For a moment he is almost sure that he has imagined her. To be fair she doesn't look like her. She's in a sweatshirt and jeans and her hair is in a messy ponytail. When he gets closer to her he also recognizes that she isn't wearing any makeup. He attempts to remember a time when he saw Blair Waldorf without makeup or at least a time when she was not completely put together. Nothing comes to mind and he slides into the seat next to her.
"Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world…"
"She walks into mine," Blair finishes and turns to face him with a smirk, "of course you would hang out in a bar like this."
"And you would never. What are you doing here?"
"Drinking," she replies and holds up her glass to make her point.
"What are you doing in New Hampshire?" he clarifies.
"That's the question."
"Are you okay?"
"No. Let's go for a walk," she says and stands up. She reaches the door and then looks back at him expectantly. To his complete surprise he gets up and follows her out.
They've been wandering around the Dartmouth campus for fifteen minutes and neither of them has said anything. Blair looks a bit lost and Dan keeps coming up with situations that would explain her presence. He assumes it has something to do with Nate, but the last he heard she was with Chuck Bass.
"Chuck asked me to marry him," she says and he stops short, whipping around his head to look at her. Her eyes haven't left the ground and she keeps walking. He starts up after her when it becomes clear that she has no intention of stopping.
"Okay," he replies, because he can't think of anything else to say.
"I said no."
"And I don't know why," she continues as if she hasn't heard him. Dan wonders if she is even aware of his presence at all, but then she stops and turns to face him.
"He got down on one knee and everything. It was really romantic. He took me to a wonderful restaurant and he told me how much he loved me. He gave this great speech about how loving me had changed him and made him a better man. He asked me to make him the happiest man in the world and I said no. I sat there and I looked at the boy I've been dating since my freshman year of college and I said no. I didn't know why I said no, but then he got angry and started yelling things about me never getting over Nate, which makes sense. Obviously, if I don't want to marry my boyfriend of three and half years I'm not over my first love. So I flew here to see Nate. Except, then I saw him and I didn't feel anything, not one damn thing. I said no to Chuck and I don't know why. Why would I do that? Why?" she asks and she's hysterical. She's on the verge of crying and she's looking at Dan in a way that strangely makes his heart ache. She's begging him to provide the answers and he has no idea what to say.
"Blair, let's sit down," he says and motions to the bench. She nods and there are tears in her eyes. He's never seen her this upset or this unraveled. Not even at her seventeenth birthday when she locked herself in a room and refused to come out for the rest of the evening.
"I was supposed to be married by the time I graduated Yale. That was always the plan. And sure I swapped Nate for Chuck, but I loved him as much as I had loved Nate. I wasn't supposed to say no."
"But you did. There has to be a reason you did and I'm sure it's a good reason."
"I couldn't see our future," she whispers and he can barely hear her, "I sat there looking at this gorgeous ring and I tried to see our wedding and our life together, but I couldn't. I couldn't even imagine the ring on my finger."
She looks at him when she finishes saying this. Dan has never heard her sound pathetic and he finds it unnerving. He feels this overwhelming urge to comfort her somehow and does so by putting his arm around her. He feels her collapse against him and he briefly wonders how she's been holding herself up for their whole conversation.
"That's okay Blair. It's going to be all right. Just because things aren't going according to your original plan, doesn't been that you'll find a new and better plan. It's going to be okay," he offers and the words sound stupid and meaningless to him. He's never been good at comforting and he silently curses himself for his hopeless attempt. But he feels her head shift to look at him. He looks down at her and realizes how close they are.
"Say that again," she breathes out.
"It's going to be okay," he repeats and Blair nods.
He lets her stay in his bed, while his roommates look at him with raised eyebrows. He doesn't date much and it's rare for him to bring someone home. He shakes his head and rolls his eyes at their questions. In the morning she is gone, without a note or any trace that she was ever there. She doesn't call or write, but they were never close. Still, Dan can't get their walk out of his head for weeks afterwards.
He graduates from Dartmouth months later and returns to the city for Columbia and graduate school. Rufus and Lily welcome him with smiles and an awkward dinner. He knows they still blame themselves for his breakup with Serena. They weren't the reason, but he knows they will never believe that. The truth is much less exciting. He just woke up one day at the end of his first summer home from college and realized that he wasn't in love with her anymore. It wasn't dramatic or life ending, it was just a fact. It also happened that she had come to this conclusion as well. They didn't fight or attempt to prolong their dying relationship. Instead, they parted as friends. Yet, this does not make good gossip and the different "truths" about their breakup continue to circulate through the Upper East Side.
