Title: Spaces

Disclaimer: I do not own Gossip Girl.

Spoilers: None.

Pairing: Dan/Blair

Author's note: This could take place basically any time during the series, but probably before they start becoming friendlier in late season 4. Part 1 of 2.

XXXXXX

"We need to have a talk, Humphrey," she says, in that regal way she's perfected over the years. "About you showing up at my place unannounced. It's getting to be an annoying habit. Do you understand the concept of personal space? In an ideal world, you would be a mile away from me at all times."

"Blair, can we skip the usual act today?" He sighs. "Isn't Serena here? Nate said to meet her here. She has my phone."

"Why does – no, I don't want to get sucked into the world of Dan and Serena, not for the hundredth time."

"Yeah, because Serena and I are much worse than the Chuck and Blair show which has been on an endless loop, for what? About four years now?"

She narrows her eyes. "I'd remind you that you're a guest in my home. Except 'guest' implies that you're welcome, and you're not! So shut it. And as you can see, Serena's not here. You may leave."

"No, I need my phone," he says. "I'll wait."

She glares at him again, to remind him she's already upset he's at her home, and now refusing to leave on top of that is infinitely more grievous. "This isn't a – where do people like you hang out? Cafés? Bus stops?"

"When have you ever seen me at a bus stop?" He asks, exasperated. "I think you'd set yourself on fire if you were within twenty feet of one. Or public transportation of any kind, for that matter."

"I don't know what you do with your free time. For all I know you spend your days at poetry readings," her voice holds just enough disdain to remind him of how horrific that would truly be.

He maintains his composure, because he's used to her by now (and she knows it, and it irks her, and that is what he finds most amusing of all). "Why don't you call Serena, ask where she is, and tell her to get over here."

"Fine!" She's incredibly put out, but figures this is the easiest way to get rid of him.

She's only just retrieved her phone when it rings, and she spares him one final glare before answering.

He knows immediately that something is wrong, though he can't pinpoint the exact reason why. Nothing she says or does is abnormal – she is perfectly composed (as always). Rather, it's as if there's been a change in the atmosphere around them; he knows that she's not the same as she was a mere ten seconds before.

She never looks away from him either, but he can tell she isn't seeing him. Not really. She says nothing except for a few one word questions (What? When? How?). He starts counting silently, and he's at 117 when she ends the call with a softly said goodbye.

He's afraid to ask, because he knows he doesn't want to hear whatever she has to say. She carefully sets down her phone on a side table and then folds her hands in front of her.

"That was my father. My mother is dead." It's not the words that shake him; it's how she says them. They have no inflection. She could be telling him about the weather.

"What? Blair…"

"I accept, in advance, whatever consolatory words you're no doubt trying to compose. Now I'll ask you again, to please leave."

She doesn't react rightly, or wrongly. She doesn't react at all.

"I can't leave right after you were told that…"

"Why not?" She asks. "What's changed? The facts are the same: I still don't want you here, and you're still here."

"I'm not leaving you," he insists, taking a step forward, and intentionally infringing upon her personal space.

Which is why she has to relent, if only because it's a convenient excuse to maintain the boundaries. She steps away. "Right, you need to get your phone back. I'm sure Serena will be here soon, if Nate said she would be. We'll wait for her, then."

She sits on a living room sofa and he gingerly sits next to her, unsure what to expect. She could erupt with anger or collapse with grief. Most terrifying of all (to him), she could maintain the same composure, forever.

She isn't moving, but he can see her retreating from him (from everything) before his very eyes.

"Tell me what happened," he says, deliberately phrasing it as an order, hoping it will get her to answer.

"What happened?" She laughs softly, and so bitter that it hurts to hear it. "Well, Humphrey…life happened, I guess."

"I don't want philosophy, Blair."

"Oh," she says sharply, jumping to her feet to stare down at him. "I didn't realize this was about you. Why don't you tell me what you want?"

