Author's notes: Thank you all for your patience with this story. As most of you probably know, I just did a huge move for a new job, so life has been something of an adjustment for me as well. However, I am happy to finally have this chapter done. I struggled with this chapter for awhile, but I like it for the most part. It's been an interesting ride to try and write from Serena's POV-I hope it worked. Please let me know what you think-I hope it was at least relatively worth the wait.
It wasn't until Serena paid the cab driver that the thought occurred to her that Dan may not be alone. Serena took a breath and steeled herself for the possibility of Blair's presence. She knew Blair would understand how upset she was, but she was also sure she wouldn't appreciate her coming straight to the loft in her distress.
When she arrived at the door, she knocked tentatively. Given the last conversation Serena had with Blair about her recent sexual activities with Dan, she was suddenly terrified of finding them in a compromising position. She felt way too off-balance to try and hide anything from Blair and Dan right now, and she wasn't sure what emotions would come out if she saw the two of them together right now.
Serena nearly passed out from relief when she saw Dan, fully clothed and alone, answer the door. His kind eyes and soft, sympathetic smile were exactly what she needed. Without thinking, she flung herself into his arms, burying her face into his chest. At that moment, the sobs overtook her as Dan gently stroked her back.
"It's going to be okay," Dan said gently.
Serena let herself indulge in the safe feeling she always had when Dan held her, not pulling away for several moments. Finally, she lifted her head and gave Dan a sheepish, sad smile. "I'm sorry I'm such a wreck," she said, completely pulling away and wiping her eyes. Dan closed the door and placed his hand on the small of her back, guiding her inside.
"Why don't you go clean up, and I'll make us some tea," Dan offered.
"Do you have something stronger?" Serena asked.
"I'm afraid hot chocolate or coffee is about as strong as it gets around here right now," he said, shrugging. "Pick your poison."
Serena wasn't entirely sure she believed him, but she decided not to press the issue. "Coffee sounds good."
She went into the bathroom and splashed water on her face. After patting her face dry, she took a look in the mirror at her red face and swollen eyes. There was a time it would have bothered her for Dan to see her like this. There was a time when Blair was the only person who ever saw her so vulnerable, a time when she would have run to the Waldorf penthouse on autopilot in a time of crisis. Now Serena wasn't even sure what she would say to Blair if she saw her.
When Serena emerged, she spotted Dan on the couch with two steaming mugs in front of him. "You didn't even ask me how I wanted my coffee," Serena said with a soft smile as she sat down.
"I assumed you hadn't become a new person overnight," Dan said, returning her smile, clearly trying to feel her out.
"Well, I never thought you would date Blair. People change," Serena said ruefully.
"This is true," Dan admitted. "I remember the first time I met Cece. She scared the shit out of me, but you were glowing so much from her presence that I couldn't tell you how much she clearly hated me on sight. Then the next thing I knew, she was lending me a suit to help win you over at the White Party."
"Your charm has a way of wearing almost anyone down," Serena said affectionately. "Even Grandma."
"She never did warm up to my dad, though," Dan said, chuckling. He paused, reaching for one Serena's hand and squeezing it lightly. "I am really sorry for your loss."
Serena felt the tears start to well up again, and she wiped them away, sniffling. "Thank you," she finally said. She gathered herself a bit, then continued, "So, I take it my mom called you?"
"Yeah," Dan admitted. "She was worried about you, but she thought there was a good chance you'd either come here or go to Blair's. She called me, figuring I might see you either place."
"Did you call her while I was in the bathroom?" Serena asked.
"Yeah," he confessed sheepishly. "I thought the calls might get more frantic in a half hour or so if I didn't."
Serena sighed. She should have figured that Dan's first instinct would be to call her mom.
Dan cleared his throat, and looked down at the couch awkwardly. "That's not the only call I made," he said quietly, still refusing to meet her eyes.
"Surely you know we're not on speaking terms right now," Serena said tersely. "Or maybe you guys have been too busy fucking in closets to talk about how Blair and I had the same exact fight we always have."
Dan bristled at her uncharacteristic crudeness, but continued to look at her sympathetically. "She's your best friend," Dan said simply.
"And your girlfriend, which I'm sure is the main reason you called," Serena said, feeling angry.
"I'm here for you Serena. I always will be," Dan said, meeting her eyes for the first time since he told her he'd called Blair, "but I'm sure you remember what happened the last time I comforted you and we shared a bottle of wine."
