It happens like this.

Dan is sitting next to Blair at the fundraiser brunch, thrown by Chuck Bass of all people, watching as her invisible armor deflects every pair of judgmental eyes that glance her way. Head held high, it's like she's daring anyone to point or giggle, while making a grand show of keeping the conversation focused entirely on him.

She's insane, is constant thought in his mind, because no way in hell would he show his face after the betrayal of his two closest friends spread across Manhattan like it did. But he grins and plays along because there's nothing he loves more than observing a room full of upper East sider's with incredulous faces.

Eyes can't help but glance over at the table where Nate's parents are sitting, their son thankfully absent, because while she's doing a good job of keeping it together he knows her well enough that the slightest shift can make it all crumble.

Crumble it does with Nate and Serena both show up close enough to appear that they came together. Dan looks over his shoulder, sees them awkwardly greet each other and scowls wanting nothing more than for his fist to greet Nate Archibald's face. Looking back to Blair, he knows it's over between them, but a range of emotions flash across her face regardless. (Shock, anger, pain.)

"Hey," he says, hand reaching for hers. "They're not here okay? It's just you and me. I mean you, me, and Dom Perignon."

He grins hoping it will be infectious, and it is, eyes coming back to his with ruby lips curling into a smile just for him.

/\/\/\

It happens like this.

Dan knows how vindictive Blair can be. How cold and calculating her mind works, especially when she feels she's been wronged. He's always known. But up until this point he's never seen it up close, so careful she is to shield him from that side of her, he being the only one in her circle immune to the perils and pitfalls of the social ladder.

It's a sobering thing to see her on that stage, exposing Serena's issues for all the world to see.

On some level he gets it. If only in the sense that a thirst for revenge is prevalent in everyone, but what he can't understand is the need to completely destroy any chance of a future Serena may have wanted for herself.

Yes, she hurt Blair. Yes, she betrayed her.

But nothing about those indiscretions can get him, in good conscience, to side with Blair's methods.

Blair stands with arms crossed in front of him, defending what she did by condemning what Serena had done. The gaping wound in her heart so easy for him to see, but he doesn't budge.

"It doesn't make it right," he says firmly.

She makes no move to apologize, and part of him knows she shouldn't have to for being who she is, but… He can't accept what she did, for any reason, it's just wrong.

"You're better than this."

She merely blinks at the statement, and when it doesn't look like she's going to offer anything more, he turns away.

Only his name falling softly from her lips stops him cold. Turning back, her body still rigid in defense, she won't concede to his point but her eyes betray the body language. They're wide open, fear that she could actually lose him over this, after losing so much already, radiates clear.

It's the only thing that keeps him from leaving.

/\/\/\

It happens like this.

Things between them have been off since the Ivy League fiasco, but Blair asked him to come to the photo shoot, being chosen to be the new face of her mother's clothing line an event he couldn't say no to, so he didn't.

Some transit issues on the subway have him a little late, but when makes his way toward the roof he can see he didn't miss the fireworks. Blair is screaming at Serena in the stairwell, their thin attempt at a rebuilding of friendship already cracking under the pressure, about how she takes everything.

Storming off in a flurry of brunette curls and expensive clothes, she leaves Dan standing awkwardly next Serena. The blonde looks guilty at least, admonishing Blair's mother for manipulating the whole situation, more to herself than him. He doesn't know Serena that well but something in him won't let Eleanor take the full brunt of the blame. Serena had to have known, the points about call sheets and names on doors that Blair rattled off were all true.

He says as much, watching the girl's guilt nearly double, and stands perfectly still while she storms back up the stairs.

Blair's legs are folded underneath her in such a haphazard way, his heart twists at the sight, making him think of a broken doll left discarded in a corner. Moving to take a spot next to her on the floor, she falls into him the second his arm wraps around her, any residual uneasiness between them quickly melting away.

/\

It's unnerving, the way she's completely still in his hold, like her entire body has just given up. Fingers gently playing with the ends of her hair, he composes a laundry list of reasons why Eleanor handled the whole thing in the worst way possible, and how Blair could easily be the face of any fashion line she chooses.

Laughing silently into his shoulder, she sniffles before lifting her head to meet his eyes.

"Think so?"

This is his Blair, he thinks. The side she never shows anyone, insecure and lonely, just like him. Reasons she chose him of all people to be friends with.

"As your loyal subject I declare it so," he says before placing a kiss on her forehead.

