Author's notes: So, this was intended to be a one shot. Somehow, it ended up being much more in depth than I had initially intended, so I'm looking at three chapters. This is the first time I've dabbled with Serena's POV, and I'll admit I found it challenging. She's hard to pin down. Please review, as I know this is really different from what I've done before and I'm curious to see if it works for you.
This time, Blair kept Serena in the loop about her friendship with Dan. While Serena had previously thought that she was hurt by their secrecy, she quickly discovered there were other emotions at work as well.
"S, I can't believe you're dragging this California whim of yours on so long," Blair whined over the phone. "I'm stuck dragging Dan Humphrey along with me to scout out venues."
"Dan's helping you with the wedding planning?" Serena asked, puzzled. She wasn't sure what was stranger: that Blair would request Dan's help or that Dan was a willing participant. "B, you're not blackmailing him or anything, are you?"
"Of course not," Blair huffed. "He told me this summer that if I needed any help when I got back to New York, that I could rely on him."
"You know he was probably just saying that to be nice," Serena said skeptically. Serena contemplated the other piece of information in that sentence. "Did you guys keep in touch this summer?"
"Well, Humphrey should learn to not be so nice," Blair said tersely, and then paused for a beat. "In answer to your other question, Dan and I are still friends so of course we talk."
Serena hadn't heard from Dan all summer outside of a couple of friendly e-mails, though admittedly things were pretty awkward between them when Serena left for L.A. There was no animosity, but they weren't quite right either.
Serena wanted to probe further into these conversations between Dan and Blair, wanting to know if Blair spoke to Dan as much as she spoke to her. She tried to imagine what they even talked about, seeing as how previously Serena had been the only thing they had in common. Blair had made it clear before that she and Dan shared a connection, one which Serena couldn't understand.
"I'm glad you have someone to keep you company in the city, B," Serena said, hoping she sounded sincere. "I should give Dan a call and talk to him about the painstaking process of adapting a great novel into a screenplay." Serena couldn't help but mention what she was doing in L.A., reminding Blair that she wasn't just flitting around anymore.
"Oh, Humphrey would never deign to be a screenwriter," Blair said, sounding like this was a conversation that she and Dan had had numerous times. "It's too structured for him."
"Oh," Serena said, trying not to sound disappointed. "I can see that. I've actually been really enjoying it, seeing what movies are like behind the scenes."
"You aren't sad about losing some of the illusions?" Blair asked. "I think seeing what goes on behind the scenes would take away some of the magic."
Serena knew Blair well enough to know that there was more to that comment than meets the eye, but she decided not to press the issue.
"I just like being a part of something, you know?" Serena tried to explain. "Like, in each scene in a movie there are fifty people who helped make that moment happen, and everyone can pinpoint their role."
"You don't secretly wish you were the star?" Blair asked. Serena held back a sigh, wondering if they would ever stop having this same conversation.
"No, I don't need to be the star. I just like feeling important," Serena said truthfully.
When the movie shoot ended, Serena was out of a job and out of excuses to remain in L.A. She opted to stay with her mother, knowing that there would be a wedding planning frenzy at Blair's. Plus, it didn't make much sense to move back in when Blair would be moving to Monaco so soon.
Upon her return, her mother had insisted on hosting a family brunch. Somehow Eric had managed to bail out at the last second, so family brunch somehow consisted of her mom, Rufus and Dan. (Eric had texted her that they should meet up for lunch the next week, but that he just couldn't take their mom right now as she entered the home stretch of her house arrest.)
Serena lounged in the living room as they waited for Dan to arrive. She was looking forward to seeing him, largely because she knew her mother would be on the offensive about college and Dan generally was a good buffer. She also felt that he might be the one person who would support her today when she announced that she wanted to start applying to film schools. There was a part of her that liked that they could be comrades in pursuing the arts, even if Dan's interests were more respected because they had been around longer.
The elevator dinged, signaling Dan's arrival. Serena moved from the living to greet him as he entered. When she reached the foyer, she was surprised to find that Dan was not alone.
"I brought a surprise guest," Dan said happily. Standing beside him was Blair, who looked a little sheepish.
To the untrained eye, there was nothing amiss about Blair's appearance. However, Serena could see that Blair did not quite look like her usually impeccable self. Her skirt was slightly wrinkled, and her makeup seemed imprecise. Serena noticed that her eyes looked slightly puffy, and something seemed off in general. Deciding that this was one of those moments to not press Blair about whatever was bothering her, Serena smiled wide and moved to embrace her best friend.
"B, I'm so glad you're here," Serena said, hugging Blair tight.