"I'd never do that to Blair," Serena protested. "You'd never do that to Blair. Did you think I'd try to come on to you? Do you really think I'm that thoughtless and selfish?"
"Those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it," Dan said quietly. "I hurt two of my best friends that night, and I think in some ways you and I have never been as close since then either, as we had been getting pretty good at being friends and step-siblings before that kiss. Then we messed everything up."
"Do you want me to leave?" Serena asked, purposely misunderstanding him. She knew she was being passive aggressive, but she couldn't help herself. She had wanted the comfort of just being with Dan, without the outside world invading the loft. She had wanted a refuge, but instead she was being hit with more reality.
"You know that's not what I'm saying," Dan said with a frustrated sigh. "But tell me this: on top of everything else you're going through, did you want to explain to Blair why you left the loft completely disheveled tomorrow morning, wearing yesterday's clothes? You know somehow it would end up being a juicy Gossip Girl blast."
"Doesn't she trust you?"
"That's not the point," Dan said. "We love each other, and I know she trusts me to not do anything to hurt her. But with you...there will always be some small part of her that worries about your presence in my life. I wouldn't want to cause her even that tiny moment of doubt, or be the one who comes between you two."
It was Serena's turn to sigh. She hated how Dan and Blair's relationship made her feel like an interloper in what used to be her world.
"It's too late for that," Serena finally said.
"I was afraid of that," Dan admitted. "But it's nothing irreparable at this point, I imagine."
"It might be," Serena said, sobs suddenly wracking her entire body. Dan quickly put his arm around her and drew her close. "I feel like I'm losing everyone that matters...Grandma, Eric barely calls from California, Blair...and you. It's too much."
"Let me tell you a secret," Dan said softly near her ear. "Blair has been getting progressively sadder ever since you stopped talking. She may claim I make her happy, but she needs more than just me. She needs her best friend to be happy, and you need her too. Remember what you did after you told me you loved me for the first time?"
Serena smiled softly at the memory, that awkward boy so different from the man who was holding her now.
"You made me be strong and brave, which we all know isn't my strong suit," Serena heard Blair say from several feet away. Serena jerked upright, trying to extract herself from Dan. She was surprised when Dan didn't even tense up at all or move his arm from around her shoulder.
"Rumor has it that the loft was lacking anything to drink," Blair said, holding up a bottle of wine in each hand.
"Rioja? Is that what we really want to give Serena?" Dan asked teasingly. "I think last time she had too much of that she got married to a con artist."
"It wasn't a real marriage!" Serena protested, swatting Dan lightly.
"But you didn't know that," Dan pointed out.
"Humphrey, go open the wine and start pouring," Blair ordered. Dan rolled his eyes as he stood up, Blair quickly taking his spot.
"You actually trust me to handle the stemware you made me buy?"
"I make exceptions in times of crisis. My best friend needs me," Blair said, making a shooing motion.
"Okay, okay," Dan said, grabbing one of the bottles and heading towards the kitchen. Serena watched Dan fumble around out of the corner of her eye, knowing he was purposely giving them some time alone.
"I'm sorry," Blair said quietly. "I love him, but I love you too."
"I know," Serena said, pulling Blair into a hug. "I'm sorry my instincts took me here. That wasn't fair of me."
"I didn't exactly make it easy for you to come to me," Blair said sheepishly. Blair pulled away from Serena and looked at her closely. "Are you going to be okay? You and CeCe were always so close."
Serena looked at Dan again, who was standing in the kitchen next to three full wine glasses and staring at the two of them, wearing the same look of concern that was currently on Blair's face.
"I think I will be," Serena said, linking her arm through Blair's.
"You can come back now, Humphrey," Blair called out.
"Thanks," Dan said, bringing out a tray with the wineglasses and the remainder of the bottle. He distributed the glasses, then stood facing them. "To family," he said, raising his glass and looking Serena in the eye.
"To family," Serena agreed clinking both their glasses, her eyes misting over, not entirely from sadness this time.
"You know, if Dan and I got married then we would all really be family," Blair mused.
Serena couldn't help but snort into her glass as she saw Dan nearly choke on his wine.
"I think there's some rule that you have to wait at least two years from one engagement to another," Dan stuttered out. He paused, then smirked. "Of course, maybe that rule doesn't apply when you only knew the guy for a week before you got engaged."
"Like that rule you made up is even a thing," Blair said, rolling her eyes.
