how drenched and drab and untidy Eric Van Der Woodsen and Dan Humphrey looked like. 

Blair stopped her approach and stared in disgust. They both dusted the drops of rain water and shook themselves off like a dobermann puppy. 

"What in the world?" she exclaimed. 

They book looked shocked to see her at the threshold, which was absurd considering that they had just invaded her home. 

"Oh Blair! Glad we found you in." Eric said. 

Dorota came and stood in the foyer with her. 

"Mister Eric! Mister Dan!!" if it was possible to exclaim louder she did that seeing Humphrey. 

"Eric. Humphrey. What are you doing looking like ruffians at my doorstep?" 

"Blair, we need your help." Eric said removing his coat and disappearing inside the coat room. 

Blair crossed her hands. Humphrey looked at the carpet where a wet spot was becoming bigger by minute. He looked like he would have preferred being swallowed whole inside it. This was an interesting turn of events. After their last discussion and the debacle with Henry, Blair hadn't given much thought with their mission, but she knew very well she would get involved by hook or crook. And looked like she didn't even have to turn a stone. 

Dan looked up with a pained look on his face. Blair hid her smirk. 

"I'm sorry Eric, but Humphrey clearly said the last time we spoke that he wouldn't like it if I got involved." she said with a casual air. 

Eric emerged from the coat room and glared at Dan. "He did what!? Blair, I swear I didn't know. Of course we could use your help. We've been stuck in the same place for the past two years and today proved that there was no way we were equipped to pull off this scheme." 

Every word Eric was saying was music to her ears, but Blair wanted to hear them from Dan. 

Dan looked at Eric with frustration. "I was just one phone call away from Georgina when Eric jumped out of the car and made us walk in the rain till your doorstep."

Blair straightened and glared, all her amusement vanished. Dan preferred Georgina over her?! Especially after she had offered help! She wanted to yank his sodden coat and gag him with it. 

"What's stopping you? Go ahead. I think my schedule just got filled rapidly since we last spoke, leaving no window for lowkey detective volunteering work." she snapped and turned to leave. 

"Dan!" Eric yelled. "Blair we need your help! I'm tired and frustrated by the dead ends! We're begging you!" 

Blair turned and tilted her head. 

"Funny, because I don't hear 'we' begging, only you Eric." 

Eric gave a nasty glare to Dan and even elbowed him. Dan winced and looked reluctantly at Blair. She leveled him with a blank look, so full of invisible scorn that he flinched. 

"It's true Blair, we need your help." he said in a monotonous tone. 

"I'm sure you can employ a better tone and conjure some flattering words Humphrey." 

He took a step inside the home and suddenly she felt a new warmth spread.  

"Blair, I need your help desperately because there is no way I would succeed without your superior scheming skills and aptitude." he said diligently. 

"Well!" she said turning towards the living room. "then you're just in luck that I have a soft corner for some old-school plotting to pull a friend out of the grip of sleazy blackmailers." 

Dan followed her saying nary a word and she allowed herself a small smile.

Chapter Text

"You did what?" Blair exclaimed just as Eric finished the story of their afternoon escapade.

Blair stared ridiculously at Dan and Eric both and shook her head. Dan secretly enjoyed leaving her speechless.

"I knew it was a bad idea." Eric said shaking his head at Dan.

"Dude! It was your idea." Dan said and turned to Blair. "I swear it was his idea."

"Doesn't matter!" Blair said and sat with his chin in her palm and back slouched on the dining table. She looked like she'd just been given the news that her showstopper model had a wardrobe malfunction. In other words she looked cute. Dan caught the smile just in time and turned it into a glare for Eric.
He did not want Blair Waldorf involved in the scheme and in his life. The woman was already too much involved in his thoughts and dreams. He missed her, he yearned for her and he did not want to have to tolerate her intoxicating presence.
If only Eric hadn't taken him by surprise by demanding they stop by Blair's house.

He was willing to put himself through self torture a hundred times rather than meet Blair at her home where she was somebody's mother and somebody's wife. He felt an ache in his chest.
She turned her eyes on him and along with that ache a delicious anticipation curled up in his stomach. It was truly pathetic the way he reacted to her.

"What did Nate say?"

"Apart from calling me a bastard and a horrible friend, he said to not intervene in his business and leave him alone."

Nate had been furious and he had railed at Dan for all money's worth.

"What did he say about Gossip Girl? How did he get to know you tailed him"

"Ahh" Eric said with dejection. "That's where you're wrong. Nate's guarding this secret like it's some Pandora's box. It's hardly that. I doubt people would even care if they found out the Gossip Girl reveal was a hoax. The Spectator has grown so much since then
Who would even care? But noooo. Nate's acting as though this would be his ruin."

Eric rolled his eyes and ate another spoon of the delicious chicken lasagna that Dorota had generously served them. Dan had thanked her and he had found it peculiar that she had stared at him as though she was solving a puzzle.

"Well," Blair. "You can never anticipate how hazardous the PR can be. The Spectator has grown and with fame come rivals." 

"Oh come on Blair. Who cares about a high school stalker who hasn't been around for over six years!" Eric said and swallowed another bite of the lasagna. 

Inadvertently Dan's eyes turned towards Blair and found her already looking at him. They held each other's stare for a beat and turned away. Dan saw the same shock and questions in Blair's eyes that he had felt. Her dark brown eyes that always looked like they were shimmering with hidden secrets. Had it really been six years since they drifted away existing in the periphery of each other's lives? Dan saw her reach for a glass of water and he was sure his eyes were playing a trick on him because he actually saw her hands tremble! Blair Waldorf doesn't tremble. 

"If only I had access to Nate's computer." Eric continued unaffected. He looked dreamily at the distance. "I would be able to find out who this phantom ghost is in seconds" he finished with a dejected sigh. 

"What does that mean?" Blair asked. 

"The Spectator firewall is very strong. I couldn't hack it an inch. I mean I'm not an expert. I'm still learning and if I had more practice maybe then I will be able to..." 

"Eric!" Blair cut him off. 

"Sorry. The only reason I could find out about this monthly rendezvous was because Nate had his calendar linked on him phone. Phones are easier to hack. If I could get access to Nate's computer, I'm pretty sure there will be a clue ready for me!" 

A second of silence ensued as every occupant of the room were lost in thought. Dan was trying not to steal glances at Blair. She had dyed her hair a dark blonde color and he found that so beautiful that his hands itched to run them through her hair. He had long since resigned himself to that fact that pining after Blair Waldorf was as much a fact of his life as something like he hated quinoa. But did he have to torture himself by being in her presence? It's not like... 

Blair interrupted his thoughts by slamming her hand down hardly on the table starling both him and Eric. 

"That's it! If you cannot break the firewalls from the outside, it's time to act the Trojan Horse."

Eric shook his head. "No we cannot use the Trojan Horse virus in this case. I am not familiar with it and we will be immediately detected and it will be like getting caught with a hand in the cookie jar." 

"What are you talking about?" Blair said with a frown. 

"What are you talking about?" Eric shot back. 

Blair scoffed. "The Trojan Horse, not the virus nerd, the symbolism, as in attacking from the inside. Eric can you hack into The Specator's server if you had access from the inside?" 

"Uh yeah. But, we can hardly ask Nate to give access." 

"We don't have to." Blair said with a wicked smile and an unholy glee in her eyes. 

Dan suddenly found it difficult to breathe. He shook his head. 

"Meet me tomorrow night at the lobby of The Spectator office and I will take it from there." she declared and well, that was that.

----x----

The next night, Dan was pacing along the lobby of The Spectator office trying to avoid curious and hostile glances of the staff. Eric had said he was running late and Blair was no show.

It was funny how Eric had readily accepted Blair's dictate to meet tonight without a protest. It was as though he had thrust the reins of their plans to Blair and he was happy being the backseat passenger. Dan had had so many questions but Blair had dismissed them with a superior look and a promise of answers tonight.

The whole day he had been full of nerves and doubts. And he would rather jump from this building's highest floor than admit that there had been some stray butterflies too flittering in his stomach excited at the prospect of seeing Blair again. He cursed silently. He was so pathetic, it wasn't even surprising anymore.

A click of heels made him turn and he saw Blair enter the building and head straight towards him as though she knew exactly where he was before even entering the building.
She was covered from head to toe in black. Black lace dress with sleeves running till her elbow, black pattern stockings, black hat, scarf, and hell sunglasses too. She looked like a 1930s widow.

She came to a stop in front of him and frowned.

"Where's Eric?"

"I can't see him even without sunglasses so I guess he isn't here yet." He said.

Blair removed the sunglasses and glared. He wanted to laugh. Had she really removed her sunglasses so that he could see her withering glare?

"This is disguise Humphrey. I wouldn't expect you to know since even naked you're hardly recognisable." She snapped.

"There are people who can recognize me naked" He muttered.

Her eyes flared and Dan initially thought she was angry, but there was something baser and primal in her eyes and before he could understand what it was she donned her sunglasses back on.

"This is not some field trip Humphrey! We cannot afford to draw attention by dallying in the lobby!" She exclaimed and turned on her heel and caught hold of his hands.

Dan could hardly register that Blair was holding his hands before she was pulling him inside the little alcove near the elevators essentially hiding them from the reception and the few people waiting in the lobby. She still hadn't let his hand go.

"You better call Eric to hurry. We need someone to break those fire barriers."

This time he did laugh. It was new, seeing Blair at a loss about any subject. He had heard from Serena often that Blair hated the newer technology. She didn't have any social media accounts, she thought they were stupid and unworthy of her time. Dan had twitter, and nothing else. He understood where she was coming from. But he had learnt to walk hand in hand with technology. Apparently Blair hadn't.

"It's called Firewall Blair." He corrected her still chuckling. "It's what protects the servers from unauthorized access."

"Whatever Humphrey. If Eric isn't coming here, we will be scaling the firewall with a ladder not code." She said with tossing her hair.

It was almost 8pm and Eric had promised Dan he would be here by 7:30 pm. This did not look well.

"Are you sure there will be no one at the office?" He asked to distract her.

"Of course there will be! The Spectator has a global presence. I'm sure there is a team of nocturnal middle-east catering staff there somewhere."

"What?! Blair! How do we walk in inconspicuous if there are people all over the office?"

"Humphrey! Stop yelling. You're drawing attention." Blair said looking at the lone security guard who was eyeing them both suspiciously.
Blair smiled at the guard and leaned into Dan. The gesture was so surprising that Dan became statue still. She put an arm around his waist and pushed the elevator button repeatedly as though impatient. The guard looked at them for a second more and moved on. She immediately distanced herself from him and shuddered. Or did she shiver?

"Oh there's Eric!" She exclaimed over a whisper before Dan even had a chance to wrap him mind around what had happened.

Eric looked like he'd just woken up. He was wearing the baggiest jeans, faded t-shirt and a pale brown hoodie. He had stubble on, which was accompanied by dark circles.

"Why do you look like you're competing in Storage Wars?" Blair asked with the same shock Dan felt.

Eric winced. "I had friends over and please don't yell." He whispered.

"Are you drunk?!" Blair exclaimed again but this time with an underlying menace to her words.

The sound of the evator opening startled them enough to pile up into the elevator. Dan was glad to have escaped the lobby.

As soon as the elevator door closed Blair slapped Eric's arm. "You better be sober enough to hack through Nate's servers! Otherwise I'm calling the cops that there is a sorry excuse of a hacker breaking into The Spectator!"

"Blair I'm sober enough I swear. I had a bad reaction to something I drank. I wouldn't jeopardize this, trust me!"

"You better not!" Blair said menacingly.

Dan stayed silent and decided to check with Eric later. He didn't want to risk turning Blair's wrath towards him by uttering any unfortunate word. But as the elevator was about to reach the 14th floor, he couldn't help but ask.

"So, what's the plan?"

"I get access to one of the employees computers and Eric here better keep his side of deal and hack it away with all he can muster."

"Well, but how will you... "

Blair's glare made it clear she was too agitated to give a detailed brief of the plan. Dan realized by her tense shoulders and pursed lips that she was indeed worried. And seeing Eric like that had increased her agitation. He was surprised by how much Blair cared about her friends again. It was so easy to forget all the things she was and give into believing what she portrayed to the world.

They stepped out of the elevator at the floor that had Nate's office. Dan was relieved that there was no security guard visible at the door.
Blair pulled out a lanyard from her purse at the end of which was a keycard.

"How do you...?" Eric tried to ask but before he could finish the sentence, Blair blazed ahead not waiting for him or Eric.

The door to The Spectator opened with a whoosh and Dan suddenly realized this was breaking and entering. But that didn't stop him from following Blair who was walking like she was on the runaway.

The office space was huge, especially after the renovation last year. Nate had leased the whole floor and merged the offices. It was not an open floor plan and that was their only saving grace. They passed cabins after cabins, cubicles after cubicles before Dan realized Blair was walking straight up to Nate's cabin.

