A/N: I do not owe these characters. Just using them for some mild entertainment.

A/N: One of the coolest things as a writer (in my opinion) is when you find somebody who is talented and honest and similar-minded who can read your stuff and catch mistakes or "flow problems" and then offer up the most amazing, simple solutions that just seem to pull the story together or jar you from your writer's block. If you find somebody like that, you're lucky. So…thank you, Ivorykeys, for being that person for me! You rock.

A/N: This is the last chapter of Sanctuary. It was a fun dip into something a little different.

Thank you for reading! Now. Back to The Date.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X

sanc·tu·ar·y

noun
sanctuaries, plural. A place of refuge or safety.

- people automatically sought a sanctuary in time of trouble

The third time it happens, they seek each other out. It is a slow unfolding. It is not fast, it is not rushed. Like a carefully thought out plan, it builds; one layer at a time.

The second time Blair left Dan, it took him a little longer to grow accustomed to her absence. Being in New York, in their city, didn't help. He saw her everywhere; at the coffee shop they frequented, at the museums they perused. It took him a little longer to get her out of his mind. And with the knowledge that, had he acted sooner, had he put voice to thought quicker, maybe…maybe things would be different; it took him a little longer to move on.

But he did; as best as he could. Taking an active role in smoothing things over with Nate, he made it a point to have lunch with him, grab drinks. And slowly, Nate was coming around. It wasn't that he was angry anymore so much as he was cautious.

Serena, still on location in California, had relaxed considerably; her world was so far removed from his that it no longer seemed to matter as much. Though they spoke every so often, their conversations were brief and devoid of great depth. Dan had even seen Chuck at Sunday Brunch one weekend and received a quick nod and a hello. As far as Dan was concerned, the topic was dismissed between them.

Though things were returning to normal, there was a new distance, a split second of thought that had never been there before. Everyone was more cautious around him now, as though they were constantly leery that their next words or actions might someday be splashed across a Barnes and Noble storefront.

Everyone was cautious; except for her. He wasn't sure if it was the two weeks in the Hamptons where she laid out her darkest moment before him or if it was the two weeks in the city where he laid out his greatest vulnerabilities before her. Whichever it was, the relationship that had come out of those moments was stronger and more honest than they had ever really considered it could be. She had returned home to Monaco, to the Palace, to the Prince. And Dan had thrown himself into his classes. The novel had done well; surprising nobody but Dan. His sudden rise to the height of discussion had made him a 'frequently watched' member of the Gossip Girl elite. Though he mostly managed to avoid the fallout, he would occasionally run across a fan or a critic and be forced to reckon with his new-found notoriety. Blair regarded this with the same level of interest and amusement as she gave to all new fads; and Dan was eternally grateful for that.

Everything seemed to return to normal. As the summer faded from memory and the fall settled in, it seemed as though their lives were headed on the same normal, expected path. But, as with any glass that shatters, the crack starts small and grows until it all falls to the ground.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X

"I have to cancel for next Monday," Blair informed him as they neared the end of their weekly phone call.

"Oh?" He tried to ignore the pang of sadness he felt.

"There is an…event," she paused for a moment. "They are throwing a party for Louis' sister…"

"Noémi," Dan answered, her name rolling off his tongue the way it did every time he spoke her name; infuriating Blair.

"Do you have to say her name like that?"

"Isn't that how you say it?" He was oblivious to Blair's frustration. "Noémi?"

"Yes. That is how you say it. But stop saying it." Her tone was more clipped than before.

"Sorry," Dan chuckled. "You two still not getting along?"

"I am getting along just fine," he could almost hear her role her eyes over the phone. "She on the other hand….You know, if we were in New York, on home turf, I could have had this sewn up long ago. But, as things are…"

"Yeah," he smiled warmly. "What about Louis? What does he think of all this?" Expecting an immediate response, the small lull that followed drew all of Dan's attention. "Blair?"

"He…" She started and then stopped; her voice quieter. "He says that she is his sister and that we need to learn to exist in the same space. And that…that maybe I should cut her some slack."

"Wow…" Dan let out a breath. "Sounds exactly like something you would do." He went for sarcasm, expecting her to banter back. Instead, he was greeted with a pause; a moment of silence. "Blair I…"

"It's just…" She interrupted. "It's just that sometimes…sometimes…" For a reason beyond his understanding, Dan found that he was holding his breath.

"Sometimes?" He encouraged.

"Hmmm?" She asked, lost in thought.

"You were saying that sometimes…and then you just stopped talking."

"Yeah," Blair sighed sadly. "Yeah. You know, I really don't remember what I was going to say. It must have slipped my mind."

"Hey Waldorf?" Dan's voice was warm, friendly.

"Yes?"

"Are you okay?"

"Okay?" Her voice grew tight and it was as though he could see the walls going up. "Of course I'm okay. Why wouldn't I be okay?"

"It's just that you sounded…"

"It's been a long day and I'm tired," she argued.

"Fine," he shrugged. "It's just that…well…you know that you don't have to lie to me. You don't have to hide anything. We're way past that, remember."

"Yes, I remember," she smiled and, for a fraction of a second, she softened. And instantly hardened. "But I am fine."

"Fine." Dan agreed, not at all convinced.

"I was simply letting you know that next week I would be…"

"Attending a party for Noémi." He finished. She groaned.

"Had to throw it in there one more time?"

"For posterity," Dan chuckled and the conversation moved away from the admission that Blair almost, but not quite, made.

Making plans to watch their movie on Friday instead of Monday, Blair seemed intent on avoiding what was bothering her. A very large part of her wanted to settle into her big bed and spill her guts; tell him of her boredom and her ambivalence. She desperately wanted to yell and scream about just how…out of place she felt. But she had been trying to let it go; trying to grow up and…away…from that part of herself, that part of her past. This was the life she had chosen, more than once, and she now needed to find a way to live it. Without the constant tether to New York. Though she knew that if she swallowed her pride and admitted it to Dan, she would feel better. And she would want to go home. So she did her best to dampen the feelings and smiled as she was well trained to do; avoiding the truth.

For his part, Dan, having tried once and been shot down, surrendered and allowed her to avoid it. There may have been a time when he would have pushed, a time when he would not have accepted her very fake show of nonchalance. But he was working on moving on; from her, from the remnants of 'what if'. And in effort to keep the feelings he had for her on their way out of his mind, he didn't push. He let it go. It was a big moment for him; a step in the right direction. Though that wouldn't be a path either of them would be following much longer.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X

Thankfully the week flew by quickly and before he knew it, Dan was sitting down at the kitchen table; his lunch prepared and his laptop up and ready. Pacing around the loft, he felt like a giddy child, waiting for some great surprise. Rolling his eyes, he figured he wasn't as far away from over her as he would like to be. When her name appeared on his ringing phone, his excitement got the best of him. Snatching it up and pressing the talk button, Dan was quick to the conversation.

"I have to tell you, I am so glad we rescheduled this movie. You are not going to believe the day I have had," Dan immediately jumped in with a disbelieving chuckle. "Nate and I were getting coffee and this woman…actually I'm pretty sure she was a girl…anyway she comes up to me with this newspaper article about my book and there's this picture of me and she starts going all…fluttery. She's quoting the book and fanning herself and then, I swear to God Blair, she looks at Nate and straight up calls him Cole—in this high-pitched voice…and then, just as Nate's about to…I don't know; run away screaming? Kill me with a pastry? She takes a deep breath and says 'you're right…he is so pretty'." He paused, waiting for her laugh; disturbed to find its absence. "Anyway…I'm pretty sure I'm back to square one with Nate…"

"Dan," Blair interrupted; her voice immediately snapping Dan back to a place of seriousness and gravity. Taking a deep breath, he knew instantly that something was wrong.

