"With every word she was drawing further and further into herself, so he gave that up, and only the dead dream fought on as the afternoon slipped away, trying to touch what was no longer tangible, struggling unhappily, undespairingly, toward that lost voice across the room."
F. Scott Fitzgerald,
The Great Gatsby

It happened nearly immediately after the headlines went haywire with various details on Chuck Bass's undisclosed trips to Europe and Japan. Each day, the flow of news on his behalf assailed blogs and newspapers, and so Blair was never without the reminder that he'd left her. She merely sulked in the confines of her dorm room, forcing a strained smile whenever necessary. It hadn't taken Dan long to realize they were fake. It had surprised him that her friends - Serena included, wherever she may be and whoever she may be doing - hadn't even taken a second glance at the obvious discomfort and pain in her eyes.

Dan wasn't often one to pity Blair Waldorf, whether or not it was his obligation. She was never even remotely likable to him; while he might not have been around her long enough in high school, it was blatantly obvious she looked down upon him, be it through her words or her disapproving glares. It had come as a shock to him when Blair appeared at his doorstep, shameful disdain in her eyes and a broken smile in place.

It had come as no surprise when Blair continued the cycle, stopping by his dorm room for the "lively" company, or just to say hello. Dan knew she was lonely; it was the only reason any of this could happen, the only reason why she would ever refer to him as her friend. He wasn't close enough to Serena to ask why Blair and Chuck broke up, and he suspected Serena herself wasn't too close to Blair at the moment. Even if he did work up the courage to ask, Serena would surely be suspicious.

Dan had no hidden agendas in mind. He cared not for why Blair was alone, or why she had to stoop as low as to request his friendship (although, she never asked; simply took it by force). To put it quite literally, it wasn't his problem, nor would it ever be.

Whatever deities that existed must have wept tears of sympathy and shame when Dan fell in love with her.

- - -

Dan noticed things he shouldn't have even paid attention to in detail. It was personally and morally frustrating that he'd become so irrevocably infatuated with Blair, to the point of near insanity, for he knew that the only reason why she even bothered to see him was because she had no one else. He was simply her last choice. Their relationship was a complicated one, that indeed, never breaching past the carefully-constructed walls of friendship. In its simplicity, it was far more complex than anything Dan could write.

Literature was their common reference point; they could spend hours on end discussing literature, debating heatedly over the greats - his favorite being Robert Frost, while hers traditionally being Jane Austen. They argued playfully on books they loved, books they hated, just endless conversations on books, books, books. One night, far past midnight, they had spent their time analyzing one of the Twilight books, amidst laughter and mocking each character.

Blair was most beautiful when reading.

Perhaps that was due to Dan's insatiable love for reading, but it seemed the truest truth as of late. Blair had a way of poising herself before she settled down to read; she would tuck her honey-brown curls back into a tight bun and chew on a pen while focusing on each line. While Dan considered it defiling precious books, Blair's penchant was to underline and circle her favorite phrases, be they inspirational or amusing to her, so she may go back and reread them over again.

It was another thing about Blair Waldorf that Dan found so easy to fall for; the quirky things she did that enticed Dan to learn even more about her, to burn each mannerism into memory to call upon at the latest hours of the night.

In these late hours of the night and early hours of dawn, Dan found himself hand-writing a novel, currently without a title. He described a girl named Grace with a broken smile and coconut-scented perfume - and one tiny freckle just hidden behind her left ear.

- - -

Romance had not even been slightly insinuated until several months after Chuck's departure (truthfully, it was only a couple months or so, but it seemed forever to Dan). They were reading aloud from yet another Twilight sequel, their new favorite pastime. Blair sat in a chair at the far side of the room, rocking back in forth with to the rhythm of a silent tune, as she attempted to recite a line from the extensive collection of unintentional secondhand embarrassment. She found herself unable to complete her sentence through the laughter spilling from her lips.

Dan leaned over to see what she had been pointing at; with a chuckle of astonishment, he shook his head and muttered, "That has to be the millionth time she's compared this guy to Adonis." He had glanced down apprehensively, unnerved at his close proximity with Blair in such a suffocating room.

Blair merely grinned up at him, seemingly at lost for words. At the inadvertent contentment shining in her hazel eyes, Dan's heart thrashed vehemently against his ribcage, all words dying immediately his throat. The effect her smile had on him was nearly incomprehensible; all it took was one genuine curve of her cherry-red lips to bring him crashing painfully to the ground after falling for so long.

This time, Dan refused to be deterred, and he swiftly leaned down to capture the smile before it was lost again. It was far too impulsive for his personality, but he found himself without a care; he found himself unwilling to face reality when he pulled away.

Turning in his favor, Blair responded eagerly, pulling away only after a moment's hesitation. It was a dramatic pause, a terrifying standstill for Dan, whose heart was thumping rapidly against the confines of his chest, begging to be set free to join hers with only flesh to bar their way. Skin against heated skin.

Blair wrapped both arms around his neck and graced him with another innocent smile, both eyes glimmering with something akin to passion. If Dan had particularly cared at the moment, he would have asked her what that emotion was, so he may use it in his novels for the rest of his life. There could be an entirely new word for the look in Blair Waldorf's eyes when she kissed Dan Humphrey back on a Friday in June.

The book fell to the ground, forgotten.

- - -

They had a good run. While it lasted, they were happy; for Dan, it could be only what he ever dreamed of. He'd never wanted anyone more than he wanted Blair - not Serena, not Olivia, not Vanessa. It was almost like a novel, the way it went: the princess coming for friendship from a lowly peasant, then developing into a love unlike the world had ever seen before. A reverse tale of Cinderella, perhaps.

In the end, there was no happily ever after.

- - -

The last time Dan saw Blair, it was at graduation. They had managed to go four years without speaking, without even hinting at what they once were, or what they could've been, had Chuck not arrived home begging for her hand in early marriage. Dan may have been a great love in Blair's life, but even he knew their relationship, "them," was never going to surpass what Blair felt for Chuck. Dan knew it, and he grudgingly accepted what he should have long ago, before he fooled himself into believing in what never was.

Blair took the podium as valedictorian, her articulate tongue pouring out wisdom beyond her young years; in the lighting, her wedding band glinted, piercing right through Dan's core. She had accepted the proposal and fell once more into domestic bliss with Chuck Bass. She was no longer Blair Waldorf, the literature-loving girl he fell for amidst Twilight mockery; she was Blair Bass, Chuck's wife.

Before Dan could leave her be, before he could walk away and ignore what placed itself firmly in front of his eyes, she strode purposefully towards him. Dan found himself unable to run. His feet were frozen to the ground, his mind already working out ridiculous scenarios that could never happen.

"This is goodbye, then," Blair Bass whispered. She smiled then, but it was weak and broken, another fake one to add to her collection of masks. Dan was well-aware that she hadn't planned this out. Unlike her valedictorian speech, she had to improvise. "I guess I'll see your books, then."

"I guess I'll see your name in the papers, then, Bass." Dan hadn't meant to sound so bitter, but the words tumbled out effortlessly before he could stop them, before he could swallow them into the darkest places of his body, never to be looked upon again. What a foreign thought, to love someone so deeply, so wonderfully, and then have it ripped away against his will by someone who would hurt her more than love her.

Blair's lips twisted into a frown. "Goodbye, Dan." Choosing not to acknowledge the angry words, she leaned forward and cupped his cheek with a pale hand. The slightest touch made Dan flinch. It reminded him too much of what could've been; of what once was. She pressed a chaste kiss to his cheek and forced another smile.

Dan turned around without a second glance, haunted with memories of what he couldn't have; of what was never his to begin with.