"I never thought I'd see the day that I crashed a van der Humphrey brunch," Blair said as she pulled out of their embrace. "I'm guessing waffles are on the menu, Humphrey?"
Dan just rolled his eyes and ignored her. Serena grinned, strangely pleased that this strange new friendship hadn't changed their general dynamic. She had feared that their friendship would make them almost unrecognizable to her when they were in each other's presence. She caught Dan's eye and smiled at him shyly, not knowing quite how to greet him. One hand, it was family brunch and he was family, so it shouldn't be so awkward. On the other hand, he was her ex and they'd spent several weeks at odds before she'd left town. Of course, the fact that he was her ex and that he as family would likely always be some source of awkwardness, as they had kept the lines pretty blurred.
Luckily, Dan set the tone for her and shot her his full-fledged grin, opening his arms wide. She stepped easily into his embrace. "I'm just going to ignore Blair for now so that I can greet you properly," he said into her ear, but loud enough that Blair could hear.
"S, tell Humphrey that this is not how you treat a guest," Blair said, crossing her arms over her chest, a hint of a smile crossing her face which contradicted her haughty tone.
"I don't live here either," Dan reminded Blair as he stepped out of the hug, moving to Serena's side and putting an affectionate arm around her. "Serena is really the hostess."
"Hey, I'm the guest of honor," Serena protested, grinning as she gave Dan a playful slap on the chest. Serena noticed a small frown flit across Blair's face, but it was gone in an instant, replaced by a wide smile that didn't quite reach her eyes.
"Humphrey, just go fetch us some mimosas and we'll meet you at the table," Blair ordered.
Serena expected some sarcastic remark about Blair not being royalty yet, but Dan just half-heartedly rolled his eyes and gave them a soft smile. "Okay, you guys catch up. I'll see you at the table."
Blair made no motions to move further into the apartment. "It is okay that I'm here, right? Humphrey said it would be okay..." Blair trailed off, looking at the ground.
Serena was confused by Blair's hesitance. It was unlike her to say the least. "Of course it's okay. You know you're always welcome here, B."
Blair smiled faintly and grabbed Serena's hands. Serena looked down at their joined hands, and suddenly the puzzle pieces came together. "B, where's your engagement ring?" Serena asked, concerned. She had a feeling it wasn't being refitted or cleaned.
"Probably somewhere over the Atlantic," Blair said dryly. "Louis and I broke off the engagement last night." Serena looked at her closely, trying to gauge where Blair's mood was. Blair wasn't blithely brushing off her emotions like she sometimes did, as there was definitely a note of sadness in her voice, but she didn't look like she was going to fall apart like Serena might have expected.
"Are you okay?" Serena asked tentatively, not sure if Blair was close to the edge or not.
Blair nodded. "I think so. I'm glad I'm here with friends," Blair said sincerely. "Don't tell Humphrey I told you this, but he was right to drag me along with him."
Blair's words stung a bit, as it sounded like Dan was the first person who Blair confided in. Before Serena could press any further, Dan came in holding two mimosas.
"Lily insisted I come fetch you both," Dan said, handing them their drinks. "Blair, I need to tell Serena something really fast. Can you go tell Lily we're coming?"
Blair shot him a questioning look, but acquiesced. Alone now, Dan turned to Serena.
"I assume Blair told you," Dan said quietly. Serena nodded, though Blair really hadn't told her much.
"I'm worried about her," Dan said, his eyes expressing his concern. "She won't tell me many details. I had to drag her out of the loft this morning to come with me."
Before Serena could digest the news that Blair had apparently been at the loft this morning, possibly after spending the night there, Dan spoke again.
"So, I have a plan," Dan said, smiling slyly. Serena couldn't help but smile back, even though she hadn't ever seen quite that look on Dan's face before. It sort of reminded her of Blair's scheming face. "I have a feeling you want to avoid talking about your future, and I know Blair would rather not talk about her broken engagement. I think the best course of action is to get my dad talking about his band. Once he gets going, there's really no stopping him."
Serena hid her disappointment, as she had actually been gearing herself up to talk about her future, hoping to have Dan's support. She didn't really want to table the discussion, but she knew it would be awkward to have any huge blowout with her mother in front of Blair today. Resigned, Serena returned his grin.
"When did you get so manipulative?" Serena asked, nudging him with her shoulder. "I think Blair's rubbing off on you."
Dan chuckled and nudged her back. "As I told you a year ago, adapt or die."
The brunch turned out to be more fun than Serena could have imagined. She and Dan successfully managed to keep the conversation on Rufus and his band, exchanging playful looks each time they redirected the conversation back to Rufus. After about twenty minutes of this, Blair caught on and joined in, Rufus oblivious the whole time. At one point, Serena glanced over at her mother, who in return gave her a knowing look and polished off her mimosa.