"You have access to Nate's computer??" Eric asked in amazement as he connected the dots too.

"No. I have access to the next best thing." Blair announced as she stopped right in front of Nate's cabin and turned right. On their right was a open space curved inwards where Nate's Secretary Louisa usually sat.

"Of course! Louisa's system would give me a direct link to Nate's! I'm sure she has most of access to Nate's mails and other data!" Eric announced enthusiastically.

It was indeed genius. While Nate's cabin was visible to anyone walking in the corridor, Louisa's desk was hidden from the view and Eric peacefully hack away.

Blair entered the key to the computer and Eric didn't waste any time launching his attack.

"Do you know what you're looking for?" Dan asked.

"Anything." Eric said vaguely.

The whole thing had been so easy that Dan felt a sense of unease crawl up his neck. Had they really just waltzed into the building like they owned it and got down straight to hacking. He kept an eye on the corridor while Blair was busy peeking at what Eric was doing standing over his shoulder. She looked calmer now that Eric was tapping away with no signs of evident hangover.

"This is amazing. I understand nothing." She said softly and Dan smirked. Her technology handicap status was the cutest thing to happen on the Upper East Side since ever.

The tapping and intense staring continued for what felt like an hour and with each passing minute, Dan's unease increased tenfold.

"How much longer?" He asked and both Eric and Blair glared at him in answer.

Blair had said there were employees working at night and he had assumed it wasn't in this corner of the floor for all the cabins and cubicles they'd passed were empty. That didn't mean that some stray soul wouldn't wander here. He kept his eyes and ears open.

After a few minutes, as though to prove his theory right, they heard footsteps.

All three of them froze and just when they thought whoever the footsteps belonged to had moved away, they heard someone call out.

"Is there anyone here?"

Dan felt like his heart burst outside his ribcage. Eric squeaked and Blair slapped a hand over his mouth. They both glared at Eric.

Dan peered around the corridor but he couldn't spot anyone and he curse the floor architecture that had walls and barriers everywhere.

They could still hear the footsteps and Eric whispered rapidly.

"I need more time!"

"Well you don't have any." snapped Dan back. "Hurry up!"

"I can't hurry up! I need at least ten minutes! Damn." Eric said and ran an agitated hand over his hair.

Blair suddenly came around the desk and stood next to Dan.

"We need to distract whoever that is. I'll walk left and you start walking right.
If we cross paths with anyone, we simply came to meet our friend and got lost ok?"

Dan thought that was actually a good plan. He nodded.

"And Eric?" She said "wrap it up!"

They both tentatively started walking away and he noticed Blair deliberately made noises with her heels. As he turned a corner he came to halt and immediately took cover. It was the same security guard who had eyed them suspiciously at the lobby. And there was no way he would belive a word they said if he caught them.

Dan walked backwards towards where Blair had vanished. He had to warn her. Her charm wouldn't work in front of this guy.

He could hear two pair of footsteps and his head spun as he tried to figure out which was Blair's.

By the time he caught sight of Blair he felt the guard close in on them. He knew the exact moment Blair saw the security guard who was still calling out if anyone was there on the floor. She froze solid. Dan walked faster towards her praying she would come unstuck and take cover.
The guard was just around the corner and all he had to do was turn back and take a small left he would come face to face with Blair. Damn!

He masked his footsteps so as to not draw attention to him and walked as fast as he could. Just when it looked like the guard was on Blair, he yanked her hand and pulled them both inside the first open door and both were immediately enclosed in the darkness.

He pulled Blair closer to the door to hear the Guard's movements outside.

"It was that guy" She whispered.

"I know." Dan said his eyes on the door.

The room they were in seemed like a small conference room with a small table and chair, intercom and a small light shining at the bottom. He could make out Blair's startled featured from that light.

"I thought I told you to go right." she said softly.

"I didn't. And if I had that guard would have apprehended you for trespassing." He said.

Dan could still hear the guard's footsteps outside. At least they had lured him away from Eric.

"I would have called Nate." Blair said with her eyes fixed to his collar bone. Dan looked down at the stubborn woman and shook his head.

"And told him what exactly?"

Blair opened her mouth and closed it again.

"That's what I thought." he said.

They both jumped when they heard the Guard calling out again, this time closer than ever.
Dan felt like any moment now the guy would open the door and call the cops on them. He pushed Blair behind the door just in case the guard did open the door to inspect the room.

He felt her hands on his shoulder and for the first time he became aware of just how close they were. His throat closed.

"Is he near?" she asked with eyes on the door.

But for Dan all he could think about was how his hand was a mere inch away from her waist and how he could smell her and how with only a tilt of his head he would be able to kiss her.

He was mesmerized and he forget everything outside of this room. Blair, his Blair was in his arms. Granted he wasn't even touching her except her hands on his shoulder, but her hadn't felt this heady and intoxicated in years.

"We should kiss."

Blair's startled eyes sprung to him and that's when he realized those had been his words.

"What?" She whispered.

"The guard might enter the room any minute and if we're kissing he might assume we're some raunchy couple at the office and move on."

What the hell was he saying? Where was this even coming from? He took a deep breath and that meant he smelled more of Blair and he almost moaned.
He had never felt such a strong urge like this before. Lie. He had. Once, during a Valentine's Day, when Blair had asked him what made him happy and he had showed her what exactly made him happy.

His hands felt restless and he couldn't help but touch her waist. Blair sucked in a breath.

"Humphrey?" She said with a shaky voice.

"Blair... I.. " He was at a loss. If was as though he had finally lost his mind. Spending time with something that could never be his, dreaming and yearning, he'd lost his damn mind.

"Do we have to kiss?" Blair asked and Dan could not believe his ears.

She looked like a little bird just flexing it's wings for first flight, terrified but excited.

"I.." He licked his lips and Blair's eyes followed every action. "I think so."

Her hand on his shoulder reached higher and she stroked his hair at the nape of his neck. Dan shivered. He bloody shivered.

His other hand immediately came to her face and his lips were just an inch shy of her lips.

Blair's eyes fluttered closed and she tilted her head, and Dan knew it had to be unconscious movement because it could not mean that she had just given him license to kiss her.

Before Dan could do anything about it, the door knob turned and they both sprung apart in shock. Dan took a giant step back and tried to bring his erratic breathing to control. He did not dare look at Blair. The door knob turned again and nothing happened. No Guards burst through the door and demanded they come come out.

"Locked." the person on the other side of the door muttered and moved away and Dan could not believe his eyes or ears.
The door was locked? From the inside? Had he just convinced Blair Waldorf to kiss him in case they got caught all the while knowing the door was locked? Did he lock it? He couldn't remember at all.

He looked at Blair expected eyes with blazing anger, but she wasn't even staring at him. She was still in the same position, leaning on the wall, eyes down and fingers on her lips. Just the sight of her looking forlorn and soft, made him crazy. He is wanted to rush to her and finish what he'd started.

The blazing sound of his phone made him jump.

"Shit!" he cursed. "I really should learn to put my phone on silent." He muttered and pulled his phone out. It was Eric.

"I'm done! Meet me at the lobby". Eric said as soon as he picked up the call. Without saying anything else, the boy disconnected the call.

Dan wanted to punch Eric. All of this was because of him, every conflicting emotion, every painful memory and every searing hope. Damn he'd almost kissed Blair.

He ran a hand through his hair and opened the door cautiously. Even though the sound was very small, the sound of the door unlocking echoed like a bullet sound around the empty room. Blair's eyes sprang to the lock and after a beat she looked at him. Dan expected anger or confusion but she looked shocked and a bit of something worse. Something that killed all his feeling effectively. She looked at him with reeking guilt in her eyes.

Chapter Text

Blair looked out of the window of Eric's car her, refusing strongly to look at the man sitting in the passenger seat ahead of her. She had almost kissed Dan and what was worse, she had been the one who had locked the door. All she had to say was 'Humphrey! the door is locked, no one is going to burst in on us. Step away please!', but instead she had just acted like a swooning and star-struck idiot. 

The excitement of the whole evening hummed through her body giving her a rush that she hadn't felt in years. When was the last time she did something impulsive? Something fun, knowing that even though the risk was high, the person she was taking the risk with was worth every minute of the ordeal? Not in what felt like a million years. 

"Can we talk now?" Dan asked Eric and Blair felt goosebumps rise on her arms. 

Good lord, now the man's voice had a reaction on her? She felt like she was drowning. Hadn't she closed the door to this chapter in her life resolutely? Dan Humphrey was the stuff of her past. He deserved better than a finicky woman who had never been worthy of his love to begin with. She had to rein in her feelings before they destroyed everything. 

"Hey! I wasn't the one who emerged from the elevator as though there were aliens coming after you for blood." Eric snapped. 

Remembering their uncomfortable elevator ride made Blair restless. The moment they had emerged from the room and found no security guard lingering, they had run to the elevator like hell. And the whole while Dan had held her hand. There was something happening here and Blair couldn't define it, but she was sure something significant had happened inside the locked door. 

"Oh would you spit it out." she said and kicked Eric's seat from behind. "What did you find or was this whole expedition a complete waste of my evening?" 

Eric hesitated and Dan gave him a withering glare. 

"Okay. All right. I admit I did overestimated myself. I couldn't really hack into Nate's server." 

"Are you kidding me?" Blair said preposterous shock. 

"If I had used brute force attack, his security company would have got an alarm! But, but before you kill me and throw my body of this moving vehicle, I did do some minimal browsing and found something." 

"Browsing?" Dan said with the same confusion Blair felt. 

"Yes, please it was a genius decision, considering the fact that the security guard was just around the corner. We knew that Nate drops off the money bag every month at St Paul's. But how does he know when and what day to do that. After some very difficult digging, seriously you need to understand it wasn't easy, not like a magic trick, I didn't pull this out of my hat.." 

"Eric.." 

"Dude.." 

"Oh alright, Nate gets an email from this peculiar account with only a time in the subject line and nothing else. He got one yesterday at midnight, and he was at St. Paul's at the exact time mentioned. I think this is her, Gossip Girl." 

"That's the reason I didn't even have an idea that Nate was in New York. He must have flew in from LA specifically for dropping the bag off." Blair thought aloud. 

"So, we now have a way to contact her directly?" Dan said looking intently at the windshield. 

"I think so, yes. Now we need to decide what to do with it. We might have only one shot." Eric said. 

The rest of the ride was spent in contemplative silence, everyone making mental plans on what to do about this new piece of information. Blair tried to concentrate on the scheme at hand but she kept stealing glances at Dan and remembering how he had held her, rough and careful and how he had given the most stupid reason for them to kiss. As much as she tried to not look at Dan, she got angrier that he seemed normal as usual and not affected by their rendezvous at all. He was either looking out the window or checking his phone, a complete cool customer. Blair hated it. 

In no time they were at her house and Blair stepped out of the car. She had all the intention to leave without saying a word, but Dan stepped out of the car too and came to stand next to her at the curb of her house. He looked like he had something to say and Blair was suddenly scared. What if he said what was on him mind and did that mean she had to be honest too? Did that mean she had to confront these treacherous emotions? 

"Uh.. Blair.. I.. thank you for your help today." 

"You're welcome" she said swallowing her disappointment. Why the hell was she disappointed? 

She made to move when Dan's phone rang and they shared a shocked glance as though both were worried it was Nate. 

Dan shoulder's relaxed a little when he saw it was Lisa. It took Blair a few seconds to realize Lisa was Rufus' girlfriend. She clutched her purse in hand and waited for him to finish speaking. 

"Hey Lisa." he said smiling. 

Blair could hear Lisa talk frantically over the phone and with each sentence Dan smile vanished and he looked more and more worried until his face paled and he looked like he would faint. Blair took hold of his hand. 

"Lisa calm down please. What did the doctor's say?" 

Blair felt unease at the mention of doctors. 

"Ok. I'll be there as soon as possible ok? Have you called Jenny? …  Look, everything will be alright, I'm heading to the airport right now … Yes … Yes I'll handle everything. Stay strong and call me for anything." 

Dan disconnected the call and all his bravado evaporated. He looked like he'd been struck by lightening. Blair stepped closer to him. 

"Dan, what happened?" 

"Uh.. " he shook his head and tried to focus on Blair. "Dad's been in an accident." 

"Rufus?" Blair asked afraid

"Yeah. I have to go to Aspen. Lisa sounded shook. I need to go as soon as possible." 

"Of course. We'll take our jet." she declared without thinking twice. 

"What? I don't understand what..." 

She cut him off by pulling both his hands into hers. 

"Don't argue Humphrey. Chuck always has his jets chartered and ready. We can leave in half an hour. Don't be a fool and say no." 

Dan looked like he wanted to say no, but the Bass private jet was the fastest way to reach his father now and that meant more. 

"Good. Do you need to take anything before you leave?" 

Dan shook his head distractedly. 

"Okay, give me just a minute and we can leave right now to the air pad." 

"Wait, you are going with him?" said Eric. 

