You look so pretty in the dark of night
But I'm getting wise in the early light
I can see you falling like a homemade kite
I can see you falling like a homemade kite
- "Ribbons" by Ingrid Michaelson
Blair has never considered herself to be a lucky person. Opportunities don’t just come her way — she makes her own luck. But it is truly a turn of fortune that the final end of her relationship with Chuck times well with the end of Gossip Girl.
The 20-year-old son of a New York senator is caught with his pants down (with someone not his equally young wife) and the video is sent to everyone subscribed to Gossip Girl. It’s a commonplace event and not one Blair would even deem particularly noteworthy. Except the girl he was caught with was only 17 and the girl’s father is an attorney. A powerful one.
The FBI gets involved - distribution of child pornography not something anyone wants to mess around with — and then it’s over. The feds shutter the website, the person behind it gets three-years probation, a fine, and has to register as a sex offender for the rest of their lives. Everyone who has sent a tip into Gossip Girl in the past 10 years lives in fear of being subpoenaed, but the father seems content with having the website shut down.
A few copycats pop up in the absence of Gossip Girl but they never really gain traction. It seems everyone, even those people who found the updates titillating, grew tired of the spectacle. Or rather they grew tired of being made a spectacle.
Walking down the streets of New York, meeting up with friends, dating from time to time (normal people! who have never had sex with Serena!), all without the fear it will be posted online is hard to adjust to. Chuck moves out of the apartment and not a word is written about it anywhere — why would anyone deem a moving truck pulling up to an apartment building as noteworthy? That’s when Blair finally exhales. She’s even more thankful for Gossip Girl’s absence on the day she walks by a bookstore window to see a full poster display advertising the soon-to-be released book by Daniel Humphrey. She sees the sticker “Author of the NY Times Bestselling Inside” and her stomach flutters a little, remembering the words he once wrote about her. It’s been years since she read them, but they’re imprinted in her heart and mind.
She goes home and immediately pre-orders the book. A part of her — the narcissistic self-involved part of her she doesn’t think will ever die — wonders if she’s Aubrey Jessup.
Blair arrives home one day to find Dorota cleaning the living room while listening to an episode of Fresh Air over the sound system. She’s never known Dorota to listen to NPR and is about to tell her to turn it down when she hears who Terry Gross is interviewing.
“Aubrey shares a number of similarities to a character from your first book, Inside. You famously based your first novel on people you knew. Is Aubrey inspired by the same person as Claire Carlyle?”
Blair holds her breath, waiting for Dan’s answer, uncertain if she wants it to be ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Dan doesn’t leave her guessing for long.
“No,” he says. “I was inspired by my sister, actually.”
“How’d that happen?”
“Well, she told me to write about her.” Terry Gross and Dan both share a laugh and Blair’s embarrassed she even entertained the possibility he’d still write about her. It’s been five years. “The way my sister and I grew up was a privilege. Really, it was. There’s also a lot about it that was hard. And my sister, she —.” Dan trails off and Blair can almost see him throwing his head back in the way he so often did as he tries to find the words. “I think it takes a lot of bravery to know what you want, pursue it relentlessly, and then keep going for it even after you get knocked down, one, two, three times.”
“By the end of the book Aubrey’s goals appear to have shifted. She doesn’t seem to be pursuing the same things she wanted in the beginning.”
“That’s one way to interpret it. I would argue sometimes our own motivations are a mystery to us. We think we’re pursuing something because it makes us happy when really it’s because it fulfills an unresolved need. And once we get what we actually want, what we actually need, the thing we initially pursued becomes irrelevant.”
“She’s not really a sympathetic character.”
“And neither is Holden Caulfield. Or, Dean Moriarty. Or, Becky Sharp. It doesn’t matter to me if the audience sympathizes with her. You can hate Aubrey for all I care but if I’ve done my job as an author by the end of the book, you understand why she made every choice she did.”
“Has your sister read the book?”
“She was the first person who did, actually.”
“And what does she think of it?”
By this time Blair has heard more than enough. In fact, the second she heard Dan’s voice it was probably too much. She clears her throat and Dorota reels around, dropping her dust rag with a guilty look on her face. “Your prolonged obsession with Dan Humphrey is starting to concern me, Dorota.”
Blair stomps off to her room and sits in front of her mirror. She wonders if that’s what Dan has decided happened between the two of them — was he the thing she pursued until she figured out what she really wanted? It’s what she knows most people think — Dan was a placeholder until she could be with Chuck again — but that Dan might think it doesn’t settle well with her.
Her copy of the book arrives in the mail at the end of the week and Blair stays up past 3am to finish it.
It’s like seeing her best-friend again after a long absence. She hears Dan’s voice in every word, but it’s different somehow. She remembers he didn’t get the chance to edit his first novel and this piece is much more refined. It’s also considerably more thoughtful. This is Dan Humphrey writing as an adult.
She reaches for her phone to text him but then remembers Nate mentioning Dan’s stateside again and all she has is his international number. On a whim, she texts his old number. Just to see if it works. She takes a deep breath:
3:21 AM - Blair to Dan
I read your book. Despite your tendency to split infinitives, it was well-written.
