Actions

Work Header

the milk and honey route

Chapter Text

The sun is setting and Blair sits at the kitchen island, dark marble under her drumming fingers. It’s quiet, the windows in the living room open, letting in the hot late-August wind. There’s hardly a view, the tenth floor apartment overlooking an old brick church across the street, it’s cross casting a shadow on the sidewalk in front of it in the waning light. She’s been biting back tears all morning, and she blames it on hormones, and not on the fact that the elevator was out, the floorboards are creaky, that Dorota just left after setting everything into place and insisting she make Blair something to eat, that she left and now Blair’s alone - all alone in the high-ceilinged kitchen with the open window and the wind. All alone.

The days leading up to the move had been exciting, and she’d bragged to anyone who would listen about the roommate she’d be getting, the daughter of a diplomat who has ties all over Europe. Serena had pressed a lingering kiss to her cheek before she’d piled into the car, leaving the window down so she could watch her blonde hair whip off her shoulders in the wind. She didn’t cry then and she won’t cry now. She hadn’t even cried when she got in - it wasn’t a surprise or an accomplishment, really - it was all part of the plan. She’d gotten everything she wanted. Here she is, four days before classes start, sitting in an apartment in New Haven, all alone. 

Blair’s already asleep by the time Dasha comes in, the roommate with the ties and the security detail and an afghan blanket and rug and coffee table settings she insists on decorating the apartment with. They exchange introductions in the morning - Dasha is pretty and blunt and strong-accented and she makes Blair want to bang her head against the wall. There is no way Blair could ever control her, there’s no way Blair could even reason with her to get rid of all the dark, ugly things she’s keeping in this apartment. But Blair doesn’t cry - she’s gotten everything she’s ever wanted. 

And so Serena and her mother and Dorota and Chuck are eighty miles away, and Blair is all alone in a room with no windows and walls that were dark grey but she got painted white before she arrived - one thing she could control at a time. She takes stock of things she brought with her like an evidence log: porcelain music box from her father, Louboutin’s still in their dust bags, white-framed photo of her and Serena with twin smiles. Remnants of a life that’s moving on without her there, all slightly out of place here, less concrete and more circumstantial. There’s a box of Ladurée macarons in the fridge and she’ll finish them tonight, never good at pacing herself, and when they’re gone she’ll cry into her pillow and blame it on hormones, and she’ll wake up tomorrow and she’ll still have everything she wanted. 

The first day of classes brings a whole new spirit, the campus busy with book carrying bodies, the sky pink by midday. Sleek, black Chanel pumps with ruffled white socks and a plaid skirt, matching headband, everything perfectly in place and just Constance enough to make her still feel at the top. No one else from Constance is here, and so her stronghold on the freshman is nonexistent. It also means that it’s been four days without a single post about her on Gossip Girl, the last regarding her move and deeming her out of practice and no longer essential update worthy. She still checks her phone when she gets out of class and finds that Nate’s first day at Columbia has generated three posts by lunch, Serena’s first day not at Brown updated on the hour. She’s glad, really, that she’s graduated to a higher class than the rest of the sycophants of the Upper East Side, a place beyond the pines. 

Blair puts on her armour every morning and sets off into almost Autumn, the leaves still green but the cold wind picking up its pace. She’d hoped to find like-minded people in one of her first-year seminars, but when she looked around the hall she realized just how far from high school she was. Everyone was a complete person - or at least pretending to be just as well as her. No shadows of girls or half-made up minds that could be bent to her will. You’ll make lots of friends, Serena had said, running a hand through Blair’s hair like when they were kids. But it strikes Blair that she doesn’t really know how to. 

When the discussion shifts to the individuation in the relationship between mother and daughter, Blair finds herself sinking back in her seat, not wanting to share. 

When she gets back to the empty apartment, kicking off her shoes onto the ugly rug and sliding her back down the door, settling onto the floor, it’s no use dancing around it. She’s lonely.

Loneliness has always been innate to Blair, permeated through her being for as long as she can remember. But if high school taught her anything, it’s that a lonely Blair is a dangerous Blair. 

Maybe she should call Chuck. 

She pours a drink instead, which doesn’t help at all, in fact only has her hitting his contact, grimacing as the phone hovers just next to her ear. She hangs up on the first ring. 

Besides, it’s nothing a lavender bubble bath and the vibrator she ordered online can’t fix. The wine was a bad choice, though, and she brews herself some coffee instead - which is horrible, and she blames it on the non-imported weak beans and not the fact that she doesn’t know how to use the machine in the slightest. 

She settles on calling Serena instead, leaving her cell on speakerphone on the kitchen island as she eats peanut butter from the jar. She thinks, faintly, as Serena rambles on about something Nate said that really isn’t as funny as she’s making it out to be, what her mother would think if she could see her now, silver spoon stuck in her mouth and still so ungrateful.

 

The next day, she finds a busy cafe to study in, the din that fills the room relative enough to that of the city, easing the anxiety that’s been welling up in her chest since the first day she got here. It’s an added bonus, really, that the coffee is quite good. 

“Is this seat taken?”

She looks up to see Dan Humphrey pointing at the chair across from her. It’s not that she hadn’t known he was here, so much as she had ignored it. They thankfully only had one class together - Comparative Literature - where they sat on opposite sides of the first row of seats and pretended that they didn’t know each other. Another remnant was all he was, and an inconsequential one at that. 

“Yes, by my bag,” she says. “That was a personal gift from Miuccia to my mother, it cannot touch the floor.”

He picks the bag up, placing it on the table - onto a napkin, to his credit - and slumping into the seat. She narrows her eyes at him, but he doesn’t seem to notice, pulling out his phone and taking a sip from his coffee.

“Make anyone cry yet?”

“No,” she says. Unless myself counts. “But the day is young.”

“I’ll leave before you can get a leg up on me,” he says. “What’re you studying for?”

“Global Economics.”

“Boring,” he says. “You get into any seminars?”

“I’m sorry, are we friends?”

“Of course not,” he says. “But you don’t make friends easily, so I’m assuming I’m the only person you know here.”

“I know people here,” she says, trying not to feel slighted. “I just don’t like them.”

“You put too much energy into hating people,” he says. “You want my advice?”

“It will be a cold day in hell when I want your advice.”

“Lose the headband. You’re trying to uphold the high school pseudo-hierarchy and it doesn’t mean anything here.”

“You sound like an anthropology textbook,” she huffs, hand going up instinctively to touch the vinyl band on her head. “You just come over here to insult me?”

“No place else to sit,” he says, stretching out in his seat. His brows furrow suddenly, and he turns his phone towards her.

The familiar pink border frames a photo of Chuck and an unnamed brunette. She stares at it for a moment too long before looking back at her book. It doesn’t matter. Blair’s prettier anyway. 

“He’s not cheating on me,” Blair clarifies, when Dan’s face doesn’t let up. “We’re not together anymore.”

Dan nods, continuing to scroll through his phone like the window of him caring has closed. It amuses her slightly that he can’t help but check up on the people at home too. 

“And how do you feel about that?”

“Why? More unsolicited advice?”

“I don’t think I should be doling out relationship advice.”

Blair allows herself a suppressed laugh, pressing her lips together.

“It’d be a distraction,” she says after a moment. “I have everything I want.”

The door to the cafe opens, letting in a gust of cold wind. She has a headache, maybe from the caffeine or maybe from the company. 

Dan shakes his empty coffee cup a little, pushing his chair out.

“Lucky for you I finish fast,” he holds up a finger, “I walked into that one. I’ll get out of your hair now.”

And then he’s gone, and Blair’s left alone again in a room bustling with people. 

 


She sniffs as she steps inside the coffee shop, rubbing at her nose with a gloved hand. It’s the first real cold day of the season and the sudden change in temperature is already making sweat gather under the collar of her coat. There’s no tables, and it’s too windy to sit outside, so she’ll be delegated back to the empty apartment and her single cup of non-shitty coffee. 

“Hey, Waldorf.”

She turns to see Humphrey beckoning her over to the back corner, pushing the chair opposite him out with his foot. 

She wrinkles her nose at the seat - then at him for good measure - before taking it, pushing his papers aside to set her bag on the table.

“I like the hat,” he says, with that stupid smile like his stupid comment about headbands had actually had any effect on her, like he’s in any position to be making fun of her. She makes a face, all but sticking her tongue out, and keeps her eyes peeled for any other table that might open up.

He goes back to his book, of which she tips the cover up and tilts her head to read. KerouacPredictable. 

Women's Narratives in French Literature,” she says, catching his attention again. “The seminar I just got back from.”

“Sounds interesting,” he says. “What’d you discuss?”

“Gill Rye,” she says. “The changing perspectives of the family dynamic.”

He nods, and she’s a little surprised that it doesn’t look like she’s completely lost him yet. 

“Which, for a girl with one mom and three dads, ends up hitting a bit close to home.”

Dan laughs, and there’s something in it that makes him sound surprised, too. 

 

“Can you look this over for me?” he says, after fifteen minutes of silence which Blair was rather enjoying.

She raises her brows. “Me?”

He shrugs. “What would the academic landscape be if not for Blair Waldorf demeaning my every move?”

She presses her lips together to suppress a smile, taking the paper from him and pulling a red pen from her purse. He rolls his eyes, but he’s smiling a little, too.

“I could look over yours if you want,” he says. 

“I don’t need your help,” she snaps. “I won an essay competition at Constance, you know.”

“I do know,” he says. “I was there to see you get the award.”

“What?” she says, making a red line across his paper in surprise. “Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “Seemed like the nice thing to do.”

“I had no idea,” she says. “I thought no one came.”

Dan gives her an almost stilted half-smile, and Blair swallows back down whatever sincere emotion was trying to crawl its way up her throat. 

When she hands him back his paper, she catches him laugh lightly at the note on the bottom of the page. Not awful. 

You’re prettier anyway, Serena says, her voice balanced between Blair’s ear and shoulder as she flips through a magazine. She sounds so far away, the bustle of the city like static through her end. The sun is setting on another day, the light filtering through the curtains and casting streaks on the walls like the looming shadows of trees. A place beyond the pines.

Blair remembers faintly how it felt when her mother didn’t come to see her get her award, how proud she’d been when she’d called her father to tell him that she’d won only to be met with a That’s nice, sweetheart, but Daddy has to go. But when she sets down her cellphone, the line silent, the apartment still empty, she feels a little less alone.

 


 

The box spring mattress is broken, jutting into a spot just below Dan’s right shoulder blade, night after night, the spot tender to the touch. The box spring is broken and the room is the very last at the end of the hall and his roommate might be the most insufferable person he’s ever met, but as he looks out the only-slightly-bigger-than-an-airplane’s window overlooking the grassy lawn of a courtyard, he’s only a little charred at the memory of the last time he felt this happy. 

Jenny’s voice over the phone makes for good background noise while he works. He’s never been so far away from her for so long, the brief stint at a sleep away camp the summer between fourth and fifth grade the last time they had the space of a city between where they lay their heads. He still remembers the scrawny outline of her, wet eyes glaring up at him. It’s not fair that he gets to go and I don’t. He’d tousled her hair and told her to stop whining, but that night, the first since she was born that she wasn’t a wall away, as the static of cicadas welled up around him, he’d squeezed his eyes shut and didn’t sleep a wink.

He doesn’t really listen - Jenny can only provide him with high school hearsay that he’d rather leave behind, but her voice, her laugh, are a welcome addition to an otherwise desolate room. But when Ryan - said insufferable roommate - is present, he keeps his headphones in, music turned all the way up. He’d prefer the scratch of Elliot Smith and Lou Reed on vinyl, but the player and the treasured collection of records to go with it were too bulky - too precious to leave the borough they were brought up in. 

He likes Omar from 301, right of the elevator, and Aurora from ENGL-462 and, surprisingly enough, Blair, the five and a half feet of pomp and guile that has started to plant herself in the chair across from him habitually. Dan finds himself unable to complain. 

“This is nice,” she says, finger drawing over the leather cover of his new notebook, unwinding the string around it. “Financial aid cover this?”

“I have a job,” he says, snatching the book back before she can flip it open, ignoring her glossy red scowl. “Do you know what that is?”

“Don’t want me to see the Mrs. Serena Humphrey doodles?” she picks at her cranberry muffin a few more times before sliding it over to him. “What job?”

“Bookstore off campus,” he says, breaking off a chunk and stuffing it into his mouth. “You’d like it, actually. Big French literature section.”

His eyes flit up in time to see her scowl soften into a bit of a smile. When she catches him looking, her nose wrinkles.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” she says. “You would have benefited from etiquette lessons.”

“Like the ones Nate’s mom made him take?” he wipes crumbs from the corner of his mouth on his sleeve, just to make her cringe. “Or was that you?”

“Make fun all you want, Humphrey. Good men aren’t born, they’re bred.”

“By perpetuating classist ideals of etiquette?”

“Don’t knock it until you try it,” she says. “I could make you just as much of an eligible suitor as Nate.”

“I don’t need your help,” he says, the same childish tone she’d used on him. “I’ve gone on a few dates already, you know.”

“A few?”

He rolls his eyes without looking up. “Two. And don’t sound so surprised. Just because you don’t find me attractive doesn’t mean other people don’t.”

She looks away, fidgeting with the sleeve on her coffee cup. 

“I suppose I thought the women of the Ivy league would be above your ranks,” she says. The sleeve is ripped in half, crescents in the cardboard from her blunt nails. “I haven’t even been approached.”

He shrugs. “You’re unapproachable.”

“You approached me,” she says. “Came and sat down uninvited.”

“I knew you,” he says. “I know it’s all just for show.”

“What’s for show?”

“The stuck up priss thing.”

“You think I’m stuck up?”

“You’re Blair Waldorf. You’re what comes up in the dictionary under stuck up.”

“When did you get mean? That’s my thing. It’s not a good look on you.”

“Maybe if you dropped it someone would’ve asked you out.”

She drops the crumbled sleeve on the table, picking up her bag from its place upon the napkins.

“What - where are you going?”

“To study alone, since I’m such a nuisance to be around.”

He reaches out, his hand finding the leather strap of her bag, tugging it a little, tethering her back.

“Don’t go,” he says. “I was just joking.”

She only blinks at him, tense shoulders not letting up. He fumbles with the sleeve himself, tearing it up into little pieces.

“I would ask you out,” he says. “If I was someone else. You know, legacy student with a god complex or whatever your type is.”

“So your dates were with a dumb blonde and your English teacher?” she says. He gives her a pointed look, but it’s no match for the one he receives in return, so he concedes, raising his hands in surrender. She sweeps the bits of cardboard to his side, gathering around the small plate of their shared half-eaten muffin. “You’ve made a mess.”

 

“I’ve got it,” he says, nudging her aside and handing the cashier a bill, adding his order to hers. “Consider it an apology for being an ass yesterday.”

Blair’s mouth opens, like she’s going to say something, before her eyes drop to his hands.

“This is yours?” she says, reaching out and running a finger over the stitching on the front of his wallet. “Cash apologies, summer in the Hamptons, Armani wallet - who are you and what have you done with Dan Humphrey?”

He taps her on the nose with the wallet, and maybe it’s just the heat welling up in the cafe, fogging the windows, but he thinks she might go pink.

“Didn’t you hear? The Humphrey’s have moved to the dark side.”

She hums, taking the first sip of her cappuccino and deeming it satisfactory.

“Lily and her land of misfit toys.” The cafe is uncharacteristically quiet, empty tables lining the windows. She settles into a chair, and he hesitates for a moment, before lowering himself across from her. “A Brooklyn wedding is certainly a new one.”

He raises a brow. “Don’t knock it until you try it.”

She shakes her head a bit, and she could be smiling, but her cup’s in the way. 

“Someone who’s going to stick around,” she says. “That’s certainly a new one too.”

She sounds sad, he suspects, and he’s not quite sure what to make of that. She hasn’t pulled her books out yet, but neither has he, and he’s not sure what to make of that either.

“Good things grow in Brooklyn,” he says, raising his cup to her. Her head tips back a bit. She has a nice laugh.

 


 

The bell above her head dings as she steps into the warm glow of the bookstore. It’s not small but it is cramped, narrow over-stuffed shelves like cornrows drawing twisted paths. Dan’s sleeves are rolled up to the elbows, forearm flexing as he points an old man in the direction of whatever he's looking for. He tilts his head when he sees her, a small curious smile. Blair doesn’t smile back. 

She wanders around, reaching the peak of the aforementioned French literature section. She runs her fingers over new and worn spines alike, bending a little to get a better look even though she’s not really looking. She’s waiting. 

She rounds the corner to a tall shelf titled Staff Picks, and her eyes land on the familiar name first, a small paperback of Letters to a Young Poet sitting over a card that reads Dan. She picks it up, the cover a glossy purple, brand new. 

“Have you read it?”

She doesn’t turn around, not wanting to reveal the smile that’s crept up on her face. Blair likes being chased, but she likes being caught even more. 

“I have,” she says. He leans a hand on the shelf next to her, hovering over her shoulder. 

“I gave it to Serena. She never read it.”

Blair laughs, but Dan doesn’t. She realizes that it hadn’t been a dig at Serena’s intelligence. He’d really wanted her to read it.

“I love it,” Blair says, thumbing through the pages and stopping on one. 

This is what young people are so often and so disastrously wrong in doing: they fling themselves at each other when love takes hold of them, they scatter themselves, just as they are, in all their messiness, disorder, bewilderment... What can life do with this heap of half-broken things that they call their communion and they would like to call their happiness, if that were possible, and their future? And so each of them loses himself for the sake of the other person - 

Blair shuts the book, swallowing down the lump forming in her throat, and continues her stroll through the winding maze of shelves wordlessly, if not a little shaken. 

She stops abruptly in the children’s section, turning to him, and finds that he’s much closer than she’d expected. The low orange light illuminates through his curls, casts a shadow over one side of his face.

“You hate me,” she says, but it comes out less joking and more sincere than she would have liked. “Are you so desperate for friends you’ve abandoned your virtues?”

He offers her a small, noncommittal shrug. “I miss Vanessa. You remind me of her.”

Blair is so offended she doesn’t know what to say, so she doesn’t say anything, just gapes up at him. 

“Smart, snarky,” he continues, unfazed by her wide-eyed horror. “Always calling me on my shit.”

“You like a girl who puts you in your place,” she says. He looks a little surprised, confused, maybe. It hadn’t come out like she’d meant it to, either. 

“I like a friend who keeps me on my toes,” he says. There’s an inflection on friend that she detests - prideful that she admitted it first. He leans a shoulder against the shelves, hands in his pockets, and she mimics him, relaxing back herself. 

“Still doesn’t explain why you sat down at my table uninvited,” she says, curiosity winning over composure.

“Jenny told me what you did,” he says. “Choosing her to be queen. And as much as I find the entire notion utterly ridiculous - it made her really happy. And her being happy, that’s - that’s my favourite feeling. When I saw you there - you looked, I don’t know - lonely, I guess. I thought you could use a familiar face, even if it was me. I know I did.”

