Author's notes: Thanks to everyone for reading, reviewing and sticking with this. I've never really written anything so angsty, so it's been an interesting journey. I went back and forth on how I wanted it to end, and I hope the ending is satisfying. Please review and let me know what you think.
Blair was beginning to wonder what was wrong with her. Her husband, an actual real-life prince who she loved, was coming to New York to spend time with her. While a part of her was excited about Louis's arrival, she was spending most of her time mourning the end of her time with Dan. While she had come to look forward to her weekly conversations with Dan, she had nearly forgotten what it was like to spend so much time with him.
While they were both vociferous talkers, they could still sit in comfortable silence as well. While she did enjoy the quiet moments with him, it definitely was their conversations which gave her renewed energy. She could feel her mind come to life in a way it never did in Monaco, where life was filled with endless pleasantries and small talk. While Louis would smile fondly whenever she disagreed with him, he would rarely engage in any sort of back-and-forth. He would usually just tell her how he loved her passion or her intelligence, then change the topic to something more agreeable. Sometimes, she appreciated how Louis could just calm her with a smile, bringing her a level of peace she had never felt in her life. Other times, she would make increasingly bold statements, hoping to bait him into an argument. He never took the bait.
Right now all Blair could feel was ambivalence about Louis's arrival. She just hoped Louis would help cure the overwhelming sense of loneliness she felt whenever she was alone in the penthouse.
Louis had insisted that she just stay at the penthouse and wait for him, that there was no need to meet his plane. It seemed strange to stay back, but she supposed she never met his plane in Monaco. This just felt somehow different, like she was failing to fulfill some wifely duty.
She sat in the living room, anxiously awaiting his arrival. When the elevator doors dinged, she jumped up to meet her husband. The moment she saw him, she knew something was wrong.
His face looked somber, and there were bags under his eyes as though he hadn't been sleeping. He came up alone, with no handlers carrying any bags. He gave her a wan smile when he saw her, and only loosely held her when she threw herself into his arms in greeting.
"What's wrong, sweetie?" Blair asked, confused.
"Blair, we need to talk," Louis said calmly, pulling himself from her embrace and looking her in the eye. There was a coldness in his eyes that she had never seen before.
"Okay, let's go into the living room," Blair said anxiously, feeling as though she was heading to her execution.
Stepping into the van der Humphrey apartment, she dismissively greeted the maid before stalking into Dan's room without even bothering to knock. She found him on his bed, dozing off with a book resting on his chest. She slammed the door, causing him to jump into a sitting position. He was clearly startled, but at least looked relatively alert.
"What are you doing here? I thought you'd be with Louis," Dan said, running a confused hand through his hair, exacerbating his bedhead.
"Congratulations, Humphrey," she said bitingly. "You somehow managed to be a home wrecker without even bothering to sleep with me."
"What?" he asked, looking even more confused.
"Right after I left, Louis wanted to send flowers to Serena's brother in the hospital," Blair explained. "He was surprised to find out there was no Eric van der Woodsen in the hospital. Then someone was kind enough to do an internet search on the van der Woodsen family to help him, and apparently a best-selling author in critical condition after saving his socialite stepsister is big news."
"Blair..." Dan said sympathetically. She shook him off to silence him, wanting to finish her story.
"Of course, Louis figured out you were the brother. He also remembered you from the Pink Party, and what Serena had said about us sneaking around for months," Blair explained in a monotone, gearing up for the punchline. "This aroused his suspicions, which had always been on the backburner, and he tracked my phone and internet use, which apparently is quite easy to do when you're a prince. On top of it all, he read your book, which he had heard rumors about but had never actually read because I had assured him that it was all fiction and your romantic pipe dreams."
"I never did get any flowers," Dan said flippantly. She glared at him, furious that he could be so glib when her life was falling apart.
"That's really your response?" Blair snapped.
Dan shrugged. "It seemed better than 'I told you so'."
"Are you enjoying this?"
Dan let out a put upon sigh. "No, Blair, I'm not enjoying this," he said calmly. "I'm just waiting for you to get to the part that has to do with me destroying your marriage."
"Have you not been listening?" In all her waxing poetic about missing him, she had forgotten just how infuriating he could be.
"First, you haven't even told me what happened after Louis discovered all this," Dan pointed out. "Second, I still fail to see how I'm responsible for you lying to your husband."
She decided to skip the first part of his statement, not quite ready to tell him everything yet. She opted to focus on the part that she blamed him for.
"I was doing perfectly fine without you in my life until your book came out," Blair said angrily. "I know what you were doing with those Degas questions; you were trying to manipulate me back into your life."