Blair had almost forgotten he was with them in the last few minutes of tension. 

"Of course." 

"Ah good. I really can't go and he looks like he's gonna fall on his feet any minute now." 

"You don't have to come with me Blair." Dan said with a confused frown. "I can handle it." 

"Nonsense! I am coming and don't you dare say otherwise. Just give me a minute." 

She quickly bounded upstairs and prepared a carry luggage bag as fast as she could. Then she announced to Dorota that she would be gone for a couple days. When she came back to Dan she found him still rooted in the same spot looking intently at the asphalt sidewalk. Eric was back in the driver seat and fiddling with his phone. As she climbed down the stairs Dan looked up at her and his started eyes went to the sleeping body of Henry she was carrying in her arms. 

She stopped breathing for a minute thinking Dan might oppose to taking Henry with them. 

"I really can't leave him here. Mom's in Rome and Chuck's god knows where. And Dorota... she has her own family." she explained. 

Dan looked at Henry for a second and shook his head "Of course Blair." he said simply and headed towards the passenger side of the car. 

Blair was relived. Within minutes it was decided Eric would drop them to the airport and Blair had already called the pilot informing him of their destination and the urgency. Neither spoke a word on the ride, a tensed silence occupied the remaining space in the car. Blair kept darting her eyes between Henry, hoped he wouldn't wake up in such a confusing situation and Dan, who looked like he was worried, impatient and on the verge of a breakdown. 

When they arrived at the airport, Eric made her promise to call him and report the situation and left them. The jet was ready for takeoff and Dan somewhat relaxed a little seeing that they would be reaching Aspen as soon as possible. 

As soon as they entered the jet, Dan sat at the first passenger seat he found. Blair took Henry to the private bedroom and laid him down. She set her bag and came back to the passenger compartment. Steven, the pilot was as familiar with her as he was with Chuck. He nodded at her and said they were ready to take off any minute. 

"We will landing in Denver in any minute." 

"Wait, not Denver, Aspen. We're going to Aspen" she corrected him. 

"Oh. I'm sorry Mrs. Bass. I thought you meant Denver when you said Colorado over the phone. Since Mr. Bass was in Denver I assumed you were joining him." 

"It's Ms. Waldorf and wait Chuck's in Denver?" she asked thoroughly confused.

Steven looked taken aback and guarded. 

"Uh. I dropped him off at Denver a week ago. But, don't you worry. We will be Aspen in two hours." 

He looked at the cockpit longingly as though afraid Blair would ask more questions.

Hadn't Chuck told her he would be in Chicago? What business did he have in Colorado? Blair cleared her head. Now wasn't the time to quiz Steven over her personal business. 

"There must have been some misunderstanding in communication. I think we should not delay anymore. Let's take off." 

"Yes. Ms. Waldorf." he said relieved and disappeared behind the door to the cockpit. 

Why had Chuck lied to her and since when had she become so sloppy as to not catch a lie? Chuck being in Denver made no sense. There was no holdings of Bass Industries in Denver, and if he was looking to invest, he would have said that to Blair wouldn't he?

Seeing Dan fidget and look at the clock in impatience with something fearful lingering at the surface, all thoughts of Chuck vanished from her mind. She took the seat next to him and couldn't stop herself from taking his hand and giving a reassuring squeeze. 

Dan didn't seem to notice the gesture and continued to stare outside the small window with a frown that hadn't left his face since he had received the news. The jet took off and Blair glanced periodically to the bedroom. There was child safety to the bed and she kept her ears open in case Henry woke up. The rest of the time she kept looking at Dan and making sure he wasn't loosing it. 

"I can't remember the last time I spoke to him." Dan said suddenly still not looking at her. "Was it a week ago or two? I just can't remember what we spoke." 

His voice shook and his eyes were pained. Blair could feel his pain and her heart was hurting for him. 

"I'm sure you'll talk to him soon again. You can remember that Dan." 

He turned towards her and she sucked in a breath at the torture and pain swirling in his brown eyes. 

"I.. we drifted apart in the past few years, with him in Colorado and me in LA." 

"Dan, if there is something I know about Rufus it's that he loves him children a lot and he knows you love him too." she said reassuringly 

"But, what if..." 

"Shush Humphrey." She pulled him closer to her and laid her head on his shoulders. 

"We'll be there in two hours and there is no use of playing the 'what if' game now. I'm sure Rufus will be fine. Nothing will happen to him ok?" 

She could hear Dan's shaky breath but kept a hold on him as though she could anchor him back to reality and not let him wallow in possibilities and guilt. 

"I guess you are right." he whispered and squeezed her hand in return. 

He didn't say anything after that. Midway through their ride, he rested his head on top of hers and they spent the whole ride clinging to hope and to each other. 

 

 

Chapter Text

"So, he's still at the hospital, but he's improved and we're hoping for a fast recovery." Dan said to Serena over the phone. 

He was standing in his father's loft in Aspen. This was where he, Blair, Lisa and Henry had stayed with a dark cloud hanging over their heads for the past five days. The first two days had been the real testing period. Rufus had gone through surgery and he had been kept under observation. Dan had never felt so helpless in his life before. Lisa had been distraught and as soon as she'd seen him, Blair and Henry enter the hospital she had just collapsed in his arms. They had spent the first night in the hospital. He had tried to persuade Blair to go to the loft at least for Henry, but she hadn't budged. Eventually Henry had woken up confused and Blair had taken him to the cafeteria. When they had come back, Blair had given him a small smile and nodded her head. 

That was that, both Blair and Henry had been with him constantly since then. It was as though she was at all places at once. She was taking care of Lisa, making sure she ate, she was pushing Dan outside the hospital demanding he take a bath and not traumatize Rufus when he woke up. She was on her laptop taking calls and he overheard something about the upcoming fashion week in Milan. She was all over the place, but without any impatience or panic. It had been so so easy to turn to her when he felt like he was losing his mind. She would sit with him in silence, holding his hand and supplying him with cups of caffeine and saying nothing but being there all the same. 

Lisa had latched on to Henry. She took care of him, played with him, even took him shopping as Blair had forgotten to pack his things. The boy did not look like someone who had slept one night at his home and woken up next day in a different state among strangers. He adapted very easily. Blair had found him staring at Henry, and she had smiled a proud smile and simply said. 'He's amazing, isn't he?' and all Dan could do was nod. 

Two days after they landed here, Rufus woke up and Dan had almost cried when his father had said 'Hello son'. And Blair was right beside him making sure he didn't have a breakdown in front of his sick father. When the doctor had asked Lisa for opinion on the next course of treatment, her eyes had swung to Blair. To Blair! as though she knew all the answers. And she had known exactly what to do. Apparently when he was being useless worrying and wallowing, Blair had consulted with her doctors in NY for a second opinion and had even prepared the jet ready for emergency airlifting. He was amazed. Had the woman even slept? Or ate or breathed? 

"That's good to hear, Dan" Serena's voice brought him back to reality and "How's Lisa and Jenny holding up?" 

Jenny had landed in Aspen on the third day and though surprised to see Blair, she had went with the flow. She had been more optimistic and hopeful than Dan and it helped that she hadn't seen their father limp and unconscious and weak. Dan still shuddered at the memory of his father like that. 

"They're surprisingly fine. Now that they have declared that Dad is on recovery, they are relieved and planning a welcome home party, although I really don't think he will back before two weeks at least." 

Serena laughed. "I wish I could have been there." she said with a sigh. 

"We had all the help, trust me. I was practically useless myself. We were swept in by the tremendous and resourceful hurricane called Blair Waldorf." 

He was making waffles. Of course his dad's loft had different set of waffle irons and today he felt better enough to cook them the signature Humphrey waffles. Although it was almost 6, there was no time that didn't warrantee waffles. 

"Blair huh." Serena said and Dan could picture her smiling. 

"Yes Blair. Uh it's not a big deal... she was with me when I got the news." 

"uh uh." 

"And you know how she is. She is always there for her friends." 

"Friends is it now?" 

"Well, yes. Uh I don't know." Dan cringed. 

He really didn't know. The way Blair had stepped up and taken care of him and his family for the past week had surprised him. She had been there no questions asked, being his strength and solace. It was so wonderful, that it was something he could get used to. But, that's the catch wasn't it, he shouldn't get used to this, Blair being at his side through highs and lows, because if he did get used to it, he would be signing up for a fresh experience at heartbreak all over again. 

Serena laughed on the other end. 

"You sound like you're having some illicit affair! I hope you remember we are not married anymore." 

"Uh yeah. I mean... I just..." 

Serena said softly this time. "Listen, Dan I hope you know that I am not disillusioned to your feelings towards Blair. I mean I was yes, but not anymore."

"I.. I know. And I'm sorry all over again, but that doesn't change anything. You might have realized you married an ass and got rid of me, but Blair's still very much married so." 

"Ugh. Honestly Blair could use an illicit affair. That might bring her out of a Chuck-sized stupor." 

"What do you mean?" 

"Nothing." Serena said quickly "Maybe I'll tell you someday, but right now I'll let you focus on Rufus. You should know mom was super worried. I was kind of dreading a phone call from you any day saying she's showed up at your doorstep. I guess she has better self control now." 

"Yeah I spoke to Lily, she was worried and offered to fly in, but I said not to, we're here to take care of Dad and I'll keep her updated." 

There was pause and Dan got busy pouring the batter into the waffle iron.

"Do you ever wonder how far we've come. My mom used to be married to your dad, and we used to be married. Feels like a very badly scripted soap opera." 

Dan chuckled. 

"Yeah.. we were.. we were kids." 

"Our parents weren't." 

"I guess we were stupid in love then." 

"Not my love for sure." Serena said immediately and then paused. "Sorry." she added softly 

"You're definitely not the one to say sorry Serena. I'm just glad you don't hate me." 

"I did for a while. Maybe I still do a little, but I was mostly mad at myself that I just didn't want to see it. And mow that all the bitterness, misunderstanding and lies have fallen away, I think the thing remaining is our friendship. And I realized I didn't want to lose that Dan." 

"Well, I'm.. ugh man... I really am glad."

"Hey! by the way, Eric gave me a brief overly simplified version of your scheming behind Nate's back. You're glad I haven't been tempted to tell it all to Nate." 

"Oh Nate? Are you talking to Nate now. " 

"What? Yes. I mean he's in LA. It was bound to happen that we run into each other." 

"Yeah I'm sure." It was his turn to smile. 

"Hey, look there is definitely nothing happening here. I might have missed him... as a friend of course." 

"Of course."

"Shut up." 

"What? I didn't say anything." he laughed 

"I cannot believe we're back to square one." Serena said with awe in her voice. 

"Well I.. " he sighed "Serena I don't think we're back to square one. Square one would be being silly, stupid and doing the same mistakes again. But, I feel we are better than that. And I think you deserve a chance at happiness." 

"So do you." 

Dan chuckled. "Mine is a complete different story. But, you.. maybe you should keep your mind open." 

"It's not easy." she said

"Oh believe me I know." 

The door to the bedroom opened and Henry came with tousled hair and rubbing his eyes. He yawned and stared at Dan pouring the batter with fascination. 

"Uh.. I have to go. Will talk to you later ok?" 

"Ok. Call me if you need anything." Serena said. 

Dan disconnected the call and looked at Henry pulling the small ottoman over to the kitchen counter and using it to climb on the barstool. 

"Where's momma?" the boy asked eyeing the waffles. 

"Uh she had some work. She said she will be back by the night." 

"What are you making?" Henry asked putting his chin on to his palm. 

The boy was a split image of chuck, but his eyes were Blair's and when he smiled all Dan could see was Blair. In the last five weeks, the boy had been so patient and well-behaved. He mostly stayed with Blair and Lisa and never complained about anything. He read a lot, what four-year old read so much? He played silently with the toys that Lisa had bought for him and didn't disturb anyone. He had been to the hospital once since the first day and he brought a balloon for Rufus. Dan felt this peculiar pain whenever he looked at him. At one point in his life, when he had been madly in love with Blair Waldorf, he had imagined what their kids would look like. Maybe only once, but the thought haunted him whenever he stared too long at Henry. 

"Waffles" he answered. "You are in for a treat, especially since Humphrey's make the best waffles." 

"Mom loves waffles." Henry said dipping a finger at the syrup, which Dan immediately shifted to out of his reach. 

"She does?" Dan asked perplexed. 

"Hmm hmm, we have waffle Sundays sometimes, when she is sad. She is sad more now." 

Dan felt like someone punched in the gut. Blair had followed the Waffle Sundays tradition? Why was she sad? 

"Where's Lisa?" 

Dan shook his head. "She's at the hospital." 

"How's Rufus?" it sounded like Wufus and Dan smiled. 

"He is very much fine." 

Henry nodded and he looked older and somber and something about that picture didn't sit right with Dan. A four-year old shouldn't look like they've been through tough times and gained wisdom because of it. 

