Author's Note: I want to give a belated thanks to asimaiyat for being my beta on this story. I completely forgot to insert my author's note on this chapter. Apologies to all. The usual disclaimers of not owning any Gossip Girl characters or any quotes from the music or anything else.
Ch. 1 Zero
What's your name? No one's gonna ask you - "Zero" Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Oh, how the mighty have fallen, Blair Waldorf mused as she perched on a cracked leather bar stool, watching the barkeep work a Pabst Blue Ribbon tap with bare arms covered in faded nautical tattoos.
With a rueful sip (or maybe more of a gulp) of her fourth Long Island Iced Tea of the night, she considered the series of events that had taken her from the steps of Constance this morning to this... this nightmarish evening.
To take her mind off questioning her own sanity, Blair listened to the loud, fast music coming from the band onstage behind her. She didn't turn to face them. Too much effort involved. She stared at the rows of bottles on shelves behind the bar hoping to lose herself in the palette of multicolored liquids.
Blair checked her phone again looking at the last Gossip Girl blast.
Spotted! S waiting for B at the helipad! Is Queen B fleeing for good? Looks like S wants to get in her parting shots before the former queen flies to parts unknown. Will it be off with her head or a tearful goodbye?
The text was accompanied by a grainy picture of Serena entering the building with a determined look on her face. Blair had little doubt that it wasn't going to be a tearful goodbye.
Blair sighed. It was all so simple. She was going to take the helicopter to the airport, fly to France, and live with Daddy for who knows how long. Life was too messy here... too ugly. She couldn't face Serena, though, and had told the cab driver to go to the last place anyone would look for her: Brooklyn. Maybe there were even less likely places, but seeing Serena reminded her of Serena's current star-struck love, Dan Humphrey aka Cabbage Patch aka Lonely Boy from Brooklyn. She asked the cab driver for a bar and so she was sitting here torn between regretting not going somewhere she could get a decent martini and thankful she wasn't somewhere Gossip Girl could spot her. At least she hoped. Fortunately, she had her fake ID and a decent amount of cash, so she could avoid using her credit card in case her mother was already panicking and had the police out for her. She couldn't face Eleanor yet. She rolled her eyes at her own weakness and took another drink.
The band had stopped playing and Blair could hear some sort of argument on the stage. She really didn't care and paid little attention. She contemplated ordering another drink, but the bartender had that look in his eye that said getting trashed might end up with her in his bed much later in the evening. No, check that. Couldn't be much later. It was already after 1 a.m. She side-eyed the bartender while he poured a drink for another customer. He wasn't awful looking, and after lowering herself to sleeping with Chuck she wasn't sure if she really could claim to have standards any longer anyway.
A woman's voice from beside Blair cut through her thoughts. "Hey."
Blair glanced quickly over before returning to staring at the rows of bottles. The speaker was a tall, thin woman with long, bleached white hair wearing a black tank top with the sleeves cut off, dirty jeans, and combat boots. Seriously? Combat boots? A fashion nightmare come to life before my eyes.
Not taking the hint, the woman continued. "I said 'Hey.'" She had a strong Southern drawl definitely out of place in the middle of Brooklyn. Blair revised her thoughts. A hillbilly fashion nightmare come to life before my eyes.
"I heard. The non-response should be all you need."
Blair heard her laugh and looked over again seeing amusement in the pale green eyes of her new acquaintance. "Can I help you?" Blair asked.
She took a seat beside Blair and gestured to the bartender. He nodded evidently knowing what she drank.
Receiving no answer to her previous question, Blair tried again. "Is this the part where you buy me a drink and I act scandalized because you're a woman before revealing I'm trolling Brooklyn for secret lesbian hook-ups?"
"No," the woman stated with a wry smile. "I don't feel like contributing to the delinquency of a minor."
"I have an ID... " Blair began.
The woman held her hand up and grimaced. "Don't know. Don't care." She paused seeing the bartender bringing her a beer. Once she had her beer, she said, "Thanks, Bill."
He waited for a moment watching the two women. Blair was of the opinion he hoped for something... maybe for them to start making out or to offer him... ugh... a threesome. He took the hint after several painful moments of silence from both women, shrugged, and wandered back to his previous conversation.
"So," began Blair, "If you don't want to know and don't care... what do you want?"