"You called me," Dan reminded her. "And I did have an essay, though admittedly I quoted art historians and not Blair Waldorf."
"See, you're no better than Chuck, using my weaknesses to worm your way back into my life."
"Seriously, Blair? You're equating a little innocent subterfuge involving your love of Degas with being sold for a hotel?" Blair could see that Dan's calm veneer was beginning to fade. "Can you just tell me what the hell happened with Louis today?"
"You knew. You always just know," Blair said, feeling the sting of tears. "You could sense that I was bored. You used the fact that I needed intellectual stimulation to your advantage."
"Blair, I'm really not following, and I usually understand your particular brand of crazy."
"You made me have feelings for you, even though you knew I was married. You just kept talking to me about books and movies and art, wearing me down," she said, her voice getting increasingly shrill. "And now, you win. I'm no longer married. In fact, it turns out I was never married," Blair said bitterly.
"What are you talking about? Of course you were married. Even you can't deny that," Dan said, finally standing up from the bed and moving toward her. She absently noticed that he was moving without any obvious indication of pain, but she knew he was still under orders to stay in bed as much as possible.
"You shouldn't be standing up," she said weakly.
"I'm going to stand until you tell me what happened," he said firmly. "If I collapse, it's on you."
"Still not funny," she said, wiping away tears but smiling despite herself.
"Just tell me, Blair," he said, putting a finger beneath her chin and forcing her to look into his eyes. Even though he had every right to be angry with her, all she saw in his eyes was concern.
"Louis presented me with annulment papers," she finally admitted. "He told me that he loved me, but he could never trust me. He was just sad, almost like he had always known this would happen someday. I can't blame him for that; I never gave him any reason to trust me."
"Blair," Dan said sympathetically, reaching out to pull her into his embrace. "You're a good person. You just need to believe it yourself."
She laughed bitterly. Dan could see right through her, but in some ways he still didn't really know her. She pulled away from him, crossing her arms in front of her in a defensive posture.
"I slept with Chuck while I was engaged to Louis," Blair said abruptly. She watched Dan's face register shock and then hurt. "Louis told me he wanted to know everything about me, good and bad, and that if I was ready to give him everything then we would start at the Constance Fundraiser. He waited for me for hours, all the while I was having sex with another man. So you see, our whole relationship started with a lie."
"You slept with Chuck?" Dan asked softly, as though the wind had been knocked out of him. He slowly walked over to the bed and sat down.
"I actually told Chuck I wanted to be with him, that we had the kind of love that will always pull you back in no matter what," Blair continued. "I told him that while Louis made me happy, what was that in the face of great love? Then Chuck was the one who let me go. On top of all that, I had feelings for you that I refused to act on because I could see myself with a mogul or a prince, but not someone like you. Do you still stand by your good person statement?"
She watched him, his face running through a gamut of emotions. She could tell he was angry and hurt, but most of all he just looked confused.
"I know what you're doing," Dan finally said. "You're upset about Louis, but you can't yell at him because he's not here. On top of that, you're afraid of what your feelings for me mean now that you're not married, so you're pushing me away. You're doing a hell of a job, I must say."
She had never considered that he might see through her games, but that they still might work anyway.
"I really don't know what's wrong with me," Blair said. She thought about all her past relationships, and how all of them seemed to blow up in her face, no matter how much effort she put in to making it work. "I work so hard at these relationships, trying so hard to be perfect, yet everything falls apart. It's like the harder I try, the more things blow up in my face. You need to know I'm not perfect either, that you can't put me on a pedestal like you did with Serena."
Dan chuckled mirthlessly. "When have you ever tried to be anything other than yourself with me? Do you think I'm in love with some glorified version of you that's floating around in my head?"
He had never actually told her he was in love with her before. He had alluded to such feelings, but never said the words. She could tell he regretted the words the second they left his mouth, sorry that he had used them as a weapon.
"I just don't want to hurt you," Blair said, ignoring his declaration.
"Blair, two minutes ago you were literally saying things intended to hurt me," Dan said, shaking his head. He sighed, looking exhausted. "I think we're at a bit of an impasse."
"You probably should get some rest," Blair said, feeling guilty for putting him through the ringer.
"Yeah, I'm seeing the doctor tomorrow. If all goes well, I might finally get to go home," he told her, unable to hide his excitement about returning to the loft even with the somber mood in the room.
"Well, goodnight," she sighed.
"Goodnight," he said. "For what it's worth, I'm really sorry about Louis."