3:22 AM - +1(1)216116-11 to Blair
Error Invalid Number Please re-send using valid 10 digit number or valid short code.
Dan somehow convinces Alessandra to move the book launch party from New York to Portland. Being surrounded by cameras, press, and people dressed to the nines is a faint memory from a life that often doesn’t feel like it was ever his, but he’s startled by how well he falls back into it.
The party is less celebration and more of a long, pronounced, painful job interview where a lot of alcohol is served. The people from Simon and Schuster are waiting to see if he’s truly worth their time. The journalists and book reviewers are skeptical he has anything substantive to offer the literary world. And he hasn’t yet been in Portland long enough to have any friends. So it’s Dan being pulled around by Alessandra, introduced to another person he must meet. All he wants is to be back in his apartment in Rome — to go back to that hazy romantic time where no one expected anything of him.
As the night wears on, he finds the event isn’t as wearying as he feared. He meets a few people who already read the book and have a genuine response — mostly positive with some critique and that feels good. He’s much more comfortable debating ideas than he is mingling in an over-starched shirt.
At the end of the night he leaves the bookstore and decides to walk the two miles home back to his apartment. He passes by a 24-hour diner at the exact moment a group of high school kids dressed in formal wear rush in front of him, clearly ready for the milkshake and junk food portion of their prom night. The last person in the group to enter the diner is a girl in a bubblegum pink dress. Frankly, she looks ridiculous. Like she’s being swallowed by tulle, her head barely visible above the mass of fabric, but it makes Dan smile for the sole reason it reminds him of another girl.
He replays that day on the steps of the Met over and again on his walk home — the softness of her gaze as she looked at him, the feel of her hand in the crook of his elbow — and starts writing as soon as he steps through the door of his apartment.
The next day he meets Alessandra for lunch and she mistakes the red eyes for a hangover. She’s going over marketing strategy, his promo schedule, everything related to where and when he’ll be talking about Aubrey Jessup, but he’s having a hard time focusing on her words.
“What is with you this morning? You haven’t picked up any bad habits in Italy,” she touches the side of her nose, “have you?”
“Oh god, nothing like that. I started working on something new last night.”
“Already? Well, color me interested.”
He describes the general premise of the book to Alessandra but doesn’t go into much detail. He definitely doesn’t share who his inspiration is.
“When can I have a draft?”
“I just started it last night.” Alessandra is silent, merely raising an eyebrow, and it makes Dan laugh. “And that doesn’t matter to you at all, does it?” He takes a sip of his coffee to give himself a second to think. “Can I have some time to make sure this is something?”
If she’s disappointed by his answer she doesn’t look it. “Of course.”
It becomes rapidly evident to Dan this book is, in fact, something. He calls Alessandra the following week and tells her he can get the book to her by Thanksgiving. It gives him seven months, and maybe he’s being cocky but doesn’t even think he’ll need that much time. She keeps asking for his reassurance he’ll meet that deadline. “If I meet with the editor-in-chief and fight for you to be put into a fall slot, Dan, I need to know you can make it happen.”
“I can make it happen.”
At one point as he’s working on the first draft he decides to check out Gossip Girl to see if there are any pictures of the day that inspired the entire story. He’s surprised to see the whole website shuttered. Dan racks his brain for the last time he even tried to look at the website and can’t remember. He unsubscribed when he discovered he had no desire to be updated on the steady drumbeat of Waldorf/Bass drama. And that he was no longer considered a central figure to any of the happenings in New York.
When Nate visited him in Rome, he’d mentioned Blair and Chuck were done with one another. He knew Nate was gauging his response as he shared this information, but Dan only chuckled and responded with a “yeah, sure they are.” Nate insisted, though. He was tempted then to look Blair up but he never did.
He texts Nate, curious as to why no one mentioned Gossip Girl was no more. Nate’s response makes entirely too much sense.
5:47 PM - Nate to Dan
No one wanted to jinx it, man.
And it’s a relief - absolutely - he’s glad these people he loves and cares about and still considers friends (plus Chuck) aren’t being dogged anymore, but there’s a part of him that’s a little sad. There are plenty of souvenirs from his time with Serena but none from that fever dream that was his relationship with Blair. Sometimes he thinks he imagined the whole thing and now all evidence it existed — there was actually a time of Dan and Blair — is gone.
If he wasn’t motivated to finish the book before —
The entire shape of Blair’s life is different. In fact, it’s so distinct from anything she’s ever experienced sometimes she has to remind herself it is her life. She and Chuck have been well-and-broken up for a year and she can count the number of times they’ve run into each other with one hand.
She also has friends, well, a friend who is a bona fide grownup. Nate and Serena don’t really know Emily, and Blair has to admit it’s nice to have a friend who gets along with the people in her life but is separate from it at the same time. A friend who doesn’t know every detail of the more salacious parts of her high school and college days.
