Summary: Need is not love and regret is always the watchword. Blair. Dan. Chuck. Oneshot.

Disclaimer: Seriously, you're still asking me this question?

A/N: Originally for Roz, this story absolutely took off. It started as "Chuck/Blair angst/smut" and turned into probably the most intense character piece I've ever written. It is definitely the longest oneshot I've ever done and it just... it's a BEAST. I would adore any and all feedback you're willing to give me.

Stop the song and remember what you used to be

Somebody that could fucking impress me

Marilyn Manson, "The Bright Young Things"

--

Chuck does what he's best at and tells her that he needs her the night before graduation. Need is not love and Blair is well aware of the distinction, but it still throws her.

Regret is the watchword, after all.

They make out against the wall of her living room like the hormonal teenagers they are. His hand is on her breast, stroking across the satin fabric of her blouse; her hand is against his neck, measuring his pulse in beats per second. She feels reckless, broken, frustrated, old.

"Wait," she murmurs. He kisses her shoulder, her clavicle, her neck. The word dies between them and she furrows her brow, eyes open as she pushes against his chest. "Chuck. Stop." His forehead falls somewhere above her left breast and she feels her heart pound uncomfortably. "What are we doing?" she whispers.

"I thought that was obvious," he replies, voice low enough to make her shudder. Blair pushes away from the wall, from Chuck, from pretty words that ultimately mean nothing. "What's the problem? I thought this was what you wanted."

"No," she disagrees. "What I wanted was for you to admit your feelings six months ago. The night before graduation, Chuck? I have to give a speech tomorrow!"

A glance at the clock reveals the time: witching hour is thirty minutes past and Blair has already turned into a pumpkin. He stares at her for a long time, eyes burning in the darkness. She folds her arms across her chest and shakes her head. "You should go."

"You don't want that," he murmurs.

"You don't know what I want." It occurs to her that neither does she, but that is neither here nor there. She gestures to the elevator and arches her eyebrows. "Go home, Chuck."

"I don't have a home."

"Yes, you do. You live with the van der Woodsens and you're happy. We've already had your Pity Party and the invitations have been burned," she snaps. Her patience is wearing thin; she is missing precious hours of sleep for an argument she has had a hundred times before. Blair takes comfort in the fact that they are alone and straightens up, tugging at her blouse to fix its wrinkles. "Get out, Chuck."

It feels like a final goodbye, but she knows that it's anything but. As he gets in the elevator, he arches his eyebrows and the tiniest hint of a smirk crosses his features. She knows the expression well.

He won. And he knows it. Blair wants to purge, but she doesn't know how to rid her soul of failure. It isn't the same as vomiting up sweets.

--

Her dad is absolutely glowing with pride and for once, her mom looks completely enthralled in what she has to say. Blair's speech has been honed to perfection; it represents every single piece of who she is, what she is about, and how Constance has come to shape that person.

She talks about Gossip Girl in a vague way that makes most of the girls shift in their seats. The art of subtlety is not lost on her, nor is it lost on any of her classmates. If private school is good for anything, it's breeding upper class secret-keepers with hidden agendas and private lives too scandalous for confession. Blair smiles at the end of the tidbit and looks directly at Ms. Carr, who by some miracle has resumed her position at the school and gained several new fans.

Rachel looks back, unblinking. There is no threat in the gaze; today is graduation day. Lowly high school English teachers can no longer affect her position at Yale. Blair feels a thrill up her spine at the realization that she finally gets to make her own rules. She gets to pick her friends and silence her enemies and no one will know or care about her battles.

It feels like power. It feels delicious.

"The class of 2009 has worked tirelessly to overcome not only the hardships of a rigorous curriculum and intense grading system, but the everyday struggles that come with being a teenager in an ever-changing, fast paced world. Manhattan has given us the opportunity to explore a complex web of celebrity, political debate, and urban growth while Constance has given us the opportunity to explore ourselves within a small, tightly twined community. It could be said that we have had the best of both worlds. Now it's time to move past these boundaries and pursue our futures as tirelessly and eagerly as we have pursued our education and identification of selves for the past four years."

She takes a breath and looks into the crowd; her eyes sweep over her parents and their partners once more before she realizes that the boys have arrived from their own ceremony. She briefly makes eye contact with Nate, who offers her a brilliant smile, but then her gaze settles on Chuck and the icky feeling in her stomach returns with a vengeance. Her smile doesn't falter.

"Next year is going to bring a variety of new challenges, but if we hold our heads high and walk into society the way that we have been raised, we will conquer them with ease. Congratulations, girls. Your achievements have finally paid off."

The crowd applauds loudly and she is positive that she can pick out her father's cheering as distinct from the rest. Chuck is still staring at her as she makes her way back to her seat and it's unsettling, uncomfortable, and yet utterly unsurprising. Blair ignores him for the entire afternoon.

Later, at Serena's graduation party, he corners her when she goes outside to get some air. "That was an inspiring address you gave," he murmurs. His breath ghosts across her shoulder and she closes her eyes briefly, annoyed at the warmth.

"I think it went over well," she agrees breezily. "I hear your speech was rejected."

"As if I would take the time to come up with something so trite," he replies. Chuck leans against the balcony next to her, champagne in hand. She stares straight ahead and watches the lights in the skyscrapers flicker as people live their lives, closed doors and open windows everywhere. "I seem to recall something far more interesting to occupy my concentration."

"No one wants to hear about your conquests, Chuck. I'm sure the list is long enough to give Jenna Jameson a headache."

"True," he agrees. He traces a finger across her bare shoulder and grins slowly. When he leans toward her, she tries not to flinch and tries not to lean into the touch. Blair is so determined to remain unaffected. Today is a new start. "But there's only one on the list that really matters."

At that, she scoffs. Rolling her shoulder away from his touch, she turns so that there is space between them and then leans back as well, her head to the side as she meets his stare. "Must you always be such a sleaze?"

"You seemed alright with it last night." He is wearing his serious expression; she wants to rip the mask off and tell him to stop playing so many fucking games.

"Last night I was tired and stressed and elated. I was hardly in any place to be making rational decisions, which you were so keen to take advantage of. And if I remember correctly, I threw you out after ten minutes of torture," she snaps. "This thing? It's done. High school's over, Chuck. I don't have to play by anyone's rules anymore."

He stares at her for such a long time that it makes her skin crawl. She is thirty seconds from slapping him and storming back into the apartment when the sliding glass door opens to reveal none other than her best friend's obnoxious ex. Blair rolls her eyes and tilts her head back. "Lovely," she murmurs.

Dan looks offended until he spots Chuck and then he looks downright annoyed. Blair notes the change in expression carefully, wrapping her fingers around the railing to keep from doing something rash. "Chuck, think you could creep on someone else for a while? I need to talk to Blair alone."

"I told Serena not to invite you," Chuck hisses.

"Lily invited me. But more to the point, what makes you think that Serena would ever listen to you about something like that?" Dan replies. Blair recognizes the tone and wants to laugh, but the desire is so inappropriate that she pushes it down below her navel before any sound can bubble up.

"You've got a smart mouth, Daniel," Chuck drawls. "It's not going to get you far at Yale."

