DISCLAIMER: Gossip Girl and its characters are the property of Cecily von Ziegesar and Warner Bros. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was supposed to be a short fic about Blair accidentally becoming a sugar mama (hence the title I janked from TI's song, since it provided the initial inspiration). Instead, it just went crazily out of control and ended up almost 60 pages long. I don't know what happened. It continued to meander, got sloppy and occasionally melodramatic, and as a result, it's entirely possible that it sucks. On the up side, girls have sex, which most people generally seem to agree is a positive.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

It Ain't Trickin' If You Got It
By Harper


It started out, like so many things, accidentally.

Whoever had thought that having the little foursome join together for an outing would be a good idea had obviously been deranged. Blair had absolutely no desire to spend her Saturday night in the company of Serena and Dan and Dan's undoubtedly scheming best friend Vanessa, but there had been wheedling and cajoling involved and so, as always, she'd found herself giving in to Serena's request. It seemed obvious that the same had happened in some hovel on the other side of Manhattan, because Vanessa had spent most of the night looking just as miserable as she did.

To compensate, Blair moved steadily through a line of barely consumable cosmos. Vanessa chose shots which were, in Blair's opinion, totally useless as a diversion.

It took two hours of ignoring one another before both girls decided, almost simultaneously, that they needed a little air. Blair was just as surprised as Vanessa when they rose in unison, and she watched warily as the other girl watched her warily in return, the pair charting cautious, parallel paths toward the door leading to the outdoor patio. Fate placed the only available non-smoky area at the far side, and as Blair wound her way through various revelers, she realized that Vanessa was doing the same.

"Are you following me?" she demanded, perching delicately on the far side of the tucked away bench.

Vanessa sprawled across the remaining space, looking forward as she muttered blankly, "I thought you were following me."


Blair was aware that the reply lacked the vitriol of her usual brand of retort, but to honest, she was tired. She was tired of sitting in a booth beside a girl she didn't know or care to know, tired of watching Serena smile sweetly at that ambulatory personification of a coma she was dating, and tired of keeping up the façade of being above it all. The truth was, she didn't want to be above it all. What she really wanted was to be home, alone, in bed.

"I had to have been out of my mind."

Blair wasn't sure whether the comment was directed at her or not, but the preceding hours of self-imposed conversational isolation had left her uncharacteristically receptive to human contact. "Coming here tonight?" she said bitterly, lips curling up in a smirk. "I know what you mean."

"The last thing I want to be doing…"

"Is spending your time with people you're increasingly convinced you can't stand?" Blair finished, turning her head a quarter so that she was able to catch the edge of Vanessa's profile.

Vanessa snorted, shaking her head tiredly. "Something like that."

"And forced to resort to talking to me."


There was silence again, restrained but of the type that could quickly turn awkward, and it wasn't so much that Vanessa wanted to break it but, instead, that she was insanely curious. They were both a little tipsy; her BAC was, in fact, probably the only reason she had the courage to blurt out the question that had been niggling at the back of her mind the entire night in the first place. Why Blair deigned, or was apathetic enough, to answer it, she didn't know.

"How do people not know?" Vanessa asked, the question a non sequitur that prompted Blair to look at her as if she were possibly quite insane. Pushed to elaborate, Vanessa offered a shrug, shooting a vague look in the direction of the now obscured dance floor and then back at Blair. "You know, about you and Serena. That you two are totally gay for each other."

The words sounded surreal once they were out, as if she'd spoken them in a foreign language she neither knew nor understood. It occurred to her that she'd done something with the potential to be monumentally stupid, but there was no take-back function on reality. And, for a moment, she also thought Blair might actually hit her or, at the very least, gouge her eyes out for her audacity because the other girl's eyes narrowed with a meanness and sheen of pure evil that was genuinely scary. As such, it came as a surprise when, instead, Blair merely said venomously, "Because there's nothing to know because your statement is ridiculous."

The lack of fatal reprisal emboldened her, and Vanessa crossed her arms over her chest and glared belligerently. "It's not ridiculous. It's completely obvious. You'd have to be, like, blind to not see it."

"You're deluded," Blair huffed, slumping back against the bench. "She's clearly with Dan. And besides, even if something had happened, things you do when you're young and stupid don't count."

Blinking, Vanessa turned fully and tucked one leg under the other as she shot Blair a look of utter disbelief. "That's the worst evasion I've ever heard. Now I totally know the two of you…"

She trailed off, this time slightly cowed by Blair's cutting glare. "Yes?" Blair demanded impatiently. "We what?"

Shrugging listlessly, Vanessa offered a weakly defiant, "Shagged?"

"God," Blair snapped, scowling. "I detest the hipster use of British slang in some sort of weak attempt at appearing cosmopolitan. You're not British."

"Fine then," Vanessa snapped in return, voice rising slightly. "You fucked."

Blair arched a careless brow, a hint of challenge in her eyes. "So?"

"You wanted me to know that," Vanessa accused, then repeated the sentiment with indignant conviction. "You wanted me to know that. Is this some kind of demented plan? What am I supposed to do now? Run off and tell Dan so that they'll have a fight or break up or something and you can have your little girltoy back?"

"Like I'd want her back after she's been with him," Blair said scathingly. And then she added, almost like an afterthought, "And after that whole business with Nate, too, of course."

"Oh, of course. Because her sleeping with Dan is infinitely worse than her sleeping with the boyfriend you dated since you were both in utero." Vanessa paused, eyeing Blair suspiciously, "Unless you, Serena, and Nate were really a threesome all along."

"Please," Blair scoffed, a hint of bitter laughter in her tone. "He would have enjoyed that too much."

At that, Vanessa snorted derisively. "You rich people are all screwed up in the head, did you know that?"

"Like the plebes don't have their own drama." Blair leaned closer, lips pursed in a smirk. "I mean, look at where you are. Here with me watching the boy you want look stuffy and uncomfortable on the dance floor with one of my kind of people because he's so, so desperate to be better than he is and dating you won't give him that. You sit, watching him make a fool of himself because he's fallen in love with someone who doesn't exist. He's with an illusion instead of you because the Serena he wants to be dating is the Serena he's read about on Gossip Girl for years and when it comes to creating that kind of image, you're just not important enough to make the grade."

"Fine," Vanessa shot back immediately, one brow arched haughtily. "Now tell me why you're here and tell me exactly how it's different. Oh, wait, I know. I bet it's the same thing, just in reverse. You're so worried about the image you want people to see on Gossip Girl that you sit and watch the girl you want dance with a boy you despise."

For a moment, Blair merely looked at her, expression hard and unreadable and Vanessa began to think that maybe she'd somehow gone too far. She wasn't normally one to be afraid of the UES crowd. They were generally annoying but largely harmless so long as one could get over the occasional slur and malicious piece of fabricated gossip, but something about the way Blair was looking at her made Vanessa more than a little nervous. It would be melodramatic to say that it felt as if her soul hung in the balance, but there was something far darker, angrier, and worldlier swirling around in Blair's eyes than a prep school student had any right to possess.

"You're too good for him. You need to move on. He is decidedly not worth the pining from afar you're trying to perfect," Blair said finally, decisively, leaving Vanessa feeling as if she'd passed some sort of test.

Her eyes widened with disbelief. "That's it? A little tit for tat and I'm worthy of some level of respect?" Vanessa asked incredulously. "You honestly walk through life so unchallenged that the novelty of having someone call you on your shit evokes some fucked up kind of grudging admiration?"

"Oh, not unchallenged," Blair replied, looking almost affronted. "What good is it being the queen if there's no one around to lust and scheme after your throne? Still though, it does get tiresome, all the fawning and ineffectual grabs for power. But you… you get nothing out of antagonizing me. It's surprisingly refreshing to have a conversation with someone who has the wits to keep up and no obvious ulterior motive."

The mood had inexplicably shifted, moving from antagonistic to almost friendly, and suddenly, perhaps idiotically, empowered, Vanessa chanced a follow-up of her earlier question.

"No, I mean, I honestly don't get it. Why are you two not together? You've obviously got some kind of history and you have some kind of crazy, magnetic connection that practically radiates happy 'should be gay together' vibes. And, I mean, I've never done a girl, but I'd do you," she offered carelessly, one hand waving away the invisible appearance of any potential complications or awkwardness her statement might have generated. "You're way hot."

"Thanks," Blair replied reflectively, nodding in self-satisfaction. "I could say the same for you."

Vanessa, despite herself, was oddly flattered by the unexpected praise. "You think I'm hot?"

"Surprisingly, yes, and I think that Dan Humphrey is a fool." Blair snorted, rolling her eyes. "He's lost his mind if he thinks he can keep up with Serena. She'll break him like a cheap little toy. But you… I'll bet you made him bearable. I'll bet you knew how to properly suppress his more douchebag qualities."

It was perhaps the oddest compliment Vanessa had ever received. "Wait," she said, holding up her index finger in a physical appeal for a pause, "does that mean that you want to sleep with me? Because I said you were hot and that I'd sleep with you, so when you said it back, was that some kind of sign or come on or indication or something?"

Blair seemed to consider the proposition for a moment before giving a blithe shrug. "I don't see why not."

Vanessa shot her a look of dry disbelief. "For real?"

"You're the one who brought it up," Blair said defensively, crossing her arms over her chest in a huff.

"In a rhetorical kind of way."

Blair's replying glare was razor sharp. "There was nothing rhetorical about your question. You do know what rhetorical means, don't you?"

"Fuck you," Vanessa muttered, the response automatic. "I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I didn't expect you to give a serious response."

"Why not? Ask a question, receive an answer." Blair paused, shaking her head in disgust. "If it makes you feel any better, the answer was given impulsively and perhaps even driven by something like desperation."

Vanessa considered that for a moment. "I was actually happier before you told me that."

"And look, you're already hard to please."

"I want to take this seriously for a minute," Vanessa said firmly, ignoring the way Blair rolled her eyes in response. "Do you stand by your earlier answer?"

Blair leveled Vanessa with a blank stare. "Are you asking me to have sex with you?"

After a moment of consideration, Vanessa nodded. "I think so, yeah. I mean, I could kind of use a fling to take my mind off of my hopeless and depressing and completely nonexistent love life, and a homoerotic one night stand would be an interesting addition to my resume."

"Whatever," Blair shrugged disinterestedly, as if already bored by the conversation. "If we're going to do this, there's a caveat. No telling anyone about it."

"I see. A self-hater, are we?" Vanessa cooed patronizingly.

"Spoken like a clueless idealist who's never had the nastier sides of her private life become fodder for the general public," Blair snapped, stiffening. "Think seriously for a minute about how much you'd like your intimate details to start showing up on cell phones and laptops across the city and then mock me again."

"A little reactionary and hyperbolic, maybe, but I can see your point," Vanessa conceded with a mental eyeroll. "Anyway, who would I tell and why would I tell them?"

"As if I could be expected to understand how the bohemian mind works."

"Was that supposed to be an insult?"

"Look," Blair growled in frustration, "if we're going to do this, we should go now before I realize the error of my ways, and you should attempt to refrain from conversation. The wittier you think you are, the less attractive you become."

Silence descended upon them again, though this time there was a palpable lack of tension. Instead, the silence was contemplative, almost peaceful.

Vanessa was a little overwhelmed by the very real possibility that she was about to have a one night stand with a girl who was probably still in love with the girl who was dating the boy she was probably still in love with, but with a little more thought, it made a strange kind of sense. It was substitution or transference or something, or maybe none of those things though she was pretty sure there had to be some strong psychological issues at play.

"Fine then," she said, giving a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders. "Let's go."

She managed to pull off blasé on the way to and the way up to her apartment, sustaining it throughout the unlocking and relocking of the door, but by the time Vanessa had reached the middle of her living room, she found that she'd reached her limit. And so, when Blair's fingers landed softly on her shoulder, to her embarrassment, she found herself spinning around like a dervish, awkwardly taking a stumbling step back so a pocket of space opened between them. "If we're going to do this, I don't want it to be like a random, meaningless one night stand," she blurted out, the words coming out in a jumbled rush.

The look that Blair gave Vanessa was equal parts confusion and horror. "You want it to mean something?"

"No," Vanessa huffed, crossing her arms over her chest like a shield. "I'm just saying that if I'm going to lose my girl cherry to you, then I want it to be done right. I don't want any of this anonymous, quick and rough, paint by numbers shit. I want it to be good."

"I see," Blair murmured, smirking, now more amused than terrified as she reached forward to cup Vanessa's cheek with mock tenderness. "You want me to make you feel special."

Vanessa glared, pulling away from Blair's touch. "Is there something wrong with that?"

"No, of course not," Blair said indulgently, only the faintest hint of mockery sharpening the edge of her voice. "Don't worry. I'll be gentle. It'll only hurt when you want it to."

"There was a time when I thought this was a good idea," Vanessa drawled, voice laced with bitter sarcasm, "but I'm finding it difficult to remember when that was."

Blair's eyes closed for a second, though whether she was searching for a scrap of nonexistent patience or trying to find the fortitude to withhold further antagonism wasn't clear. A second later she opened them again, sighing even as she let her purse fall carelessly to the floor. "This is why you don't do these kinds of things with the uninitiated," she murmured, though there was something almost indulgent in her tone. Taking a step forward, Blair closed the space between them, her arms sliding around Vanessa's neck as she drew the other girl in closer. Voice remarkably soft, she continued, "If this is going to happen, I suggest we forego further discussion."

Vanessa decided that was fine with her. It was disconcerting how quickly the mood between them had changed, morphing seamlessly from antagonistic to seductive. It was almost as if Blair had flipped a switch, as if she'd corralled her irritation and forced it to retreat and decided to just get on with the task at hand. It was oddly cold and decidedly utilitarian, but Blair's face was inches away from her own, and all Vanessa could seem to see were dark eyes and soft lips. She caught her breath, holding it unconsciously as Blair edged even closer, eyes fluttering closed at the first touch of the other girl's lips on hers.

The first kiss was lazy and slow and Vanessa began to suspect that it had been a strategic mistake to request that this whole thing be anything other than quick and meaningless. Her own hands had found Blair's hips, staying perched there uncertainly before slowly sliding around so that her fingers brushed together as they met at the small of Blair's back, pulling the other girl even more closely to her. It was disturbingly intimate, the gentleness in Blair's kiss so at odds with every other experience Vanessa had ever had with her that the moment almost seemed to be happening within the confines of a dream. She wanted to pull away, to re-establish who she was with and set some new parameters for their encounter, but she found that she just simply couldn't stop kissing Blair.

