Author's Note: It's been a wild week or two on both the personal and professional front and to be honest this chapter had to be rewritten a few times as it has many moving parts making it difficult to get precisely what I wanted. My beta was wonderful in helping me get it corralled! Chapter 6 should follow much more quickly and I hope you enjoy this! I love reading your reviews!
Ch. 5 We Pray So Breathlessly
Every night on sep'rate stars, before we go to sleep, we pray so breathlessly – "We Three" Patti Smith
The buzz of an incoming text message pulled Dan from a restless sleep the next morning. As he half-opened his eyes and started to sift through his confused thoughts, the first thing he noticed was the time. 8:30 AM. It took a few minutes for curiosity to overcome his desire to simply pull the comforter back over his head and drift back off.
Meet me at 10 at the duck pond. – B
Succinct. Commanding. Classic Waldorf. He wasn't sure how he felt about that – or, for that matter, where she was telling him to meet her. He truly had no clue what duck pond she was talking about. He quickly texted back a confused response and a few moments later, directions to the pond in Central Park were forwarded to his phone.
Dan dropped the phone on the pillow beside him and considered the source of his conflicted feelings, one Blair (sometimes Clair Carlyle) Waldorf. Last night she had kissed him. In and of itself that wasn't his source of conflict. Being kissed by beautiful girls shouldn't and wouldn't be a source of complaint for him. The problem was who had kissed him and the fact that he had liked it. A lot. That was a problem, as he had no intention of cheating on Vanessa, especially with someone in Blair's state of mind. Too much was uncertain and too much was happening too quickly for him to be certain she liked him well enough to date him and not just declare herself temporarily insane. That was the fifth time that particular thought with the word "date" attached to it had passed through his mind since he had put himself in a cab last night, come back to Lily's penthouse, done his best to be quietly antisocial with claims of wanting to get some writing done, and then tried for several stressful hours to force himself to fall asleep before finally achieving a fitful slumber. He was quite aware this particular idea with that particular word had engendered a very particular panic in him precisely five times as each and every single instance had led him to question his own sanity as well as Blair's. Finding Blair in Brooklyn singing in a band was surreal to say the least. Coming to the conclusion that Blair was not just some couture-clad UES social assassin and had been trying to hold together her life in the face of one disaster after the next was a paradigm shift as well. Kissing her and possibly romancing her (that panic surged through him a sixth time) was likely a bridge too far for his psyche.
And then he thought of how close she had sat beside him on the couch in her Brooklyn apartment, and he thought of how delicate and vulnerable she had seemed sitting and crying in her bathroom at the thought of coming back to the Upper East Side, and he thought of the defiant flash in her eyes as she proudly told him of making her own life on her own in Brooklyn... and he thought of how soft her lips felt pressed against his when he dropped her at her mother's home, and then he realized he wasn't feeling a panicky urge any longer but a much different kind of urge. No, this is the worst idea in the history of bad ideas. Think about Serena. Think about how Blair treated Jenny last year. She might have changed, but this was a complication that couldn't be entertained.
Dan suddenly felt no sleepiness. His turmoil had given him renewed energy. He stood and made his way to his bathroom. He quickly showered and put on clothes before slipping out of the penthouse, fortunately before anyone had woken. It wasn't until he was coming out of the building that he realized he hadn't for a single moment considered not answering the text or telling her that he wasn't going. He set off towards Central Park with a determined stride and an even more determined mind. He would navigate this without becoming more socially entangled with Blair Waldorf. He, not his hormones, controlled his emotions.
As he approached the pond, his resolve had unconsciously dissolved until all that was left was eagerness and a not-inconsiderable amount of nervousness. He saw Blair sitting on a bench looking out at the ducks before she saw him. He was surprised although perhaps he shouldn't have been to see her dressed like the Blair of old. She wore a black or navy blue skirt—he couldn't tell from a distance which color it was—and a dark green blouse with a matching headband. Her hair was no longer pulled back into a ponytail but fell in curly, glistening waves around her shoulders. Her lips had a ruby gloss to them he found entirely too inviting and he mentally willed himself not to stare at her lips. Dan wondered if that was a battle he could successfully fight. Completing the ensemble were dark grey tights and black Mary Janes. Beside her was a large loaf of bread presumably for feeding the ducks. Blair sat properly with her hands folded in her lap waiting Dan assumed on his arrival.
