A Beautiful Friendship

Set post 4x11, this is the story of Blair and Dan's evolving friendship. I'm normally a Chair fan but I'm quite excited about the idea of a Dair pairing. I hope the show's writers go with it and don't screw it up, as they are sadly wont to do after getting a good idea.

As he checked session times for the French Forum, Dan contemplated the strange series of events that had led him to the point where he was about to spend an afternoon in Blair Waldorf's company. By choice.

If Nate had been around, he could have been playing X-box.

If Jenny hadn't left town, he could have been being dragged to the shops.

If Vanessa hadn't disappeared, he would have been drinking coffee and philosophizing.

If he had accepted Serena's invitation, they would probably be reconciled by now.

But he had been shaken by Blair's insights into the way his obsession with Serena had distracted him from other aspects of his life, like his writing. Looking back, he couldn't help but wonder if she was right. Perhaps he had suddenly become obsessed with Serena again as a distraction from his feelings of inadequacy after Vanessa's creative dreams took off while his own seemingly foundered. Maybe subconsciously he had believed he could get back on track if he managed to win back the affections of the girl who had been his first real muse.

Yet when Serena had offered him a chance to spend time with her and reclaim her heart on a road trip to speak to a judge about an affidavit forged in her name (not really a likely premise for great romance), Dan had had trouble even concentrating on what she was saying. Blair's words were ringing in his ears. He had also been distracted by the other girl's presence at Serena's side, and the knowing, sly smile she had sent in his direction.

It wasn't that spending an entire day with Blair a week earlier had revealed a new side to her. But what it had done had reinforced what he had already known about Blair's good side: her loyalty to her friends, her willingness to do anything for those she loved, her determination to see a thing through, her quick-wittedness and her at times surprising perspicacity into others' lives.

Dan's respect for these qualities, and thus his overall estimation of Blair, had been growing for some time. And that day in the loft, he had found himself comparing her with Serena, and for the first time his golden girl had come off worse. Where Serena was flighty, indecisive and a just a little bit too involved in the various dramas of her own life, Blair could always be relied upon to be Blair, yet was always willing to put her own life on hold to help out those around her. Where Serena had the knack of attracting friends, Blair was the one able to keep them together, whether by her mother-lioness-like defence of their interests or by the way she was able to mandate their attendance at a festive season dinner before they all departed to pursue their separate holiday plans. Where Serena was fluctuating in her affections, Blair tended to be strong and committed in her attachments. Not that he didn't still care for Serena; but experience had given him a better understanding of her faults, and knocked her down from the pedestal he once put her on.

It wasn't that the episode with Juliet had made Dan aware of Blair's better qualities, it was just that it had given him a new appreciation of them. Yet there had been really nothing new to their situation: Juliet was simply another name on the list of people Blair and Dan had teamed up against to protect Serena – Georgina, Carter, William Van der Woodsen. Perhaps that was why it had been so easy to spend time with Blair the previous week. Why, despite her barbed comments, he had found himself enjoying her company.

Washing dishes by her side after dinner had been unnaturally natural. They had slid easily through conversation topics. Discussing Nanette had led Dan to question Blair about her time in Paris, only to discover that all her favourite places were the places he most wanted to visit. Her mention of a particular book store had led to a discussion of their favourite French authors, which had led to a discussion of books generally, which had led to the astonishing realisation that Blair's taste in literature was more like his own than even Vanessa's had been. (Comparison to Serena in this regard wasn't even really possible as she wasn't much of a reader.) Discussion of books had logically led to a discussion of book-to-film adaptations, then discussion of films generally, until before they knew it they were back to talking about Nanette.

Then Blair had said something that had shocked the hell out of him.

"Since it seems we are the only two people left in Manhattan I suppose I could be generous and save you from the social awkwardness of going alone by letting you accompany me," Blair had informed him condescendingly, her nose scrunched up. (Rather cutely.) "But you would have to pay for the popcorn," she had continued hastily, as he sent her a sheepish grin.

"I don't know, Waldorf, I'm more of a crisps man myself," he had teased her comfortably.

Blair had rolled her eyes. "Of course you are," she had replied, heaving a melodramatic sigh, which seemed to imply such an inappropriate snack choice was only to be expected from such a classless individual. "But popcorn is a movie food and when I go to a movie that's what I eat."

She had looked up at him then with a challenge in her eyes and he had instinctively stepped closer. He had been about to speak but admiring the too-rare sparkle in her eyes had momentarily distracted him.

"So what do you say, Cabbage Patch?" He wasn't sure, but he though her breath may have hitched a little at the end.