"We'll see about that," Dan replies congenially. "Now, if you could…" He trails off, gesturing toward the door. Chuck sneers and then shoots Blair a look that makes her toes curl. She wants to think it's purely out of disgust, but somehow it feels a little bit like desire too.

She hates herself.

When Chuck is gone, Dan offers her a tentative grin and then settles in next to her, staring out at the city. His face is impassive but his eyes are wistful and Blair feels contempt in her very pores. "What do you want?" she asks. The question is not as harsh as she would have liked.

He sighs heavily and bows his head. "Your speech was well written."

"Thank you," she breathes. She can feel her cheeks flare; it's a strange sensation. "Is that all?"

"No," he admits. He turns to look at her and she arches an eyebrow, leaning further into the railing. "Look, Blair. I know we've never really liked each other."

"Understatement," she mutters. He sends her a playful glare for interrupting him and she smiles cheekily.

"But I think we could be important allies next year. It's going to be all new and…" He huffs and stands up, running his hand through his hair. He looks just as nervous as he sounds. It's endearing. "I just think it would be nice to have a familiar face to talk to."

She considers his words for a moment and then leans toward him. "Are you saying we should be friends, Brooklyn?"

"Not—not friends, exactly, but—allies." He cocks his head to the side. "Do you want to be friends?"

"Absolutely not," she asserts. "I would rather kill myself."

"Good to know," he murmurs.

"I'll commit to this agreement on two conditions," she tells him. He arches an eyebrow and she smiles slowly. "One, you never tell anyone that I willingly converse with you." He rolls his eyes but doesn't interrupt. "Two, you let me read some of these stories that Serena is always raving about."

He looks thrown by that one. Blair shrugs and moves closer, letting her hand rest so that it is almost touching his on the railing. "If we're going to be allies, I'll need to know what all the hype is about. How can I be expected to defend you if I have no way of knowing the actual extent of your ability?"

Dan flushes and ducks his head. "Yeah," he murmurs. He looks up at her and smirks. "I think I can handle those conditions."

"Good." She nods once and then gestures toward the door. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have some serious reflection to get through."

He chuckles and turns toward the door; she moves to watch the skyscrapers again and then pauses. "Hey, Dan." He turns to face her and she smiles softly. "Thanks for getting rid of Chuck."

"Anytime. Allies, remember?" He winks and walks back into the party. Blair feels warm despite the slight chill in the wind. She has no idea how to categorize this new turn of events, but she thinks she might like where her life is headed.

--

The third time with Chuck is against his bedroom wall, five hours after Serena told her to crash on the couch if she was too drunk to go home and face the wrath of Eleanor. Blair took the offer immediately and sprawled out in the living room, her shoes on the coffee table and her clutch doubling as an extra pillow.

He brings her a glass of water and an aspirin when she wakes up moaning at four in the morning and she knows that he has been watching her sleep. It makes her feel wanted in a disturbing way, and when he sits down on the couch next to her she leans her head against his shoulder, eyes shut.

"You really shouldn't have gone for that third bottle," he murmurs. She smacks him hard in the chest and he grunts a little. She smiles sleepily, drunkenly, stupidly.

"I hate you," she says plainly. "You're a mess."

He doesn't respond. Blair thinks that he might have fallen asleep, so she moves away to lie down on the couch again. Chuck catches her hand and she freezes, opening her eyes abruptly. He stares at her and then furrows his brow. "Why are you turning your back now?"

It's too much honesty for how much champagne she's had and how early in the morning it is and how little sleep she's indulged in, but for once he actually sounds vulnerable in a way that isn't packed with anger at his father or his uncle or Lily. Tears spring to her eyes and she lets out a shuddering breath, twisting her arm until her fingers are intertwined with his.

"You never wanted my help," she whispers. He turns away and drops her hand; she feels the loss of contact like a slap to the face. Blair crawls across the space between them and pushes her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck, stroking his skin just the way that he likes. "Chuck, I tried so many times to get you to let me in…"

"I tried," he replies harshly. She starts and her hand stills. He turns toward her slightly and laughs bitterly. "You said it was too late."

She jerks away from him in disgust, a sneer painting her features. "You must be joking. Flowers, Chuck? A half-assed apology in my elevator? Did you really think that I would take you back after everything that you put me through?"

"I don't know, Blair. I thought that was how we operated," he snaps. "I hurt you, you hurt me, we fuck." He faces her fully and grabs her hands, pulling at them until she is practically in his lap. Blair can feel his breath on her lips and the shivers settle directly between her thighs. "I thought you enjoyed our little game."

Her heart is pounding and her breathing is shallow. She swallows hard and whimpers when he strokes his thumb across her wrist; the sensation is too powerful for coherent thought. "Chuck, don't."

"Why?" he whispers. "Blair."

"Chuck…"

She isn't sure who leans in first, but she knows that she is the one to finally make contact. The kiss is slow, sensuous, his lips melding against hers like so much clay. Blair opens her mouth almost immediately and Chuck takes advantage, just like she knew he would. His tongue sweeps across her teeth and over the arch of her gums before tangling with hers. She leans into him and lets go of his hands, wrapping her arms around his neck and tangling her hands in his hair. He grabs at her waist and she slides until she is straddling his lap.

He breaks away slowly, nipping at her lips several times before moving his attention to her jaw. Blair tilts her head to give him better access and moans quietly. "I need you," he murmurs brokenly. It becomes a mantra, repeated against her skin as she tastes salt on his temple. A trickle of sweat makes its way between her shoulder blades, carving indecision into her skin even as her mind ignores the warning voice at the back of it.

She feels lost in a way that only he can make her feel and it's wonderful and awful all at the same time. Pushing her fingers under his waistband, she pulls at his shirt until he helps her unbutton it and yank it over his head. When she does the same for his undershirt, he lifts her up and sets her on her feet, tracing his fingers over the smooth material covering her stomach.

"I like this dress," he tells her. She grins and arches into him, tilting her head back when he buries his face against her hip. "I'd like it better if it were on the floor."

Blair reaches behind her and grasps the fragile zipper, tugging it down slowly. The dress pools at her waist, revealing a strapless, white, lace bra. Chuck stares up at her appreciatively and she grins, leaning down to kiss him as he pushes the dress past her hips. It lands on the floor and she slips it between her toes, kicking it to the side as she tugs him up to stand in front of her.

"You're perfect," he murmurs, kissing her soundly. Blair folds his hands into hers and tugs him toward the stairs, hoping to make it to his room before any more clothes are lost. He continues to murmur endearments into her ear, something he only does during sex and desperation, two situations she is realizing are almost interchangeable.

They get distracted in the hallway, just two doors away from his, when Chuck grabs her ass and pulls her hips flush against his. Blair arches into the touch and grabs at his belt, frantically scrabbling to get it undone as he grinds against her. His erection is warm through the material of his slacks and she is aroused to the point of pain.

"Bedroom," she pants. "Now."

He obeys her command and steers them into his room. They don't make it to the actual bed, or even to the floor, because she finally gets his belt undone just as he slams her against the wall next to the door and he pulls a condom from nowhere and then her panties are on the floor. Chuck lifts her and she wraps her legs around his waist, gasping as she sinks down onto him.

