It starts because, really, isn't the whole point of college to leave all things high school behind?

A mantra he finds himself repeating, catching sight of her the first day of Intro to American Lit, sitting front and center with hands clasped neatly together, ankles crossed and casual.

Suddenly NYU isn't far enough away from the UES, far enough away to escape the petty grasp of a gossip hungry website, far enough away to never have to see Blair Waldorf again.

Taking his own seat several rows back, he watches her, unable to help himself.

It's strange enough that they ended up in the same school, (though if Yale had happened for either of them, it seemed inevitable anyway), but it's even more bizarre that she's in this class specifically.

To discover that they might actually have something in common other than Serena van der Woodsen.

/\/\/\

It's like he can't escape her.

After that first day, she's everywhere he happens to be.

The library, the bookstore, this little café he found a few blocks away from campus.

Always alone, always reading something.

If it were anyone else he'd feel bad for her, Blair Waldorf: lonely girl, the situation so familiar it makes his breath catch every time she comes into view.

He knows about Chuck (not that he cares), and he knows how it happened (not that he read.)

There's just something, interesting, about watching her deal (or not deal) with it.

She never says a word to anyone, and with the do not disturb vibe she radiates so clearly, no one ever talks to her.

He knows better than to try, but for whatever reason, the urge is there.

/\/\/\

Why it changes he doesn't know.

Discovering that the exalted Queen B has a flaw (other than the obvious emotional issues) does something odd inside his chest.

He tries not to stare at the simple black frames that adorn her face, thinking it must be some kind of fashion statement, (geek chic or whatever.) Before he realizes what he's doing, he's already in front of her pointing at them.

Unable to hold his tongue (typical), what comes out of his mouth is less smooth than what he intends. (Again, typical.)

Since when?

She lets him stand there long enough to get uncomfortable, shifting idly in his shoes.

Not that she owes him an explanation, since always.

It just so happens she's pretty nearsighted, no it's not some big secret (despite the fact he's pretty sure very few people know), and she lost her contacts. Dorota hasn't been able to come and-

As if suddenly realizing she is giving him an explanation, she cuts herself off, gathers her books and leaves him standing there with his mouth half-open.

Next day she's back in the same chair, the glasses nowhere to be seen.

/\/\/\

He doesn't believe in fate, but doubts it's chance that they end up in the same study group, big project on the relevance of socio-historical writers like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Steinbeck.

She doesn't object to his presence as he assumed she would, and surprisingly agrees with most of his points, counters some with her own, and contributes a lot to the conversation.

It's the most he's seen her speak since school started.

It makes him start to look at her like a person.

/\/\/\

A Halloween party in the dorm, in a white suit with a beer in his hand, head slightly fuzzy from the couple that preceded it, trying to pull off Fitzgerald (or at the very least Tom Wolfe) but everyone seems to think he dressed up as the Kentucky Fried Chicken guy.

He gives up trying to explain his costume after an hour or so, including the advances of a drunk sophomore who thought he was Forrest Gump, and sticks to small talk.

A couple steps beyond tipsy when he spots her, the sight alone enough to stop him cold. Shock that she would attend a dorm party, dressed up (Cleopatra how appropriate), spreads through already dull senses.

She greets him with a rueful grin.

Nice costume.

She doesn't reply with words, but the grin turns into a smile, (she knows how good she looks) as she eyes him up and down.

He's about to explain for the hundredth time who he's supposed to be, but she laughs as soon as his mouth opens.

You wish.

(Of course she gets it.)

-

Hours later they're both considerably drunk, sitting next to each other in the hallway with backs against a wall, he lets it slip that he likes her better this way.

Egyptian?

Not what he means. Before, she was like a Disney villain, predictable in her cartoonish plots of evil. And now, for whatever reason, she's different and… It's nice.

Not winning any prizes for the choice of words, but he's drunk, and brain functions aren't running high. He knows she's rolling her eyes at him without even looking, but she laughs, soft and gentle and it's the last thing he remembers before passing out on her shoulder.

-

Later, waking up on the floor with his head feeling two sizes too big and throat as dry as a desert, he shuffles to the bathroom to wash away the previous night and sees that he's been marked.

Brow furrowed curiously in his reflection, hand moving slowly to his forehead, a slow shuddering breath escapes as his fingers trace the shape of her lips imprinted on his skin.

/\/\/\

Whatever they are (study buddies? academic acquaintances? surely not friends), gets easier after the party.

Studying together without the safety net of the group, conversations that don't teeter on trivial (books, movies, etc…) the two of them never acknowledging what is happening, both preferring to let it (grow) be.

He makes her laugh often, whether it's because what he says is actually funny or she's merely humoring his attempts, is never made clear.

She sends him bitchy texts about the fashionably inept student body, to which he always has to remind her that he's not one of her little minions who thrive on that subject matter, but she sends them anyway and he always smiles when his phone chimes.

He drags her to every used bookstore he can think of, feeling a sense of victory every time she agrees, (she loves the quaintness but hates the smell).

It's nice being undefined. It works.