Blair goes to France after graduation. She had spent her junior year there and was already fluent in the language. After her first months there she begins to understand why Serena loves escaping so much. No one in France knew of her complete failure as a member of upper society and she was free to do as she pleased. She relishes in this and spends her time avoiding all that she has left behind. Months later she realizes what Serena meant when she described the problems of running away.
He graduates from Columbia and equipped with a new degree walks into St. Jude's and applies for a job. He isn't sure what shocks him more: that he got the job or that he applied for the job. Teaching is something that has always interested him and it allows him to avoid finishing the book he started his senior year of college and has casually kept up with over the years. He enjoys writing it, but he is beginning to be more and more disturbed that his main character's love interest seems to be based off of Blair Waldorf.
New York is New York and people will always talk. Blair has been back for only two days and she is already aware of the following facts. Nate Archibald had finally gotten the nerve to stand up with his family and was living in California. Chuck Bass was taking over his father's business as soon as he graduated from Harvard Business School. He was also engaged to some girl his father had set him up with. However, he still slept around, but the fiancée apparently ignored this. This was seen as evidence that they would have a successful marriage. Serena van der Woodsen was somewhere in South America helping a charitable organization build a school or houses or something. Apparently, she turned up every couple of months and always looked exuberantly happy. Jenny Humphrey had recently graduated from Stanford and was engaged to some computer genius she had met there. Blair finds all of this out and finds herself feeling happy for Serena and caring little for the rest of them. She also finds herself unable to hide her disappointment that the one person she wanted to hear about no one mentions. She finally asks Kati and Is about Dan. They look at her questioningly and she has to repeat Dan Humphrey twice before they recognize it.
"Oh, Serena's ex. Right, how could we forget? He's teaching at St. Jude's. Can you believe that? He's teaching at our old high school."
It takes her three months to work up the courage to take a cab to the school.
Blair feels seventeen again as she walks through the crowd of teenagers toward the door. She feels the looks, but focuses on the clack of her heels against the stone steps. She slowly makes her way through the maze-like hallways. She isn't sure why she is doing this. It's just that the one night at Dartmouth hangs over her head at all times. Nothing happened between them, but she had felt a spark. It was as if there was this unknown potential she had never known existed. She is rarely completely honest with herself, but there were moments in France when she allowed herself to just think of him. For some reason it had always made her feel better. She stops when she reaches his classroom and leans against the doorframe. She immediately knows that it is his classroom. There are books everywhere and tattered posters of famous authors hang on the walls. She walks into his classroom and sees him sitting at a desk in the front grading papers. He doesn't look up and she realizes that he is wearing earphones.
"Do they really call you Mr. Humphrey?" she asks loudly and he jumps. He quickly pulls the earphones out and stands. There is a moment and she can tell that he has just figured out who she is.
"I was in the neighborhood. You want to get some coffee?" she asks. She suddenly feels so young that it sickens her. She is a grown adult and she is acting like a stupid teenage girl with a crush. This feeling is of course ridiculous because he is Dan Humphrey. However, this thought evaporates when he smiles and she feels her stomach flutter.
"Yeah, I really would," he replies and grabs his jacket.
They talk of a million things in the coffee shop. They talk of France and Columbia. He tells her the plot of his book and she gives him the details of the dinners she has hosted. He confesses his fears surrounding his teaching job and she confesses that she was terrified to return to New York. They don't talk about Chuck or Nate or Serena or Vanessa or Jenny. They talk about everything that has happened to them as if they are old friends and not two people who were barely civil to each other in high school. It's odd and probably unhealthy, but both consider it one of the best afternoons they've ever had.
Their coffee date becomes a regular occurrence. Along with this Dan begins to write more. It's as if some floodgate has been opened and all he can do is write. He finishes the book four months after Blair comes back and by this time they have settled into what anyone else would call a relationship. There is gossip about them, but without daily updates on their phones they are oddly immune to it. If they did hear it they would be the first ones to defend themselves. It's what always happens. Someone comments on what a beautiful couple they are and they are both so quick to correct them that their words trip over one another and tangle together. Nothing has happened and both are still in denial that they are so close to each other. Dan presents the book over dinner and her face lights up in a way that makes him smile. He has just returned from his publisher and the book will be in print by the end of the year. She picks it up and flips through it.
"Read the first page," he says. She furrows her eyebrows in confusion and flips it open. Her jaw drops and she looks between him and the page at least ten times before speaking.
"You dedicated it to me," she says and her voice is so disbelieving that Dan frowns.
"Well, you're the one who wouldn't listen to my excuses. You're the one who would call me on Saturday at seven o'clock in the morning to ask if I was writing. You're the one who would tell me that I could actually get the book published. Who else would I dedicate it to?" he asks. Blair looks up at him and smiles.