It also means Emily hasn’t learned to ignore the worst parts of Blair’s personality. She doesn’t let Blair get away with anything because Emily doesn’t know she should fear Blair’s wrath. Emily’s never been the victim of a Blair Waldorf scheme. During one of their monthly meetings Blair goes on a tirade about the creative direction of Waldorf Designs. About the way her mother will never let her have complete autonomy. It doesn’t seem to occur to Emily Rose to just give a sympathetic ear. Instead Blair gets —
“Why are you still working for your mother, Blair?”
“I’m the CEO of Waldorf Designs.”
“It’s a great opportunity.”
“It’s only a great opportunity if it’s what you want to be doing.”
“Well, what else would I do?”
Emily laughs. “You’re 25, not 80. You don’t have to have your career decided tomorrow.”
“You don’t know me at all, do you?”
That night Blair attends a party at the marketing firm Serena has started working for and finds herself alone at the bar, nursing a drink. It’s almost a relief to be in a room where she doesn’t know anyone. She can sit at the bar, be ignored, and think things through. Blair knows Serena invited her in the hopes she’d possibly find a guy she was interested in hooking up with, but Blair’s not there. The meeting with Emily consumes her thoughts.
She should want to run her mother’s company — it’s the kind of opportunity she dreamed of as a kid. If she’s honest with herself, though, it’s far from a dream job. It’s not even the best job she’s ever had. The best job she’s ever had was one she got before she could fully handle it. She drinks her gin and tonic and thinks about those late nights at W — what she’d do differently given the chance, what she loved most about the job.
She pulls out her phone and scrolls to Dan’s name.
10:08 PM - Blair to Dan
Emily thinks I need to leave Waldorf Designs. But I’m not sure if I’m ready.
She takes a deep breath and keeps typing.
10:09 PM - Blair to Dan
Between saying goodbye to Chuck, really saying goodbye, and then saying goodbye to Waldorf Designs. It’s like piece-by-piece the life I thought I was going to have, the life I’ve wanted since I was 17, is being pulled apart.
10:09 PM - Blair to Dan
Would it be crazy to walk away?
10:10 PM - +1(1)216116-11 to Blair
Error Invalid Number Please re-send using valid 10 digit number or valid short code.
“I could give you his number if you wanted,” Serena says. Blair’s hand shakes a little from the startle as she returns her phone to her clutch.
“Not necessary.” She turns on her bar stool to face Serena. “Also, it’s incredibly rude to sneak up on people. And to read their text messages.”
“You miss him.”
“You’re texting his old phone number.”
Blair shrugs and takes another sip of her drink. “You know how some people talk to themselves to figure out what they want? This is my version of that. Don’t read anything into it.” She’s using every tactic in her arsenal to convince Serena this all means nothing.
“Did you read his book?”
“I skimmed it.”
So, apparently Serena remains unconvinced. Blair primly folds her hands in her lap. “Okay, hypothetically, if I still occasionally, on the rarest of circumstances, thought of Dan Humphrey, why do you think that would be? For years we were barely friends and I haven’t really talked to him since he left, but...hypothetically.”
“Well, hypothetically, because towards the end he was your best-friend and you ended up treating him like he didn’t matter.” Serena runs a hand down Blair’s back in comfort and sits next to her. Blair takes a sip of her drink, always uncertain how to respond when Serena shows rare insight into her life.
“Maybe,” Blair answers.
“And then there’s the other thing,” Serena says.
“What other thing?”
“That he might have been your big love story.”
Serena’s words both cause her heart to race and make her feel like she might throw up. “That’s ridiculous, S. No one meets their big love story at 16.”
“I don’t know,” she says, and Blair knows Serena’s eyes are tracking Nate as he walks across the room to join them. “Some people do.”
Blair finds herself at Emily’s shop the next day. She doesn’t even let Emily say hello before Blair shares the conclusion she came to the night before. “I want to quit Waldorf Designs.”
Emily beams. “I knew —”
“And I’m going to recommend you for the job.”
It’s less than two weeks later that her mother and Cyrus are back in town. On a rare night where it’s just the two of them sharing dinner, Blair shares her plan. At first her mother thinks it’s a negotiating tactic — Blair angling for more control at Waldorf Designs. When Blair insists she’s being honest, that she’s stepping down, the reaction changes to incredulous.
“You really want to start over?” her mom asks.
The idea is novel enough to make Blair grin. “Absolutely.”
She commits to staying at Waldorf Designs through the end of July, and then intends to take the next month off before starting work- where, she has no clue - in the fall.
She’s 25 and for the first time since high school Blair has a plan completely of her own making. And no idea where it’s going to lead.
Dan fights with Alessandra and has to advocate for his new book in a way he didn’t need to with Aubrey Jessup. It always comes down to a central issue — Alessandra insists the protagonist needs to fall in love by the end of the book. And as many times as Dan explains Matilda does fall in love, Alessandra simply rolls her eyes because he knows that’s not what she means.
