Disclaimer: Don't own Gossip Girl

Warning: Season 4 spoilers and speculation ahead!

The Cardinal Rule

"You're going back to him." Dan is succinct, cuts no corners. Games have never been his thing, anyways.

Sitting in front of him, cross-legged on a Central Park bench, is Blair Waldorf. Her hands are tearing pieces of a stale croissant while her lips remain sealed.

Dan fidgets in his stance, the wispy June breeze rippling the hem of his vintage tee. He hates that he's here, attempting to rationalize the illogical. In his eyes, Chuck and Blair have been done for a long time. Should have been done for a long time.

Dan doesn't quite get Blair's motives, but he wants to, and so, shuffling around the bench, he takes a seat beside the stiff brunette and tries again. "Why, Blair? Make me understand."

The croissant, now shredded like a fraudulent credit card, lies in even portions on her lap. Blair looks down at her handiwork, dark spiral curls draping her face like a heavy curtain.

The writer in Dan doesn't miss the simile, and he yearns to pry open the closed vault that is Blair. Fueled by curiosity (and betrayal and anger, if he's being honest), Dan's hand darts out and tucks Blair's hair behind a reddened ear.

When Blair suddenly whips her head to the side to meet his stare, Dan realizes she's blushing maddeningly. "It's no longer your business what –or whom – I do, Humphrey." Blair spits the last word out like spoiled fruit, prompting Dan to flinch.

Still, he presses. He presses because he cares, because he hurts. "You're making a bad decision, Blair. After all we had together, not to mention all he put you through, you're just gonna – gonna cave to Chuck?" Dan shakes his head, point emphasized.

Blair abruptly drops her gaze and tosses a piece of the croissant on the lush green grass. "It's not caving if I want to do it. Besides," she mutters, tone drenched with disdain. "you were the one that hopped back on the Serena train the minute she arrived back from her intrastate adventure."

Dan's been ready for Blair to throw that punch. "Serena and I will always have a bond, Blair. Just like you and Chuck. That's the way it is. But the truth is, I didn't 'hop back' on anything, and you know it," Dan deflects. "You should know it, because if I recall, you were the one to so delightfully inform me that her and Ben eloped."

Blair blinks impassively, throws another section of stale croissant. "If they hadn't, you would've gone back to her. You would have chosen Serena. Everyone chooses Serena." Slowly, Blair tilts her head and looks at Dan. Sunlight hits dark eyes, sparking little flecks of amber in Blair's left iris. She laughs bitterly. "I was naïve to think I was anything more to you than something to do while you waited – as usual – for her. I'm going back to Chuck because he's the only thing that's mine. He's all I've got. I gave up on you."

And like a cross-hook from Muhammad Ali, Blair's words deliver a knock-out blow. The air rushes from Dan's lungs, his head spins, and the vibrant hues of the world seem to be fading to a foggy gray. "No," he chokes out, the babbling idiot in him coming out in full-force. "That's not how I – No. Just – just no."

Dan wishes he could come up with something a little more eloquent, but he's dumbfounded by Blair's words. Doesn't she see that she's his air? Doesn't she understand how much she balances him? How much color she brings to his life?

This time, Blair whips the stale pastry furiously, startling a curious sparrow. "No what, Humphrey? I haven't got time to sit and listen to you stumble over your words like a news anchor with a lobotomy."

Dan struggles to find the right words. He's a writer – this should be easy, right?


Blair huffs at Dan's silence. "I knew it. Empty words from an empty brain. You know what, Humphrey? Let's just forget we ever happened? You can watch from afar as Serena lives in domestic bliss with Professor Statutory, while I'm sipping on bellinis in Florence with Chuck."

Dan blinks in disbelief. Does she really think she was going to get her simple love with the psychiatrist's dream that is Chuck Bass?

Unnerved by his reaction, Blair adds defensively, "Chuck loves me."

"I love you!" Dan shouts, neglecting the "think before one acts" rule.

Blair's shoulders jump, startled. "Love? Humphrey, have you been buying from Damien, because I –"

Holding a hand up, Dan cuts her off, chest heaving. He needs to get this out. "Just listen, Blair. Please." Dan pauses to gauge Blair's reaction, and finds relief in the softening of her stony face.

He continues, "You're gorgeous and loyal and probably the smartest person I've ever met. You brought something to my life that I didn't even know I was missing. With you, the world – my world -was right. The way it should be, you know?"

Heat creeps up the back of his neck, and Dan imagines that Blair's next reaction will be laughter and a jibe about soap opera dialogue. Naturally, Dan's surprised when the only thing Blair does is curve her lips up into a small, tentative smile.

"Blair, look," Dan starts again, this time keeping his gaze focused solely on beautiful brunette seated beside him. "I understand why the thought of Serena makes you uneasy. I do. What you need to understand is that Serena and me? We've run our course. You see, when something's over, you just know it. And when it came to Serena, I knew way before her and Ben eloped. Sure, I had residual feelings for her, and that's why I was so upset when you told me what Serena did. Still though, you can't tell me you wouldn't react the same way if Chuck had eloped with, I don't know, Raina."

Blair sighs, wrings her hands. "He would never. Chuck went to jail for me."

"Chuck should have gone to jail for trading you for a hotel," Dan counters bluntly. He doesn't mean to bring up the past, but if there's one thing that he considers unforgivable, it's the way Chuck had exploited Blair's love.

Blair uncrosses her legs, twisting her torso to face Dan. Her fingers grip the top of the bench for dear life. "This is too much right now," she confesses, her words a breath above a whisper. "I don't know what to do."

Running a hand through his dark locks, Dan lets out a sigh. "It's your call, Blair. You know what I'd like you to do, but what I want doesn't really matter in this situation."

"I know," Blair murmurs despondently.

Dan reaches out, wraps an arm around Blair's shoulders, lets her melt against his body under the summer sun. They sit in silence for several minutes, before Dan hears Blair's quiet voice pierce the air. "You're a risk, Humphrey. At least I know what Chuck is capable of."

"The biggest risks can pay off if you play your cards right," Dan says, hoping he's not coming off as too insistent.

"Mmm," Blair sighs noncommittally, closing her eyes in thought.

Suddenly, a brilliant red cardinal lands on the grass in front of the bench. It stretches, fluttering its wings, before pecking at one of the croissant pieces that Blair had thrown earlier. As Dan watches the bird inattentively, he recalls his mother telling him as a child that cardinals brought good luck to those who wished upon them.

Yeah right, Dan thinks. To him, the notion is as ridiculous now as it had been fifteen years ago. Still, as Blair shifts in his arm and drops a soft hand to his thigh, Dan decides a little superstition couldn't possibly hurt.

Two weeks later, when Serena is crying and Chuck is belligerent and Blair is standing proudly at his side. Dan can't help but think that maybe his mom hadn't been all that nuts back in the day. After all, he's not a superstitious guy, but Dan knows a wish come true when he sees one.

AN: I've been super busy lately, but I've had this one-shot written since last week and wanted to put it up. Hope you guys enjoyed, and I'll catch up on messages and such early on in the week!