She took a few steps forward, standing directly in front of him. She smoothed his hair back, then leaned forward to press a tender kiss on his forehead. "Good luck at the doctor's," she said, then turned around and left.
When she got home, she felt unsettled. She wasn't sure what she had expected from her conversation with Dan, but she had been hoping for something more definitive. Despite her best efforts, he seemed impossible to push away completely. However, he didn't exactly try to persuade her to be in a relationship with him either. The only thing she could have predicted was that he would continue to frustrate her. She wasn't sure when this had become appealing, but she had to admit she liked the challenge, especially considering it never seemed to be done with malice. He was just being himself.
Right before she drifted off to sleep, she realized that her marriage had ended that day, yet all her thoughts had been of Dan. She almost felt like the legal fiction of her annulment was true. It was as though the past two years had been some sort of dream that never happened. The problem was, this left her roughly in the same place as she was when she kissed Dan and left him standing in her foyer.
She was awakened by someone entering her room. She bolted upright, yanking her sleeping mask off.
"Nate? What the hell are you doing here?"
Nate maybe wasn't the last person she expected to see, but he certainly wasn't who she would have predicted would enter her room unannounced. She wasn't entirely sure if it was a welcome sight or not.
"Hey," Nate said sheepishly. "I didn't mean to wake you. It's almost ten o'clock, so I figured you'd be up."
She looked at the clock skeptically, as though Nate somehow was incapable of properly telling time. Sure enough, Nate was correct. She couldn't believe she had slept so long.
"Go downstairs and make coffee," she ordered. Nate raised his eyebrows at her and smiled, looking alarmingly like Dan in that moment. "I need to get dressed. The least you can do is make yourself useful if you're barging in," she huffed.
"Did I ever tell you that I missed you?" Nate said as he shot her a grin.
"Sucking up to me won't get you out of making coffee, Archibald," Blair said, feeling a rush of warmth from the familiarity of Nate's presence. "You do know how to make coffee, don't you?"
"Yes, I know how to make coffee," Nate said huffily. "Dan delegated coffee to me as my task at the Humphreys' because I'd be up early when I went for a run."
Blair nearly rolled her eyes at him. Of course Dan taught him how to make coffee.
When Blair came downstairs, she was greeted with the smell of coffee, just as she'd requested. She also saw a plate of croissants.
"You brought breakfast as well? Are you trying to butter me up about something?" She raised an eyebrow at him, but grabbed a croissant anyhow.
"I just wanted to talk to you," Nate said, seeming sincere. "We haven't really talked under normal circumstances for awhile."
"No, we haven't," she agreed, pouring herself a cup of coffee and taking a sip. "Thanks for the coffee. I imagine you haven't had to make it much for awhile," she said conversationally, trying to get a gauge on how Chuck was without giving too much away.
"No, we do generally have it brought to us at the Empire," Nate admitted. "And Chuck's doing well, by the way."
Blair shrugged her shoulders, hoping to appear nonchalant. "That's good," she said sincerely. With time and distance, she rarely thought about Chuck anymore. If Chuck was doing well, he would likely continue to stay away even once her annulment became public. "I can't believe you guys still live together," Blair said with a short laugh.
"No reason to move out," Nate said casually. "Chuck's like family at this point."
"But Dan's your best friend," Blair said, shaking her head. "I still don't know how you manage to be friends with both of them."
"It's not so hard," Nate said easily. "Chuck only occasionally gets jealous."
"But Dan is secure in your bromance?" Blair chuckled.
"Dan's a good friend," Nate said simply, as though that said it all. In a way, she supposed it did. Nate cleared his throat. "So, speaking of Dan..." he started awkwardly.
"I should have known better than to take one of your blood croissants," Blair said exasperatedly. She narrowed her eyes at him, waiting for Nate's true motives to come out. She should have figured he wasn't there just to hang out.
"I come in peace," Nate said, raising his hands in surrender. Nate looked down at the table. "Dan told me about you and Louis. I'm really sorry."
"I'm okay," Blair said, surprised that she meant it. "The whole thing was probably a mistake."
"Even so, I'm sure it hurts," Nate said earnestly. "Dan seemed worried about you, and thought maybe I could help."
Blair smiled affectionately at Nate. While Nate and Dan had been close before, they had definitely formed a tighter bond since she'd been gone. She shook her head, and blinked back tears. It was alarming how Dan seemed to know just what she needed.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you," Nate said. "Don't tell Dan I made you cry."
Blair laughed. "It's not you, Archibald," Blair said. "You can tell Humphrey he made me cry via proxy."
Nate looked confused. "I don't understand," he said.