"Can we just change the subject?" Dan suggested, a slight plea in his voice. Serena laughed, giving Dan a friendly pat on the back. She wasn't sure how talk of Dan and Blair getting married had managed to distract her from her grief, but somehow it had.
"Fine," Blair huffed. She smiled mischievously, raising her eyebrows at Dan. "Do you guys remember the first time Dan ever came to the penthouse? He looked like he had never even seen a cup and saucer before."
"Sorry if some of us drink our hot beverages in normal sized proportions," Dan grumbled. Dan sat down on the other side of Serena and thoughtfully took a sip of wine. He smiled and lightly poked Serena in the ribs. "You know, that part of Inside where Sabrina's grandmother gives that speech? That day, CeCe gave me that speech verbatim..."
When they arrived at the house in Montecito the day before the funeral, Serena's mom distractedly told them to figure out sleeping arrangements and that she and Rufus would take the pool house. As her mom talked to the caterers, Rufus was busy scheduling the will reading with the lawyers.
"Well, I don't think there's enough room for us all," Dan said sarcastically. "I was kind of hoping for a wing to myself."
"Humphrey, will you ever act like you've been around rich people before?" Blair asked exasperatedly.
"There's just always some new level of opulence to discover," Dan said.
"Please," Blair said, rolling her eyes. "The Archibalds will always win that battle."
Serena cleared her throat to get their attention, and they both turned to her sheepishly. She smiled at them hesitantly, knowing her next question was going to make things awkward.
"So, do you guys have any room preferences? There are upstairs and downstairs options, one with a balcony, all of them have huge beds..." Serena said, trailing off.
"I can stay with you, S, if you need me," Blair offered.
"We don't have to stay together," Dan protested at the same.
"You guys are cute," Eric said.
"It's okay, B," Serena said. "I was going to sleep in the room which shares a bathroom with Charlie. I think us Rhodes women should be together."
Serena felt bad when she saw a look of hurt cross Blair's face, but she didn't want her cousin to feel isolated. She could tell Charlie felt even more out of place than Dan, whose earlier commentary about the opulence of the house was more of a Pavlovian response than anything else.
"I'll put you guys at the end of the hall upstairs," Serena said. "That will give you guys a lot of privacy."
"We don't need privacy," Blair said. "We're here for you, not on a romantic getaway."
"It's a nice room. I think you'll like it," Serena said, ignoring Blair.
"It sounds lovely," Dan said. "I bet it's bigger than the loft."
"Seriously, Humphrey?" Blair huffed. "Go take our bags to our apparently palatial room."
Serena shot Dan a grateful smile before he walked away, knowing he was just getting a rise out of Blair to take the tension out of the room.
"Eric, I presume you'll take your regular room?"
"Of course," Eric said. "Should I really be worried about sharing a wall with those two though?"
"It can't be worse than sleeping beneath mom and Rufus," Serena teased her brother, watching him grimace at the memory.
"Thanks for that," Eric said dryly. "I suppose that was proper payback for reminding you about Dan and Blair."
"It's okay. It's not like it's a secret that they're together," Serena said, trying to sound nonchalant.
"But you don't need your brother making wisecracks about it, especially today," Eric said sincerely.
"I know you can't help yourself," Serena said.
"I really can't," Eric agreed. Her brother smiled at her, then stepped forward to give her a hug. "You're handling everything so well. I'm so proud of you. Grandma would be too."
"Thank you," Serena said, pulling her brother close. "I really miss you."
"You need to move to California," Eric said.
"Maybe someday," Serena said, the thought not entirely distasteful. She couldn't help but think of that USC acceptance letter sitting in her drawer, which she could never bring herself to decline even though she had been accepted to schools in New York.
That night, Serena lounged with Charlie in their bedroom. Serena could tell her cousin felt out of place, not growing up as a true Rhodes woman like Serena had.
"I wish I knew CeCe better," Charlie said. "From what I know, she seems really nice."
Serena laughed, and smiled at her cousin. "Grandma was called many things. You might be the first to call her nice."
"I'm sorry...I have no clue how to act right now," Charlie said.
"You're here and part of the family," Serena told her sincerely. "All you need to do is be yourself."
Serena couldn't imagine how strange this whole situation was for Charlie. She probably felt obligated to grieve, but couldn't force the emotions for someone she barely knew.
"It's okay if you're not as sad as I am," Serena said, squeezing her cousin's hand. "I'm just so happy to have you in my life now, especially with everything with Dan and Blair and then Eric leaving. It's been nice having someone around who is both family and a friend."