"Well, I'm sure your mom's waffles are great, but mine are the best. You're in for a treat. Chocolate or Maple syrup?" 

"Both?" Henry said with a mischievous smile and Dan laughed. 

He gave a plate to Henry and served one for himself and kept the rest of the batter in the fridge. Looking at the boy, he tried to see why Blair was so worried. He had noticed her stealing glances at Henry as though trying to scan his mind and look for something beneath the surface. The boy didn't look fazed by the bullying sure. Did that mean he had been bullied before this? Dan had promised Blair he would speak to the boy, but now he was at a loss as to how to start. 

"How's school?" he asked and winced. How's school? who says that! 

"Nice" the boy shrugged and wolfed down another bite of the waffle. 

"Hmm. Have you made nice friends?" He tried again. 

"Josh is nice and Ms. Kramer is nice." 

Dan took a bite of the waffle himself and felt like he was being useless. How do you steer the conversation towards Henry being locked up and bullied.

"I like this place." Henry said suddenly and Dan was taken aback

"The loft? Yeah it's quaint, uh I mean cute." 

"No. Lisa, you, Rufus, Jenny." Henry said and the fact that he added Jenny amused him. She usually acted like she didn't know what to do with Blair's son. "I miss Doto and grandma." 

Dan chuckled. "I'm sure Doto's missing you too." 

"Can I have some more?" he asked pushing his empty plate and Dan relented and gave a small piece.

"Mommy is happy here." Henry continued sharing. 

The one sentence made Dan freeze. Blair was happy here? Wasn't she happy in New York? Was the boy confused? What did he mean?

"Uh.." 

"Daddy makes mommy sad." Henry added and after that he pretty much didn't say anything. 

After finishing the waffle he retreated to the room and started reading another book. It was like the conversation had never happened and he hadn't left Dan stunned and confused more than ever. 

Dan cleaned the plates, waffle iron and the kitchen trying not to think what the hell 'daddy makes mommy sad' meant. 

*** 

Blair stood outside the door to Chuck's room at the Le Meridien in Denver. When Steven, the pilot, had told that Chuck was in Denver, she hadn't thought much about it. She had more important priorities then. But the thought hadn't left her mind. And two days ago she decided she would get to the bottom of it. 

She had called Chuck and he had said he was busy in Chicago. She had felt numb inside, as though she was watching a utterly predictable movie that was in it's last act. Then she had called up Chuck's secretary and cajoled and blackmailed to get the name of the Hotel he was staying in. She had finished the conversation by threatening her to not let Chuck know anything. 

Yesterday she had spent the day debating with herself whether she really wanted to head to Denver. She'd kept herself busy at the loft and had managed to convince herself it was nothing. But, today the knowledge burned a whole in her mind. She had asked Steven to take her to Denver before she could convince herself otherwise and she had arrived at the hotel. A few minutes of manipulating and bribing the person at the reception meant she had the key to Chuck's suite in her hand. 

All she had to do was insert the key and enter the room. The numbness inside had only grown. Throughout the flight all these little conversations and looks exchanged had been popping in her mind. Dorota telling her Mister Chuck couldn't come to Henry's first day at school. Her mom saying Chuck was being a big disappointment. Serena not saying anything when she flew in to LA alone for her movie premiere. Nate having stopped inviting Chuck to their get togethers. Henry having stopped asking where his daddy was? When had he stopped? Three months ago or was it longer than that? 

Why had she never looked at these things in a serious light before? It was as though she had carefully ignored and blinded herself to them. Even right now it didn't feel like she was on the verge of a possible heartbreak, it felt more like she was stepping into the light after having been in the dark for half a decade. 

She inserted the key card and the door opened with a click. She entered the room and squinted at the light as the curtains were pulled and the late evening light splashed across the room. The bedroom was on the right and the door was partially open. Blair walked up to it as though she was performing an act that required only movement and no emotion. She pushed the door and it relented. She saw blond hair immediately and white sheets and empty champagne flutes. 

It felt like she took in millions of individual images because her brain refused to take in the bigger picture. The picture of her husband naked and in bed with another woman whose face looked vaguely familiar. Both of them were sleeping and the quietness in the room mocked her. The room looked so innocent and inhabited for longer than a night. There were no suitcases, the clothes taking room in the closet. Chuck's suits and dresses of a woman who wasn't her. 

Blair didn't realize when her clutch slipped from her hand and fell it the ground, she picked it up swiftly but when she straightened she saw Chuck had woken up with a start. 

"Blair?" he said confused and in the next instant he was off the bed and pulling a bath robe over himself. 

"Sorry." she said instinctively and left the bedroom. 

Had she just said sorry? Shouldn't she be raving and spitting mad? This numbness inside of her made it difficult to discern what exactly she was feeling. 

"Blair! Wait! Blair!" Chuck called after her. 

She turned around because why not? Chuck stumbled to a halt and stared at her at a loss. 

"What are you doing here?" he asked. 

Blair felt a fraction of her first emotion since entering the blasted hotel. She felt furious. Was he serious? 

"I mean, Blair it's not like what you think." 

Blair just raised her eyebrows. She turned and marched outside his suite. She could hear Chuck calling after her. He caught up with her at the Elevator and she noticed he had donned on a pair of trousers and shirt. 

"Blair, listen to me! That means nothings Blair! I swear." 

Who was this man? And why wasn't her heart getting broken and pain searing on her insides? Why was the predominant emotion disappointment and a sick confirmation, as though she knew this was bound to happen. 

"Blair... " he tried to take her hand but she quickly snatched it away and held up a palm warning him off. 

"What are you doing here in Denver anyway?" he snapped and Blair felt like laughing. He was mad at her

"That's Mrs. Lawrence." she said finally remembering where she had seen the blonde from. "She's the wife of your partner." 

It didn't make sense, but it didn't need an explanation either. Blair had turned the door to Chuck's room earlier expecting heartbreak, but this was worse, she felt indifference. 

"You cannot tell Lawrence Blair. Please." Chuck said with a sudden intensity. 

The elevator opened and Blair stepped inside. Chuck followed her. 

"Blair we can work through this ok? We'll talk and we'll sort everything out. That meant nothing Blair, nothing at all! I will come home tonight and we can..." 

Blair didn't let him finish. "You're not coming home." she said quietly and turned to face him. 

"What? Blair I know you're angry, but you need to listen. We will sit at home and I will explain everything. You'll see..." 

"You're not coming home Chuck, ever." 

Chuck looked at her in shock at her words. "Don't be ridiculous Blair." 

"I'm not. You're never coming home. You do and I will ruin you. I will make sure that the Bass name means nothing." Blair declared with a deep-rooted menace that seemed to shock her husband. 

"I will tell you what you will do. You will come to New York, stay wherever the hell you want, but the first person we meet is a divorce lawyer." 

Chuck ran a hand through his hair and tugged his collar roughly. 

"Blair you can't just decide that! We can work this out. You're over reacting..." 

Blair stared ahead not saying anything. All her life, especially the last five years was glaring back at her in a silent macabre way. Why wasn't she crying and cursing and demanding to know why he had cheated on her. It was as though none of these things mattered. Had she always knows her marriage was on the brink of collapse? What was this feeling of such indifference? She felt like her own understudy watching the scene from the backstage. 

"... you don't know what it's like." she was hardly paying attention to Chuck's words. "Think of Henry, he will..." 

"Don't take his name!" she yelled. "Do not take his name. You do that only when you are worthy enough to be his father, which you are pathetically failing right now." 

"He's my son Blair!" 

"No! no." she shook her head. "He's my son, only mine! You're just someone who helped me gave birth to him, nothing more. Stay away from him and stay away from me!" 

The elevator finally reached the lobby and Blair stepped out and walked swiftly out to the night. Chuck followed her. 

"Blair.. Blair!" she kept walking leaving behind the car service she had hired. She pulled her coat around against the chill of the city and didn't stop walking. 

Chuck finally caught up with her and yanked her to a halt by grabbing her arm. 

"For fuck's sake Blair! You can't just storm out of here." he looked ferocious like he was losing his grip of the cliff and was about to fall into cold water. 

"Let me go." she said calmly twisting her arm out of his. 

"Look Blair, we've been through so much. We can get past this too ok?" 

"Why?" 

"What?" 

"Why did we get past everything we've been through Chuck? Why did I let myself believe that there was only you for me? I deserved none of those things that you did to me."

"Blair I know you're angry..." 

"No I'm not!" she yelled in frustration. "It's killing me that I'm not angry. Out of the emotions I'm feeling right now, trust me there a lot, the only two missing are surprise and angry. I'm not even even surprised you cheated on me Chuck! It was like I was lying in wait for you to screw this all up and I am feeling disgusted at myself." 

"No, no you don't mean that!" 

"I do!" She paused and looked at the man in front of her, what they had between them. When had it become so twisted and ugly? "This was not where I saw us heading Chuck, but it feels more and more like my heart knew we would end up here." 

Chuck looked like he wanted to shake her and erase all the words she was saying. 

"I thought we have some epic love, but all we have are excuses, don't we?" she said finally and before he could react she turned and ran. 


Chapter Text

"Hey, that's cheating!" Dan said with fake outrage and put Henry's pawn back in it's place. The boy might look all angelic, but he was Blair's son. One should never forget that. 

He wasn't chatty, but in the last two hours, he had opened up to Dan and spoken about what exactly had happened in school that day he got locked. Dan was afraid to say this, but he was actually impressed. He couldn't wait to relay the story to Blair and give her some peace of mind. 

At the thought of Blair, the door opened and in stepped the woman herself. Dan watched distractedly as Henry got up and ran to her. 

"Mommy!! I was beating Dan!" 

Dan rolled his eyes. Yeah he was Blair's son all right. 

"Hey that's unfair. I let you win the first two times. We could always have a rematch and..." 

His words died in his mouth when he saw Blair. She had picked up Henry and was hugging him like she was holding on for dear life. Her face was ashen, her hands trembling and her hair a mess. 

"Blair?" he said cautiously. 

She opened her eyes and looked at him. Dan froze. She looked like she was an inch away from falling and breaking to thousand pieces. He couldn't stop himself. He went up to her and pressed his hand to hers that was on Henry's back. She flinched. 

"Blair? What happened?" 

For a moment she looked like he wanted to collapse into him and her eyes were a dangerous shade of red on the brink of tears. Dan wanted to say that he was ready, she could use him as the landing and fall. He would hold her and make sure no harm came onto her or her son. He wanted to say so much, but he had no idea what was haunting her. 

The moment passed and he could visibly see her shut a window to her eyes and straighten into the formidable Blair Waldorf. 

"Nothing. I must go. Now." 

"What?" 

"I.. I'm sorry. I wanted to be here until Rufus got well, but there's a fashion emergency. I must go to New York." 

"Of course, Blair. Don't worry about here at all." he said with a growing sick feeling in his stomach. She wanted to leave. He had known she would one day, but the past five days had been so wonderful, so dream-like, it felt like she was breaking his heart all over again. Dan swallowed. He didn't have any right to harbor any expectations from her. She was his nothing. She would leave and disappear from his life once again and he would be left alone at the curb catching rain and darkness. He removed his hand from hers and took a step back. It took some courage he lifted his eyes back to hers again. 

Something impossible happened then. The splintering pain he felt, one of the impending doom and broken hearts and dreams seemed to be reflected from her eyes. She was looking at him like she wanted to hold on for dear life, but time, life and sanity was preventing her from following her heart. 

"Did something happen Blair? I can help you. Please talk to me." 

Her lips parted and she stared at him in an amazement and confusion. She shook her head and hugged Henry closer. The boy was now looking between Dan and Blair with a confused and serious look. 

"I'll be fine. I can take care of myself. I... I don't need anyone." and that felt like she had just slammed the door closed on something precious. 

 

*** 

Four months later
December 2018

"I cannot believe you shipped Henry off to Rome." Serena said over the phone as she sipped her coffee. 

Blair who was arranging the flowers for her working dinner at home gaped at her best friend.

"I did not ship him off anywhere. Mother extended her Rome trip at my request because I did not want him caught up while I was trying to chuck Chuck out of my life." 

"Didn't Chuck protest?" 

"Like he can." Blair scoffed. "After the stunt he pulled two weeks ago where he kidnapped Henry from his school, he was lucky he's not behind bars." 

Blair saw Serena roll her eyes. 

"What?" 

"You can't just will him to go away from your life. He is still Henry's father and your legal husband. Listen to your lawyer and wait till the court rule in your favor ok?" 

"I cannot wait for that long. Henry told me he never wanted to see Chuck again after what he did. What four-year old don't want to talk to their father? Not only had I let this man into my life, I let him mistreat my son and screw with his head! Serena..." Blair took a shuddering breath. "This is all my fault." 

"Blair, just be glad that you came to your senses in time. And I think what Henry is feeling is abandoned by Chuck, he wasn't around much to scar your son." 