She'd thought there would be some kind of awkwardness. She'd never been with a girl, after all, and this was Blair, but aside from the unfamiliarity of an almost stranger's lips on hers, Vanessa slipped into the moment with relative ease. She shivered when Blair's fingers slipped under the collar of her shirt, consciously ignoring the smirk she could feel against her lips, and instead kissed Blair harder, moving them past the leisurely pace the other girl had set and into something a bit more serious. She tightened her grip, fingers digging into the hollow of Blair's spine, and widened her stance to accommodate the sudden presence of Blair's thigh between her legs. It felt different, of course, the body in front of her slighter than what she was accustomed to, but the gestalt of it all was the same. The left over buzz from the alcohol she'd consumed and the newly present buzz of her growing arousal merged together as she moaned, pressing down hard on Blair's thigh.

"Do you feel special yet?" Blair murmured, pulling away long enough to whisper the words in Vanessa's ear.

Vanessa answered with a gentle bite to Blair's neck, her words muffled against the other girl's skin. "I thought you were going to shut up."

"Fine," Blair sighed tiredly, trailing her hands down Vanessa's sides. She hooked her fingers into the waistband of the other girl's pants and gave a sharp tug, eliciting a gasp. "We can be boring if you want. At least tell me this place has a bed."

"Why? Are you finished with the foreplay?" Vanessa asked archly, trying and failing to ignore the way the pressure of Blair's thigh between her legs was making her hips want to move.

"Hardly," Blair said, and Vanessa could almost hear the smirk in her voice. "You can blame your fondness for skinny jeans for the change in location."

"And why is that?"

"Because they're easier to get off when you're lying down."

"Are you speaking from experience, Waldorf?" Vanessa asked with a hint of tease, beginning to back away in the direction of her bedroom.

Blair followed, smiling wolfishly. "Maybe I am."

Vanessa had already paid some sort of homage to almost every deity she knew. It wasn't a spiritual thing, or maybe it was, because she was used to her climax being followed by a few off-rhythm thrusts and a groan. She was even happy with that, at least if she came first, but this time there'd been no stopping. Blair didn't consider her performance satisfactory, and thus over, after a single orgasm. She didn't even seem content with a second, and when she was still doing everything right after a third, Vanessa forced herself to roll away.

"Enough," she panted, landing face-down on the bedding, hands resting lifelessly on either side of her head. The move exposed her sweat soaked back to the cool air of the apartment, the sensation heavenly against overheated skin. Her head was feeling light and fuzzy and she was pretty sure that any attempt to walk would result in her landing in a boneless heap on the floor, so instead she stayed right where she was and tried to fight off sleep.

So of course, almost as if she was prescient, Blair snapped, "Don't you dare fall asleep."

"God," Vanessa moaned, "just give me a minute, okay."

Blair's response was uncharacteristically playful. "No, not okay," she growled, shifting over so that she was perched on her hands and knees above Vanessa's back. She bit lightly at the base of Vanessa's neck, chuckling lowly at the other girl's outraged yelp of surprise, and waited impatiently as Vanessa turned underneath her. "Now it's your turn to make me feel special," she murmured, then smirked.

"Say special one more time and I'm calling you a cab," Vanessa promised grumpily, then reached up to wrap an arm around Blair's waist. A sharp tug pulled the other girl down onto her and with a quick move she hooked one of her legs around Blair's and used the momentum to flip them over.

"That's better," Blair gasped, the words surprisingly breathless. Her hands had wrapped themselves around Vanessa's biceps automatically and one of Vanessa's legs had slipped in between her thighs in the repositioning. Vanessa's arms were slim, with a hint of shifting muscle under the skin; the muscles of her thigh were taut and hard, and Blair struggled to keep her face from betraying just how much she liked being trapped underneath the other girl.

It had been an impulsive move, agreeing to go home with Vanessa, but Blair had had her reasons. It had been a long time since she'd last been with Serena, a fact of which she'd been uncomfortably aware, and when Serena returned from her self-imposed hiatus, part of Blair had kind of wished she'd stayed away. After she'd left, it had been a long time before Blair had been able to keep thoughts of Serena down to one an hour or fewer, but she liked to think that finally giving most of her full focus to Nate had helped their relationship. Then again, maybe it had just prolonged the agony of an already dysfunctional relationship, but Blair had liked having the perfect boyfriend and had liked, in a relieved, twisted kind of way, being free of the complication of Serena. It allowed her to return to the status quo, to a place where she wasn't having a kind of scary secret affair with her best friend. It gave her a return to the composed and collected Blair she'd spent her entire life perfecting and maybe things had gotten a little dulled and lifeless around the edges in the process, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

So of course when Serena showed up again, everything disintegrated into ash. She lost the stable comfort of Nate and the stable comfort of her own equilibrium. Serena was trying to convince everyone she'd transformed into some kind of goody-two-shoes and Blair felt like she'd been ripped in half. The lulling comfort of Blair's cushion of plausible deniability disappeared seemingly overnight, and Serena appeared as if she was ready to unconsciously taunt Blair on every level possible. She took away every support, one by one. She took away Nate – in a sense, took him away retroactively, as if the stability of his presence had been a sham all along. She took away the delicious tension that had always crackled between them, declaring earnestly that she wanted to be friends and that she had started over, had turned a new leaf. She'd jumped into a relationship with that Humphrey boy, which Blair couldn't help likening to the self-proscribed punishment of a newly converted penitent, and, worst of all, she'd looked at Blair as if none of it had ever happened – none of the touches or the fierce whispers or the way they'd danced dangerously close to the edge of something serious, and the surrealism of it all had maybe stolen just a little bit of her sanity.

So, she'd slept with Chuck and she'd slept with Nate and neither of those things had addressed the confusion she'd been feeling. She'd hoped that something would set her aright again, would wash away the persistent pull she'd been feeling to just do something. And so she'd drifted back to Serena again, but the blonde's blankly bright smiles and pollyanna pure enthusiasm hadn't helped matters either. So maybe this was it, she acknowledged with a mental shrug, shivering at the press of Vanessa's breasts against her own. Maybe it didn't matter if she substituted the person so long as the situation was vaguely the same, and maybe when she walked out of there in the morning, some of the fog would be gone. Maybe this was the thing she needed.

And Vanessa wasn't half bad. She was, in fact, doing an admirable job of distracting Blair. True, she vacillated between boldness and hesitancy, but Blair kind of liked that about her. It was experience and naiveté all wrapped up together like a delightful but unexpected present, and with as many unexpected and unwanted surprises as she'd been on the receiving end of lately, Blair was only too happy to have something go right; this, she decided, was right. This was the wrong side of town with a girl who wouldn't cause problems, and that was what Blair needed. She needed someone who probably wouldn't talk, or be talked about, someone so far out of her realm that she offered the same impunity that came with vacation flings and Vanessa, with her pretty eyes and her pretty smile and her pretty little breasts, was pretty close to being pretty perfect.

Blair stretched her hands above her head lazily, eyes fluttering shut as Vanessa kissed her way across her collarbone. She liked the teasing lightness of the kisses, liked the way Vanessa interspersed stinging bites with the tickling glide of her lips. It was another manifestation of that dichotomy, as if she treated Blair with the delicacy she thought her first femme affair deserved until she forgot herself. Each bite was quickly covered with an apologetic soft kiss, and Blair wanted to laugh and pull Vanessa away long enough to convince her that she wasn't going to break, but she figured there was plenty of time for the other girl to muddle through things on her on.

And there was plenty of time, but Blair realized some indeterminable amount of it later that she didn't have the patience. Not when she was almost there and Vanessa, either through the sheer perversity of being a monumental tease or because she wasn't quite aware of the state of things, began to shift away from just where Blair needed her most.

"No," Blair snapped, her hand wrapping in an iron vise around Vanessa's forearm. "Don't move. Keep doing that. Don't stop. Just keep doing that…" The words trailed off into a garbled mix of pant and moan and she could see Vanessa out of the corner of her eye, smirking, obviously more of a tease than Blair had given her credit for, and she sent a silent, almost affectionate 'bitch' her way because this had always been the part that scared her the most. It was the part that demanded that she dig her nails into someone else's flesh, the part that made her want to bite the pillow and go a little wild. This was the part just before the pay-off, the part that could leave her stifled with disappointment or delirious with joy, the part that seemed to mirror the entirety of Blair's life. What she wanted was right there, inches away, teasing her and making her beg, and if she was going to get it, she was going to have to take a chance.

As a general rule, taking chances had never worked out particularly well for her.

She took this one anyway. The risk/reward ratio was skewed in her favor.

"What?" Blair asked much later, the inquiry missing her usual sharpness. She was tired and a little sore and very much so content, and the almost smug smile Vanessa was directing her way was interfering with her ability to bask.

"Nothing," Vanessa responded immediately, defensively, then added in a rush, "I'm just surprised you were so, I don't know, egalitarian about this."

Basking thoroughly disrupted, Blair sighed, then rolled her eyes. "Egalitarian?"

"Yeah, you know…"

"If you value your life, you won't say another word."

"Okay, fine. Whatever."

Rolling onto her side so that Vanessa could appreciate the full force of her renewed glare, she said testily, "Now that we've established that I have a vocabulary greater than the average 5th grader, explain what you meant."

"I thought you just made a point of how you already knew what it meant."

"Not the word," Blair said in exasperation, the slow burn of irritation creeping up to try and overshadow the contentment she'd wallowed in ever so briefly. "The sentiment behind its use."

"Oh, that."

"Yes, that."

"Just, uh… you know," Vanessa shrugged, eyes flitting across all of the empty spaces between them, "the equality of the sexual servicing came as a pleasant surprise, that's all. I thought maybe you'd just lay back, bark orders, and expect me to do all the work."

"Why are the poor always so stupidly honest?" Blair mused, the rhetorical question directed skyward. It was followed by a heartfelt sigh, and Vanessa was on the verge of thinking up a scathing retort when Blair edged over so that she was hovering over her, hair tumbling messily down around her shoulders. "Obviously you're not familiar with my reputation." She paused, lowering herself slightly so that they were only inches apart, and smirked. "Haven't you heard? Blair Waldorf likes to get her way."

The words were followed by a slow, deep kiss that quickly tripped from lazy to purposeful. Vanessa had assumed they had reached the end of their evening together. She wasn't exactly used to prolonged sexual encounters, but from the way Blair's fingers were tickling down her side, highlighted by the faint warmth of the early morning light seeping in through the crack in her curtains, she had a feeling she was once again going to explore unchartered territory.

"I want to fuck you again," she said gruffly, the back of her head digging into her pillow as Blair's lips ghosted over her chin.

There was a low chuckle and then the press of Blair's lips against her own again, light and lingering. "I guess honesty does have its limited uses," she husked, nipping playfully at Vanessa's lower lip before soothing away the offense with the flat of her tongue.

"I'll go with her," Vanessa offered, ignoring Blair's cutting look of caution. "You guys go ahead and find seats."

Dan looked dubious, eyes flicking from Blair to Vanessa and back again. "Are you sure?" he asked hesitantly, as if the notion of anyone volunteering to spend time alone with Blair was incomprehensible.

"God, yes, she's sure," Blair snapped. "How you can even exist on the same planet that I do continues to amaze me."

Dan shot Vanessa a look, a less than subtle 'You see?' that Blair chose to ignore.

He continued to watch them as Serena dragged him toward the theatre. She was so used to Blair's behavior that she mostly didn't even notice it anymore, and when she did, the most it seemed to rouse was an indulgent smile.

"That was a little harsh," Vanessa muttered, "and maybe slightly out of proportion."

"I'm sorry," Blair huffed, crossing her arms across her chest and adopting a thoroughly put-upon pout. "His very existence is offensive to me. I don't see why everyone wants me to pretend like he's not a complete and total misappropriation of space."

They stepped to the back of the concession line, Blair once more questioning the impulse that drove her to accept Serena's proposition that she join the three of them for a movie when Vanessa leaned forward, her body plastering along Blair's back. She was suddenly so close that her lips were nearly brushing Blair's ear and Blair couldn't hold back the involuntary shiver.

It had been a week since their night together. Any fog it had cleared had long since returned with a vengeance though now, on top of everything else, she found herself catching her breath at the erratic and unexpected recall of the glint in Vanessa's eyes as she'd leaned down to kiss her. She would remember the faint hint of early morning sunlight warming the other girl's skin with an inviting, golden glow and the plaintive, needy cries that she had commanded with her touch, and it had left her, improbably, even more confused and anchorless than before. It was the only reason why Blair had agreed to Serena's suggestion that they repeat the previous weekend outing, only this time with a change of venue to some scummy movie theatre to watch a movie she had absolutely no interest in seeing.

That her heart had beat just as fast at the sight of Vanessa as it did to the inescapable ghosts of her memories had been both disconcerting and jarring.

"I've been thinking about you," Vanessa murmured, voice pitched low. Her hand settled on the curve of Blair's waist, the press of each of individual finger seeming to burn through the fabric of Blair's top.

Eyes widening for a moment, Blair took a half-step forward, putting some space between them again as she struggled to hold on to the icy demeanor she'd adopted as soon as she'd seen Vanessa standing alongside Dan, the two huddled together underneath the aging theatre's marquee. "I'm sure you have, but this is neither the time nor the place to discuss it."

Vanessa snorted at the blatant arrogance of the statement, and closed the space between them once again. "Come home with me after the movie," she said, the words more of a command than a question.

There was a moment's hesitation before Blair nodded shallowly, the move her only visible sign of agreement. Vanessa could feel the tension in her body through the grip she still had on Blair's hip. She didn't know if it was fear of being seen in such a relatively intimate embrace by anyone who mattered or if it was in anticipation of what she'd just agreed to, but Vanessa didn't care. She hadn't been able to stop thinking about that night or about the improbable fact of how much she'd like to repeat it, and now she'd gotten what she wanted without having to expend much effort. As much as she'd been prepared to put up a fight – this was Blair, after all – she wasn't at all disappointed that it wasn't necessary.