Charlie suddenly looked stricken, and Serena was confused by her reaction. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing...it's just that I have never felt so included in a family," she said. "It's always been just me and my mom."
"Well, now you have us," Serena said decisively.
"Serena..." Charlie said, looking serious. Just then, the door to their room flew open and Dan and Blair entered. Blair was proudly holding a bottle of gin and Dan was carrying a tray with four glasses.
"We were thinking we needed to spend tonight just how CeCe would want us to," Dan said, passing out the glasses and taking the bottle from Blair. "Getting shitfaced and then showing up at the funeral hungover."
Charlie handed the glass back to do Dan and stood up from the bed. "I'm afraid I'm going to sit this one out. Alcohol sometimes mixes poorly with my meds, and I can get...kind of crazy."
Serena held back a laugh as she looked at Dan, who was clearly remembering the last time Charlie had been "kind of crazy."
"Thats...completely understandable," Dan said, taking back the glass and looking at Charlie cautiously.
"I think I'm going to just go to sleep," she said, standing up. "The time change is killing me."
"Goodnight," Blair said tersely, her continuing dislike for Charlie still evident. Serena saw Dan poke her in the ribs with his elbow.
"See you tomorrow, Charlie," Serena said, standing as well to give her cousin a hug.
After Charlie left, Serena sat back down on the bed and Dan opened the bottle of gin, pouring each of them a healthy portion. They each took a swig and grimaced right afterwards.
"Ugh, how does she drink this stuff straight?" Dan asked, looking at the glass like it somehow betrayed him.
"It's not so bad," Blair said, sinking back the rest of her glass. Serena took a sip from hers.
"It gets better as you go," Serena said, shrugging.
Dan looked at them both skeptically. "I think you're ganging up on me," he said, shifting his eyes between the two of them. "There is no way you actually like this stuff."
"Yes, we have nothing better to do than try and make you feel inadequate about your drinking," Blair said, snatching his glass from him and downing it.
"You're going to be so wasted," Dan said, laughing and shaking his head.
"You really are, B," Serena said, smiling.
Dan refilled all their glasses. "Well, I know I've been on a toasting streak, but I do think we owe one to CeCe," he said, raising his glass. They clinked glasses, and Dan grimaced and took a sip from his glass. Serena opted for a slightly longer drink, and again Blair downed hers.
"I think you're going to have your hands full tonight, Dan," Serena told Dan in a serious voice.
"Maybe there's a karaoke bar near here," Dan teased, plopping on the bed beside Serena with Blair rolling her eyes and settling beside Dan.
"Now who's ganging up?" Blair pouted. "Plus, Humphrey, are you really wanting to remind me of my birthday party?"
"I still can't believe you had an actual peace treaty," Dan replied, rolling his eyes at the memory.
"If you're not careful, Serena might be drawing one up for us soon," Blair said.
"How'd we go from engagement talk to peace treaties in the span of three days?" Dan asked, letting out an exaggerated sigh.
"I doubt I'll be writing any peace treaties for the two of you," Serena said quietly, surprising herself with her words. The gin seemed to be loosening her tongue. Dan and Blair both turned to stare at her as though they had forgotten she was in the room.
"Don't be so sure," Blair said, narrowing her eyes at Dan before taking another healthy sip of her drink.
"Thank you, Serena," Dan said sincerely. "Some of us appreciate your support."
An hour later, Blair was passed out, curled into Dan's side. Dan and Serena had been sitting in companionable silence for the past 15 minutes as Serena thought about all the changes they had been through. When Dan and Blair had first gotten together, she had avoided them because it was all too much for her to take. Now she was so grateful they were both here, working as a unit to keep her spirits up after her grandmother's death. It should have felt weird, but somehow it felt perfectly natural to be sitting on a bed with Dan in between her and Blair.
"If your 16 year-old self could see you now," Serena said quietly so as not to disturb Blair.
Dan looked momentarily startled that she had broken the silence, but then he chuckled softly in response.
"I know, right? It's all pretty remarkable," Dan said softly. "I don't think I've ever said it, but thank you for bringing me into your world."
Serena raised an eyebrow. "You don't sometimes wish you'd stuck with your instinct to run for the hills after the Bass brunch?"