She raises her eyebrows skeptically, chewing on her tongue to force down those nasty sincere emotions emerging to the forefront again. “You made fun of my headband.”

He ducks his head as he laughs. It’s annoyingly endearing.

“My way of showing I cared.”

A bell rings from someplace that sounds so far away, but it makes Dan stand up straight, his hand coming up to tap the cover of the letters she’s still holding. 

“If you want that, it’s on me,” he says. “Friends and family discount.”

 

Behind tinted black windows, as the car Lily sent for her winds through a stretch of road lined with trees with deadened leaves, Blair pulls the book out of her bag and flips it open. 

...everything that happens is again and again a beginning.



Blair finds herself attached to a back wall of the Brooklyn loft, the twinkling lights and the tall candles and the overwhelming air of romance making her feel nauseous. She watches Rufus spin Jenny around and around, like the little ballerina in Blair’s old porcelain music box given to her by her own father. It’s stupid, really, it might be one of the pettiest thoughts she’s ever had, but her faded grudge against Jenny Humphrey gains a new bit of steam - for growing up in a house full of people who loved her more than anything else. 

Chuck came and went, the kiss he’d pressed to her cheek before leaving still lingering. The champagne’s been good at least, and Blair’s downed enough flutes to make her feel light and airy, like she’s floating.

She’s not sure when Dan appeared next to her, his suit jacket discarded and his sleeves rolled to the elbows, collar tugged away from his throat. It’s admittedly not an awful look.

“You from around here?”

She rolls her eyes, but the champagne’s working over time, and she can’t help the smile that appears just as sudden as he did.

“Feels a bit more like a funeral than a wedding, don’t you think?”

“The second ones always do,” she says.

“This is fifth for Lily,” he says. “So what does that make it?”

“Drifting through limbo?” she offers. 

He laughs. “That’s exactly what it feels like.”

Blair looks out to find Serena with her arms slung around Nate’s shoulders. Her head tips back in laughter, like it has a hundred times before with him, some inside joke Blair was never privy to. She always felt like they were laughing at her, when they were kids, like maybe she was the joke. She knows better now. 

“They look like they’re having fun,” Dan says.

“Yeah,” she says quietly. “They do.”

Dan holds out his hand next to her. “You wanna have some fun, Waldorf?”

“Sure,” she says. “Show me your moves, Humphrey.”

His hand is warm on her hip, and it occurs to her that she’s never been this close to him, except maybe at the bookstore a few days ago, bracketed in by the shelves, or in that carriage on stage. He smells nice, not the Nordstrom Rack cologne doused on his shirt but his hair, the crook of his neck. His shampoo or his aftershave or maybe just him - warm spice and something sweet like honey. She looks over to find Serena with her shoes off, hooked on her fingers behind Nate’s back, their foreheads pressed together. Blair thinks she knows what Dan meant. Seeing Serena happy might be her favourite feeling, too.

“What time’s your train tomorrow?”

“First one out,” he says. 

“Me too,” she says. 

His brow quirks up. “Deigning to ride with the common folk?”

She rolls her eyes again, looking past him, to where Lily and Rufus’ dance has slowed to an almost stop, the two of them clinging to each other, like if they let go they’ll lose another twenty years. Rufus says something, his nose nudged to her cheek, and Lily laughs, head tipped back in a mirror image. Blair blinks away, feeling suddenly like she’s intruding. When she looks back at Dan, he’s looking at her, too.

 

 

Chapter Text

“How did you possibly get here before me?”

She finds Dan at the terminal with his duffel bag slung over his shoulder, wearing an obnoxious Yale sweater like the one Blair used to sleep in. 

(Still sleeps in, sometimes, pulling it over her silk slip and picking at the fraying stitches of the sleeves, the pressure of all the expectations stacked against her like a weighted blanket. It still smells like her father, if she pretends hard enough.)

“I like being early.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” she says. ”Is that why you had perfect attendance in high school?”

“How’d you know that?”

She rolls her eyes. “Wild guess.” 

 

She hands her bags over to him, ignoring his mumbles of We were gone for a day what the fuck is in here as he stuffs them into the overhead compartment, and pushes past him to the window seat. 

“I thought you’d like the aisle,” she says. “Maybe a pretty blonde will fall into your lap and you can take her into the bathroom.”

He pauses, looking at her then away again just as fast, his cheeks flushed deep. 

“What, you didn’t think she’d tell me?” Blair says. “I know more about you than I’d like to, Humphrey.”

He shakes his head a little, red from the tip of his nose to tops of his ears. This, too, is admittedly not a bad look.

“Train bathrooms, costume closets…” she continues, watching his jaw clench. “You’re shameless.”

“And you’re irritating,” he says. He almost sounds like he means it. 

He reaches into his bag, pulling out a novelty flask printed with the Cheers logo and drops into the seat next to her. 

“It’s nine in the morning,” she says.

“You’re saying you’ve never gotten drunk on the Metro-North before?”

She narrows her eyes at him. “Should I be worried?”

He laughs, offering it to her, and she continues to eye him warily even as she twists the top off, taking a small sip, her nose wrinkling. “It’s warm.”

“Two hours with you?” he says, taking a generous swig. “I’ll need something to take the edge off.”

As the train sets into motion, Blair debates pulling out the box of Ladurée macarons she’d picked up before the wedding yesterday. She decides against it, deeming that they’ll taste better with a cup of coffee in the comfort of her bed instead of the stuffy train car.

“I got here early because I left family breakfast,” Dan says suddenly. “It’s going to take a little more than waffles and coffee to get me used to the idea that I -“ he waves in the direction of the bathroom sign. “With someone who’s now my -“ another vague hand gesture, which she takes to mean stepsister

He rolls his head to look at her, sleepy eyed and unshaven, his lips a little wet from the warm whiskey.

“Would it be awful to say I felt like shit last night?”

“Excuse you,” she says, stealing the flask back, the heat spreading in her chest decidedly pleasant. “Dancing with me is a high point in your life.”

“Other than that,” he laughs. “It’s just - I love Lily, I do, but she’s not - she’s not my mom. I looked around the room, and everyone was there, in our home, except for her. It just made me really miss her. And then I felt stupid for missing her, because it’s not like she’s gone - she’s just - she’s moved on, you know? But we’re her kids. How do you move on from your kids? I could never do that.”

Blair takes in a deep breath, remembering the first time he’d offered this piece of his life to her. It had startled her the same way it does now. Honesty wasn’t something that came easy to Blair. She didn’t understand him, his willingness to share.

“You sure this is your first?” she says, knocking the flask lightly against his bicep. She gets a small smile in return. “It’s not awful.”

The train rolls under a parting of the clouds, stark morning sun cutting across their seats, the expanse of concrete giving away to walls of trees. She thinks he looks a bit like a marble bust in this light, sharp features and soft curls. 

“I couldn’t understand why he had to leave to be happy,” she says quietly. “It was like he didn’t love me as much as I loved him. And it made me so angry.”

She turns to look out the window instead of at him, the blur of trees making her dizzy. From the corner of her eye she can see him watching her carefully. 

“And then it happened again... with Nate. With Chuck. I think it was less about loving them and more about wanting them to love me,” she says. She’d never said any of it out loud, to anyone, not even Serena. “Maybe that doesn’t make sense.”

“It does,” Dan says. He taps a finger on the armrest between them, chewing on his lip. “Nate was at breakfast.”

“Does that bother you?”

“Of course not,” he says. “You know, it was a year ago we became friends. On this same trip.”

“Nate Archibald and Blair Waldorf. The Metro-North has been good to you,” she reaches over to take the flask again. “Chuck was so mad he chose you over him.”

“Did he tell you why?” 

She shakes her head, tipping back the last few drops. They’re finished and they still have an hour and a half to go. 

“He had some upperclassmen tie me up in the courtyard and steal my clothes,” he says. “Some real Skull and Bones shit.”

Her mouth falls open, and his eyes drop to it, then back up. 

“That I would pay to see.”

“I’m not Nate,” he says. “I don’t charge.”

Her hand comes up to cover her mouth, a burst of laughter she hadn’t wanted to give him escaping her before she can catch it. 

“I may have instigated a physical altercation,” she says, trying to pull herself together, her hand still at her mouth. “With Serena. There may have been hair pulling.”

“Now that I would pay to see.”

She tips back in her seat, giggling like a schoolgirl, her face hot. She’s going to die of embarrassment when she’s sober.

“Did you just get me drunk to make me amiable?”

“I brought one last year on the train to Hudson,” he says. “When things were even crazier than they are now.” She turns to look at him, his mouth flushed, hanging open like he’s going to say something else. She wonders what he’d look like after being kissed. She wonders if he’s that pink everywhere. “And besides, you don't need alcohol to make me like you.”

She watches him swallow, Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. “Are you really?” he says. “Drunk?” 

She nods.

“Lightweight,” he snorts, reaching over and taking the flask from her, his big hand covering hers for a moment too long before withdrawing.

“Things are good now,” she says, her words thick and gummy in her mouth. It doesn’t feel like a lie.

He shrugs. “They could be better.”

“Yes,” she says, watching the way his eyes crease as he smiles. She hadn’t realized she was nodding. “They could. But shouldn’t we be grateful?”

“That’s a conversation for the train ride at Thanksgiving,” he says. He sounds considerably more sober than she feels. 

“We won’t be friends then,” she says.

“No?”

“No,” she says, shaking her head, side to side, causing her vision to blur slightly. “I’ll get sick of you by then.”

“You wanna bet on it?” he says, the corners of his mouth twitching like he’s trying very hard to match how serious she is.

“You shouldn’t be placing bets with me,” she says. “I have more money than you.”

“I’m very confident.”

“To a fault,” she says. “You’re confident you won’t get sick of me?”

He leans in a little, startling her still, and taps the flask on her nose. “To a fault.”

 

She drifts into an uneasy almost-sleep, awake enough to keep herself from leaning on his shoulder, even though it’s right there, and she really wouldn’t mind it, remembering how much she liked the way he smelled last night, how warm he’d been, how soft his sweater would be, new and not worn out like hers.

When the train comes to a halt, she sits upright, ready to get out and onto the platform. She really needs a fucking coffee.

 

“Holy shit,” Dan says, dropping her bags into a heap on the floor of the apartment. She’s within walking distance of the station. He’d offered to carry them. It’s not like she was going to say no . “This place is fucking huge.”

“It’s adequate,” she says, setting her purse on the kitchen counter, already dreaming of the macarons and the bubble bath and the vibrator.

“Beats communal showers,” he says. “Where do you want these?”

“One more thing,” she says, once her bags have been dragged into her room and Dan’s heading to the door. “Do you know how to work this?” She gestures to the espresso machine. He laughs, nodding.

 


 

He finds her sitting in the worn armchair at the back of the shop, one leg crossed over the other, flipping through something with a hard gold cover. She seems so small, sinking into the chair, the back of it framing her like a throne. 

“How’d you get here before me?” he says, kicking at her heel a little. She looks up for only a moment before going back to her book.

“Like I know your schedule,” she says. For a moment, he thinks he’s misread the situation, foolishly thinking - hoping, maybe - that she’d been waiting for him. 

But then she snaps the book shut, hopping to her feet.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, the only other person in the store an old gentleman who he knows doesn’t want to be bothered, so he’s free to trail behind her as she peeks around the shelves, although it’s not lost on him that she’s only been here one time and he’s still following her around like she owns the place. She’s compiling a stack of books in her arms, which she abruptly shoves into his, already halfway into a rant about Serena.

“I told her to take things slow with Nate this time -“

“I told him the same thing -“

“But do they listen? Of course not! Instead they have sex on my mother’s floor .”

“Oh, I didn’t need to know that -“

“And do not get me started on Dasha. You’re telling me if I get to know her we might become friends, but she wears tracksuits , I cannot be friends with someone who wears tracksuits outside a gym.” 

“Remember how you got mad at me for the stuck up priss thing?”

“I don’t even see her enough to try to be friends with her,” Blair continues, ignoring him. “She must be staying somewhere else, because she hardly comes home at all. I think she’s in a secret relationship with someone she’s not supposed to be with. Maybe it interferes with diplomatic affairs.”

“Have you thought about majoring in Creative Writing?”

“I would give you a run for your money,” she says. “And you’re already underprivileged. You deserve a fair shot.”

She points at a book she wants, too high for her to reach, and he takes it off the shelf, adding it to her pile.

“She’s probably just busy,” he says. “The simplest explanation is usually the right one.”

“Maybe I should follow her next time she goes out.”

“You definitely shouldn’t do that.”

“Or at least watch out the window which way she goes, if she walks or has a car service.”

“Still sounds like a useless invasion of privacy.”

She arches an eyebrow, handing him another book. “I’m not much for rear window ethics.”

Dan pauses for a moment, smiling. “You do have a great talent in creating difficult situations.”

She hums, continuing on her way. Dan hears the bell ring in the front of the store, but it sounds more like a siren. Uh oh.  

 

He’s already knocking on her door by the time he realizes he probably should have called first.

The door opens only a crack at first, golden light spilling out, then her face, confused, appears amongst it. There’s music playing from inside, synth cutting through the otherwise silent hallway. She tightens her robe around her, something silky underneath it and - God , he really should’ve called first.

“Humphrey,” she says, sounding more curious than irritated. “Lost?”

“You, uh, left this -“ he holds up Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own , “at the store.”

She just stares at him for a second, vaguely amused, then takes a step back, letting him in.

“Great service,” she says. Her hair’s tied up, out of her face, and she tucks a stray strand behind her ear before crossing her arms. She looks like she did on the train, tinged pink and hesitant to let her guard down. “I’ll be sure to leave a review.”

He laughs, distracted, holding the book out to her. She takes it, and he points into the air at nothing. “Is this Cyndi Lauper?”

Her brows raise - surprise or skepticism, he can’t tell - then she nods slowly.

“We saw Kinky Boots for Jenny’s thirteenth,” he says, like that’s relevant, like she cares . He clears his throat. “Have you - uh - tried that pizza place around the corner?”

She shakes her head, still looking at him like he’s an idiot. Which, coincidentally, is how he feels.

“Right,” he says. He probably shouldn’t have come at all. “Cause I just got off and I haven’t eaten anything, so I was gonna -“

“They deliver,” she says. “If you want to stay.”

 

Katherine Hepburn, in full length fur, lights a grainy, black-and-white flame, trying to make coffee on the stove. Blair laughs, her hands on her face like she’s watching a horror movie, and Dan can’t seem to concentrate, watching her shake her head instead of Hepburn shake off her coat. Uh oh , indeed. 

 


 

Curled up in her father’s old sweater, Blair dreams that she’s Grace Kelly, a line of pearls at her neck as she leans down in the almost dark, a single glow of light illuminating her face. When she pulls away from the kiss, it’s Humphrey that says, Who are you?

 

 

Chapter Text

Blair’s hands grip the side of the cashier’s desk Dan sits behind, her cheeks flushing pink as she lets out her tell-tale exasperated sigh. It’s near into darkness, rain battering the windows so hard it sounds like it’s going to shatter the glass, and she’s embarked on a rant as to why the books on fashion should rightfully be in the Arts & Letters section of the store, and Dan – who has no say in where anything goes – argued that fashion isn’t really art, only because he likes seeing her like this, animated and in a frenzy. She declares fashion the highest form of self-expression, and that his rumpled flannel expresses that his father never got over the nineties and instead just handed them down to him.

From outside, a groan of thunder. Blair jumps imperceptibly. It surprises him a little. She didn’t seem the type to jump at anything.

They’re the only two left as he closes up, and she leans back against a shelf, hands clasped in front of her in a show of perfect patience, even though she looks thoroughly agitated at having to wait.  

In high school, Dan had known, objectively, that Blair was attractive, but admitting it then would have felt like succumbing to something, feminine wiles or an evil spirit. 

Now, in her short plaid skirt and fitted sweater vest, dark red headband he hadn’t bothered poking fun at, he wonders how he ever held out so long. 

“Are you always this slow or am I getting special treatment?”

“The royal treatment,” Dan mumbles, locking up the cashier. They’re the only two left and he hasn’t shut the stereo off yet, the twinkling of the tinny music just barely audible under the roar of the thunder. Every bolt of light makes Blair freeze slightly, and he wants to run his hands over her shoulders, expel the tension, tell her to relax.

 

“I was right about Dasha meeting someone,” Blair says, once they’re tucked into a tight back booth of the restaurant around the corner from the store. The waiter had set a candle on the table for them. Dan swiped his finger through it like a child, accidentally blowing it out. 

“Please tell me you didn’t follow her.”

“I’m not finished. I still have some digging to do.”

“You’re certifiable, you know that?”

Blair hums. The song that was finishing up on the stereo in the store starts in the restaurant. Dan wonders if that means something.

“You have a…” she reaches forward, picking a fallen eyelash off his cheek and showing it to him. “Make a wish.”

“Don’t believe in it.”

He does, a little, secretly – or he wants to, at least, the way he wants to believe that a song can be a sign. But he likes this push and pull, their game of tug of war, doesn't want to give in easily. 

“Don’t be a buzzkill. Make a wish, Humphrey.”

Dan wishes he hadn’t blown out the candle so he could see her better. 

“How about this,” she says, shifting closer. He can smell her perfume, heavy and classic, like an old Hollywood muse. “If your wish doesn’t come true, I owe you fifty.”

Dan smiles, blows on her finger.

The waiter brings out a newly lit candle.

 


 

Blair slips into the seat next to a tight ponytailed, horn-rimmed glasses brunette in her French Lit seminar the next day.

“I thought I recognized you,” Blair says. Oh, how she missed this.  “Weren’t you kissing a certain diplomat’s daughter outside one of those horrific off-campus apartments yesterday?”

The girl takes her glasses off, cleans them on her sweater, then turns to Blair as she places them back on the bridge of her nose.

“The roommate with the relationships problems,” she says. “You’re prettier than I pictured.”

“Excuse me?”

“Dasha said your boyfriend was sleeping on the couch.”

It was late, and raining, and a dozen other things she used to justify not waking him up and kicking him out. It gets cold in the living room at night, she’d fallen asleep on the couch enough times to know that, and she’d unrolled the afghan and slung it over him halfheartedly. She heard him leave in the morning, and when she stepped into the kitchen, she’d found the espresso machine set up for her, ready to brew. 

“He’s not my boyfriend,” she says, the thought so absurd in every possible way she pays it no mind. “We just fell asleep watching a - I don’t need to explain myself to you.”

The girl raises her eyebrows. Blair presses her lips together and flips open her book, conceding but not speaking it. 

 

“So, any cute college boys?” Serena says. “ Or girls.”

Blair makes a noncommittal noise. She very much doesn’t think about the boy that comes to mind.

“You never have anything to report,” Serena whines, like she needs Blair’s life to be as twisted and turbulent as hers. “You’re telling me you haven’t had any drunk hookups?”

“I’m not you ,” Blair says. “College parties aren’t really my scene.”

“Have you at least made any friends?”