Their rhythm is hard, fast, her head slamming into the wall with every thrust. It is nothing like their first time, where she was so distracted by her breakup with Nate that she hardly felt anything. And it is nothing like the second, when he was so tender with her that she nearly cried with joy when she came. This time is new and different and hot and dirty and she keeps whispering "Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me" into his ear.

Her climax is a series of shudders and gasps and she whispers his name brokenly, varying on Chuck and Charles and a little bit of gibberish too. Chuck comes not long after, slamming into her until it burns. Her legs collapse and he holds her up, panting against her collarbone long after they've both arrived back on solid ground.

"I need you," he repeats. Blair tenderly runs her fingers through his hair and kisses his temple as he pulls out of her, setting her back on the ground. She kisses him once, twice, and then sighs as she grabs her underwear and starts to head for the living room to find her dress.

She is sober enough to hate herself again. He doesn't follow her downstairs and she hardly notices as she gets dressed and grabs her purse to leave. Her cell phone boasts 5:15 AM and he still doesn't love her enough to say it out loud.

--

Somehow it always comes back to Serena. When the invitation to the van der Woodsen/Humphrey Fourth of July party arrives, Blair is so horrified she can barely speak. The fact that Serena and Dan are getting closer to being siblings every day makes her feel a little ill. What makes it worse is that she and Chuck are legally related now. Despite the incestuous connotations, Blair can't help but think about how Serena always gets there first.

She is so tired of coming in second place.

With a roll of her eyes, she checks the "Attending" box and hands the postcard to Dorota. She'll tell her friend later this afternoon in person, but Lily likes formality and Blair is nothing if not polite.

The party itself rolls around less than a week later and Blair is so bored she wants to die. Little J and Eric are sitting on the balcony, talking about some zombie book and what they're going to do when "Z Day" arrives. Chuck is leering, even as he browses Rufus' extensive record collection, and Serena is helping her mom in the kitchen.

She has no idea where Rufus is. Dan is sitting in the chair adjacent to hers, staring at her. Blair sighs and closes her eyes for a second; when she opens them, he is still staring at her. "Take a picture," she snaps.

"What's wrong?" he asks.

"I have no idea what you mean," she replies, a small flutter of the eyelashes confirming her innocence. He furrows his brow and leans forward, setting his soda on the table. Blair smiles sweetly and leans into the side of the couch. She crosses her legs, adjusts her summer dress, and flexes her toes inside her sandal.

He hums and then smirks. "I don't believe you."

"That's too bad," she replies. "Am I supposed to care?"

"Fine," he concedes. "You don't have to tell me. But if you need an ally…" He nods toward the front door. "I'll be on the roof with my dad." With that, he stands and leaves, his soda abandoned. Blair stares at the condensation as it drips down the side of the can, pooling on the cheap wood beneath. She idly thinks about finding a coaster, but she dismisses the idea. It's doubtful that Rufus even cares about water rings and if he does, she isn't going to save Dan from his wrath. She plays with her bracelets instead and looks around again. Everyone is still preoccupied.

"I didn't realize you and Humphrey were friends."

Everyone, that is, except Chuck. Blair looks up and offers a twisted smile. "Is that why you're here? Are you looking for tips on how to reconcile?"

"Never," he hisses. She rolls her eyes and folds her hands over her knee. Chuck sits down on the table in front of her, his legs framing her crossed ones. She looks him in the eye and her smile fades. "Where were you last night?"

"I had plans." She sighs nonchalantly.

"Really?" He looks around briefly and then slides his hand over her thigh. Her veins freeze, radiate poison from the point of contact. She makes a face and knocks his hand away from her. She does not want him anymore. If she repeats it enough, eventually it will be true.

But she can't ignore her heart rate. It begs to differ.

He leans toward her and sets his jaw. The muscles jump and she resists the urge to run her fingers across the bone. It would be so easy to relax him right now. "You know, I don't have to put up with this shit," he murmurs. "There are a slew of girls who would beg to be in your position right now."

She hums low in her throat and leans into him, her mouth against his ear. "Do you tell them to get on their knees?"

"If they're good."

There is a burn between her thighs, a subtle pulse just deep enough to ache. Blair clenches her legs and kicks her foot flirtatiously. "Do they listen? If they listen, then there's really no point."

"How so?"

"You get bored when they don't challenge you," she whispers. Her lips brush his ear with each syllable. "Why else would you keep begging me to be in your bed? You need me."

He shudders and she smiles, pulling away from him and standing. "I should take this up to Dan," she explains, grabbing the abandoned soda can. Her arm brushes Chuck's shoulder and he grips her wrist, stilling her. She gives him a wide-eyed expression.

"You're a tease," he mutters dangerously. Blair smiles and straightens up, jerking her arm out of his grasp. Need is not love.

"And you're a toy," she replies darkly. His eyes burn into her back as she leaves the loft and she swears he follows her to the door, because she feels the same uncomfortable itch on her neck all the way up the ladder that leads to the roof. She is glad for her flat-soled sandals; in heels she would never even attempt this climb.

The small access door has been left open and the sunshine pours over her as she steps out onto the roof. She puts her hand over her eyes, cursing herself for leaving her sunglasses in her purse downstairs. She spots Brooklyn at the same time that he spots her; he waves her over and she precariously avoids the smoke from the barbecue as she walks toward him.

"Hey Blair," Rufus greets. "Enjoying yourself?"

Dan shoots her a look that she promptly ignores. "Absolutely," she enthuses. "I just wanted to bring Dan his soda. He forgot it downstairs." She hands it to her best friend's ex with a smile. He eyes her warily and she shrugs.

"Nice of you," Rufus comments idly. "Dan, go entertain our guest. I can handle things up here."

"You're sure, Dad?" Rufus waves him off and Dan looks at Blair with a shrug. She feels a little flutter in her chest; sometimes she can vaguely understand Serena's attraction to him. He touches her elbow lightly and she turns away from the grill with him, walking back toward the access door. "So…"

She takes a deep breath. "Wait until we're inside."

He doesn't respond, but he helps her get her footing on the ladder, fingers curled tightly around her left palm. Blair lets go reluctantly and climbs down, landing on the cement floor below with a soft thud. Dan follows shortly thereafter, soda balance expertly in one hand as he climbs with the other.

She sits on the floor and he looks surprised, but doesn't comment. She thinks it's a wise decision on his part. When they're settled in, practically in the same positions as the last time they had a heart-to-heart, she sighs heavily. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Okay," he replies. He sounds so uninterested; it makes her want to spill everything – times three, four, five, and six; time seven and how it didn't happen because she realized how sick she was for being addicted to Chuck Bass. She is almost positive she's gone completely insane.

"Do you think we'll ever be able to work it out?" she asks softly. Her fingers are tangled in her dress and she is staring at them, fascinated by their twisting.

Dan stares at her for a long time. His eyes burn into the top of her head in a different way than Chuck's were burning into her back earlier. After a while she raises her gaze. "No," Dan murmurs.

Her heart sinks.

"I think you'll kill each other," he continues. "You need each other. It feels like love, but it isn't." He tilts his head to the side and reaches out for her, then drops his hand so that it lands awkwardly on the floor. She's disappointed and it makes no sense. "But you know that, don't you?"

She does.