"For the Bass-tard's sake I hope you are right. Ugh I was so stupid. I don't even understand when I became such a Stepford wife and let him walk all over me like I was last season's Gucci wrap." 

Serena laughed and Blair could hear another chuckle over the phone. She rolled her eyes. 

"Tell Nate he can only laugh at my jokes if he can show his face to me." 

"I'm working." said her friend's voice

"Why don't you tell this to himself. I have to go, my shot's ready." Serena said. 

The phone lost its focus and Blair could hear Nate grunt. A few seconds later she saw Nate's irritated face. 

"She just whooshed out of here." he said with a glare. 

"That's nothing less than what you deserve." Blair snapped. She picked up her phone and sat on the couch. The living room was set for one of her famous dinners with potential partners. She was known for the Waldorf hospitality. 

Ever since running away from Aspen as though her boots were on fire, she had thrown herself to work like never before. She woke up thinking of Waldorf Designs, and went to sleep thinking of Waldorf Designs. That had kept her distracted enough from her divorce proceedings. 

Like she had promised Chuck, the first person she had met in New York was a divorce attorney. She had petitioned for a divorce in the first week back and as expected Chuck had been obstinate. He had refused to sign the papers and was threatening her with fighting in court. Which meant they had to fight for Henry's custody and if she knew anything about Chuck, the battle would be very ugly. 

"Hey, what did I do?" Nate asked 

"You let me be married to Grim Reaper for six precious years of my life. I cannot believe that my son's fifth birthday gift is his parent's divorce." 

"Please" Nate scoffed. " You would have shot the messenger had I tried." 

"What does that mean?" 

"Blair let's discuss this some other day and I will tell you in detail how many times I stopped myself from asking you what the hell you were doing with Chuck." 

Blair felt uneasy at thinking that everyone around had seen how she was throwing her life away with Chuck and had said nothing because she had been stubborn? 

"Fine." she said begrudgingly "Anyway, it is cute watching you two work in the same vanity together." 

"Don't start." 

"What.. I didn't say anything." 

"Good. Don't try." 

"All I am saying is... " 

"Blair I swear..." 

"... now is the perfect time to..." 

"... if you say another word..."

"...ask Serena out." Blair finished with a smile. Nate snapped his mouth and glared at her. 

Then he gave her an evil smile. "I will ask Serena out the day you ask Dan out." 

"Wha..." she was so shocked that she almost dropped her phone. "What in the world does that mean?" 

"Let's just say it's easy for people to think I am not smart because of my blond hair and dreamy blue eyes." 

"Ugh" Blair scoffed. "You're not charming Archibald." 

"And you're not such a closed book Waldorf." 

She glared at him wishing she could yank his hair or pull his collar or kick his shin. 

"Look..." he said relenting first. "on a side note, I hope you know that you have me, for anything you need ok? I could disappear with Henry for a solid year if you wanted me to." 

Blair chuckled and shook her head. "Well, I'm really glad to know there's no shortage of people willing to go undercover for me." 

"Stay strong and know that if anyone can best Chuck Bass it's Blair Waldorf." 

She disconnected the call and sighed. She had no doubt that she would win this battle with Chuck, but the more he stretched it and showed to what depths he can fall, she was forced to confront the kind of man she had married and hoped to spend forever with. It was painful at times and downright disgusting other times. 

She got up and put on a smile. Her guests would arrive any moment now and she didn't have time to dwell on the disaster of her personal life when she was ruling the world through her career. At least one facet of her life was going smoothly. 

 

***

Blair heard the phone ring and felt like her heart was trying to jump out of her ribcage. The click of a connection made her jump. 

"Hey Blair, what's up?"

"Uh.." Blair swallowed. "You remember the designs we presented to Burberry last season in Paris. They came back last week saying they loved it." 

"What?" Jenny said in shock. "After a year, that's a little too late in the fashion world isn't it." 

"I thought so too, but I looked at the designs and if we change the fabric and make some tweaks and add a little more color, we are good to go."

"Wow, really? You think so?" 

"hmm hmm." 

"That's great news Blair. I will fly down to New York asap and get right down to work." 

"You don't have to. I know you're helping with Rufus' recovery." 

"Dad's almost fine. He's walking and his Physiotherapist promised that he would be fine within a month max. And with Dan being there, he doesn't even let me lift a spoon when I visit." 

"That's great to know." Blair said and willed herself to ask the next question. "How's Dan doing?" 

She made sure to ask the question in the most casual tone and prayed Jenny couldn't tell her heart was palpitating on this end. 

"Oh he's great. He's made Aspen home and I feel like he might just move there."

"What?" Blair exclaimed. "Why would he do that! He loves New York and the culture and the hustle and the bustle. He would hate it in Aspen! Did he say he's considering the move? Why would he..." 

Jenny's laughter cut her off and Blair was sorely tempted to disconnect the call. 

"Oh man, you guys are almost giving me high school flashbacks. I sure am enjoying this."

"I don't know what you're speaking about." Blair said sullenly. 

"Sure you don't. Do you want me to tell Dan you asked after him?" 

"No!" Blair yelled and clenched her teeth when she realized she had just walked into Jenny's trap. 

Jenny laughed again. "Is the Burberry story even true?" 

"Of course!" she snapped 

"Well then I will fly down to New York and meet you in a week. Until then, maybe you should try Lisa next since Dad has caught on to the purpose of your last few phone calls." 

Blair groaned and sat back on the leather seat in her office clutching her head. Did the whole Humphrey family know by now she was hunting for news about Dan? Did they laugh over her, telling anecdotes about her transparent efforts? This was a new low and Blair wanted to hurl something. Why hadn't the man called her himself? 

After the way she had left in a hurry without even packing her bags, the only communication she had had with Dan was a text where he had informed her that he had packed up her things and it would reach New York in a day. She had thanked him and that was five months ago. She had spoken to Rufus regularly asking after his health and that had been the only source of knowing what Dan was up to. 

Did the man forget that they were in the middle of a scheme? Granted he was held up, but he could call her and say 'Blair, I trust your judgement, go ahead with the plan the way you see fit please'. But no, clearly Dan Humphrey had simply forgotten Blair Waldorf existed. 

What if Gossip Girl changed her email address, what if Nate found out everything and shut them out? What if Gossip Girl had an accident and went into a coma before they solved the mystery? Would Dan Humphrey take responsibility for this? She scoffed. She didn't think so. 

She unlocked her phone and opened Eric's old message that included GG's email address and the message burnt a hole through her hand. They couldn't put this off any further. The trail would turn cold and they would never get to the bottom of who GG was. She frowned and looked at the email address with an impatience energy. There was also something else making her restless. She would rather murder Chuck Bass in his sleep than accept it was hurt, hurt by the fact that an elusive Brooklyn poet had forgotten she existed. 

Before she could rationally debate with herself, she opened her mail and drafted a short and cutting mail and sent it Gossip Girl's mail id. She had just sent the ball that had been in their court hurling at a speed of 150 miles/hour. Now it was a waiting game. 

Chapter Text

A month later
January 2019

It happened when Dan landed in JFK. He had just firmly landed on New York's soil when his phone started ringing with notifications. He ignored them and focused on collecting his luggage. It so often happened that his bags got mixed up and he would end up raising complaints, tracking it down and wasting his time. He was indeed cursed.

Around the time when he collected his bags and was waiting for the cab, his phone rang. He ignored it thinking it was his agent. For the past few months he had received a sudden burst of inspiration and had submitted a manuscript proposal to his publisher. The proposal had been surprisingly approved and he had been given a deadline. But slowly his inspiration had waned and he had struggled with putting a string of words to make one sentence on the paper. That's when his father started pushing him to go back to New York, stating the big city had abundance of inspiration.

Dan had relented after a week of dry heaving on the paper. Lisa had assured him she would take care of Rufus, who was almost back to normal.

On the ride to his Brooklyn home was when he decided to check his phone, there could be a message from Lisa that he didn't want to miss.

The first few notifications were his email, which had more spam than he cared for, then there were few miss calls from Eric. Why was Eric calling him? He felt a sense of foreboding. Before he could make sense of what that meant, he saw the next notification and the shock immobilized him. It was a notification he hadn't received in years. It was from the archive blog of Gossip Girl. He tapped on the notification that led to the full blog post, one after almost six years.
It read:

'Hey Upper East Siders,

Gossip Girl here. Your one and only source to the scandalous lives of Manhattan's Elite.

A brand new year and a brand new me, or should I say the real me?
If it's shock on your faces at seeing me back after my long sojourn, prepared to be shocked a bit more. You tried to bury me, give me an alias and throw me out of your internet history, but it's time to learn I'm a bit more formidable than that.

Dan Humphrey may be an affluent writer, but I dare say he doesn't have the flair for writing gossip best served cold intended to destroy everything in it's wake.

Consider this me, successfully claiming my mantle back. I have suffered under the false identity for so long, let me bear it no more.

As to a certain ex-favourite of mine, rumor has it that B is still a Queen B with the best energy for scheming but her king was kicked out of the hive. Though you do need minions for a scheme, it isn't very wise to fall for one B.

My favorite blondes languishing away in the land of dreams, maybe it's time to come home and see what your exes are up to.

Did you miss me much? Not to worry, this time I intend to stay for a long long time.

xoxo
Gossip Girl'

Dan felt like the car was spinning. All their efforts for the past two years ruined by a single post. He checked his phone to see if Nate had called. Not yet. Was he already at his lawyer's office now preparing to serve and sue Dan?

He tried calling Eric, but the guy's phone was engaged. He cursed. It definitely felt like he was back in New York, sucked right into the biggest drama upper east side had seen in half a decade.

The moment he got dropped off at his Brooklyn loft, he was ready to run to LA if that's what was needed to talk to Nate. What had really set off the blast? They hadn't done anything in the past five months. Had Nate refused to pay the blackmail money? 

He opened the door with all these questions floating in his mind and it took a second to realize the loft door had been unlocked and there were people in his living. Multiple unexpected people. Eric was sitting on the kitchen counter with eyes on his laptop, Jenny was sitting on the couch leaning over the coffee table reading something that looked suspiciously like a St. Judes and Constance Billard binder.  And then there was Blair, pacing a hole on the rug in his living room. 

She was on the phone and Dan utilized that moment to take her in. It had been five months and thirteen days since he had last seen her. She had been like a wounded bird covering for protection and he had let her go, because by now he was very well aware that he wasn't meant to stay in her life. He could admire her from afar, check upon her through friends, ensure she was happy, but he couldn't be the one to make her happy. 

All thoughts of the latest GG Blast went right out of his head when Blair spotted him and froze and since she was pacing, she almost stumbled. He took a involuntary step to catch her and that made her take two steps back. That pretty much summed up his non-existent relationship with Blair Waldorf. 

She took a second to recover and turned to Eric. She turned his bar stool to face her and before he could gain his balance, she whispered something inaudible to Dan. Eric's eyes turned to Dan and he actually looked relieved. 

"Dan! Finally. Dude I've been trying to call you for like the past ten hours." 

"Yeah..." 

"You called him!" Blair snapped "I told you not to involve him" 

"He was already involved Blair." Eric said with frustration and started whispering furiously.

"Hey Dan" Jenny said without looking up from the binders. 

"Jenny?! What are you doing here? Wait, what the hell are all of you doing here?" he asked throwing his travel bags over the couch. 

Blair looked at the bags on the couch with a painful expression before she closed her eyes and looked up. 

"I had a key." Eric said like that explained everything 

"I'm just helping." Jenny muttered 

"We needed a scrutiny-free downtrodden den for scheming." Blair said. 

"Scheming for what? The whole world knows the truth now. Didn't you get the blast? All our efforts are utterly wasted." 

"See, that's where you're wrong Humphrey." Blair said with a smirk. "It was a selected post." 

"A selected what?" 

"Oh don't ask!" Eric interrupted "I just finished explaining it to Blair, who if you haven't noticed is not really good at technology, how this was done. Just know that the blast went out to only certain people on the upper east side. Gossip Girl was basically screwing with us." 

Dan had so many questions, but for now he was relieved that the whole world didn't know about their deceit and Nate wasn't in any trouble.

"But we're in trouble cause Nate knows what we're up to." Eric finished.

"What? How?"

"Well, tattletale here shares everything with sig sister and after the fake blast Serena couldn't wait to confess everything to Nate." Blair said giving an evil eye to Eric.

"Hey don't blame me! I just wanted someone else to know in case Gossip Girl kidnapped us or something." Eric said

Dan tried to absorb everything. This was supposed to be a peaceful return to Brooklyn to work on his novel. Not right back into Blair's radar and running schemes. Jenny was meticulously scanning what looked like a student's binder and didn't look up.

"What's she doing?" He asked pointing towards Jenny. "And why did Gossip Girl even send out this blast?"

They all shared guilty and mysterious looks and Dan just knew they were about to drop another bomb in his lap.

"Uh Blair, want to go ahead and explain this?" Eric said indicating with his hand to take the stage.