She can hardly wrap her head around the idea. He saves a seat for her in class and she makes a show of not wanting to take it, every time, and he laughs and tugs her down by her bag, every time. He waited outside the seminar hall today, two coffees in hand to walk her to Art History, complaining about some pompous piece of shit in Environmental Studies, laughing when she said it takes one to know one,  their steps in line over cobblestone paths, leaves crunching under her heels, everything around them bright and sepia toned, like dawn breaking from her chest, sunlight peeking out through the gaps between the buttons of her coat, her stomach fluttering like a stupid Nora Ephron movie. 

She supposes she’ll have to contemplate the way she feels about him – the way he makes her feel – at some point, sooner rather than later. But for now, she opts for later. 

“Yeah,” Blair says, turning onto her side in bed, pressing her best friend’s voice between her ear and her pillow. “I guess so.”

“I’m glad, B. As long as you don’t replace me.”

Blair closes her eyes and runs a hand through her own hair. “You know I never could.”



Humphrey , what the hell is this?”

She grabs his face, skin prickled under her hand, running her thumb over the large cut on his lip. He only stares, his cheek heating under her palm. “Humphrey?”

“Nothing - it’s - I went to a party in the dorms last night and some asshole had his hands on this drunk girl and - well -“

“You fought him?”

No , I just - miscalculated how sober I was when I hit him.”

“How heroic,” she says, hand finally dropping back to her side as she takes a seat. She feels oddly slighted that he went to a party and didn’t bother to invite her. He rubs a hand over his face, wincing.

“Yeah, yeah. Go get me some tea and you can make fun of me after.”

She does, and gets herself a glass of water instead of a coffee – she has a headache, hormones – and waves him away when he tries to pay her back for it. It might just be the way the sun is setting in the café, golden light slanting into frosted windows, casting everything in heavy shadows, but there’s something ruggedly handsome about him, unshaven and a hand run through his hair. She has the urge to lean forward and kiss him, soft over the split. 

“Is it that bad?” Dan says. “You’re staring at me.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she says. “Some girls would find it sexy.”

“Girls who like bad boys,” he says. “I think I’d let them down.”

“Asshole who gets himself into trouble and thinks he’s better than everyone else? You’re not far off.”

He frowns, bottom lip jutting out. She wants to lean over and suck on it until it swells again.

“Coming from a washed up prom queen,” he says. “Your insults carry surprisingly less weight when we’re on the same social standing.”

“I am not washed up,” she says. “I’ll have you know I could resume my role at Constance any time I wanted.”

“I hear Jenny’s got that covered,” he takes a sip from his cup, wriggling his brows. “Do you find it sexy?”

“You think I like bad boys?”

“Isn’t that what Chuck was?”

“I think that’s playboy .”

He nudges her foot under the table. “You didn’t answer my question.”

“You can’t just go around hitting people,” she says, ignoring him, wincing a little herself at the memory of saying the same words to Nate at fifteen, the first time he took a swing at someone, ice cubes wrapped in a hotel towel pressed to his cheek, his hands in hers. She reaches forward now, letting her hand rest in Dan’s. He tenses for a moment, then runs his thumb over her knuckles. “Your place here relies on your access to financial aid. It’s easy to get that taken away when you don’t have someone covering for you.”

The low sunlight cuts through the glass of water, shards of light split across the table. She pulls her hand back like it’s been burned, wrapping it around the glass to cool it down. She wishes Dan Humphrey had never taken a seat across from her their first week here. She wishes she didn’t have to contemplate the way she feels about him at all.

“But for the record,” she continues slowly. “You do have me.”

He smiles, but he doesn’t meet her eyes, wrapping the string of his tea bag around his finger. “Looking for an excuse to scheme?”

She mimics his motion, nudging her foot on his. “Certifiable.”

 


 

She’s waiting for him on the curb outside the club, talking to a guy he doesn’t recognize, the sequins on her dress catching the streetlight opposite her.

She’d mentioned it offhand – a friend of her roommate knew someone who knew someone who’s band was playing tonight and she’d asked him if he wanted to go. It was odd, not her kind of thing, he thought, but he wasn’t going to turn her down. He’d planned on picking her up and walking there together, making something of it, making it more than it was. The club was down the street from the dorms. She told him to meet her there.

He watches her for a moment before crossing the street, in her shiny black dress and single string of pearls like she’s going to a Gatsby party and not a dingy dive bar with underage clientele. She’s nodding along to whatever the guy’s saying, a polite smile and her hands clasped in front of her. He laughs to himself when he recognizes the stance.

The guy retreats the second Dan steps up next to her. 

“Who was that?” 

Blair shrugs. “Guess I’m not as unapproachable as you think.”

“You look nice,” he says, partly because he feels bad about the previous comment, partly because he means it. “Overdressed, but nice.”

“You can never be overdressed.” 

 

“My dad played here,” he says as they enter as one, the both of them fitting through the doors together. Through the stench of cigarettes, he can still smell her perfume. “In ‘92 I think.”

“I’m sure you’ll get all the girls with that one.”

“All but you.”

She’s already ahead of him, and turns over her shoulder to throw him a mischievous little look. He feels his heart in the balls of his feet. The floor sticks to his shoes. “Try me again after a few drinks.”

 

He’s not quite sure when he ended up pressed to a grimy back wall, a dark haired girl telling him about Tuscan summers and sunbathing naked in an accent that would probably be doing a lot more for him if he could fucking hear it, standing so close to the speakers he thinks his ears might start bleeding. Blair isn’t anywhere he can see, neither is her roommate, so they’re probably together. He’d gone to get a drink and when he turned around she wasn’t there, but he’s not sure what number drink that was, he’s also not sure when this girl got so close to him, her hands running up his chest and over his neck. He scans the room for Blair again, but the strobe lights hit like a flashbulb, blinding, and it’s too dark otherwise to make her out, even with the glittering grandeur of her, wrapped up like a pretty little present. He should probably unstick himself from this wall and look for her, make sure she’s –

The girl – her name escapes him, maybe she never gave it – has her tongue in his mouth, sweet from her drink, and his bottle slips from his hand, fingers curling in thick hair. He thinks that’s how Blair’s hair would feel in his hands, a fistful of her curls and a mess of gloss between them and that perfume of hers. This girl doesn’t smell like that – she smells like sunscreen even though it’s almost winter. 

He breaks away, apologies lost in the noise as he stumbles off through the crowd.

He finds Blair amongst a group of girls, laughing amicably although she looks out of place, not just in her getup but in her stature, poised but shifty, her spine a pinprick. 

“Humphrey,” she says, reaching a hand out to him and grabbing a fistful of his shirt for stability. Her heels are high enough that they’re at eye-level with each other. “You strike out?”

He tilts his head, questioning. She says, “I saw you.”

Her voice sounds different, sweet and bubbly. Dan thinks, amidst all the shots and shitty cocktails, she’d still taste like the most expensive champagne money can buy.

“You told me to try again,” he says, louder than her, ears blown from the speakers and drunk enough he doesn’t care what he’s saying. 

She’s smiling at him like she had when they first got here, like this is all just part of the push and pull, like it’s all just a game. He’s faintly aware that the other girls are still watching them play.

Blair’s mouth drops into a straight line. “I think I’m going to throw up,” she says. “This band is awful. Was your dad this awful?”

“Probably,” he says. His hands are on her waist, sweaty on the sequins, holding her upright. 

“It’s a wonder how a woman like Lily ever fell for him,” she says. She seems genuinely amazed.

“Yeah,” he says. “It is.”

 

Dan is a little less drunk by the time the lock to the door of his dorm clicks, only because he threw up that little on the side street outside. He’s still got one arm slung around Blair’s waist, worse off than he is, smaller and so stubborn, insisting she was fine for another shot until she clearly wasn’t. 

“Unzip my dress,” she says, once they’re inside and she’s taken a seat on his bed and he’s thanking the God he’s not sure he believes in but maybe does now that Ryan is still out. “I can’t reach. It’s too tight.”

“I told you you were overdressed.”

“Quiet,” she snaps. “Zip.”

He does, pulls the zipper down all the way then averts his eyes, stares at the wall, the ceiling, his hands, anywhere but at the pale skin of her back, the black lace of her bra. 

“I can’t throw up,” she says. “I hate throwing up. Make sure I don’t throw up, okay? Nate always made sure I didn’t throw up.”

He grabs a pillow and a throw off the bed, two ratty old blankets from when he was little stitched neatly together by Jenny. It was meant to be a gag gift, when she was eleven and he was fourteen, but Dan has secretly kept it at the foot of his bed since. 

From the floor, he sees the shape of her shifting around, and props up on his elbow suddenly to see what’s wrong. When the room stops spinning, he sees her in his Yale sweater, swallowed by it, the cotton bunched in her hands, loose around her neck, the string of pearls still there. She twists her dress out from under it and off, discarding it on the foot of the bed. Dan presses the heels of his hands into his eyes until he sees stars. 

“Your back’s gonna hurt,” Blair mumbles, lying down, legs wrapped in the comforter. “You can come up here. There’s enough space for both of us.”

“Or you could come down here. Give the floor a go like Nate and Serena.”

Blair laughs, swinging her arm down off the side of the bed, to hit him, surely, but only manages a weak tap on his forehead. He’d framed it as a joke but he thinks the sentiment, the proposition, had been real, and he doesn’t know what to do with that. She found it funny, the idea of them together. She’s going to smell like him in the morning. He doesn’t know what to do with that, either.

“She was always so lucky.”

“Who was?”

“Serena,” she says, another tap, his nose this time. “Keep up.”

“I’m trying,” he says. “Why was she lucky?”

“Everyone loves her and she doesn’t have to try,” she says. “ You love her.”

”She was lucky that I loved her?”

“You told me that telling Serena you loved her was the best day of your life. Who says that? No guy I’ve dated would say that about me.”

“They should,” he says. “Any guy would be lucky to have you, Blair.”

In high school, Dan thought of Blair as an ice sculpture, cold and hollow and perfect, perfect, perfect, until she melts. He takes a hold of her hand so she doesn’t poke him in the eye, presses his thumbs into her palm, her skin so soft, so warm. He doesn’t know what to do with her.

“You were right,” she says. “It’s all just for show. I’m not who I say I am.”

Dan tries to think of a joke but can’t. Maybe that’s for the best. 

“I don’t really know who I am yet,” he says. 

“I wish you weren’t still in love with her.”

“I’m not,” he says. “Why would you think that?”

“You don’t just fall out of love with Serena,” she says. “I would know.”

“I don’t love Serena anymore,” he says. There’s a stretch of silence, steady breathing and the distant sounds of music somewhere. He lets go of her hand. “I wish that girl I kissed tonight was you. I was thinking about you, I wanted - I want to kiss you.”

He looks up to find Blair fast asleep.





Chapter Text

“I just thought you liked me enough to not sabotage me.”

He slides a plate over to her, peanut butter and jam sandwich, leaning on the kitchen island, his face in his hands.

“I’m not sure where you got the idea that I liked you at all.”

They’d meticulously gone over each other’s Comparative Lit papers the week before, dissecting them like Y-incisions, sifting through them like panning for gold. Dan got a 90. Blair got a 99.

“And I didn’t sabotage you, you can only improve upon something so much without rewriting it yourself.”

“You said it was good .”

“It was good!”

“If this was the other way around you’d be pulling my hair out.”

She hums, conceding. “We’re a terrible pair,” she says, still chewing through her bite. He has, perhaps, had some effect on her.

He’s peeking through his fingers, eyes creased, so even though his hands are still covering it, she knows he’s smiling. 

“The worst.”

 

He’d come over after the gym – he was trying something different, he lasted about twenty minutes – made himself a sandwich with the jam he’d bought her, asked her if she wanted one. She said no, only changing her mind after sneaking a bite of his.

Raspberry jam and earl grey tea (for him, kept in her cupboards) and raw honey and coconut cookies (she wanted macarons , he didn’t know there was a difference) from the farmers market he wanted to check out. She gave him her credit card and sent him on his way for whatever he thought was essential – which, to her dismay, are mostly just carbs and sugar.

He’s here almost every day now, under the guise of studying for finals which usually ends with his feet kicked up on the coffee table after they’ve gotten into some argument or another, watching a movie in silence, until the need to make a joke overcomes Dan, and he breaks it. Blair starts the arguments, pulls out the movie as a truce, just to get him to stay. It’s all a pretense, not-so-carefully crafted. She’s always needed someone in close proximity.

(She left the morning after she’d slept in his bed still wearing his sweater, how she got it on – and everything else that happened the night before – all one large, embarrassing black hole. He hasn’t asked for it back yet, and she hasn’t given it. She just hopes he doesn’t come knocking in the middle of the night to find her sleeping in it.)

She’d worried that he would become a distraction – that her nondescript feelings for him would get in the way of having everything she wanted. But he’s a good study partner, challenges her and picks her apart to a point it almost feels personal. There’s something minuscule that tugs at the back of her mind, that she could’ve used someone like him in high school. 

He’s different from Chuck. She doesn’t want to make comparisons, but there’s a part of her that misses Chuck in some far off way, in the way you’d miss a city you’ve never actually been to. 

They’re roughly the same height, but Chuck’s shoes always added an inch, clicking around like a beetle wherever he walked. He’s thin, the string of his sweats tied tight over slim hips, tank laying flat on his stomach, unlike Chuck, who picked up the bottle at thirteen and never put it down. His hands look rough, like he bites at his cuticles. He has nicks on his jaw from shaving, a cheap razor or an unsteady hand, but his skin always looks like it prickles, like shaving in itself is futile. He has more hair on his chest, and it looks coarse, but she wonders what it’d feel like under her fingers.

Dan is, for all intents and purposes, everything she never wanted. 

And yet. 

Blair isn’t one to blush at obscene thoughts, but at night when her sweet-tooth gets the better of her, the golden halo of overhead light in the kitchen her only witness, she sucks honey off her fingers straight from the pot, the sugar burning through her. She doesn’t dwell on the amount of times she thinks about him when she touches herself - which is every time now, just lets it happen in the moment. She doesn’t blame herself either, blames him , really, for always being there.

Dan is regular in an intangible way, a way that makes him an outlier to her. He’s not running away from anything, not locking himself up and throwing away the key. Nature versus nurture, maybe – that house full of people who loved him more than anything, that would love him no matter what expectations he didn’t live up to. 

But he has had an effect on her – in that, little by little, she’s let her guard down around him, until it’s settled like dust, like it was never there. 

He is, a bit, as much as she detests the thought, like Serena – he’s seen the ugly parts of her (not all, but some), been pricked himself by the thorns inside the rosebush – and he’s still here, for some indiscernible reason, with a lazy smile and kind eyes, standing in her kitchen after making her a sandwich. 

It’s only a matter of time, Blair thinks, before he realizes his mistake. 

 

Blair wants to belong to someone, she always has. She wants someone to want her, her and only her, forever and ever, like the happy ending of a windswept romance. She falls fast and hard and it consumes her, eats her up from the inside out and she lets it. She wishes, just once, it would be enough. She wishes she would be enough. 

Blair has heard first hand accounts of Dan’s love; in Christmas trees and stories she never read and the kinds of declarations no one’s ever made to her. Has witnessed it herself; him always coming back, always being there, both the moth and the flame, both the lighthouse and the sailor. Around every corner, every sharp turn of Serena’s life since she came back, Dan had been there, his chest a safety mat. Love consumes Dan too, it must, this twin flame of theirs that has burned long and hard for other people. 

She wonders what it’d be like, to be loved by someone like that. 

 

She really wishes he would call before coming over. 

He stands expectantly in the doorway, like she’s expecting him, which she is not. If she was she would have at least put on some makeup, done her hair, be wearing anything but a little pink slip. It’s a Wednesday night and she’s not expecting him, but he’s here, and he’s holding champagne. 

“It’s the best they had,” he says, pushing past her and into the kitchen. It’s cheap, but it probably wasn’t for him. “We can watch whatever you want and I promise I won’t complain. You’ll just have to pinch me to keep me awake.”

“Because I got a 99?”

Dan rolls his eyes. “Shut up about it. Because it’s your birthday.”

Blair’s mouth drops open. She hadn’t mentioned it; her party’s next week, over break, plans already set in motion by Serena. Tonight she’d had a date with the bubble bath and the vibrator. 

“How’d you know that?”

“I was at your 17th,” he says. His tone reads: Duh.

He sets a package wrapped in brown paper on the kitchen counter, thick pieces of white tape stuck to the sides. She’d make a comment on his atrocious wrapping skills if she wasn’t so intrigued, ripping the paper off immediately. 

“I’m sure you’ve read it but when I saw it in the store it reminded me of you.”

Blair stares blankly at the black and white photo of a young girl on the cover of the book. The Complete Claudine,  a favourite of hers and the first thing she learned to read in French that wasn’t a nursery rhyme.

And then, as if this night couldn’t go less like she expected, Blair bursts into tears. 

“It’s just -“ she lets out a breath, wiping at her face as Dan’s forehead creases with concern. There’s nothing else to blame it on other than the truth. “This is really nice of you.”

“Don’t cry,” he says, setting a hand on her shoulder, thumb brushing over the strap of her slip, then pulling away. 

“It’s my party,” she says, and she sees him smile for only a second before leaning up to hug him. He presses his lips to her temple, where her migraine rages constantly. She wonders if he can feel it.

“Wait, do you have a match?”

He drags the match on the striker, holds up the little fire between them, close like they’re huddling around it for warmth. 

“Make a wish,” he says. 

Blair closes her eyes and blows out the flame.

 


 

“You’re really racking up my freshman fifteen,” Blair says, popping a kernel in her mouth, her feet stretched out in his lap. “I’ll have to find a way to work it off. But it’s too cold to go running.”

“You’re fine,” he says, picking at a stray kernel on the arm of the couch. He’s not as good at catching popcorn in his mouth as he remembers being. He swipes a finger along a scar that lines the underside of Blair’s foot, making her jump. “What’s this?” 

“I stepped on broken glass,” she says. “We were fourteen, I think. Chuck’s birthday. That was the most drunk I’ve ever been.”

Dan bends over to roll up his pant leg, stretching out to show her the ridged skin on the back of his calf. 

“Fell off my bike around the same time,” he says. “Cuts all over my hands and knees. There was so much blood, it scared the shit out of Jen...you’re not listening.”

“I am,” she says. “I’m just thinking. I had cuts on my hands at fourteen too.”

“You can’t ride a bike,” Dan says lightly.

“No, I can’t,” she says. “They were from my teeth, when I - “ she holds two fingers at her mouth, then drops them back in her lap. The light from the screen flits shadows across her face, turned away from him. 

“Blair.”

“I don’t do it anymore.”

“What you said -“

“That’s not what I meant.” 

He settles a hand on her knee, goosebumps raising on her leg. It’s not cold in the room, but he tugs the blanket from the top of the couch down over her anyway. 

“I sat on Jen’s curling iron once. You wanna see that scar?”

She throws a handful of popcorn at him.