"I suppose one plus of the newly indoctrinated is their enthusiasm," Blair said casually, and it wasn't until Vanessa caught the barest hint of a nearly imperceptible smile that she realized Blair was teasing her in a way that was almost affectionate.

"You'd better watch it," she teased in return. "If you actually start to act like something other than a heinous bitch, I might actually start to think you're a likable person."

"We wouldn't want that," Blair agreed with a sympathetic shake of the head. "Would it make it all better if I insulted your outfit or belittled your economic situation?"

"Actually I'd prefer if you save all of that aggression for later."

Vanessa blushed deeply as soon as the words left her mouth and, after a brief second of startled silence, Blair laughed. The sound was infectious and pure, and caught off guard by the authenticity of it, Vanessa joined her.

Dan watched, dumbfounded, from just beyond the reach of the theatre's ticket taker. Despite Serena's bored protestations that Vanessa would be fine, he hadn't been able to completely abandon his friend to his girlfriend's succubus of a BFF. And now, to see them laughing together…

He returned to his seat in a haze, sure he'd imagined the whole thing.

Vanessa eyed the brown cardboard box suspiciously. She hadn't ordered anything and the name in the small return address label was unfamiliar to her, but the package was clearly addressed to her. The brief thought that it might contain a bomb or an envelope full of anthrax flitted through her mind, but she discarded the ideas as quickly as they came.

As far as she knew, she didn't rate high enough on anyone's list to deserve that kind of effort.

Scowl on her face, she razored open the packaging, pulling apart the box top and pushing away the covering of filmy brown paper guarding its contents. What she saw didn't make sense, so she flipped the box over, shaking free the package within along with the shipping slip that drifted out behind it.

1500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.

It took her a while to find it, the small little notation at the bottom of the slipping ship that the item had been ordered by B. Waldorf, but when she did, Vanessa screamed in frustration and grabbed her cell phone.


Blair answered imperiously, as if she was the one who had summoned Vanessa instead of the other way around.

"Blair," Vanessa said impatiently, "what is this?"

"Well, if you're talking on it and it doesn't have any wires connecting it to the wall, then it must be a cell phone," Blair replied, voice full of laconic sarcasm.

"The sheets," Vanessa growled. "Did you buy me fucking sheets?"

"Very inadvertently apropos," Blair said in amusement. "Yes, Vanessa, I did buy you fucking sheets. I don't even want to contemplate the single digit thread count of the ones you're using, but I think they gave me some kind of fabric burn and honestly, that's just unacceptable. Make sure you wash the new ones in cold water and have them on the bed the next time I come over."

Vanessa could think of no other word for her reaction aside from aghast. No, wait, furious also fit the bill. "The next time you come over?" she fumed. "I don't remember inviting you back."

"It's just a matter of time," Blair replied with succinct matter-of-factness. "One time you can write off. Twice implies the beginning of 'a thing.' So, now that we now have a mutually agreeable thing, I expect us to reach a compromise on the date of my return and close this contract out by the end of the week. Is Friday night good for you?"

"Maybe never is good for me," Vanessa shot back.

Blair sighed, and Vanessa could almost see the look of indulgent exasperation on her face. "Don't be difficult. We both know what this is and we both know what this is not. I'm under no delusions that you might want to spend time with me because you enjoy having witty and engaging conversations and basking in my brilliance. Likewise, I don't want to spend time with you because I'm interested in the architecture of the inconsequential sections of the borough or because I'm secretly conducting some sort of social experiment on how the other half lives. We interact positively in a very specific way and there's no shame in exploiting that. Now, we could argue back and forth about this, but why would we? Let me stress the highlights – mutually beneficial, no strings attached, and very satisfying."

"Your presumption astounds me," Vanessa drawled, shaking her head even as she poked the nicely packaged sheets with her forefinger. "I know you're not always this cold. In fact, I know from personal experience that there are places on you that are very, very hot."

"This is your response to my offer?" Blair asked incredulously. "Phone sex?"

"I don't think what you said actually constitutes an offer," Vanessa said even-handedly. She had considered letting her fury lead her into a full-blown tirade, but in the end, decided it wasn't really worth it. Arguing with Blair was a largely fruitless endeavor and, anyway, best enjoyed face-to-face. "And, I don't want your sheets."

"It's not as if they're a gift for you," Blair replied dismissively. "Although it would be patently idiotic to refuse to use them on a full time basis, I don't care what you do with them so long as they're clean and on your bed when I come over. They're a gesture of generosity to myself."

Unable to help herself, Vanessa murmured, "Are you often generous with yourself?"

Blair sighed tiredly. "Is that supposed to be innuendo?"

In reply, Vanessa shot back, "If you find the accommodations here so distasteful, why not invite me up to your place?"

"You're the one with the absentee sister/roommate." Blair's reply was slightly bristly. "It makes more sense."

"You already have sheets you like."

"God, I don't know why I bother," Blair muttered. "Look, could you just say yes or no?"

Though Blair couldn't see it, Vanessa's smile turned coy. "I don't think I can, actually."

"So, a no, then." Blair said flatly.

"No. Not a no."

"Then yes?"

"Not a yes either."

"You do realize those were the two options from which you were directed to choose," Blair pointed out in irritation.

Vanessa's coy smile morphed into a smirk. "Why don't you keep your Friday night free and check back with me. I'll give you your answer before midnight the day of."

"It might be withdrawn by then."

"If so, then I guess you'll have answered your own question."

Voice icy, Blair hissed, "I do not like to be kept waiting."

"I don't like to be bullied, so that makes us even."

"Whatever," Blair huffed dismissively. "The next time you call me, it better be with an answer."

"Oh, I won't be calling you," Vanessa said cheerily. "You'll be calling me."

Blair's good-bye was decidedly curt, and once she'd gone, Vanessa looked at her phone with amusement. Annoying Blair was quite possibly even more satisfying than arguing with her.

And then she looked down at the sheets once more and sighed. So fucking presumptuous. She should tell her no just for the principle of the thing, then set the sheets on fire and leave them in a flaming pile in front of Blair's penthouse. Unzipping the bag holding the set, she ran a finger across the fabric experimentally and then cursed again.

"Fuck you," she muttered aloud, the sheets the softest she'd ever felt.

"Me, you, movies."

Serena plopped down on the bench beside Blair, long legs sprawled out in front of her.

Looking up from the magazine she'd been perusing desultorily, Blair murmured a polite, "I'm sorry?"

"This Friday. Me, you, and movies. All Audrey, if you want."

"Another double date with Dan and Vanessa?" Blair asked snidely, snapping her magazine shut.

"Nah, Dan's got a thing," Serena offered with a shrug. "It'll just be you and me."

"Ah," Blair murmured, shaking her head in understanding. "Dan has a thing."

Serena nodded as if in commiseration. "Yeah, I don't know. Some family thing."

"Leaving you free to grace me with your presence."

"I wouldn't put it quite that way," Serena said slowly, the iciness in Blair's eyes alerting her to the fact that everything wasn't going according to plan. "But, yeah, you know, you and me spending a little time together alone, just like the old days."

"Just like the old days," Blair repeated slowly, mockingly. Then, offering a tight smile, she said, "It's a charming idea, but I'm afraid I'm already booked."

"What," Serena scoffed, "another dinner with Kati and Iz? Just cancel."

"No, not that," Blair said, voice full of mock apology. "I have a thing. I'm sure you understand."

"Come on, Blair," the blonde murmured tiredly. "Don't be this way."

"What way is that?" Blair snapped. "Don't fall all over myself to cancel my plans because you happen to have a night off from your occupation of Dan's rectum? Is that the way you mean?"

"I thought we were past this," Serena growled in irritation, pouting as she slumped back against the bench and crossed her arms over her chest.

For the briefest of seconds, Blair smiled sadly. "I'm not a second choice or a back-up plan, S. I'm not begging for scraps. I have a life that doesn't revolve around waiting for you to not have anything better to do."

"That's not what this is," Serena said quietly, sadly, her demeanor turning on a dime. Her eyes were huge and dark and miserable and it made Blair want to do anything and everything necessary to make that look disappear. "I've missed you."

Blair steeled herself against her impulse to comfort and cave, her own eyes going cold. "I haven't gone anywhere. I never did."

Serena sighed, hands on her knees propelling her to her feet. There were times when Blair was impenetrable, like a proverbial fortress, and this, she figured, was one of them. "The offer still stands. Let me know if you change your mind."

Blair was tempted to get in a parting shot, something like 'I wouldn't bet on it' or 'Don't hold your breath', but neither was particularly original and, frankly, it wasn't worth the effort. Not with Serena staring at her with her sad puppy dog eyes, and not when she could already feel her resolve crumbling. So instead they simply stared at one another for a protracted moment before Serena gave her a small, resigned smile and turned away. Blair watched her go, biting her tongue, refusing to call after her.

She had two options. On the one hand, she could call the suddenly insufferably smug Vanessa Abrams. It was after eight on Friday and she'd waited as long as she possibly could before making her decision, but the inactivity was pressing against her like a pesky, Sisyphean weight. Her other option was Serena, with her promise of movies, platonic girl time, things they wouldn't or couldn't talk about, and the awkward strain of their past making everything an effort.


"Well?" Blair snapped the word out like the lash of a whip, sharp and biting.

"That thing they say about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar is true, you know," Vanessa teased. She had been inordinately pleased to see Blair's name appear onscreen when her cell rang, almost as if she'd won the deciding battle in a short but particularly vicious war.

"I honestly don't have time for this," Blair said tiredly, the part of her that had wanted desperately to take Serena up on her offer rebelling. "It's been a long day. A long week."

There was a distinct ring of truth to Blair's words, and a worn-out timbre to her voice that took all of the fun out of Vanessa's teasing. She didn't want to feel sorry for Blair. She hadn't been sure that it was possible to feel sorry for her, but for some reason, Vanessa did. And so she said, her acquiescence almost gentle, "Come over. I washed them in cold water, just like you said."

Blair was still subdued when she showed up at Vanessa's door nearly half an hour later. She looked preoccupied, almost deflated, and had Vanessa considered Blair to be a real person with real emotions, she would have been worried. As it was, she was still greatly perturbed, unsure how to handle Blair when she wasn't prickly and bitchy; when she was, instead, sad.

She watched warily as Blair deposited her purse on what passed for her dining table. It was followed by the other girl's jacket, and then Blair was toeing out of her shoes and standing there barefoot. She looked impossibly young and uncharacteristically vulnerable, and what Vanessa had imagined to be another night of sniping and fucking began to reshape itself in her head.

They didn't communicate. Not in the way that friends communicated, with hugs and avid attention and understanding, because they weren't friends. They were barely even acquaintances. They were something else, something they'd deliberately chosen, but that didn't mean that Vanessa understood or even knew the rules. So, even as she cursed herself as a soft-hearted sentimental, Vanessa reached out, pulling one of Blair's hands into hers. She tugged playfully, soft smile in place as she waited for Blair to focus on her, then closed the space between them. Her kiss was gentle, almost tentative, and she pulled back quickly, eyes flicking up to check Blair's for any hint of mocking before she kissed her again.

There was no mocking, only a hint of wistfulness that, unexpectedly, made Vanessa ache for the other girl.

Their fingers were still entwined, Vanessa's other hand tracing a soothing path along Blair's upper arm, as the tentative kisses deepened. Blair responded with an equal amount of tentativeness, and it gave Vanessa a queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Not queasy as in wrong, as in the feeling that what they were doing together was wrong, but queasy as in uncertain. If there had been one thing that had remained constant in their short association, it was that she had always – whether she wanted to or not – known where Blair stood. There was no haziness and no equivocation. Blair was Blair.

Except, at that moment, she wasn't. She was, instead, something fragile and vulnerable, something alien. They were almost the same height, but for some reason, Vanessa suddenly felt taller and more substantial. Something about the sensation made her feel oddly protective, as if she'd been unexpectedly entrusted with a priceless, rare, and imminently breakable artifact. Pulling Blair along behind after her as she led them to her bedroom seemed to take on some kind of significance which, she realized, was absolutely ridiculous. She didn't care about Blair Waldorf and Blair Waldorf certainly didn't care about her.

Despite that, the protective feeling didn't go away when she eased Blair down onto the mattress. She'd done as promised, and the sheets were soft and cool beneath them. She hadn't slept on them yet and grudgingly admitted that Blair had been right – she'd be a fool not to – all of which reminded her that Blair wasn't someone who required gentleness and care.

Except maybe she was, because the way she was clutching at Vanessa's shoulders and the soft, needy sounds she was making weren't doing anything to abate the protectiveness. In fact, as Vanessa peeled Blair's dress down over her shoulders, baring her in the purely physical sense, it only seemed to grow.

She'd learned a lot during their previous two encounters, so when Vanessa's fingers slid between Blair's legs, they did so with confidence. She knew Blair's body, knew what kind of touches made her gasp and what kind made her dig her fingernails into Vanessa's back. And so she did those things and she got those responses, but there was a decided difference. For once, it didn't feel like Blair was fighting, like she was engaged in some kind of battle she needed to win. She wasn't biting or clawing, wasn't bucking her hips or smirking arrogantly. Instead, her eyes were closed and her lips were parted and she looked brittle and beautiful.

The sound of keys rattling pulled Vanessa from sleep, and for a moment she panicked, unable to orient herself. There was a warm body beside her and soft, even breathing just barely loud enough to hear, and she wondered for a second if she was still dreaming.

Seconds later harsh light spilled in from the hallway as her bedroom door cracked open, and Vanessa blinked, dazed.


Her sister Ruby stood illuminated, backlit from behind so that Vanessa couldn't read the expression on her face when she realized what she was seeing. Vanessa cursed internally. Ruby had had a gig that night. She wasn't supposed to get in until daybreak, if not later, and certainly not until well after Blair had left. They'd fallen asleep, though, Vanessa unable to bring herself to push Blair out the door. She'd found that she hadn't gotten rid of the protectiveness at all, and when Blair had settled her head on the crook of Vanessa's shoulder, Vanessa had merely sighed, arms wrapping loosely around Blair's waist as they both slipped off to sleep.

"Yeah, I'm fine," she answered belatedly, her voice a hoarse croak.

Her sister gave a soft laugh. "I can see that," she replied, amused. "I saw the stuff on the table. I just wanted to make sure everything was okay."