He waved to catch her attention as he approached. She offered him a nervous smile and his stomach leaped about a bit while he walked. She had a very pretty smile.
"Hi," he said as he slid onto the bench beside her with the baguette between them.
"No plaid today?" she asked by way of greeting with a raised eyebrow.
"Hm?" he asked surprised and considered his own clothes realizing for the first time he had bypassed his usual style of dress for something a little more fashion forward than Brooklyn Coffee Shop Chic. This made him feel even less in control of himself than ever. "I don't wear plaid allthe time, Clair." He was very conscious to use her chosen name, as that made her happy and Dan Humphrey was quickly coming to the conclusion one of his favorite things was a happy Blair Waldorf - as strange as that might once have seemed to him.
Her nervous smile transformed to a broad, unreserved grin and she responded, "You look nice." She broke the bread in half, handed him one section, and immediately began to break off small parts of her end. The ducks noticed this immediately and began circling near them. Blair focused her attention on the ducks and her nerves seemed to return in full force.
"Is… everything okay?" he prompted.
She shook her head and continued feeding the ducks.
Dan joined her in feeding the ducks from his bread supply and tried again. "I'm on your side, Clair. I meant my promise."
She flashed her small smile at him again. "My daddy is going to be home in an hour or so. He took the first available flight out of Paris."
Suddenly things clicked. "Is that why you've dressed like…" he drifted off without completing the question unsure of how she would react to him bringing up her life as Blair.
She completed the question for him. "Like Blair?" She sighed and sat back staring at the blue morning sky. "I am Blair, Dan. I wasn't in a fugue state or having a psychotic break."
He smiled. She called him Dan. How pleased he was at this immediately set off alarms in his mind. "I never said you were crazy. I only thought you wanted to keep the identity you created for yourself."
Blair avoided looking anywhere but at Dan. Her smile was gone and a tension had invaded her face. "I don't want Daddy looking at me like I'm a stranger," she said with a small voice.
"Oh," was his only response. They sat in uncomfortable silence for a few moments. "I don't think that's possible. You'll always be his daughter. He'll know you."
She chuckled at that. "Still I can only imagine his expression if he saw me dressed like a Williamsburg hipster."
Dan joined her laugh. "Hipster? I didn't think you were dressed like a hipster."
Blair rolled her eyes at him. "Humphrey, one thing I had to stop doing was lying to myself. I've completely succumbed to the hipster aesthetic."
He laughed with her. "If you say so, Clair." He was unsure how to proceed though and simply dived in. "You do realize though that how you dress doesn't define the person you are?"
She smirked and replied, "I think you underestimate the power of fashion, Dan."
"You'll get no argument from me on that."
She leaned into him and nudged him with her shoulder. "Going to finish that bread?"
He handed over the remains of his half-loaf. "Go for it."
She resumed feeding the ducks before speaking. "Daddy has always looked at me like I'm special. What if he doesn't think that any more?"
"And that's why you're dressed this way?"
She only nodded and tossed the last of the thread into the pond.
Dan considered for a brief moment whether his inner indecision mattered more than giving Blair what she needed and he was angry at himself that it even took any thought at all. He scooted himself over the few inches between them and pulled her into a hug. She immediately relaxed into him.
"Clair, he'll love you no matter what. You're his daughter and you're wonderful."
She looked up at him but did not break away. "You think I'm wonderful?"
He couldn't seem to break his eyes away from hers. "Yes," he answered. This time he initiated the kiss. He had no idea how long this kiss lasted. For some unfathomable reason he couldn't explain, he seemed unable to focus on the outside world while kissing her. Finally, they both pulled away with ragged breath.
She smiled up at him. "I think you've probably ruined my lip gloss."
"Don't be." She leaned into his chest and sat very still while he held her.
"I don't know precisely what's going on," he said with a sigh. "This is a bit of a whirlwind for me."
"Me too," she replied and nuzzled her head into his shoulder. "Do you need to slow down?"
"No fair," she said with a laugh. "You can't answer a question with a question."
He squeezed her shoulder. "I don't know. I can't seem to think straight right now."
"Want me to do the thinking for both of us?"
Dan chuckled. "Not if it means you sticking me on a plane for Lisbon for my own good."
Blair laughed and pulled away looking up into his eyes. "Casablanca?"