The book starts with a wedding between a common American woman and the prince of a small country. The two meet in graduate school in America. A year into the marriage tragedy comes when the crown prince dies. Upon his death it is expected by all that Matilda will leave the kingdom and return to America. It’s no secret her Royal Highness did not approve of her son marrying a commoner, and with her husband’s passing, Matilda has no true claim to the throne. Besides, they’re not even ruling royalty. There’s no reason for her to stay.
But then Matilda’s best-friend, Philip, convinces her to. She loves the country and the people of the country love her. So Matilda commits to ruling without a crown. It’s the love story between a woman and the country that welcomed her, but more that Dan believes it’s about grieving and moving on from the kind of love you always wanted. It’s about how we get to decide the end of our fairytale.
Alessandra wants Matilda and Philip to be the happily ever after — towards the end of her rounds of critique Alessandra gets desperate enough to suggest Dan just throw it into the epilogue. But Dan refuses.
He’s writing the fairytale he wishes he would have been brave enough to help Blair discover. What she needed most, always, was a friend who didn’t expect anything of her. Caught up in all of his own still-adolescent worries and his love for her, he hadn’t been able to provide that.
They agree on an ending ambiguous enough to satisfy them both. On the eve of the anniversary of the prince’s death, Philip flies out to meet Matilda. Before she steps out of the car to place flowers on the grave, she tells Philip she loves him. If people want to see it as romance, so be it, but Dan chooses to see it differently. Also, he’s the author, so fuck what everyone else thinks.
Jenny reads it and for every word of praise, she offers at least two mocking him.
Nate responds similarly. “Dan Humphrey, are you pining?”
Dan doesn’t know how to get people to understand this book is his do over. Philip isn’t him — Philip is the friend he wishes he could have been. When Jenny asks him, even more directly, if Matilda is Blair — he doesn’t know how to answer. He settles for vaguely pronouncing “it’s complicated” and then changes the subject to the new guy Jenny’s seeing.
Someone at Simon and Schuster leaks a page from the book and Dan panics that his writing is horribly transparent but, much to his consternation and amusement, most people assume it’s inspired by Kate Middleton and Prince William.
It’s enough to drum up interest, though, and Alessandra convinces him a book tour needs to happen — and this time it needs to start in New York.
Blair spends her month after quitting Waldorf Designs in France. She spent some of that time with her father, but the majority of it was on her own, travelling at her own pace and seeing the sites and museums she loves most. She’s never been very good at being alone - it’s something she’s actively worked on these past years.
She has a job lined up as Associate Beauty Editor at Vogue and she’s almost apoplectic with excitement when she tells her mom about it.
“Isn’t that a step down?” her mother asks.
Blair’s smile is bright and sincere. “Yes. It is.”
She’s back in New York for less than a day when Serena calls her and insists they meet for lunch at Gramercy Tavern. Serena wants to hear about the new job, and about France, and also she and Nate called things off again (in a completely normal and amicable manner this time) so she needs to talk through that. So, of course, Blair says yes.
There’s nothing strange or amiss about their interaction except Blair can’t help but feel Serena is withholding something from her. With the two of them and their complicated history that could truly be anything. She doesn’t particularly like the feeling. Serena confirms Blair’s suspicions when, rather than take a car back to their respective houses, she insists they take a nice long walk.
It seems harmless enough, as does the arm Serena loops through Blair’s, so she plays along as they stop at a bakery for coffee and pastries. It’s a delicate balancing act, eating macarons while drinking coffee, but it’s one she’s perfected over the past decade of her life.
Serena is clearly leading them somewhere but pretending not to. At a certain point they lapse into silence and Blair finds herself waiting for the big reveal — for whatever it is Serena has planned. Their final destination appears to be Blair’s favorite bookstore, and that’s enough to confuse her even more.
“What are we doing here?” Blair asks. Her birthday is still months away and as far as she knows neither one of them has done anything vicious enough to require amends in the form of gifts.
“I want to show you something.”
Blair sighs and makes for the front door, but Serena stops her by grabbing her hand and pulls her back.
Now she’s annoyed. “What?”
“Look Blair, what?”
“No. Blair, look!” Serena points to the window and it all becomes clear. She’s not sure how she’s supposed to respond but Blair is fully aware Serena is staring, waiting to see how she’ll react. “Blair?” she says, tentative and quiet.
“Dan Humphrey, you Brooklyn born bastard!” Blair yells, and then storms off. She has another book to order.
Once back in New York Dan’s first stop is Brooklyn. He is long overdue for a visit with his dad and then he’s off to his favorite bookstore. The event is a small reading and Q&A. Alessandra refuses to refer to it as the book launch as it is too nondescript for her taste.
If he had to do this, though — promote this story in this place he wants to start somewhere he’s comfortable. A place that reminds him of that first impulse to write.
There’s the expected questions about the inspiration behind the piece, one or two about the relationship between Philip and Matilda, and then the moderator asks a question he should have expected.
“You’ve published three novels and the central character in each has been a woman — is that an intentional choice?”