 

 

“Dasha let me in,” Dan says, creaking open Blair’s bedroom door and leaning against it. “I don’t think she likes me very much.”

“That’s just her face,” she gestures at him vaguely. “Don’t loiter, you’re making me anxious. Have a seat.”

“You know this is a student showcase and not a society event, right?”

“You know this isn’t some backstreet Brooklyn gallery, right?

He kicks off his shoes, stretching out onto her bed, ignoring the glare she shoots him, ricocheting off the mirror. 

“You couldn’t have at least put in some effort?” Blair continues, even though Dan has made a show of checking out of the conversation. “You’ll look awful standing next to me. If I let you stand next to me.”

“I’ll always look awful standing next to you.”

He outlines her, gaze like sharpened graphite, her dips and contours, the pucker of her red lips in a hardly held-back smile. Like Gene Tierney wrapped in silk, brushing her hair at her vanity, skin porcelain in the glow of the lamp. 

On her bedside table, tattered novels with deep cracks in the spine lay next to her sleep mask and a tub of lip balm. They must be from home, because he remembers the titles she’s picked up at the store, catalogues them in the part of his brain that holds all the little things he likes about this Goldberg machine of a girl.

He picks up the dark covered Death of Venus,  lets it fall open, heartbeat quickening as his eyes follow the lines.

His sex was quivering, and he was tormented with desire. Marianne grew desperate. She pushed his hand away, took his sex into her mouth again - 

“What are you doing?” 

He snaps the book shut, placing it back where he’d found it.

“Nothing.”

“Why are you snooping through my things?”

“I wasn’t,” he says. “I was just -“ he clears his throat. “Curious. I’ve never read Nin.”

“And you call yourself a feminist.”

He laughs lightly, standing, the blood rushing from his head. He should really wait in the living room next time. 

“Do you have to wear that scarf?” Blair says, voice distant even though she’s right there. “Can’t you just get frostbite?”

 

They’ve come to the gallery a few times, just to walk around, aimless and quiet but together – because for all of Blair’s nagging, she still doesn’t leave his side, always teetering on her heels, looking back over her shoulder, like she’s afraid if she doesn’t keep her eye on him he’ll disappear. 

Walking through campus at night feels like a different world than walking through the city, quiet enough to hear the wind through the trees, dark enough sometimes to see the stars. Before this, Dan had never really seen stars – lights on the skyscrapers twinkling on and off the closest he’d come. Now, he looks up at the dark expanse of sky, the scarf Blair hates wrapped around his mouth, shielding him from doing something stupid, the only real thing he can think about doing.

Her nose is red, cold spreading a blush across her cheeks. He wants to hold her face in both his hands and kiss and kiss and kiss her to warm her up. He buys her a hot chocolate from a stand on the street instead.

The light from inside the lobby is a stark white, but outside, a ring of low orange flickers over her head. He leans back against the front door of her apartment, hands stuffed in his jacket pockets, while she searches through her bag for her keys.

“I won the bet.”

“Your wish could still come true,” she says. He can see her breath in the air. “There’s no time limit on it for a reason.”

“Not that one.”

He gives her a moment to think, then, “Who says I’m not sick of you?”

“We’re still friends.”

“Doesn’t mean I’m not sick of you.”

“So you’re saying I’m going back to Brooklyn alone tomorrow?”

“I don’t know about Brooklyn,” she says. “But I have a ticket to Manhattan and I’ll need someone to carry my bags.”

 

 

Blair’s birthday party passes like every other Upper East Side event, Dan feeling like a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit quite right. They don’t talk except for a greeting, but Dan spends the night chasing her gaze like a green light, trying to catch her attention from across the room while she networks (at her birthday, for god’s sakes), willing her eyes his way. She seems a bit like a mirage, just out of reach, like his hand would go right through her.

(On her real birthday, over a bottle of bad champagne, he’d made them popcorn on the stove, the way his dad used to make it when they were kids, butter and honey and a little bit of cinnamon. He’d brushed past her, a light hand on her shoulder, and she gasped, small and startled, his touch cold after washing his hands. The sound sent a shockwave through his abdomen, down between his legs. He’d pushed his luck, wanting to hear it again, and brought his knuckles over the side of her neck – like a child rubbing his socks on the carpet and zapping her with an electric shock. She elbowed him hard in the ribs, and didn't bat an eye when he pretended to keel over.)

And Dan doesn’t have these thoughts, because it’d be wrong – she’s so comfortable around him, and to think of her as anything but a friend would be taking advantage of that, guilt clouding his brain anytime he veers into dangerous territory. Dan doesn’t have these thoughts, but if he did, he’d think about how her dress could come off in one sweep, one long zip down. If he did, he’d think about how the dress would look on his bedroom floor. If he did, he’d think about her letting out that little gasp with her knees on his shoulders.

But he doesn’t.

Blair is a hall of mirrors, and around every corner Dan is faced with a different version of her – the girl who glitters across the room is the girl who stretches out on her couch and sticks her cold feet in his lap is the girl who made his sister cry is the girl who used the streets of New York City as a chess board, chasing rooftops and limousines is the girl who hides her face when she cries at happy endings is the girl with so much love to give that it threatens to spill out of her, uncontainable. 

Dan thinks, if she let him, he could learn to love them all.

 

 

The air in the penthouse feels tighter than usual, cramped with faces like a haunted family photo, something more behind the eyes of everyone there. He waits until she’s standing alone in the kitchen, aware of the waters that rage around them, that at any moment their phones could buzz like a pebble in a river, rippling through and disrupting everything.

He comes up behind her, leaning down to her ear. 

“I’ve got a friend at school that looks just like you.”

“You’re full of it.”

“Oh, you sound like her too.”

She looks up, not at him but around, surveying the area. Her nose wrinkles.

“You smell like pot,” she says. “A week without me and you’re becoming a burnout already?”

“Nate is very influential,” he says. “But he doesn’t know the difference between Tarkovsky and Tchaikovsky.”

Blair laughs, and Dan’s dizzy with it.

“You’re out shopping with Serena everyday,” he says. “A week without me and you’re back to materialism.”

“Like I ever stepped away,” she says. “I need electroshock therapy after spending so much time with you, but I have to settle for retail.”

“That was a nice party.”

“You wore a tie for me.”

He shrugs. “Some things are worth the effort.”

The clang of cutlery rings from across the room, his dad’s laugh warm and familiar, coming from someplace outside this little world, the inches between them, the square feet of space they’re boxed in. A world that followed them down the north line, starkly different than the one waiting for them outside the kitchen.

“I made my father’s famous pumpkin pie. I’ll save you a piece.”

Dan doesn’t really care for pie. He’d rather taste the nutmeg on her tongue. 

At dinner, he reaches around behind Blair’s back, tapping her on the shoulder. She, of course, doesn’t fall for it, jamming the hilt of her butter knife into his knee. Attention whore, she hisses. He traces over a monogram on her stockings, on the spot on her knee she’d hit on his. Label whore, he whispers back. She leans a sharp elbow into his rib. Don’t make me send you to the kids table. 

He feels Chuck’s razor sharp glare cut into him more than he sees it. He keeps his hands to himself after that. 

 

 

He doesn’t know why he waits for her. She’d texted him the night before saying something came up, she’d be driven back later, or the next day. He’d seen Chuck’s hand on her back, steering her down the hall just to talk . He doesn’t know why there’s a part of him that waits on the platform until the last second, hoping maybe she’ll come around. He doesn’t know why there’s a part of him that thought he had a chance. 




Chapter Text

Blair steps out of the library’s high arched entrance and into the harsh, almost-winter wind. The steps stretch out long and low, no good for sitting, no place to hold court. She’d wanted to clear her mind, but after aimlessly strolling through the grand library, cast in golden light, everything sacred and celestial, she’d found herself feeling worse off than before, small and inconsequential and every other feeling that perfumed her adolescence. 

As she walks through the fog filled courtyard, the only thing Blair is sure of is that, at the moment, despite all the factors at play, there is nothing more important than finals. Everything she’d worked for had led up to this, leaving casualties in her wake to walk over New Haven’s ice covered paths. All of it – the curated outfits and the cat fights and the controlling force of love – none of it mattered if she couldn’t perfect this.

She lowers herself onto the front steps of her apartment, watching the doors of the empty church across the street creak open and shut with the wind. This is second nature to Blair, the vertigo that comes with a life that spins so fast it’s bound to come crashing down any minute. 

“Hey, Waldorf.”

She looks over to see him, a large brown paper bag swinging in his hand.

“Dan,” she says, first name slipping out in surprise, stepping off onto the street to meet him.

“Peanut butter,” he says, holding up the bag. “Popcorn and wine gums. I based this off the assumption that you still haven’t learned how to grocery shop.”

She leans forward without hesitation, hands twining around his neck and pulling him down into a hug, tight against her. 

“You’re welcome,” he says lightly, his breath hot on her forehead, her nose cold before but warming on the knit of his scarf. She wills herself to pull back, tears like pinpricks in her eyes. 

“It’s the cold,” she says. It’s not enough to dissuade him but he won’t put up a fight. She tells him to come upstairs, to make the popcorn for her on the stove, because she doesn’t know how – a harmless, white lie, the only kinds she’s been saying as of late. 

 


“Mother and Cyrus are moving to Paris,” Blair says, feet swinging off the stool at the kitchen island, watching him try not to burn the second batch of popcorn. The first was not so lucky.

“How do we feel about that?”

“Fine. It’s not like I was going to be seeing her much while I’m here anyway.”

The back of Dan’s head nods, working quick with the pan. Blair’s toes hit the island, impatient, unnerved. She thinks, Chuck made her feel like a child in all the worst ways. Dan makes her feel like her adolescence should have been perfumed differently. 

“Chuck wanted me back.”

Dan pauses. “And?”

She shrugs before realizing he can’t see her. “And I said no.” 

“But you still took the limo back,” he says, something accusatory in his tone that Blair doesn’t appreciate. 

“Holly took advantage of men with money, didn’t she?” Blair says lightly. 

He slides the bowl to her, throwing up a kernel and catching it in his mouth. 

“If you model your life after a movie you’ll ultimately be disappointed.”

“Wise words from the guy who cried the first time he watched Lady and the Tramp.

Dan’s mouth draws into a stern pout. Blair wants to kiss him. “I told you that in confidence.”

Dan props his elbows on the counter, chin in hand, long lashes and a shit-eating grin. 

“We never said what we were thankful for,” he says, matter-of-fact, and no, they didn’t, because she’d fallen asleep on his shoulder the second the train set off back to the city, and she’d come back alone, the back of the limo like a hearse, skeletal Hemlocks lining a long, winding road away from home, or back to it, she couldn’t decide. She drank whiskey by herself, a low rim in a crystalline glass. She tosses up a kernel herself, catches it herself, can’t help the proud little laugh that escapes her. Dan cheers, a palm hitting flat on the marble. Atta girl, he says, and she thinks, You.

Dan is still grinning, although the shit-eating has been dropped into something more sincere. There’s a sweater stuffed in her dresser and books on her bedside table and a pack of candy on the counter, and while none of it carries the same weight as the little gold heart she passed around from sleeve to sleeve, Blair wonders if maybe they’re the same thing. 

“We haven’t told our friends about us being friends because they ruin everything,” she says, as matter-of-fact as he had been. 

Blair’s hands had been shaking since they came inside and Dan had rubbed them between his own while they waited for the stove to heat up. All better? he said, and she buried them in her lap instead of telling the truth. 

“Is that a question?”

Blair wants to kick him. 

He wipes his butter-covered hand on his shirt. Disgusting, she thinks. He should take it off.

“I haven’t told my friends because you weren’t always the greatest person to them.”

There it is. That foreboding light bulb finally flickering on, the other shoe dropping. 

“I’m sorry I can’t be little miss sunshine Serena.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it.”

It’s true, of course. He had meant – you can grow up now. God, she really wants to kick him.

Instead, she buries her face in her still-shaking hands, saltwater collecting in her palms like a wishing well. She feels his hand skate over her shoulders, pulling her out of the stool and against his chest, that pout finding her forehead, dispelling the tension at her temple.

“Are you going to tell me what’s really wrong?”

If she was, it would go something like this:

Blair wanted to be admired, a statue put up in a museum, evocative and untouched. But here she is, a girl made of pieces split across the globe, in other people’s hands. Blair is not the Venus de Milo, and she gave up trying to be a long time ago. Blair is a flytrap, deadly to those who come too close.

She was almost able to forget how much she loved Chuck, how it felt like the world would end when he didn’t want her, how it felt like the world would end when he did. His hand on her back steering her away from all that she worked for, this version of her that could survive with no light at all, content to grow for herself. 

You’ve been away too long and stay with me tonight and you know we made a mistake ending things, don’t you?

She knew Dan would hold her if she cried, and maybe that’s why she let herself, because she needed the excuse. He’s giving her the idea that he’s here to stay and if that’s true, she thinks, she might have to accept the fact that she –

“It’s just hormones,” she says. If she doesn’t tell him, it’s a lie by omission, and Blair thinks she can live with that, at least for now. “I’m acting like a crazy bitch, I know.”

He laughs, humming warm through his chest and onto her cheek. She crumples into him more, lets him steady her if only for a moment, if only until she can stand tall by herself again. 

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

 

 

She hadn’t meant to start the call with Humphrey and I are friends, but, well –

“I know,” Serena says. “I mean - the last few times I saw you two you weren’t trying to strangle each other, so I figured.”

“How perceptive,” Blair says. “I just didn’t want it to be weird.”

“It’s not weird,” Serena says. “Unless…”

Blair’s heart beats loud in her ears, like a snare through headphones, a bass thrumming across state lines. When they were growing up, Blair thought of them as two girls connected like a string with a can on each end, close enough while still being out of reach.

“You haven’t… replaced me with him, have you?”

“God, no. The Serena sized hole in my life is just as vacant as ever,” she laughs. “And besides, Dan’s not tall enough.”

 


 

Streetcar or Last Summer?

He blinks up from his place at the foot of her bed, eyes dried out and a caffeine headache thumping in the parts of his brain that aren’t filled with her. 

“I have a hard time believing my answer to that is on your final.”

Her foot flexes against his knee, back straight up against the headboard, always poised, even in her navy blue pajamas. He hadn’t seen her in a week, showing up unannounced with the need for a study partner. He was starting to go stir crazy between the walls of his dorm.

“Humour me.”

Blair sighs. “Streetcar. But I’m feeling the need for my own lobotomy right now.”

“We’ve earned a break,” he says. There’s a spread of books and loose leaves between them, a thousand or so pieces of paper separating them, a wall of their own.

I’ve earned a break,” she corrects. “You’ve been staring at the ceiling for the past ten minutes.”

He’s slept less than he’s seen her – not mutually connected, other than the fact that it’s the week before finals, his Italian exam first thing tomorrow morning. She made him flashcards, colour coded and with the ghost of her perfume lingering on the card stock, like a sample from a counter in the department stores he’d take Jenny to after school, just to walk through. 

And, yes – he has been staring at the ceiling for the last ten minutes – but, no, it’s not just the lack of sleep. There’s five buttons down the front of her top, easy to undo with his deft fingers, careful teeth. 

 

I’ve got a bad connection, Vanessa said, a pixelated portrait on the screen of his laptop. I thought you said you just came back from Blair’s.

I did say that.

I’m sorry, is this Invasion of the Body Snatchers? What were you doing there this late?

You sound like your mom.

I should drive over there and smack you for that.

It’s not like that.

 

Somewhere between going in to pick up laundry sheets and a pack of gum and walking out with a bag full of things she likes, Dan realized he was being stupid thinking Blair would ever want him as more than a friend – and he liked being her friend too much to risk that.

Because she made him the flashcards, and she texted him a schedule with a study-to-sleep ratio, then sent him a link to a New Yorker article in the middle of the night, because she knew he wouldn’t abide by it. 

In return, he’s made sure she eats, even if it means ordering a pizza to her place without her knowing, because it worries him the length of time she’s able to go on an empty stomach. 

This is their other push and pull – Dan with his overwhelming need to piece together the broken parts of the people around him, to make something beautiful out of them, and Blair having spent her last years of high school insisting that she be the needle that sews up Chuck’s wounds, the sponge that soaks up the blood, the shock blanket that dulls the pain. 

And maybe it’s a recipe for implosion, two people who care too much. Or maybe it’s what they needed all along. 

“Why haven’t you submitted to the literary magazine yet?”

A bolt of pain sparks up through his neck as he jerks his head over to look at her, his leather bound notebook in her hands, nimble fingers unwinding the string around it slowly. He surges forward, just out of reach, and she moves to kick him, his big hand coming tight around her small ankle.

“They don’t publish freshmen,” he says, trying to keep his breathing levelled. 

Drifting through limbo, she’d said, which is what this feels like, the tips of his fingers touching, curled around her ankle, a flush spreading up her chest, pretty pink dawn rising over the navy night sky. I was dropped from moonbeams... and sailed on shooting stars… plays from her laptop, heating a spot on the bed next to her. She drums her nails on the leather, and he wonders how’d they’d feel down his back.

Maybe Dan can afford a bit of a gamble.

She clears her throat. “They might if it’s good.”

“There’s nothing good in there,” he says, slow, a warning. He lowers her foot back down to the bed like a weapon. She does the same with his notebook. 

 

He wakes up with a textbook making a dent in his cheek to the feeling of her thumb over his eyebrow, a little pout when she says, I didn’t want to wake you, but you’re drooling on my sheets.

 

 

“Dan!” she says, smile big when she sees him, and - okay, this is different. “What’re you doing here?”

Here being Dasha’s girlfriend's apartment, not unlike his loft back in Brooklyn with an old, rickety elevator you can half-hear on the street. They had, by all physical accounts, survived finals. Winter break starts tomorrow, the cold midnight air making his hair stand on end. He had a date planned – well, less of a date and more of a gamble – dinner at the corner restaurant by the bookstore and Christmas in Connecticut on her couch, and flowers, maybe, if he could work up the nerve. He hadn’t even had a chance to ask before she’d told him Dasha invited her over for end-of-semester drinks. 

“I called him,” Dasha says, stepping out from the small golden-lit lobby onto the front steps, a hand on Blair’s shoulder, steadying her. “You obviously don’t hold your alcohol well.”

“You’re so pretty,” Blair croons, her hand running over Dasha’s stick-straight hair. “Do you know how pretty you are?”

Dan gestures from where he’s standing, on the cusp of the heated interior of the taxi and the unrelenting December wind. “Let’s go.”

“Don’t be jealous -“ hiccup “Humphrey, I think you’re -” hiccup “pretty, too -“ hiccup “but you smell.”

“Keep your voice down.”

“You said you were going to sleep.”

“I never got to it,” he marches over, too stoned for this, and slings an arm around her waist, debating just throwing her over his shoulder to get this over with. “Get in the cab, Blair.”

 

Her room is grey-toned in the grainy light of nighttime, her bags packed up for Paris sitting at the end of her bed. The music box on her dresser that usually held jewellery he’d seen her scavenge through lays empty, and he notices a long, deep crack down the bottom of it. She stumbles out of her shoes, holding onto his shoulders to keep herself up. 