"What is it?"

"I'm coming home." Her voice cracked just the tiniest bit at the end and Dan's heart jumped in his chest.

"Because of Nate?" He laughed nervously. "I mean…it sucks, but I really don't think it's Waldorf-intervention time or anything."

"Not because of Nate." He heard her laugh, but swore he heard tears in there.

"Blair, are you okay? What's going on?" His lunch and laptop were all but forgotten.

"I'm…" She took a deep breath and let it out. "I'm okay. I mean…yes. I will be okay. You don't need to worry. Listen, I can't really get into it right now. My flight is boarding. They're calling my number and I need to go."

"Your flight number? Are you at the airport?" Dan's eyebrows flew into his forehead. "Blair…"

"I will fill you in when I get there, I promise. I just…I just called to tell you that I can't watch the movie and…" She sighed softly a small smile peeking through the turmoil. "And I'm coming home."

"Okay…" Dan's mind was scattered but he did his best to remain calm; or to at least leave that impression. "I will…I will see you when you get here. Travel safe."

"I will," she rushed. "I have to go now."

"Go. I'll…I'll see you soon."

"Humphrey…"

"Waldorf?"

"I…" She gulped. "I will see you soon." And just like that, Blair was gone.

Dan stood, frozen, in the middle of his living room. His hand clenched his phone tightly, as though he were trying to physically maintain his grip on reality. Though he knew better, he knew better, he couldn't help but be the tiniest bit…elated to know that she was on her way home. And she had used the word home. That had to mean something. Forcing his mind to stop that train of thought, Dan put his phone down on the table and took a deep breath.

Clearly, something had happened; something big. She was coming back to the city and was, apparently, flying commercial. That had to mean that the prince was involved…or no longer involved as the case may be. And whatever happened had to have happened recently. She could have called hours ago to cancel their movie, but she hadn't. She had phoned him; rushed and hurrying through an airport. And that was the extent of his knowledge. He was frustrated at how very little he knew. Somebody had to know more. For the quickest of moments he contemplated calling Serena, but decided against it.

Leaning over, he griped the edge of the table with his hands, staring at the screen of his laptop. Moving his fingers to the keyboard, he typed in Prince Louis Grimaldi and hit enter; his stomach clenching as he began his search. There was the standard news articles; a tennis match, an opening, a dinner. There were quite a few photos of the Prince and a handful of the Prince with Blair. But in every single one of them she was smiling; wearing the ring and smiling. But all in all, there was nothing; nothing indicating a reason for her current flight home.

He would have to wait. Closing his laptop, he pushed it aside and sat down at the table. She had told him she would contact him and explain everything, and he was just going to have to accept that. Though he knew very well that Blair was capable of taking care of herself, he couldn't help but be worried about her. Knowing all he knew of the summer and assuming all he did of her emotions and her true feelings, he couldn't help the need he felt to be at her side. To offer her the support they had both become so casual about seeking in the other. But, he would have to wait. Quickly he did the math in his mind, trying to determine just how long it would take for her to cross the Atlantic. She would be arriving later that night. And, as this settled in his mind, his heart sped up. Reaching for his phone, he dialed a number he had never used before; a number he had been given to use only in case of emergencies; a number to the one person who most likely knew more about this situation than he. Holding the phone to his ear, he took a deep breath.

"Hi Dorota. It's Dan…Humphrey."

X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X

"Flight attendants, please take your seats and prepare for landing." The Pilot's voice called out into the cabin. Reluctantly, Blair pulled off her eye-mask and stuffed it into her bag. Crinkling her nose as she looked about the plane, should could not wait to step foot on the sacred ground that was her city; her home. Her week had been right at the line of unbearable; with Louis' sister constantly on her and Louis constantly defending her. Blair had tried her very best to play along and she had brought her very best game. But, in the end, when it all fell apart, she couldn't help but think that it had been in the cards from the very beginning. And now, in a jumble of disappointment and relief, she was heading home.

As the plane descended, her stomach rumbled; the lack of food and the abundance of conflicting emotions at work. Griping the arm of the chair in her hand, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath; forcing good thoughts to the front of her mind.

Very soon she would be sleeping in her own bed; her beautiful, comfortable, familiar bed in her room that was pretty and warm and welcoming. No more nights in that hallow palace, in a space she would never be able to alter with her personality, with her own touch. Very soon she would be eating familiar foods in familiar places with familiar people. And with him. A fluttery, nervous smile danced across her lips as she thought of him. Dan Humphrey. The one person, other than Dorota, she had cared to call and let in on her late-night escape. As crazy as it sounded, and as unbelievable as it was—knowing that he would be there, in some capacity—in whatever capacity, provided her with an enormous sense of relief. She chuckled softly. It was quite absurd, really, how much she had grown to rely on him; how extremely certain she was that he would be there to help her through this next bump in the road. Opening her eyes, she looked out the window and watched as the plane touched down on the runway and came to a loud halt.

In a haze of impatience and frustration, Blair moved along with the other passengers. Out of their seats, off the plane, through the terminal and off to customs. And then, as she stepped into the main section of the airport, as loved ones began to rush to those waiting to greet them, it hit her. All of the emotions; the relief, the stress, the anger, the hurt, the anticipation, the happiness, the sadness; hit her, all at once. Tears sprang to her eyes as she fought for control. But she felt lost; she felt all of the emotions she had been holding in that day (or more truthfully the last six months) and she felt lost. And then, as she took a steadying breath and forced herself forward, she saw it. Or more accurately, she saw him.

Amidst the chaotic traffic of the passengers, stood Dan Humphrey; a slightly rumpled, unsure but very solid and dependable Dan Humphrey. She saw him first and froze in her path. She watched as his eyes scanned the crowd and then, finding her, their gazes locked. Taking a deep breath, his smile widened and with half a smirk, he held up a small sign, similar to the valet signs that surrounded him. Though on his, in his unmistakable writing, was:

"Misty Beamon"

And all of the uncertainty that she had been hanging onto quickly melted away. Wiping at the tears that were threatening to come, Blair pulled her bag closer to her and, with a new sense of peace, moved towards him. As she came to a stop in front of him, a whole host of unspoken words passed between them; their eyes taking in the other. Resisting the urge to fling herself into his arms, she controlled herself and lifted her fingers in a small wave. He was so happy to see her; safe and on the ground and in the city. And she was so relieved to have him there; smiling and offering her the anchor she so desperately needed. Taking a deep breath, Dan was the first to speak.

"I thought you might need a ride home," he went for casual and laid back; though he was far from either. Every desire he had wanted him to look to her left hand, but he kept his eyes trained on hers; because he knew. From the moment he saw her, the way her eyes widened, the way her face brightened, the way her dimples appeared when she read his sign. He knew that if he looked, that ring would be gone.

"I really, really could," her smile was small, sweet; innocent. Though there were whole discussions to be had, they would have to wait. Dan reached out and took her bags from her and she took the sign; a sign she would hang on to for much longer than even remotely necessary.

"Come on," he nodded his head towards the exit and took a step. "Let's get you out of here." Wordlessly, she followed him. Every second that passed found Blair feeling more and more at home and right. The chilly fall air of the city was a refreshing welcome. Tugging on her sweater, she watched as Dan hailed a cab and helped the driver load her bags. He opened the door and stood aside, gesturing for her to enter. Passing by him as she stepped into the car, she paused and smiled.