Blair glared at him and turned to Dan with a sigh. "It might have something to do with me mailing her." 

"You mailed her!" 

"Not only mailed her, had a month-long banter going on, as though they were ex lovers. I mean, some of the emails really shocked and traumatized me." Eric said 

"What?" Dan was confused. 

"Listen, it's on a need to know basis what exactly I spoke to her, but I tried coercion, manipulation, and negotiation. I'm not sure what ticked her off, she blocked me yesterday and released the blast." Blair said

"You have been mailing her for the past month?" Dan asked shocked 

Blair looked a little guilty, but she quickly masked it with an obstinate stare. 

"Yes. Well... someone had to do something. You seemed to have traded your New Yorker status to a ranch pass in Aspen. I didn't know when you would be back. I had to take a decisive step." she said and looked to Eric who shook his head. 

"What ranch?" Dan was confused. "Blair that was the only point of contact we had to Gossip Girl, and now that you've pissed her off, god knows what she'll do next!" 

"That's why we are coming up with a new plan!" Blair said 

"What... " Dan felt like strangling her. She was so stubborn and rigid sometimes. Right now, she was looking at him as though all of this was his fault. 

"If Nate knows he's not going to let us do anything. And I'm not sure pissing Gossip Girl more is what we should be doing." 

"Nate's not going to oppose, we have put a certain persuasive blonde on that mission." 

"Still Blair!" he yelled. "I don't think threatening her was the right way to go! She could have exposed everything!" 

"What did you want me to do? Ship myself off to another city across the country and cut all communication ties?" she was yelling now. 

"I was talking to Eric! Who, by the way did not tell me any of this." he snapped. 

Eric looked up from his laptop "Hey! I found out all of this last evening! Blair was acting rogue, do not blame me." 

Dan didn't pay particular attention what he was saying because he was looking at Blair. Her face had blanched when he said he had been talking to Eric. She had looked away with a ticking in her jaw. He felt his own pain somewhere near his heart. He hadn't spoken to her in almost six months. He would be lying if he said it hadn't been deliberate. He had distanced himself not wanting to serve his heart on a platter to Blair, who would relish shattering it all over again. She had left him hadn't she. Without an explanation, without looking back. And she would leave always. Blair wasn't in his life to stay, so he better accept that. 

"Dan, I actually like Blair's idea. You should hear her out." Jenny said. 

"I'm pretty sure" he said nastily "Blair always has amazing ideas doesn't she! And it must have been her amazing idea to involve you in all this. Did you involve my dad too? You've been calling him often suspiciously, or wait did you also manage to involve all my neighbors and half Brooklyn, because obviously anyone from Brooklyn are just waiting to be your minion!" 

Everyone gaped at him, except Blair. She was busy trying to shoot daggers at him through her eyes.  

"Hey that was uncalled for." Jenny said cautiously 

Now Jenny was defending Blair! What twilight zone had he stepped into?? 

Before he could find an answer, Blair took a menacing step towards him. 

"No. It wasn't my idea. She already knew you were trying to find Gossip Girl and offered her help. But, I wonder why you should be surprised Humphrey. Apparently everyone except me knew you weren't Gossip Girl. Do you even know how I felt when I found out that Serena, Nate, Eric, Jenny, Rufus, Lisa!! Everyone knew you weren't Gossip Girl, everyone except me!" she finished it with yelling. 

She stared at Dan, her eyes accusing him of something he didn't understand. Then she picked up her handbag and rushed out of the door. Eric and Jenny stared at him with eyes and mouth open. He cursed below his breath and followed her. 

He caught up with her at the emergency exit staircase. She hadn't even waited for the lift and had flown down the stairs. 

"Blair! Blair wait!" he called 

She didn't wait. Dan wasn't sure what had happened upstairs, but he was sick with guilt because if there was anything in the world he hated the most, it was hurting Blair Waldorf. 

"Blair please!" he called. 

He caught up with her and grabbed her arm trying to stop her. 

"Let go of me!" she yelled. 

"Blair just let me talk please!" 

"No!" 

He cornered her towards the stairs landing and cut off her exit by barricading it with himself. 

"Just... just wait." he implored. 

She was breathing heavy, eyes down, hands clutching her bag in a death grip. 

"I'm sorry." he whispered. 

She looked up then and the repressed pain in her eyes was like a punch to his gut. 

"I'm so sorry." he repeated.

Why was it that they were always hurting each other? It had to end somehow. 

"Blair I..." his throat felt dry suddenly "I didn't care who knew I wasn't Gossip Girl or who didn't. I never wanted you to find out." 

"Why?" she asked and he was glad she wasn't running away from him for once. 

"I never wanted you to feel guilty or know that I sentenced myself to a lifetime of false identity without thinking twice because I was still so much in..." 

He cut himself off and closed his eyes. What was the use really? Why did he always find himself baring his heart to her and her always running away from him? He was so tired. 

When he opened his eyes, he found Blair staring at his shirt button with a soft frown between her eyes. 

"I am tired of doing this again and again Blair." he said and hung his head. "We can't go on like this, can we?" 

"Go on like what?" she asked 

He was annoyed. He was tired of circling around what was between them and her acting like she had no clue didn't help. 

"Do you really want to know Blair?" he snapped. "Should I just say everything on my mind with complete and utter candidness?" 

Blair didn't say anything and her hand trembled where she held on to his jacket.  

"That's what I thought." he said and looked away. 

"Are you moving to Aspen?" she asked

"What? No. I'm not! Who told you that?" 

She swallowed and looked up at him. Her eyes were still guarded and he couldn't discern what she was feeling, but there was relief. 

"Good. You wouldn't do well in Aspen anyway. You need New York to thrive." 

"Blair." he sighed. Every time he tried to run away from her, she did something infinitely simple yet profound that he was back in her grip. This time it would be different. 

"I can't do this anymore." he repeated and she nodded slowly 

"I'll help you with your scheme and we'll finish this business and then lonely boy and queen B can go back to their separate existences with no intermingling lines and intersecting curves." he finished

Blair looked up at him and scanned his eyes. She slowly nodded 

"Where there is no temptation or confusion. Where we can co-occupy New York like the opposite ends of a magnet, together but eternally facing away." she whispered. 

Dan couldn't resist it. He moved closer, hearing her sharp intake of breath and seeing her parted lips, he asked 

"Did I ever tempt you Blair, truly?" 

 

Chapter Text

May 2019 

Blair stood at the threshold of her home and craned her neck to look out at the street. Everyone she had invited was inside, seated with refreshments served in the living room. Even Nate had showed up, granted he was being pulled inside by Serena, but he was here alright. 

Eric was busy setting up the presentation, Dorota was flushed with joy as though all her children had returned home and Henry, who had just returned from Rome after a two month-long holiday was banished to his room bribed with macaroons. Georgina was sipping a glass of wine, yes she had invited Georgina, and stealing amused glances at Blair. 

She had done significant changes to the house since she had kicked Chuck out. The house had been hers in the deed, a gift from her beloved duplicitous husband. So, she had taken the liberty of holding an impromptu yard sale with his belonging, by impromptu she meant throwing his things out in the garden and inviting any scavengers. After the melancholy phase had passed, she had felt anger. How dare he cheat on Blair Waldorf? She would make him rue that transgression for the rest of his life. First was the divorce, he was not so surprisingly adamant at not giving it to her. But she would snatch it away from him, with her teeth if needed and she would make sure to give him a massive blow with the alimony. She had specifically instructed her lawyers in that regard. She would ruin him and leave him in shreds. 

Dorota gave her a peculiar look which she ignored and continued to pretend to check the flower arrangements at the foyer. Blair frowned, the past few months had been enlightening. Her childhood ideal of having a man on her side was ferociously debunked and the realization that she was quite proficient to be happy herself and to take care of Henry had been liberating. Of course she didn't plan on dying alone, but knowing she was capable of handling solitude with her usual alacrity had given her some power back which she had lost when she'd tied herself with the Warlock of The Empire. 

It was already 6:17pm. She glared at the orchids. Looks like the Humphrey clan was standing her up. She had invited Jenny and Dan both, while Jenny had said she would be here, she had been gauchely ignored by the eldest Humphrey. Ever since she had run to New York from Colorado in the wake of her marriage crumbling, Dan had given her the cold shoulder. It was easy to chalk it up as care for an ill father, but said father was out in Aspen cycling as per her last call with Lisa and now it was just too difficult to make excuses for his behavior. He was ignoring her. period. No, not just ignoring, he had gone out of his way to stay the hell away from her. In the last two weeks alone, she had tried texting, calling, emailing him multiple times for him to revert with dead silence. And a sparingly unsatisfying 'yes' when she had asked him whether he was helping them or not. 

She would strangle him, she really would. Not to mention it was unnecessarily irritating that she cared about him at all. After their last conversation in staircase, she had realized one truth. Whatever it was between them was waiting for just one moment to rupture into an unholy mess. If she was smart, which Blair was, she should stay the hell away from him. Take a cue from Dan and ignore his existence but she was never good at doing what was told to be right and proper. 

"Blair! Come take a look at this." Eric called her from the living room and she stared fore-longingly at the door one last time before leaving her guard. If the Humphreys wanted to stay away, great! She would let them. Damn you Dan Humphrey and damn you to the darkest corners of hell. 



Dan felt claustrophobic in the little taxi they were taking to the upper east side. He fiddled and sighed and got irritated at Jenny sitting next to him with calm and almost sleepy composure. 

"I really didn't want to come." he said and felt like groaning 

"Hey! you started it, you finish it." Jenny snapped. 

"Why are you all snippety and I don't even know why you got yourself involved." 

"I'm snippety?" she asked preposterously "Just because I am making you hold up to the deal you signed?" 

"I didn't make any deal! I was trying to help Nate and let me remind you he doesn't seem to want my help anymore." 

"You should have thought of that before you started the whole thing and now you are suddenly no longer interesting in knowing who Gossip Girl is?!" 

"I don't care who she is! I just wanted her to stop troubling Nate and I have suffered under a false identity for long enough that I don't care anymore." 

"Well I do! And think what'll happen if she comes back for a Reign of Terror 2.0 lonely boy?" 

Dan groaned. Jenny did have a point. His last conversation with Serena revealed to him that Nate had just deposited his latest installment in the blackmail money and it was significantly larger than last installments. Whoever Gossip Girl was, they were getting insatiable. He had no idea what kind of conversation Blair had with their nemesis, but it seemed to have triggered her more and made her bold.

Thinking of Blair brought all his other thoughts in his brain to a screeching halt.  He shook his head and tried to dislodge thoughts about a pretty brunette. He was done thinking about her, enough for two lifetimes. It was time to move on resolutely.

As they reached Blair's townhouse he felt his resolution waver a little, but he took a deep breath and alighted from the cab. Jenny practically ran up the stairs and he was left lingering on the stairs.

Hadn't he decided to move on? Then why did he always find himself at the threshold to her home? Within few moments they were inside and greeting others inside. He raised his brows at Georgina and nodded at Nate who looked like he wanted to chug him, but behaved civilly probably because he was standing next to Serena.

Serena came up to him and hugged him.

"How are you?"

He smiled. It was a miracle she was still kind to him and didn't want his head on a platter and he didn't want to dwell on his blessings.

"I'm just the same as you see. How are you and weren't you shooting that James Gunn movie?"

She laughed "I still am. I moved my schedule around to help here. It's about time we put an end to it. Nate won't say it, but he's glad too."

"You two look cozy."

She gave him a mocking look. 

"Don't start." She said and Dan realized for all his teasing, there was indeed something happening between her and Nate. Wow he hadn't really thought about it. But in a way it made sense. If anyone had ever loved Serena with a singular dedication it was Nate.

Dan had loved, more like obsessed over her when he had been a child. Something experienced by a Dan Humphrey who had never experienced heartbreak, loneliness and crippling pain of losing love. Would it have been better if that younger version of himself had never changed? Had never dared to love the queen of a kingdom he wasn't even allowed to trespass?

"You know," Serena said with something wistful in her eyes. "The last time I was here..."

She finished her sentence with a sigh.
Dan grimaced.

"No! I didn't say it to make you feel bad."

"Please Serena, don't try to make me feel better here. I was a gigantic ass."

"But, we tried didn't we?" She asked suddenly.

He was taken aback by the question.

"I did. I really did. And no matter what, I didn't deserve you."

"I've been thinking lately. Someone ought to have told all of us, you're too young to marry! Wait a few more years! Well, I didn't expect that from my mom, but someone, Rufus, Cyrus.. How did they let us all get married? Turns out Nate was the smartest of us all."

Dan laughed. She wasn't wrong.

"We believed we were in love." he said softly looking at the staircase. 