He nodded. "One of my favorites."
"Mine, too," she said.
"Really?" he asked. "Audrey Hepburn isn't in Casablanca."
She playfully slapped his shoulder. "I have a bit more range than that, Cabbage Patch!"
He shrugged and winked at her.
"Okay," she said dropping the grin. "How about we get through today and then think about…" she waved her hand around in an inclusive gesture. "This. Whatever this is."
Dan was puzzled. "Why do 'we' need to get through the day?"
Blair's eyebrows rose. "Have you talked to Serena or Lily?"
He shook his head.
"Your family is coming over for lunch. Everyone will be there, including my dad."
"Oh. I sort of avoided everyone last night because I didn't want to risk saying you were back until you were ready."
She embraced him in a strong, fierce hug that lasted for more than a minute. "Thank you for considering me. I'm sorry if I put you in a difficult situation."
Dan stroked her hair and whispered. "Nowhere I would rather be."
He held her for a few more minutes in silence with the two of them watching the ducks. It was... nice. He hadn't had a peaceful moment in the company of another person in a long time. He had no idea what to do about his relationship with Vanessa, but he knew it couldn't go on - at least not while whatever this thing with Blair was happening. He didn't want to hurt Vanessa, but he had never expected something like what he had stumbled into with Blair, and he still wasn't sure why he was drawn to her so strongly. Part of him was still living in complete dread of breaking things off with Vanessa and facing Blair's parents and his father and Jenny and most of all Serena... well that part of him was pretty sure this would blow up in his face. The other part though had no words for how thrilled he was. This was so similar to what he had felt with Serena, but even though it had only been a year since his immaturity had destroyed that relationship, he felt so much more able to see who Blair truly was without all the judgmental preconceptions he would have brought into this, and he vowed not to make the mistake he had made with Serena and put Blair on a pedestal and demand she live up to the image.
She stirred against his chest and sat up straight. "Are you coming to lunch?"
Dan smiled. "Of course. Wouldn't miss it."
"I'm sure it's going to be... interesting," Blair replied.
"Who do you think blows it up first? Your mother? Lily? Serena?"
"My money's on me to be honest." Blair winked at him.
Dan chuckled at that. "Can't bet on yourself, Clair."
She sighed and her hesitation was obvious to him, but he settled for nervous patience until she was ready. He hoped he hadn't said something to discourage her. "Dan," she began. "For now and especially in front of my family and Serena, I think I need to go back to 'Blair.'"
Dan cupped her cheek and kissed her softly. He was amazed he was being this forward, but he seemed to lose all common sense around this girl. "Blair or Clair. Doesn't matter. You're still you. Are you a different person than you were a year ago? Of course. Everyone changes. Your name isn't the important part. Who you are now is who you choose to be."
She shook her head at him. "I don't think I'm the only one that's changed."
He laughed. "Should I be offended?"
She joined his laughter. "No, of course not. I just remember a boy who wasn't very sure of himself..."
"And don't forget judgmental. I'm aware that I could be a bit difficult in that regard."
Blair frowned at him. "I was only going to say a bit unsure and wary of getting involved in the Upper East Side. Of course if you want some constructive criticism and perhaps a list of improvements you could enact..."
Dan smiled wryly at her. "I'll be sure to check with you first."
Blair checked her watch. "We should go. My dad is probably home already and Mother has likely sent out search parties. And your family is due soon, too."
He checked his phone. "No one has called me. Come to think of it though... they probably don't think I know or even care about the lunch. Why hasn't your mom called you?"
"Turned my phone off. Not turning it on until I get back to the penthouse either. I wanted to spend some time disconnected from all of that even if it's just a few moments."
"Blair Waldorf goes offline. It truly is a new world we live in." Dan smirked at her.
She narrowed her eyes and smacked his chest. "Up, Humphrey! Escort me home if you can't get past your vile Brooklyn manners."
"You've just spent the past six months living in Brooklyn, Blair." Dan replied sarcastically. He stood and offered her his hand.
She took his hand as he helped her stand. She brushed some bread crumbs off her skirt and then smoothed his shirt, brushing crumbs off that as well. "That should lend more weight to my analysis. You should see me in my Brooklyn persona, Cabbage Patch. I don't even wear shoes when I'm running moonshine to Queens."
