Blair paced anxiously in front of the elevator. Dan was late.
Well, maybe not late, but not the ten minutes early she expected from him for such an important occasion. With their standard ding, the elevator doors opened, revealing a suit clad Dan Humphrey. She looked him over approvingly from head to toe, noting how even his hair was tamed for the most part. She would never tell him to his face, but he had learned over time how to clean up well, a far cry from the boy who stood out whenever he attended a posh event on Serena's arm.
"Do I pass inspection?" Dan asked before he leaned forward to kiss her briefly in greeting, one hand holding a bottle of wine and the other hand occupied with a bouquet of flowers.
"You'll do. Are those for me?" she asked, gesturing toward the flowers.
Dan looked at her sheepishly. "Actually, they're for your mother. I considered buying you a separate bouquet, but I was worried I'd drop the wine bottle if I took on too much. Plus, I figured I wrote you a book, which excuses me from wooing you with flowers for at least a month or so."
Blair rolled her eyes and snatched the flowers from his hands anyhow. "I'll have Dorota put them in water. I'll be sure to let my mother know how polite a dinner guest you are."
Immediately after she handed the flowers to Dorota, Blair moved on to the other item in Dan's hands. "Let me see that bottle. I'm not sure I trust you to bring an adequate bottle of wine."
It was Dan's turn to roll his eyes as he handed over the bottle of wine. Blair looked it over, then raised her eyebrows at Dan.
"It's possible that Lily selected that bottle from her private stash, " Dan admitted.
"I'm glad that you are aware of your limitations," Blair said tersely.
Dan took a deep breath, trying to hold back his frustration. Now that they were leaving the confines of the loft and entering into her natural habitat, it appeared the honeymoon was over.
"So, is this going to be what this whole night will be like? You criticizing me with complimentary undertones? I don't think that's really going to help your parents like me."
"Your first impression on my mother was that of a reluctant cater waiter, and a bad cater waiter at that. At least now you won't have to pretend to be a guest, though as you know it may not prevent her from having you perform tasks."
Dan could sense the tension coming off her in waves. He took several steps forward, closing the gap between them. He cupped her face in his hands and kissed her gently. "It's going to be okay. I promise you that I will not embarrass you in front of your parents."
"Don't make promises you can't keep. Oh, and it's not parents, it's just my mother," Blair informed him, knowing that this was not good news. "Cyrus had to work late. He may be able to make it around dessert."
Now Dan's calm veneer evaporated. He thought he had prepared well with the flowers and wine, but he had been banking on the jovial Cyrus Rose to be his buffer should Eleanor Waldorf eye him with the same disdain both elder Rhodes women had greeted Dan with back in the day. Dan wasn't sure he would ever move up from being hired help in Eleanor's eyes, but Dan had targeted Cyrus as his best opportunity to make a good impression on Blair's family.
"Can we just go ahead and open that bottle of wine?" Dan asked pleadingly.
At that moment, Eleanor Waldorf Rose came sweeping through the foyer. "That's not an appropriate use of your hostess gift, Daniel," Eleanor said dryly as she leaned forward to kiss Dan on the cheek.
Dan wasn't quite sure if she was joking or not, but he decided that keeping the mood light was his best bet. "I apologize Mrs. Waldorf. I'll admit my ascension from cater waiter to invited guest has left me on edge."
Blair openly cringed at Dan starting out the evening by pointing out one of several potential elephants in the room. Next he was sure to mention his controversial novel which was the catalyst for her broken engagement, another potentially sticky subject.
Eleanor proceeded into the dining room, Dan and Blair closely behind. Dorota quickly came out with their soups.
They ate in silence for a few minutes, until Dan felt the need to fill it. "You know, I really need to learn to do better in these social situations. My publisher said it looks like I'll be doing a book tour soon, which will likely involve quite a few soirees, though admittedly none as intimidating as this one, given how I feel about your daughter, " Dan rambled on. Eleanor looked at him with a bemused grin as Dan went for the hat trick, "Of course, Blair probably could give me some pointers. I always imagine her time in Monaco was a lot like the Princess Diaries."
Dan had managed to render her mother speechless. Once she had started to appreciate the Humphrey appeal, somehow the words that so quickly rolled out his mouth had somehow become endearing. Sometimes she would bait him just to hear him get excited and argue with her. However, she had almost forgotten about the nervous rambling as Dan for some reason had always felt comfortable talking with her, even back when they mostly traded insults.
"Humphrey, do you not have an off switch?" Blair snapped.
"Blair," her mother admonished her. Even if Dan was humiliating her, proper decorum dictated that Blair wasn't permitted to point it out.