"I hate myself," she whispers. The tears are unexpected, but of course they're pooling in the dip of her chin and of course the flowers on her dress look completely blurry. A heavy weight comes to rest across her shoulders; Dan presses her against his side and she leans into his warmth, letting out a shuddering breath. It's an alliance. She needs this touch.

--

She spends an entire afternoon in Central Park reading one of Dan's short stories. He seems reluctant to hand it over, but then she reminds him of the terms of their alliance and he deflates. Blair is more excited than she probably should be – it's been two weeks since her breakdown at the base of a roof-access ladder in Brooklyn and she and her best friend's ex might be moving toward something more than just allies.

The bench beneath her is cold and a little damp from morning rain. She folds tightly-stapled pages into her hands and focuses intently on the text, so absorbed in her reading that she doesn't notice when the author himself appears next to her. When she sets the story down to pull her hair back, she jumps and glares at him, resisting the urge to lift her foot toward his crotch.

"Seems a little dreary for a day in the park," he comments. Blair sighs and tilts her head to the side.

"It seemed like an appropriate atmosphere," she replies cheerfully. She holds up his story and he visibly stiffens; for a moment she feels bad for mocking him. "Why did you give me the sad one to start?"

"Thought you might appreciate it," he says simply. She drops her eyes and looks at his feet. He taps his toes idly against the cement and she knows his hands are shoved deep in his pockets. He's nervous. She loves it.

She doesn't say anything for a while. Dan stands in front of her, looking at anything but her, and she finally pushes her feet out and settles her toes on top of his. When he makes eye contact with her she smiles playfully and nods toward the empty space next to her. He arches an eyebrow and she shrugs.

"I might need some extra insight," she explains. He smiles softly and lifts his toes up, balancing on his heels. Blair grins and moves her feet, crossing them beneath the bench as he sits next to her.

While she reads, he listens to music. She can vaguely hear the brash guitar and shouting and when she gets to the end of the story, she thinks the soundtrack is appropriate. She sets it on her lap and reaches over, plucking a bud from Dan's ear.

"You're such a realist," she accuses. He looks at her strangely and then turns off his iPod, winding the cord of his headphones around his hand.

"What are you talking about?"

"Did you really have to end it so brutally? I know their relationship was volatile and there wasn't any trust, but she practically had her heart ripped out!" She takes a deep breath and looks at the tree behind him before meeting his gaze again. "It just seems like you were channeling Fitzgerald, is all. I would've expected more cummings from you."

He practically lights up at that. She feels the flush in her cheeks and keeps her gaze steady. "Fitzgerald, really?" he asks. His voice practically cracks in his excitement; she expects him to leap off the bench and declare his love for her literary knowledge any minute.

"Well it's too quaint to be Kerouac," she offers. "It's powerful, but too subtle to be anything more modern than Fitzgerald. I might go for Forster, but that's a bit of a stretch."

Dan turns toward her and tucks his leg underneath him. Blair smiles and leans against the back of the bench, resting her head on her palm. She idly plays with her hair as they talk and eventually his story is completely forgotten. It starts raining after an hour and the two of them bolt for shelter, her heels clicking violently against the path.

They end up in a Starbucks packed with tourists and Blair grabs his hand, dragging him toward the only remaining table in the back corner. Dan protests, something about shade grown coffee and beat poetry, but she ignores him.

When they sit down, she lets go of his hand and he looks vaguely disappointed. "I thought this place was your Mecca," she teases. He shoots her a look and pulls at the soaked material of his button-up.

"Yeah, I'm such a fan of mainstream," he replies sarcastically. She laughs loudly enough to garner the attention of the old man at the next table, but she hardly pays attention to his leer. "Seriously, why aren't you going for a lit major?"

"I never said I wasn't considering it," she argues. "But it seems so… useless, you know? I don't want to teach and I can't write the way you do. Reading is a hobby."

"There are tons of careers you could pursue with a lit degree," he tells her. "Plus, you can't do something just for the money. If you're not happy, you'll never really be successful." She swallows thickly and meets his eyes across the table. He shrugs and sits back, folding his arms across his chest. "Just seems like you're taking too much into consideration."

"How do you mean?"

Dan sighs and looks out the window. She follows his gaze and sees a businesswoman storming down the street, umbrella in one hand and cell phone in the other. She looks bitter and angry and her umbrella matches her suit matches her shoes: everything is black.

"You're a better person than you think you are," he says quietly. Blair snaps back to attention and then flushes violently. She pushes a hand through her wet hair and awkwardly leans into the touch, hoping to hide her crimson cheeks.

"I've never done anything to make you think that," she replies.

"But you will," he promises. Despite the aching in her gut, she believes him.

--

The fifteenth time with Chuck never happens. "I can't do this," she whispers. She feels frantic, wasted, torn in the way that muscle separates from bone.

"Of course you can," he murmurs, pressing against her tightly. "No one else is here but us. No one even has to know…"

Blair shoves him violently. He stumbles a bit; when he catches his balance, he gives her a glare that could wilt the rainforest and she returns it with all the energy in her body. "No," she says seriously. She pulls her teddy up to cover her chest and walks past him, gathering her dress and her heels and her dignity.

Chuck grabs her arm lightly and she rips out of his grasp, hair flying in all directions. "You're a worm," she hisses. "You disgust me."

"Am I?" he drawls. "How interesting. All this time I thought you were slumming it with Humphrey."

The slap surprises her, but it feels good and the sound ricochets around the room, rattles inside her brain and makes her heart pump three times as fast. He rubs his cheek and smiles sardonically, his ever-present leer still glued to his face. "Don't you get it, Blair?"

"Don't you?" she snaps. "It's over. I'm done. You can spend the rest of the night with your right hand and a bottle of scotch, just like you did our entire senior year."

She can barely breathe as she tugs her dress over her head and heads for the stairs. He follows her and she listens to the pad of his bare feet on the carpet. "You'll never be good enough for anyone else," he says calmly.

"That's funny," she comments, stopping at the bottom of the stairs to find her purse. She spots it in the living room, practically lying in the same spot that her dress was in after the third time and she wants to purge, wants to taste her own stomach acid, wants to feel the comforting lurch of her body as she expunges the toxins from her intestines.

Instead, she looks him full in the face and resists the urge to grin at the handprint that is forming steadily into a bruise on his cheek. "I'm too good for you, so I'm bound to find someone eventually."

Chuck sneers. "You need me," he tells her boldly.

Her stiletto breaks against the wall just past his shoulder. "But I don't love you," she whispers harshly. His expression darkens and she turns away from him, grabbing a pair of Serena's flats that have been left by the door and walking out in the too-big shoes.

She isn't surprised when she ends up on the subway nursing a new blister on her big toe. A homeless man is eyeing her from the next compartment and she is sitting next to a young mother with headphones, feeding her kid a packet of Gushers.

Blair puts her head in her hands and rocks with the movement of the train, thankful for the lack of cell service and the high level of white noise. When the intercom finally announces her stop she puts on Serena's shoes and grabs her purse and straightens her dress and walks out. The young mother offers her a tiny, almost encouraging smile and she doesn't return it.