She waits tensely for his reply, her entire body vibrating with the anticipation of verbally flaying him, as she's adept at doing (to everyone), and his heart sinks when he realizes it's only another tactic of avoidance.

He could allow her a few minutes satisfaction taking him down a peg, let her throw him out, even, but it won't change what's happened. He'd give her anything, but he can't give her this, because it's more important to let her know she's not alone than it is to give in to her wish.

"What I want…is to sit here with you," he says, reaching out to touch the back of her hand. The fight leaves her instantly, and it seems more like her legs give out than that she's voluntarily sat down again.

As quickly as the spark had come, it's gone. "I have a lot of people to tell, perhaps Serena will help me make phone calls." He guesses the words are meant for him, though she's staring at the wall across the room when she says them. "My mother had some address books in her office."

He watches her leave the room, not the slightest faltering in her step or her manner. He wants to know what happened, but he fears saying anything else at this moment will cause her to shut him out for good. It's difficult, but he decides to wait.

He knows she's different. She looks and acts exactly the same, but she's different, even if she doesn't know it yet.

The Blair that existed in his world before is gone; she's been replaced by a stranger who takes up the same space.

XXXXXX

She says all the right things.

Dan's always known she was adept at manipulating people, but he's never seen her do it so well.

She should win an Oscar for the way she handles everything. Her lines are always consistent, with the appropriate amount of gratefulness. She reassures everyone that she will be fine. She needs time, she tells them, and space.

To them, she's the picture of grace and elegance and poise. She looks like that, to him, as well. The difference is he knows it's entirely false.

She gives a beautiful eulogy that leaves most everyone in tears, though she sheds not a single one.

"Look at how well she's dealing with her mother's death," he overhears a friend of Eleanor's whisper as Blair makes her way back to her seat. "What a strong girl."

It's a sentiment he could never deny, but it continues to bother him. There's a difference between strength and denial.

At the burial, he barely listens to the priest. He might be ashamed about it later, but God help him, he can't be that concerned with the rites of the dead when he's far too worried about the woman, still alive, a few feet away from him.

Because he's sure that woman is dying inside, and won't let anyone (not even herself) see it.

Blair steps forward to place the first rose on her mother's coffin, and then stops. Dan sees it coming as if the entire sequence is in slow motion. She lets go of the flower but can't step away from her mother. Cyrus pats her on the shoulder, but she shies away from him and ignores the words he's trying to whisper to her.

Dan doesn't blame her for not knowing how to say goodbye. He wouldn't know how to do it either, if it were his mother or father in the casket.

He expects someone else – anyone else – to step forward, but no one does. He imagines that none of Eleanor's friends really know Blair enough to think it's their place. Serena and Nate are leaning on each other, both crying, and apparently oblivious to Blair's struggle; they knew Eleanor better than he did, and he suspects they're feeling her loss more than a lot of Blair's friends, most of whom have only come to support her.

He also hates Blair's father in that moment, because the man's staring off into the distance. Dan doesn't know if he's completely unaware of his daughter's struggle, or simply thinks she's fine. Not that it matters, because he isn't moving to help her.

Chuck's the only other person Dan thinks might help her, but he's already moved to the edge of the group of mourners, as if he wants to make a break for it as soon as he possibly can. If Dan were less kind, he'd consider him a coward, but he knows Chuck is probably wrapped up in his own grief today.

He can't leave her there, with everyone watching and waiting for her to move on her own. Maybe they think she's saying goodbye – he can't explain how, but he knows that she's not. Apparently he's the only one who knows it.

He can hear people whispering as he walks by them in line (he thinks, quite bitterly, that it's good they're confused – maybe they'll finally open their eyes to more than what they expect to see). He stops next to her, and realizes he hasn't given any thought to what he might say.

"Blair…" he begins quietly, putting his hand on her shoulder, which seems to break something inside her.

She rests her forehead on the coffin. "You left me here. How could you? I hate you for this." She turns to look at Dan, her words bleak and empty, seeking answer to a question with which no one can help her. "She left me." They both hear the unspoken 'why?' and neither can answer it.