He had stepped back, grinning. "How could I refuse such a gracious command," he had responded.

Then Blair had started lecturing him about the proper care of wine glasses again, and Dan hadn't been able to resist showing her the way he was able to juggle three of Chuck's hotel's precious goblets, despite her loud shrieks to be careful. When he had pretended he was about to drop one only to catch it with his foot though she had seemed suitably impressed and burst out laughing. She had then told him that if a self-indulgent literary career didn't pan out, at least he had a back-up in street performing.

Despite her acerbic wit (or maybe because of it), he left feeling more light-hearted then he had in months. When he got home he had immediately sat down and had written ten whole pages of a new novella.

Dan decided he should take Blair to a 4pm session - late enough to avoid screaming children, and hopefully early enough to avoid the unpleasant sight of couples canoodling on dates.

When she saw Dan's name light up her cell screen, it was if it had lit up something inside her as well.

Blair prided herself on being an independent woman, one perfectly capable of having a good time with only herself (and occasionally Dorota) for company. But she couldn't help feeling a little abandoned when Dan revealed that they would be the only ones left in Manhattan over the festive season. Even her mother and Cyrus had gone away to spend Hanukah with Cyrus's family in Florida.

Blair knew Dan had meant to reassure her when he told her not to worry about him calling or bothering her over the holiday. She had nodded and given him a strained smile, knowing she could not very well tell him that what actually bothered her was the thought of not seeing him.

In a million years, she would never admit she actually enjoyed his company. That despite her protests and complaints, when she was with him she actually had fun. Sometimes Blair struggled to remember the last time she had honest, uncomplicated fun.

To her, plotting was always fun, especially as a team sport. Hanging out with Dan the other week to take Juliet down had reminded her of the fun she used to have plotting with Chuck in the pre-limo sex days. She wondered if Dan would become her fall-back plotting partner if things continued to be weird between her and that Basstard now he was off cavorting with New Zealand skanks in the rainforest. In a way, Dan had proved a more reliable plotting partner than old Chuck, who she had occasionally lost mid-plot when he was distracted by some girl with too little brains and too much skin showing.

It had even been fun cooking the dinner with Dan after he had shopped and set the table. She told him she would be fine to cook the dinner herself, but he had insisted on taking a 'supervisory' role. Blair knew he had doubted her culinary abilities, assuming that because she was a UES princess she wasn't also an addict of Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson's cooking specials. But while Nate, Chuck and Serena might have been so hopelessly inept in the kitchen that she did not even bother asking for their help, Blair Waldorf was a true domestic goddess. Since she was little Dorota had taught her how to make a new dish every time her mother had gone away in order to cheer her up. Due to the number of business trips Eleanor went on, Blair now had an impressive culinary repertoire. Well, she had put paid to Dan's scepticism, which he had had to admit was delicious. But even though his advice had been unnecessary, his company in the kitchen had not been unwelcome.

So, though it pained her to admit it, part of her had been secretly disappointed when Dan had told her he wouldn't be seeking her company out over the holiday. In an attempt to re-establish the social order she had snippily told him that he was not to sit next to her if they happened to meet up at the obscure film they both surprisingly wanted to see. Then she caught herself thinking that it might actually be quite nice to see the film with someone who could appreciate Nanette's story, and was not just going along to humour her, and she had found herself leading the conversation back around to films until she had an opportunity to invite/inform him to come with her.

Her pleasure at seeing that he was calling her the very next day to follow through on their plan meant she did not even wait the appropriate number of rings (four) before answering his call.

As each of them made their way to the cinema they nevertheless assured themselves that today was a one-off. For friendliness's sake they would see the film together and then go their separate ways.

Of course, the film was so good they had to get coffee afterwards to discuss it. Then because it was around dinnertime it was natural for Dan to suggest they get something to eat at a little Italian place he knew called Amicis. While Blair was initially sceptical that such a 'quaint' spot could offer anything she would enjoy, she had quickly fallen in love with the restaurant, and its owners, the Viscontis, a warm and friendly elderly couple who had been married for almost fifty years. They had regaled Blair and Dan with stories of the difficulties of their courtship as the pair lingered over their coffee until closing. (Roberto had initially dated Gianna's older sister, during which time Gianna had tortured him, and it had taken him two years to realise that Gianna was the girl for him. Then it had taken him almost as long to convince Gianna of the fact.)

As they parted ways outside the Waldorfs' building, neither had thought twice about making plans to see another film that had been advertised before Nanette and which they both wanted to see.