Dan had written Inside to be Dylan’s story, but the moderator isn’t the first to see the story as actually belonging to Claire. He thinks about the question for a second, his brow furrowed, and shakes his head. “No, I don’t think so. But the women in my life are some of the best people I’ve ever known. They’re brave in a way few men I know ever are. Or are ever required to be.” He pauses to point to his dad in the front row. “No offense, dad.” The joke gets the appropriate laughs in response and Dan lets himself think this whole book tour could actually be enjoyable.
The greatest relief is that the people who have read the new book seem to understand what it is he’s trying to do. What’s more, they seem to like it. He shares this musing with Jenny who rolls her eyes.
“Yeah, because people often come to a book reading for an author they don’t particularly enjoy hearing from.”
The NY Times book review comes out the next day, and while it’s mostly favorable, it mentions he’s hard to pin down as an author. Each of his books, they say, have been so widely different from one another. It’ll be hard for him to develop a following if he can’t be connected with a specific genre. Dan finds he doesn’t mind being hard to peg.
What Alessandra refers to as the official book launch is scheduled for the largest reading room of a bookstore in downtown Manhattan. It’s a ticketed event and while it’s not sold out, she’s shown him the numbers and the room is going to be full.
Nate and Serena both texted about attending, but maybe Dan has PTSD from the last time they attended one of his book events because he convinces them to just take him out to lunch the next day.
“Think of it as a private chat with the author,” he texted them. “In a silent auction that prize would go for at least 20 bucks.”
Even without them, more than 200 people have bought tickets to hear him read from his book and share his thoughts on art, writing, and his process.
He gets to the store a couple hours before the event is due to start but finds himself frozen outside. Something about seeing the cover of his book blown up to window size is surreal and makes it feel like it’s no longer the thing he created. The cover depicts a woman standing on a large stone staircase. The photo is of her back so her face is hidden from the reader. A diaphanous pink gown swirls around her feet and cascades down the staircase. A glimpse of a tiara is visible and Dan likes that from the tilt of her head you can’t really be sure of where she’s looking. What she’s focused on is a mystery to everyone. Almost Queen is the title he and Alessandra settled on and he likes the melancholy pair the image and the title make.
When he goes inside he’s surprised to find a line already forming. It might be a ticketed event but seating is still first come first serve.
Alessandra keeps trying to get him to leave the book display for the signing afterwards alone, and the manager of the bookstore echoes her wishes. He needs to do something to keep himself occupied. He’s explaining this to Alessandra, again, when he hears a set of determined footsteps behind him.
“You came back.”
Dan turns around and while a remote part of his brain tells him to play this moment cool, he can’t help but grin when he sees her.
Blair, always fated to be his exact counterpoint it seems, is scowling. She holds up the book, her expression clearly asking ‘what the hell?’
“I could sue, you know.”
And there’s something so wonderfully absurd that these are the first words they’ve spoken to each other in years he can’t help but laugh.
She does an admirable job of maintaining her ire for another stretch of seconds, but then she bites her lip to hold in her grin.
“I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t go with my original title, then.”
“Would you believe Matilda was originally Beatrice, and the book was Queen Bea?”
“I was never one for subtlety.” She looks down at her shoes, still smiling, and Dan takes the opportunity to really look at her for the first time in years. “You look good, Blair.”
“And you look shaggy, Humphrey. I guess some things don’t change.”
He’ll never understand why she can see these things to him and he finds himself charmed. She’s absolutely right - some things don’t ever change. He runs a hand through his hair.
“I’ve been telling him he should cut it for weeks now.”
Blair’s eyes go wide as she looks to Alessandra. It’s then the both of them, Dan and Blair, seem to remember they are in a public place being observed by those around them. He has to remind himself to breathe - that none of this will be posted to Gossip Girl.
“The event doesn’t start for another two hours,” Alessandra says. “But there are still tickets available.”
“Oh,” Blair says, looking away. “Of course. I — of course.” She looks lost for a second, like this isn’t going the way she planned. Dan is about to intervene, tell Alessandra to back off, but then Blair stops looking so lost and is back to being Blair. “So when should I come back?”
“No!” Dan says. It’s too loud and forceful, and Blair makes a face of surprise. “The event might not start for two hours but I could use a cup of coffee now.”
Blair tries, and fails, to hold in another smile. “I might know a place.”
“Dan, you should get ready for the reading,” Alessandra says.
“You’ve been trying to get me to leave for the past 30 minutes.”
“If you’re late,” she doesn’t finish the threat.
“I won’t be.”
And he’s not. But it’s a close thing.
He’s actually surprised when Blair stops their conversation to offer to walk him back to the bookstore. She also suggests she attend the reading but Dan dismisses the offer before she finishes speaking.
“I’d be too nervous, I think.” He hopes that doesn’t come out too harsh. “Is that okay?”
“No, I get it.”
Dan stands up, pushes in his chair, and leans across the table to kiss her on the cheek. “I’ll see you tonight, though.”
Once he presses his lips to her cheek, they both freeze, and then he kind of awkwardly chuckles. He’s not sure if he’s more embarrassed by the kiss or by acting out some domestic fantasy where the two of them have a standing dinner date.