"I know," he whispers. He wants to cry, but won't because that's not what she needs. He wonders why he'd give everything he ever had to protect her from this.

Her ear is still against the casket as if she doesn't want to miss anything her mother might tell her. "I'm alone."

"Not true," he insists, as vehemently as he can while still whispering. "You have your father, Cyrus, Serena, Nate, and Chuck. Even Dorota, and Lily, and my father, and –" he stops short of naming himself, because he thinks that might upset her more.

"My father is going back to Europe as soon as propriety dictates. The rest? They're here because they loved my mother," she tells him. "Nothing less, nothing more."

He shakes his head. "You can't believe that, not really. Shut your eyes, Blair, and tell me, are you alone in this moment?"

Shockingly, she does as he requests (and it lets him know how outside of herself she truly is).

"I would be alone," she says resentfully after a few moments, "if you would just go away."

In lieu of answering her, he reaches out and takes her hand. She stares, as if the sight is entirely foreign (Dan Humphrey, touching her? Unacceptable!).

She looks up at him and sighs, but there's a tinge of sadness to it that's almost as good as an apology. "We're holding up the line."

"Yeah," he says, tugging gently on her hand so that she either has to go with him or pull away in order to stay where she is. She's miserable, and maybe she can't stand him in that moment, but they both recognize that she doesn't pull away.

Instead, she steps away from the coffin, and though she scowls as if she hates him, he counts it as a victory.

XXXXXX

At the reception, she's much the same as she's been for the past week. She's overwhelmingly gracious to everyone who comes to give their condolences in the receiving line. She's the picture of what an appropriately grieving daughter should look like (if one went by television, novels, and movies – as he's sure she has done).

When it's his turn to stand in front of her, he deliberately holds her hand for too long. He can tell she's uncomfortable when she tries to pull away, and in response he leans in to hug her. He knows he's taking advantage, because she won't try to get away from him now – not with everybody watching.

"You are not alone," he whispers in her ear, reiterating his sentiments from the burial. He's surprised when she rests her head against his shoulder for the briefest of moments.

When he leans back, he hopes that she understands, because he doesn't know how to tell her that his being there for her is about much more than whether or not she feels alone.

The tears in her eyes come as a surprise to both of them, because before this, he can't remember her showing any emotion about her mother's death.

Until that moment, he never thought it'd be a good thing to make a woman cry.

XXXXXX

"I'm doing okay," she tells Serena, as her best friend attempts, for the dozenth time, to engage her in a conversation about how she's feeling. She's always 'okay' or 'fine' or 'alright.'

(Blair wishes she knew the magic words to make everyone go away.)

Dan asks Serena about her, but always gets the same answers.

"I can't get anything out of her," Serena shrugs to him, a few weeks after Eleanor's death. While it doesn't surprise him, he finds it disappointing. He thinks Serena isn't trying hard enough, and barely stops himself from telling her that. The only reason he manages to bite his tongue is because things are hard enough already, and it's not fair of him to take his worry out on Serena. He knows she's trying to help, and it's not her fault that she isn't able to break through the walls Blair has reinforced again and again.

Nate makes several attempts, as well, but Blair effectively pushes him away with trite excuses that she doesn't want to talk about it, and she's dealing with things in her own way. In fact, Nate believes everything Blair tells him, and even tells Dan to let Blair come to terms with grief in her own time.

Dan thinks that Nate should know better, that he should realize, by now, how superbly Blair can control herself. It's beyond him how Nate can be so blinded by her, when he dated her for quite some time. Either Nate wants to believe her, or Blair is simply that good. It's probably both, and Dan is as frustrated with him as he is with Serena, but he refuses to show it, because it's not Nate's fault, not really.

Cyrus tries the hardest to help her, but Blair makes it clear that her grief is not something she's willing to share. After several rebuffed attempts, he leaves with a solemn promise to do anything she ever asks of him, then returns to Europe to grieve his wife alone; they both know Blair will never ask for anything.