“Thank you,” she slurs. “For coming to get me.”

And then, before he can respond, she leans forward and kisses him, chaste and a little crooked. 

“You need to sleep,” he says, her nose finding the crook of his neck as he tries to untuck the covers from her bed. 

You need to sleep,” she says back, whiny, her face scrunched up. “Don’t be a gentleman. Kiss me back so I’m not embarrassed.”

He smooths down her hair, tucks it behind her ear. Then he does, leans in and kisses her briefly on the cheek before pulling away again. 

“Don’t leave,” she says, voice as small as her hands as she reaches out blindly for him, the covers he’d pulled over her thrown off. “Everyone always leaves.”

“I’m not leaving,” he says, running his thumb over the crease between her brows. “I’m right here.”

 


 

She wakes up with her head swimming, heart ringing like an alarm clock when she feels him next to her, his hand splayed out on her stomach, anchoring her to the bed. 

The night before – only hours maybe, the door left open and still no light coming in – comes back to her in pieces.

The cabinet at Clara’s held more wine than even the drunkest housewife’s back in New York, malbec melting away all the tension accumulating in her joints from finals better than a massage. She’d traded stories from Sacred Heart and Harvard-Westlake for tales from Constance – Nairtini’s and headbands and private lives on public domain included. But there was something else, too, that she’d said. 

She had drawn a web for them on a spare piece of paper, connecting her and her friends-slash-exes-slash-current-lovers. The Upper East Side is so convoluted, Clara said. Aren’t you glad you’ve gotten away from that?

And no, she wasn’t. She’d pretended that she was but it was her reality, all she’d known, and she missed it like a limb. But that wasn’t the point – the point, she emphasized, was the circle she’d drunkenly drawn around her name and Dan’s, the uneven line she scratched between them. I’m in love with him.

She turns over in bed, careful not to disturb his touch. In the almost-sober dark, it still rings true. 

 

Morning light seeps through the crack at the bottom of her closed door. Blair wakes up alone every morning, the faint din of Dasha sometimes there, sometimes not, her footsteps creaking like a haunted house. Blair wakes up alone every morning, but she knows she wasn’t alone when she fell asleep. 

She trips over her bags in a daze, the feeling of his rough skin on hers still lingering. Of course he left you fucking idiot you were acting like a child –

He’s rolled on his stomach on the couch, the afghan haphazardly twisted around him, drooling on the upholstery. She doesn’t wake him up.

 


 

“Humphrey. You sure you can afford long distance?”

“I’ll swing it. I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

“That’s on you.”

“I debated running through the airport but I had a train to catch. Are you busy?”

“I am, actually. I’m seeking refuge from Mother and Cyrus with Catherine Deneuve. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg.” 

”What part are you at? I'll watch with you.”

“It just started.”

“She reminds me of you.”

“Roman says the same thing. She’s so beautiful.”

“So are you.”

“I just rolled my eyes, in case you couldn’t hear it.”

“I could. I can also hear you blushing.”

“Impressive. I’m still jet lagged. I might fall asleep on you.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Actually, I’ve changed my mind. Wanna watch Lady and the Tramp?”

“I seriously regret telling you that.”

 


 

“Are you listening to me?”

“Yeah.”

“Repeat what I just said.”

“...Okay, I zoned out when you started talking about shoes. What’s so funny?”

“Kiki de Montparnasse doesn’t sell shoes. Look it up, Humphrey.”

“Oh.”

“Now you’re interested.”

“What time is it there?”

“Half past midnight.”

“You’re in bed?”

“No, I’m at Bar 8. Of course I’m in bed.”

“...What’re you wearing?”

“Do you think that voice is sexy?”

“It isn’t?”

“Do you really want to know what I’m wearing?”

“Feels like you’re setting me up.”

“Your sweater… Dan?”

“I’m here. We’re not joking anymore, right?”

“...No. We’re not joking.”

“Are we going to have this conversation now?”

“What conversation?”

“You know. The real reason we didn’t tell our friends we’re friends.”

“That was the real reason.”

“They ruin everything. And we didn’t want them to ruin us before we’d even started.”

Humphrey.”

“I want this. You. Us.”

“Thank you for spelling it out.”

Blair.”

“There.”

“What?”

That voice.”

 


 

“Happy New Year, Humphrey!”

“You’ve had a lot of something.”

“Rosé. It was fantastic.”

“What is that?”

“Cyrus singing Auld Lang Syne.” 

“He’s not half bad.”

“Don’t let him hear you say that. Did you kiss anyone?”

“Time difference, Blair.”

Rosé, Dan.”

“Well, I wasn’t planning on it.”

“You know, they say who you kiss on New Years is who you’ll kiss for the rest of the year.”

“Who’s they?”

“Do you have to be so contrarian all the time?”

“Maybe they’ll let us extend that a few days.”

 


 

Leftover Christmas lights blink morse code along the windows of the bookstore, turning the overhang of icicles on the trees red and green. Outside, frigid January air, the promise of snow and a new semester. Inside, warm, orange light and stray tinsel, something uncertain, something unplanned for. Blair opens the door, crosses the line. 

She’s been here so many times, tracing her steps like footprints in the snow. She doesn’t need a trail of breadcrumbs. He knows her well enough. 

Something catches her eye, tipping her head up to see a change in the Staff Picks shelf. Over Dan’s name sits a hardcover, Tiffany blue. 

“I read it over break.”

She turns suddenly, and he’s right there, trying hard to keep a straight face despite the relentless twitching of his mouth. 

“Can I help you find something?”

She’s not doing as good of a job at controlling her smile. “I found it.”



 

Chapter Text

“We don’t have Comp Lit together anymore but your Gender Studies is in the same building as my Playwriting so I can walk you without being late.”

Dan squints at the schedule on her phone, shielding the screen from the sun. They’ve trekked from the store back to campus, salted sidewalks crunching under their steps, arms brushing and bumping against each other too many times to be accidental. Classes start back up today, but they both had the morning free, Blair waltzing around the bookshop waiting for his shift to end, finding herself continually drawn back to the shelf with his name under Capote’s. 

She stops abruptly, a cold drop dotting her nose, and then another, until she’s covered in them, like the crisp air finally snapped, shattering into snowflakes. They duck under an overhead of a long brick building, still too far from where they need to be.

“You’ve made yourself late walking me to class?”

He shrugs, leaning a shoulder against the bricks. “Once or twice.”

The snow only storms down harder, unrelenting, gathering up like a hedge just next to them, out of reach.

“You want some hot chocolate?”

The gloved tips of her fingers reach for the bare tips of his, not quite holding, but it beckons him closer with a crooked smile.

“Not really.”

“I like this,” he says, reaching out to touch her necklace lightly - new diamonds like icicles glinting in the sun spelling out her initials. “Looks pretty on you.”

“My Christmas gift from Daddy and Roman.”

“Spoiled brat,” he says, curling the chain around his finger. 

“Pretentious dick,” she counters, folding his free hand through hers more firmly.

“Says the girl wearing a beret -“ he tugs it down over her eyes, taps her nose for effect, “just after coming home from Paris.”

Her mouth drops open in mock affront, and when she adjusts her hat back, he’s right there, his breath in the air indistinguishable from hers. She curls his scarf around her hands, tugging him forward, her nose bumping his.

“I’m seriously going to strangle you with this atrocious -“

And then they’re kissing, the only natural progression of their position. Her gloved hands finds his hair, letting out a frustrated groan against him when she can’t feel it, can’t grab a proper fistful between her fingers. He laughs, his teeth bumping against her mouth, and it only makes her hold him down tighter, wanting to swallow it and keep it for herself.

He backs her up against the brick wall, the force of his tight grip on her waist stronger than the wind. She almost can’t breathe but doesn’t really mind it, knowing any intake of air would be cold in her lungs. She wants more, but she’s smiling too much to really get her tongue in his mouth, and so is he, so she settles back against the wall and lets him kiss and kiss and kiss her, a flurry like the snowflakes that fall down around them, melting like she is against him. The little moans she’s letting out would be embarrassing if he wasn’t holding her face in both his hands, thumbs pushed into her puckered cheeks, if he wasn’t making the same sounds himself.

He breaks away, but doesn’t move far, his forehead on hers, hands still tipping her jaw up, ready for him to kiss again.

“I have to get to class.”

“Mm, skip it.”

“Bad influence,” he presses a kiss to her cupid’s bow, the apple of her cheek, the corner of her eye. “ You need to get to class.”

“Goody two shoes,” she nudges into him, his lips still at her eye, soft over her lashes. She feels the start of a hot tear welling up, and buries her face away in his scarf, sniffling. 

“Cold?”

“No,” she says, whiskey warmth spreading through her. “I’m so happy.” 

 

 


She pads around the room barefoot, tying her hair in a bun and undoing it enough times to drive her insane. It’s been three days since the kiss and between trying not to fall asleep in class as she adjusts back to Eastern Standard, and the full swing of the spring semester, she hasn’t seen him outside brief coffee runs and walks to class, punctuated with the occasional light kiss, too chaste to satisfy her but enough to make the cold easy to brave. 

Her phone lays open on her dresser to the come over text she’d sent him, the stupid little smiley face grinning up at her. She studies herself in the mirror, in just the lace set she’d picked out, dotting perfume on every pulse point – and a few extra, to be sure – with unsteady hands, spending way too much time deciding what to wear before just throwing on the sweater – his sweater, although not really anymore – and her silk pajama shorts. Why are you so nervous it’s Dan fucking Humphrey.

She knows why - she hasn’t had sex with anyone other than Chuck in a long time, and she knows that the things Chuck liked are definitely not the things Dan likes. Dan is sweet, she knows it even though he’s hardly touched her. Sweet isn’t what Blair’s used to. She’s not sure what she’s more afraid of – that she won’t like it, or that he won’t like her.

She’s sitting in the kitchen when he knocks, feet dangling off the stool, kicking impatiently at the bottom of the island. She’s done this countless times before, let him into this place on the tenth floor with hardly a view, but it’s different this time. There’s expectations, now. That’s usually where the problems start.

He just stands there in the doorway, staring at her intently. 

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he laughs, a little shake of the head. “I want - I want to kiss you.”

Her eyebrows raise as her feet do, chin and toes tipping up. “Then kiss me.”

And he does, hooks his arm around her waist and pulls her in, still half in the hallway. She sighs into him, palm running flat over his chest, onto his neck, and she’s not sure how she’s ever going to get used to this, the fact that Dan Humphrey is making her knees weak like she’s a smitten schoolgirl. 

The door shuts with a bang behind them, Dan tossing his coat on the arm of the couch and stumbling into a seat, scooping her up into his lap. She sucks hard on his bottom lip, unrelenting, making up for all the times she stopped herself. He tastes like the beeswax lip balm she bought him – when the cold kept splitting his cut lip back open – that she was sure he lost. 

“Listen,” he mumbles, kiss-swollen lips brushing light along her jaw. “I know it’s not Christmas anymore but I brought -“ he breaks away from her to lean over and fish through the inside pocket of his coat, producing a DVD case. Christmas in Connecticut.

She feels a hell of a lot like that stupid little smiley face she’d sent him, grinning through heavy breathes. She settles into him, his chest a hearth under her head, and she can feel how hard his heart is beating, blood pumping loud in her ear. His lips hardly leave her forehead, a constant stream of mumbling blending into kisses, his honey-smooth voice coaxing her to sleep the way it had over the phone with an ocean between them. 

She wakes up with hard plastic beading making an imprint in her cheek, some tacky homemade throw pillow of Dasha’s stuck under her head. The pillow under her head, and his lap under the pillow.

“Hey,” he says, sweeping her hair out of her eyes, the glow of his phone screen lighting up his face. She’d put on a lingerie set and perfume on the inside of her thighs only to fall asleep on him. “Movie ended an hour ago. I didn’t want to wake you.”

“Nothing against Stanwyck,” she says – yawns. “I think I’m still jet-lagged.”

He combs a hand through her hair, over and over, and she silently thanks herself for leaving it down, a pleasant shiver running up her spine. 

“You don’t have to go,” she says, although she realizes he hasn’t said he would. “And you don’t have to sleep on the couch. Or the floor.”





Blair wakes up to the smell of pancakes on Sundays, Dasha half finished with her breakfast by the time Blair drags herself to the shower. It’s as ritualistic as Sunday service, like the church bells that toll across the street at ten in the morning every week once the dishes are already washed and put away. But it’s Saturday, Blair knows this when she wakes up, and she knows she wasn’t alone when she fell asleep. 

The windows in the living room are open. She watches him for a moment before she steps up, standing in the kitchen, and it strikes her that not a lot’s going to change, nothing really has to be different. This little life she cultivated, that she wasn’t even fully aware of until it had already formed, taking the shape of blueberry pancakes and coffee with milk and honey. 

“You foiled my plan,” he says without turning around. “I wanted to bring it to you in bed.”

She rests her cheek against his back, brings her arms around his waist, the kitchen cold with frigid January air everywhere but him. Blair thinks she can swear off blankets now. 

“You want me to burn the house down, Waldorf?”

Her hands have snuck under his shirt, finding themselves in the coarse hair above his waistband, stroking lightly. 

“Dasha’s going to be very angry with you for using up her pancake mix,” she mumbles, revelling in the warmth of his stomach, heating up under her touch. “And her fresh blueberries.”

“I’ll get her more,” he says, turning suddenly, moving in to kiss her. She stops him, a finger to his mouth. 

“Did you brush your teeth?”

He nods, pressing a kiss to the pad of her finger. She narrows her eyes at him, despite the fluttering in her chest. “If you used my toothbrush I’ll have to kill you.”

He rolls his eyes, wiggling his own finger in her face. She allows it, arms twining around his neck to pull him down into a kiss, deep and slow, almost lazy. Blair had gotten so wrapped up in the feeling of time running out – always walking the ledge, skirting around the land mines. But here – in the sunlit kitchen with the curtains dancing in the cold breeze – Blair feels like she has all the time in the world. 

Dan’s hands slide under her ass, gripping tight and hoisting her up for only a moment, a half-gasp escaping her before he sets her down on a stool. 

“Breakfast’s gonna get cold.”

“Let it.”

His mouth turns down against hers. “I should’ve cuffed you to the bed before you woke up.”

When she leans back, brows raised, his cheeks are pink. 

“Not a bad idea, Humphrey.”

 

She hooks their ankles together between the stools as they eat – don’t tell anyone back in New York that I’ve conceded to a Humphrey breakfast – dipping his finger in the maple syrup and sucking it off slow, watching his eyes go wide. 

She hops off the stool to take her plate to the sink, but he’s behind her, crowding her space before she can turn. The stubble of his jaw scrapes over her temple as he presses a kiss to it, then to the corner of her eye, moving down until she can feel his hot breath on the side of her neck. “I didn’t think you wore secondhand.”

It’s the first time, she realizes, that he’s said anything about the sweater – just one in a laundry list of things they’ve left unsaid. His fingers span her hip bone, and as she leans into him, they skate over the waistband of her shorts. She feels his chest rising with heavy breaths, matching her own, shivering with anticipation. His teeth graze over her ear. “Can I?”

She nods, but his hand still stalls, his mouth coming down wet on her throat. She covers his hand with hers, urging him on, and he slips behind the silk, into her panties, agonizingly slow, cupping her in his palm then dipping his fingers between her folds. His breath hitches, a small grunt of fuck bitten into her neck. 

“Pancakes must’ve been good.”

“They were burnt,” she says, arching into him, her lips brushing his jaw, tongue flicking out against the stubble. The rough pad of his finger swipes over her entrance, the heel of his hand heavy on her clit. 

“Dan,” she says, breathless, nothing short of a whine. “Come on.”

He brings a finger into her, then another, curling them inside her, her knees going weak, his arm strong around her, keeping her up. She presses back against him, until they’re backed up against the fridge, his chest hard and steady behind her.

“Want you right here,” he mumbles into her hair. 

“Shameless,” she gasps. “We’d need to - deep clean after - sanitize everything.”

“Like you know how to clean a kitchen,” he says, rough. She laughs, tipping back, trying to find his mouth again. 

Blair thinks she hears bells toll, but realizes that they’re the jingle of keys on a chain, the sound of the front door opening and shutting making them jump apart. 

Blair tries her best to fix herself as Dasha steps into the kitchen, Dan turning his back to her, busying himself with a dish towel. 

Dasha’s nose wrinkles. “Was something burning in here?”





“You can’t keep kissing me to shut me up.”

Outside, dark grey sky, a sludge – not quite rain or snow but something in between – drumming against the window. Inside, her knees pressed into his ribs, straddling him, his thumbs twirling circles just under the hem of her shorts. He’s gone to work and come back, she’s tried to power through homework and failed in her state of frustration and now they’re back, no movie tonight, just the heat between them sparking like a fireplace. 

Dasha’s been notified of the metaphoric sock-on-the-door, and Blair’s forgone the sweater, opting for the slinky tank that matches her shorts. Dan came in – clean shaven and curls damp, a nick at the edge of his jaw, a cut from an unsteady hand –  bitching about some asshole from his Film Theory class who came into the shop only to continue an argument about Truffaut they’d had the day before, taking a seat on the couch and asking for a towel to dry his hair .

“Watch me,” she says, lips barely grazing his neck, raising goosebumps in the skin. She leans back, hands on his chest, and she can feel herself, slick from the moment he walked through the door and growing slicker, the thought of how he’d touched her this morning alone making her dizzy. “You know, you get increasingly more irritating as time goes on.”

He breaks out into a big, stupid grin, and she leans forward again, planting a big, stupid kiss on his face. 

“My specialty.”

Blair wants to wipe that grin off his face with more than just a kiss – and it’s her speciality, having mastered finding just the right vein to draw blood from, the pressure point to pick at. She used to use it to tear girls down in one go. But it can be employed for good use, too.

“All those times you were in my bed, going on and on with your inane bullshit,” she slips the straps off slow, revealing the sheer ivory lace of her bra, trying not to cringe when she drops the tank onto the rug. “And all I would think about was how badly I wanted to shut you up.”

That does it, goofy grin going straight, a dent growing between his brows. “Why didn’t you?”

A loaded question, and definitely not the point – so she acts like she didn’t hear him, covering his hand with hers and bringing it up to her chest.

“You brought my bags up, after the train ride,” she says. “And I wanted you to stay.”

He swallows, his eyes stuck somewhere between her chin and collarbone, like he’s trying hard not to stare, like this is the time to keep being respectful. “You made me coffee. We talked about Cassavetes.”

You made me coffee,” she reminds him. His hands – rough, cold cracked, because he lost his gloves and when she had Dorota send over a nicer pair he lost those too – don’t need her guidance anymore, touching the small diamonds that spell out her name lightly, the way he had just before he first kissed her, then settle flush on her rib cage, fingertips pressing into her back like he could lift her up at any moment. He looks like he’s going to ask again, a little crease in his forehead that says, Why didn’t you?