"Thank you…" And the look in her eyes caused a lump in his throat.

"Eh," he shrugged, summoning all of his will to force back the emotions that were roaring inside. "I had plans to watch a movie but she cancelled. So…I really had nothing better to do." And her smile widened. With a pat to his hand, Blair stepped into the car. After a much needed moment to collect himself, Dan slipped into the car; shutting the door behind him.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X

"You are awfully quiet," Blair broke into the silence of the car ride through the city; glancing in his direction.

"Yeah…" Dan breathed and shrugged.

"You aren't the least bit curious?"

"Oh I am," he smiled. "But I figure that you'll tell me what you want to tell me, when you want to tell me."

"Wow…" Blair smiled and looked out at the night sky. She glanced down at her hand, much lighter from her recent return and with a clear, firm voice, she told him. "It's over. Louis and I…it's over."

"Okay," Dan nodded, watching her as she spoke; trying to read her mood.

She shrugged and smiled; a small, resigned smile; and then, without looking up at him, she began to speak. In the relative safety of the dark night, the random cab, and Dan; she told him how it all began to unfold. How she felt out of place from the very beginning. How she faced obstacle after obstacle from the moment she stepped foot in the Palace. How his family disliked her. How she disliked them. How Louis would play the pacifist, the neutral territory. How he would never stand up to them and put his foot down. How friendly and sweet and…blah he was. She told him about the party; the party she had missed their movie for. How terrible it was. How it was, finally, the last straw. How she argued for days; trying to hold on to what was left of her dignity while trying to step up to this role she had thrust herself into. And then, with a sigh and a barely there voice, she admitted that maybe, just maybe she was never really as in to this as she needed to be; not as in love as she needed to be.

"No 'I told you so'?" Her lips pursed slightly as she looked to him; her reflexes prepared for a blow.

"No," he shook his head; firm and final. "Never." And they both relaxed slightly; settling into the silence.

"You really aren't going to ask me any questions? You—Dan Humphrey—just going to remain silent?" There was a tinge of humor in her voice; causing Dan to grin.

"What can I say? These last few months have conditioned me to remain silent. People don't…respond well to me asking questions."

"Ah…" Blair grinned. "Afraid they'll make an appearance in the sequel?"

"Something like that…" Dan laughed; happy that the mood was lighter. "What about you? You're not afraid that this will make it into the sequel?" He glanced over to her to share a laugh but was greeted instead, with serious eyes.

"No," she shook her head. "I'm not."

"Good," Dan responded with equal seriousness. "Because I would never…"

"I know." And then, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, Blair reached out and squeezed Dan's hand that was resting on the seat between them. "I know."

Dan; afraid to disrupt the simplicity of the moment; took a breath and squeezed back. And there they remained; still and silent in the backseat of the cab; letting it all sink in. Blair was home. She was done with Louis and Monaco and her Princess aspirations. And she was home.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X

With news of Blair's impending arrival, Dorota had hurried over to welcome her home; complete with a giant spread of her favorite foods, newly washed sheets and fresh flowers. After leaving her luggage in her room, she had invited Dan to stay and eat. They were sitting together at the dining room table when Blair looked Dan square in the eye and announced.

"I did not come home for you," though she was trying to be gentle, honest, her words cut straight through the warm and lively atmosphere at the Waldorf penthouse.

"Excuse me?" Dan looked to her; eyebrows raised.

"Sorry," she flinched slightly at how harsh she had sounded. "I just want to be very clear. I left Louis and came back to the city because I was doing the wrong thing…for me. I came back for me. Not for you…or anyone else." Dan swallowed the food that was in his mouth and a small smirk twisted his lips.

"I never, in a million years, would have imagined that you had." He wasn't stupid enough to think that and he honestly wouldn't have wanted her to. Blair's strength and resilience was part of her charm and her coming home for anyone but herself would have tarnished that just slightly.

"Why do you say it like that?" She eyed him, popping a strawberry into her mouth.

"Say it like what?" He reached for a pastry. He was hungry; having not eaten all day.

"Like it's the most absurd thing you have ever heard."

"Because it is," he shrugged.

"Somebody coming home to be with you is the most absurd thing you've ever heard?" Her head tilted to the side thoughtfully.

"Not necessarily," Dan shook his head, slightly confused. "But you leaving a prince and coming home to be with me..."

"See, there. You did it again," her eyes narrowed. "Why do you say it like that?"

"Say what like what?"

"You and me…like…I don't know….with that tone."

"Okay Blair, seriously. What is happening right now?" He dropped his fork onto the table and focused his attention on her.

"What do you mean?"

"Didn't you just tell me that you didn't come back to New York for me?"

"Yes."

"That you came back for yourself. That you left because what you were doing wasn't right for you?"

"Yes, but…"

"And I am agreeing with you. Don't get caught up in my tone or my word choice…" He smiled at her across the table. "I'm telling you that you have nothing to worry about. I'm not sitting over here thinking you came running to my side. I am very well aware of what's happening. You said it wasn't for me. And I'm agreeing with you."

"Okay…well…" She took a breath and sipped from her glass. "I guess I'm just not used to that."

"Me agreeing with you?" Dan chuckled.

"Exactly." She grinned.

"Well…don't get used to it." And with a small laugh, Blair turned back to her food; feeling more and more at ease. Dan, initially shocked by her blunt admission, settled back into his chair. Since the moment she had called him to cancel from an airport in a hurried rush, he had been worried. Worried about her state of mind, worried about what might have happened. Worried about how she was. But if anything managed to ease his concern for his friend, it was this exchange. True to their newfound honesty and friendship, she wanted to make sure he understood the terms of her return. And true to the Blair Waldorf he knew and…loved…she did it in the most upfront and blunt way possible. She may not be fully back yet, but she was well on her way.

After they finished their food, Dan said his good-byes and headed back to his loft across the bridge. And that night, he slept better than he had in a very long time.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X

Blair was home for two days when the news hit. She had unpacked everything she had taken and had settled back into her old room. Taking two days to adjust to the time change and the life change, she was cut off from the world; mostly sleeping. On that third morning Blair was fast asleep, warm and happy in her bed, when her phone sounded out, disrupting her slumber. Stretching out, she pulled her phone to her. Peeking out to see who it was, she flipped it on and glared.

"Hello?"

"Blair! It's Dan."

"Yes, I know. What do you want Humphrey?" She grumbled into the phone. "I told you I would call you when I…"

"You need to get up," he interrupted. He had debated over calling her, knowing she was recovering from the move. But ultimately, he knew she would want to know as soon as possible. "You need to get up. Now."

"And you need to check yourself. I know we're friends and everything, but you calling here and demanding that I..."

"Blair…" He took a deep breath. "It's on Gossip Girl. The breakup, your return to New York. I just saw…" Blair sat straight up in bed, waking up; glancing around her room frantically.

"Oh God…" She groaned. She knew it would happen sooner or later, but she had kind of hoped she would have at least one more day to get her bearings.

"Listen to me. It's fine. You need to get up, get dressed and get out there." She listened to Dan's voice as though it were her own mind guiding her; moving quickly out of bed and heading into the bathroom. "You need to be seen; happy, carefree, back to normal. Show them this was your decision…not his."

"Yes," Blair nodded, his words making complete sense. "You're right." And she stopped in her tracks. "Well, well, well, Humphrey. Your skills in treading the social wave pool have improved considerably over the years."

"Yes, well," Dan chuckled. "Get on it. I'm on my way to you now."

"Get up and be seen…" Blair repeated. "With you?"