"It's just Dan," Blair said with a smile. Nate nodded in understanding, her explanation apparently sufficient. She looked at Nate, remembering the boy who would sit at this table with her whole family long before Dan was in any of their lives. While she was no longer in love with him, and hadn't been for a long time, she couldn't help but feel great affection and fondness for him. He would just always be Nate. He was also just the person she needed to talk to right now.
"Why don't you think we worked out back in high school?" Blair asked bluntly. She felt like the topic should make her feel more uncomfortable, but there was something about Nate that put her completely at ease. She supposed that was part of Nate's appeal to Dan as well, considering that Dan wasn't much better at relaxing than she was.
Nate looked at her thoughtfully, perhaps expecting this line of questioning. "Originally, I think it was because I felt trapped by everything my parents wanted for me. You were just one more thing that was being scripted for me," he said. He looked her in the eye, trying to express his regret for the past. "I think I lost sight of you as a person for awhile; you were just another obligation."
"Don't soften the blow to make me feel better or anything," Blair said teasingly. She actually appreciated his honesty.
"If you'd let me finish, it gets better," Nate chided. "I don't know how you and Dan ever manage to converse without talking over each other all the time."
"It's a small miracle sometimes," Blair said, smiling. "Please, do go on."
"As I was saying, that was part of why we were drifting apart, even before the Shepard wedding," Nate said, glancing away at the mention of his tryst with Serena. Blair nodded reassuringly at him, wanting him to go on. "I think in the long run, we really weren't right for each other. I know at different times we tried to force it, but I don't think it ever felt easy, do you?"
Blair shook her head. "No, but I tried so hard..." Blair started, then stopped. She smiled sheepishly. "One might even say I tried too hard, not just with you."
Nate shrugged. "Maybe you just haven't been in the right relationship yet," Nate said. "Look, Dan told me you seemed to be doubting yourself, and that maybe I might have some answers. From my end, I can tell you it wasn't just about you, it was about us. And as an outside observer, the same goes for you and Chuck."
"Are you saying I'm not a lost cause, Archibald?"
Nate didn't speak for a moment, likely catching onto the hidden meaning behind her words. If Nate thought she was fated to break Dan's heart, she knew he'd tell her to back off.
Nate reached over the table and squeezed her hand affectionately. "No more than the rest of us," he answered.
"Thank you, Nate" Blair said softly. "And not just for this. Thanks for manipulating me into coming back here. You knew if I wouldn't openly come for Dan that the Serena card would work. Well played."
Nate grinned, looking slightly ashamed. "I did learn a thing or two from you and Chuck over the years," he said. "I try to only use my powers for good."
She rolled her eyes. "You and Dan really are becoming frighteningly similar."
After Nate left, Blair fought the urge to go see Dan. Nate had helped her gain some perspective, and she wanted to thank him. However, she also had no idea what she would say to him now. She was a free woman who would indefinitely be in the same city as him. It certainly changed their dynamic.
She decided to call him, rationalizing that she just wanted to find out how his doctor's appointment went.
"Hey," he said warmly when he picked up.
"Thanks for sending Nate," Blair told him in lieu of a greeting.
"He wasn't supposed to tell you that," Dan grumbled.
"He's not very good at lying," Blair said. "I suppose some might consider that to be an admirable trait."
"So, I'm finally being sprung from the pokey," Dan said cheerfully.
"Only you would consider living in a luxury penthouse with servants at your beck and call some sort of imprisonment," Blair teased him. "I'm glad some things don't change."
"It's just not home, you know?" She could almost hear him shrug through the phone.
"Yeah, I know what you mean," she told him honestly. Blair thought about the palace in Monaco, with its marble halls and cavernous rooms. It had made her opulent penthouse seem cozy in comparison, but it had at no point ever felt like home.
"How would you like to come over and celebrate my return to the loft?"
"I suppose it would be in poor taste to complain about the venue on your first night home," Blair sighed.
Dan laughed. "I need to pick up some groceries, but feel free to let yourself in if I'm not there. I hear you still have your key."
She was happy they were on the phone, because she knew he was smirking and she would want to slap him. He would also see that she was blushing, remembering what it was like to wake up and see the questioning stare of Jenny Humphrey.
She chose to ignore that comment altogether. "Just go to the loft. I'm not letting the invalid buy groceries. I'll bring dinner around 7," she said.
When Blair arrived at the loft, takeout bags in hand, she felt strangely nervous. While she and Dan had hung out at the loft together more times than she could count, she knew there had been a shift between them. Their feelings were more or less out in the open, but at this Blair had no idea what to do with that information. She thought about knocking on the door, but she smiled to herself and took out her key instead. She wanted to see the expression on his face when she let herself in.