“I’m sorry. Old habit, I don’t know where —”
“I could do dinner,” Blair says, stopping him before he can apologize even more.
He sighs in relief and smiles. “Good.”
When Blair imagined seeing Dan again — something she knew was inevitable though she never knew how or when it would happen — she thought their time together would include hours of rehashing the rise and ignominious fall of their relationship.
Except they’ve been together for four hours now, the conversation hasn’t stalled for even a second, and the past hasn’t been a part of it. But, she keeps wondering if she should bring it up, so maybe the past has been a part of it this whole time, which means —
“Whoa, where’d you go?”
“I’m right here,” she says.
“Uh huh.” Dan takes another bite of the chocolate souffle shared between them. She takes a sip of coffee, looks at the little smirk on his face which means he thinks he’s right, and god she just missed him.
“You’re quieter than you used to be,” she says.
“This thing happens when you get older, I think, which is you realize you talked a lot as an 18-year-old and half of what you said was utter bullshit.”
“Speak for yourself, Humphrey. I’ve always been brilliant.”
The restaurant is giving them that look which means they’ve been there for too long so they relocate to a coffee shop. He tells her about the book tour. She tells him about her job.
It’s 1am on a Saturday morning, and she should really be getting home. Plus she knows Dan’s had a really long day. As they’re considering whether they should leave or order something else, Dan mentions he’s in town for another few days. All Blair feels is relief. (And maybe the slight presence of anticipation and longing and the urge to kiss Dan Humphrey is mixed in there as well.) He’s staying with his dad but it feels natural for Blair to suggest he stay with her instead. It doesn’t make any sense. His stuff is already at his dad’s. Dan doesn’t have a change of clothes with him, but still she cajoles —
“Think about it, Humphrey. If you’re meeting Nate and Serena downtown tomorrow it makes the most sense.”
He smiles and nods like he knows what she’s really saying and accepts. “It does.”
She sets him up in the guest room — the room that used to be Serena’s — and they find themselves brushing their teeth at the same time in the shared bathroom. Once they’re both done, Dan just kind of smiles at her, looking nervous and uncertain. She bets he’s going to do that thing where he starts talking simply to fill the silence, without any clue as to what he actually wants to say.
Before he can start, she grabs him by the front of his t-shirt and pulls him into her room.
So much is familiar but in the best possible way: how Dan’s hands feel so big spread across the small of her back, the comforting weight of him as he presses her into the mattress, how he makes her feel safe and desired at the same time. There are other things she forgot, though. Like how Dan really has a thing for her lower lip. And how she can’t bring herself to stop touching him.
It’s bordering on a reasonable hour in the morning, neither one having slept yet, when Blair snuggles closer to Dan, their naked bodies sticking together in a way that isn’t nearly as unpleasant as it probably should be. “Why’d you write it?”
“I don’t really know,” he says, pulling her even closer to him. She feels herself start to drift off as she waits for his answer, Dan’s fingers trailing up and down her spine. “There are a few moments from my life that are so clear. No matter how old I get or what happens to me, I don’t think they’ll ever fade. They’re just so vivid. That day with you was one of them.” He kisses her temple. “I think I wanted to write it down to make sure it always would be.”
They spend the next stretch staring at one another, kisses shared from time to time, when eventually he asks her about the fall of Gossip Girl.
After she explains he goes silent but he pulls her closer so she knows he’s awake.
“Who was it?” he eventually asks.
“Former teacher at Constance.”
“We really got to start paying teachers more.” She laughs and kisses his chest. “So that’s all it would have taken?” It’s said quietly enough Blair’s not certain he intended her to hear it.
She looks up at him, resting her chin on his chest. “What?”
“To shut it down. Just a parent willing to do something.”
Blair hasn’t wasted much time on the ‘what ifs’ of Gossip Girl not being a presence in her life. The platform was not kind to her, but she used it when it served. There’s something unbelievably sad about what Dan has said, though. Everything could have been so much simpler.
But then she thinks about the life she’s built: the job that’s all hers, the friends that are all hers, and Dan beside her. How everything that led her to this point was anything but simple. If it meant giving any of those things up, Blair’s not sure she would do anything different.
Dan knew a long distance relationship with Blair would be hard. And, as much as he loves to be right, in this case it really sucks. At the same time it's not nearly as difficult as those years he went without admitting to himself how much he missed her.
They talk on the phone, and video chat, and text constantly. They also try their hand at phone sex but Dan will occasionally use a word that takes Blair out of the moment. She’ll stop trying to get him off long enough to lecture him on why it was an unacceptable choice and then resume like nothing happened.
He kind of zigzags the country on his book tour. When he has 3-days or more off in a row, he flies to New York to visit Blair rather than go home to Portland (the high school kid Dan pays to water his plants is thankful for the contributions to his ‘I need a new skateboard’ fund).
She surprises him in Chicago for his birthday and they’re both alarmed to find neither one of them has ever been there. They let themselves be tourists in a way they’re too embarrassed to be anywhere else.