"Bill-that's the bartender... " she started to say before Blair interrupted her.
"Heard you say his name before."
She smiled at Blair. "Good girl. Quick on the uptake. Bill's a decent guy most of the time," she continued. "He does like robbing cradles though."
Her new friend nodded, "Yeah exactly. Just thought I would drop you a warning seeing how you're dressed like a rich girl on the run."
Blair certainly had nicer clothes than anyone else at the bar. She sighed and turned to the other woman. "Thanks," she said with all the sincerity she had left in her.
"No problem," the woman responded. "I'm Jess by the way."
"Nice to meet you, Jess. I'm... Clair. Clair Carlyle."
Jess didn't look convinced. Blair began to defend her obvious fake name, but Jess held her hands up again. "Again. Don't know. Don't care. It's nice to meet you, Clair."
Blair nodded and continued staring ahead.
"Want to talk about it?" Jess queried.
Blair looked over to her and raised an eyebrow. "Why? Do you want to hear about it?"
Jess shrugged and nodded her head towards the stage. "I suppose I would rather listen to a stranger's problems than deal with that mess."
Blair swiveled on her barstool to look in the direction Jess nodded. A slight woman with dark hair whom Blair presumed was the lead singer from the fact she still held the microphone while pointing it at two guys with guitars. She was obviously yelling at them, but Blair couldn't hear over the noise of the crowd who were starting to look less amused and more restless by the moment.
"Are you in the band?" she asked Jess.
Jess nodded. "I'm the cliche girl drummer."
"What's that about?" Blair asked gesturing towards the escalating argument.
Jess sighed. "Lexi and I broke up last week. I didn't think it would work out with both of us still in the band. I offered to quit but she insisted we both stay."
"Not working out really well."
"No, it's not."
Jess laughed. "At least you can smile at my mess."
"Sorry, Jess," Blair said looking at her again. Under the amused smile, Blair could tell that Jess was stressed. It was all over her face. Blair imagined her own face looked much the same.
"No need to apologize to me. I think we're screwed though. No way we'll get paid if we don't even finish the set."
Blair watched as Lexi stormed off the stage flipping off the two remaining band members. "Looks like that isn't very salvageable."
Jess nodded and sighed. "No kidding. That'll teach me to get involved with an art major who wants to experiment."
Blair sat in silence. She understood only too well regretting involvement with someone you fully realized you shouldn't be involved with at all.
Jess interrupted her thoughts once again. "Can't sing by chance?"
Actually, Blair could indeed sing and sing very well at that. Granted, she hadn't ever sang in a rock band or anything of the sort. The idea was ludicrous. She had trained on piano and had voice lessons when she was younger but her mother had not really cared for the idea of her daughter singing. Blair's thoughts drifted to another stage from her recent past. Not all the memories of that night were regrettable. Just the ending. She closed her eyes and remembered uninhibited dancing and enjoying every moment in Chuck's burlesque club. Suddenly she wanted that feeling again very badly.
"I can sing," she stated simply. Maybe I won't end up being fucked in a limo by a creep at the end of this performance.
Jess stared at her seemingly surprised at the serious reply. "I write the songs as well as play the drums. I have the lyrics out in the van. I also have a change of clothes out there so you won't... stand out so much... if you're on the run or something that is."
Blair considered this. She was on the run she supposed. Of course, this was possibly sans Chuck-sex the stupidest idea she had encountered in a long, long time. It was stupid enough that she couldn't resist. Why not go out in a blaze of glory? She said as much. "This is a remarkably stupid idea."
Jess simply nodded and said, "I don't have a better one."
Blair considered it for another moment. "Deal. Think the crowd will mind if I'm holding the lyrics while I sing?" Blair asked with another amused smile.
Jess laughed at that and stood. "No, they have enough beer in them and you're pretty enough they won't mind at all." She looked over to the bartender. "Bill, put her on my tab, okay?"
He nodded but was obviously unhappy his target was going with Jess. Blair was happy she had purposefully disappointed at least one person tonight.
Jess led her outside. "How old does your ID say you are, Clair?"
"Good. Let's just go with that. Come on. We'll get you changed into something much less respectable and we'll fuck up your hair. That should do the trick."
The van was rather nondescript Blair saw. Black. Nothing remarkable aside from the fact she never thought she would need to be this close to something so far below her standards.