"Ha," Dan laughed. "Not quite the high status you were looking for? I'm sure Nate would be willing to meet you. Though, if you want it to be Chuck, you're going to have to call him. Not me."

"What? No!" She shook her head vehemently. "I don't want it to be…I want it to be you. I mean…I would much rather eat breakfast with you than Nate or Chuck." He couldn't help the smile that sprung to his lips. "What I meant was…I don't know, aren't you a little concerned about the message it might send? About you? In light of the book and all that it…let slip."

"I'm touched..." And she could hear the smirk on his face. "Blair Waldorf; worried that she could diminish my newfound social status." He rolled his eyes and continued. "Get up. I'm on my way."

X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X

Though it had only been two days since Dan had met Blair at the airport, seeing her again at brunch was refreshing. She looked…amazing. She was rested and revived and seemed to be smiling with every part of her. As Blair sat down across from him at the café, she couldn't help how much more at home she felt in his presence. She was elated. She was going to eat amazing food, have great conversation and then, she was headed out to shop. It was going to be a perfect day and having him along with her made it that much more normal. And she had so desperately longed for normal.

They very quickly fell into conversation; praising the food and making plans for her comeback. First, she was going to Columbia. She had already made an appointment to meet with the Dean and would be requesting re-admittance. She couldn't believe how excited she was to be going back to school. Dan, ever the intellect, completely understood this drive and desire. Second, she needed to shop; find new clothes. They were heading into the winter season in New York and the racks were calling her name. Though Dan had an afternoon class he needed to attend, he surrendered and agreed to stopping into a few stores after they finished their meals.

And finally, she needed to attend a party; a social event where she could be seen, enjoying her previous life; her new life. Flipping through her phone, Blair looked for the next lavish affair.

"Here we go!" She exclaimed with a smile. "As luck would have it, there happens to be a Charity Gala this Friday."

"Of course there is," Dan's voice was flat; barely surprised.

"It's at MoMA…" She read through the information quickly and glanced up to him. "Will you go?"

"To the gala?" She nodded. "With you?"

"Well, not with me…but…with me." She tried her best not to look too eager. "You like art. You like food. You like…charity. Come on…will you be there?"

"You're serious?" A small smile pulled at his lips.

"Ugh," she huffed. "Yes. I am. What do you want? Me to admit that I need you?" She rolled her eyes, despite the grin on her face.

"I want you to admit you want me," the words were out of his mouth before he could think. Blushing slightly under her pointed gaze, he continued, "at the party I mean. I want you to admit that you want me at the party."

"Okay…" Blair smirked at the building tension between them. "I want you…at the party, I mean." The look in her eyes as she spoke was almost a challenge to him.

"Okay," he nodded. "I'll be there."

"Thank you," her smile deepened. "I'll get the tickets." She made a quick note in her phone and turned back to her food. "How ironic…Dan Humphrey helping me execute my social comeback." They both laughed at that. "You should be careful. Somebody might actually think you like me."

"I do." He held her gaze as he spoke.

"Do?" She raised an eyebrow.

"Do." His eyes never leaving hers, he took a sip from his glass and shrugged. "You know what I mean."

X-X-X-X-X-X-X

The week between brunch and the Gala flew by. Dan had been right, almost immediately following their brunch pictures of a smiling, happy Blair appeared on Gossip Girl. She was shopping, laughing, spotted on campus at Columbia. She was back and she was happy. The headlines and blasts told a tale of 'one of our own, coming home.' And that's exactly how she felt. Mostly.

Though she was happy, relieved really, to be back from Monaco, something was a little off. She wasn't quite sure what it was. Everything seemed to be falling into place. She would start back at Columbia in the spring. Having only missed one semester, she was informed that if she took a few summer courses, she would be right on schedule to graduate. She found an impeccable winter wardrobe and had her hair trimmed into a flirty new haircut. She had even reconnected with her friends; having drinks with Nate, insisting he was more than a pretty boy and chatting every other day with Serena who was finding herself on the west coast. And there was Dan. They had met up nearly every day for lunch or a movie or a quick cup of coffee. But there was still something in her that felt a little…off.

The Gala was quite something; they always were. Dan had arrived on time, wearing a tie she picked out, and very dutifully stood by her side. Everyone was there; his father and Lily, Eric, and even a small gathering of Dan's new fan club. As they made the rounds, they both worked to avoid those who might corner them with questions; about the book, about the prince. As they ate, Dan offered a hushed, witty commentary on the evening and as the party portion of the night began, he offered her an 'out' she never realized she needed.

Emerging from the bathroom, Dan found that Blair had abandoned their table. After scanning the room for her, he headed towards the balcony. She had made more than one nagging comment about feeling stuffy and suffocated. And since he was more than a little tired of smiling and nodding, he could use a breath of fresh air himself. The chilly air engulfed him as he stepped out onto the almost empty balcony. Not finding her among the small group of smokers, Dan rounded the corner. She stood at the edge, looking out over the city, her hair rustling in the breeze. Immediately and instinctually, Dan shed his jacket and moved to her side.

"You're going to freeze out here," he commented, placing his coat on her shoulders. He should have been shocked, amazed, at the ease at which she accepted the gesture. But in that moment, he was too focused on her face; staring out into the night. Standing next to her at the ledge, he looked out to where her eyes were focused and waited. When she spoke, her voice was small and a little sad.

"It's just that I left Monaco because I was sick of doing things for appearances' sake. And here I am at this unbelievably dull party…for appearances' sake."

"Yeah…" Dan breathed.

"Don't get me wrong, I would rather be here…" She looked down at her hands and then up to him. "But I feel a little…off. Like I was thrust back in a little too soon.

"Well, you could always leave. Escape…"

"What do you think I'm doing out here?" She waved her hand.

"No, I meant the city. You could get out of the city."

"Out of the city?" Her interest was instantly piqued.

"Maybe head out to the Hamptons." Dan offered up her former sanctuary.

"The Hamptons…" A smile spread across her face as her eyes grew warm thinking of the peacefulness.

"Yeah," he shrugged. "The house is empty, as is the town. Nobody would be around to bother you. You could have some peace and quiet."

"That sounds wonderful," she admitted. "You are a genius Humphrey."

"Can't hear that enough," he laughed and she watched his face thoughtfully.

"And would you…would you come with me?" She seemed almost shy as she asked.

"I don't know," he smiled, looking to the ground; slightly nervous. "You really want to take me along on your escape? Not afraid of what people might think?"

"Screw people," she laughed, her heart warming more and more to the idea. "People already think what they want to think."

"I don't know, Blair…" And his thoughts trailed off as his eyes met hers. A whole moment of contemplation occurred; both of them judging their own feelings against those of the other. Not sure what was right or what was good, Blair went with what she wanted.

"You should come."

"Yeah?" Hating the way his pulse quickened at the idea.

"What fun is a trip to the Hamptons without somebody there to do all the cooking and cleaning?"

"Ha!" Dan laughed at that. "I see how it is, Waldorf."

"Could you go? I mean…with class and all?"

"Yeah," he nodded. "Next week is Fall break. I wouldn't miss anything."

"Well?" She turned her body towards him. "What do you say? A trip to the Hamptons?"

"I don't know…do I get to speak at meals?" He lifted one eyebrow.

"Only if I can pick your alias," she matched his sarcasm with her own. He laughed. He knew he was playing with fire. He knew that going away with her was dangerous on a whole variety of levels. But somehow, he just didn't care. Dan went with what he wanted.

"Screw it…let's go."

"Really?"

"You go home and pack, I'll go check with Lily, swing by their place for the keys and I'll meet you at the loft?"