"Thank you," she says and he nods. They walk out of the restaurant and are about to part ways when he kisses her. It's too quick for him to really think about who it is that he is kissing. She is still Blair, his first love's best friend and the girl who mocked him mercilessly in high school, but at the same time she is completely different. They break apart and they stare at each other.
"Blair, I…" he starts, but she cuts him off with another kiss. It's not how Dan planned, but somehow it is perfect.
Serena comes home for a week. She is running a charity that sends teachers to poorer countries. She has been all around the world in the past year and crashes at Lily and Rufus's apartment. Blair surprises her in the morning and Serena screams with joy. They sit on the couch in the apartment's living room eating croissants as Serena babbles about her work. Blair fidgets with her hair and finally Serena stops mid-sentence and asks her what's wrong.
"I'm dating Dan," Blair says and she says it so fast that she's not sure Serena understood. Serena looks at her for a moment and then bursts out laughing. Blair can see the tears in her eyes and listens to the laughter fill the room for a few minutes before interrupting.
"Serena, I'm serious. I'm dating Dan Humphrey."
"I know, I know. It's just you and Dan," she says and she's still laughing so hard that she can barely speak. Blair frowns. She doesn't find it that funny. Finally, Serena calms down and then she notices that Blair is frowning.
"Oh Blair, no I'm not mocking you or him. And I'm not mad and I don't think it's a joke. It's just you and Dan. How did we not see that coming?"
"What do you mean?"
"It's just that it works. I don't really know how or if I can explain it, but I can see you two together."
"Well, thank you. It's weird, but it's okay I guess. He's really sweet sometimes and he isn't afraid to say what he thinks. I like that," Blair says and finds Serena staring at her, "What?"
"You love him."
"What? We've only been dating for a couple months. It's not even that serious."
"You love him," Serena repeats and it sounds like she's gloating. She's wearing a Cheshire smile and has grabbed Blair's hand.
"I don't, I just. Oh my God. I'm in love with Dan Humphrey,' Blair says and she feels as if all the air has drained out of the room. This wasn't supposed to happen. She hadn't even been paying attention to it. It just sort of happened.
"I know," she hears Serena say, "and I think it's fantastic."
"It is," Blair replies and feels a smile forming on her face, "it really is."
Serena goes out to dinner with both of them and it is so comfortable that it alarms Dan. He's sitting across from the girl he once thought he would marry with his arm draped across the girl he never thought he would. Blair excuses herself for the bathroom and Dan finds himself alone with Serena.
"You're in love with my best friend," Serena says in a singsong voice before sipping her wine.
"Yes, I am," he replies and Serena raises her eyebrows.
"I was expecting a fight. Well, I'm happy you know that. And I'm really happy for the both of you. You know that right?" Serena asks and she looks so earnest that Dan can't help but nod. Of course she's happy for them. She's Serena; he doubts there's a malicious bone in her body.
"Thank you," Dan replies, "have you found someone yet?"
"You know me. I don't think settling down is in my path. Maybe one day," she replies.
"I'm sure you'll find him."
"Yeah, but I don't know if I want to. At the very least, I don't want to find him yet. I've always been with someone. Even if I wasn't in a relationship, there was someone there. It's nice to be on my own and I'm really happy with my work."
"Well, if you're happy I'm happy."
"Thank you," she says with a smile, "Mom said the same thing. I was expecting her to try and sell me on the idea of moving back, but she just said she wanted me to be happy. Rufus has really mellowed her and made her into, you know, a real person."
"They're happy. It's nice," Dan says and he means it. After seeing his father unhappy during and after the divorce he couldn't help but relish in the happiness he had found with Lily.
"So are you."
"Yes, so am I," Dan agrees as he turns his eyes to watch Blair make her way back to their table.
A week after Serena leaves they find themselves spending a quiet Sunday afternoon in Dan's apartment. They're spread out across the couch and are sharing the New York Times. Every once in a while they switch sections and continue reading. Blair has her legs thrown over Dan's lap and is laying against a large red pillow she continually calls ugly, but admits it is one of the most comfortable living room pieces she has come into contact with. Dan looks up at Blair and feels a sense of contentment wash over him.
"Hmm," she replies flipping to the next page of the paper.
"I love you," he says and hears the paper crinkle as it falls into her. She's staring and then suddenly she moves so fast that he doesn't even realize it until she is next to him.
"I love you too," she says and kisses him, the paper falling to the floor. They pull back and she settles against his chest, his hand running through her hair.
"Blair, move in with me."
"No," she says and shifts to look at him.