Unsuccessfully fighting back a blush, Vanessa stumbled out an awkward, "It is. I'm fine. We'll talk in the morning, okay."

"Hey, whatever. It's cool, you know." Ruby paused, and Vanessa could almost hear her smirk. "Good night."

"Yeah," Vanessa muttered. "Good night."

When Vanessa woke up again, she was alone. She didn't know when Blair had slipped out, and this wasn't like the movies. There were no notes waiting on her, or roses left romantically on the pillow that had been vacated. It was a letdown after the oddly emotional night before, no good-bye kisses or whispered words of parting to round out the whole thing in the same way it had started. She'd felt closer to Blair, felt as if she'd managed to get a tentative finger hold and pulled back some of the layers and that was frankly scary. She didn't want to peek behind the mask. She didn't want to get to know the insecure or damaged or basically kind Blair – whatever stereotypical heart of gold or damsel in distress story existed behind the marble façade. She just wanted… well, she didn't know what she wanted.

No, she told herself firmly, that wasn't right. She knew what she wanted. She wanted to follow her id wherever and for as long as it was willing to lead. She wanted an excuse to think about someone other than Dan. She wanted something nice and uncomplicated with someone in no position to hurt her.

Basically, she wanted an emotional freebie.

"Anything you want to tell me?"

It was past mid-afternoon. Vanessa had been up for hours, had done a shift at work, gone out for the week's groceries, and even washed the dishes, but Ruby was still up a little earlier than she'd expected. Her sister was padding into the kitchen, barefoot and wearing loose cotton boxers and an oversized tee, and Vanessa knew she'd been waiting for this.

"No," she said honestly. "Not really."

Bottles rattled as Ruby pulled open the refrigerator. She snagged a carton of orange juice, drinking from it directly. "I know I'm supposed to be your guardian or supervisor or whatever," she said, sliding the juice back into place and closing the refrigerator door. She leaned back against it, one foot propped on its cool surface and her arms crossed over her chest as she gave Vanessa an assessing once over. "You're an adult. I figure you know what you're doing."

"Thanks," Vanessa mumbled, ignoring the blush spreading quickly across her cheeks.

"Not that I'm not a little surprised," Ruby continued, smirking sardonically. "You want to tell me who she is?"

"No one you know."

"I know a lot of people. Give me a try."

Vanessa hesitated for a second, then said grudgingly, "Blair Waldorf."

"Blair Waldorf," Ruby repeated absently. "Nope, I don't… wait. Isn't she the girl you were talking about that one time? The one you thought was a heinous bitch?"

Steeling herself, Vanessa nodded. "That's her."

Ruby just smiled at her for a moment before chuckling. "I hope you know what you're doing. Girls can make your life a living hell. Especially girls like her."

"It's not like that," Vanessa protested.

Ruby shrugged. "From what I saw, it looked like something." She paused a moment, her pointed gaze prompting Vanessa to remember the way Ruby had seen them the night before, curled around one another tenderly. "Anyway, I'm not trying to get in your business. I just want you to be careful. I don't want to see you get hurt. You haven't been with a girl before, Van. Don't think that she can't hurt you too."

"I think I have a little insight into the female mind," Vanessa shot back, insulted.

Ruby shook her head wearily, though her eyes still glinted with amusement. "Being a girl and being with a girl – that's two separate things entirely, sis. You'll see." She paused, eyes narrowing and smile growing sharper, then said, "And if you ever need any tips or advice or suggestions, don't be shy. Let me play big sister and draw on my vast wealth of first-hand knowledge and impart to you the wisdom I've collected."

"Gross," Vanessa snorted, then rolled her eyes, glad that Ruby had wrapped up her concerned older sister routine. "I'm still mostly straight, just so you know. And anyway, I'm doing just fine on my own."

"I was hoping you would call on Friday." Serena was waiting for her just outside of Billiard on Monday morning, expression a mix of defiant and mournful.

"I told you," Blair replied breezily, trying to brush past her, "I had a thing."

"You didn't go out," Serena accused. "You weren't spotted."

"Then maybe it was a private thing," Blair said bitingly.

Serena watched her distrustfully. "You're not seeing anyone, Blair."

"I'm honored that you've seen fit to stay on top of my social calendar, S."

Serena took a menacing step forward, then almost immediately backed down. Voice surprisingly soft, she said, "You don't have to lie to me, B. I know you're angry. I know I hurt your feelings by implying that you were a stand-in for Dan. It hurts me that you'd rather spend an evening alone than spend it with me, but maybe that's what I deserve."

"You don't know what you're talking about." Blair laughed sardonically, shaking her head. "Not that it's any of your business, but I didn't spend my evening alone. And it was sweet, really, that you wanted to spend a little time together, but things have changed, S. I'm not the same person I was before you left. Things are… they're different. So, you know, go off and frolic about with the happy Humphrey household, or whatever. We'll still be friends, but things aren't going to be like they used to be. They can't be, S. We've grown up."

"Who is it?" Serena snarled bitterly, a deep scowl etched on her face. "Chuck?"

Blair smiled sweetly, pointedly ignoring the question. "If you want to schedule a little girl time with me, I suggest you find a way to make it a priority instead of a backup plan." The part of her that had wanted desperately to call Serena the past Friday surged suddenly to the fore, still unable to stand Serena's pout, and she placed her hand on the other girl's forearm, dipping her chin and looking straight up into Serena's eyes as she said honestly, "You are important to me, S, but I have to be important to you too or it's not worth it."

"You are," Serena said miserably, demeanor again shifting erratically. Her hand came up to cover Blair's, their fingers overlapping. "You're not a backup plan." She paused awkwardly, then said in a rush, "Isn't this the way you wanted it, Blair?"

Blair stiffened in surprise but didn't answer. She couldn't. The question was too loaded, half of its burden shouldered firmly by her and the other half resting with Serena. Answering it opened up memories she'd pushed hard to repress and unburied emotions she'd worked long and hard on sublimating. It brought up the past in an uncomfortable, unnecessary way, hauling all of that ancient, unresolved history back into the light. Their split, Serena's fling with Nate, Serena's disappearance, Blair's response to her return… those weren't the kinds of things you revisited with five minutes left before the first class of the day. They weren't things you ever revisited voluntarily.

So instead she shrugged, her rueful smile offering the only apology she could muster as she slipped out of Serena's hold.

"We never go out," Vanessa complained, pouting.

She was lying on her side, drawing absent patterns on Blair's sweat dampened abdomen, sheets wrapped loosely around them.

"It's a secret affair," Blair drawled, head dropping to the side so that she was looking at Vanessa. "If other people know about it, it kind of negates the secret part of the whole thing."

"Who do you think is going to see you on this side of town?" Vanessa scoffed. "And since when does appearing in public with someone constitute prima facie evidence of a secret affair? You're out in public all the time with Serena and the rest of the groupies. I don't see Gossip Girl speculating that you're the ringmaster of some kind of shadowy Sapphic cabal."

"Is this you trying to tell me that you want to go out on a date?" Blair asked tiredly.

"Not a date, per se," Vanessa equivocated. "I mean, sometimes I just want to go out and do things, you know. Go to a movie. Go to a concert. Go shopping. Eat in public. Not that this isn't great, but don't you ever want a little variety?"

"Not particularly."

Vanessa sighed, flattening her palm against Blair's stomach, short nails scratching out teasing, absent paths. "We could start small. Baby steps. Order in and watch a movie."

"That still sounds suspiciously date-like," Blair said flatly.

"Okay," Vanessa said, frustrated, "let me make this as clear as I possibly can for you. I need something more. I'm not looking to change the basic foundation of our relationship or arrangement or whatever you want to call it, but I have other needs, Blair. I need conversation. I need a change of scenery. Do you understand what I'm saying."

"Yes," Blair huffed. "You want to venture outside. I get it."

"No," Vanessa clarified, "I don't think you do. We will leave this apartment for some kind of interaction that involves clothes and other people or there won't be any more interactions involving nudity and the absence of other people."

"An ultimatum?" Blair questioned, suddenly amused by the fire in Vanessa's voice. She was always amused when the other girl got worked up, a fact which drove Vanessa crazy.

"More like a pronouncement."

Blair considered it for a moment, eyeing the stern set of Vanessa's jaw as she tried to reason out just how serious the other girl was about the proclamation. After a minute of engaging in an unwavering stare down, Blair sighed, conceding as if the entire thing was only a minor annoyance. "Fine. What do you want to do?"

Vanessa continued to watch her, this time distrustfully, as if the concession was really an elaborate trap. "Really?"

In reply, Blair shot her a scathing look.

"Okay," Vanessa said irritably, "I want to go see a movie."

"Do you have a particular movie in mind?" Blair asked slowly, as if she were negotiating with a small, easily distracted child.

"No," Vanessa admitted, "but that doesn't matter. I want to go see a movie and then, after, I want to go have coffee and discuss the movie."

"And when did you want to do this?"

"Tomorrow," Vanessa said definitely, pouncing on the earliest possible opportunity. She'd negotiated a special dispensation and wasn't about to let it slip away.

Blair had been skeptical but Vanessa had chosen tactically.

"Seriously, how funny was that," Blair said, taking a tentative sip of her non-fat, no-foam decaf mocha. "Every time he sees her, she's got another kid and he doesn't even blink. It's just complete acceptance, like he doesn't even care where the kid came from. Surely he had to know they weren't his kids, but he's not at all concerned. He just says they're his, like that'll somehow overcome biology, and then just keeps going."

Vanessa had thought that Mongol, with its depiction of the early years of Genghis Khan, would appeal to the opportunistic schemer in Blair. She'd banked on appreciation for his desire for world domination and admiration for his tactics, so Blair's focus on his calm acceptance of his ever expanding family came as a bit of a surprise.

"He might not have known they weren't his kids," she offered, shrugging.

"How could he have not known?" Blair asked animatedly, the look on her face almost offended. "He's gone for months, years, and comes back to find Borte with small children he couldn't possibly have fathered. He was smart enough to take over half of the world. I think he would have figured it out."

"I'm by no means an expert, but I don't know if people had a really accurate grasp on reproductive science back in the day," Vanessa countered, holding her hands out palms up in supplication to forestall an immediate counterattack. "You're taking for granted that they'd figured out gestational periods and conception dates and all of that kind of stuff. Who knows what they knew or what they believed? I think it's entirely valid to assume that he honestly thought that those were his kids. Besides, even if he didn't, he seemed like the kind of guy who realized that some situations were out of your control and that you had to accept the outcome and move on. He had a family to revenge, an empire or two to conquer. There were more important things to do and he seemed to really love her, so maybe it all came down to the fact that he just didn't care. Maybe he chalked it up to bad luck or bad timing and got on with the business of loving his wife and killing thousands of people."

Blair considered the prospect speculatively for a long moment, taking another sip of mocha. "Because that's what people do," she muttered, suddenly bitter. "It doesn't matter if you're a warlord or a fashion designer; it's always about building an empire, isn't it? Why worry about your kids when there's fame and fortune to be had? Family is inconsequential when it comes to the pursuit of power and the polishing of reputations."

Vanessa recognized the anger for what it was, but that didn't mean that she knew how to respond to it. She'd gathered, from bits and pieces scattered about by Blair and second hand stories she'd gotten from Dan, that Blair's relationship with her mother was strained, to say the least. It was one of those abstractly tragic things, something Vanessa knew was probably heartbreaking and sad but something that she didn't want to examine too closely. Enmeshing herself in it meant digging another layer deeper, and there was a strong sense of self-preservation pressing her not to do that.

Instead she tried to joke, though even to her own ears, the attempt fell flat. "It's not as if we know what really happened anyway. They didn't exactly keep accurate meeting notes back then."

There was a moment when Blair looked poised to say something further, as if unwilling to let the subject die so easy of a death. But then she pulled herself back, serene calm descending over her features like a blanket, and returned the joke with one of her own. "Even if they had, they probably would have gotten run through the Mongol version of the shredder at some point."

Blair had spoken with blasé indifference and a slight shrug, both carefully practiced, but despite the artifice, Vanessa couldn't help but smile. "What, like a group of guys standing around in a circle, hacking sensitive empire documents into tiny pieces with their swords?"

The mask cracked slightly as Blair smirked, then rolled her eyes, and Vanessa felt her heart skip a beat. It was as if she'd won some kind of battle despite her reluctance to fight, and the unexpected victory chipped away at the wall she was using to keep a deliberate distance between them. "Actually," she offered, smiling slyly, "I think that's still the Department of Defense's preferred method."

It was nearly a half hour of surprisingly easy conversation later before Blair leveled Vanessa with an arch look. "I think I've fulfilled my contractual obligation. Can we go back to your apartment now?"

All in all, Vanessa considered the evening a success.

This, Vanessa decided, could be considered manual labor.

"Tell me again why I'm the one helping you rearrange furniture," she grunted, pushing back the hair that had fallen to cover her eyes. She could feel sweat at her temples and gathering at the small of her back, and her quads were beginning to ache.

"Friends help friends carry heavy objects," Dan deadpanned.

Vanessa scoffed. "You have other friends. What about your girlfriend? Or, did you think she was too dainty and privileged for the task?"

"Can't I want to spend some time with my friend who I never seem to see these days?" Dan joked, shouldering his bureau into place.

"Don't even," Vanessa warned, flopping down tiredly onto his bed. "You don't see me because you're superglued to Serena's side. You don't see me because you don't make time to see me."

"That's not entirely true," Dan said defensively. "I invited you to brunch last weekend."

"With you and Serena," Vanessa pointed out dryly. "No one likes to be the third wheel, Dan."

"It's not like that," he muttered guiltily. "Besides, I thought you liked Serena."

"Yeah, she's fine. Whatever," Vanessa said dismissively, waving her hand. "That doesn't mean I want to hang out with her. You're my friend."

"We're hanging out now."

Vanessa glared at him, then shook her head in something akin to disgust. "We're doing chores. This isn't hanging out. This is you taking advantage of me for free labor."

"Yeah, but I'm buying lunch after."

"I'm expecting witty conversation to make this worth my while." She lifted her head, scanning the newly rearranged room, and sighed. "Are we done here?"

Dan pursed his lips, looking around the room critically. "I don't know. Do you think I'm taking full advantage of the ambient lighting?"