Dan laughed and shook his head. "Maybe I did a few times, but it shaped where I am today. Without you being open to that awkward boy from Brooklyn, I wouldn't have had the material for my book. I certainly wouldn't be with Blair right now, and I wouldn't be friends with Nate...or you."
"Thank you," Serena said, feeling touched. She was never quite sure how Dan felt about emerging as an insider in the UES world. She always thought he was ambivalent about things at best.
"I think I want to go to USC for film school," she blurted.
"That's a big decision," Dan said evenly. "We'd miss you."
"I'd miss you too. I'd miss New York. But...I think I am ready to forge my own path."
"I can understand that," Dan said. "Just make sure it's not just an impulsive reaction to CeCe's death, wanting to seize the day and all that."
"It's not," Serena said. She paused, not sure how she wanted to phrase what she had to say next. "Nothing's set in stone or anything. I wanted to tell you first, as I will need your support when I talk to the family...and Blair."
"You know I'm here," Dan told her, and Serena could tell he meant it.
"And you'll be here for Blair? With her family all in Europe, she's going to get lonely."
"Of course," Dan said. "And for the record, I'm really proud of you. I know Blair will be too...and your mom."
Serena wished she had Dan's confidence. Suddenly, the late hour and the alcohol sunk in, and Serena felt exhausted.
"You should probably wake Blair and go to bed," Serena told him.
"You know, I think I'll just extricate myself and not wake her. Blair seems pretty content right here," Dan said. "Besides, I think you need your best friend tonight."
Dan slowly lifted Blair up off his side without waking her and scooted down and off the bed. He pulled Blair's shoes off and covered her with a blanket, kissing her affectionately on the forehead before walking towards the door. "Goodnight," he said from the doorway. "If you need me, you know where to find me."
The next morning, as Serena emerged from her shower in a robe, Blair blinked blearily awake.
"Ugh, what time is it?" she asked groggily.
"It's still three hours before we have to be anywhere. With the time change, it just feels a lot later," Serena reassured her as she sat on the bed next to Blair.
"When did Dan leave?" Blair asked, confused. "And why did you guys let me drink so much?"
"Dan left around midnight, and he didn't have the heart to wake you," Serena explained. "And you were drinking like you had something to prove, or you needed some courage."
"Ugh, could the California sun be any brighter?" Blair complained.
"B, is something bothering you?"
"I'm fine," Blair said quickly. "My head hurts and the sun's too bright, but it's nothing a little coffee can't cure. How are you? Are you ready for today?"
Serena nodded, surprised at how well she was doing. She hadn't really dealt much with death, but she was holding up better than she might expected. "I think so. Grandma's been sick for awhile, and I'm glad she didn't suffer for too long. She lived a full life, and certainly made her presence felt," Serena said with an affectionate smile.
"That she did," Blair said, smiling for the first time that morning. "I used to love going to the Hamptons house with you when we were kids. I remember how happy you'd be every time she'd visit."
"And how frantic my mom would be, which just made it all the more fun," Serena said laughingly an then felt a pang in her chest. "Of course, that would be those rare times my mom didn't take off with whichever boyfriend or stepdad she was with at the time, leaving us with Grandma."
"CeCe made us our first martinis," Blair reminisced, moving closer and leaning her head against Serena's shoulders.
"Grandma could sure mix a drink," Serena recalled, smiling. It was funny that her grandmother could make such a good martini considering she preferred her drinks neat.
"Do you ever miss those times, when we were younger? Everything seemed easier," Blair said a bit wistfully.
Serena thought about it for a moment, then shook her head. In many ways, things really hadn't been simpler for her back then. But, she could understand why Blair would feel that way. In their youth, Blair had her whole future mapped out, and two parents who could be distant but clearly loved her. Now, her family was scattered and she was with Dan, someone 14 year-old Blair would never have even spoken to, let alone dated.
"No. I like who I am now better," Serena said honestly. "Just think, back then we didn't even know who Dan Humphrey was."
Blair smiled and was about to respond when there was a soft knock on the door. Slowly, the door opened and Dan entered, carrying a tray with coffee and food.
"Your ears must have been burning," Serena said, smiling warmly at him.
"You were talking about me? All good things, I hope," Dan said as he set the tray on the bed. "So, there's coffee. Real cream and sugar for Serena, skim milk and Splenda for Blair."
"Thank you," Serena said sincerely, also noting that her favorite pastries and fruit were also included on the plate.
"Not a problem. How'd you sleep?"
"Good," Serena said.