"You want to go right now?" Her eyes flashed alive with excitement.

"I want to go right now." His grin was wide. He couldn't help it; seeing her this happy made him happy. With a renewed sense of purpose, they hurried back into the party and just as quickly out of it. With Lily's blessing and knowing look from Eric, Dan was on his way to pick up the keys and then off to pack his bags. He was going to the Hamptons. With Blair Waldorf.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X

And they were off. Dan made concessions and allowed Blair to provide a car service for their trip. And Blair made concessions and allowed Dan to bring flannel. On the way out of the city, they laughed and drank and relaxed. Dan hadn't realized how much he really needed to get away. Since the book had come out, he had been constantly on edge; watching what he said, watching how he acted. He had been 'on' since it all started; careful around his friends, careful around his family, careful around strangers. It was nice to be around Blair because with her, he had to be anything but careful. He didn't have to watch what he said or how he acted. Never in a million years would Dan have imagined he would feel joy at the thought of a week in the Hamptons with no one but Blair Waldorf. But as they pulled into the long drive up to the house, that was exactly what he was feeling. Joy.

And the joy continued. Allowing her to choose her room first, they both stayed away from the rooms they had occupied the last time. His was two doors down from hers and shared a long deck that ran the length of the house. As they unpacked, Blair was surprised to find that her memories of her summer refuge were happy and sweet, not riddled with doom and gloom. Sufficiently settled in for the week, they met in the living room and turned on a movie.

And so their time in the Hamptons began. Situated comfortably on opposing couches, they laid back; with a drink and a snack, and they watched a movie. The easiness was back; the rapport, the back and forth. Escaping to the Hamptons had been an excellent idea. Dan was proud of himself. This was just what he needed and, from the smile on Blair's face, it was just what she needed too.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X

"Good Morning!" Blair's voice sang out to Dan before he even entered the kitchen.

"Good Morning?" He called out, walking into the room; warm with the aroma of breakfast. "Ah…." He breathed in. "I forgot that you cook. You must have gotten up early." He poured himself some coffee and took in the spread.

"I couldn't sleep," she shrugged, pulling orange juice from the fridge. "So I got up, went for a walk…"

"You went for a walk?" Dan struggled to keep from spitting out his coffee.

"And then…" She glared at him. "I started breakfast. So…get a plate and eat up. We have some planning to do."

"Planning?" He raised his eyebrows, doing as she instructed. "I thought the point of coming to the Hamptons was to relax and not plan."

"You think we're just going to sit around all day? Laying on the couch, watching movies?"

"Well…" He shrugged. "It's not exactly a terrible idea."

"But my ideas are better."

"Fine," Dan surrendered, following her to the table. "Let's hear it. What've you got?"

"Well, after breakfast we need to go to the grocery store…" She sat down and scanned her list. "Pick up some fresh flowers; brighten this place up. Then I thought we could stop by the liquor store…"

"Really?" Dan raised his eyebrows, nodding towards the well-stocked cabinet. "There's not enough liquor here for you? Or are we throwing a party?"

"There is enough…" She sighed. "It's just not what I like."

"Fine," he shrugged. "Can we at least get some beer though?"

"Fine," she shrugged. "Anything else you can think of?"

"Maybe we can stop by the library and pick up some books."

"Books…" Blair wrote that down. "Great idea Humphrey. I've been meaning to get something new."

"You know…" Dan finished his bite. "We could get two copies of the same book, read it while we're here and…"

"Oh!" She clapped her hands together excitedly. "Our own little book club? I like it!"

"A little too excited about the book club, don't you think?" He cocked his head to the side and eyed her.

"Let me be, Humphrey," she glared. "I miss the intellectual discussion I found in our debates. Now…" She moved from her seat, "I am going to double check the wine cellar and when I come back…be ready to go."

"Yes ma'am," he offered a small, mock salute. And it didn't even feel strange; not at all awkward. Not the grocery list, not the book club, none of it. Until completely unexpectedly, Blair—without meeting his eyes, leaned in, and placed a quick, chaste kiss on his cheek.

"Coming to the Hamptons was a great idea…" She whispered as she stepped away from him. "Thank you for bringing me here."

"You're welcome," he muttered, watching as she disappeared from the room. Once he was certain she was gone, he sighed; leaning back into his seat. Scrubbing his hands over his face and into his hair, he shook his head and groaned.

"What have you gotten yourself into…"

X-X-X-X-X-X-X

"I think I like the Hamptons better in the fall than the summer. Is that even possible?" She scrunched her nose up at him. It was the next afternoon and they were sitting on the deck curled up with blankets in separate chairs reading identical copies of the book they had chosen at the library.

"Yes," he laughed at her. "It's possible."

"It doesn't seem natural," she eyed him, taking in his appearance, his demeanor and shrugged. "But I guess my tastes have changed slightly…" She adjusted in her seat. "What page are you on?"

"Forget it Waldorf," Dan eyed her playfully. "I told you. This is not a race. Read at your own pace. We'll talk about it over dinner." She opened her mouth to protest but, content with her surroundings, she decided against it. The peaceful silence settled over them as they both turned back to their books. As Blair focused on the pages, Dan, through the dark lenses of his sunglasses, couldn't help but watch her; struck by how lovely she looked. Catching himself, he shook his head and returned to his reading.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X

"You know…" Blair's voice called out to him as they walked along the beach the next evening. "I've been thinking…"

"Here we go," Dan joked, looking out over the water.

"I don't even miss him." Her words made him stop and turn to her. She was standing there; eyes wide as she watched him. "How is it that I was going to marry a man that—after being apart for barely two weeks…I don't even miss him. Not even a little. And I was going to marry him."

"But you didn't," he reminded her.

"But I was going to…" She was mad at herself; mad at the crazy, rash way with which she made decisions. Moving to stand right in front of her, Dan dipped slightly; meeting her eyes with his, placing his hands on her shoulders.

"But. You. Didn't." His voice was heavy and clear.

"Yeah…" She sighed and took a deep breath; looking out over the water. "I didn't." And with a quick pat to one of his hands, she slipped out of his grip and continued on their walk. "You know…I've never really been much of a religious person…"

"Sure," Dan nodded, falling into step with her.

"But I mean it, with all my heart, when I say… thank God. Thank God I didn't marry him." And Blair kept walking as a chill rose to Dan's skin. For a reason he had yet to figure out, her words hit him with enormous impact. Hurrying to catch up with her, he swallowed the lump in his throat and left the answers for later.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X

"Can I ask you a question?" Blair looked up to him from her book. The weather was growing colder, more rainy; so they were reading inside.

"Shoot," Dan glanced up from his pages. Folding her book closed, Blair thought for a moment.

"Have you been writing?" Her face was serious, not sarcastic. "Since the book came out, have you been writing?"

"And I thought I came here to avoid the pressure," Dan's lips twitched into half a smile.

"No pressure here," she held her hands up with a smile. "I'm simply asking….curious." She watched; lips sealed as Dan contemplated her question.

"No I haven't," his head rocked back slightly as his mind thought back over all that had come up because of the book.

"Are you going to?" Putting her book on a side table, Blair leaned forward. "I mean, I'm sure the publisher is pushing for more."

"Yeah," Dan chuckled bitterly. "Yeah. They are." Closing his book, he hugged it against his chest. "I don't know…I guess I haven't even begun to wrap my brain around writing another book."

"Well, you should."

"Oh?" His forehead crinkled up; surprised by her encouragement.

"Absolutely," she nodded emphatically. "The book was good, Humphrey."

"You think so?"

"Of course. I told you that when it came out."