In the end, Chuck is Dan's last resort, because he's been there. Out of all of them, Chuck's the only one who knows what it's like to lose a parent. In fact, Dan takes comfort in the fact that Blair and Chuck will inevitably bond over the shared experience of grief. He knows Blair was there for Chuck in the aftermath of his father's death, and expects Chuck to do the same for her.

Except it doesn't happen, because Chuck essentially disappears. Dan doesn't know if seeing Blair's situation makes Chuck recall his own grief, or if he simply doesn't want to be around her because of their complicated relationship (which has been off for awhile now).

No matter the reason, Chuck fails. He makes the obligatory appearances to extend his condolences, and the rest of the time he's conveniently (purposefully) absent.

Dan even goes so far as to call him and share his worry about Blair. He explains that he's sure that Blair is keeping all her emotions inside and not truly dealing with her mother's death. He tells Chuck that one day soon, Blair is going to lose control, and it'd be best if Chuck were there to keep her together – or, at the very least, pick up the pieces.

The only response he gets is Chuck telling him to let Blair deal with things in the way she chooses. Chuck tells him, repeatedly, that Blair has said she wants to be alone, and that if he hovered, he would only make it worse.

"If you're so worried, Humphrey, why don't you go hold her hand?" Chuck finally yells, heatedly, before hanging up and leaving Dan with two very unappealing options.

Since no one believes him that the demeanor Blair's putting on is only a front to cover her true grief, it's apparently up to him to do something about it – or not. He can either pretend to accept her words at face value, knowing full well that eventually the dam will break and she'll be overcome with grief (and no one around to help her) or he can keep bothering her against her will, waiting for the moment that she finally lets the façade slip. And then, maybe, he can help her. No, he has no idea what it's like to lose a parent, but he knows that she's going to need someone – anyone – and she's already pushed everyone else away.

She keeps asking everyone for time and space. And they've all complied, without question. Which means he really doesn't have a choice – sure he could be like the others, and give her what she wants, but he won't.

Dan knows they're not close, and Blair would never call them friends, but he can't simply abandon her, which is what everyone else has done (even if they don't consciously realize it).

The sad thing is that he knows if Blair had a choice about who could help her deal with losing her mother, he would be the last person she'd ever think of – hell, he'd probably come in behind his own sister.

However, since she's already made sure no one else in her life can get within a mile of her emotionally, she doesn't have a choice. She's stuck with him, because he can't bear the thought of her finally coming to terms with her mother's death alone, too proud to turn to anyone else for consolation because it's something that, in her mind, Blair Waldorf would never do.

XXXXXX

It's not hard to get Dorota on his side. After one heartfelt conversation with her, he's immensely grateful that they both see things the same way. Dorota promises to call him if Blair has a breakdown. Dan's actually relieved that Dorota is an employee – she's pretty much forced to be around Blair, and since Blair won't fire her, she can't really push Dorota away like she has with the rest of her friends.

He fully expects a phone call from Dorota in the four weeks following Eleanor Waldorf's funeral, but it never comes.

Which is when he decides to be more insistent. He starts visiting the apartment every day, making sure Blair knows he's there every time. After seven consecutive days, Blair finally comes out of her room one night to acknowledge his presence. Granted, all she does is yell at him that he obviously doesn't have a life if he can spend his time constantly visiting a person who doesn't want to see him.

It's not lost on him that she hasn't informed the doormen that he's not allowed up to her apartment.

He probably shouldn't, but he smiles when he leaves, because he hasn't seen that much emotion from her in weeks (since her words over her mother's grave, in fact). It's a relief beyond words to realize that this new Blair hasn't completely taken over the old Blair; the girl he knows is still in there, and he thanks God that she hasn't completely vanished. He'd show up at her apartment every day from now on, if only to make sure she never disappears.

XXXXXX

Part 2 will be up within the week.