The smile on his face when he saw her walk her through the door did not disappoint. It was a blend of his happy grin and a hint of a smirk.
"You really feel at home here, even after all this time," Dan said, walking toward her to help with the bags.
She shook off his help and walked to the kitchen. "You shouldn't be carrying anything, I'm sure. Just sit down and relax," she scolded him.
"The doctors said I shouldn't lift more than 20 lbs. I think I could handle a couple of takeout bags," he said exasperatedly. "I'm well on my way to a full recovery."
"Just let people dote on you for now. Why is that so hard?"
"I'm just used to taking care of myself," he said, shrugging.
"Fine. If you must be this way, then go grab some plates," she said, smiling despite herself when he eagerly followed her orders. She knew Lily had made sure Dan was waited on hand and foot, perhaps thinking she could make up for all her past parenting mistakes if she properly nursed Dan back to health. The problem was, Dan would be much happier doing things for other people instead.
"So, I presume you have some movie in mind for this big celebration of ours," Blair said as he put food onto the plates.
"I fear that I'm becoming predictable," Dan said, sliding a DVD case across the counter toward her. She looked at the cover and raised an eyebrow at him.
"Marie Antoinette? I suppose you think you're being funny."
"I figured the girl who thinks Rosemary's Baby is the perfect anti-Valentine's movie would think Marie Antoinette was appropriate viewing following the end of her royal marriage," he told her, his wide smile showing he thought he was very funny.
"You know, sometimes your sense of humor borders on the inappropriate," she chided.
"So says the girl who loves to joke about my almost-son," he reminded her.
"Touche´," she sighed, conceding the point. "Let's just go watch the movie. Try to keep your commentary to a minimum. I want to be able to enjoy the beautiful costumes in peace."
They moved to the couch and quietly ate their dinner, keeping a safe distance between them. About a half hour into the movie, Blair looked over at Dan. He was already sound asleep, his head poised on his hand in what looked to be an awkward position. She wasn't sure if she should wake him or not. She decided to watch the rest of the movie and see if he woke up.
He never stirred, and for the next hour Blair shifted her attention between the movie and the sleeping man beside her. She smiled at the memory of their first movie on this couch, with the both of them falling asleep. That night, she had awakened briefly to realize she was sleeping against him. She felt too tired and strangely content to move, so she had closed her eyes and gone back to sleep, taking comfort from the boy who slumbered beside her. She woke up the next morning alone on the couch, a blanket covering her and a pillow placed near her head.
After the movie was over, she decided it couldn't be good for him to sleep like that all night. She leaned over and tenderly stroked his face.
"Hey," she said softly as his eyes blinked open.
"I'm sorry," he said sheepishly. "I guess grabbing those plates took more out of me than I thought."
"It's okay," she said. "You should probably go to bed."
"Yeah," he agreed regretfully. "I'll try to be a better host next time."
"You really do need to work on that," she teased. She stood up, then leaned forward and kissed his cheek. "I can see myself out."
Before she could move to leave, he grabbed her hand. "You know, you could sleep here," he said, almost shyly. "Unless you prefer sleeping in my bed when I'm not here."
She rolled her eyes. "You're really not going to let me live that down, are you?"
He shook his head. "Probably not," he said with a wistful smile. "So, are you willing to share?"
"I presume you'll give me some sort of flannel to wear," she said, aiming for prissy but sounding more eager than anything else.
"No flannel," he said as he stood up. "You get your choice of NYU or Lincoln Hawk t-shirts."
"Lincoln Hawk, if I must," she sighed. While she was mostly joking when she mocked Dan's NYU education, her own time there was a memory she would rather not revisit.
When she emerged from the bathroom wearing the Lincoln Hawk shirt and boxers, he was waiting for her in the bedroom already dressed in flannel pajama pants and a plain t-shirt.
"Why did all of my wardrobe choices involve graphics?" she pouted.
"I really just wanted to see you in a Lincoln Hawk shirt," he admitted with a sly grin.
"When we get further away from your accident, I'm not going to let you get away with so much," she said, glaring at him teasingly.
"That's why I have to push the limits right now," he said. He paused for a moment, his eyes moving away from hers. "So, speaking of pushing things...I know any male in his 20s is supposed to make a move when he gets a beautiful girl in his bed. Uh, I hope you won't think it's indicative of your level of attractiveness when I pass out as soon as my head hits the pillow."
"Who says I wanted you to make a move?" she asked coyly.