The book tour takes him through spring and after it’s over he’s not sure what to do next. He writes a few short stories, because he likes the challenge of creating a fully realized world in the span of 20 pages, but he puts them all away in a drawer. He’s 27-years old, has published three novels, and he kinda wants to relax.
He takes a playwriting class just to try something new, and even a comedy improv class to help him build the skill of flexibility (Blair is adamant she will never attend an improv performance — ever). He teaches a writing class at the community college as an adjunct professor and wills himself to not be intimidated by the fact most of the class is older than he is.
When Dan tells Alessandra he’s going to take a break she drops him as a client. There’s some irritation but no malice in her response and she tells him to call her when he’s ready to publish something else.
After weeks and months of cajoling, Blair finally visits him in Portland. The entire week they’re together there’s an almost permanent crease in her brow. Dan finds himself smoothing it away with his thumb. Sometimes she smiles when he does it and her face relaxes. Sometimes she smacks his hand away. Eventually she reveals the source of her consternation.
They pass by a brewery operated in part on kinetic energy from bicycles stationed outside of the restaurant. “This city is like if Brooklyn just doubled in size.” And maybe that’s why he loves it.
He also loves her. All of that old feeling, and a whole host of new ones, woke up inside him the second his lips touched her cheek in that coffee shop the day of his book launch. But he waits to tell her. It’s not a power play, or because he’s angling for anything, but because he’s doing his best to hold her close but not too tight.
She has to know, though.
There are things in their relationship they never got to have before. Dan is greedy to experience all of them. Like working through what happens when someone double-books themselves and forgets they were going to talk on the phone, but nothing bad happened—it was just an honest mistake. And the negotiations for a holiday season. And discussions of anniversaries. It’s all so boring, but Dan wants it all.
On one of his visits back to New York Blair makes dinner reservations at a restaurant she’s meant to go to for months. She’s readjusting the knot of his tie while he does his best to distract her enough to get her to stop. To cancel all their plans. To spend it under her very expensive duvet.
“We could order takeout,” he offers, kissing her at the end of the suggestion.
“We could,” she says, and smooths down his tie. “But we’re not going to.”
“But we could.”
“If you wanted to do something other than go to this restaurant I have been talking about for weeks, maybe you should have mentioned it more than 30 minutes before our reservation time.”
Before he knows it this thing he brought up simply to goad her, to see her eyes spark, and allow him the opportunity to run his hands over the expensive fabric of her dress, becomes a real fight. They’re in one another’s space, with Blair’s hands curled up into little fists, her eyes narrowed, and he can’t help it. Even angry he doesn’t know if there’s anyone more beautiful than Blair. She’s in the middle of yelling at him when he reaches for her, kissing her even as she talks, stifling her words against his lips. He’s not expecting her to push him away — hard.
“Why did you do that?” she demands. And if he thought she was mad before, it’s nothing compared to what she looks like now.
“You looked cute.”
“Okay maybe not cute, exactly...”
She shakes her head and marches past him. He reaches for her wrist but she wrenches it out of his grasp. “Don’t touch me right now, Dan.”
“Where are you going?”
“To cutely remove myself from your presence.”
He follows her down the stairs but keeps his distance. Okay. The ‘cute’ thing was condescending. He can see that. But usually when he’s pretentious or condescending Blair simply out-condescends him. This is — well, he’s never seen Blair react like this.
She ignores him, steps into the elevator, and presses the button so the door closes. For the first time since they’ve gotten back together Dan doesn’t know what he should do next. It’s a given he needs to call her, but his call goes straight to voicemail. Does he go to the restaurant where she made the reservation? Does he wait for her to come back? Does he try to find her? He settles for some sort of combination of all of them and starts by sending a text.
7:49 PM - Dan to Blair
Please, come home.
He wants to tell her he loves her, but he hasn’t told her in person yet, and doing it now will definitely come across as a manipulation. Instead he goes downstairs and waits for her outside. Waits for her to come home.
He keeps his phone out in case she returns his call and then walks back and forth outside, not really pacing but it’s repetitive enough to irritate the doorman. He considers running inside to go get a coat when he sees her coming down the sidewalk, a cup of ice cream in her hand. It’s tempting to run and meet her halfway but if she sees him there and wants to turn around again, he wants her to be able to.
“Hey,” he says, when she’s close enough.
“I’m done with this,” she says in response, handing him her cup of ice cream. It’s chocolate chip cookie dough which is what Dan orders. Blair always makes fun of him, comparing him to a child with an unrefined palette. Which means she got this for him.
She walks into her building and Dan follows. They stand waiting for the elevator and Dan startles when Blair reaches for his hand, interlocking their fingers. He breathes easy for what feels like the first time since their stupid fight began. Except it must not have been stupid because something happened to really get to Blair.
Dan sits down next to Blair on a couch in her living room. He’s still stupidly holding the cup of ice cream but he doesn’t want to drop her hand to take care of it, so he sort of balances it on his knee.