He'd meant it as a chaste gesture, but a stray finger moves to trace his jaw, eyes falling closed as he tries not to shiver. She kisses him, mouth so soft and warm against his, and this time there's no diatribe ready to stumble out when she pulls away. He only smiles, giving a reassuring squeeze and never letting go until she's ready to leave.

/\/\/\

It happens like this.

Dan spends most of the ball fiddling with the stupid feather on his mask that won't stop tickling his ear, while simultaneously being led around by the crook of his elbow because his best friend is making sure she fulfills all her social obligations with him in tow.

Still, it's not a bad gig being arm candy for the intrepid Blair Waldorf.

It's especially funny that, because of the masks, nearly everyone she introduces him to is taken aback, all automatically assuming that her date would be someone of higher stature. He keeps a wary eye out for Jenny, who is no doubt having too good a time here in the lap of luxury, but it's damn near impossible considering the theme.

They only dance to the slow songs because of her dress, which is perfectly alright with him, not wanting to cause any embarrassment with his less than stellar moves. Twirling around on the floor to some old relic, Blair's head resting contently against his shoulder despite the giant bouffant her hair is made up in, Dan feels like he belongs for the first time.

Oh, he'll never get used to dressing up so lavishly, for something so over the top as an old fashioned masquerade ball. (Or the fundraisers, polo matches, and tea parties.) But an increasing part of him is accepting that yes, he will keep attending these things, simply because Blair wants him to.

"It appears you're actually having a good time," she says suddenly, drawing his focus back to her.

"Well the company leaves something to be desired," he replies. "But the food is definitely top notch."

"Watch yourself Humphrey," she warns, jabbing him in the back with the end of her mask.

"Forgive me?"

"Maybe," she concedes, letting herself be spun before slipping back into his arms. "I know the social hermit in you hated greeting all those people earlier, but it was necessary."

His brow furrows in confusion.

"For what?"

She doesn't answer, spinning herself again with a satisfied grin.

It's only on the ride home, with Blair dozing lightly against his arm, does he realize her intentions for all the social butter-flying before.

The more she pulls him into her world, the more she has to show it that he belongs to her.

/\/\/\

It happens like this.

Dan is sitting at the table of the most awkward thanksgiving dinner ever, courtesy of one Jenny Humphrey and her new best friend Eric, who just so happens to be Serena's little brother. Who just so happens to bring his sister, who just so happens to bring their mother, who just so happens to be the former love of dad's life. A fact that mom, (another one of Jenny's little surprises), has no problem revealing.

It's a tangled web of half-truths and denial, and Dan doesn't know how to take this new information, his appetite dropping down to non-existent. He almost calls Blair, even if he knows his presence at her table is the last thing Eleanor would want, just for an out.

He laughs when his phone goes off; Blair's tell tale royal march ringtone filling his otherwise silent room where all the teenagers took refuge.

"You will not believe what is happening in my living room right now," he says in greeting.

The second half of his sentence fades from his tongue when Blair's broken voice carries over the receiver, face clouding with concern.

"She did what?" He replies, throwing a hand up to stop Serena from getting up and trying to listen in. "Where are you? No, no. Stay there, I'm on my way."

Hanging up and walking to his closet for a jacket, Serena steps in front of him the second he turns around.

"Dan what's going on?" She asks.

He almost doesn't want to tell her, despite knowing that she and Blair's friendship has finally hit some steady ground, a selfish need to be the one to jump in and save the day.

"You know Blair," he says without a hint of sarcasm. "Her drama always trumps ours."

/\

Serena, who didn't take no for an answer in coming with him, heads straight to the kitchen for Eleanor deflection while Dan shoots straight up the stairs, making a beeline for Blair's room.

She's on the floor leaning against the tub in her bathroom, posture so reminiscent of that day in the hall; he drops to his knees in front of her and places both hands on her shoulders.

"Hey," he says, leaning back on his heels.

She looks up at him, offering a weak smile in return for his presence, as his hands pull her forward into his embrace.

"I'm really starting to hate Thanksgiving," she mumbles against his shoulder.

"It can't be all bad," he replies into her hair. "Didn't we meet because of this holiday?"

"Hardly a selling point."

Chuckling softly, he lets her go, shifting to take a space beside her.

"You want to tell me what happened?"