It takes her half an hour to figure out where the loft is and her feet are bleeding when he answers the door. "I broke up with Chuck and my shoes are too big and my feet are bleeding and I hate you," she tells him. Dan looks amused, but then he looks her up and down and seems to realize how pathetic she really is. She hates herself so much.

"Okay," he says slowly. "Let's see what we can do about those issues." He gestures absently toward her shoes and she leans against the doorframe, exhausted, as she removes the offending flats.

He takes them from her and tosses them into the living room. Little J is sitting on the couch watching a movie and she rolls her eyes when she spots the brunette, but Blair is too drained to pick a fight. Dan grabs her hand and leads her toward his bedroom, shutting the door firmly behind them.

She can hear Humphrey Bogart talking about Paris and she knows it's the goodbye scene. It's completely appropriate. "I hate you," she reiterates. For some reason it's important that he understands how badly she doesn't want to need his help.

"So I've heard," he murmurs, distracted. He is running around the room and digging through various piles of crap. She has no idea what he's looking for and she isn't sure she cares. "I'll be right back," he tells her. They meet each other's eyes and he smiles a little. "Don't go anywhere."

He walks out of the room and Blair feels her breath leave her in a rush. She falls back on his bed and throws an arm over her eyes to block out the too-intense light of his bedside lamp. Dan comes back a moment later and she hears him but doesn't bother to move. She has a feeling she's been crying into the crook of her arm and she doesn't need to appear any sadder than she already does.

Something wet and cold brushes against her foot and she shrieks, clenching her toes and pulling her leg up. A warm hand grabs her around the ankle and the wet sensation returns full force. It doesn't sting, but it tickles and it's uncomfortable and she bolts into a sitting position to protest.

"What are you—" Her breath gets caught in her throat and if he notices – doubtful – he doesn't comment. He has his hand curved around the heel of her foot, gaze focused intently on the developing blisters on the ball of her foot. There is a pad of gauze on the floor next to him and he has a bottle of antiseptic next to that. He looks almost heroic, cleaning her wounds and holding her steady.

"Whose shoes were those?" he asks softly.

Blair clears her throat and leans down a bit so that she can see the damage. "Serena's," she whispers. Dan laughs lightly. "I didn't think I'd be walking so far."

"You should've gotten a cab," he agrees. He drops her foot and grabs for the other one. She lets him.

"I wasn't thinking straight," she replies. "I just knew I needed to be around another person." She takes a shuddering breath and scrubs her hands over her face. Then she laughs and shakes her head. "For some reason I ended up here on autopilot."

Dan carefully scrubs away the rest of the dirt and blood and then sets the sullied gauze aside, looking up at her earnestly. She has no idea what happens now. "Do you want to talk about Chuck?" he asks.

This time she really does cry. Her tears are fat and so warm that they make her cheeks feel feverish where they fall. He reaches for her and she wraps her arms around his neck, burying her face in his shoulder. Dan rubs her back and tells her it's okay and she wants to believe him. She needs to believe him.

After a while, the tears stop. She's still hyperventilating in that way that she did as a five year old. He is still rubbing her back but the reassurance has faded away; instead he is humming the chorus of an old rock song that she once caught her mom listening to before her dad left. Blair takes a deep breath and pulls away.

"I think you need chocolate," he whispers. She laughs weakly and wipes her eyes. He squeezes her hand and stands, shouting something at his sister as he goes to the kitchen. She lies back on his bed again and makes herself comfortable, grabbing a novel off his nightstand and starting from the beginning.

She promises herself that she won't binge. Purging never felt that great anyway.

--

Orientation is stressful for so many reasons. She doesn't sleep the night before because she is so desperately excited to get out of Manhattan and she can't find time to nap or even get a full night's rest anywhere on the itinerary. Her group guide is perky enough to be punched, especially at seven in the morning, and everyone in her group is wearing mass-produced Gap shorts and Abercrombie tees.

Blair knows she's stereotyping, but she isn't awake enough to care. To add to that, Chuck has sent her twenty-four text messages in the past week alone and she feels bile in her throat every time her phone vibrates. When it isn't Chuck, it's Dan asking her to go to a movie or give him a new book recommendation since he's tired of re-reading everything on his shelf.

Somehow their alliance has become something more significant than just that and she kind of loves it, though she'll never admit it if he asks. She started deleting Chuck's messages without reading them the day after she told him it was over – for good, this time – and she woke up in Dan's bed to find him on the floor, the perfect example of a perfect gentleman.

"Alright! Everyone in a circle, please. It's time for an icebreaker!"

She really hopes the next four years won't be this traumatic. Grudgingly, Blair aligns herself with the rest of the group. The girl next to her is practically bouncing with glee and the guy on her other side looks nervous enough to puke. Blair rolls her eyes and thanks the gods that she remembered her sunglasses this morning.

"This one's pretty simple. I want everyone to go around the circle and say their name, their intended major, and their hometown. Once everyone's done that, I'm going to ask you all to name a random person in the group. Okay? Great! I'll start," Brooke announces. She finishes her monologue with a little clap that reminds Blair of some awful cheerleader movie that Serena made her watch when they were in middle school. She's close to gagging.

When it's her turn to speak, the entire circle is staring intently at her. Her skin crawls at having the unwanted attention of so many people, but she straightens her shoulders and smiles cheerfully. "Hi everyone. I'm Blair, I'm undeclared, and I'm from New York City."

Brooke gives her an encouraging smile. The puker tells everyone that his name is Owen and that he's a music major. He's originally from California. Blair is unimpressed but her acting skills are as up to par as always, regardless of how early it is.

She ends up having to name four of the thirty people in her group and she only forgets one of their names. Lisa is forgiving and re-introduces herself with a hopeful little grin. Despite herself, Blair returns it.

"You guys are awesome," Brooke says seriously. She looks at her watch and then grins, clapping again. "Time to mingle! The rest of the afternoon is yours to get to know your future classmates. Have fun!" She walks away to join the other group leaders and Blair immediately bolts. Owen has been eyeing her for the past five minutes, obviously thinking they might be friends, and while she loves dorky emo boys as much as the next girl, she already has her quota.

When she finally spots Dan, it's during the time that she's supposed to be mingling with all of the other incoming freshman. He is sitting next to a coffee cart reading a book and the familiarity is brilliant. At the moment, she just needs a little piece of home.

"I didn't know we got assignments at orientation," she says breezily, sitting next to him. He looks up at her and she grins, crossing her legs and setting her purse between them. "We're supposed to be mingling, Humphrey."

He reaches out and catches a stray strand of her hair, tucking it behind her ear with a concentrated expression. His thumb catches the end of her sunglasses and she swallows tightly. "You should talk, Waldorf."

"I spent at least fifteen minutes attempting to converse with the masses," she replies. "I bet you had your nose buried in your book before you were even released."

The book closes with a snap and he smiles ruefully. Blair laughs and takes the novel from him, observing the hardcover. She flips through the pages and toys with his bookmark and then sighs, setting it on her lap. "I think you're too invested in the work of John Irving," she says seriously. She pushes her sunglasses onto her head and arches an eyebrow.

"I think you're too determined to ignore his genius," he argues. "Have you even attempted to read any of the books I gave you?"

"Haven't had the time. I've been planning my farewell party and packing for college," she tells him cheekily.