"I thought maybe you were just being nice," he grinned at her across the room.

"Since when do I do anything just to be nice?" She grinned back.

"Fair point…" He laughed as his mind drifted off again in thought. She watched his mind process; intrigued by what might be happening inside his brain.

"I still have it you know…" She offered for no particular reason. "My copy of Inside. I still have it."

"No you don't," his eyes leveled with hers; disbelieving.

"I do. It's on my shelf at home. When we get back to the city, I'll prove it to you." Dan was touched by her admission.

"Wow…" He laughed. "I guess I imagined you shredding it to pieces and lighting it on fire."

"Never." She grinned. "It's a book, a whole novel, where the character based on me ends up being one of the only few who stands her ground and remains true to herself. Why would I ever throw that away?"

"I don't know," he shook his head. "Maybe because it reminded you of…" He trailed off, at a loss for words; his eyes connecting with hers. "I don't know why." A moment of silence passed between them but neither of them went back to their books.

"Do you remember what you wrote in it, when you signed it?"

"Of course," he nodded and began repeating it. "Honesty. Hard work. Intelligence. Loyalty. You take the lead and…"

"And never to a fault…" She finished and they both held their breath; held their words. Being the first one to cave, Blair settled back into her seat, her eyes shifting away from him. "Anyway…you should keep writing. You're good at it; and lord knows you surely don't find yourself being really good at something very often, do you." And her bite was back.

"No," he laughed. "I guess not."

"Though, do you mind a word of advice?"

"Not at all."

"I would, at all costs, avoid calling Nate a pretty boy." They both burst into laughter. "I'm pretty sure he's permanently damaged."

"Thank you. That's great advice. I'll make a note of it now."

And that night, for the first time since he read the magazine article, Dan picked up a pen and began to write.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X

On day four, the mood had changed. Though the laid-back reading had been a welcome distraction from their city lives, on the fourth day they found themselves bored. Looking out the windows at the pouring rain, Blair sighed; depressed. Dan watched her from his spot on the couch and, making a split decision, shut his book and stood.

"Let's get out of here."

"What?" She turned to look at him, eyebrows raised.

"I said…let's get out of here. We've been cooped up for a while…let's get out of the house."

"Are you mad? It's pouring. It's dark and late and…pouring."

"Come on, Blair. Live a little," Dan became animated as the idea grew on him. "When I was reading the paper this morning, I saw that there's this new, local band playing at a bar…"

"A bar?" Her face twisted up.

"A bar in the Hamptons," he rolled his eyes. "They have crab cakes and $20 bottles of beer on the menu…it's not like a seedy dive or anything." She sighed. "Anyway…the review was pretty good and…really, what else do we have to do? We're halfway through the book and…we're bored. Come on. Get a coat, an umbrella. Let's go." Blair stood her ground for a moment; arms crossed, scowl in place. But as she thought it over, getting out of the house was appealing. And Dan had somehow become very convincing.

"Fine," she huffed. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt."

"No it wouldn't," Dan grinned, clapping his hands together. "I'm going to go put on a different shirt…How much time do you need?"

"To get ready to go to the bar…" Her eyes flickered with laughter. "Maybe fifteen minutes."

"Alright. Get on it. Let's go. Chop, chop Waldorf," he clapped.

"You want to keep those hands, you'll stop with the chop, chop." And though she was glaring as she moved from the room, she was secretly excited to be going out; trying something different. Hurrying up the stairs, she prepared herself for a relaxed night out with Dan.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X

They made it to the bar just as the band was starting their first set. The music was great, the food was tasty and even Blair found something acceptable to drink. Sitting at a small table off to the side, they listened to the music and made observations about the locals. Somewhere between the fourth and fifth drink, Blair found that her inhibitions were all but gone. That, along with her new found sense of avoiding all things "for appearances' sake", led her to start a conversation that had been coming since long before this recent trip to the Hamptons. Taking a long drink from her glass, she looked to Dan with wide, open eyes and spoke.

"I lied." Dan stopped mid-drink.

"What?"

"I lied."

"What are you talking about? When?" And Dan watched as Blair processed her next words; her want to be honest and authentic winning out over her desire to protect herself.

"When you kissed me," her eyes glanced down nervously. "I told you that it meant nothing; that it was the worst mistake of my life…"

"I remember," he whispered; the memory rushed to his mind; straining his voice. Her eyes looked up, meeting his.

"I lied."

"It wasn't the worst mistake of your life?" He smiled weakly. "I pretty much knew that; even then."

"That and…" She took a deep breath. "And it didn't mean nothing." And there it was; all that he had been scared of and all that he had been wanting. Expecting her to bolt after such an admission, he was stunned to find her sitting there; watching him intently. For the life of him, Dan did not know what to do. What was she saying? What did this mean? And suddenly, his fear took over. Laughing nervously, he broke eye contact.

"Okay. You're drunk," he took a sip from his bottle.

"I'm not…" She shook her head, confused by his reaction. "I mean…I'm tipsy. But I know what I'm saying and I'm saying…"

"Come on Waldorf…" He interrupted her, his instincts trying to protect that small part of his heart that had been tied up in her for so long. "We've been drinking and…it's late. Let's not have a discussion you're bound to rethink when you're sober." Blair opened her mouth, but Dan rose to his feet as the music started up again; thankful to find a distraction. "Come on. Let's forget about all of that and…dance."

"Dan…" She looked up to him.

"Blair, please…" When his eyes met hers, she could see something in there that she hadn't seen before; even in the loft when they had dared to approach this discussion before. Taken aback, not wanting to push; she surrendered. Nodding, she rose to her feet.

"Okay," she smiled and, taking his outstretched hand; followed him to the dance floor.

As Dan pulled Blair into his arms, his mind was reeling. In a moment of her honesty, he blanched; he ran. He was sacred; slightly. This wasn't the first time they had talked this way, this wasn't the first time he had felt this way. But in the past, he had always had a reason to back out. And now; Blair was single. Single and tipsy and telling him that their long ago kiss didn't mean nothing; that it meant something. He did not know what to do with that. Tightening his hold on her, he tried to focus on his speeding heart rate; tried to calm his nerves.

Settling into his arms, Blair inhaled and relaxed; feeling, for the first time in a very, very long time that she was doing something for no other reason than because she wanted to. Though she knew Dan was nervous to hear what she had to say, she knew she had to say it. And she would. Later. But for now, she was going to let him hold her close and sway to the music; and breathe.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X

The next morning the change in things between them was still a presence. Breakfast was quiet and the conversations were strained. Blair watched as Dan tried to avoid her eyes. And Dan watched as Blair tried to figure him out. 'Good luck,' he thought. He was having a hard enough time doing that. He was trying to piece together his thoughts on what her admission had brought up for him.

He was confused; was she saying that the kiss meant something? And what if it did? Did that mean that she wanted…something? Maybe that's not at all what she meant, but maybe it was. And what if she did; want something? What did that mean for him? He wanted Blair; he had for a long time. But he knew she had just come out of something…big; something that had consumed almost every part of her. And he knew that she needed time. Though Dan knew the only real way to figure any of this out was to talk to her, he just hoped that he would have some sort of idea of what he wanted before it came up again.

Blair, for her part, could see that Dan was deep in 'brooding mode'; his mind at work. She knew he was going over it and over it in his head. She chuckled as she imagined an over-worked hamster on a wheel. Finding a sick sort of humor in the way he avoided the conversation, even though she knew he knew they would have to talk about it. But she had grown to know him well enough to know that he needed his space; his time. And she was giving him that; at least she was trying to.