One day they're sitting in the little café going over their professor's latest literary inquiry, (IE an assignment he can use to further argue his points at cocktail parties), about how science fiction has some of the most intriguing morality tales, but is generally regarded in literary circles as a throw away genre.

He's trying to convince her that Phillip K. Dick is more interesting than Bradbury, (he isn't, but Dan just can't concede her point of Fahrenheit being a better book than Androids because it didn't have any "stupid robots" in it), when her phone goes off.

She makes a face at the message, and shows him when he asks.

NYU: A new bridge built between the UES and Brooklyn?

Spotted: Queen B and Lonely Boy sitting in a tree…

Up until now he'd completely forgotten that Gossip Girl had promised to follow them all to college.

Can't say that he's missed it.

/\/\/\

The fallout he expects from the blast is a lot worse than the round robin of texts, ranging from curious to incredulous, from the old circle.

Nate: So, when did this happen?

Jenny: Really Dan? Really??

Vanessa: what the HELL?

He does feels a bit guilty about not telling V (lies of omission are still lies), but it isn't a conversation he wants to have. No explanation at the ready for why he doesn't hate her, why they spend so much time together, why he might actually care a little.

He doesn't think about what will happen when Chuck and Serena see.

Fully expecting Blair to pull away, now that they've been exposed for all of New York to see, (a nervous twitchy fear that she will); he checks the rest of his messages with caution.

One from Dad, two from Jenny, and zero from Vanessa, (still not returning his calls.)

Last one is from Blair, left twenty minutes ago. They had agreed to meet up at a specialty bookstore in midtown that catered to the sci-fi crowd. Almost positive she's canceling on him, he hits the button with bated breath.

Humphrey? You're late, and I swear to god if I have to wait in this shop surrounded by all your D&D friends for one minute longer I will make you pay. Get down here, NOW.

Staring at the phone for a second, he laughs brokenly in relief.

Only then does he realize that what he expects from her, and what actually happens, are never the same thing.

/\/\/\

Christmas break, abandoned by his family (Jenny's off reigning supreme somewhere, Dad and Lily are at some charity function. No idea where Eric is and Serena hasn't come back from Brown.) Bored out of his mind in a luxury apartment he feels completely out of place in, trapped by the fact that it's around seven degrees outside, nothing on TV, and no friends left on the island.

Well, as far as he knows Blair is still around, but is unclear of the protocol outside of school. Doubting it would be a good idea to just invite her over (not with the ghost of Chuck still lingering), and heading over to her penthouse seems just as bad. (Cater waiter anyone?)

Still, he's getting a little stir crazy and if he doesn't get out of this deluxe apartment in the sky, he just might lose it.

Flipping through the newspaper for something, anything, he finds the entertainment section, looks at theatre listings and sees an excuse for calling her up.

His phone rings the second he moves to dial.

It's Blair, asking if he owns a pair of ice skates.

-

Tradition, she tells him as he meets her in the park (dressed as the rich girl version of an ice-capades dancer), she always skates at the rink for Christmas and apparently daddy can't make it back into the states until after the twenty-fifth. (She didn't want to go alone.)

Holding up a pair of skates, he shouldn't bother with rentals, she turns and leads him toward the ice.

They're her dads, the skates, and the fact that his feet are slightly bigger than Dan's cause him to stumble even though he always thought himself a decent skater. She wraps an arm around his waist, guiding him along. It's nice, and almost flattering, being the substitute for a family tradition.

A few laps around, smiling and laughing, part of him still can't believe he could ever be this content in the freezing cold with Blair Waldorf at his side keeping him upright.

He wants to say something, to let her know he might actually be glad they're friends (easier to admit under the circumstances), but of course he can never relay what's on his mind to his mouth in any sort of direct way and end up asking her what brought on the change.

Jerking them to a stop, almost falling flat on his face from the momentum, he immediately regrets his words because the moment is sufficiently killed. She stares at the ice for a long time, long enough he's about to ask if she wants to leave, when she looks up at him.

Being that girl, it didn't… It didn't work.

Losing Yale, everyone hating her, Chuck fucking Bass. Nothing ever went the way she planned, the odds always against, being queen didn't do a damn thing for her.

It was like Holiday, (Hepburn reference of course); she woke up one morning and decided she simply wasn't going to do it anymore.

So she didn't.

Looking quickly away, I really hated you before. (As if he didn't know.) So damn earnest, even when he got tangled up in their web, he always came out unscathed.

And now?

Turning back, looking longer this time, he doesn't expect her to say something upbeat and heartfelt, but she smiles soft and warm.

It's good enough.

Still, he never can keep his mouth shut in moments like these.

Are you saying I'm the Joe Bradley to your Ann?

Laughing softly, she swats playfully at his chest, and pulls him along again.

No seriously, you can ride on the back of my Vespa anytime.

She just laughs louder and he decides he likes it best when she lets it go freely.

The night almost over, small gloved hands move slowly up his chest before gently gripping the lapels of his jacket, tilting her head upward as she pulls down and kisses him in the middle of a hundred happy New Yorkers.

(For once she doesn't surprise him.)