Dan glares at her and she nudges him with her shoulder playfully. He snatches the book back and shoves it into his messenger. Blair looks around the courtyard and observes her future classmates. They all look terrified and thrilled and just a little bit intimated by the old brick buildings and history of Yale.

"Are you scared?"

She turns to look at her friend – sadly, he can no longer be referred to as just her ally – and smiles. "Of course not. This school is my dream."

He rolls his eyes. "That's not what I meant."

"I know," she replies. "Are you scared?"

"Of course." He looks at her for a long moment and then smiles to himself, looking away. Blair narrows her eyes and then stands, swinging her purse up and over her shoulder.

"I hate you for your honesty," she tells him. Dan grins and tugs on her wrist; she stamps her foot and folds her arms across her chest, subtly breaking away from his touch. "Fine! I'm scared too."

He stands and shoves a hand in his pocket, using the other to pull her sunglasses down to cover her eyes again. "Should we mingle?" he wonders.

She takes another look at the crowd of teenagers surrounding them and leans her head back to look at the sky. There are no clouds; it's a perfect summer day in Connecticut. She can feel Dan standing next to her and she can hear the excited conversations of her future classmates and she isn't sure how she feels.

Taking a deep breath, she shoves him toward the mass of people and resists the urge to laugh when he turns back to glare at her. "Try not to abuse anybody with your book smarts," she warns.

"Try not to make any enemies," he replies. Blair shoves him again, just for good measure. He laughs as he walks away and she beelines it for Lisa, repeating her name over and over so that she won't forget it when she's finally in front of the girl.

--

Serena promises to visit as often as possible and Blair returns her sentiments, though she knows deep down that soon they'll be too busy to see each other in any other context than Skype conversations. She spends the first week of classes getting to know her roommate, who is so crazy it should be criminal, and falls in love with the Yale campus all over again. Blair knows what coffee stand is best by the third day of shopping and she has her schedule totally worked out by the fourth.

Dan shows up at her room almost every night and the two of them argue like an old married couple over everything. She hates him for knowing so much about her after so little time and she hates herself for revealing it all willingly, but there's an aching in her gut that isn't entirely unpleasant whenever he smiles at her and she kind of loves it when he hugs her.

Her roommate's insanity must be the contagious kind. There is no other explanation for these thought processes. Chuck stops texting her and she wonders if he said goodbye, but she never calls Verizon to ask about retrieving deleted messages. Regret is the watchword.

"Earth to Blair." Dan snaps his fingers in front of her face and she looks at him, startled. He furrows his brow and steals another French fry from her plate. "What's wrong?"

She smiles and swats his hand away when he grabs for more of her food. "Nothing. Why don't you get your own plate?"

"I'm helping you with your self esteem," he replies. It isn't a dig because he doesn't know but it still feels like a punch to the stomach. "You seem distracted."

Blair sighs heavily and shrugs, taking a sip of her water. "I must be getting better at tuning you out," she says slowly. "It's a skill I've been working at for two years so it's about time all that work came to fruition."

"Ha, ha," he replies. "Did you read that story yet?"

She literally smacks herself in the forehead. He looks thoroughly amused as she shakes her head and leans forward. "I'm so sorry! I've just been so busy trying to catch up with my analysis class."

"It's okay." He laughs. "Just let me know when you have."

"Okay." She nods, her brow still creased with guilt. Dan throws a French fry at her and she forgets about her slip-up and laughs, engaging in a tiny food fight that attracts the attention of several other dining hall rats.

That night when Allison calls her mom and then runs out of the room crying, Blair picks up Dan's latest short story and flops down on her bed with it, pulling a pillow under her chest as she lies on her stomach. The plot unfolds over the course of twenty pages and it takes her less than an hour to read, but an extra forty-five minutes to re-read and absorb the implications of the text.

As Allison comes back into the room looking puffy and depressed, Blair grabs her keys and slips into a pair of comfortable sandals and runs out the door, all but shoving her roommate back into their dorm. She thinks about the narrator all the way there, the pseudo-sequel to the first story he let her read, the fact that they're no longer allies but friends.

His residence college is across campus; the walk feels both too long and not long enough. She knocks on his door three times in succession. He opens the door and stands in front of her in sweats and a t-shirt, smiling in a confused way.

"It's me," she says breathlessly. Dan furrows his brow and the smile fades. Blair feels tears in her eyes as she steps forward and hands him the story. Her hand is shaking. "I thought it was Serena," she whispers. "But it's not. It's me. You wrote about me."

He takes the story from her and stares at it for a long time, his head bowed enough that she can't see his facial expression at all. After what feels like a decade, Blair stamps her foot and shoves him backwards, walking in after him and slamming the door shut behind her.

"Look, Blair—"

"I'm not mad!" she protests. He looks up at her then, tentative relief in his eyes, and she wants to laugh or cry or do something. "The first story was about Chuck. This one—" she points to the pages in his hands "—is about Nate. What I can't figure out is why you wrote this one second."

Dan stares at her for a long time and then tosses his story onto his desk. "I didn't really think about chronology," he says quietly. It's the first full sentence he's been able to form since she arrived. It's a little disappointing in that way.

She looks around his room – he ended up with a single, which she still hates him for – and shakes her head sadly. "You should've said something."

"What good would it have done?" he asks. Blair shrugs and reaches for his hand, idly playing with his fingers. "You know, this is the second time you've shown up at my doorstep after a major realization," he teases. The mood lightens only a little bit, but she recognizes his attempt at deflecting the issue and looks up at him imploringly.

He leans toward her just a bit and she bites her bottom lip. "I can't blame it on the shoes this time," she murmurs. He hums in agreement and then she kisses him, tangling her fingers in his hair and pressing her lithe form against his, the aching in her stomach transforming into an explosion.

Dan wraps his arms around her waist and she smiles against his mouth, curling her other hand around his jaw and opening her mouth for him. He teases her bottom lip with his teeth and slips his tongue into her mouth only to slip it out again a second later. It's nothing like kissing anyone else and it's fantastic.

Blair pulls away on a gasp; he leans his forehead against hers and she tilts her head up for another kiss. He obliges and she decides she likes his single room.

--

Allison moves out barely two months into first semester, citing too much pressure and homesickness as her reasons for dropping out. Blair spends move-out day in the library studying for her ancient philosophy midterm. Dan texts her random anecdotes from a different study lounge and she bites her bottom lip to keep from laughing out loud.

It's a weird adjustment, dating Dan Humphrey. Blair tries comparing it to her relationship with Nate and finds it impossible, especially since toward the end she and Nate were no longer really dating. She tries not to think about Chuck at all if she can help it and most days she succeeds, but occasionally she checks her phone and thinks about the fact that he was probably right. She'll never really be good enough for Dan.

When she returns to her room that night, pre-packaged Caesar salad in hand, there is a notice under her door listing her new roommate's name, home address, and phone number. It says that she will be moving in after Thanksgiving break, which is three weeks away, and that until then Blair will be living by herself in her double room.

With a giddy laugh, she starts to change out of her jeans and sweatshirt and then loses her momentum, realizing that if she isn't sharing the room with anyone else then she doesn't have to worry about propriety. She sits down at her desk in her t-shirt and panties and checks the spelling on the notice before she gets online.