After brunch, Blair opted to stick around so she and Serena could catch up. They walked Dan to the elevator, where he fidgeted nervously as he waited for it to arrive. He tilted his head and shot them his familiar half-grin.
"So, uh, I guess I'll see you both around?"
"I suppose," Blair said crisply, a hint of a smile on her face as their eyes met.
"I'm sure my mom will want to do brunch every Sunday, at least until the house arrest is over," Serena said lightly, Dan and Blair breaking eye contact at the sound of Serena's voice. "I'm sure next week will be all about my future, so it would be great if you could really screw up this week to take some of the pressure off."
This caused Dan to fidget even more and look at the ground. "I'll work on that," he said with a nervous chuckle. A look of relief crossed his face when the elevator arrived.
"You two have fun catching up," Dan said with a final wave before the elevator doors closed.
"What was that all about?" Serena asked, staring at the elevator doors.
"I don't know," Blair said, looking puzzled and concerned.
Serena and Blair sat in Serena's room, working to polish off the leftover champagne from breakfast. Blair had been mostly quiet, letting Serena tell stories about her time in L.A., many of which Blair had already heard over the phone. Serena was glad that Blair seemed more relaxed now, the champagne beginning to lighten the mood. Now that Blair's engagement was off, she had a proposition for Blair.
"So, I ran into my cousin Charlie right before I left L.A.," Serena said hesitantly.
Blair's eyebrows shot up. "Did she follow you there?"
Honestly, Serena hadn't even thought about the possibility. "No, I just ran into her on the street. She's been living there."
"Why didn't she contact CeCe?" Blair asked skeptically.
"She told me she didn't want it to get back to her mom. She seemed to be doing well."
"Just so long as she stays on her meds," Blair scoffed.
"Anyhow," Serena started, not wanting to diverge too far into a conversation about her cousin's previous mental break. "She said she wants to come back to New York soon. While we made up after the Constance fundraiser thing, it would be really awkward for us to live together, you know?"
"Are you trying to ask me if you can move back into your old room?" Blair asked, raising an eyebrow. Serena nodded her head, waiting for Blair's response. "Of course you can come back. I'd love to have you," Blair finally said, smiling softly and drawing her into a hug.
"Good," Serena said, feeling relieved. "I'm pretty sure my mom would drive me crazy."
Three days later, Serena was safely ensconced at Blair's once again. Serena felt lighter than she had since her return, feeling things were slowly returning to normal. It was also nice to avoid her mother's disapproving gaze. Serena still hadn't brought up her plans for the future, and strangely her mother hadn't asked, perhaps being afraid to ask a question she didn't want the answer to.
On her first day officially living at Blair's, Serena was pleasantly surprised when Eric dropped in. They had tentatively made plans to grab lunch the next day, but she was excited to see her brother again after so much time apart.
"How's Sarah Lawrence treating you?" Blair asked, sitting down after giving Dorota orders to bring them snacks.
"Good," Eric said distractedly. Serena immediately grew concerned, hoping Eric wasn't having problems again like the last time she'd left.
She reached her hand over from her side of the couch to grab his, squeezing his hand gently. "You know you can tell me if things aren't going well," Serena said, the fear creeping into her voice.
"I'm fine, really," Eric said, shaking his head. Serena was happy he didn't pull his hand away, glad to maintain the connection with her brother. "I'm actually here because Dan sent me."
Eric reached into his messenger bag and pulled out two envelopes, handing one to each of them. He then pulled two hardbound books out of his bag, grimacing slightly before he distributed those as well.
"So, I'm just going to let you guys digest all this on your own," Eric said, hesitating for a moment. "Just, when you're done, you may want to go easy on the guy. He's currently researching plane tickets to Southeast Asia."
With that, Eric gave Serena's hand a light squeeze and stood up. "See you at lunch tomorrow?" Eric asked.
"Sure," Serena said distractedly, looking down at the book and the envelope in her lap. "Inside, by Anonymous," the cover read.
"Do you know anything about this?" Serena asked after Eric had left.
Blair shook her head. "No, this is the first I've heard about this," Blair said distantly, staring down at the envelope which had Blair's name scrawled across it in Dan's familiar handwriting.
"So...I guess I'm going to go to my room and read," Serena said, standing up.
"Yeah, me too," Blair said, looking dazed.
When Serena got to her room, she opened the envelope first and found a short, hastily written letter.