Eleanor recovered and turned to Dan. "Daniel, why don't we take your earlier suggestion and open this bottle of wine?" Eleanor took the bottle from Blair's hands. "Thank you for the wine. It's a lovely bottle, but really not necessary."
Dan shrugged. "I wish I could take credit, but when she found out I was coming here to meet the parents Lily insisted that I take a bottle from her collection."
"I'm surprised Lily has any wine left following her house arrest," Eleanor said drily.
Dan had to smile at the older woman's snark. "I think she did some replenishing. Being in such close quarters with my dad with no possibility of escape required high amounts of alcohol consumption for sure. After they ran out of movies, my dad decided to entertain her by playing some of Lincoln Hawk's greatest hits acoustically. Believe me when I say you need to mainline chardonnay to get through that."
Eleanor let out a hearty laugh. "That's right, I forgot your father was a musician. I always think of him owning that gallery. Did you know that Lily brought him to a party here years ago, and it created quite the stir. Everyone wanted to know who that Brooklyn gallery owner was who accompanied Lily van der Woodson and kissed her openly. Then she started dating Bart Bass right after that."
Dan laughed as Blair stared at her mother in disbelief. "I'm sure that my dad made quite the impression," Dan said fondly.
"Like father, like son," Eleanor replied with a slight twinkle in her eye.
What the hell does that mean? Blair wasn't sure if Eleanor was complimenting or insulting Dan, but she had her suspicions if Rufus was the basis of comparison.
"Dan is actually nothing like his father," Blair sniffed.
"Blair, I was just trying to imply that Daniel is making a nice impression," Eleanor said scoldingly. Eleanor turned to Dan. "I meant no offense, to you or your father."
"None taken, Mrs. Waldorf, " Dan said politely. He subtly reached under the table to squeeze Blair's hand, hoping to calm her down from whatever had put her in this mood.
"First, it's technically Mrs. Rose now. Waldorf is my professional name only. However, please call me Eleanor," Eleanor told him. She paused. "Anyhow, speaking of your family, how is your sister?"
Blair swerved her head quickly to glare at her mother. Just what this disaster of an evening needed, a conversation about Jenny Humphrey. Did her mother nor Dan realize some topics were not polite dinner conversation?
Dan seemed oblivious to any awkwardness regarding his sister. "She's doing quite well. She just started fashion design school in L.A. and loves it out there. I think she really needed the fresh start. I know she wasn't the ideal intern for you."
Blair had now switched her glare to Dan, not believing that he chose to bring up that particular landmine. She felt like she was at some bizarre therapy session where the tough topics had to be in the open, but no one had bothered to send Blair the memo. On the bright side, she was pretty sure that Dan and her mom had sailed through almost all the most awkward subjects, unless Dan decided to divulge information about their sex life. Luckily, Dan was not Chuck so she felt pretty good on that account.
Eleanor laughed about her most memorable intern. "Your sister was quite a talent. I'm happy that she's going to continue in the industry. Maybe someday she could even work for me again. Does she see much of Serena in L.A.?"
Finally, Dan did look a bit less at ease. Blair had forgotten about the Serena landmine. Blair couldn't take it anymore, and snapped at her mother, "Could we please just do cordial small talk? Let's just pretend I brought my brand new, fresh off the subway Brooklyn boyfriend for dinner who you've never met. We don't need to dredge up the past all over the place like you know anything about Dan other than he worked as your cater waiter. "
Dan took a deep breath, trying to maintain the peace. "Blair, it's really okay. I'm not a stranger, and it would be even more awkward if your mother pretended like she didn't know anything about me."
"Fine, take her side. I can tell you who is sleeping alone in Brooklyn tonight," Blair bit out, being the one to make a vague reference to their sex life. She figured she might as well go for broke.
Dan blushed, then began to stammer, "Uh, Mrs...Eleanor, of course all along I was going home to Brooklyn alone. As I do every night, unless Blair falls asleep on my couch when we watch a movie..."
Eleanor rolled her eyes and smiled slyly, "Of course, Daniel. Brooklyn is really far away, and it would hardly be chivalrous to put my daughter in a cab late at night."
Dan smiled too, knowing that he was being ridiculous. "I am nothing if not a gentleman, Eleanor."
"I think you might be my favorite, Daniel. Though there was always something about Nate," Eleanor teased, aware that her daughter and Nate had long been over.
"Thank you. For the record, I can completely understand how Nate would be your first choice. Frankly, he was my first choice, but I suppose I'll have to settle for Blair," Dan joked, then instantly realized who his audience was. Dan felt a swift kick under the table, but he couldn't formulate the words to make it better.