She calls Dan as she eats her salad and looks up Mary Sharp on Facebook, hoping for someone that is less on the side of emotionally unstable than Allison. Blair has enough issues without a roommate who can win "Who's More Fucked Up?" every time.

"Don't tell me. There was a heist and you're trapped in a vault full of Plath poems."

"Not even. There was a beach party in the lobby and I'm wearing a pineapple hat," she replies. "If you had stayed, you would have one too."

"Sorry," he says. "I promised Sam I would help him with his econ assignment. Save me one next time."

Blair sighs and stabs a crouton with her fork. "Excuses will get you nowhere, Humphrey."

"What about dinner and a movie?"

"No time," she says seriously, leaning forward as she scrolls through Mary's profile. She's blonde and beautiful from what Blair can tell, and her favorite movies are indie flicks that Blair's positive no one has ever heard of. "I have to learn everything there is to know about Aristotle and Mary Sharp."

"Who is Mary Sharp?" Dan asks, perplexed. She can see him in her head, the curve of his pout barely matching the furrow of his brow. A pleasant shiver settles between her thighs.

"My new roommate," she says, as though it's obvious. "Want to come over and help me research?"

"I don't know. What will I have to do?"

She smiles and shuts her laptop, scooping up the last bite of her salad. She chews for a moment and then throws the container in the trash, fork and all. "Keep me company. Read me a bedtime story."

"Sounds simple enough," he replies. "What's the catch?"

"You might have to help me study for my exam," she says. He's quiet for a moment and then he laughs. The sound makes her room feel too warm. "Is that a yes?"

"I'll be there soon," he murmurs.

Blair hangs up and jumps out of her desk chair to find more appropriate attire. She gets as far as a pair of Pink boxer shorts and then catches her reflection in the mirror on the back of the door. She stands up straight and turns to the side, measuring the width of her waist with her hands. She pulls her hair all to one side and bits her bottom lip, tugging at the hem of the shorts.

A knock on the door pulls her away from her musings and she bounces across the room. Dan leans against the doorframe and she leans against the edge of the door, mirroring his nonchalant stance. "That didn't take very long."

He winces. "I might've already been on my way."

"Aren't we presumptuous," she comments. He wraps a hand around her waist and walks her into the room, kissing her soundly. Blair wraps her arms around his neck and rises to her toes, practically letting him carry her toward her bed.

They fall onto the twin mattress together and she rolls on top of him, straddling his waist easily. Dan rests his hands at the curve of her hips and smiles at her. She kisses him again and her hair forms a curtain around their faces, the smell of magnolia and vanilla reminding her that she really is here. This really is happening.

"What happened to studying?" he asks. A surge of power swells in her veins at the breathless quality of his voice. "You need to learn about Plato."

"Aristotle," she corrects, distracted by the tiny trail of hair that has peeked out from the hem of his shirt. She sits up and traces it with her finger. The muscles of his stomach jump beneath her touch and she grins, locking eyes with him.

Dan uses his elbows to prop himself up. "Blair," he murmurs. She closes her eyes and leans forward, lying boneless across his chest. He lies back and runs his fingers through her hair, gently working out the tangles she was too impatient to deal with this morning.

Silence settles over the room and she revels in it, tracing the veins in his forearm. He keeps his hand in her hair long after the tangles have been exorcised and his breathing is steady. Blair moves so that her chin is resting on his chest and he looks down at her, smiling softly.

"Is this what you had in mind when you asked me to be your ally?" she wonders. He laughs abruptly, tossing his head back, and she sits up indignantly. "What?"

He waves his hand flippantly, which only serves to annoy her more, and when he sees her face he stops laughing just as abruptly. "I'm sorry," he says seriously. "I just can't believe you just asked me that."

"Why?" she retorts.

His expression is comical. "You said you would rather kill yourself than be my friend," he says incredulously. "Do you really think I asked you with the intention of getting you into bed?"

"You haven't gotten me into bed yet," she says. His eyes darken considerably; her breath catches in her throat. They stare at each other for a beat and then she kisses him, running her hands up under his shirt. Dan sits up to assist her and she yanks the offending garment over his head.

He runs his hands over her shorts and she laughs when he tickles her sides. He kisses her gently and then tugs at the material. "I didn't know you shopped at Victoria's Secret," he whispers.

She circles a nipple with her finger and bites her bottom lip when he shudders. "Thought it was time to be a normal college girl," she breathes. Dan hums and kisses her jaw, her ear, her neck. Blair tilts her head and whispers his name and digs her fingers into his biceps.

Their clothes end up in several piles on her floor and he teases her about redecorating when he gropes for his wallet among the heaps. She smacks him on the back of the head and then he finds what he's looking for and she wraps her legs around his waist and oh.

When she comes, it feels like falling.

--

Mary has six piercings and two tattoos and Blair feels a little bit grungy just being her friend. She still dresses for perfection, though sweats start making a regular appearance right around finals. She spends the first two weeks of winter break in custom-tailored dresses and heels. Dan holds her hand at parties and kisses her at midnight on New Year's Eve and Serena seems surprised, but pleasantly so.

Chuck calls her the next morning and she resolutely presses the ignore button. Dan shifts next to her and she presses back against him; he reflexively tightens his grip on her even as he sleeps. Blair smiles into her pillow and drops her phone on the floor. She rolls over and kisses his clavicle and they don't get out of bed for the rest of the day.

After that, she spends a good portion of her time in his t-shirts and her Yale sweats. By the time she goes back to school, the forty dollar pants are a staple of her wardrobe and she knows for a fact that not all of these changes can be considered good ones.

Mary doesn't seem to notice or care that Blair has stopped spending two hours getting ready every morning. If anything, she probably enjoys the extra sleep now that Blair doesn't flip on her hair dryer seven days a week.

"I've worn sweats three times this week," she mourns. Dan looks up from his book and furrows his brow. She pouts at him from her spot on the floor and he bites back what she knows is a smile. "Dan! It's not funny! What is going on with me?"

"What would you like me to tell you?" he asks. Blair narrows her eyes at the teasing.

"The truth, please."

"You're growing up," he says seriously. She isn't convinced and the look she gives him must say as much because he sets his book aside and lowers himself to the floor. "Remember that day in the Starbucks, when I told you that you're better than you think you are?"

He crawls toward her and settles in front of her, legs crossed beneath him. She nods once and rests her feet in his lap; he strokes his thumbs against her insteps and she relaxes back against his bed frame. "I think you're spending less time on your appearance because you're starting to realize I was right."

She sets her notebook aside and leans forward, grabbing his hands and tugging. He stumbles a bit as he leans over her but he kisses her smoothly. "Thank you," she whispers. Dan smiles and kisses her again. They spend the rest of the afternoon in a comfortable silence, studying side-by-side on the floor.

That night, Mary asks her if she has ever thought about getting a tattoo. "You absolutely should," she proclaims. Blair rolls her eyes and sits down at her desk, connecting her laptop to her printer.

"Why? So that we can match?" she asks sarcastically.

"Oh, no," Mary replies. "I hate the matching tattoos crap. Really? Gag me. No one stays together forever, not even friends. Anyway, haven't you thought about it?" She talks a mile an hour, something Blair has barely readjusted to since second semester started. She had just gotten a grip on her roommate's excited speech when winter break hit and they were separated for a month.