Dan laughed. "Yes, Blair Waldorf: Hillbilly."
She nodded solemnly. "It was very liberating."
Dan was glad of the banter as it relaxed both him and Blair on the walk to the penthouse. When they arrived, he paused at the door. "Should we go in separately?"
Blair appeared puzzled. "Why?"
"I don't know, Blair... plausible deniability?"
Blair looked up at him and said in a very serious manner, "I don't want to deny that you're my friend, Dan."
She didn't wait for a response and walked inside. Dan followed. As they exited the elevator to the Waldorf residence, all eyes turned to them in silence. Dan's dad wasn't back yet, but Lily, Serena, Eric, and Jenny were there. The two girls were staring daggers at him and Blair. Lily had her near-permanent bemused expression, although it was focused on Dan, which was a rare occurrence. Eric had that look of half-amusement and half-wishing to be anywhere else look he had when the drama was about to crank up to eleven. What's going on? It can't be that I got out of the elevator with Blair.He noticed that Blair's parents also seemed rather annoyed. Blair's maid, whom Dan could not quite recall by name, seemed to be trying simultaneously to serve drinks and get out of the room.
Blair stopped in her tracks. "What?"
Jenny sneered and Dan knew trouble inevitably followed that expression. She held up her phone. Dan and Blair walked over to see a recent Gossip Girl blast. It was a very clear picture of the two of them kissing at the duck pond.
Spotted! Former Queen B has lowered her standards to include Brooklyn charity cases! I've been hearing rumors she was back in town, but now it's confirmed, Dear Readers! And she's wasted no time in stirring up drama. How will S react to B taking S's cast-offs and making them hers?
"Great," Dan replied.
Blair simply shrugged as if she didn't see the big deal.
"That's it?" Jenny shrieked. "You're sleeping with Blair behind Vanessa's back and that's all you have to say?"
Dan saw Serena blanche and turn away, and he could practically feel the burning glare from all three parents as Jenny's tirade heightened in both pitch and volume. Dan needed to calm this down quickly before blood was shed. He began to speak but Blair managed to interject first.
"First of all, Little J, I'm not sleeping with your brother. I kissed him. His virtue is intact and he hasn't cheated on anyone. I kissed him. He pulled away but that doesn't make for a nice Gossip Girl scandal, does it?"
Dan blinked. She had just said she didn't want to deny being his friend, and the realization struck him. She was protecting him. He wasn't sure he should let her do it.
Before he could formulate a response to this quickly shifting conversation, Blair's mother jumped in. Her father sat in stony silence similar to Lily and Serena. "How dare you run off without telling me or keeping your phone charged, Young Lady! I..."
Blair interrupted again. "My phone is charged. It's simply turned off."
Eleanor's eyes bugged.
Turning to Dan, Blair said, "This is going to get uglier. You should bail while you can."
That reminded Dan. Chuck would have seen the blast. Dan needed to do damage control before this got even more stupid. He ignored the protests of both families and told Blair, "Yeah, I do have to bail, but it's because I have to fix something."
"Vanessa?" Blair asked as they both continued to ignore Jenny's and Eleanor's demands for attention.
"No," he replied honestly. "I'll explain soon. I'm not hiding anything. I just don't want to stack it on top of all this." Dan backed towards the elevator.
Blair smiled at him and stuck her tongue out at him. "Coward."
Dan laughed as the elevator closed.
On his way to Chuck's apartment, Dan tried and failed to formulate some sort of plan or story. He felt a completely lacking in control, and that wasn't something he preferred, he readily admitted. He didn't know how Chuck would react to Blair being back in town or to the Gossip Girl blast.
Chuck had been devastated when Blair ran off. Even Dan could see that at the time, and that was back when neither Dan nor Chuck would have spit on the other if they were on fire. Things had changed, though, when Georgina had rolled back into town. Dan was ashamed to admit that he had been taken in by her subterfuge, and his and Serena's budding relationship was one of the two casualties.