"God," Vanessa groaned, dropping her head again. "We're done."

"What's this?" Blair asked, fingering the fading bruise on Vanessa's hip.

Vanessa stirred slightly, looking down to see what Blair was referencing. "Oh, that," she said dully. "I was helping Dan move furniture."

She was exhausted, almost too tired to participate in any sort of coherent conversation. Blair had been insatiable, pushing Vanessa up against the back of the closed door as soon as she'd entered the apartment. They'd only reached the bed maybe an hour before, and Vanessa winced just thinking about all of the things she hoped Ruby never found out about. They both prepared food on that kitchen counter, after all.

"Move furniture?" Blair repeated, a derisive edge to her voice. "He coerced you into moving furniture?"

Not caring enough to mount any sort of defense, Vanessa nodded. "Yeah, basically."

"What a tool," Blair muttered.

"Hey," Vanessa protested weakly, parroting the argument she'd found lacking when it came from Dan, "I'm his friend. Friends help move heavy objects."

"How often do you see him these days?" Blair challenged, eyes narrowing.

Vanessa shrugged, not wanting to tell the full truth and completely unwilling to get into either a contentious conversation or an outright argument about her relationship with Dan. "I don't know. Not as often as I did before."

"Which I'll take to mean hardly ever," Blair said disdainfully, "and when he does make the time, it's for what? To help him move furniture?"

"There was lunch involved."

"Don't defend him."

At the sharply snapped admonition, Vanessa turned to look at Blair quizzically. "Why do you even care?"

For a moment, Blair was stymied, the look on her face one of mulish anger. "I don't," she said finally, voice sharp. "I just think you should have more respect for yourself."

"It wasn't that big of a deal," Vanessa drawled, overlooking the fact that she'd been on the verge of intensely angry at the time. "We caught up at lunch."

"Friends make time for one another," Blair muttered, nails unconsciously digging into the bruise she'd been surveying.

Vanessa winced slightly, shifting so that Blair's grip landed on a less sensitive part of her body. "Is this about me or is this really about you?"

Blair's gaze darkened for the most fleeting of moments before clearing again. No matter how many times she saw it happen, Vanessa was always fascinated by the way Blair could wipe her face completely clean of any emotion. And, just like every time she'd seen it done before, Vanessa tried to consciously disregard whatever might have happened to inure such a skill in a girl who wasn't even yet out of high school.

"It would be disingenuous to deny that I'm not completely happy with Serena," Blair said airily, as if admitting to nothing more serious than the smallest of gaffes, "but we're not talking about me. If you're going to insist on being friends with the Humphrey boy, the least he could do to deserve it is to actually spend time with you instead of tricking you into service as a day laborer."

"Is that actual concern for me that I hear or are you just practicing projecting your neuroses onto the nearest available target?" Vanessa drawled lazily. "Because if it is concern for me, then I'm touched. Truly. If it's just you projecting, then you need to be having this conversation with Serena instead of me."

"I already have."

Vanessa could hear the slight strain in Blair's voice, that barely audible imperfection the only thing that keyed her in to the possibility that what Blair had said was probably actually important.

"Humphrey was off with his family doing something, I'm sure, straight out of a Disney movie, and Serena decided that meant she had time to hang out with me."

"I take it you said no?"

"Well, it just so happened that the night she was proposing was the very same Friday that this insufferable girl from Brooklyn was waiting for my call."

Vanessa was silent, shocked to her very core.

Blair continued blithely, as if her choice of Vanessa over Serena, no matter how small, was inconsequential. "So I weighed my options, made my choice, and reminded her that Blair Waldorf is not a back-up plan."

"Yeah, well, I think you made the right choice, Waldorf." Torn between a budding, uncomfortable emotion she couldn't quite name and a more familiar sensation, Vanessa chose the devil she knew. Voice suddenly gone husky, she continued slyly, "Do you remember what I said to you that first night, after the club?"

At Blair's look of irritated confusion, Vanessa smirked, rolling over so that she was propped atop the other girl. Her smirk only widened at Blair's gasp of arousal; she slid a thigh between Blair's leg, pressing down firmly against her, and bent down to nip at the other girl's neck.

"Well, don't leave me hanging in suspense," Blair said, and though she tried for bitchy, the words skewed more toward breathless.

Vanessa smiled against the soft skin of Blair's neck, the expression almost vicious. "I want to fuck you again."

The handbag was pressed at her off-handedly, as if Blair hadn't just deposited $750 worth of fuchsia and gray leather in her hands.

"Blair, what?" Vanessa couldn't form a coherent sentence, too confused and overwhelmed for the words to come.

The brunette went on the defensive instantly, already scowling. "Oh, whatever. Don't throw some kind of Dan Humphrey fit about it. You know it's going to look fabulous on you. It's perfect for your style."

Which yes, it was, but that didn't mean that Vanessa was in any way prepared to accept a gift that cost more than the combined value of every other gift she'd ever received in her life if she excluded the things Blair has already given her.

"Just don't waste it on jeans and a tee shirt," Blair said snottily and Vanessa felt like she'd stepped into some sort of alternate universe where things like this just happened. "That's not the point at all. You're supposed to accentuate, not take it low rent."

She almost dropped the bag when Blair's hands settled lightly on her waist before skimming up along her sides to rest on her shoulders. The kiss she received a second later was soft and familiar, with just a hint of playful tease, though Blair pulled away before things became too serious.

"I want to see it. Put it on," she said, voice low and seductive. The look in her eyes was one of pure anticipation and Vanessa's shock at the whirlwind of unexpected activity and her sudden inability to articulate anything coherent extended far enough to swallow whole any protest she might have lobbied. So, instead of vehemently refusing to have any further contact with the thing, she slipped the bag onto her arm and told herself she was ignoring the way it did, indeed, look absolutely perfect. She noted somewhat ironically that she was wearing jeans and a tee shirt – a shirt she picked up at The Faint concert for $18 dollars, a concert that Blair resolutely refused to attend with her – though for the moment Blair didn't seem to mind her sartorial choices.

When she spoke again, Blair's voice was almost a purr. "That looks so good on you."

"And where am I supposed to take it?" Vanessa asked irritably, finally finding her voice. "How am I supposed to explain this? I can't afford a Chloe day tripper, Blair."

"Tell people you found it on consignment," Blair replied flippantly, reaching forward to run her hand along the outline of the purse where it was pressed against Vanessa's side. Vanessa could feel the sweep of Blair's knuckles through the thin fabric of her tee shirt, a teasing touch she swayed into instinctively before remembering that she needed to maintain enough distance to fully express her annoyance. Because this – the giving of gifts and soft kisses and the teasing, familiar quality to Blair's voice – was producing a feeling that she was absolutely certain could only be annoyance.

"Of course," she said sarcastically, pulling back. Blair kept hold of her tee shirt, swaying forward even as Vanessa swayed away, the faint smile on her face driving Vanessa's ire even higher. "I found a brand new Chloe at a consignment store. Not last season's Chloe, by the way, but a new one, and somehow, this miracle happened to fall within my price range."

For a moment, Blair's brow crinkled in consternation, as if the logistics of the entire operation had suddenly begun to present their flaws. "Then don't tell people anything. Why should it be any of their business?"

"Oh, you're right," Vanessa agreed vehemently, "it's not anyone's business. But people like you and your slack-brained lackeys make it your business and then I'm the one who has to put up with all the shit that comes my way as a result. And maybe it's fun on your side of that equation – the side that gets to deliver the criticism and innuendo – but on my side, it's really just kind of tiring."

"Is it physically impossible for you to be happy about anything?" Blair demanded, hand curling into a fist in the soft fabric of Vanessa's shirt. She gave a sharp tug and Vanessa stumbled into her, hands landing on Blair's hips for balance. "Don't you like it?"

"Like it?" Vanessa looked at Blair as if she'd gone daft. "Of course I like it. That doesn't mean I can accept it."

"Nonsense. It's yours now. No giving it back, so can we just go ahead and stop this silly argument before it takes up any more of our time? Eleanor's expecting me for dinner at 8:00, and god forbid I keep her waiting for even a minute, which means I need to leave by 6:30 which means that we've only got a couple of hours and the last thing I want to do with them is spend them fully clothed and irritated."

Vanessa was pretty sure she was outraged by that but she wasn't entirely sure what she wanted to do about it. It wasn't often that she and Blair had free time at the same time, especially during the week, and the truth was that she didn't particularly want to spend it fully clothed and irritated either. So, instead of arguing further, she slipped the bag off of her arm and laid it carefully on the table, offering Blair a scowl as she said fiercely, "You're taking this with you when you leave."

Blair had made it halfway through an eye roll when Vanessa kissed her. She put a little force behind it, using her momentum to drive Blair into a nearby chair, and then clambered up after her. It was a tight fit, and making sure that there was enough room for the both of them meant that her knees were slipping into the less than comfortable gaps between the chair's seat and its arms, but Vanessa didn't particularly care. The less time spent talking translated into the less time Blair had to say something infuriating or insulting, and in Vanessa's mind, actively ignoring the other girl's faults in favor of her more attractive features was always going to be the best option.

Blair inadvertently agreed.

"You have to agree this is so much better than arguing," she said breathlessly a minute later, pulling away long enough to shoot Vanessa a look that was all hooded dark eyes, anticipation, and hunger. It was the kind of look that made her insides go just a little bit liquid, so when Blair reached forward to pull her tee over her head, Vanessa made sure to help. Soon she was just in her jeans; Blair was still wearing her ridiculous school uniform, headband and all, which shouldn't have been hot because Vanessa wasn't really that kind of perv but, fuck, it was.

Blair's skirt was trapped where their thighs were pressed together and for a moment Vanessa found it almost impossible to both kiss Blair and tug it free. Her hand fumbled, the occasional awkward jerk serving little purpose other than to frustrate her, but Vanessa wasn't inclined to focus on one activity over the other. Instead of moving or repositioning or any of the myriad other things she could have done to aid her cause, the hazy part of Vanessa's mind still devoted to thought prompted her to wrap one hand around the top of the chair and use the leverage to rip the skirt up far enough to create enough space to uncover dark blue tights. The tights were much less of a problem, of course, once she finally had access to them. She got her fingers under them on the first try, smiling into the kiss she was still using to keep Blair both complacent and immobile, and a split-second later, she was where she wanted to be.

"Jesus, Abrams, foreplay," Blair hissed in agitation, head rearing back so that Vanessa could appreciate the full force of her glare.

Vanessa merely smirked, and because she liked the way Blair looked when she blushed, began to move her fingers even as she said in a low, rough voice, "Doesn't feel like you need it."

The expected blush emerged, but because Blair couldn't decide whether to be aroused or infuriated by the words, the conflicting play of the two emotions brought along with it an expression that made Vanessa's heart beat twice as fast.

Blair looked as if she was on the verge of saying something further, something caustic by the look in her eyes, so Vanessa cut her off. The brunette was surprisingly fond of kissing; it was a secret weapon in Vanessa's arsenal, one that was particularly easy to deploy because she loved kissing Blair too. She thought it must be something about the combination of soft, lush lips and soft, smooth skin, because kissing hadn't always been one of her favorite things. And so she wrapped her free hand around Blair's loosely knotted tie and tugged, biting down playfully on Blair's lush lower lip and then following it up with a swipe of her tongue.

It only took a moment for Blair to forget that she was on the verge of getting huffy, and when she did, Vanessa began to slowly and methodically increase the speed of her movements. She loved the way it felt to touch Blair that way, with her fingers enveloped in wet heat, and she loved even more how it felt to kiss her at the same time. So she did both until Blair squirmed and whimpered and dug her nails into Vanessa's shoulders, urging her to abandon her lazy pace and just get it done.

She considered ignoring Blair's admonitions for all of three seconds; the intensity in Blair's eyes quickly changed her mind, however, especially when paired with the high flush in her cheeks and the wispy curls of hair clinging to her sweat-dampened forehead.

Not breaking eye contact, she gave Blair exactly what she was asking for, watching with a smirk as Blair struggled to maintain even a semblance of composure. It was the little things, though, that caused Vanessa's smirk to slip. The soft moan, the flash of white teeth digging into a ruby red bottom lip, the fluttering of long, dark lashes, the slight flare of Blair's nostrils – they settled into Vanessa's stomach, causing a fluttering that had her swallowing hard.

The sound Blair made as she came, needy and aching, elicited a moan from Vanessa in reply.

Aware of her own pressing need, Vanessa slipped her fingers from between Blair's legs, fumbled awkwardly with the button and zipper on her jeans, then slid them between her own legs.

"God," she gasped, hips jumping up at the touch of her fingers. She was almost there, just right on the edge, and she knew it was going to be so, so good…

"What do you think you're doing?" Blair asked sharply, her nails digging into Vanessa's wrist. She gave a hard tug, pulling Vanessa's hand free and tossing it to the side, and replaced it quickly with her own. Vanessa's hands wrapped around the back of the chair for balance as Blair's fingers pressed into her, palm grinding roughly against her clit. Hips immediately beginning to rock against the pressure, Vanessa's eyes drifted shut and she focused in on the pleasure she could feel growing.

"It's better this way," Blair said arrogantly, breaking through her haze, and Vanessa could hear the smirk in the other girl's voice. "When I touch you, it's better."

One of her hands slipped off the back of the chair to Blair's neck, and she let her nails dig into the skin there punishingly. "Yes. Fuck. Shut up," she hissed.

"You watched me," Blair continued, voice a gravelly husk. "You watched me and now I'm going to watch you. I'm going to watch you…"

Vanessa's low moan cut through her words, and her hand slid from Blair's neck to the back of her head, fingers gripping and pulling hard at silky dark hair.

Moments later, she collapsed, face digging into Blair's neck, and the brunette's soft chuckle vibrated against her lips.

"You're such a bitch," she murmured, voice weak, though she followed the words with a soft kiss to Blair's neck. "I don't even know why I like you."

"You like me because I'm fabulous."

Vanessa could still hear the smirk in Blair's voice, and she lifted her head, one brow already arched as she prepared to deliver an appropriately stinging riposte, when she heard it.

The rasp of a key in the lock.

"So that was Blair."

Ruby said it blithely, as if she hadn't walked in on the aforementioned girl desperately pulling her hand out of Vanessa's jeans.