Blair rolled her eyes. "Serena might have slept fine. I am dead tired, having slept in my clothes and makeup, not to mention the dull throbbing behind my eyes," Blair complained.
Dan rooted around in his pockets and produced a bottle of Tylenol. "I thought you might need these," Dan said, handing her the bottle and a glass of juice from the tray.
Blair narrowed her eyes at him but took the pills and juice. "I blame you," she told him as she glared at him, though Serena could detect the underlying affection in her voice.
"I fully expected you to," Dan said easily.
Serena unexpectedly found herself laughing, amused at their interplay. She hadn't spent much time with Dan and Blair as a couple, but for some reason she had expected their dynamic to change more than it had. In many ways, they interactions weren't much different than they had been in high school.
"I'm not trying to make things weird, but can I ask you guys something?" Serena asked tentatively, not wanting to bring up the elephant in the room but also genuinely curious about something.
"Well, with a preface like that, how can we say no?" Dan teased. "Of course, ask away."
Blair merely shrugged and looked anxious.
"Is this how you guys are when you're alone, or is this all for my benefit?"
Blair looked genuinely confused. "What do you mean?"
Dan laughed at Blair's facial expression. "Serena wants to know if you're being unappreciative of my coffee schlepping or blaming me for your own overindulgence so Serena won't feel uncomfortable," Dan explained. He turned to Serena. "In answer to your question, when we're alone we dreamily read poetry to one another and Blair just agrees with whatever I say."
Blair lightly slapped him. "Like she'd ever believe that, Humphrey."
Dan grinned and shrugged. "This is exactly how we are in private. If anything, she's being nicer to me for your benefit."
"Would you just go shower and leave us to our breakfast in peace?" Blair said, nudging him with her shoulder.
"I see that I'm already little more than a waiter to you," Dan said with mock sadness as he leaned down to give Blair a quick kiss.
"You're catching on," Blair agreed smiling at him and squeezing his hand.
"I'll leave you ladies to your breakfast, as requested," Dan said with a slight bow on his way out.
After he left, Serena leaned conspiratorially toward Blair. "I can't believe I'm asking this..." she started, and Blair looked more intrigued than anxious this time. "But do you always call him by his last name?"
"No, not always. I reserve his first name for special moments," Blair said, grinning and wiggling her eyebrows a bit.
"I'm sure you do," Serena said, chuckling. She felt like the moment should have been more uncomfortable, but somehow it felt easy. Serena linked her arm through Blair's and rested her head on her shoulder. "I missed you, B."
"I missed you, too," Blair said in return.
The funeral passed by in a blur. Serena's mom had decided they would refrain from giving personal speeches at the memorial service, preferring that they just share their stories in private. A minister spoke briefly, giving what was clearly a pre-prepared speech that he had used on many occasions. The flowers were as beautiful as one would expect. Serena was relieved that they had opted for a closed casket, as she was't sure she really wanted to see her grandmother's face in death. She preferred to remember her in life, almost always wearing that same wry smile.
Later that evening, everyone gathered at the house for the reading of the will. Carol had arrived earlier that morning, and Serena could sense the tension between her cousin and her mom. Dan and Blair flanked her on either side, with Eric sitting by Dan. Her mother and Rufus sat in the front of them, holding hands.
The will reading began uneventfully, with legalese in the preamble that Serena didn't fully understand. Right away, Serena was hit with a big surprise.
"And to my grandchildren, Eric and Serena van der Woodsen, I leave my home in Montecito," the lawyer read.
Serena tilted forward to catch her brother's eye. He smiled half-heartedly and shrugged, looking as surprised as she felt. Serena had figured her mother and Carol would get the bulk of the estate. Serena took a look around the room, not believing this house was her. Half hers, but still.
The lawyer continued reading, with money being allotted to both her and Eric as well.
Then the lawyer cleared his throat and looked up from his document. "This is highly unusual, but the decedent has requested that a..." the lawyer paused as he looked down at the will, "Daniel Humphrey read the rest of the will out loud."
Dan looked around the room, as though there were a different Daniel Humphrey present. In a different situation, Serena might have laughed at him. At this stage, the only people mentioned in the will were Eric and herself, so Serena had no idea what was coming next.
When Dan got to the front of the room, he fidgeted and played with his tie. Blair caught Serena's eye, and Serena shook her head and shrugged in response.
"So, uh..." Dan started, looking down at the paper. "It looks like this part is something very specific CeCe wanted to share, so I'm just going to read it. It, uh... looks like she has a message."