"I didn't imply that you did," Dan said in mock earnestness. "I just wanted to make sure you weren't insulted if I didn't try anything. I would completely have expected that any advances would be rebuffed."
"I guess we'll never know," she sighed with a flirtatious smile. It felt strangely exhilarating to openly flirt with him like this.
"Aw, you're killing me," he said, clutching his chest. She answered this with a glare. "Right, still too soon," he acknowledged.
He made an exaggerated motion toward the bed. "After you," he told her.
She climbed into his bed on the left side, and he followed suit on the other side. "Just so you know, I usually sleep on this side," he said. They rolled over on their sides to face each other. "It looks like that's one less thing we'll have to fight about."
Already his eyes were drifting shut. "Goodnight," he said drowsily.
"Goodnight," she said, looking at him one more time before turning off the lamp. She smiled to herself, realizing that she had fallen asleep on Dan's side of the bed the last time she slept here.
When she woke up, sunlight was streaming through the windows. She was surprised to find the other side of the bed empty.
She wandered out of his bedroom into the bathroom. She grinned when she discovered that he had left her a new toothbrush on the counter. She brushed her teeth and tried to run his comb through her hair, not coming close to smoothing out the bedhead.
She found him in his office, doing something on his laptop. "Good morning," he said with a bright smile. "I made coffee. There are also bagels that Lily had delivered this morning."
"You may never need to go shopping again," she grinned at him.
"It's looking like that's very possible" he said, not looking up from his screen. "Why don't you go make yourself breakfast and I'll be right there. I want to finish something really fast."
"Okay," she said, curious about what he was working on.
She grabbed a bagel and fixed herself coffee, then sat at the counter to eat while she waited for him. As promised, he came in five minutes later.
"What was so urgent?" she asked more tersely than she had intended.
"You'll find out soon enough," he said cheerfully, ignoring her tone. "Thanks for staying last night."
"I didn't really feel like getting in a cab anyhow," she said nonchalantly. "Thanks for breakfast."
"Anytime," he said, putting the finishing touches on his own breakfast and sitting at the counter beside her. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye, clearly contemplating something.
"What?" she asked finally, his stare making her feel uneasy.
"I don't know how to even get started, so I'm just going to say it," he began. Blair started to feel dread in the pit of her stomach, knowing the conversation was about to take a serious turn. "I decided that I'm still going to go on my trip, provided the doctor gives me permission. I'm set to leave three weeks from today."
"Oh," she said, trying to figure out how that made her feel. She felt a little hurt that he was leaving without consulting her, and just sad that he'd be gone. On the other hand, she remembered how excited he'd been when he talked to her about finally getting to see the world. She knew he hadn't had the travel opportunities she'd gotten growing up, and she was happy for him.
"Unless you really don't want me to go..."
"No, I think you should go," she said sincerely. "You deserve this trip after everything."
"Okay," he said noncommittally. "I will miss you. I've gotten used to seeing you all the time again."
She had a sudden thought. "What if I came with you?"
He looked at her skeptically. "Even though Lily covertly called my travel agent and upgraded all my tickets to first class, I'm not sure it's really something you'd enjoy," he said carefully. "For instance, do you really want to go on an African safari with me and Nate or whitewater rafting down the Nile?"
Blair had a vision of Dan and Nate, riding in a Jeep, dressed in matching khaki shorts and t-shirts. Dan would smile fondly as Nate's pointed at the animals, his eyes lighting up like a child's. While the image made her smile, she knew it wasn't something she'd likely enjoy.
"Probably not," she admitted. "It would also set my powerful woman plans back another year."
"We couldn't have that," he agreed. "What do you think you want to do?"
"Obviously, I need to go back to school," she said. It had pained her when Dan graduated, knowing she should have been wearing a cap and gown and attending her own graduation. "I'm hoping to really push myself and get done in less than two years. It was bad enough when you graduated before me; I can't let Nate get his degree first."
"Don't tell Nate it's a competition," Dan advised. "He's surprisingly competitive at times."
"Could you try and distract him and keep him past the Africa leg of your trip?"
Dan laughed. "While I love you, I am not going to sabotage Nate for you."
Dan smile dropped as soon as he realized what he'd said. While it was said casually, the words had come out with an affection and tenderness that left no doubt as to his sincerity. Dan's gaze shifted to the counter.
"You can take it back," she told him. She knew it could never really be taken back, but she didn't want him to be uncomfortable with so much uncertainty still surrounding them.
He slowly lifted his gaze. "I don't want to," he said firmly. "Trying to squelch my feelings only made me miserable."