Blair hadn't entirely understood the look of panic on Vanessa's face until the door had swung open, but as Ruby stepped inside, eyes still focused downward on the pile of mail in her hands, panic bled over her features as well.

There had been a scramble. Vanessa's shirt had been retrieved, Blair's headband had been self-consciously straightened, and no one had met anyone else's eyes for a split second. Vanessa had expected the worst, had expected all of the tension that had sprung up immediately to spontaneously implode, but Blair had merely smiled, absently smoothed down the front of her skirt, and acted as if nothing was amiss.

"You must be Vanessa's sister," she'd said slickly, collecting her things efficiently even as Vanessa was still struggling into her shirt and managing, somehow, to put it on inside out. "It's nice to finally meet you, but I'm afraid I can't stay. I'm late to meet my mother."

And then she was gone, gliding out of the door as regally as a misplaced monarch.

"Yeah," Vanessa confirmed. "That was Blair."

"She's, uh…" Ruby paused, eyes sparkling mischievously. "She's something."

"I thought you had band practice," Vanessa blurted, self-consciously buttoning and rezipping her jeans. "I thought you weren't going to be home until late."

"Practice was cancelled." Ruby shrugged, lips curling into a smirk. "I guess I should have called first."

Vanessa knew that her cheeks were bright red with embarrassment and that her older sister was enjoying the situation far too much, but for her, unlike Blair, escape wasn't an option.

"You should have seen the look on your face," Ruby chuckled, letting her bag slip down over her shoulder. It landed on the floor with a thump, jolting Vanessa's memory. Eyes cutting quickly to the side, she saw the handbag where she'd left it, glossy and gorgeous and completely inappropriate, and sighed.

Ruby followed the path of her sister's eyes, letting out a low whistle when she saw the gift. "Did she get you that?" she asked with muted incredulity.

"I told her to take it with her," Vanessa muttered, eyeing the bag almost viciously. "I told her it was too much."

"Look at you, baby sis," Ruby murmured, a hint of admiration in her voice. "You've got a hottie sugar mama who isn't even out of prep school. I'm impressed."

"I'm… god," Vanessa sighed, sinking back down into the chair she had recently vacated, dropping her head into her hands. "I don't know what I am. In over my head, maybe."

Teasing suddenly subdued in the face of her sister's obvious emotional confusion, Ruby offered Vanessa a wry smile. "You think you're falling for her?" she probed, tone remarkably gentle.

"No," Vanessa scoffed. "I don't think it's that. I mean, it's just a thing, you know." She looked up at Ruby helplessly, hands spread wide. "She's in love with the girl who got away. I'm… maybe in love with the boy who got away."

"And the two of you are?" Ruby prompted.

"I don't know. Distracting one another?"

Choosing her words carefully, Ruby said slowly, "When you let someone in, you always run the risk of being unable to control just how far in they make it. Your head can think whatever it wants to think and you can believe whatever you want to believe, but there are some things you can't control and some things that make control even more difficult. Don't underestimate your heart's ability to make a complete jackass out of you."

"It's not like that," Vanessa reiterated sternly.

"And I believe you," Ruby conceded, "but my advice to you is to pay attention. You're vulnerable, she's vulnerable, and it's easy to get caught up." Feeling the need to defuse the situation slightly, Ruby smirked again. "Especially if the girl is hot and the sex is good."

"You're such a perv," Vanessa snorted, rolling her eyes. "And I get it, okay. I do." She took a deep breath, deliberately willing herself back to a state of calm. "If it looks like things are going to get out of hand, I'll end it. Developing actual feelings for Blair Waldorf is the last thing I need."

"Good. Now go," Ruby said, hands flapping in an exaggerated shooing motion. "I have to call everyone I know and tell them about walking in on my sister in the middle of a hook-up."

Vanessa's eyes widened, the look of panic eerily like the one Ruby had seen on her face when she'd first opened the door. "You wouldn't dare."

"Maybe I'll write a song about it," Ruby threatened, grinning widely. "Maybe it'll make you famous."

Gaping incredulously, Vanessa sputtered, "Do that and you'd better sleep with one eye open."

Batting her eyelids with faux innocence, Ruby mused, "Is a hand in the cookie jar allusion too gauche?"

"And just when I was beginning to think you weren't a total ass," Vanessa muttered, Ruby's laughter following her as she stomped away to her room.

"I'll be there." Serena smiled indulgently into the phone, her free hand lazily flicking through a line of dresses. "I'm already in your part of town."

"Already?" For a moment, Dan sounded panicky. "But I haven't even taken a shower."

Chuckling softly, Serena teased, "Don't worry. I'm shopping. You still have plenty of time to make yourself pretty for me."

"That's not what I…"

"Huh," Serena interrupted absently, cutting into Dan's protest. "That's weird."

"Just because a boy wants to look nice for his girlfriend doesn't make him weird," Dan replied, the irritation in his voice only partly mocking. "Especially not when he has to compete with all the UES dandies said girlfriend sees every day. Besides, Jenny said she'd stop talking to me unless I started letting her pick out sample outfits that I could choose from before leaving the house."

"What?" Serena asked, genuinely confused.

"Yeah, she lays them out for me. I come home and find all of these outfits lined up on my bed like fashionable little soldiers waiting to go off to a war of social outings. Or, maybe it's a war of social attrition, given that it's me."

"No, I mean… I think I see Blair."

"In my neighborhood? That's weird."

"Exactly," Serena muttered, exasperated.

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure it looks like her."

"Well," Dan prompted, suddenly curious as well, "what's she doing?"

"I don't know." All interest in the dresses she'd been perusing dissipating immediately, Serena began to move to the front of the store in search of a better angle. "Talking on her cell phone. Drinking a smoothie. No, wait, that can't be right. Too many empty calories. Unless maybe she got a non-fat base…"

"Uh, Serena," Dan interrupted, a hint of caution in his voice.

"Which is ridiculous anyway, because even if she was drinking a smoothie, why would she be drinking a smoothie here?"

"Maybe she has a twin."

"A twin who lives in your neighborhood and who dresses and looks exactly like Blair?"

"Why not? There are billions of people on earth. Surely we're not all unique."

"Of course we're all unique," Serena muttered absently. "There are like 12 trillion possible DNA combinations, or something."

"Twins aren't unique," Dan felt compelled to point out. "I mean, identical twins aren't."

"She doesn't have an identical twin," Serena said flatly. Then, with a hint of puzzlement, added, "Hey, wait. She's waving at someone."

"So see, it can't be Blair. Who would Blair know that lives around here?"

"I don't know," Serena murmured, voice suddenly sly. "You're not having a secret affair with her, are you?"

"Uh, hardly," Dan said, cringing at the very thought.

"Then maybe I started a trend. Maybe everyone wants a Lonely Boy of their own now."

Dan scoffed. "This Lonely Boy is taken. And, he's not lonely anymore. Or, at least he wouldn't be if you were here with him."

"Hey, that's weird."

"I'm not even going to go there again," Dan sighed.

"I think that's Vanessa."

Disbelief coloring his voice, Dan asked, "Vanessa as in Vanessa Abrams. As in my friend Vanessa Abrams?"

"I think that's who Blair was waving at."

"That hardly seems likely."

"No," Serena contradicted, "I think they're talking. No, they're definitely talking. They're talking and laughing."

"Vanessa and Blair. Laughing," Dan said drolly, as if it were a statement instead of a question. "I think you need to get your eyes checked or maybe go to the ER and get a tox screen. It's highly probable you're hallucinating things."

"It's like they're friends," Serena murmured, puzzled. "They're walking away together."

"Do you mean walking away from one another but in vaguely the same direction?"

"I mean together." Head tilted to the side, Serena followed their progression with a quizzical expression on her face.

"I still think you're imagining things."

Serena sighed. "Maybe. I can't see them anymore anyway."

"So just ask Blair about it on Monday. I'll bet she laughs at you for even suggesting she'd be caught dead over here."

"Maybe," Serena repeated, though the word was uncertain. She knew Blair better than she knew anyone else in the world. There was no rogue-Blair twin. There was just Blair, doing things and hanging out with new people and not sharing any of it with Serena. "I've got to go. I'll see you soon."

"Tell me again why I was left to loiter on the street?" Blair demanded haughtily, chin tilted up in affront.

"My replacement was late," Vanessa murmured, the majority of her attention focused on doing anything other than kissing Blair in the middle of a very public sidewalk. "I didn't know if Ruby would be home or not and you don't have a key and you were already in this part of town and…"

"Okay," Blair interrupted, pout fading away to be replaced by a smile. "Enough with the rambling."

"And even if Ruby was at the apartment, I wasn't sure you'd want to be there alone with her," Vanessa finished with an almost sharkish grin.

"Ugh. Don't remind me. The getting caught fantasy has completely lost its appeal."

"That was a fantasy?"

Somewhat flustered, Blair mumbled, "I was speaking in general terms."

"No, let's return to this," Vanessa teased, interest piqued. "What are Blair Waldorf's fantasies? I'm more than intrigued."

Blair sniffed. "And I'm completely uninterested in having this conversation."

Undeterred, Vanessa pleaded, "Just give me one."

Blair's answer was succinct.


"Okay, fine. I'll go first."

"Don't expect reciprocity."

Vanessa glared, then shook her head in mock disgust. "I'll go first anyway. Sex in public."

"So not happening."

"Homemade porn."

"Absolutely not happening."

"A threesome."

Blair paused thoughtfully. "Not a definite no."

"You watching me…"

Vanessa trailed off, baffled, as her brain finally caught up with Blair's answer. "A threesome? Really?"

"Not a definite no doesn't mean yes."

Suddenly shy, Vanessa shifted uncertainly from foot to foot. "Now I'm kind of nervous. Is that something I should look into?"

"Absolutely. See if you can get us Fernanda Tavares."

"I… who?"

"Fernanda Tavares. Brazilian supermodel?" Blair said, features scrunching up in a look of disbelief that Vanessa absolutely refused to find cute. "Hello? She did that D&G underwear spread. What rock have you been living under?"

"One of those in the lower substrates that can't even afford to look at D&G underwear," Vanessa muttered, feeling no less certain than she had a moment before.

"Awww," Blair cooed, features falling back into a slightly mocking pout. "Do you want me to buy you some sexy underwear? La Perla, maybe, or should we go with something risqué? Agent Provocateur? Ooh, that's a good idea. I'd like to see you in that."

"Stop objectifying me," Vanessa complained grumpily. "And don't buy me anything. And remember to take the handbag with you when you go this time."

"And do what with it? I don't want it."

"Return it."

"Like I still have the receipt."

Vanessa glared. "Okay, fine. I won't mention it again if you tell me a fantasy."

"Blackmail? Again?"

"How about blackmail and a bribe? You tell me a fantasy and I don't mention the bag again and I try to get you that Brazilian supermodel you want."

"You're irritatingly persistent. You might also be delusional."

"I might have connections," Vanessa shrugged, shooting for cool and blasé. "You don't know."

"I know this is a ridiculous conversation."

Vanessa shrugged again, this time with insincere apology. "All I need is one…"

"Fine," Blair huffed, crossing her arms across her chest. "Anonymity."

"Anonymity," Vanessa repeated slowly. "So, like, a stranger?"

"No," Blair snapped, growing impatient with the conversation and with Vanessa. "Being anonymous," she stressed, brows furrowing as she almost willed Vanessa to understand. "I want to be able to go out and not have to worry about people knowing who I am or about people watching and scrutinizing my every move. I want to be able to have fun without worrying that a detailed account of what I've done is going to appear on Gossip Girl or that my mother is going to find out and tell me, yet again, about how much I can screw up the future and image of her company. You know, to be someone like you. Someone people don't care about."

The part of Vanessa that wanted to take offense to Blair's characterization of her was beaten down by the part of her that realized that Blair had probably just shared something very personal with her; that part tried to take it in the spirit it was intended.

"Okay," Vanessa said abruptly, barely resisting the urge to reach out and grab Blair's hand. "Change of plans. First a make-over and then an unrecognizable night on the town."

"A make-over?" Blair questioned drolly, the look in her eyes doing little to inspire confidence.

"That's right," Vanessa confirmed, grinning widely in spite of that. "Vanessa Abrams style."

Blair eyed her reflection in the mirror critically. Tight jeans that hung low on her hips and made her look longer and leaner than most of the dresses her mother had designed specifically to do that sort of thing, a black tee shirt so thin it was nearly transparent, with fabric so worn that it draped over her curves like a second skin, scuffed and heavy black boots, and a herringbone hat pulled low enough to hide her eyes. A thin, black and gray striped scarf was tied around her neck, draping between her breasts in a way that did more to accentuate than to hide. Her hair was still spilling over her shoulders in thick waves and her lips were still painted a deep, vibrant red, but her eye makeup was smoky and alluring in a way that suggested something naughty about her.

"I'm supposed to go out wearing this," she said dryly, frowning.

Vanessa's head appeared beside hers as the other girl stepped up behind her, arms wrapping around her waist. "I don't know," she said, lips dangerously close to Blair's ear. "Maybe you look too hot in that. Maybe I should keep you here and have you all to myself."

"I look like a hooligan."

"I don't think you understand what a hooligan is," Vanessa said dryly, one hand slyly sneaking under the tight waistband of Blair's jeans. "I'm pretty sure they had pompadours and black leather jackets and were last seen turning over the title of anti-establishment to the hippies."

"Then I look like a thug."

Vanessa's other hand began to make its way up Blair's side, stopping only when she was cupping the other girl's breast. "I don't think you know what that means either," she murmured, leaning down to press a soft kiss against the side of Blair's neck.

Blair's breath caught in her throat, making her voice come out as weak and quivery as she said, "I thought you were taking me out."

"Nobody gets anywhere before midnight," Vanessa replied absently, the hand that had been in Blair's waistband now fumbling with the button on her jeans. "We've got plenty of time."

"I'm not reapplying this lipstick," Blair threatened, then gasped as Vanessa began to move, disappearing from her line of sight as she slid down to the floor. Blair felt one hand on her back, lifting the hem of her shirt, and then she felt the sharp edge of Vanessa's teeth digging into her side. It was followed by something soft. Blair couldn't tell what it was – maybe Vanessa's tongue or maybe just the soft skin of her cheek – but as it traced back and forth across her lower back, she let out a groan. Her knees threatened to buckle, the threat turning into an almost certainty when she felt Vanessa roughly rip open the button of her jeans and pull down the zipper. There was a sharp tug at her hips, just strong enough to inch her jeans down her hips slightly, and then Vanessa was standing again.