But by late afternoon, she had waited long enough. With a bottle of Tequila in one hand and two shot glasses in the other, she joined Dan on the deck.

"I have a plan," she announced, sitting on the low table directly in front of him.

"A plan?" He was interested; amused.

"To get rid of this awkwardness between us; to move forward."

"Oh-kay…" Dan smiled; of course she had a plan.

"We should kiss again." His eyes snapped to hers.

"What?" His voice cracked.

"Yes," she nodded, remaining serious; almost business-like. "We kiss and see if there's anything left, for either of us. If there isn't, we can move on. If there is…then we at least know what we're dealing with." Dan chuckled softly, running his hand over the back of his neck. Blair Waldorf; straight to the point.

"And the tequila is for…" He pointed to the bottle.

"Shots."

"You want to do shots?"

"Yes," she nodded, laying the glasses onto the table.

"And then kiss," Dan finished her thought.

"Yes," she poured some liquor into each glass and handed him one. "It will loosen us up."

"Yes I know," he eyed the glass in his hand. "You don't think that's…I don't know…not the most thought out plan you've ever had?"

"Oh come on, Humphrey," she rolled her eyes. "Many of my best kisses have been while under the influence."

"Oh I believe you. And just how much alcohol does it take to kiss Chuck Bass?" He was already feeling more loose. Blair's eyes narrowed as she smirked.

"Surely not as much as it did to go at it with Vanessa Abrams," she fired back. "Tell me, did you have to leave the tri-state area for more supplies?" Dan laughed.

"You really are a sweet-talker aren't you Waldorf?" Though he had to admit, the thought of kissing her…

"Just do it," she nodded her head at the glass in his hand.

"Well when you put it that way…" He cocked his head to the side.

"You're not going to do it?" She was frustrated; with him and with her overwhelming urge to have his lips on hers. They had been dancing around this long enough.

"Get drunk so that I can kiss you?" He shook his head. "No. I'm not going to do it."

"And why not?" Though her pride was slightly nicked, she held her head high.

"Because…" He looked away from her, gathering his thoughts; summoning his courage. And when he looked back to her; the look in his eyes caught her off guard; he was done being careful. "Because, Blair…when…if …I ever kiss you again…" He quickly took his shot of tequila. "It's not going to be contrived or forced or…liquor induced. And you…" He reached out and took the shot glass from her hand, swallowing it back. "You are not going to have any excuses to not remember it." And then, surprised by his own bluntness; by his own revelation, he stood; leaving Blair on the deck; speechless.

Walking back into the house, Dan took a deep breath. What the hell was happening? He took another deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. What was she doing? What was he doing? And before he could even begin a guess at the answer, she was walking through the doors.

"Dan…" Her voice called out from behind him.

"Blair…" He shook his head, not turning to look at her.

"Kiss me," her words hit him like a truck.

"Blair."

"Kiss me again Dan. Just once…" As she moved closer to him she could see the strain in his neck, the tension in his shoulders.

"Come on, Blair. Let's not do this." His voice was small, asking for mercy.

"Why?" She whispered. "I don't understand. I thought that you…before in the city…I thought that maybe you…" She rolled her eyes at her own inability to articulate her thoughts. "Why won't you kiss me?"

"You know why."

"I don't," she reached out, touching his shoulder with her hand. He flinched and turned to face her.

"Because it's not fair," his eyes were wide, pleading; honest. "I am trying to be your friend here. I really am. When we kissed…that first time at your place…I had to get over you. While you went after Chuck and became engaged to Louis, I had to get over you." The thought of him suffering in silence made Blair sad. He sighed and continued. "And then, right when I thought I had some time, some space; you show up here and you cry in my arms and you sleep in my bed and…I had to get over you."

"Dan…"

"And then…when you came to the city and you told me that things could have been different, that they might have…God, Blair! I just keep trying to get over you and now…" He took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. "Now you're back and you need a friend and I very much want to be that for you. I want to be your friend. But if we have to talk about this, if I kiss you again…I just don't know how I'm going to ever have a chance to just get over you." He watched her eyes for a beat and then moved, stepping around her back towards the door.

"Where are you going?" She watched him incredulously. How could he just drop all of that in her lap and just leave?

"I just need…a minute," he opened the door. "I just need some air." Nodding, Blair watched as Dan slipped back outside; walking to the rail and looking out over the beach; over the water.

Rooted to her spot, Blair waited. She watched him take long deep breaths and she debated her next move. There was a part of her that wanted to let him go; let him sort this out himself. He needed time to figure things out and he had always allowed her the time and space she needed to gain perspective. But there was this other part of her; the stubborn part, that flat out refused to let this topic drop before she had said her piece. A part that knew this was too important to let go; too big of a moment to leave to fate and chance. Taking a deep breath, she followed him out onto the deck. He instantly sensed her presence.

"God, Blair…" He moaned. "Can you just let me…"

"What if I don't want you to?"

"What?" He breathed; keeping his eyes towards the water. "Blair, I…"

"What if…" She interrupted; moving closer, speaking to his back. "What if I know that now is not the perfect time. I just left this…big relationship and I need a moment to collect myself. And I know that and I will do that but…what if, off on the horizon, I can see this…" She gulped the lump in her throat. "This amazing opportunity. This wonderful, smart, funny, perfect opportunity that might actually be right within my reach and…I know I'm not exactly ready for that opportunity and, truthfully, maybe that opportunity isn't quite ready for me. But I don't want to miss out on it. I don't want that opportunity to fade because of my ill timing and my former inability to see what is right in front of me."

"I…" Dan started, not even sure what he was going to say.

"I want you to kiss me because…" She took a breath. "Because I know that I need a little time and while I take that time…I don't want whatever it was you felt for me…whatever that kiss evoked for you…I don't want it to fade away. I don't want it to fade away." Blair looked down at her hands and then reached out to touch his arm. This time he did not flinch. "I didn't realize that it was hard for you to…I won't bring it up again. I won't. I just wanted you to know…it didn't mean nothing, Dan. It still doesn't." And then, with a deep breath, Blair turned and left him alone.

Looking out over the water, Dan shook his head, letting out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding and then, despite his reservations; he smiled.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X

Though their discussion certainly could have, and maybe should have, put more space between them; in truth it did the opposite. When Dan finally came in off the deck that night, a new sense of calmness had settled over them. Blair had started cooking dinner and with no hesitation, Dan took his spot next to her and caught up in the preparations. They ate and laughed and discussed their books and they knew, without a doubt, that their relationship had managed to find yet another level of depth.

It was in this peacefulness that they sat the next morning. Out on the deck, on opposite ends of the long couch; their legs stretched out next to each other. Wrapped in sweaters and blankets, they were close to finishing their book and the chilly breeze kept them alert.

When Blair began to speak to him about the part she was reading, one of her feet moved to nudge him. Looking up at her, he was struck by how beautiful she was. Her eyes never left the book in her hands and his never left her. She was striking. Her deep, dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail that was being whipped around by the wind; stray strands skipping across her face. She had on an oversized sweater and a blanket pulled up around her. The tip of her nose was slightly pink and her full lips were bright as she spoke to him.

Without looking up she talked about the character and how profound and beautiful the story was and Dan…watching her closely, couldn't stop thinking about how profound and beautiful she was. And he grew frustrated with himself; frustrated with his actions, or non-actions over the course of the last few days. They had been through so much together since the beginning of the summer and yet he had balked at being honest with her, scared at what it might stir up. But if he had learned one thing, if she had proved one thing to him; over and over again, it was that he didn't have to be scared around her. He didn't have to be careful. Realization setting in, Dan was moved by his friendship with Blair; his relationship with Blair—by Blair. Closing his book, he cleared his throat and interrupted her.