I apologize in advance for what you are about to read. Please know that everything is loosely based on my life, and sometimes the characters' actions and traits were influenced by how I felt in the moment. I never wanted this to see the light of day; all of you are too important to me. You are too important to me. It was something I wrote just for me, trying to work through my ambivalence about the world around me that is now my world too.
Please never doubt that I did truly see you, even if my words may make you think otherwise. Every word I spoke to you was the truth; that is a fact. The book is fiction, even if it's not completely fictitious.
I hope you can forgive me,
Serena felt her eyes mist over at his words, and she looked warily at the book, not wanting it to ruin the impact of what he'd written in his note. With a sigh, she began reading, knowing she couldn't dawdle because Blair was a much faster reader, and would likely come storming in the second she finished the book.
About four hours later, Serena's received a text message from Blair. Serena smiled before she opened, proud of the restraint Blair was showing my not barging in. Come to my room when you finish the book, the message said. Serena sighed. She was about three-quarters done, and she wasn't exactly eager to discuss it with Blair.
Serena had opened the book with great trepidation, worrying that Dan would expose some secrets or take out hidden resentments on her. What she read was even more disturbing. While the protagonist was initially had idolized the Sabrina character for her golden looks and charm, it was her best friend Claire who possessed more depth from the very beginning. "Sabrina" was flighty, breezing through life without a care in the world. She remained sunny and charming throughout, but she wasn't engaging. On the other hand, there was a depth to Claire that made her far more interesting.
Beyond all that, the thing that bothered Serena the most was that every character, including "Dave", the narrator, were clearly very loosely based on the people in their lives, except for "Claire". Claire embodied Blair, both good and bad, and stood out as the one character who felt like a real person. In the book, Serena recognized their friends and family in the same way she would if she saw a picture of them drawn by a caricature artist. Dan had even painted Dave as being far more brooding than Dan, spending his free time reading nihilistic poetry, smoking cigarettes and drinking black coffee. Reading Dan's description of his own character made her feel somewhat better about her own portrayal, as she couldn't imagine herself falling for Dave, but Sabrina was flighty enough to think that his moroseness was sexy.
When Serena finished the book, she didn't quite know what to make of it. Dave had fallen in love with Claire, only for his love to be unrequited as Claire eloped with the son of a powerful politician. Serena had to smile at this part; apparently Blair's real life was too unbelievable to accurately portray even in a satire of UES excess. In the end, Dave left the UES for good, deciding to move to San Francisco where he could start fresh and write morbid poetry on a different coast.
Closing the book, Serena sighed. She didn't really feel like talking to Blair about the book right now, but she knew there was no avoiding it. She got up and opened the door to the bathroom, where she found Blair's door unsurprisingly open.
"What the hell is wrong with Humphrey?" Blair said tersely when Serena entered.
Serena shrugged, not sure precisely what part of it Blair was focused on. "He's just a writer, I suppose," Serena said carefully. She was trying hard to be understanding, especially considering her recent career aspirations. She tried to remind herself that she liked it back when Dan considered her to be his muse; she should not find it a violation that he used her in his writing later on.
"Right, I forgot that you're a writer now too," Blair said snidely, rolling her eyes. Serena bristled at the not-so-veiled insult.
"Why are you so upset?" Serena asked, moving to sit beside Blair on the bed.
"Imagine if I was still engaged to Louis and this got out there," Blair complained.
"But you're not," Serena said calmly, deciding this was one of those moments that Blair needed to be reminded of reality. Serena braced herself for the awkwardness of confronting the elephant in the room, but she needed to know for herself where Blair's head was. "Are you upset that Dave was in love with Claire?"
"Of course I'm upset about that. Then he had to make me into the selfish heartbreaker on top of it all." Serena was surprised by how hurt Blair was. She had perhaps expected some anger over him writing about the UES like he did, but she hadn't been prepared for Blair to be hurt, especially because the book wasn't even hurtful toward her character.
"I don't think that's how he meant that," Serena said, feeling weird about defending Dan to Blair. Serena took a deep breath, preparing herself to say what she needed to say, even if it hurt. "I don't know how much of Dave's feelings are fictional; maybe they are completely made up. But it's clear that Dan sees all sides of you, and he still thought highly enough of you to make you the center of his novel."
"I am kind of the star, aren't I?" Blair said, a small smile forming on her face.
"If I were writing the screenplay, your character would definitely be considered the protagonist," Serena agreed, then returned Blair's smile. "Yes, you would definitely be the star of the movie."
Blair's smile faded quickly, and she looked down at her hands. "S, if it turned out that Dan actually had those feelings, would we be okay?" Blair asked in a soft voice, sounding scared.
"Would those feelings be returned?" Serena asked, nervous about the answer.