"Then I won't smear it," she promised, voice a low, husky rasp.

Her hand had slid back to Blair's breast, this time separated only by the sheer black lace of her bra, and there was something about the way the tee shirt caught on Vanessa's arm, hiking up so that her belly was bared all the way down to where the vee of her jeans was opened just wide enough to see the matching black lace of her panties, that made her groan again. She probably wasn't supposed to find the sight of herself arousing, but she couldn't help looking at the mirror in front of her. Vanessa's mouth was on her neck again. Her hand was moving under the shirt, squeezing and kneading Blair's breast; Blair watched as the other snaked around her torso, fingers flattening out against her stomach before moving downward with purpose. She liked the way their skin looked contrasted together, Vanessa's a few shades darker than her own, and she liked the way the other girl's eyes here heavy and dark and focused intently on her.

She gasped when Vanessa's hand slid over the silk of her panties. It was a tease, the way the other girl traced a short path back and forth over the slippery fabric. One of Blair's hands crept upward, reaching behind her to wrap around the back of Vanessa's neck, the other finding and digging in to the muscle of Vanessa's thigh. She watched as she pressed her hips forward wantonly, her body begging for more contact, and as Vanessa flashed a sharp, white grin just before her teeth sank deeply into the back of Blair's neck.

Blair hissed, the pain of that blending with the pleasure she felt as Vanessa's fingers finally slid underneath her panties. And then Vanessa's fingers were moving and she was watching the shift and flex of the muscles in the other girl's forearm. It took her a moment to realize that Vanessa was watching them in the mirror as well, but when she did, she looked straight into Vanessa's eyes in the reflection and ran the tip of her tongue over her upper lip slowly and deliberately.

Later, when they arrived at the club and Blair saw the drag queens and half naked go-go boys and sent her a look of dry amusement, Vanessa could see only the way she'd dug her teeth into a lush bottom lip as she came, eyelids fluttering shut as a look of helpless pleasure washed over her face.

"Come on," Vanessa said, ignoring the skeptical way Blair was eyeing the six and a half feet tall drag queen in Lolita sunglasses who was eyeing her back. "You know how to salsa, right?"

"No," Blair murmured, even as she was pulled into Vanessa's arms and swept into the beat, "I don't."

"I'll show you," Vanessa promised, the grin on her face one of unadulterated happiness. Her hands were on Blair's hips, guiding her into the right rhythm, and their bodies were pressed together more closely than Blair had ever allowed herself to be with anyone in public. "You'll love it."

Despite herself, Blair did.

"What is this?" Vanessa asked guardedly, looking down at the shopping bag that had been gracefully transferred from Blair's hand to hers.

"I don't know, Inspector Gadget," Blair said with affectionate sarcasm. "Why don't you use your genius powers of detection to find out?"

"Because I know it's not…"

"The Dolce & Gabanna patent leather buckled tall boot? I guess your powers aren't so genius after all," Blair teased, her tone a sweetly false apology.

The boots were nestled in the trademark D&G box, cocooned in soft white tissue paper and gleaming in the dim light of her apartment. They were gorgeous, the kind of thing Vanessa felt an instinctive need to pet, but she forced herself to put the boots on her small dining table. Turning her attention to Blair, trying to ignore the almost physical pull of the wholly inappropriate gift – it was as if the boots were willing her to look at them, like some sort of alien presence that refused to be ignored – she said as calmly as she could manage, "I thought we'd agreed… no more gifts."

"Not this again," Blair muttered, rolling her eyes. "I don't do nice things very often. Are you really going to insist on fucking this one up?"

"I'm not…" Vanessa began exasperatedly, then forced herself to pause. "It's just that I can't reciprocate, Blair. You know that."

"I know I don't have a lot of experience with the phenomenon," Blair said tightly, "but I thought that people were ideally supposed to give gifts because they want to, not because they expect something in return, and this afternoon, something almost Biblically miraculous happened. I saw the boots and thought that they'd look incredibly hot on you, and my normally hidden altruistic side, in a completely unselfish move, said to me, 'Why don't you buy them?' And I thought, yeah, why don't I buy them? And then my mind further explored this uncharacteristic impulse and I pictured you wearing the boots and nothing else and I realized I'd completely underestimated the true value of giving. So, unless you want to be solely responsible for eradicating all of the moral growth I've just experienced, I suggest that you take all of this off," she murmured, smirking and tracing her eyes down Vanessa's body even as her hands ghosted over the other girl's curves before pointing to the boots, "and put those on."

"You want a little dance with that?" Vanessa snapped, almost sure she was offended by Blair's presumption. "Maybe want me to be a good girl and cook up a little dinner and bring you a beer?"

"Can we just skip straight past the obligatory rant?" Blair asked coolly. "I've been thinking about you wearing those boots while I go down on you ever since I saw them, so if you'll just cooperate with my plan, we'll all be happy."

The image was almost enough to make Vanessa change her mind post-haste, but she knew that Blair was the kind of girl who would take a million miles as soon as she was given an inch. So, she crossed her arms across her chest forbiddingly and said, voice full of challenge, "Do it without the boots first and maybe I'll reconsider."

"Oh, for god's sake," Blair huffed, shrugging out of her school blazer. She kicked off her own ankle boots, and Vanessa was momentarily so confused by the brunette's actions that the sharp push to her shoulders caught her completely off-guard. She slammed into the table behind her with a loud grunt, her hands finding the surface to restore balance, but any balance she'd obtained fled as soon as she saw Blair slide down to her knees. Blair's actions were a model of efficiency, no movement wasted as she settled back onto her heels and leveled her eyes on the waistband of the other girl's jeans, but as soon as Vanessa felt slim fingers begin to unbuckle her belt, she almost hyperventilated. A few rough tugs and her belt was free and Blair's fingers were popping open her jeans and unzipping the fly, and as Blair pulled the skin-tight material down over her hips and off her legs, Vanessa wasn't sure whether or not she'd won or lost or if there had ever even been a viable game to begin with.

"You're seriously going to do it?" she heard herself asking. In the way things happened in war movies striving for realism, the next few seconds slipped by in the same kind of vacuum that emerged in the moments following an explosion. There was a slight ringing in her ears. Her voice sounded as if it were coming from miles away and she felt like she was stumbling and flailing in confusion, caught completely off-guard by the unexpected.

A hand to her upper abdomen pushed her backwards, canting her hips forward against the edge of the table, and Blair's hands on the inside of her thighs pushed them further apart. "What?" she asked irritably. "Now you don't want this?"

"No," Vanessa stuttered, then shook her head as if to contradict what she'd said, not quite sure if she'd agreed or disagreed, "I mean, yes. Proceed. Go ahead. Whatever."

Blair thought about teasing Vanessa further, but as amusing as it was to see the other girl flustered, she was getting impatient. So, she looked up briefly, arched a single brow, muttered, "Lose the shirt," and then leaned forward.

Vanessa gasped, her hand instinctively finding the back of Blair's head as she felt the swipe of the other girl's tongue between her legs. She'd never been in that position before, never had anyone kneeling between her legs like that with their tongue hard against her clit, and was almost embarrassed by how unabashedly hot she found even the notion of it. Its actual occurrence completely overwhelmed the fantasy she'd had only a split second to entertain; she hadn't considered the small details, like the brush of Blair's hair tickling against her thighs and the heat of the other girl's breath on her skin. She hadn't anticipated the way Blair would wrap an arm around her waist, fingers splayed out against her lower back as she held tight, or what it would feel like to look down to see the top of Blair's dark head.

It was enough to make her worry that this was going to be embarrassingly short, so she closed her eyes, refusing to look down no matter how fucking sexy it was, and took a few deep breaths. Needing something to focus on aside from the way Blair was sucking on her clit, she ran her hands through the other girl's hair, the silky strands trickling through her fingers, and bit down hard on her lower lip to stop the moan that was threatening to escape.

The unexpected application of sharp teeth pulled her from the reverie she was trying to create, and her eyes flew open as her hips bucked in angry response, a scowl already forming as her chin snapped down so that she was looking at Blair.

Blair was looking back up at her, lips wet and shiny, and Vanessa forgot what she was going to say.

"Don't do that," Blair said sharply, and Vanessa nearly whimpered as her tongue swiped lazily across her lower lip. "Do not hold back on me."

And then she resumed with the licking and the sucking and Vanessa whimpered like a needy puppy. Both of her hands found their way into Blair's hair and it wasn't long before she was pulling the other girl into her carelessly, hips rocking against Blair's mouth, and she decided that if Blair wanted to hear her, then she'd be accommodating and oblige.

A breathy sigh prompted the sharp slap of Blair's hand against the upper curve of her ass and the dig of sharp fingernails into her flesh, both of which earned a pair of surprised hisses. A second later and she felt the table behind her start to move, the screech of its legs across the floor an uneven jerk that mirrored the messy force of their combined movements.

By the time it was more than enough to send Vanessa over the edge, the noises she was making were almost animalistic, and her fingers had gripped even more tightly into Blair's hair. Her knees began to buckle, and she was on the verge of sliding down to the floor when Blair put both hands on her ribcage and shoved and she hit the table hard. It creaked ominously as her back contacted the table top with a sharp crack and she groaned in pain, shaking her head slightly to clear it of the cobwebs brought about by the twin attacks.

"I think I like you like this."

The words were growled, and Vanessa managed to rouse her head enough to see Blair looming over her, lips twisted in an almost feral smile. She felt the light trail of fingers over her thighs, shifting slightly under the tickling touch, and then gasped sharply as she felt herself stretch around the unexpected press of fingers. One arm flew over her head, fingers wrapping tightly over the edge of the table, as the other reached forward blindly. Blair caught Vanessa's flailing hand with her own, twining their fingers together and pressing their joined hands against the table to the side of her head as she leaned forward, lips finding Vanessa's for a bruising kiss. Vanessa wrapped one of her legs around Blair's hips, the fabric of her skirt rough against bare flesh, and pulled the brunette closer to her. She used the leverage to cant her hips up to meet Blair's thrusts, ass slapping rhythmically against the surface of the table, and wrapped her fingers around Blair's so tightly that the brunette whimpered in pain. It never took much after the first orgasm for her to tumble into another one; a few minutes later she ripped her hand from Blair's, the other coming up so that they were on either side of Blair's head, pressing their lips together in a rough, inelegant kiss as her body convulsed once again.

As soon as she could think clearly again, she wrapped her other leg around Blair's waist and pulled her down so that they were pressed together. The move brought Blair up off the floor, her full weight landing squarely on Vanessa, but Vanessa didn't care.

"I thought I told you to take this off," Blair said petulantly, fingers picking at the shirt Vanessa was still wearing.

"Shut up," Vanessa said wearily, but she was too tired to be angry and the admonition came out as almost affectionate. "You've still got on all of your clothes."

"I don't think that's my fault."

"No," Vanessa concurred, "but it's still upsetting."

Blair propped her chin on Vanessa's sternum, looking up at her with a smirk. "Are you going to do something about it?"

"Hmmm," Vanessa hummed noncommittally, "maybe once you get off of me."

"I think you come with too many terms and conditions," Blair pouted, though she put her hands on either side of Vanessa and pushed herself up. She slid smoothly to her feet, reaching out one hand to help Vanessa up to hers, pulling the other girl into her for a soft kiss as soon as she was standing.

"Blair," Vanessa murmured, feeling decidedly giving as she placed a series of soft kisses across the line of the other girl's jaw, stopping only when her lips were beside the delicate shell of an ear, "ask me again. Next time I'll wear the boots."

Vanessa wasn't paying attention, really. She was mainly window shopping, mind blissfully free of most thoughts, when she saw them. Boots, just like the ones she was wearing, staring at her from the window of a trendy little boutique.

The price tag read $995.95.

She nearly choked. She'd known. Of course she'd known, because D&G didn't come cheap and Blair didn't know how to shop any other way, but thinking, in an abstract kind of way, that her new shoes were probably expensive and seeing the outrageous truth of it were two different things entirely. The things she could do with that kind of money, money Blair had blithely thrown away on a gift, made her mind reel.

It didn't take long for the reeling thoughts to turn dark. What had Blair said to her? That she'd pictured her wearing nothing but those boots, that that's what had prompted her to buy them. And she'd bought her sheets, too, sheets that were soft enough not to distract Blair from the task of fucking or getting fucked. Then there was the bag, and she really didn't know what had been going through Blair's head when she'd bought it – her appeasement, maybe – but Vanessa suddenly felt like a fraud, walking around with $20, all the cash she had on her, in bag that probably cost 40 times that.

Was that what she'd become? A rich girl's sex toy, rewarded with trinkets and toys for good performance?

"Hey," Dan said, giving a friendly wave, breaking into her vicious train of thought. They'd been planning on meeting but Vanessa had forgotten entirely, and his sudden appearance took her by surprise. "Nice shoes. Are they new?"

"Yeah," Vanessa muttered sourly, lips pinching into a frown. "They are."

"Cool. I got new shoes too." He held up a foot, twisting it from side to side so that Vanessa could appreciate them appropriately. "Serena got them for me."

"Of course she did," Vanessa snarled, suddenly furious. "They're all the same, thinking they can buy us off, that their money will make everything alright."

Dan blinked in surprise, taken aback by the vehement anger in Vanessa's tone and the completely unexpected attack. "I don't think that was what she doing. I think she just thought I'd like them."

"I'm sure that's what she told you. One minute it's probably… god, I don't know. What kind of shoes do boys like? Chuck Taylors? Quickstrikes?" Vanessa's glare seemed to be prompting some sort of answer from Dan, and he looked down, brain immediately going blank, only to look back up quickly when she groaned in impatient frustration. "Whatever. One minute she's giving you $1000 shoes and the next thing you know, she's giving you head," she spat angrily and Dan blinked again, startled and now definitely confused. He opened his mouth to speak, to defend Serena or perhaps even himself, but Vanessa's look of determined fury was more than enough to silence him immediately. "And you probably roll with it, right, because who doesn't like new shoes and oral, but then, don't you ever really think about it? And when you do, don't you feel a little used? Haven't you realized you're just a little toy, someone from the wrong side of town she can buy off, someone she can fuck whenever she likes and keep all her little secrets at the same time?" She paused, then snorted contemptuously. "You probably even think you might actually like her. But these little gifts she gives you, passing them out like they're candy, like she thinks it's nothing… she probably thinks she's buying your silence. Or, more likely, maybe she just thinks she's buying you. And maybe you do have new shoes and maybe your little self-appointed sugar mama is a fantastic fuck, but how can you look at yourself in the mirror, Dan? How can you have any self-respect left? Aren't you at all ashamed?"