"You're moving in with me. I may love you, but I am not leaving the Upper East Side," she says and Dan starts laughing. She is still Blair Waldorf, still the girl he knew so many years ago. But she loves him and that makes all the difference.
"Okay, I'll move in with you," he says and she kisses him. She rests her head on him again and as the afternoon fades Dan finds himself thinking that he could stay like this forever.
They see Chuck Bass at a society dinner that one of Blair's many "friends" has put on. They are standing in the corner and Blair feels Dan stiffen beside him. She sees Chuck immediately and feels nauseous. Her eyes flicker over the exits and one look at Dan tells her he's thinking the same thing. She hasn't spoken to Chuck since she refused his proposal, but from what she's heard he never got over it. Chuck makes his way over to them, a leggy blonde on his arm. Blair is almost sure she is going to be sick when she realizes that the ring on the girl's finger was the same one he presented to her.
"Blair, I see you're slumming," he says with a head tilt toward Dan. The blonde looks extremely uncomfortable. Blair grabs Dan hand, to hold him back and is about to say something back when she find that she doesn't really care what Chuck Bass thinks of her.
"Nice to see you Chuck. I hope you're enjoying yourself. I'm Blair Waldorf and this is my boyfriend Dan Humphrey," she says, introducing herself to Chuck's wife.
"Ashley Bass," she manages to squeak out. Blair has a feeling Ashley has heard of her.
"So good to meet you. If you'll excuse me, I see someone we know," she says and walks away from them. Dan puts his arm around her shoulder and pulls her toward him.
"You okay?" he whispers.
"Yes," she replies and interlocks his fingers with hers. She is actually better than okay. She is ecstatic. She can finally let go of Chuck and all that he has done. She did love him and she is sure that he loved her, but it no longer matters. It is in the past and it will stay there.
An hour later, Dan has left for a phone call and Chuck corners her by the bar.
"What is your obsession with dating boys that Serena has slept with?"
"Chuck, I'm sorry if you're bitter about the way we parted, but I'd rather not speak to you."
"You will regret it one day, Blair. You will wake up alone and you will regret that you said no," he whispers and Blair turns to face him.
"Somehow I doubt that," she replies and walks away. She finds Dan in the crowd.
"Let's go home," she says, still somewhat marveled by the word home. Dan smiles and nods, then grabs her hand and leading her out of the building. She tightens the grip on his hand and knows that she will not end up alone.
Serena calls her a month after they see Chuck. She has not seen him since and had later found out that two weeks after the dinner he and Ashley had moved to Boston. Blair talks to Serena as she wanders around the apartment. She and Dan have finally found the perfect balance for fitting their stuff together. It took some time, but now she enjoys waking up and seeing his books everywhere.
"Where are you?" Blair asks. There's a long enough pause that Blair knows there is something Serena is not telling her.
"Serena?" Blair asks, sitting down on her couch.
"I'm in California," Serena says and Blair searches her brain for why this would cause Serena to pause.
"Okay," Blair says and waits for her friend to say more.
"Blair, I'm with Nate."
"You're visiting Nate or you're with Nate," Blair asks.
"I'm with Nate," Serena reluctantly says and Blair bursts out laughing. Through her laughter she hears Serena protesting.
"Serena, you're with Nate and I'm with Dan," she manages to say and then continues laughing. After a moment she hears Serena join her in laughter.
"This could easily be made into some Greek comedy," Serena says and Blair allows her laughter to calm down.
"I'm really happy for you. Promise you will visit with him."
"I will. I have to go. Love you B."
"Love you too S" Blair replies and sinks against the couch. Life really did not turn out the way she had thought it would.
Dan also laughs when he hears about Serena and Nate. She tells him over lunch and then they go for a walk in the park. They slowly make their way through the winding paths and Blair finds herself feeling perfectly content.
"I'm really happy you kissed me," Blair says and Dan looks at her questioningly, "outside the Italian place on what I guess would be our first date. I'm really happy you kissed me."
"Me too," Dan replies and after a small pause continues with "you make me really happy."
"Did you ever think we would be here?"
"No, not ever. But I'm glad we are. Blair, you're amazing and I'm very lucky to be with you."
"You're a closet romantic. And here I thought I was bad," Blair scoffs and Dan pulls on her hand to stop her.
"And here I thought you liked that about me," he says, pulling her toward him.
"Who ever said I liked you," she teases and he kisses her.
"I guess I do like you," she says after the kiss.
"Yeah, I guess I like you too," Dan says and they continue walking. It isn't as if they planned to fall in love and perhaps they were the most miss-matched couple in New York City, but they were together and happy. This was the only thing that mattered to them and it was more than enough to conquer all their differences.