"I don't know," Blair said, her eyes beginning to fill with tears. "He's Humphrey."
Serena couldn't help but smile at Blair's succinct explanation of her confusion. Serena wasn't sure what to tell Blair. She'd be lying if she told Blair everything would be okay if Dan and Blair started dating. However, she had a feeling things might not be okay if she stood in the way of their relationship, assuming things would even go that far.
"Blair, I wouldn't be mad if you and Dan got together, not if your feelings are real," Serena said honestly. "But I can't tell you that things wouldn't be weird for awhile. It's Dan, you know?" She said Dan's name affectionately, trying to encapsulate their whole relationship in the one syllable of his name.
"It's funny, I used to say Nate's name exactly like that," Blair said pointedly.
Serena sighed, deciding she would resist taking the bait this time. After all, Blair was right.
"You should go talk to Dan," Serena said, surprised by her own words. "I'd hate to think he's halfway to Phuket by now."
"Are you sure?" Blair asked tentatively.
Serena sighed. She wasn't even remotely sure about anything, but that was nothing new. "Just tell me one thing," Serena said, thinking about Blair's earlier comment. "This thing with Dan...it's not about getting back at me because of Nate, is it?" Serena watched as Blair posture stiffened, her face turning into an impassive mask.
"Not everything's about you Serena," Blair snapped.
"I know," Serena said, not bothering to add that Dan devoted 250 pages to showing her just how true that was. "I just don't want to see him get hurt."
"I'm sure he'd appreciate your concern," Blair said sarcastically. "And before you ask your natural follow-up, I'm not using Dan as part of some game with Chuck."
Serena stood up from the bed, exhausted from reading the book and this conversation. She wasn't sure when she'd become the villain. However, she would be lying if she said the thought hadn't crossed her mind that Blair's relationship with Dan was somehow connected to Chuck's hatred of Dan.
"You know Blair, just do whatever you want to do," Serena said, her patience wearing thin. "We've already established that it's not about me."
When Blair didn't say anything in rebuttal, Serena returned to her room. She picked up Dan's letter, reading his words to her over and over. She believed he was being sincere about seeing her, but his book made it clear that she was no longer his muse. She was ashamed at the sense of loss she felt at knowing her role in Dan's life was diminished. Now Blair was his source of inspiration, and possibly more.
A half hour later, Serena heard a tentative knock on her door. "Come in," Serena said tiredly, ready for the day to be over. Blair walked in, wearing her robe and looking like she'd been crying.
"I broke my engagement partially because of Dan," Blair said, her eyes misting back up. Serena was stunned speechless by this admission, allowing Blair to continue without interruption. "He wasn't the only reason, but when I came back to New York I saw things more clearly. When I was in Monaco, I would feel a rush of anticipation the entire day when I knew Humphrey was due to call that night. After we talked, I would start to miss home. When I came back, even though I saw Humphrey virtually every day, I still wanted it to be him on the other end when my phone rang. I realized that I didn't really miss Louis even though he was an ocean away, but I missed Dan at night even though he was just in Brooklyn. So, I broke off my engagement."
Serena was still speechless, trying to process this information. She knew how hard it was for Blair to admit all of this out loud, and she didn't want to discourage her because Blair could close back down at the drop of a hat.
"You should really talk to him, B," Serena finally said, feeling slightly magnanimous. Even though Blair made it clear that this wasn't about her, Serena felt that if she tried to encourage Blair, even if it hurt, that it might go a long way toward repairing old wounds that had never truly been healed.
"I probably should put the poor guy out of his misery," Blair said, a grin slowly forming on her face. Serena wasn't exactly sure if she meant that she would tell him how she felt about the book or how she felt about Dan, or if she was just planning on seducing him. Either way, Serena felt like she knew as much as she wanted to know.
"Good luck," Serena said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster.
"Thanks, S," Blair said, looking grateful.
After she heard Blair leave the penthouse, Serena picked up her phone. She contemplated giving Dan a quick call, but decided she wasn't quite ready to talk to him. She texted him instead.
Mom and Rufus will hate the book. Thank you for taking the pressure off of me.
Serena set her phone down beside her, smiling when her phone vibrated in return almost instantly.
I did the best I could. What about you?
Serena looked at her phone, not sure how she felt. She did know that she wasn't going to cut him out over this.
I have your back if you have mine.
With that, Serena shut off her phone for the night. She figured Blair would be at the loft soon enough.
As Serena laid in bed trying to sleep, she felt a mix of anticipation and dread. While Dan and Blair's relationship wasn't about her, she hoped they would both realize their relationship affected her. She knew that no matter what happened between the two of them tonight, things were going to be different tomorrow.