“You drive me crazy,” he says instead, matter-of-fact, like this is one of their normal conversations over textbooks or a bowl of popcorn. “They should classify you as a mind altering substance.”

“That’s cute,” she snarks, moving in to kiss him again, but his grip tightens, tipping her onto her back on the couch. Then he’s over her, situated between her legs, the full force of his tongue in her mouth, his touch self-assured but still gentle, like he’s mapping out each part of her, committing it to memory. He’s going to melt her into a puddle before he’s even made her come.

He licks hot along the line of her throat, mouth latching onto the hollow, pressing into her rib cage, and she feels malleable, like clay slipping on his hands, shaping herself to him. He pulls back suddenly, looking over her face, a crease between his brows. 

There it is, she thinks. 

“Are you okay?”

“Obviously.”

“You’re so -“ he squeezes her arm for effect, “tense. Just relax.”

She balks up at him for a second, still between her legs but lifted away, hands braced on her side and above her head, not touching her. It hits her that maybe he’d been waiting for the same moment too, some nullifying realization, some adverse reaction.

“I’m okay,” she says, barely a whisper, reaching up to run the back of her nails over his cheek. He nods, smoothing a hand over her hair, tucking a stray strand behind her ear.

“You feel so good,” he says, just as quiet, leaning back in to kiss her, everything suddenly slowed down but somehow even more feverish.

“I wanted you to stay that night,” he mumbles, tracing a big hand down her hip, her outer thigh.

“What night?”

“In Brooklyn. After the wedding.”

She hesitates again, this time with a small smile, head tilting, but he doesn’t see it, kissing along her jaw.

“I wanted you in my bed,” he continues. “I thought about you all night. I couldn’t wait to see you in the morning. I thought I’d been like, cursed by a poltergeist or something.”

“Inane bullshit,” she says, his gruff laugh going straight between her legs.

He pulls back to look over her, circling his thumb on her hard nipple, his jaw tense.

“You wore this for me?”

“No, I wore it for the other guy who’s coming over after you.”

He rolls his eyes, but lowers his head, runs his lips over the lace.

“Be nice,” he murmurs, then closes his mouth lightly over her nipple through the fabric, tongue running over the netting.

“Yes,” she gasps. “I bought it for you.”

He stops, tipping his head up. “You bought it for me?”

“That’s what I said,” she curls her fingers in his hair, nudging him back down. “I bought it to wear for you.”

“That’s -“ he nods, seemingly more to himself than to her. “That’s hot.”

“How eloquent,” she says, petting through his hair, flushed with affection. Maybe aiming for cold stone, untouched marble, was wrong all along. Maybe all the sugar he’d brought her over the months had softened her insides, sweetened her touch.

“Can I take it off?”

She nods, touching a button on his shirt lightly, and he complies without having to be asked. Blair is done baring herself to boys who won’t do the same back.

“Blair,” he says, deadly serious, the look in his eyes setting her chest on fire, her heart rattling against her rib cage loud enough she’s sure he can hear it. “You’re so beautiful.”

She laughs, not able to help herself, bringing her hand over his face. “You’re so dramatic .”

He catches her wrist, tugging it away – the moan that escapes her too loud to pass him by – and leans down to press a trail of wet kisses on her sternum, until his lips reach to the spot over her heart, his eyes on hers. He can feel it, he must, her pulse vibrating through her skin into his. As she watches him, his eyes closing as he drags his mouth down, she thinks about her porcelain music box, a wall away, a long crack in the base. 

He pinches her nipple, tight with want, suddenly between two fingers, making her hips buck up against him despite herself. There’s a part of her, an old gear that still turns despite not being oiled anymore, that’s afraid he’ll laugh, taunt her for how much she wants him. But he only moans, closing his mouth tight on the pale pink of her nipple.

Her hands move from his hair down his neck, running flat over the muscles of his shoulders, his back, before biting her nails into the skin, pale from lack of sun exposure, no freckles or beauty marks punctuating the plain of skin. A clean slate. 

His moan, too, is too loud to pass her by, so she does it again, then drags her nails down as much of his back as she can reach. They’re blunt, too short to have much effect, she thinks, but it’s doing it for him, the moans from the back of his throat humming through his mouth and into her as his teeth and tongue work over her sensitive flesh, the center of her panties soaked through, working towards the seam of her shorts. 

She tugs at his hair, yanking him up, already missing having that tongue in her mouth. His response is enthusiastic, sucking on her lip, licking at the roof of her mouth, intent with enough desire to make her pop like a cork.

“Dan,” she says, although it comes out more as three unintelligible letters, his lips pressed to hers. “I’m going to file a formal complaint if you don’t touch me soon.”

“Spoken from a true place of privilege,” he mumbles.

“Look who’s talk - ing,”  she says, or tries to say, words lost in a mewl when his fingers push the satin center of her panties aside. His mouth pauses against her, and now she’s the one laying kiss after kiss on his lips, his chin.

“Earth to Humphrey,” she says, voice so soft, punctuating with a kiss to his nose. She can be sweet, too.

“Sorry,” he says. “You are so wet.”

“I’m aware,” she says, leaning up to dip her tongue back in his mouth, hanging open. ”Can we please stop talking?”

Her eyes are closed, but she doesn’t need to see to know he’s raised his brows, feeling the way his cheeks are puckered in a smile. “Say please again.”

She pinches his shoulder, and a bolt of electricity shoots up through her when he lets out a small, involuntary groan.

“Okay,” he says against her collarbone, as unintelligible as her, letters like magnets on a fridge, hanging from his mouth onto her skin. “No more talking.”

He lays kisses down her rib cage, her stomach dipping under his mouth before her palm comes down flat on the top of his head, startling a laugh out of him. 

“Ticklish,” she says, then looks down to see him wriggle his brows.

“I’ll save that for later,” he says, working her shorts and panties off in one go. There’s condoms in her nightstand, where she’d put them before he came over, opening up the new box and everything, to make it easier when the time came. She hadn’t expected for this to happen on the couch , but now she really doesn’t want to move. 

And before she can suggest they do, he’s urging her thighs apart, her breath hitching again. Evidence of her arousal runs slick along the tops of her inner thighs, and he laps his tongue flat on the skin, cleaning her up before he’s even started. His mouth latches hard on the soft skin of her thigh, like he’s sucking a snake bite, and she can’t wait for the marks that’s going to leave, the tender bruises she’ll feel when she presses her legs together in class and remembers how his face had felt there. 

He spreads her open, mouth obsessive, not playing around anymore, like he’s had enough of the back and forth, enough of everything that wasn’t what he was doing right now. Her hand bunches in the upholstery of the couch, the other a fistful of his still slightly damp hair, those same low moans vibrating through her core. His eyes are on her face, watching intently, fine tuning her with his tongue and fingers. She finishes fast enough to be embarrassing, but he doesn’t stop, kissing and working her over until she’s trembling against him, more than just her knees going weak.

He brushes his nose over her stomach, and she shoves him reflexively, her eyes snapping open only to close again as his laughing meets her lips.

She taps a light finger to his lips. “I knew that mouth had to be good for something.”

“So sweet.”

“Don’t get used to it.”

“Wasn’t talking about the compliment.”

She laughs, shoving him again, on purpose this time. This, too, isn’t what she’s used to, sex making her feel light instead of vulnerable, an already broken vase precariously put back together. It had been a wager, making her feel like there was a cord about to snap and leave her hanging heavy at the end, and before that it was sacred, something to be earned, not given away. 

His hair’s more of an unruly mess than usual, his bruised lips twisted up in a wry smile. She reaches past him, to the shirt he’d discarded on the top of the couch, sitting up and slinging it on, soft and yielding, unlike the stiff, iron-pressed, cologne-doused dress shirts of morning-and-moment-afters past. She points to the scrap of lace that are her panties hanging off the arm of the couch, and he grabs it, holding it up out of reach.

“Be nice,” she mimics, shifting forward as he shifts back. “Or I’ll leave you here unsatisfied.”

He lifts a brow. “This is your house.”

“I’ll kick you to the curb,” she says, her own brow lifting. “Sans shirt.”

He concedes, and she slips back into her underwear before padding into the kitchen. She looks back at him, his eyes trailing over her, a sheen of sweat on his taut stomach, his hips shifting restlessly. She returns with a bottle of sparkling water, taking a generous sip then handing it to him.

“Even the water has to be expensive?” He presses the bottle to his smile, eyeing her up and down.

“What?”

He shrugs, still smiling, then sets the bottle on the coffee table.

“You look cute.”

She arches a brow, then folds onto her knees, his smile dropping. She just sits there for a second, crouched between his legs, the rough fabric of the rug digging into her bare skin. She feels like hot wax, lit aflame and melting away as he runs his thumb over her cheek, brushes the hair from her eyes, the way he had the night before when she’d fallen asleep. There’s something in the way he looks at her that makes it feel like he’s the one on his knees.

He brings his thumb over her parted lips, and she presses a kiss to it, then sucks it into her mouth. He shifts, hand tense on her face like he’s holding back, and she runs a hand up his leg, tugging down the zipper of his jeans. She pops his thumb out with a smile, makes a show to kiss the pad of each finger, then the palm of his hand, feeling him react to each touch of her lips. 

She ducks a little to kiss over the rigid skin on the back of his calf, a remnant from a childhood spent so different from hers. Sometimes, it scares her, that Dan sees through the hologram, the way his eyes bare into her like he knows what’s really going on inside, that he cares enough to really look, more than anyone else. She looks up at him now, batting her lashes as her tongue darts out, wetting his skin, and he’s doing it, gaze searing into her, heating her up, making her just as warm inside as him. She wonders if he knows, now, what she’s thinking; she was sleepwalking through life and calling it a vow, always have, always will, and he was laying out on the concrete laughing, consoling his crying sister even though he was the one that was bleeding.

She can feel him, swollen and pulsing, like his heart’s in her hand, like she’s going to swallow it whole. She peels his boxers off, that smart mouth of his falling open when she wraps a hand around him. She pumps her fist on the length of him, taking him into her mouth viciously slow, then pulling off again, sticking her lip out in a pout.

“Still cute?”

He laughs, but there’s no air in it. “Evil.”

She’s pleased with that, so she doesn’t waste any more time, eager herself, too, to take him all in. His hand stays clenched on his knee, and she uses her free one to guide it into her hair.

“Pull.” she says, a demand more than a suggestion, and he complies, the tightening of his grip raising a groan out of both of them. 

He looks like he’s straining to keep his eyes open, grimacing like watching her is almost too much for him – an incoherent stream of mumbles under his breath, half curses and half praises, so good, so pretty,  and part of her wants to pull off and ask him if he ever shuts up, but mostly, she doesn’t want him to.

She kisses over his stomach, his chest, on her way back up, and he wraps his arms around her, tugging her to his mouth, his kiss sweeter than this morning's syrup. His thumb rubs raw over her cheek, again and again. She doesn’t think she’s ever felt so admired. 

His hand moves out from her hair to snake up the shirt to her bare stomach, tickling over the sensitive skin. She jerks, fist knocking his ribs, and he lets out a low groan like it had actually hurt. His hands are big on her sides, strong-arming her, pressing her tight to his chest and kissing her square on the mouth. 

She narrows her eyes at him. “Evil.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

The sound of the alarm jerks him awake, dislodging her cheek from his shoulder blade.

Fuck ,” he squints through the dark at the glowing numbers on the clock, slinging his arm around her waist and pressing his nose into her hair. “Turn that thing off. I don’t have to be up for another twenty minutes.”

“That’s because you thought deodorant was a sufficient replacement for a shower.”

“I showered ,” he catches her earlobe between his teeth. 

“You didn’t iron your clothes.”

“Fucking crank,” his hand slips up under her top. “We’ve got twenty minutes.”

“That’s not nearly enough time.”

“Don’t worry about me.”

“I’m not. I can make you come in ten.”

“I can make you come in five.”

“I thought I told you not to make bets with me?”

 

He’s not sure why he thought being with her this way would cause some seismic shift, but nothing’s all that different, other than this – that he doesn’t feel the need to go back to the dorms at the end of the night – leaving clothes lying around her room and grabbing a spare toothbrush on a grocery run. 

That, and the fact they’ve had to transition to the kitchen to get any homework done, the dark marble counter separating them. Still, he pulls her hand into his, turning light circles on her palm, touching just to touch. Mostly, Dan ends up on the floor, more space for his books and his legs to sprawl out, his back pressed up against the base of the island, so he can still talk to her without seeing her.

They go out more than they did before – especially after Blair remarked one day that she’d never really gone on dates before, always diving head first and headstrong into relationships – Dan indulging in taking her out even if it’s just the corner restaurant or the gallery or that dingy bar they both swore they’d never step foot in again. Although the outings never last long – the security at the gallery one walk-in away from banning them permanently, the bathroom of the bar so disgustingly dirty they really won’t be stepping back in there, the candlelit back booth of the restaurant the best and most frequented option. 

Blair knows what she wants and when she wants it, and he’s helpless, really, trying to keep up with her. She knows what she wants and when she wants it, but it doesn’t become any less startling that what she wants is him, and that she wants him all the time. Whenever he reaches between her legs and finds her so slick, startled that it’s his doing. Her small hands travel over his thighs, chest, shoulders – looking for a place to make a home, settling them hotly on the chosen expanse of tissue, kissing whatever bare skin she can reach.

I hate seeming needy, she’d said one night, too dark in that room without windows to really see her, his palm flush on the side of her face instead, feeling blindly for the familiar reactions of the muscles, to know what she means with just a few words. They made me feel like I wanted too much from them.

And he’s startled every time, by how small she seems when he has her in his lap. It always feels indulgent, sitting there and watching her as she reduces him to disjointed words, incomplete sentences. When she’s bare, lips and sex swollen, her small stature making her so tight around him, his hands feel overbearing, big on her waist, her knees, her jaw. 

She wants him rough, wants her hair pulled and her wrists held and for him to say things he’s never said before – never even thought about saying, really. He likes it more when she’s rough with him back – bites and scratches and pushing him up against the headboard or the back of the couch – but it’s the balance, he thinks, that makes it work. She’s mean sometimes, too, which thrills him – the lilt in her voice when she teases him, puts him in his place. The candy-coated sweetness after, when she tangles their limbs together, drawing patterns in his sweat-slicked skin. 

She’s not fragile, he’s had to learn that, remind himself of that, because it was always in the back of his mind, ever since that day in the dark grey hall – this girl is wrapped in red tape, this girl needs to be handled with care.

He thinks he could spend the rest of his life trying to keep up with her.

 

He hears her footsteps, bare feet on the creaky hardwood, as she pads into her bedroom – in his head it’s their bedroom, even though the cheques clearly state that he’s paying for board across campus – but he doesn’t look up from his book, letting out a loud, dramatic groan as she settles on top of him on her stomach. He moves his book out of the way to see her, big brown eyes blinking up at him expectantly, and he’s overwhelmed, all of a sudden, by how much of her he has. 

Every night spent tangled together, every dimly lit dinner and distracted homework session and kiss between classes, works to reveal another doll nesting inside the matryoshka. He’s coming to understand the girl in front of him, and part of that is understanding the girl above him on the steps, understanding that they’re one and the same, even if all these miles away from that life, she doesn’t wholly feel like it.

Dan found self-preservation in solitude. His family was his life raft in the shark-infested waters of St. Judes, the thought of going home to them the thing that got him through each bell – that and the thought that one day it would all amount to something, bigger than everything else, not exactly a tenth floor apartment in New Haven that wasn’t even his, but something like it – and he’d found the best way to survive was to keep to himself, keep quiet, no sudden movements, and hope they didn’t pick up on the smell of fear.

But part of understanding Blair was understanding that being more than just the bearer but the bad news itself was an act of self-preservation too. If the waters of Manhattan were shark-infested, Blair was the poacher, and that kept her afloat.

He traces a finger down the bridge of her nose. “You’re dangerous.”

“Because one of these days I’m going to lean too hard on your ribs and puncture a lung?”

He shakes his head. “Because I can't put any of this into words,” he says. “Nothing would do it justice. And that’s not good for someone in my line of work.”

“Bookstore clerk?” she teases, starting to unbutton his shirt from the bottom. She moves the fabric aside to press a kiss to his stomach, scooting up him, a kiss after each undone button. She leans up to hover over his face, eyes bright even in the low lamplight. The dull memory of them in the same position a year ago passes idly over him. 

During rehearsals, she was close enough he could smell the vanilla-syrup of her lip gloss, the cloudy smoke of her perfume, striking up images of a powder room in an old bar, the kind of place he could picture himself in, with a pipe and his typewriter, if he was born in a different time. Images striked up as a distraction, holding his breath when her hand caught his tie to steady herself so she didn’t tip over him, always moving too fast to get it over with. That same survival instinct – like any wrong twitch could have him hooked through the mouth, bleeding out. 

Now, she smells like fresh laundry, lavender left over from her bubble bath, spring in February. They’re still the same people. Although he was a hell of a lot less turned on then.

“Did your wish come true? Or do I owe you?”

“You don’t owe me anything,” he says. “Did yours?”

“Everything you just said…” she trails off, drawing over his nose the way he had hers, then nods. “Yeah. It just did.”

 

 

The moon hangs low in the clouds, visible through the window, the night after Valentine’s day – which they spent in the bookstore, hanging back after Dan closed up, sitting in the big armchair, her in his lap, and drinking merlot straight from the bottle. They’d stumbled blindly back to the apartment, the wine making them giddy and horny, and her pink-stained mouth had tasted even better than the drink itself. 

He walks into the bedroom, after spending the evening working on his laptop in the kitchen, to find the contents of his messenger bag spilled out on the bed, not surprising, seeing as that’s how he left it – but what he didn’t expect was Blair sitting on the edge of the bed in her navy blue pajamas, some sort of thick green goop smeared on her face. 

“What are you doing,” he says flatly, because it’s clear what she’s doing, the string of his notebook laying unwinded, her fingers between the pages. She blinks up, but doesn’t say anything, so he continues, “How much of that did you read?”

If this was an entirely different situation, he might’ve smiled at the way her forehead can’t quite crease with the mask on. She fans through the pages fast like a flip book.

“I know what you’re going to say, it’s an invasion of privacy -“

“It is.”

She narrows her eyes at him. “You found my vibrator in my nightstand.”

“I wasn’t looking for it,” he says. “You knew I didn’t want you to read that and you did.”

“You’re mad at me.”

“No, of course not,” he moves toward her, lowering himself to the floor, his back against the nightstand. “It’s just... it’s wrong, you know that, right?”

“Don’t patronize me. I’m your girlfriend and you never show me anything you write outside of schoolwork. You were so secretive about this stupid notebook I had to know for sure you weren’t still writing about -“

“Don’t,” he says. “Don’t even say it, Blair. You know that’s ridiculous.”

She drops the book on the bed, getting up and turning to the bathroom with a huff.