Serena saw Blair roll her eyes out of the corner of her eye. Serena nudged her, and Blair shrugged innocently.
"I wanted someone who will show the proper emotion to read the rest of my will, but who won't get overly emotional either. I think Daniel will be splendid at that. For Carol: I leave...uh..." Dan stalled as he took in the words. "Is it legally necessary that I do this?" Dan asked the lawyer.
"It's not necessary, but it's what she wanted," the lawyer answered.
Dan sighed, seemingly deciding he'd continue reading for CeCe's sake. "Okay," Dan said, "but this is really awkward. Starting over: to Carol, I leave absolutely nothing. You think you pulled the wool over my eyes this past year, but you were wrong."
Dan paused, and the room was deathly silent. Carol looked to be in shock. Serena turned around to give her cousin a sympathetic look, but her cousin was staring straight at Dan, looking terrified.
Dan looked down at the page again, and his eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets. He looked right at Charlie as he continued, "To my granddaughter Charlotte, I leave the same trust I left Eric and Serena. But this money is for the real Charlotte, not this girl Ivy who Carol hired for the past year. I know that girl isn't my granddaughter. No one changes that much since their childhood."
Serena felt her jaw drop, and she felt a wave of anger and sadness wash over her. She had confided a lot to Charlie in the past few months. She couldn't believe that wasn't her cousin.
"So, uh, I guess I'll keep reading..." Dan stuttered out. "The trust shall be administered by Rufus Humphrey, who despite his many flaws, is the one person I know won't accept a bribe. If the real Charlotte does not claim her trust by her 25th birthday, that trust shall go to the charity of Rufus's choice."
Dan cleared his throat and looked down at the will, once again looking shocked. "Finally, I leave Daniel Humphrey a trust of five million dollars to be made available on his 25th birthday. I also leave him one-third of my house in the Hamptons, to own alongside Eric and Serena. May he..." Dan paused, his eyes welling up with tears. Dan wiped his eyes before continuing, "May he have the money to never feel underdressed again."
Dan stared at the paper in front of him, clearly not believing the words he'd just read. He composed himself, and finished reading, "To Carol: this is a recent change to my will. I included Dan to show you that I appreciate people who aren't just after money and that I can't reward you after your deceit. I hope you are finally able to make your own way. And finally, to my daughter Lillian: I know we haven't always seen eye to eye, and I didn't leave you anything because you took care of that yourself with your husbands before Rufus. Please know that I love you and your sister both, and I always was trying to do what I thought was best, even if you didn't agree with me most of the time...Uh, that's it."
Dan practically ran to his chair, wanting to get out of the spotlight. The room was quiet until Serena's mom stood up and looked at her sister. "Carol, I think it's best you and...'Ivy' leave," she said icily.
Serena watched the girl she thought was her cousin get up slowly, tears filling her eyes. "I'm really sorry," she said, looking at the ground. "I just wanted to be a part of this family."
Serena was speechless, and she moved on autopilot as she felt Dan and Blair each grab one of her arms and lead her to her bedroom. Serena sat on the bed, still trying to register everything that had happened.
"So...uh...I guess this is your house now," Dan said, sitting down on the edge of the bed next to her.
"Yeah...half-mine, at least," Serena said distractedly.
"So, was she actually crazy...or was that an act too?" Blair asked thoughtfully as she sat on Serena's other side.
"I think that might have been an act," Dan said. "But she was pretty convincing."
"You would know better than anyone," Blair said, raising an eyebrow.
"If CeCe knew all along, why didn't she say anything?" Dan asked, looking shell-shocked by the whole evening.
"She didn't want a scandal. If she called Carol out on it, word might have gotten out. This way she doesn't have to deal with the aftermath," Serena said, almost admiring her grandmother's ability to avoid a scandal.
"And now what happens?" Dan questioned.
"I bet Mom buys Carol's silence, and in return Mom won't press charges," Serena said. She patted Dan's back. "Don't worry. Carol won't sue for your inheritance."
"And...what was that about anyhow?" Dan asked. Serena wondered why Dan thought she had all the answers.
Serena shrugged. "That one...I guess you just take at face value. I think she respected that you're not after money. Maybe she feels guilty for making you feel uncomfortable at parties for yours afterwards," Serena mused. "She has bought you quite a few suits over the years."