She was not in the living room, so he assumed she was upstairs. It was difficult, seeing Blair, and knowing she was worlds away from him, not hearing her voice, not seeing her roll her eyes, glare, get amused, laugh. It was torture. The time spent in LA had made him realize that New York was home and maybe one of the reasons it was home was because he would run into Blair, see her, be in her orbit, get insulted by her, maybe he would make her laugh, maybe she would make him catch his breath. A world without these possibilities felt bleak and colorless. 

"Why don't you tell her how you feel?" Serena asked. 

Dan started. He was confused for a second what she referred to. 

"What do you mean?" 

Serena rolled her eyes. "You know what I mean." 

He scoffed bitterly. "Why would I do that? To humiliate myself?" 

"No, not to humiliate yourself. Because no matter how much you two think you can communicate through long stares and unspoken glances, you need words to express how you feel." 

"I don't know how to break it to you, but you're definitely misguided if you think she feels anything for me. And since when are you a cheerleader for me and Blair?" 

Serena shook her head. "I.. I don't know. For the longest time I blamed her you know. I didn't tell her about the divorce, I hardly spoke to her. I kept thinking if Blair hadn't come between us, we would have been happy." she said softly. 

"Serena, that's not true..."

"I know that Dan." she cut him off  "I know now that I cannot control who loves me and who don't. And you've loved Blair ever since you worked together in W, maybe even before that. I tried to deny that and I was just fooling myself. It's pretty evident now." 

Dad didn't know what to say 

"I didn't say this to make you feel bad." Serena continued "Maybe if I hadn't tried to sabotage your relationship, you still would have been together. I just feel, there is so much we could have done differently."

Dan shook his head "I doubt that. She chose Chuck." 

Serena shook her head and started to say something, but Blair appeared at the top of the stairs and they got distracted. 

"Well that went over smoothly." Blair was saying to Dorota as they walked down the stairs. "I hope he doesn't try and sneak over here again. And you need to keep an eye on him. Threaten him if you have to." 

Dorota nodded. Blair descended and Dan really tried to look elsewhere, but he just couldn't. She looked soft today, in her baby pink summer dress, cream stockings and hair pulled back into a knot. He felt his resolve to stay out of her orbit experience a violent shake up. 

"Eric! We can finally start!" she exclaimed. "No infant interruption anymore." she smiled. 

Why did she smile like that? Like she had a secret that no one knew and she was this close to pull a win out of nowhere 

"And since you're all here. I want to say that it's the perfect timing to..." she missed a step when she saw Jenny sitting on the couch sipping a mimosa, but continued with grace and a straight face "to finally close this Gossip Girl chapter from our lives. It's getting tedious." 

She came up to the center of the room and turned to face her audience. Eric turned up the projector. Georgina rolled her eyes and signaled for a refilling. 

"Are we really using a projector?" she said 

"Yes Georgina, we are" Blair said in a droll way "It's effective." 

"Have you prepared slides?" Georgina mocked 

"I might have. Don't make me regret inviting you." Blair snapped 

"If there are no more unnecessary interruptions pending, it's time to reveal my impeccable grand plan to catch the bitch in action." Blair announced. 

Eric fiddled with the laptop and an image of Constance, their former high school, popped up on the projector and a dramatic drumroll music was played. Blair looked like she was just about to announce which nation she would conquer next as the Queen of the Worlds 

"A Reunion!" she announced. 

There was a pause as everyone froze and tried to absorb what she meant. Eric looked excitedly at everyone's face. Jenny looked like she wanted to exit quietly without anyone noticing. Nate stared with mouth agape at Blair and Georgina looked the most scared of them all. 

"Excuse me?" Georgina asked. 

"What?" Blair looked confused that her idea wasn't received with enthusiasm. "It's ten years since we graduated. Perfect time for a reunion. All the possible suspects under one roof, the apt setting to catch our blackmailer. What's not to like in the plan?" 

"Except I wouldn't want to relive my high-school years even if you wanted to pay me a billion." Nate said sternly 

"Oh really? What about working as a janitor at St. Judes when Gossip Girl drains you of all your billions?" Blair said and Nate glared at her. 

"No." Serena said. Dan noticed Serena was staring at Nate. "I'm not going back there, even if you drag me." 

"Not even to help Nate?" Blair said sweetly 

Dan hid a smile. The woman was insufferable. Serena looked like she wanted to argue but she too ended up glaring at Blair. 

"I don't get it!" Blair said raising her hands up. "It's the perfect plan!" 

"Maybe you don't dread going back to Constance cause you ruled the hallways and gave everyone around you nightmares Blair. But that place is a black hole of unwanted memories, judgement and incubation center for insecurity. It was the worst time of our lives." Jenny said passionately.

Blair gaped at Jenny. She slowly shook her head and glanced at everyone in the room.

"Look at you all! You are no longer those inferior teenage wannabe's who I terrorized. You're all confident, successful and famous individuals. Everyone here has their own Wikipedia page and numerous fan pages." 

"Not me" Eric muttered. 

"Yes you do too, Van Der Woodsen" Blair snapped. 

"What!" Eric exclaimed and pulled his phone out. 

"My point is, you have nothing to fear. You have ended up at the top of the food chain. All you have to do is show up and everyone will flock you like ardent fans! And Serena, you're a Hollywood A-lister, the school will pay you to come there, maybe not for career day but definitely for fashion night!" 

Everyone looked a little eased at that speech. Dan was amused that the very people who had made high school unbearable for him were dreading going back there for just one day. It made no difference to him whatever, he had been unknown and ignored in those hallways for years, and he had no reason to believe it wouldn't be the same now, ten years later or otherwise. 

"And if could look past your insecurities..." Blair continued. "you'll see that this is the perfect cover for finding out the social parasite who meddled with our lives for years and has the audacity to think they still can! We have strong reasons to suspect that Gossip Girl was in our class, not someone junior, not someone senior, in our batch. We can weed them out as easily as spotting despondent socialites on the brink of bankruptcy in a New York fashion week!"

Everyone absorbed what Blair was saying. He had to give it to her, she can be persuasive. He imagined her an army general motivating her squad to win wars. She would have been perfect. 

"So, are you all in or what?" she said and looked like a kid pleading for candy. How could anyone say no to that face and that smile?

All of them looked around to access each others' reactions. Dan raised an eyebrow at Jenny. She looked like she wanted to run from the living room and all the way back to Paris and not ever come back. She swallowed first and stood up. 

"All right. What the hell, I'm in." 

"Oh my little schemer, so proud of you!" Blair said

Serena was next "Nothing to lose I suppose. I'll help too." 

Georgina glared at them all. "This better work." 

One by one everyone echoed the sentiment that they would help Blair. Everyone except Nate and Dan. 

Nate had turned to Serena when she had said she would help and now he sighed. 

"Fine. I'll help too. But... but if this doesn't work, you will drop it for good and let me handle Gossip Girl. I don't want any interference." 

"Okay!" Blair didn't even let him finish before exclaiming clapping her hands "Just as I expected! Everyone's in." 

"Not everyone" reminded Eric nodding towards Dan. 

Dan would help of course. He had just been too busy being amused by everyone's reaction to the plan that he hadn't said anything. He saw Blair glance at him and her excited smiled slipped a little and a frown appeared between her brows. He suddenly knew that she was holding her breath, as though his answer really mattered to her. 

This was the first time in the evening she had turned towards him and for a second Dan simply enjoyed her undivided attention, being the center of her world for just a slip of time. 

"Well, are you helping me or not?" she said softly 

Dan wondered if the people in the room could feel what was there so obviously between him and Blair. Did anyone recognize the pain and joy that roused in his heart at that moment. He doubted it. 

"Of course. I started it, I'll help you finish it." he said echoing what Jenny had said to him earlier. 

Blair relaxed. He hadn't even realized she had been tensed. Her shoulders dropped, her frown faded and she smiled. Not the 'I'm pulling one over you all' smile, not even the 'I'm so confident in my plan that no one stands a chance' smile. This was different, profoundly simple. She smiled like she had been pleased by what he had said and this simple gesture had made her truly happy. 

 

Chapter Text

As soon as everyone announced they would help with the plan, Blair had brought out a stack of files with everyone's name in the room on it. Eric had distributed it to everyone. 

"So, you're Blair's minion now?" Dan asked as Eric passed him his folder, which looked surprisingly thinner than others'. 

Eric scoffed. "So what if I am? At least I'm not running away from her." 

Before Dan could retort he had moved on. The folder contained notes on all 'suspicious' Constance and St. Judes students in their class who could be Gossip Girl. Dan was surprised the amount of research they had done. He had washed his hands off the scheme when he had come back from Aspen, but as usual nothing stopped Blair. He even felt a little guilty that he hadn't been there to help them. 

"Okay" Blair said clapping her hands. "I have divided the suspects into High, Medium and Low category based on suspicion and I have grouped you into teams of two so you can keep an eye on those suspects in your file. It's pretty simple, you shadow them during the reunion and do not, no matter what, let them out of your sight." 

Everyone looked at their files except Eric and Jenny. He was right, they had obviously planned this ahead in time. One look inside his file and he already had an objection with this plan. 

"I'm not partnering up with Georgina!" he said. 

Blair didn't even look up from what she was checking on Eric's computer. 

"Partners are non-negotiable please." she said in matter-of-fact tone. 

"What's your problem with me?" Georgina asked casually flipping through her file and sipping her wine. 

"I don't strictly like you, you make me uncomfortable. And you can go rogue." he turned to Blair "You do realize she's not exactly a team player right?" 

"None of us are, except in deep crisis mode and this is deep crisis." Blair sighed. "Humphrey you need a babysitter and she's the best we have." 

"I don't need a babysitter!" he protested 

All eyes were on him and he realised that he was the only one asking questions and demanding changes while everyone were reading their files, exactly as though he needed a babysitter. He gritted his teeth. 

"I don't see a file in your hands. Who are you partnering with? I could be your partner." he said  to Blair before he could think otherwise. 

Blair stared at him in surprise, lips parted and eyes huge. 

"I will be running the show." she said shaking her head. "I'm the ring master. Don't mess up the plan Humphrey!" 

She went back to work again and he looked at Georgina to see her patting the seat next to her on the sofa. He made a face and turned back to his files. His file was definitely thinner than Georgina's. Why was that?

"So, we just keep an eye for these people and what hope for their Gossip Girl personality to show up?" Serena asked 

Blair rolled her eyes. "The plan is more intricate than all of you knuckleheads can collectively grasp. What's in your file is on a strictly need to know basis. And no peeking! and no sharing!" 

That piqued up Dan's interest. Of course nothing was simple when it came to Blair Waldorf.

The projector changes slides and Blair continued. 

"We'll have the reunion in two weeks. You have two weeks to memorize the people you need to tail and do some pro bono research on them if you're in the mood. Whatever instructions are given in your file, follow that to the T. And we convene on the D-day and catch our tormentor! Simple." she smiled. 

"No." Nate pointed at Blair. "You need to tell me everything what you're planning to do." 

"Most definitely not! The plan can be only successful if the individual parts succeed. Listen Nate, I've got this. I'm master of scheme remember. It's something I can do in my sleep and there's barely anything illegal in it." Blair said making a cross over her heart.  

"The plan is foolproof Nate." Eric chimed in. "We'll find Gossip Girl before the end of the night." 

Suddenly Dan felt like an outside. Hadn't this plan started with him? Then how did he find himself at the periphery now? He saw Blair and Eric share smug looks and he wanted to... what did he want really? 

"This is madness." Nate muttered

"Oh come on. Don't be a cautious cindy!" Blair said patting him on his arm. "I know we're a little rusty, but we've handled worse schemes."

"I.. I think I agree with Blair. This does sound doable." Serena said.

"See! Serena gets it! And I've broken it down to small chunks. You do your part and like a well oiled machine the plan will manifest itself." Blair said throwing her arms out like she was explaining a grand vision.

Over the next hour Blair explained the plan and clarified any doubts. It felt weirdly like some kind of a planning meeting for architects or chefs. As though they were designing something. Dan's file was pretty wane. It hardly had any extraordinary feat to achieve. All the tasks assigned to him were fair and simple and he got the sense that Blair was deliberately keeping him out of the loop and he didn't like it one bit. It got on his nerves. And when the logical part of his brain tried to argue that he too wanted to maintain distance from Blair, he felt like punching himself.

When he thought the meeting was over and all would leave, Blair flagged Jenny, Eric and Georgina and announced that she needed them to discuss some additional measures. Nate rolled his eyes and walked out, followed by Serena. Dan was about to leave too when Jenny turned pleading eyes at him.

"Will you wait?" she asked.

Though he had urged her to take up a hotel room she was still staying at their old loft with him. Dan must have looked unsure cause she reassured.

"It'll be 10 mins max"

Dan relented.

"You can wait here, we'll be upstairs." Blair said with a quick smile.

He gave her a blank look and then sat down on the couch as they moved upstairs as though heading towards a super secret meeting for a crucial mission. He waited.