Jess slid the door open and rummaged through the back of it. She grabbed a handful of papers and shoved them at Blair. "Hold these."
Blair started looking at the song lyrics. They weren't bad at all. She might change a line or two here and there, but she didn't know how Jess would react to that. She asked while Jess continued looking for the clothes. "Jess, do you mind if I ad lib a bit?"
Jess responded while continuing to toss items around. "Hm? No. You're singing, so you should be comfortable." She came out with a handful of clothes, took the papers from Blair. "Switch," she said. "I'll watch out here while you change."
Blair stared at her. "In the van?"
"Got a better place?"
"No," Blair responded. She still didn't move.
"Is there something wrong, Clair?" Jess smirked obviously realizing her discomfort. "Look it's not that dirty."
Blair nodded. It couldn't be less sanitary than sex in a limo with Chuck Bass. She climbed in and switched clothes as gracefully as possible. At first she tried to do so without actually touching any part of the van's interior which almost immediately caused her to fall over. She heard Jess ask if everything was okay.
"Yeah!" she yelled back. She stripped quickly and slid into the jeans and tee shirt. The biker boots were way too large, but she hoped the provided socks would keep her from blistering. The tee shirt impressed her. It was crimson with a print of Barbara Kruger's work on the front. Jess had decent taste in art at least.
Blair slid the door open and stepped out.
Jess shut the door behind her and turned to look at Blair in appraisal. She whistled and said, "Not bad. Not bad. Looks like I don't have to worry about your hair either."
Blair looked in the side mirror and frowned at her devastated hair.
"What was going on in there?" Jess asked.
"Don't worry," responded Blair. "The only casualty was my dignity."
Jess laughed and clapped Blair on the shoulder. "Let's see just how bad an idea this really is," she said in good humor as she led Blair back into the club.
The night passed in a blur after that. Blair didn't know how many songs she sang as she stopped counting around six or so. The crowd loved her. Blair easily passed for a woman in her early twenties, but there was still an innocence about her the crowd liked.
After the club closed and Ed and Stevie, the other two band members loaded the instruments into the van, Jess collected their earnings, subtracted their tab, and scored a final round of free drinks off Bill for her and Blair. They sat contentedly watching the guys work. It had to be well past 4 a.m. but Blair's mind raced.
"You do have a good voice, Clair. Ever think about doing this full time?"
"Shouldn't you ask the guys?"
Jess laughed. "They won't say no. You're hot, and you're talented. You sing with a lot of passion."
Blair grimaced a bit at the idea the guys would accept her because she was hot. Still, no one in her memory had ever described her as passionate.
Jess caught on quickly. "Don't worry. They won't start anything. I'm protective of my younger cousin from Jersey."
"Rather be from somewhere else?"
Blair considered. She would rather be from many places besides New Jersey. Still...
"No, that's fine. They'll buy that I was here by accident seeing as I'm now your cousin?"
"You were here to see us. Nothing accidental about it." She paused. Blair could easily tell Jess wanted to ask more but wasn't sure what would spook her.
"I can't go home. Not yet at least. It's just too... complicated," she offered.
Jess nodded. "I get complicated. Believe me. You have a place to stay?"
Blair considered. She could change her mind and go home to luxurious Egyptian cotton sheets and designer shoes and an exquisite hot bath and all the comforts she adored, or she could run away to Brooklyn or wherever Jess called home-and probably scrape by with almost nothing for as long as she could hold out. Blair was uncertain how long that was. "I don't know, Jess."
"Oh?" Jess prompted.
"My family is wealthy... respected. They would take me back and I could go back to all the things I know. It would be hard going back and I'm not sure I want to... but..." Blair trailed off.
"It's scary, right? Thinking of leaving things behind that is."
"It most certainly is."
"Did all that make you happy?"
Blair was silent for a long moment before finally responding. "No."
"You can always go back after a few days." Jess smiled at Blair. "I'm sure that'll scare your parents straight."
For the first time in a long time, Blair felt another person's compassion. It felt strange and alien, but it also felt good. "Yeah, I suppose I can." She was possessed by an overwhelming gratitude. She leaned in and hugged Jess hard closing her eyes and saying, "Thank you."
Jess patted her back. "Anything for my favorite cousin."