"Then don't," she said softly. He let out a resigned laugh, knowing he wasn't going to hear the words in return. "I'm sorry..." she started, not quite sure what she was apologizing for. Everything about their relationship had confused her for so long, it was hard to realize that so many of their obstacles were in the past. It made it difficult for her to sort everything out.
He stood up, taking a step toward her. She looked up at him from her position on the bar stool.
"Don't be sorry. I know you're in a different place," he said, seemingly sincere. "While you know about my love of words, I do think actions speak louder than words. Your actions these past few weeks have shown me how you feel, even if you can't vocalize it yet."
He leaned forward and kissed her without hesitation, surprising her. He pulled back before she could respond, looking at her to gauge her reaction. Before he had a chance to stand back up, she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him firmly. He responded immediately, leaning his body forward and wrapping his arms around her back to support her on the stool. She heard herself moan when he began to explore her mouth with a determination that hadn't been there in the past. Eventually he pulled back, both of them breathless.
"So, I would never ask you how much you weigh, but I'm guessing it's more than 20 pounds," he said into her ear.
She gave a surprised laugh. "Just a pound or two more. What did you have in mind?"
"What I would really like is to have just lifted you in my arms and taken you to my room without saying a word," he said, his voice an octave deeper than she was used to. "That apparently isn't in the cards."
She leaned forward and kissed him briefly. "Are you sure you're up for this?" she asked.
She could tell he really wanted to respond with something suggestive, but he merely raised his eyebrows and smirked at her choice of words. She rolled her eyes.
"What I meant to say was, what did the doctor say about strenuous activities?"
"He said I shouldn't try and climb any mountains, but otherwise just to listen to my body."
She couldn't help but rub her hand suggestively up and down his chest. "So, what is your body saying?" she asked.
"It's saying that it would really like it if I tested its limits." He kissed her again briefly, and then waited for her response before moving forward.
"So, do you want to go for a jog? I can call Nate for you," she teased, letting her hand slip underneath his shirt to stroke the bare skin of his chest.
She saw his eyes darken at her touch. "While I hate to be the one to relent in this little tease, I'm going to just be blunt," he said. "I would really like it if you would follow me to my bedroom, where I hope my body will cooperate and allow us to finally consummate this relationship of ours."
He held out his hand in invitation, which she accepted immediately and stood up. "Don't worry, I'll go easy on you," she said with a cheeky grin as she let him lead her to his bedroom.
Afterwards, she rested her head contentedly on his chest, his hand lightly stroking her back the only sign that he was still awake.
"If you need to go back to sleep, I won't be offended," she told him.
He chuckled, craning his head to kiss her lightly. "It's very possible I'll be nodding off soon, but I'm doing okay right now."
"Just okay?" she asked, smiling into his chest. He rolled over on his side, propping his arm on his elbow so he could look at her. She mimicked his position, and they exchanged goofy grins.
"I'm probably a notch or two above okay," he teased. His smile faded a little and he let out a nervous laugh. "Hopefully I'll get my stamina back soon and you won't have to bail me out in the end."
"You know I'm always happy to take over," she told him reassuringly. "Either way, I'm also a notch or two above okay."
Blair felt inexplicably giddy and light. While there had been some awkward fumbling, and she had to do most of the work after Dan started to tire soon after they started, she still felt blissfully content lying here with him. It felt so freeing to be this close to him, naked in his bed in broad daylight.
Dan reached his hand over toward her and stroked her face softly. "I'm really glad you're here," he said simply.
"Me too," she said softly. Her blissfulness started to fade slightly as reality set in. They had never really decided anything about the future. She forced herself to be brave and address the elephant in the room. "So, what happens now?" she asked hesitantly.
"I don't know," he answered honestly. "I do have a suggestion, part of which I was working on this morning when you found me in the office."
"You were planning this all along?" she asked teasingly.
"Well, not really this," he said, gesturing at the two of them. "I did hope that we'd discuss what we wanted moving forward. I just let us get a little distracted."
She giggled. "I'm sorry."
"There is absolutely no need to apologize," he said. "If I were at full strength, I'd tell you to feel free to distract me again right now."
"So, what's your plan?" she asked, rolling her eyes.
"My suggestion," he corrected her. "A plan would indicate that I don't want your input."
"Fine, what's your suggestion?"
He looked at her seriously. "I think we both need some time right now to get our lives in order. I think I need this trip to clear my head before figuring out the rest of my life. I think you need to sort out some things as well."
"So, where does that leave us? At an impasse still?"