"I guess so," she admits.

"Well, think about it some more then," Mary says. Blair hits print on her essay and looks over at her roommate. "It's a powerful thing, Blair. It lets you take total control."

She hums and gathers her purse, citing a need for caffeine as her reason for taking off again. She walks around campus for two hours, drinking a hot vanilla chai and thinking about everything in her life and how she hates herself for so many of the regrets she has. Blair thinks until she has a headache and realizes that something as simple as a tattoo shouldn't be sending her into a tailspin like this.

Her stomach growls around the time she usually gets dragged to dinner by her roommate or her boyfriend or both and she idly heads toward the dining hall without bothering to call or text anyone. She sits outside of the building on a bench and tosses the remnants of her tea in the garbage.

Dan calls five minutes later. "If I don't eat soon I'm literally going to die of starvation," he proclaims. Blair laughs, the tension in her shoulders already decreasing.

"Quit whining. Meet me at the Commons."

"Thank God," he mutters. "I'll see you in a few." He hangs up and she drops her phone into her purse, waiting a few minutes before she stands up and walks toward the doors. He catches up with her shortly thereafter and she greets him with a kiss that quickly becomes too inappropriate for PDA.

"Wait," she murmurs, pulling away. She smiles at him and rests her hands on his chest, shaking her head. "Later. You need to eat."

He looks vaguely disappointed, but at the mention of food he perks right up. Blair lets him take her hand as she follows him inside. She holds it under the table when they meet up with his neighbors and some of her friends from philosophy, stroking her thumb across his knuckles.

She spends the night in his room and wakes up happy, only to discover that she slept through her first class. Mary leaves her a voicemail that sounds simultaneously amused and disappointed, promising to leave her notes on Blair's desk when she goes to work that afternoon.

Serena calls later that night and she is already a fully converted hippie. Blair had little hope when she saw her over break and she had beads in her hair, but her stories now are almost unhealthy in their granola content."How are things with Dan?" she asks. There is no jealousy, no irony, just curiosity. Blair wonders how everyone else can be so well-adjusted when she feels like she's constantly falling to pieces.

"Oddly wonderful," she admits. "Have you found a boyfriend yet?"

"No," Serena replies. "It's okay though. It's kind of nice being single, you know? The attachments are a little too much to handle sometimes."

"Well, when you find someone, make sure that he bathes before you commit to sharing the bed," Blair warns. Her best friend laughs breathily. "I'm serious!"

"Okay, Blair, I will. Promise me you won't do anything too crazy, okay?"

She looks at the address on her computer screen and smiles. "Promise. Talk to you soon."

"Bye B."

Blair writes down the address and erases her browser history before turning to her roommate. She asks what it feels like to get a tattoo and Mary shrugs. "Kind of like having a hot paperclip dragged across your skin. It's weird, but it doesn't hurt that much."

Her stomach clenches in a good way. A week later, she gets a black star tattooed on the curve of her right hip. Dan is shocked when she tugs down her sweatpants to show him. It's written all over his face and she kind of wants to laugh, but she's so nervous about his reaction that it comes out as more of a choking noise. She doesn't regret her decision and she knows she never will, but she wants him to like it. She needs him to like it.

He is sitting in his desk chair, hands resting lightly behind her knees, and she is standing in front of him with her underwear at his eye level. She doesn't give him a chance to reply, just goes off about antibacterial soap and lotion and how she has to make sure not to pick at it.

"I love it," he says honestly. She stops talking and smiles brilliantly.

"You do?" she asks. Dan nods and smiles, tugging her down to sit on his lap.

"Did you think I wouldn't?" He traces the swollen area around the ink and she sighs.

She doesn't reply to his question. She just smiles and leans into him. "I like it too."

It heals in two weeks and it's supposed to stand for everything she aspires to be, but it ends up being his favorite place to hold her when they fuck. Blair doesn't mind the implications of that, which scares her more than it probably should and less than it would have in high school.

His thumb feels like safety as it presses into the center of the five points. She always expects him to come away with black ink staining the curls of his fingerprint, but he never does and she never understands why it hurts so much that she can't mark him the way she wants to. It hits her one night as he kisses her goodbye that this relationship is no longer about need.

She almost vomits after he leaves, not because she wants to but because she is so nervous about her discovery that she doesn't know what else to do.

--

The first time she tells him she loves him, they are in a paid car on their way back to New York. Dan is resting his head on her shoulder, a well-worn book in his hands, and Blair is staring out the window at the new greenness of spring.

"How can you dislike Austen?" he asks. "Her books were practically written for you."

"I already have someone to write books for me," she replies cheekily. He raises his head and she grins, covering the flush in his cheek with her hand. "I'm worried that you enjoy chick lit so much."

"Don't be," he murmurs. She locks eyes with him and he sits up, marking his page with a sticky note.

"Your sticky note is pink," she continues teasingly. Dan pushes his fingers through her hair and kisses her soundly, tracing the roof of her mouth with his tongue. She melts into him and when he pulls away a second later, she wants to slap him.

"I stole that from you," he whispers. "If anything, you're just encouraging my sexual ambiguity."

"Fuck you," she replies quietly. She kisses him again and he laughs against her mouth. The sound relaxes somewhere in her chest, bounces around for a while, then floats downward. It settles between her thighs and she clenches them together, fully aware that her stepdad's drive is in the front cab of the car and that she cannot have sex with her boyfriend for that reason, if not for too many others.

She pulls away and leans her head against his chest to catch her breath. Dan pulls her closer, settling his arm around her shoulders. "You shouldn't offer me things you can't deliver," he teases.

"Hmm, I love you," she murmurs tiredly. His entire body stiffens and she opens her eyes wide, moving to pull away from him. He tightens his grip on her to prevent her retreat and she mentally kicks herself several times. She hates herself. She hates herself.

"I love you too," he says quietly. Blair looks up at him earnestly and he shrugs, fingering the ends of her hair. "You've grown on me."

The car comes to a stop on the curb outside her building and she grins at him, her heart fluttering madly in her chest. She kisses him again and then crawls over him to get to the door. She climbs out and stands up straight, inhaling the city air for the first time in months.

Dan follows her out and squeezes her hand before helping the driver with her bags. She watches him walk inside and then spots someone standing next to the doors. Blair rolls her eyes and walks toward him, arms folded across her chest in irritation.

"What are you doing here?"

Chuck leers. "I thought I'd give you a proper welcome," he drawls. "I'll admit I didn't count on Humphrey's presence." He sneers at the mention of her boyfriend, one of his many sworn enemies. She thinks about the barbecue last year and how he later revealed that he only went to fuck with Dan and be with Blair. She feels sick.

"You should probably count on it from now on," she says seriously. "I won't ever need anything else from you, Chuck." He pushes away from the wall he's been leaning against. Blair stands her ground, hands clenched into fists at her sides.

"Congratulations," Chuck murmurs. She stares at him steadily and he smiles dangerously, leaning in so that his mouth brushes her cheek. "You're officially someone else's whore."

She barely even flinches and she doesn't watch him walk away. Growth is the watchword.