There was so much he didn’t want her to see: messy, disjointed words written on the train ride back from Thanksgiving, about how she’d imprinted on him, like the tiny, tender spot on his knee left by the hilt of her knife under the table, how it didn’t matter how he felt – this connection with her that he’d stupidly let run away from him, develop into an attraction, into feelings he refused to put into words as to not make them any more concrete, how the life he wanted to have with her would always pale in comparison to what others had to offer. How it would never be enough. 

He waits for the tap to stop running before standing to go after her, but the door opens again before he can get there, Blair stepping back up to him, face no longer green, but a much more intimidating shade of red.

Created in a test tube by mixing Lucy van Pelt and Ann-Margret, resulting in some terribly cute but vexing explosive substance? ” Blair quotes, her hand propped on her hip. He rubs a hand over his face. Well, that too.

“I wrote that in September, before we really started hanging out,” he says, but her eyebrows only inch higher, her glare still steel cut. “But that’s no excuse. I’m sorry, okay? And I shouldn’t have talked to you like that. I’m sorry for that too.”

“I am not Ann-Margret,” she grumbles. 

“If you read it all you know my opinion changed,” he says, taking a step up to her. 

She grabs the book off the bed and flips it open to a particularly crowded page, his handwriting almost illegible, lines crossed out, cluttered with Italian conjugations. 

She’s like a Waterhouse painting come to life, heart-racing beauty with something tragic lying just under the surface. 

Ask O about his life drawing class for background. Maybe attend one? 

Is this how Cassavetes felt when writing for Rowlands? Maybe similar but not the same. Love feels different when it’s not reciprocated. All these love letters and nowhere to put them.

Splayed out on the edge of her bed, her toes prodding his ribs to get him to pay attention to what she was saying. He had no idea that at the same moment, she’d wanted him just as badly.

Maybe it’s not enough. But if she gave me the chance I could try. 

Blair shuts the book, turning to rest her head against his chest, trapping the pages between them. He responds immediately, wrapping her in his arms. They just stay like that, Dan swaying her from side to side a little, a ship trying hard not to wreck before it’s even set out to sea, a hand on the back of her neck, fidgeting with the clasp of her necklace, never able to sit or stand still. Dan becomes aware, at some point, of his shirt sticking to his skin, a wet spot gradually growing, and he tightens his hold on her.

“That page from September,” she says, voice thick and muffled by the cotton of his shirt. “You wrote down my coffee order, and like, twelve things I said.”

“I was probably going to plagiarize you,” he says, his own voice muffled by her hair. “You’re way funnier than me.”

“Smarter, too.”

“Let’s not get carried away,” he slides his hand up to her cheek, pressing his thumb to the corner of her eye, catching tears as they slip down, letting his shirt soak up the other side. “I was intrigued by you. You’re just - different when no ones watching.”

“You didn’t really know me before.”

“That’s true,” he says, slipping his other hand under the hem of her shirt, trailing a finger along her tailbone, writing another silent love letter on the small of her back. “I would’ve fallen for you a lot sooner if I did.”

She tips her head up, sniffling, her eyes starting to redden. But she doesn’t turn away, doesn’t pull out one of her excuses, just leans up and brushes her lips light on his, mumbling, “I’m sorry.”

 


 

“Someone better be dying, S.”

“Yeah, our friendship if you keep ignoring my texts.”

Blair lays on her throne of pillows in her robe, the rain against the windows in the living room and the falling of water in the shower beating together as one. She was just about to step into the steam-filled bathroom when her phone started a low-magnitude earthquake on her nightstand. 

“I’m a little preoccupied. Didn’t we agree that an SOS was reserved for family emergencies and invitations from -“ Blair lowers her voice conspiratorially. “Are you in Saint Tropez?”

Serena’s lightning strike laugh flashes over the line. “No. But I have a fashion emergency that only you can - wait, did you say - is someone there?”

“No,” Blair says quickly. It’s odd, the onset of guilt that now pools in her stomach after a lie that wasn’t there before. “I mean, yeah , I have company but it’s not -“

“I thought you said you were coming in.”

Blair shoots a look to the bathroom door Dan emerges from, running a hand through his wet hair. His crooked smile falters when he sees the phone, and just as his mouth forms around a soundless Is that Serena? Blair hears,

“Is that Dan?”

“Dan?” Blair repeats, like she’s never heard the name before, which posits a too-loud What? from him.

“Dan,” Serena confirms. “It’s... a little late for coffee, isn’t it?”

What do you and Dan even do? Serena had said, completely innocent but agitating nonetheless. For weeks, all she wanted was to tell her best friend she was falling in love. Those eyes like a spotlight on her, the way he makes her feel like everything else comes second to her, instead of the other way around, the perfume that had clouded her whole life until him. 

But when the time really came – right then, poised with that question, What do you and Dan even do? , instead of saying, We love each other , all she could get out was, We go for coffee sometimes

Blair stares blankly at Dan, the bed dipping under his weight, his anxious fingers tapping on her foot. 

“This feels weird to do over the phone,” Blair says, although she’s not sure who she’s saying it to. 

The staring contest stretches on as the silence on the other end of the line does. 

“Are you sleeping with him?”

“It sounds cheap when you say it,” Blair says, earning her a tug on the ankle, Dan reigning in the barbed wire. “It’s more than that.” 

There’s another moment of quiet, then, “Put me on speaker.”

Blair hesitates, then holds out the phone. 

“Dan?”

“Yeah,” Dan says, clearing his throat, voice thick.

“Is she joking?”

“If she is, she's got us both fooled,” he laughs, earning him a kick in the ribs. “No. It’s not a joke.”

There’s a ruffling sound, like she’s shifting, then she says, “Take me off speaker.” 

Blair rolls her eyes, getting off the bed. “I feel like I’m reliving my parents divorce.”

She shuts the bathroom door without looking back at him, finally pressing the phone back to her ear. 

“Don’t make me choose,” Blair says firmly. 

“I don’t care about that. Why did you hide this from me?”

“We wanted to figure it out before we told people,” she says. Her tone reads: Because you all ruin everything!  

“You’re right,” Serena says after a moment. “This is weird over the phone. Maybe you could come down to the city soon?”

“We are,” Blair lies, and doesn’t feel guilty about it. “We’ve already planned a weekend to come together. Feel free to send that in as a tip.”

“I wouldn’t do that to you,” Serena says. “I’ll see you then.”

 

 


“Pay attention,” he says, poking her in the stomach. “I’m going to quiz you on this later.”

He’d coaxed her into watching Ghost World (Sit through this with me and you can sit on my face for two hours) despite her distaste for black comedies.

“I’m bored.”

“I don’t complain about your movies.”

“Yes you do,” she says, drumming her fingers on his thigh. “I could think of many things to better occupy my time with.”

His eyebrows raise. “Like what?”

“Like,” she slides her hand over, palming him slow and steady through his pajama bottoms, pressing a kiss to his cheek. “This.”

“The deal was after.”

“The deal said nothing about me going down on you,” she says. She rakes a nail down the back of his neck, then again, then runs the pad of her finger over the goosebumps she’s raised. “You can’t honestly like this movie more than you like having me on my knees.”

He bites his lip, eyes still on the screen. 

“You’re missing a good part.”

She feels his eyes on her as she slips down, folding onto her knees in front of him. She wishes he was wearing a belt, likes the act of unbuckling it, the way he looks when he’s waiting for her to. Instead there’s a string tied, and she tugs at it, unfurling like a little ribbon on a present. He keeps watching the movie, or pretending to watch, even as he shifts to help her get his pants down. She commends him for not giving in easily. 

She presses her lips to his knee, making her way up, soft chapstick kisses over coarse hair. She moves over to the other leg, teases teeth and nails on his thigh, hearing his breathing shallow, almost hitch. She runs her tongue over the marks she leaves, then sits up a bit, pushing up his shirt to kiss over his tense stomach. She pulls his boxers down, laughs, and his eyes flutter shut for just a second, his hips twitching up.

“Really giving yourself away here, Humphrey.”

She doesn’t touch him at first, just leans all the way forward and presses a kiss to the head of his cock, then another, continuing along the length of him, alternating between the brush of her lips and kitten licks, feeling him twitch against her tongue. There’s a spot she knows he likes, that always does it for him when she presses her tongue up to it, and she wets her thumb, the first touch like pulling a trigger. He still won’t look at her, the glow of the screen illuminating his face. She keeps as quiet and steady as him – knowing she’s at the advantage – her mouth sucking a spot on his hip as she strokes him. 

She loves him like this – maybe even more than the Dan that’s sweet, that buys her books and gets out of bed at night to pick her up when she’s drunk and chases, chases, chases her. The Dan who grew up watching too many movies and has spent the rest of his life trying to be the leading man, the prince charming, the romantic hero. Who maybe even succeeded a few times. 

This is different. The Dan with a quick fuse and a dirty mouth and a hard swing. Fists and jaw clenched like he wants to be rough but he’s just too nice to be.

“Humphrey,” she says slowly. “You can’t hide how bad you want me when it’s literally staring me in the face.”

“Quiet,” he snaps. “Can’t hear the movie.”

She should bite him for that, but instead she takes in as much of him as she can, swallowing around him. His hand jerks up and into her hair, and then she’s off him, wringing from his grasp and wiping away the string of spit connecting them. She settles back into the couch, wiping at the corners of her mouth with her thumb – the one she’d used on him – her eyes back on the screen.

“What’d I miss?”

He rolls his head to look at her, eyes unfocused and mouth turned up in the barest bit of a smile.

“Get over here,” he says, reaching over and pulling her into his lap. She laughs, pressing her hands to his chest to push him away. She lowers herself to kiss his bottom lip, red from his bite. 

“You always get what you want, don’t you?”

“I got you, didn’t I?”

His face softens, speechless. Okay, maybe this is her favourite Dan. 

It’s only a moment though, before his brows raise. “Spoiled brat.”

 

“We need to stop doing this on the couch,” she says. “I’ll need to get it reupholstered.”

His weight on top of her makes it a little hard to breathe, but she doesn’t really mind it, the apartment cold around them but his warmth keeping her blocked in, steady breathing breaking into a low rumble of laughter on her chest, a half-kiss to her collarbone that makes her feel safe. 

“I’m so lucky,” he says, pushing her hair away so his lips can find her jaw. “How’d I get so lucky?” 

“Hmm?” she mumbles, running her fingers up and down his spine.

“A lot of things had to go right to get me here,” he says. “And I’m not one to question fate,” he lifts up to press a kiss to her lips. “Or just the sheer willpower of Blair Waldorf,” she laughs, and she feels it on the palm of her hands on his back, like it’s ringing through him. “But I’m not quite sure how I lucked out enough to be with you.”

She’s too misty eyed to look right at him, her hand coming over his face to force him away. His teeth scrape over her palm, and she hooks a leg around his hip, cups her hands on either side of his jaw. 

“Dan,” she says, like it’s the most serious thing she’s ever said. The heat in her stomach is rising quickly, about to hit its boiling point and erupt into bubbles of flushed laughter, but she holds it down, keeps her face earnest but unbroken.

“Yes?” he says, matching her tone, lip sticking out waiting to kiss her again. 

“I love you,” she says. “You know that, right?”

“I’m aware,” he says, and she pinches his cheek sharply, deepening the flush that was already there. “I love you too.”





Chapter Text

He watches the slender brush, black bristles showing through the sheer pink polish, swipe over her big toe, over and over, making her bare nail blush. It’s a little like hypnosis, the kind that unlocks a childhood memory, that takes you out of a bathroom in New Haven at nineteen and plants you back on the itchy rug of your sister's bedroom. Dan, always the third wheel at sleepovers, knows how to paint nails. Her wet hair sits on her shoulder in a braid, and he can do that, too. He still has trouble grasping the boy-talk. She let him try both on her – delighted by the story – but he’s a lot worse than he remembers being then, in the rug burn days. His hands shake too much now. 

Blair’s nails are black, but she’s painting her toes a pearly pink, hidden away behind boots as the air is still cold enough to be deemed uncomfortable. He thinks this is an apt metaphor for her. On and under the surface, and all that. Mostly, he doesn’t really think about it, just watches.

She’s wrapped in light pink silk, her face bare and wet with rosewater after the shower. She looks like the little ballerina in her old music box, the one that’s spring is rusted through, that doesn’t twirl anymore. The bottle of polish balances precariously on the sink. If it spills, Dan thinks, the stain will be hard to get out. He knows from experience, the itchy rug and all that. Mostly, he just watches.

In his hand, his new razor – some German brand he can’t pronounce, chrome-plated and complete with a brush and sandalwood cream, which is still half smeared on his cheek. He hates the fuss, but it elicits her high and mighty mumbling about how smooth his skin feels when she kisses it, and he loves her, so.

He shuts off the tap, leaning back against the closed door and says, “I told Jen about us last night.”

Blair peers up at him from where she’s perched on the closed toilet.

“What’d she say?”

“Well, when she was done laughing, she said you’d enchanted me with your siren song and you’re waiting to kill me in my sleep.”

He doesn’t tell her about the venom in her voice when she’d repeated his words from over a year ago back at him, said in some belligerently frustrated state. This isn’t who you are. You’re not Blair Waldorf. He doesn’t tell her that it made him wince and hang up the phone.

There was a few week period – in the rug burn days – when Jenny had wanted to be a ballerina. His mother had harped on about the toxic environment, a breeding ground for eating disorders and social anxiety. He thinks his mother should have paid more attention to their surroundings. He thinks, maybe he should have. But mostly.

Blair’s brows raise, the brush pausing mid-air like a wand. His fairy godmother granting him his wishes.

“And you told her?”

He ducks to kiss her forehead, overcome with the urge, almost knocking over the small pink bottle. You spilled it so you have to clean it up! He thinks, there’s a metaphor in there somewhere. But mostly.

“That’s exactly what you’re doing and I’m loving every second of it.”

“You’re lucky you’re the one holding a blade.”

After this, Blair would scrunch his hair with curling product, dab cold yellow-tinted cream under his eyes. He’d tell her not to fuss over him and she'd look up with big, glassy eyes like crystal balls and say something nearing too-sentimental, something that damn near brings tears to his eyes, something like: it’s not fussing, it’s caring. I’m taking care of you. He’d pat his face down with aftershave ( Blair, this is a hundred and fifty doll-ars ), and he’d make some stupid joke, something like: New shave, wanna take it for a test drive? with his hands creeping onto the insides of her thighs. She’d make a face and say Cute, deadpan like she doesn’t mean it. It’s a routine. A ritual. 

Today, though, is different, some late onset of sickness hours after the line went dead. Instead, he slides down the door until he hits the steam-warmed tile of the floor, too small to splay his legs out. She looks at him curiously, a stripe of pink catching the skin around her toe. He’s not sure how to exist in this liminal space of boyfriend and brother, of past and present. 

“What are you doing?” Blair says softly. Learning , he thinks.

He holds up the razor. “Too heavy. Need a break.”

Her eyebrow arches, reaching for the bottle of polish to twist the cap back on. 

“Here,” she says, taking the razor with one hand and flexing her fingers at him with the other. “Let me.”

They stay like that, him on the floor and her leaning over him from the toilet seat, a crease in her brow from concentration. She holds his face in her hand, thumb brushing soft over his chin. His fortune teller, showing him his future. 

 

There are others, too. Routines, rituals. The route of her classes is marked in his mind like a treasure map, and she’s always the gold at the end of the trail. They work together – not together, just in the same room – until their eyes dry out and he jokes that the espresso machine is begging them to stop . Then they'll trade. She does a better job at marking his Italian than he does her French. Anything with numbers gets piled in a stack with a grin. Sorry, honey, but I left that in high school. 

Honey , he says, and of course it’s a joke. But there is an echo to it that sounds like his dad, and a shadow reflecting off it that looks like his mom. Somewhere during the point before you find out your parents are people too, when he’d thought they were the epitome of a happy relationship, he’d secretly – the kind of secret you’d only tell your best friend (he tells her) – had been waiting for the day he’d get to call a girl honey

But Blair is not honey. Never has been and probably never will be. And looking at it now, Dan’s glad for that. 

And his favourite routine of them all, because it’s private and domestic and wholly theirs; taking place before even the birds have started to sing, is her waking up in the middle of the night to find him at the coffee table bent over his laptop and trying to coax him back to bed. But sometimes, when she can afford it, she indulges him; four in the morning and basked in the low golden light of the kitchen, his palm reader, kissing along his love line between sips of a hot toddy. 

She’s his ruthless editor, reading back whatever he’s just written, end of term paper or attempt at a short story, so many red lines he’s getting Shapiro flashbacks. The stack of books on her bedside table gains traction as he adds his own, leaning towers overflowing onto the floor – making her room look more and more like his back in Brooklyn. 

 

Dan likes being a student, has treated his mind like a file cabinet ever since the gap-tooth class photo days, in between growth spurts and centering his identity around the gifted kid label, stuck on him like a name tag, a Hello, my name is…

“How do you do it?” she says, hair up and pajamas on, the smell of roses lingering, shuffling through World History flashcards like they’re a playing deck, testing him. She’s asking for the sake of challenging him, he thinks, because she doesn’t need advice. She’s just as good as him – better, really, doesn’t crack under pressure, doesn’t freeze or flee. 

He shrugs. “It’s just paying attention,” his head cocks to the side, grinning. “Like sex.”

“Mind meet gutter,” she says, then, skeptic eyebrows arching up, pretty pink mouth curling slyly. The look alone is enough to make him shift in place, the spark in her eyes lighting fire to his abdomen. “ Studying is like sex? You are…” he leans forward unconsciously, hanging on her every word. “The biggest nerd I have ever met.”

He scoffs, scooting up the bed until he’s pressed next to her, trailing a hand down her sternum. His fingers catch on the first button of her top, and it slips out easy, pale skin like moonlight cutting harsh through the night sky. 

“It’s all…” she lets him unbutton the rest of the shirt, falling open around her, a small constellation of purple-pink bruises scattered on her chest, her ribs. He’d been indulgent last night. “A lesson.” His hand keeps trailing, trailing, trailing, sliding between her legs, feeling her heat through slippery silk, hardly anything, just a hello , really, a my name is… “You just have to pay attention,” back up, up, up, a finger hooking in the thin scrap of lace on her breast and tugging it down. “Concentrate and catalogue…” he lowers his head, stops short with a smile when her chest lifts to meet his mouth. “The key points.” His teeth scrape rough over the stiff peak of her nipple, tongue coming out to soothe the spot, her chest vibrating with a kitten-like purr. 

He rolls onto his back, grabbing at the flashcards. “Or something like that.”

The cards meet the stacks of books on the floor, not a full collision but more of a flutter, a hello , a my name is… 

 

 

Their slightly impromptu trip back to the city coincides with a stuffy cocktail party that Dan secretly – the kind of secret you tell no one, that you hardly tell yourself – is excited to go to, wondering if being with Blair will turn him into the missing puzzle piece, the one you cheer for when you find and stick in its rightful place. 