***

Blair turned off the light to Henry's bedroom and stood reluctantly at the door for a moment. The meeting had went just according to the plan without any glitch and she was glad for it. Ever since her marriage had blown up in her face, she'd occupied herself with anything and everything that came her way. She kept herself busy so that she wouldn't dwell on how the family she'd always wanted, she'd fought to have was falling apart.

Worrying about Henry was another thing she wanted to avoid. He'd spent two months away from her because of that Basstard and she would never forgive him for that. She sighed. She'd brought up school to Henry at breakfast and he'd been calm and agreed to go from next week. That wasn't the attitude of someone getting bullied. Her son was confusing her and she was at wits end as to what you do with it. Only option she hadn't resorted to was professional help. If it came to that, she made a resolve that  she would get him the best care in New York.

Everyone had left the house a few minutes ago. The plan was set in motion, she'd send the invites to all tomorrow and set the ball rolling officially. In two weeks they'd catch Gossip Girl and all this ordeal will be over. She descended to the living room and found the space in shambles. Dorota hadn't cleaned it up yet.

Blair felt a sudden need to get some fresh air and clear her mind. She poured herself a glass of wine and went to the back of the house. It opened into a small balcony looking out into the garden, enough space to relax for the evening.

As she reached the balcony, she saw a shadow of someone through the fluttering curtains and she froze. Her heart beat faster as she saw them lean into the railing. Her first thought was Chuck. She thought of all possibilities and reasons why Chuck would sneak up into the house.

But when she moved closer, she recognised the frame of shoulders, the drab clothing, the sideburns and exhaled.

"What are you still doing here?" She asked stepping into the balcony.

Dan spun around in response and looked at her with confused eyes.

"Uh I got bored in the living room."

"What?"

"Nothing. Are you done? Where's Jenny?"

Blair shook her head. "What are you talking about? She left."

"What?" He froze and an irritated frown appeared on his forehead. "Unbelievable."

He took his phone out and cursed when he saw Jenny's missed calls. He looked up at her with a sheepish expression.

"It was on silent." He explained.

Blair rolled her eyes.

"It's almost eight. Will you have dinner?"
she asked.

They both looked startled by that suggestion. Dan looked like he wanted to say something but shook his head.

"No. I'm good." He said and Blair couldn't deny the tinge of disappointment she felt.

"Although" Dan continued pointing towards her wine glass "I wouldn't mind a glass of what you're having"

"Oh! Just a minute."

Blair came back with a second glass of wine and they settled to sipping the wine and staring out into the night sky. There was so many things unsaid between them, but it pleased Blair that they were capable of enjoying this moment without letting anything interfere.

"How's Henry doing?" Dan asked.

Blair shot him an amused glance "I think you'd know that better than me. Eleanor said that he's been talking to his new friend 'Mr. Humpty' regularly in the past few weeks"

Dan laughed "Yeah he does call me that." Once his chuckle died down he looked at her with somber eyes "I wanted to make sure he was okay. I didn't mean to intrude."

Blair couldn't quite find the words to respond. She had been disgruntled when she'd found out that Dan had called his son up first through Dorota and then through Eleanor. Why didn't he come to her? Over the weeks when she'd seen Henry actually enjoy talking to 'Mr. Humpty' she was unsure how to react. Dan had promised her he would help and despite their differences, he'd apparently stuck to that promise.

"You're not intruding, but I wish you'd called me." She said and immediately regretted the emotion in that statement. "I mean I'm sick worried about him and here you are being his Dear Abby. You could have helped me understand what he's going through."

She hated the tremor in her voice, and took a sip of the wine to calm herself down. Dan set the glass on the railing and turned towards her.

"I'm sorry." He said softly. "I didn't think. Actually I didn't plan. Dorota called me saying he wants to talk to me and it somehow became a daily routine."

"He reached out to you?" Blair asked shocked.

Dan nodded.

"Wow okay. I.. Don't get me wrong, I'm actually happy that he's talking to you." She sighed. "Thank you Humphrey."

"I really haven't done much."

"Trust me you have. At least you didn't treat him like some task you could procrastinate."

They both stood in a silence of accomplice. Knowing it was Henry who had reached out to Dan caused her pain. Her son was reaching out to a stranger rather than his own parents. Chuck was busy fighting divorce battle and seducing his partner's wives and she'd been busy catching Gossip Girl? She suddenly felt like the worst parent.

She felt a cool draft of air before a warmth enveloped her left hand. Dan squeezed ger hand and waiting until she turned towards his reassuring gaze.

"He's better than you think he is."

"How do you know?"

Dan shook his head "Trust me."

Blair wretched her hands out of his grasp.
"How can I help him when he tells nothing to me!"

"You're already doing it Blair. He knows you're there for him. He's a bright boy, he's your boy. Trust him, if not me. I... I don't want to say anything and breach his trust, but maybe I can convince him to confide in you."

"You'll do that?" she asked hopefully.

"Of course." he said and smiled.

Blair didn't know what she would have done if he hadn't smiled. It was that smile that broke something in her.
It was the smile of reassurance. The one you give to neighbors, colleagues, uninvited guests and unwanted acquaintances. She hated the sight of it.

"Don't do that." She snapped.

"Don't do what?" Dan asked perplexed.

"I don't know. Smile like you want to end the conversation!"

"What.. I didn't.. What are you saying?"

"It's your smile, you should know what about it irritated me Humphrey."

He stared at her incredulously like he didn't know what she was saying and for the life of her she couldn't understand it either.

She placed her wine glass next to his and clenched her fists.

"Every time you're doing these things... ugh!"

She was frustrated, she really was. He had ignored her for weeks, months, spoken to her son without telling her and now he was giving her that wane thoughtless smile?! How dare he!

"Blair I have no clue what you're talking about... "

"Don't you?" She snapped.

Something flashed in his eyes and his expressed transitioned from confusion to anger.

"If it's a punching bag you're looking at I'm out of practice. And frankly, I should be leaving home." He said with calm dismissal.

"What does that mean?" She demanded.

"Blair... " He clutched his hair and looked away.

Her throat closed and she felt like all the words at her disposal turned to sounds of hurt. Blair didn't know what was affecting her, but it seemed like everything that had happened in her in the past few months were flashing in front of her eyes and somehow, without her willing it, without her wanting it, Dan was at the center of it all.

"You know what you're doing." She said in an accusatory tone.

Dan looked like he wanted to shake her and that caused her anger to sore.

"Don't stand there looking like you're the innocent one!" She yelled.

"What the fuck are you talking about Blair?" He yelled in return.

She swallowed and she was suddenly terrified that a tear might escape from her eyes. How do she put this in words? How should she tell him that his ignorance had hurt her, his nonchalance attitude towards her had burnt her. What right did she have?

She started at him in utter lack of words and suddenly a fear clutched at her heart that she'll never be able to make him understand what was in her heart. He'd go home today and away from her life in two weeks, and he'd never know how she felt, what she thought, nothing. That fear grew hot and urgent in her heart and she couldn't contain it anymore.

"You're removing me from your life, bit by bit and moment by moment." She said and she didn't even care that her voice croaked towards the end.

Dan, who'd looked like thunder a second ago, froze. His eyes searched hers to attest the reality of what she'd just said. He looked transfixed, staring at her in shock, letting those words sit between them.

"You don't want anything to do with me." She continued boldly but the pain in that one sentence drained her.

Dan took a step back and looked away. Somehow the small gesture gave Blair enormous pain. She clutched her stomach and felt a sudden chill around her.

"What.. " He cleared his throat. "What do you want me to say Blair?"

Blair wanted to punch him. She really did.

"Contrary to what people think, I don't know hypnotism. I can't make you say anything. And don't act the martyr it's disgusting." she said angrily

"Fine!" Dan turned angry eyes to her. "Yes it's true, I don't want you in my life. I am trying and failing to eradicate all sense, memory and mention of you from my life. Are you happy now?" he yelled.

"Ecstatic!" she yelled and walked out of the balcony.

She focused on walking because what she really wanted to do was either push him off the balcony or crumble and cry till tomorrow.

"Don't walk away from me!" he exclaimed as he followed.

She turned on him.

"Then why the hell did you even come tonight?"

"Because this is my mess and I'm helping you clean it!"

"If I'm so despicable that you can't stand me, the least you can do is not be a hypocrite!"

"You're not despicable! I never said that."

They were both breathing hard and looked ready to bite each other's head off.

"If you don't hate me what possible reason could you have to throw me out of life like discarded last season wardrobe?" she asked exasperated

Dan looked like he wanted to punch something. He took a step back and yelled.

"When do you even want to be in my life Blair? Can hear yourself! What you're saying. I don't know what you call us, but we haven't even been friends the past few years!"

Blair felt like someone had slapped her. Everything he said was true on paper, but that couldn't be how he felt. Had she thought this all wrong? Did he just despise her? No hidden feelings and hidden motive?

"I loved you so much." He said in a raw voice with so much pain in his eyes that Blair felt punished for just watching them. "So much. But you chose him Blair. You're always choosing him."

Blair shook her head. No it wasn't right.

"You always run. You always run away from me, whichever way I'm facing, I'm always watching you go away from me!" Dan continued.

Blair had asked for the truth and Dan looked half mad with fury, pain and heartbreak. Mad enough to let the truth spill without censoring anything to protect her feelings.

"I can't... No that's not right." He shook his head almost frantically. "I won't do it. I won't spend my life thinking about what wasn't for me, what clearly doesn't want me. I refuse to live such a life Blair. I couldn't sustain a marriage for barely a year because I was so madly in love with you!"

Blair sucked in a breath. She'd known, deep within where she'd buried all her secrets, she'd known it. But she had denied it to strongly, so resolutely that hearing Dan say these words splintered her heart into shards of regret.

"No.." She whispered. "I.. You.."

"Now you have nothing to say?" he gave a bitter laugh.

Blair suddenly wanted to cover her ears and run from Dan and his words that spoke those truths which she'd falsified by sheer will of denial.

"I won't leave a life pining for you Blair." He said calmly enunciating each word. "I deserve more. I know I do."

When she dared look up to his eyes, it was hard. A cold sheen locking all emotion in and her out.

"I'll help you with this scheme, stand by you one last time and then I'll remove everything that reminds me, everything that draws me to you, everything that even references you from my life. I'll be gone." He said softly.

She barely registered the ominous threat, before he brushed past and walked out.

She heard the door slam and the sudden quiet in the house was more deafening than Dan's words. She blindly moved and settled down and after a few seconds she realised she was sitting on the floor. She was being haunted, haunted by every word he'd uttered with the most sincere emotions any man had worn in front of her.

Blair couldn't breath, couldn't think. She felt her tears dampen her cheeks and she barely felt them. She was stuck in the moment when Dan was recounting all the reasons why he wanted her out of his life and how she'd realised she couldn't bear it if he succeeded.

***

Dan walked into the loft feeling murderous. He wanted to kick, scream and tear. He wanted to do something violent, permanent and regrettable.
Along with the anger, there was a sense of relief.

Over the years he'd wanted to say so much to Blair, so much to shout, accuse, yell. What he'd said today wasn't even a small portion of it, but he felt satisfied. He'd been honest and that had felt good.

He stood at the entrance unable to decide what to do next. He felt full of energy and new zest for living his life to the fullest without being a lost lover for a woman so far out of his reach even space expeditions couldn't help him.

"Dan?" Someone called out.

He looked up to find Jenny standing at the end of the living room peering at him confused.

"Where did you go? I thought I told you to wait."

He moved to the kitchen and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. He poured some to a nearest coffee cup be could find and downed it in one go. He came up coughing but the burn of the whiskey made him feel better.

"I was still there. You left me behind" He said pouring another refill.

"Okay... " Jenny said slowly "What happened?"

"What do you think happened? Blair Waldorf happened." He said flatly and downed the liquor.

Jenny looked between him and the bottle and sighed.

"You two need to sort your shit out." She said rubbing her forehead. "I don't get how two very intelligence and ambitious people could be so damn stupid!"

"Oh I think it's pretty much sorted out today." He said going to fill another time.

Jenny snatched the bottle away.

"Hey!"

"Pace it, dear god. What did she do? Say she never wants to see your face again?"

He laughed bitterly. "I think I'm the one who said something along those line."

"What? Why would you do that?"

"Because I'm tired?!" He took a calming breath. "I can't repeat the same conversation again. I need to go to bed."

"You're such a fool. Why would you do this? This was the chance you'd been waiting for. You've not fooled anyone Dan! It's pretty evident you still love her. Now that you can finally do something about it, why are you hell bent on ruining it all over again?"

Dan shook his head "I feel like I'll have a splintering headache. And I can't make sense of anything you're saying, so I'm gonna go." He said exhausted and turned towards his room.

"I cannot believe this! Why are you acting this... " Jenny stooped abruptly.

Dan turned around to see what had stopped her mid track. She was staring at him with a shocked expression and was she holding her breath?

"Please tell me you know." she whispered.

"Know what?" He asked.

"Dan, Blair is getting divorced."