That was how Blair and Dan fell easily into a series of outings. Mostly to movies, although they had also taken in a new exhibit of Korean art at the Met and gone skating – at Blair's insistence – in Central Park. Afterwards there was always coffee and often a meal at Amicis, where the Viscontis had taken a strong liking to them, often pressing them to accept food they hadn't ordered but which the couple insisted they must try.

Blair told him he need not keep coming with her if he wanted to work on his writing. Dan smiled wryly and told her not to worry. In between their outings it seemed the words were just pouring out of him.

They had gone to the restaurant for dinner again after watching a Humphrey Bogart double bill (The Big Sleep and Casablanca).

"Signora Visconti, that was absolutely delicious," Blair had enthused when the restauranter came to collect their plates. Dan had been quick to add his agreement.

Gianna smiled at their praise of her husband's cooking. "You are both very sweet," she told them. "And you are very much like me when I was your age," she said, turning to Blair. "You wouldn't think it to look at me now, but I was a real hot mama back then. Had all the boys in Varese running after me. But in the end I settled on Roberto because he was the sweet one. Sometimes when you're young, you don't value a sweet disposition. You want glamour and excitement. You want fireworks. But trust me, when you get older you just want someone to be there when you're feeling lousy. Or when you got a big pile of washing up to do," Gianna stared piercingly at Dan before turning to Blair once more. "Blair, my husband says he will be honoured to teach you the secret of our pine nut pesto if you come back to the kitchen one day. You can cook, yes?"

Before Blair could answer, Dan replied for her. "Yeah, don't let the manicure or pearls fool you. Blair makes a pumpkin pie that is even better than my Dad's homemade waffles and her mushroom risotto might even be better than my chilli."

"My risotto can kick your chilli's behind any day of the week, Humphrey," Blair grinned back.

"Hmmph," replied Gianna with a twinkle in her eye. "My husband was going to teach you to cook because food is the surest way to a man's heart. But it seems you may have already captured a good one, sì?"

Dan and Blair both began to laugh embarrassedly and shake their heads, Blair waving her hands for emphasis.

"Oh no, no, no, I'm just hanging out with him as part of an outreach program for the socially challenged," Blair explained.

"Actually, I agreed to keep an eye on her over the Christmas season at the behest of her sponsor. The holidays can be a difficult time for retail addicts," Dan corrected.

Gianna raised her eyebrows dramatically. "Really? Because you always certainly look like a happy couple," she said knowingly before sweeping off to the next table.

Blair and Dan stared at each other awkwardly for a second.

"Well, that's just ridiculous," Blair finally trilled.

Dan made an uncomfortable laughing/coughing noise. "Absolutely. Funniest thing I've heard in a long time."

"I mean you and I? As a couple? We can barely stop bickering long enough to eat our food," Blair said nervously.

"Right. We're always arguing," Dan nodded with a smile. "Except of course about the merits of French cinema. And the transcendence of George Eliot's work. Nineteenth-century fiction in general. The whole Jon Stewart versus Stephen Colbert debate."

"Right. But no rational-thinking person would argue over those things anyway," Blair countered.

There was a pause.

"Blair, look I know you and I as a couple would never work, for obvious reasons. But I do want you to know how much I've enjoyed spending time with you these past few weeks," Dan stared down at his hands before looking back up at Blair. Even if she played it off with one of her usual sarcastic comments he had to let her know. Because deep down he knew how vulnerable she was, whether she admitted to caring what he thought about her or not. "Feel free to begin mocking me now."

Blair bit her lip and sent him a small smile. "You make it so easy for me to do," she said, and as he laughed she leant over and put her hand on his. "But I've had fun too, Dan. That isn't something I get to do often."

"So what happens when the new semester starts? Are you going to go back to ignoring my existence whenever you're not belittling it?" Dan asked, trying to make it sound like a joke, as if he didn't really care.

Blair frowned. "I don't know. I guess I thought when Nate and Serena and your Dad got back to town you wouldn't really have much time for me anymore. Are you saying you want to keep hanging out?"

"Well, I could see certain benefits to it," Dan temporised. "You're less hungry and snappish after hanging out with me. My wardrobe's improved. You have someone who can appreciate your extensive knowledge of Latin quotations. I can almost figure-skate a double eight now."

Blair giggled. "It would be helpful to have you around in case I need a plotting partner. For a relative novice, you are surprisingly effective."

"That's because my role normally consists of agreeing with you and putting your plan into action."

Blair raised her glass to him. "Humphrey, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Dan clinked his glass to hers in toast.

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