Eleanor looked unfazed, and simply laughed at Dan's discomfort. "Daniel, I know usually it's a good thing to try and emulate a girl's father when meeting the parents, but sometimes that's not such a good idea."
Blair could only gape at the two of them, strangely thick as thieves. This was not at all what she expected, and she felt like it should be going horribly but all signs seemed to be indicating the opposite.
"I will keep that in mind. By the way, Eleanor, despite what Lily may have led you to believe, I generally prefer to be called Dan."
It had become too much for Blair, who had been nearing the edge for awhile.
"What the hell is wrong with you two? I know you both love me so you're pretending to like each other, but you're going too far with the friendliness. Polite and cordial would have been perfectly adequate; there was no need to make light of my broken engagement, Lily's incarceration, Dan's lame 90s father and horrible sister, not to mention being all coy about our sex life. If we're being so direct about everything, why did you stop there? Of course we're having sex. We're having lots and lots of sex, which you probably figured out since I holed up in Brooklyn for nearly three weeks after I broke my engagement," Blair finished with a flourish, not completely sure where all this frustration was coming from. Didn't she want her mother and boyfriend to get along?
Blair could see Dan's face run through a gamut of emotions, going from confusion to anger to hurt and then cycling back through.
Her mother spoke first. "Blair, please help me with something in the kitchen."
Blair rolled her eyes. "Please. Dan's a much better candidate with his cater waiter experience. Plus, I think you like him better."
"Blair, honestly right now I do like him better. Since you're not allowing for my weak attempt at subterfuge, please come with me to the kitchen so we can privately discuss why you are acting crazy tonight."
"Fine," Blair huffed, following her mother into the kitchen, the two women leaving Dan alone at the dining room table.
Once in the kitchen, Blair crossed her arms and glared at her mother. "What?"
"Seriously, Blair, you're asking what? You're treating Dan just like you treated Roman and Cyrus, like he's some intruder you need to run off. I don't understand, he's your boyfriend," Eleanor said, clearly at a loss.
Blair was also at a loss, which just made her dig her heels in more and try to go for the jugular. "Maybe the problem is that you never took the time to understand me. Cyrus understands me better than you do."
Eleanor made an effort not to let the hurt show, knowing her daughter's tendency to go after an opponent's weaknesses during an argument. "I just hope that Dan understands you better than I do, or he may decide to head off to L.A. with his sister," Eleanor said in response, proving that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Eleanor let the implication that Serena was also in L.A. hang there unsaid.
With this, Blair fled the kitchen and returned to the dining room, tears stinging her eyes. There she encountered Dan looking over Dorota's shoulder at her phone, admiring pictures of Anastasia.
Dan's gaze turned to her, concerned. "Hey, are you all right? Dorota was just showing me pictures of Anastasia. She's just as adorable as you said, and it's pretty cool to see how much she's grown. It seems like yesterday that we were rushing Dorota to the hospital."
Blair had no idea what was wrong with her, but what she did know was that it seemed like a decade ago that they rushed Dorota to that hospital after Dan rambled on about signs. Since then, she'd been proposed to by a mogul and a prince, yet somehow here she was with Dan Humphrey.
"You know, Milo is probably about as big as Anastasia. They're roughly the same age," Blair said, hoping to get some reaction from Dan. He was being far too calm which made her feel even more like a basket case.
Dan just looked sad and subdued. "Yes, I suppose he is."
Blair sighed, not sure where Humphrey's quick temper had run off to all of a sudden. "I'm going to my room. Goodnight," she told him, brushing past him.
After waiting a few seconds, Dan started to follow, then stopped in the foyer. He remembered standing there in a daze after their kiss, feeling even more confused now. Just then the elevator dinged, and Cyrus Rose entered the foyer.
"Daniel!" he boomed. "Did Eleanor completely grill you? I'm sorry I couldn't make it. I hope I didn't miss anything too exciting."
Dan tiredly shook his head at the shorter man. "Eleanor was great. Blair, not so much. You may want to go speak with your wife. I think they had it out pretty good."
Cyrus took a few steps towards the dining room but stopped to pat Dan on the back. "You know Blair and her flair for the dramatic," Cyrus said.
Through Cyrus's words, Dan suddenly had an idea what the problem was. He went up the stairs to Blair's room and knocked on the door.
"It's me, Blair. Please open up. We need to talk," Dan said in a calm voice.
Blair knew that Dan would probably just camp out there if she ignored him, so she reluctantly opened the door.
"Okay, talk," Blair said.
Dan ran a hand through his hair, mussing it up and making him look as frazzled as he felt. "I think I figured out what's bugging you," Dan began.