Blair notices, because she notices everything. She takes the ice cream cup and sets it on a side table, and he knows she’s going to yell about rings on the wood later, but she’s not at the moment. Right now she’s playing with his hand — running a finger over his knuckles, comparing the size of their hands, interlocking their fingers, releasing them, then doing it all again. Eventually, she kisses his palm and cradles his hand in her lap.
“Towards the end of me and Chuck we stopped talking, really, but we still managed to find a way to fight. I would get upset and sometimes he would buy me something to make up for it. But other times I would be in the middle of explaining something and he would laugh at me and kiss me quiet. At first I thought it was romantic but then it felt like he was doing it because he just didn’t care what I had to say.” He squeezes her hand. “When we were fighting, and you kissed me, it felt like the same thing was happening. I don’t know. It’s a thing for me, I guess.”
“But you came back.”
“Because it was you,” she said.
At some point Blair stopped looking at him during her explanation so he gently tugs on her hand to bring her attention back to him.
“Blair,” he says. She looks back up at him and he smiles. “There are few things I know with more certainty than the fact I will always want to hear the sound of your voice.” He leans in with no intention of kissing her, simply rests his forehead against hers. He feels her shuddering breath pass over his lips.
“I promise.” He does kiss her then — a small tentative press of the lips. “Thank you for my ice cream.”
“You’re welcome. Though I hesitate to support your terrible taste.”
He ends up telling her he loves her the next day over breakfast. A small part of him is worried she’s going to respond as dismissively as she did all those years ago, but instead she leans forward, runs a hand through his hair and kisses him.
“I kinda had a feeling,” she says. She kisses him again. “And I love you too.”
“Yeah,” he says, smiling. “I kinda had a feeling.”
They’ve never had a formal conversation about the best way to handle it, but Dan and Blair choose not to ignore the reality of their messy and shared past. She doesn’t shy away from mentioning Chuck on the rare occasions they run into one another. Vanessa sends Dan an email that is somehow both blistering and complimentary after the publication of Almost Queen and he reads it to Blair over dinner.
“What am I going to do with you, Humphrey?” becomes a commonly used phrase in her vocabulary. Like when he shows up to her work event which she explicitly explained was “business casual” in jeans and a t-shirt and offers a passive “my business is being a writer, and this is me casual” as an explanation.
What am I going to do with you, Humphrey? It’s something she thought, and sometimes said, during their friendship and dating all those years ago. But he honestly mystified her most of the time. Now, though, it means something different. Most of the time all she wants to do with Dan Humphrey is be with him.
They’ve been together for a year and long distance for the entire span. There’s a wonderful simplicity to it all she still has a hard time believing in. She’s visiting him in Portland when she decides to maybe change that.
They’re lying on his couch (which she picked out because his was an abomination and she has a thing for couch sex and she wasn’t going to be naked on a thing when she didn’t know how old it was) and he’s dozing off. She’s kind of drumming her fingers against his bare chest, wondering what tack to take when she decides to just start talking. It’s a tactic she often refers to as the Dan Humphrey.
“I have a question.”
“It’s something I’ve wondered for a while.”
“Go for it.” It’s a sign of how far they’ve come that he doesn’t tense up in any way at her vague introduction. He’s just waiting for her.
“When we were in high school —?” She trails off purposefully. Blair kind of loves when Dan chases after her verbally.
He doesn’t disappoint. “When we were in high school, what?”
“Did you wax or did you shave?”
That startles a laugh out of him and he raises his head to look at her. She tries to hide her smile in his shoulder. “What?”
“You heard me.” She drums her fingers against his chest again, just to emphasize what she’s asking him. “Your chest.”
“What makes you —”
She huffs out a laugh at his indignant tone. “Please, you don’t think Serena shared every detail with me that year you dated? And, need I remind you, I interrupted you pre-coitus with Georgina?”
“No you did not need to remind me.” He sighs. “Wax. My dad did it, so I went to his guy.”
“Your dad had an esthetician? You were always more UES than I thought, Dan Humphrey.” He laughs and she settles back into his side. “But you don’t anymore?”
“Well, it hurts,” he says, simply.
“Yeah.” She runs a hand up his neck and then through his hair, tugging lightly on the roots so he’ll lean down and kiss her. Which he does.
“Your obsession with my hair borders on pathological.”
“I have another question.”
“It can’t be weirder than the one you just asked.”
“Do you want to live in Portland?”
“Forever?” She nods. “No, I don’t think so.”
“But you don’t want to live in New York?”
“I’m not against the idea.” He sighs. “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it.”
“Haven’t thought about living somewhere else, or living in New York again?”
“Blair, what’s this about?”
She sighs and pushes off Dan’s chest to sit up. Dan follows her. She faces him and can’t help herself from running a finger along his jawline, feeling his 5 o’clock shadow. Maybe he’s right. She is a little pathological. “I got a job offer.”
She takes a breath and cups his jaw with her palm. “Come with me.”
He turns his face into her hand and places a kiss there. Dan’s eyes look sleepy and soft, and she knows what he’s going to say before he says it. “Okay.”
“Okay.” She kisses him. “God you’re easy,” she says.
He grins against her lips kissing her again and again. “You say the sweetest things.”