He nearly bites his tongue from trying to hold it so hard, listening to Blair explain how much she was looking forward to having her dad come home for the first time since he left. (As if he didn't know that part already, the last three weeks nearly intolerable with her constant gushing of the fact.) How Eleanor took it upon herself to dash that little grain of happiness, calling Harold and telling him that Blair was the one who didn't want to see him.

Dan can't even fathom what kind of person it takes to use her daughter as a scapegoat for her own selfish motives, or know what to do with the fact that she exists, and is currently one floor below.

"I'm sorry," he says, reaching for her hand.

She looks down at their entwined fingers, his thumb rubbing the top of her knuckles.

"Always the knight in shining armor," she says, eyes moving back up to meet his.

They way she's looking at him, almost an invitation, he would lean in if the overactive part of his mind wasn't currently asking why they end up kissing each other only after she gets tossed through the emotional cuisine art. Or why the kissing isn't the weirdest thing in the world, or why doesn't he stop thinking so damn much and just…

Hesitation costs him as Serena knocks softly on the door, poking her head inside.

"Hey," she says. "You guys want to get out of here?"

/\/\/\

It happens like this.

Dan is considered her pauper, not her prince.

So when Blair asks him to be her escort to Cotillion, and Gossip Girl somehow gets hold of it, the backlash for his existence in the soap opera of the Upper East Side finally comes to a head.

He wouldn't even know about any of it if Jenny didn't keep showing him her phone every time someone comments on the blast. Looked at with curious confusion by the avid readers of the website, who all wonder what's so special about a lowly boy from Brooklyn, that the exalted Queen B keeps such a renewed interest.

While he doesn't take any of it to heart, it's not a nice feeling knowing people out there with such clever handles as Dolcegirl27 and PerkyP think you're not worthy enough to breathe the same air as Blair Waldorf, let alone have her on your arm for one of Society's most heralded events.

Even Eleanor goes so far as to suggest her daughter take someone who would be more comfortable attending such a function. (Somewhere in back of Dan's mind he knows she probably went that extra step beyond and suggested Blair even patch things up with Nate, just to save face.)

Blair, to her credit, ignores every suggestion that she's merely overindulging in charity work, giving a boy of clearly lesser means a taste of the sweet life, before finally sending him on his way. (Their year of friendship readily ignored by those who think it a hoax in the first place.)

It gets so bad, Dan actually starts to think it might make things easier if he bows out, but Blair takes to that suggestion like she would to a pair of Chuck Taylor's. She does nothing about his doubts, other than take him to every custom tailor in Manhattan to find the perfect tux. Because that's what the night will be for her, perfect.

Far be it for him to deny such a simple request.

/\

"Cornelia?"

She almost elbows him right of the middle of her introduction, but only because he is trying to make her laugh while they get their picture taken. Grim yet welcoming smiles the kind preferred in these types of portrait, but Dan likes how photogenic Blair can be when she forgets a camera is there and let's herself relax. He takes her hand as they make their way into the rest of the crowd.

Blair made him practice the dance so much he thought he'd get blisters, but it's clearly paying off, having not stepped on her feet once and actually keeping in time with the rest of the chorus surrounding them.

If you told him a year ago that one day he'd be dancing with Blair Waldorf in a ridiculously overpriced tuxedo while she laughed at his stupid jokes, completely disregarding her peers opinion of him (even if a part of her still lived for things like that), he would have called you crazy.

She's radiant in her dress, beaming under all the glitz and glam, the Queen B truly in her element.

"You look amazing," he says, leaning into her ear, simultaneously side stepping, side stepping, now turn.

"You say that like I'm not aware," she replies with a sardonic grin.

Neither of them were looking for this, their lives near polar opposites, it's why it works. Even if he's spent most of their relationship thinking the ball could drop at any time (somewhere inside always the thought that if they met each other some other way, it wouldn't have turned out like it did) Blair always comes through in her way, being his friend simply because she chooses to be.

It's almost impossible now, to imagine what his life would be like without her in it.

The music is winding down but he doesn't want to let her go, stomach fluttering at the way her eyes suddenly lock onto his, everything he's thinking reflected back at him because she's thinking the same. Arms wrap around his neck easily, her content smile cause enough to finally quell his over analyzing mind.

Dan kisses Blair in the middle of the dance floor, the upper echelon of high society fading into the background, and for once his mouth doesn't betray what he truly wishes to express.

"I love you."

Blair smiles easily, stepping back to cup both his cheeks in her hand.

"I know."