"Can I tell you a secret?" Her eyes popped up from the pages; instantly scanning his face for a sign.

"Oh-kay," she smiled tentatively, her book lowering to her lap.

"You are…beautiful…" Seeing the intensity of his gaze brought a flush to her cheeks.

"Please," she rolled her eyes. "I look terrible."

"No…" He shook his head and sat his book on the ground next to him. His mind made up, Dan scooted forward. She gasped when his hands wrapped around her legs, just above the knee and gently pulled her forward, meeting her in the middle so that they were sitting closer. With steady, certain eyes, he stared into hers. "You are beautiful and smart and funny and…the fact that I would prefer sitting in silence with you over a conversation with just about anyone else…" She smiled breathlessly at that. "I just don't know how that opportunity would ever, ever be able to fade away."

"No?" Her voice was small; her eyes bright.

"No," he shook his head; his eyes searching hers for permission, for consent.

"Good…" She whispered, her lips pressing together in a nervous smile. And he had it. And then, without tequila or dares or a decision to be made, Dan leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers. And, without a moment's hesitation, she opened her mouth to him. He was sweet and soft and warm. And she was hooked. So this was what it was like to kiss Dan Humphrey. To really kiss him; without reservations, without ties to Chuck or Louis or reality. This was what she had been missing out on. Her hands reached out, clenching his sweater and holding him to her. Dan, overwhelmed by the surge of emotions that flooded him, pulled back slightly; catching his breath. His forehead resting against hers, his lips turned up in a wide smile.

"Oh my God…" She breathed; disbelieving. Slightly nervous and flushed and more than a little turned on, she peeked up at him through her eyelashes and smiled. "Can I tell you a secret?" His eyes searched hers, hoping to find no trace of regret; no hint of uncertainty. Pleased with what he found, he shook his head and brought her lips back to his.

"No," he mumbled into her mouth. "No more secrets." Blair responded by moaning into his mouth, her arms encircling his neck. Matching her desire with his own, Dan wrapped his arms around her and held her to him; reveling in the way she made him feel. His mouth moved from her lips, over her jaw and down into the hollow of her neck. Sighing, Blair couldn't hold back any longer.

"I lied," she moaned, holding his head; pressing his lips to her skin. "I lied, I lied, I lied…" He chuckled softly and kissed his way back to her lips. Pulling back, he looked into her eyes; alive with excitement.

"Not the worst mistake of your life?" He couldn't help the smirk on his face; she put it there.

"It didn't mean nothing." When Blair brought his lips back to hers, it was with more force, more purpose. Her temperature rose as a yearning for him raced through her veins. Holding tight to him, she moved to lay back; pulling him with her. It was then that Dan had his moment of clarity and pulled away. "No…" She moaned as he sat up and away from her. "Don't stop…"

"Ha…" Dan laughed, his eyes shining. "I won't," he pulled at her hands, moving her with him as he laid back. Settling on the couch, he pulled her into his embrace. "But you need time…we both know that." He kissed the top of her head as she cuddled up to his side, her head on his chest. Dan reached for his book on the ground and she pulled the blankets up around them. "Let's finish the book, together…" He flipped through the pages. "What page were you on?"

"Four thirty-two," she sighed happily; nestled in his arms.

"Wow," he shook his head with a smirk. "I had no idea you were such a slow reader. I guess I can go back." With a quick elbow to the ribs, Blair reminded him that his kiss hadn't left her that befuddled. Keeping one arm around her, they fell into synch; with the book, with the words, with each other.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X

"You know that I'm not at all ready for a relationship….right?" Though her words sounded harsh as she sat down at the breakfast table the next, and final morning in the Hamptons; Dan saw right through her. This was typical them; push and pull. The kiss had shaken her; that he knew. And now she was protecting. Smiling up at her, Dan shrugged.

"Please," he huffed. "I'm a best-selling author. I have fans. You think I want a girlfriend?" Her toast stopped on its way to her mouth.

"You have fans." Her eyes narrowed; toast returned to her plate.

"I do," he fought the smirk on his face and took a drink of coffee.

"Tell me about these…fans." Her arms crossed; unable to hide the jealousy she felt.

"I don't think I will."

"And why not?"

"Because," he leaned forward. "I kind of like you like this."

"Like what?" One eyebrow arched.

"Jealous."

"I am not." Her eyes went wide with shock and absurdity. Dan laughed.

"Yes you are," he wasn't swayed. "You don't have to admit it, but you are." With a glare, and not another word, Blair returned to her toast. She was jealous. And she hated it. Dan, amused by this turn of events, flashed a smile and returned to his coffee.

X-X-X-X-X-X-X

That afternoon, as Dan packed up his clothes and moved about his room, getting ready for their return to the city, he felt conflicting emotions. He was sad to leave the refuge of the Hamptons but was excited to return to the normalcy of the city. Zipping up his bag, he stepped out of the room and into the hallway where Blair was waiting with her bag. Taking it from her he watched as she chewed on her bottom lip.

"What is it?" They began down stairs.

"I lied," she sighed.

"Again?" Dan laughed. "You know Waldorf, for somebody who values honesty, you've really been slipping."

"Humphrey…"

"What exactly did you lie about this time?" He sat their bags by the front door and glanced out the window. The car service had yet to arrive. Dan focused his attention on her.

"I'm jealous." She held her head high as she spoke.

"Oh?" He arched an eyebrow. "Of what?"

"Your fans." She looked ashamed to be admitting it. "I know that it's not fair because I told you I'm not ready for a relationship and that I need some time but the idea of some groupies following you around…."

"Blair…" He laughed but she continued.

"I'm not saying that you can't…or shouldn't…see them or date them or…I just." She groaned. "In interest of full disclosure; the idea makes me absolutely sick."

"Well, you can relax," he ran his hands over her arms. "There are no fans."

"What?" Her face brightened.

"No fans. I was joking; trying to remain aloof, non-committed."

"Why?"

"I don't know. You had just said you weren't ready for a relationship and I know that and I thought it might…help…if I wasn't either." She shook her head as he spoke. Seeing that the car had arrived, Dan moved to open the door .

"Oh thank God…" She breathed; relieved. "No more of that Humphrey. Let's just…shoot straight from here on out. Deal?"

"Deal," he nodded, helping her with her coat before he pulled on his.

"So…just so I'm clear," Blair smiled sweetly as they stepped out of the house, locking the door behind them. "No fans?"

"Eh," he shrugged. "There are some but it's mostly just a handful of women who want Nate's phone number."

"Women who want Nate's phone number?" Blair laughed as the driver loaded their bags in the trunk.

"And their mothers," Dan grinned, opening the car door. "Listen Blair…I'm not…I'm not going anywhere. Take your time, figure things out and then, when you do…I'll be here."

"Right by my side?" Her eyes shone.

"Standing right next to you," he nodded and then, because he couldn't help himself, he leaned in and kissed her; overjoyed by how right it felt. Quickly returning his kiss with one of her own, Blair slipped into the car.

"I really do like the Hamptons better in the fall than the summer."

Though they weren't a couple and they truthfully had not even gone on a date; Blair and Dan were more together than they could admit even to themselves. They were strong, solid; inseparable.

And they would have hurdles; their friends were going to have more than enough to say about this new relationship. And they would have issues; like when people caught wind that Dan about the novel she had spied Dan writing. But they would be fine. Because he was by her side; and she by his. They were taking their Sanctuary back to the city.

The End.