Regal and glittering, back amongst her subjects, the corset of her dress tied so tight he’s a little worried she can’t breathe; every kiss in the cab and the lobby and the elevator (he can’t stop, mouth a magnet, especially when she looks this good) like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Her hands smack his away any time he reaches to run through his hair, tug at his tie. He feels spoiled, suspecting that this is less about taking care of him and more about raising him to her level of pampering.

And then, the elevator doors part like the seas. 

During the rug burn days, Jenny had a book of paper dolls, girls cut out of cardstock with folding tab clothing, made to look however you wanted. The back of Blair’s dress is cut low, exposing bare skin, and she shivers when he presses a sweaty palm to it. He looks at her and there she is, a drawn on smile turned away from him, like a cold-blooded animal camouflaging herself to fit the scene. A survival instinct. Anyone from high school is promptly avoided, anyone who looks like they went to high school two decades ago is engaged in a conversation he tunes out of after he hears the way he’s introduced: this is Dan Humphrey, yes, yes - that Humphrey.

She glows, but not the bare-faced, spring-garden glow. Something like stage lights from within, rosy from plastic compact blush and cocktail inebriation. He thinks, maybe those are things that are meant to be hidden from the looming, hypnotic enchanted forest of this gilded world. He thinks, somehow, even with his hand on the small of her back, she feels out of reach.

Halfway through the night he loses her to Serena, pulled aside into some private room for a private conversation that he already knows the beats to, because Blair had one-sided rehearsed it the whole way here. Nate claps a hand on his shoulder and it stays there, warm through his suit jacket, and he wonders, not for the first time in his life, what it would have been like to have had a brother instead. To have one less girl to be the constant to.

 

The penthouse is empty when they get back to it, all the lights off, casting it in an eternal grey, all cold stone and ghosts of neglectful childhood. Every kiss in the car back had made his heart feel like the old mannequin in Jenny’s room, stuffed full of pins. Blair heads to the bathroom first and he follows her. The walls are pink. He closes the door behind him, although he’s not sure why – force of habit, maybe, the doors in New Haven always closed lest a roommate walk in.

“You look handsome,” Blair says, blotting away her red lipstick, a pantomime wiping her face off after the act is over. “Did I tell you that already?”

He leans back against the closed door, hands in his pockets, and shakes his head once. 

“Well, you do. I did a good job. Although I wish you wouldn’t play with your tie so much, it makes you -“

“Observant for someone who hardly looked at me all night,” he cuts in before he can stop himself. She pauses, looks at him curiously in the reflection of the mirror. 

“Is this it? You seize up every time I touch you in front of someone here? Because if it is, I don’t see the point in coming back for spring break.”

His hands take over, the tie coming undone and dropping to the floor. It strikes him too late that he doesn’t want to have this conversation – whatever it is – not right this moment at least, tired and new shoes burning blisters into his heels and wishing he’d just laid down face-first on the bed as soon as they got in. Or laid her down face-first on the bed as soon they got in. 

“I’m your boyfriend. It makes me feel pretty shitty about myself when you act like you don’t want to be seen with me.”

She blinks at him, stock-still. Then: “I love you.”

“I know.”

“Do you, though?” she says, her tone indicating the edge of a fight. Blair doesn’t flee, wouldn’t know how to if she tried. “Because what you’re saying sounds like you’re not certain.”

His fortune teller, palm reader, sees right through him. There is a Dan, somewhere wafting through the not-so-distant past, who would open the door and leave. Survival instinct. He racks his brain for the right words and comes up with a blank document, like the recurring dream he has where his typewriter is missing keys but he can’t figure out which ones. This is so fucking stupid , Dan thinks, because the only thing he’s really good at is finding the right words and fitting them together. Puzzle pieces. But now, in this bathroom with pink walls, he can’t even do that right.

“I’m just being careful,” she sighs, turning to face him head on. “I’m -“ she cracks her knuckles, the sound making him wince in the otherwise silent room. “I was afraid that being back here would make all of this completely fall apart. I’ve paraded my relationships around at every event on this side of the city and it has never, ever ended well. What we have is so different, and I was scared that -“

“Blair,” he says, because she’s running out of breath fast with the corset still knotted around her ribs. It hits him then: he had been so wrapped up in Blair trying to be everything but herself, he hadn’t left enough space to realize he was doing the same thing. 

“I had this feeling all night,” she says, slow.  “Like, I want to go home .”

He closes the space between them, setting his hands on her hips, and then, belated: “I love you too.”

 

Breakfast the next morning is something of a tightrope walk, high-strung silent grievances passed across the table like a cup of salt, a bottle of syrup. It’s a cut and paste copy of Thanksgiving, although there’s more than just one set of eyes on them now. This patchwork blanket of a family working to break each other in. But there is one brief moment where he forgets where he is: Blair’s thumb coming up to wipe powdered sugar off his top lip, then kissing him, quick and unthinking. The kind of kiss that takes him out of a too crowded table in Manhattan and plants him back in bed with her, where he’ll be tonight. A routine kiss. 

 

 

It’s late on a Thursday when he comes home from his Poetry and Protest lecture (predictable) to find the bedroom rearranged, his designated dresser drawer emptied out and organized by colour in the closet, a small wooden table with a stool in the corner of the room opposite the vanity, just big enough for one person.

“Spring cleaning,” Blair announces, leaning against the doorframe, but he only half hears her. 

The photo of her and Serena – fresh faced freshman in plaid skirts and kneesocks and blinding light smiles – which had been turned over on the nightstand, placed face-down months ago, has a new home on her dresser next to her music box. In its old place, in an identical white frame, a photo from one of the only parties they’ve gone to, taken on some shitty disposable, the orange tint of a lit cigarette smudging a flare of light on the shadowy person next to them. Him, in a faded Velvet Underground t-shirt, and her, in a red dress that looks pink on film. He’s kissing the corner of her mouth, beer bottle pressed up on her spine, her small hands creeping under the hem of his shirt. He still feels them, hot palms on his sweat-slicked skin, like handprints on a foggy window. 

And then they’re there again, riding up his shirt, snaking around his waist. “Do you like it?” she says, and he twists in her hold to press a kiss to her forehead.

“Where’s Dorota hiding?” he mumbles, and she works quick, pinching at his skin and making him jump a little in her arms.

“I just wanted to make it feel more like home,” she says. “For both of us.”

 


 

A veil lifts slowly from behind Blair’s eyes, pulling her out of her dream and back into the warmth surrounding her. The distant clink of cutlery, the white noise run of the tap, the smell of pancakes, anchoring her back to reality. She shifts to gently roll out of his embrace, but his arm tucks itself tighter around her, pulling her closer, the deadweight of sleep blocking her in. She’s sore, an ache deep through her core as she shifts back to her original position, pressed up against his side. The strain of the dull ache takes her back to the night before, making her flush just at the thought: his hand in hers above her head, pinning her to the bed as he drilled into her so hard she almost still feels him inside her, swallowing her whimpers and feeding them back to her in whispers.

She presses a kiss to the side of his chest, the most easily accessible place, a silent hello, good morning, I love you. There is something indulgently languid in a love without a timer, without the fear that she has to prove herself before it’s too late. A love that doesn’t hang off the side of a building, a love that makes a sweet dream pale in comparison to what she’ll wake up to. 

 

Blair remembers when her feet couldn’t reach the floor, swinging off the edge of the couch or a chair, watching her mother pace around the living room and the atelier alike. The way Eleanor spoke to her employees, to the men and women with tape measures and dress pins, to the models whose spines stuck up straight and rigid, thin skin pulled taut over ribs. Back when her feet couldn’t reach the floor, dressed in a handmade nightgown, asking for a bedtime story. She realizes, now, after telling him all this, that even in the almost empty penthouse, under just the glow of a nightlight, Eleanor still spoke to her the same way. 

Eleanor got too busy, too tired at night to read her stories, replacing them instead with old films to make Blair fall asleep. They’d had the opposite effect, of course, Blair staying up all night to watch sweet-speaking, kind-hearted Audrey fall in love with various charming, handsome men. But her mother’s demands always rang louder than the film scores, and once Blair’s feet could reach the floor, she knew: to be in charge was to be cruel, and Blair had to be in charge, so Blair had to be cruel. 

But when her fingers catch on the cool vinyl of her headbands in the bottom of her drawer, like a rusted helmet, remnants of shed armour, of shed snakeskin, she wonders if she’d been instilled with unkindness since birth. If, like loneliness, cruelty was embedded in her tissue, passed down like her last name. 

Although maybe it wasn’t all about circumstance, about claiming a crown as your birthright. Girls who were allowed to have knobby knees and sugar-coated breakfasts, who play-fought their brothers and always got a goodnight kiss from their fathers, those girls, raised to be sweet-speaking and kind-hearted and not only when it benefited them, those girls could be cruel, too. 

His phone tossed on the bed between them, looking at her stern and strain-jawed from across the room. She knew without having to hear the other end of the call that he was trying to be the big brother, the buffer, from eighty miles away. Knew from the way he pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes, knew from the first time she was at odds with his sister, that she could draw blood too. It’s not that she wanted to take Jenny’s side, but something like pride simmered in her stomach. The title needed to be defended. It wasn’t something Dan would ever understand; that sometimes being hated made you feel stronger than being loved.

This isn’t who she is. She’s not -

Dan is not unkind but he knows how to be, and that is what she loves about him. He always stops short of slamming the door. 

When he crossed the room, her fists curling in his sweater as he buried his face against her shoulder, there wasn’t a moment she thought of pushing him away. 

Her room is littered with the evidence of her father’s guilt; in porcelain music boxes and old sweaters and diamond necklaces, materials to patch up the space he left behind. Now that the remnants of Chuck’s love have been cleared away, she’s found that it materialized in the same way, objects to fill in the gaps he couldn’t fill himself. 

Up close, Dan is all tense shoulders and fidgeting hands, his innate need to be the perfect student, the perfect son, the perfect boyfriend, to make up for the fact that he was only him. He recounts his memories to her like they’re bedtime stories. About his first kiss, in the seventh grade, Jenny’s best friend who snuck into his room during a sleepover and proclaimed a crush on him. About how his mom had told Jenny all the best leading ladies came from Brooklyn, and they marathoned her favourite classics to prove her point. About how that had led to Gene Tierney being his first real crush – the first girl he’d had a dirty dream about. About the fight with his dad at thirteen that made him punch a wall – except not a wall, that garage door in the middle of his room – which made him start crying. And he tells them so earnest, eyes so intent, Blair almost feels bad for laughing so hard her stomach aches. 

It’s going to take time to make the little girl scorned inside her grow. The little girl who was always planning a wedding or a funeral, always heading for the altar, to give herself over or give herself up. She’s not there yet, but every time his weight slumps against the other side of a shut door, she marks a new height on the wall. 

 

With his hand flush on her bare hip, the smell of sex and sweat cutting through the lingering scent of her soap – almond and amber, handmade bars from the south of France that she tells him to stop wasting! but he never listens – that despite the soreness, her desire accumulates between her thighs, fixates on all the places where his skin meets hers. She doesn’t want to wake him, with his sleep schedule being as unbalanced as it is; but she can’t help herself, loving how completely relaxed he looks, reaching up to trace over his jaw, down his throat, along his collarbones. Mine, she thinks, her palm flush down his chest, his torso, trailing the hair at the bottom of his stomach. Mine. She counts his ribs, presses her fingers into each bar of the cage around his heart. Mine, she thinks, All mine.

“G’morning,” he mumbles against her forehead, and when he shifts she feels him, half-hard against her hip. She giggles, a small, girlish noise that surprises her. She moves up to plant a kiss square on his mouth, his hand sliding up to the back of her head and keeping her in place. His face scrunches up when she pulls away, his eyes still closed.

“Morning breath,” he says. “Gross.”

“So vain,” she teases, slipping up on top of him, his breath hitching as the heat of her sits flush against his growing erection. 

“You’re the one feeling me up in my sleep,” he says, arms wrapping around her waist, eyes opening lazily before shutting again as she leans down to nip at his bottom lip with her teeth. His hands slip down her waist, gripping her ass and pressing her onto him more firmly, nipping back at her when she gasps. 

“Nice way to wake up,” he mumbles against her mouth, hands kneading harder, warranting a more adamant bite in return.

She draws over his flushed lips, earning a kiss to her fingertips before coaxing his mouth open, his warm tongue sliding slick on her fingers. Mine. His hands press firm into her hips, urging her forward, and she goes easily, that feeling of hot wax in her joints, melting between her bones, never leaving as long as she’s waking up next to him, as long as he’s looking at her like the flame that lit the candle. 

Mine, she thinks, as she lowers herself onto his mouth, his fingers burying themselves in her still-sore thighs, her back arching at the first indulgently slow lick of his tongue. All mine. 

 

 

The frost is melting off the windows and Blair sits on the cramped cashiers desk of the bookstore, one leg crossed over the other, doing her Psych reading; a precarious set up, each chime of the bell over the door forcing her to hop off the desk and scramble behind the nearest shelf. 

Or, she was reading, now she’s watching Dan’s teeth worry at his bottom lip, like if she stares at him long enough he’ll unravel before her and she’ll finally know what to get him for his birthday. She doesn’t think anything could compare to what he gave her; the warm touch and tipsy laughter and reading her mind, making her wish come true. She hopes a typewriter and dressing up as Gene Tierney comes close.

He tips his head up to look at the clock, big and shaped like an owl and so fucking ugly Blair would rather just watch the sun. 

“Hungry,” he mumbles, then taps a finger on her shin, curls a hand around her calf. “There’s no one else here. You wanna tie me over?”

“Don’t be crude,” she shoots back, but lets him slide his palm over her knee, up her thigh, picking at her stockings, tugging them away from her skin, tender and staticky from the compression. 

“I like it when you wear these,” he says, smoothing over the fabric he’d just picked at, fingertips brushing the hem of her skirt. “I like taking them off.”

Taking is generous, he’s ripped holes through at least three pairs, seeming to think she has a never-ending supply of them, which she does, but that doesn’t stop her from feigning irritation. 

He sidles up to the edge of his chair, leaning over to rest his cheek on her knee, looking up through dark lashes, the barest crescent of shadow lingering under his eyes. She stops his hand as it starts to venture further, and he turns his palm up, locking their fingers. His sincerity makes her feel big and small all at once. Ever-expanding and shrinking back with a blush.

“I’m busy,” she says, flexing her leg out to kick off his cheek. “I’m reading.”

“You’re not reading,” he tells her. “You’ve been staring at me for ten minutes.”

“I was not staring.”

“Admiring,” he supplies, tugging her hand up to brush his lips over her knuckles. 

“Right here?” she says, skeptically, like she doesn’t believe he’d do it. He wouldn’t, probably. But he likes a challenge. He chose her, after all. “That would get you fired. And possibly arrested.”

“Store room. I’ll flip the sign.”

“You could still lose the job.”

Dan shrugs, a half-hearted lift of the shoulder. “Don’t need it. I plan to marry money.”

“Cute,” Blair says. She’s given in, had given in the moment he touched her, the first tap-tap that she felt all the way to her bones, but put up the semblance of a fight because she loves his persistence. 

Dan perks up, swiveling in his chair to fiddle with the stereo behind him. It’s gravelly, not the best reception, but she recognizes the stream of tinny-sounding instruments faintly. He stands suddenly, wrapping an arm around her waist to sweep her off the desk, setting her down on her feet in front of him.

“What are you doing?” 

The arm around her waist stays there firmly, spreading heat through her stomach, the other clasping her hand.

“Dancing,” he says. “Duh.”

“You can’t dance to this,” she says, but she’s letting him sway her off-beat. “90s alternative rock is more fitted for angsting on the bedroom floor.”

He spins her around, only once and then back again, but she’s dizzy with it.

“Do a lot of angsting, do you?” 

“I was talking about you,” she snips, and then he’s kissing her quiet, and she gets lost in it, almond and amber and Dolores O’Riordan’s croon.

His hand slips down her waist easy, fitting over her ass, nose nudging into the crook of her neck, shamelessly enjoying himself.

“Come on. Atonement? In the library?”

“Not -“ her breath hitches as his grip tightens for a moment before relaxing again, “- fair. You know I can’t say no to that.”

He wets his lips before pressing a kiss to her jaw. “You -“ he says, then another. “In that green dress,” moving down along her extended neck, and before she knows it her back is pressed up against the shelves, the same ones she was ducking behind. His forehead rests on hers, carding her hands through his hair, and there’s no way she’s going to leave here without him touching her, not when the seam of her stockings is already close to soaked through, begging to be ripped. “That’s what I want for my birthday.”

And she’s melting, melting, melting.

 

 

Steam clouds the mirror in the bathroom, bubbles in the water popping away, swirling around her knees. Chamomile fills the room from his cup, lavender from her bath, smelling the way her father’s house does in the summer. 

“I think I’m gonna to take a Women in Literature course next semester,” Dan says, flipping through a catalogue, sitting on a towel on the bathroom floor. He’d been propped on the lid of the toilet, but she’d wanted him closer. 

“We’re already sleeping together, you don’t have to impress me.”

He holds up a finger without looking at her.

“Clara’s starting a wine club, and I know I said she was a dreadful loudmouth but she’s friends with a duchess who’s bringing bottles from her family’s collection.”

He smiles around the rim of his cup. “A wine club? Like Frasier?”

“I’m not going to pretend like I know what that means.”

“Royal wine club. Sounds pretentious.”

“Did you send in that short story to the literary magazine yet?” she leans forward to poke the bruise on the side of his neck, water dripping down his shirt, and he catches her wrist to kiss her hand. “The one that describes me as… what was it? A Waterhouse? Which one, Gather Ye Rosebuds?”

He shakes his head. “ The Siren.”

She matches his finger, taking the extra step to flick his nose. 

“Speaking of next semester,” she says, wet hands running through his hair. “Dasha’s moving out.”

“Because of the couch?”

The couch being two nights ago when Dasha walked in on them in an incredibly compromising position with only the blanket to cover them while she was in the next room over. 

“No,” Blair says pointedly. “Although she did say something about seeing more of you than she ever wanted to.”

Dan grimaces, head falling back against the side of the tub. 

“While I’m going to miss having her around for a quarter of the week I am not going to miss that rug , or those curtains , and I know it’s going to be a bit tight for you money-wise but we’ll make it work, and we’ll turn the second bedroom into a study – with cream walls – and you can bring your records -“

“Blair,” he says, his mouth turning up, and she’s used to him, knows the joke before it’s even left his lips. “Is there a question coming?”

Humphrey ,” she says, tugging on the collar of his shirt. “You want a new roommate?”

His face scrunches up, like he has to actually consider his answer, like he has to think really hard about it. 

“I don’t know,” he says. “I’ve heard sleeping with your roommate leads to all kinds of trouble.”

She pulls him forward, water sloshing out of the tub and all over him.

“Wait,” he mumbles, pulling back just enough to speak, holding her face in both his hands, the pages of the catalogue soaked through and stuck together. “You think she’ll let us keep the blanket?”

Her eyebrows raise. “I think she’s going to make us keep the blanket.”