"I think it leaves us in a bit of a precarious state," he said nervously. "I don't know about you, but I don't want anyone else. But I think I really need to take this trip, and to do it without you."
"I don't want to be with anyone else either," she said, somewhat surprised at how easily the words came out and how much she meant them. "I need to focus on school more than anything right now, as tempting as whitewater rafting down the Nile is."
"So, that leads me to my suggestion," he said. "I think we spend the next ten months or so living our lives as we've been doing, keeping in touch with no pressure. I know this is the point in the relationship where you expect an engagement ring, but I'm not quite ready for that."
She gave him a light slap on the shoulder. "Just when I think I'm going to miss you, you give me reasons why I won't," she admonished him.
He smirked, and continued on with his thoughts. "I think we know where we stand, but I know things could change with time and distance," he said. She smiled softly, thinking about how time and distance strangely had seemed to only make them grow closer. "This morning, I bought you a ticket to Barcelona, where I plan to be for two weeks during your Christmas break."
"You want me to come to see you in Spain?" she said, grinning wide.
"There's no one else I'd rather enjoy the architecture and art with," he said sincerely. "Up until then, I want us to still talk, but I want to table any decisions about our future until then. I don't want us to do anything rash with you just out of your marriage and me recovering from a near death experience I haven't really processed."
"What if I'm not ready to make any decisions by then?" she asked hesitantly.
"Then we'll make them when you're ready," he said confidently. "To be clear, this is an offer, not an ultimatum."
"When you say you don't want to discuss our future until then, does that mean you want all our conversations to remain completely friendly?" she asked suggestively.
He leaned forward and kissed her soundly, pulling back sooner than she would have liked. "I think we can broaden the topics during our phone conversations," he said agreeably.
"How about video chats?"
His eyes went wide, and Blair smirked. "Yes," he said in a somewhat strangled voice. "We definitely don't have to be completely friendly when we video chat."
"Then I think I like the sound of your suggestion," she said, leaning forward to kiss him again.
"You have your passport?" she asked for the tenth time. "Both of you?"
"Yes, Blair," Dan said mockingly. "We have our passports."
"And you definitely have power adapters? I'd hate for you to blow out your hair dryer or something."
Nate rolled his eyes. "Blair, I've been overseas before. Plus, I doubt either of us will need a hair dryer in Africa."
"But what about your razors?"
"I didn't even bring a razor," Dan said with a deadpan expression. "I thought I'd grow out a beard. I'm curious how long it could get."
She was pretty sure he was kidding. "Well, then you can forget any video chatting," she said just to be safe.
"Fine, I guess I'll go ahead and shave," he said, leaning down and kissing her, perhaps a bit more passionately than was appropriate for the airport.
"I'd say get a room, but I think we'd miss our flight," Nate said. Dan and Blair broke apart sheepishly.
"I think I'm going to go ahead and go through security and shop for some magazines," Nate said. He stepped forward and gave Blair a hug. "I know you're going to be lonely, but don't let Chuck get to you," he whispered in her ear.
"I'm going to be taking too many summer classes to get lonely," she said in a normal tone. "After all, I have to be sure that you don't graduate before me."
Nate raised his eyebrows. "Oh, so it's a competition now," he said, smiling.
"You may want to revise your schedule when you get back," Blair said. "Twelve hours isn't going to hack it."
"Dude, maybe I need to stay back," Nate told Dan.
Dan laughed. "I'll see you at the gate," he said. "Don't forget, we're going to get to see giraffes and baby elephants."
Nate grinned. "That's way better than school, for sure," Nate agreed. He gave them a final wave and walked away.
"So," Dan said, not sure what to say.
"I guess this is goodbye," Blair said, tears springing into her eyes.
"It's more of an hasta luego than an adios," Dan said. "That being said, I'm going to miss you." He pulled her into his arms and kissed her softly on the mouth.
"I'll see you in Barcelona," Blair said firmly.
Dan's eyes misted, a soft smile on his face. "I hope so."
"You know they speak Catalan in Barcelona, not Spanish," Blair said, unable to resist.
Dan let out an exaggerated sigh. "They speak Spanish too. There are two official languages; Catalan is just more common." he said, smiling. "Either way, the sentiment remains, even if I don't know how to say 'goodbye' or 'see you later' in Catalan."
She kissed him again, then pulled out of his embrace. "Hasta luego," she said with a small wave.
"Hasta luego," he said, returning her wave. He wiped at his eyes and smiled at her one last time before turning and heading toward security.
Blair walked back to the town car, a wistful smile on her face. She was eager to get home and read about hotels in Barcelona. There was no way she was going to let him choose where they were staying.