"The funny thing is, after taxes you'll probably only clear three million or so anyhow," Blair said. "That's not all that many years of high end suits."
"That's...really depressing," Dan said sardonically. He then turned to Serena. "So, how does joint property work anyhow? Do we put tape on the floor to mark our third of the house?"
Serena laughed. "We just split ownership, though I don't know a lot of details," Serena admitted.
"What are you going to do with this place?" Blair asked.
Serena took a breath and looked over at Dan. "Dan, could you go see how Eric's doing for me?"
"Sure," Dan said, giving her hand a light squeeze, figuring out what was coming. He gave Blair a quick kiss on the forehead. "I'll be in our room or with Eric if you need me...later."
Blair looked confused, but nodded. Once Dan shut the door, Blair turned to Serena. "So, what's going on that Dan clearly knows about but I don't?" she asked tersely.
Serena sighed. She wasn't sure how it had happened, but somehow Blair seemed more threatened by Dan as Serena's friend than she was about Serena's romantic history with Dan.
"I've decided I'm going to USC for film school," Serena admitted. "I told Dan last night that I was thinking about it, but today just cemented my decision when I received the house in the will. It seemed like a clear sign that this is what I need to do."
"I missed you so much this summer," Blair said. "You can't leave me alone with Humphrey."
Serena laughed. "Blair, it will be okay," she said confidently. "And despite what you say, I know there are worse fates than leaving you with Dan."
"That's beside the point," Blair huffed. "He's not you."
"No, he's not," Serena agreed. "But he makes you happy. And he promised me he'd take care of you."
"I can take care of myself," Blair protested.
"I know. But can you promise me something?" Serena asked. Blair nodded in response. "Promise me that you'll take care of him, too."
"I can do that," Blair said, her eyes getting misty. "I can't believe you're going to leave me."
"We'll talk on the phone like last summer. You'll have to come visit me, and of course I'll come home over breaks," Serena said.
Blair looked down at her hands for a moment, hesitating before she spoke again. "You're not doing this...because of me and Dan?"
Serena shook her head decisively. "No, I'm doing this because I was happy here this summer. I liked the fresh start California represented," she admitted. "I'll miss you...and Dan, and the city. But this feels right. It feels like something I need."
Blair let out an exaggerated sigh. "I guess I'm happy for you then," Blair relented. "But I'm still sad for me."
"Blair..." Serena started, then stopped, unsure of just what she wanted to say. "Thank you. For being here for me this week."
"You know I'll always be here when you need me," Blair said, almost a little defensively.
"I know," Serena acknowledged. She took a breath, hoping what she was about to say wouldn't be misinterpreted. "I am really grateful that you're here, and that Dan was too. Thanks for letting him do that."
Blair scoffed. "Do you think I let Dan do much of anything? If you haven't noticed, he's pretty stubborn."
"I didn't mean it like that," Serena said. "It's just...he really loves you, and I think if you told him to stay away, then he would stay away."
"You and I both know that if I did that, I might lose you both," Blair said. She didn't say anything for a moment, and Serena was worried she was angry. "So...are things really okay with us now? With you and me...and Dan?"
"Yeah, I think they really are," Serena said, smiling.
"I'm glad," Blair said. "I missed being able to talk freely with my best friend."
Noting how Serena scrunched her nose at that comment, Blair laughed and said, "But not too freely."
Five months later
Serena looked around her room in California, not believing it was actually hers. She pulled out a box of personal items, hoping to make the room seem homier. It still seemed wrong to completely change her grandmother's décor, but she wanted to feel like wasn't a guest either.
Serena busied herself putting away various odds and ends, and she picked up a framed photo. Staring at the photo, she sat down on her bed and smiled wistfully. It had been taken in her final weekend in New York, where Dan and Blair had thrown her an impromptu going away party at the Hamptons house. She was holding a huge novelty clapboard that Dan had given her as a going away present, and Dan and Blair stood beside her as she said, "Serena van der Woodsen in California, take 2!" and closed the clapboard with a satisfying snapping sound. Somehow Nate had managed to take a picture of her right as she snapped the clapboard shut, with Dan standing with an arm lazily wrapped around Blair as they both watched Serena beaming as she played with Dan's gift.
She placed the picture on her dresser, right beside the spot where the clapboard was resting. She looked closer at it, and noticed for the first time that Dan had written something in chalk on it that had miraculously not been wiped away.
Serena smiled when she read the clapboard: "Dan, Blair and Serena friendship: Take 1."