The other was Serena's sobriety. Fortunately she had survived the overdose, but only because Chuck had gotten her to the hospital. Dan remembered standing beside her hospital bed and looking down at her in a coma, her hair limp and matted, her slender frame looking horribly fragile. Serena had never appeared fragile. She was strong and golden and vibrant. In the hallway outside of the quiet hospital room, he'd thrown a wild punch at Chuck, assuming that this mess must have been his fault. It took both his dad and Eric holding him back for him to listen to the whole story, and find out that Chuck was only on the scene because Georgina had given him a call after deciding that she was bored with torturing Serena. Out of a loyalty that Dan had never seen in him before, Chuck had gotten to Serena's apartment as soon as he could, and the paramedics said he'd probably saved her life.
An uneasy peace had formed after that between the two as Serena no longer truly trusted Dan-not that he blamed her-and Chuck became the only person who could get through to her. Dan also had to admit that she got through to Chuck. He was still a person Dan would describe as a scoundrel, but taking responsibility for another person had given him purpose and moderated his excesses.
But now, thanks to this week's events, Dan felt their unlikely friendship at risk. Any threat to Serena's well-being tended to push Chuck's behavior to the edge, and beyond that, Dan doubted that he'd ever really gotten over Blair since her disappearance. As awkward as this conversation was going to be, he knew he owed it to Chuck to face him man-to-man.
Arriving at the apartment, Dan didn't bother knocking. He and Chuck had moved past that level of formality months ago. He saw Chuck standing with a drink in hand gazing out the window with a dark expression on his face. So he knows.
"I take it you saw?" Dan opened the conversation, giving Chuck a chance to handle this how he wanted.
"Yes, Daniel, I saw the blast."
Well, it was the direct approach today.
Chuck continued without turning from the window. "Was it accurate?"
Dan wasn't going to bother lying. Chuck would find out and dishonesty would complicate things further. "Not precisely."
Chuck did turn at that. No smirk, though. Dan knew that meant the situation was far from defused. "Oh? Do go on."
"I did kiss her. I didn't know where she was all this time, if that's what you think."
Chuck nodded and moved to his sofa, sitting down smoothly and propping an ankle on his opposite knee with his arm outstretched over the back of the sofa. He swirled his drink around his glass silently.
Dan took the opportunity to sit in the chair opposite Chuck. "I found her two days ago in Brooklyn..."
Chuck snorted in surprise. "Brooklyn? Seriously?"
"Dead serious. She's singing in a punk band."
Chuck frowned at Dan in obvious confusion.
Dan laughed. "No, I'm not making this up. I saw her. I approached her. I convinced her to come home for her parents... and for Serena."
Chuck grimaced at that. "You should have let me know."
Dan raised an eyebrow in disbelief. "I suppose that's one way to have done it, but when I met her I promised her I wouldn't tell anyone until I spoke to her again."
Chuck sighed and rolled his eyes at the ceiling. "Of course, and you wouldn't break a promise."
"I try not to, Chuck."
"That wasn't disbelief, Dan. It was annoyance." Chuck looked him in the eye for the first time since Dan had entered.
Dan nodded. "Just in case. So she's back, and she and Serena are meeting. I have no idea how that will go."
Chuck sighed. "Do you think they'll be okay?"
"Well, Lily and Eleanor are there, so I doubt it. Lily wouldn't let Serena come alone is my guess, and Eleanor evidently doesn't want Blair out of her sight."
"That's to be expected." Chuck hesitated. "So the kiss?"
"I won't lie, Chuck. I don't even get what's happening. Like at all."
Chuck smirked at Dan. "Maybe you're horny?"
Good. A smirk is good."Maybe." Dan laughed. "I don't think it's just that, though."
"You have feelings for her?"
"Do you?" Dan returned.
It was Chuck's turn to raise a questioning eyebrow. "No," he confessed, and Dan believed him more or less. "I did but..." he trailed off again. Dan didn't push the issue. He knew the unspoken answer. Serena. Chuck wasn't what anyone would call a one-woman man, but when he wanted something or someone, they became his sole focus, no matter how long the odds might have been.
Dan spoke to keep Chuck from falling back into his dark mood. "Serena will need you, I think. "
"And you'll be there for Blair, I take it?" Chuck's lip curled a little at the words.
This wasn't going perfectly, but it was probably the best Dan could hope for. "I promised. I'm going to keep my promise."
Chuck blew out a breath and stood. "All right. I won't push it... for now at least. Have a drink with me?"
"Sure," Dan responded. They spent the rest of the afternoon making small talk and drinking Scotch. Dan continued to worry about Blair, and he was sure Chuck was just as worried for Serena.