"Please enlighten me, Dan, because I don't know if I even know," Blair answered, wearily, though she was formulating an idea herself as to why the whole evening had made her so uneasy. She sat down on the bed, feeling too tired to remain standing.
"You love drama. More than that, you love big, dramatic love stories. You were expecting drama tonight, as you thought your mother would take one look at Dan Humphrey, the cater waiter from Brooklyn, and that she would dislike me on sight, sending sly digs at me to make me feel uncomfortable and unworthy," Dan told her. "Then, once your mom and I got along even after we navigated potential minefields, you didn't get your anticipated drama. Are you worried that if people approve of us that we'll be boring?"
Dan was eerily close to the truth, but not quite there. She was afraid that the actual truth might make her sound nuttier, but she figured there was no point in hiding it from Dan at this stage.
"You're close. Serena once told me that I have a movie of my life playing in my head, and that I needed to realize the only person watching that movie is me. When things don't go according to that movie, Serena's job has been to push me back into dealing with reality. With Serena in L.A. and the fact that talk about our relationship is pretty much off limits, the movie began to play out in my mind. I had the movie in my head of Nate and I fated since we were kids, the glamorous society couple that everyone envied. With Chuck, it was the all-consuming love that always pulls you in. Louis was straight out of a fairy tale," Blair said.
"And what were we supposed to be?" Dan asked gently.
"We were the star-crossed lovers from different worlds, ready to fight all obstacles," Blair replied sheepishly.
"And then when we weren't so star-crossed..."
"I was so moved from reading your book. Even when you didn't like me, you saw me. You've not only seen me at my worst, you've been on the receiving end of it, yet here you are," Blair told him, tears forming.
"I geared myself up all day for a fight. I wanted to fight for us, fight for you. I know I don't always tell you how I feel, but this would be my way of showing you, by standing up to the people I care about and fighting for us against all odds," Blair finished on a sigh.
Dan moved until he was standing right in front of her, looking down at her as she sat at the foot of the bed. Dan leaned down and wiped away a loose tear. "Blair," he said softly, shaking his head.
"I know I should want everyone to accept us. When I told Serena what we had was real and she told me we'd be okay, all I felt was relief. But Serena was the one person who never cared about the fact that you were from Brooklyn and poor," Blair told him. Dan rolled his eyes at the word poor.
"So, to show me how much you care, you wanted your mom to hate me?" Dan asked. It frightened Dan that it almost made sense.
"It sounds crazy when you say it," Blair told him, smiling. "I suppose I'm just going to have to rely on the Serena voice in my head and face reality. Apparently, my mother loves you. You also dressed really nicely tonight and brought an excellent bottle of wine. If you moved out of the loft and transferred to Columbia, I'd have a hard insulting you anymore."
Dan leaned down again and this time pulled her upright into his arms. "I have no doubt that you will continue to find fault with me. I still wear flannel, and there's always my lame 90s dad and his leather jacket."
Blair giggled into his shoulder and then wrapped her arms around his neck to draw him into a kiss. When they broke apart, they were both smiling.
"You know what?" Dan asked.
"I think you're looking at the wrong movie genre. Those star-crossed lover stories usually result in one or both being dead in the end."
Blair laughed. "You have a point. What do you suggest?"
"Classic romantic comedy. We have the banter down. So long as I continue to give you material for your bon mots, we have material. We even had a meet cute back in the day," Dan told her.
"Oh, God, the pies! I always forget that my first impression of you was that you were a pervert looking to take advantage of drunk girls on Thanksgiving."
"Yes, I got extremely lucky when Serena walked into traffic that day," Dan said half-joking and half-serious.
Dan leaned down and kissed her again, then Blair pulled away only to lay back on the bed and drag Dan with her. Breaking apart for air, Dan tried to compose himself. He looked down at Blair and ran a hand through her hair.
"Maybe I should go home. Your parents are right downstairs after all," Dan said, though his heart clearly wasn't in it.
"Oh, please Humphrey. My mother now has confirmation that we have had lots and lots of sex. I may also once have accidentally told Cyrus I play sex games," Blair said briskly, beginning to work on his tie.
"Sex games? We've never played any sex games," Dan said, then shuddered at the implication and accompanying images.
Blair yanked on his now loosened tie to make him look at her. "We don't need any sex games."
They kissed again briefly, but Dan pulled away much to Blair's dismay. "For God's sake Humphrey, now what? You and the talking tonight, I swear."
Dan smiled and looked her in the eyes. "I just wanted you to know that I think we're going to do just fine when the screen goes black after we kiss." Then he kissed her again.