"I, uh… I think they're just regular Converse," Dan mumbled, befuddled, "and she said she got them on sale. And there wasn't any, uh…"

Palm against her forehead, frustration written clearly on her face, Vanessa said slowly, "That's not the point, Dan. The point is that they're all the same. Don't expect a leopard to change her spots. A snake sheds its skin and there's just another, bigger snake underneath. If you forget that, you're a fool."

Confused, Dan said defensively, "I thought you were cool with Serena."

Vanessa sighed, looking at him with something almost like pity. "That's not the point, Dan. The point is that you have to watch yourself. You have to protect yourself. To them, you're just another commodity, something they can buy and use. Maybe they don't know any better, maybe it's just habit for them now. But you… you're something they can buy and sell a million times over, and that's something they'll never forget. It doesn't matter if you think you're different or if you think that what you have is somehow different. Those people have been bred that way. They can't change now."

"Look, I don't know where this is coming from, but…"

"I've got to go," Vanessa interrupted, shaking her head in frustrated disgust. "I can't talk about this anymore."

She left Dan behind, hardly aware of his eyes following her as she disappeared into the crowd. When she got back to her apartment, she stripped the sheets off of the bed, laid down on the bare mattress, pulled a pillow to her chest, and cried the way she'd been wanting to ever since the realization had first hit.

Ruby had been right. She'd underestimated her heart's ability to make a jackass out of her, but now she had to face facts. You could control whether or not someone got in, but you couldn't control how deep they got.

"Did you see Vanessa yesterday?" Serena asked, only half paying attention to her conversation with Dan. She'd been scanning the courtyard for Blair, growing increasingly irritated the longer she went without spotting her.

Dan was silent for a moment before saying guardedly, "I did, but only for maybe five minutes."

"Five minutes?" Serena echoed, confused. "I thought you guys were going spend the evening together. Bond. Catch up."

"I did too," Dan said ruefully, "but then she went off on a tirade about you."

That caught her attention and, confused, Serena directed her full attention to Dan. "About me?"

"About you," he confirmed, offering her a look of baffled innocence. "She was acting very strangely, talking about you giving me fancy gifts and going on about sexual favors and sugar mamas and making weird snake references. I didn't really understand where it was all coming from, but she was definitely angry. I tried to tell her it wasn't like that with us, but she said she couldn't talk about it anymore and left, just like that."

"Fancy gifts?"

"The shoes, I guess," Dan said with a shrug. "She was wearing new shoes and I said they looked great and then I showed her the ones you gave me and it set her off. It was completely unexpected. I mean, I had no idea she was still so insecure about our relationship."

Serena considered that for a moment when the probable truth of the matter hit her like a flash of lightening.

"I can't believe it," she muttered in disbelief, renewing her search for Blair. "I can't believe she'd do that."

"Me either. I guess she's just been holding it inside all this time…"

Dan trailed off in confusion as Serena shot up off of the bench they were occupying, stalking across the courtyard.

"And I guess I'll talk to myself while you go instigate round number 87 of Waldorf v. van der Woodsen," he finished in a mumble, rolling his eyes. Of the many things about Serena's life that he found a little hard to comprehend, her on-again off-again feud with Blair was one of the most baffling.

Across the courtyard, Blair looked up from her phone just in time to see Serena bearing down on her like a dive bomber. She drew up short, flashing the other girl a look of bewildered confusion, not at all sure why Serena was frowning at her with undisguised fury. "S?"

"What do you think you're doing?" Serena asked, grabbing Blair's arm in a death's grip sure to leave behind bruises.

Blair looked down at Serena's grasp and back up to her eyes, perplexed by the intensity practically rolling off of the blonde in waves. "Going to class. Uh, are you off your meds again, S?"

"With Vanessa," Serena clarified belligerently, ignoring Blair's question. "What do you think you're doing with Vanessa."

Blair immediately lapsed into stubborn silence, watching Serena warily. She wasn't going to say anything, wasn't going to confirm anything that Serena might only still be guessing at or offer an incriminating denial, though her mind began to race, wondering just how Serena might have figured it out.

"Fine," Serena said after a moment of silence. Her voice was hard and sharp, like flint, and her eyes were narrowed and menacing. "What are you doing fucking Vanessa?"

Blair offered a shallow, blithe shrug, trying to ignore the way her stomach fluttered nervously. "I'm sure that whatever it is you think you know, it's still none of your business."

"Like hell it's not."

Blair looked at her questioningly, honestly confused by the bitterness and vitriol in Serena's voice. "Why would it be?" she asked softly, momentarily holding back from her usual stance of prickly defensiveness. Serena towered over her, looking genuinely agitated, furious even, and though Blair had no desire to have any sort of confrontation in the middle of the courtyard at Billiard, she was also momentarily disassembled by the anger, confusion, and desperation she could see on Serena's face.

With a long-suffering sigh, Serena wilted slightly. She lost some of the hawkish aggression, and her expression shifted. She looked hurt now, and maybe even a tad vulnerable, and Blair felt her abdomen tighten again with a nervous, confused anxiety.

"You know why," Serena said quietly, closing the distance between herself and Blair by half.

Taking a half step back, needing the buffer of space that Serena had tried to eliminate, Blair shook her head. "I don't think I do."

Serena's eyes narrowed, the look she shot Blair's direction almost scathing. "Because it's supposed to be you and me."

"You and me?" Blair scoffed bitterly, the situation suddenly becoming a continuation of a long-running argument. "Since when?"

Serena shook her head slowly, sadly, her look instantly transforming from scathing to wounded. "Since forever. That's the way it's always supposed to have been."

"Oh, I see," Blair said with mock thoughtfulness, trying to jerk her arm free of Serena's punishing hold. "Then perhaps you can explain to me why you slept with Nate."

Serena shrugged, the motion tight and uncomfortable, though her voice was neutral when she said, "You said you wanted a break."

Which was the truth. Blair had said that, terrified that they were falling into something for which she wasn't ready.

"From you," Blair snapped, cheeks flushing with anger, "not him."

"Exactly," Serena snapped back, jaw set in a mulish line. "And maybe the plan was kind of flawed, B, but I wasn't exactly thinking straight."

"Oh," Blair sneered mockingly, all of the hurt she'd felt then and upon Serena's return rushing back full force. "There was a plan?"

"Well, I didn't think you'd want him either. Not after that."

"And now I don't want either one of you, so good job," Blair said sharply, beginning to inch away from Serena. They were drawing the very interested eyes of a sizeable number of people. She could see cell phones out and poised, waiting maliciously for the inevitable hair-pulling, cat-fighting money shot. Despite her desire to bring the argument to a halt, however, she couldn't help delivering one last, parting shot, "You're with Paragon Dan now, so I don't see why it even matters. Did you even tell him about us? No, of course you didn't. You don't want your precious little puritan to find out any more about your sordid past, just like I don't want any of these parasites to disrupt my own lovely little down low situation, so just back off, Serena. What I'm doing now is none of your business, and what we did then is dead and buried. This doesn't mean anything. You and I didn't mean anything."

She finished in a hiss, eyes glinting and chest heaving, and Serena wasn't sure whether to slap her or drag her away and maul her. Instead of doing either, she straightened her shoulders, eyes going cold.

"That's not true," she said hoarsely, fingers digging even more tightly into Blair's arm. "You know it's not true. So why don't you tell me the truth, Blair? Just once, tell me the truth."

Swallowing hard, blinking furiously to keep tears of frustration and fear from falling, Blair remained resolutely silent.

"Fine," Serena said, sneering. "You were afraid then and you're afraid now. You pushed me away because you didn't want people to find out, because you didn't, and still don't, want to have to deal with the hassle and the fall-out. Your precious image is more important than the way you feel or the way I feel or the way Vanessa feels. So now you've got another secret you can hide, somebody else you can use while you live in denial."

It was suddenly too much.

"Not anymore," Serena said, moving suddenly to pull Blair to her. She wrapped her arms around the brunette's shoulders tightly, subduing her furious protest with relative ease, and brought their lips together in a long, deep kiss that she didn't end until she was satisfied that Gossip Girl's inbox was flooded. Pulling away, she took a step back, smirking humorlessly as she murmured, "I love you, B. Try to deny that."

And then she turned and stalked away just as furiously as she'd approached, leaving Blair to stand alone in the midst of the whispers and stares.

Blair disappeared from school that day and didn't return the next. Serena tried calling and texting, but it was as if all of her words disappeared into a black hole. People were staring at her, speaking in low, speculative voices and giggling, and all of the conjecture should have been old hat but this time it was different. This time she'd probably crossed a line. This time she'd pulled Blair into a scandal with her.

"Miss Blair is not receiving visitors."

Dorota looked uncomfortable. She didn't want to turn Serena away. In fact, she was convinced that Blair, who had retreated home mid-morning of the day before and locked herself in her room, needed her friend more than ever. She wasn't privy to all of the details of Blair's life and its many dramas, but she had been with the family long enough to know that Blair's dark moods could quickly twist into something ugly and that Serena was the only person who could really reach her.

"It's important," Serena said, offering a sad, rueful smile. "Please."

After a long moment, Dorota nodded, the movement barely visible. At it, Serena breathed a sigh of relief, easing past the other woman and making her way quickly up the stairs to the upper floor. Soon she was standing in front of the door to Blair's room, hand on the door knob. Her heart was racing and she was slightly breathless and she wished that she could somehow freeze time long enough for her to figure out the best way to approach this.

"I know you're out there." Blair's voice drifted through the wood of the door, a lazy, apathetic drawl. "I could hear your footsteps."

Steeling herself, Serena pushed the door open, slipping inside and then closing it behind her.

"Blair, I'm sorry."

From her position on the bed, Blair looked up at her listlessly. Her eyes were ringed with dark circles and her hair tumbled over her shoulder in a lank ponytail. "Oh," she said bitterly, lifelessly, "back to that familiar refrain?"

Serena swallowed nervously, then admitted the conclusion she'd quickly come to after leaving Blair standing alone the day before. "I had no right to do that."

Blair shrugged, then asked, "How did you figure it out anyway?"

"What? You and Vanessa?"

At Blair's nod, Serena shrugged too. "I, uh… I saw the two of you together. Not doing anything," she rushed to clarify. "You were just talking and laughing together. I was going to meet Dan, and there you were."

"And that was it?" Blair asked, tone flat. "You just knew."

"Not then," Serena admitted. "But then Dan told me that he'd gotten into a fight with Vanessa the other day. He complimented her shoes and showed her the ones I'd just bought him and she went off on him about how we Upper East Siders don't change. About how we think we can buy anybody we want. I gather she was pretty pissed."

Blair laughed humorlessly. "That probably explains the text message I got saying that she didn't want to see me anymore." She paused, then shook her head slowly. "All this because I gave her a pair of shoes."

"You can't buy someone's affection," Serena said cautiously. She approached Blair's bed slowly, settling at the foot of it.

"I wasn't trying to," Blair sighed. "Nothing I do is ever good enough." She looked at Serena plaintively, as she if desperately wanted the other girl to understand. "I just wanted to give them to her."

"Because you care about her," Serena said, voice devoid of emotion, "and you don't know any other way to show it."

"Maybe I don't," Blair allowed, shrugging. She paused, then said carefully, "I don't know how I felt about her. She was different. She made me happy. She wanted me."

"I wanted you," Serena said before she could stop herself, voice raw. "I could have made you happy."

Blair sighed tiredly, shoulders slumping. "Serena…"

Serena didn't let her finish. "Why did you do it, B?" she asked, demanding the explanation she'd been wanting to hear for a year and a half.

It was obvious. Why had she told Serena that she wanted a break? Why had she told Serena that it was basically over?

Blair thought about lying. She thought about ignoring or evading the question, but the look in Serena's eyes wouldn't let her. It was haunted, pained, searching. It made Blair feel like withholding the truth would be unnecessarily cruel, and just this once, she simply didn't have the heart to punish Serena for that vulnerability.

"I had to," she admitted in a rush. "It was too much. I couldn't stop thinking about you." She paused, shook her head and smiled as if laughing at herself, then chuckled dully. "I thought about you all the time. I couldn't do it, S. I couldn't let things be that way between us."

"Let things be what way?" Serena asked bitterly. "Let them be real? Let them be serious? Let us be together without Nate there as a shield?"

"It's easy for you," Blair snapped, eyes flashing malevolently. "Everyone adores you, no matter what you do. That's not my reality, Serena. When you got tired of us, you would have walked away unscathed, but not me."

"Because I would have left," Serena said with hollow defensiveness, shoulders hunching and arms crossing over her chest.

"Of course you would have." Blair's smile sharpened, as did her voice, in the first sign of life Serena had seen in her since she'd walked in the room. "I know you, S. You don't stick around. You don't settle down. You get bored and you move on, and the rest of us are left lagging behind in the dark. You don't come back. When you're there, you're there completely. You're immediate and brilliant and blinding, and when you're gone, you're gone just as completely."

"You're wrong," Serena spat, expression suddenly steely. "I'm not the problem. You're the one who never lets anybody in. You're the one who makes people prove themselves over and over again. You're the one who never believes in anything. You're the one who's afraid. I loved you. You had to have known how much I loved you, B, and so you got scared and you pushed me away. Don't blame this on me. Don't try to pretend that there's something inside me that's inherently flawed."

"So I'm the problem?" Blair challenged. "There's something inside me that's flawed?"

Serena sighed, suddenly tired. "Maybe. I wasn't going anywhere, B. Not until you pushed me away."

Blair drew herself up tightly, every muscle in her body locked rigidly in place in the face of Serena's accusation. "I don't even know why we're talking about this," she muttered, lips clamped down in a hard, straight line. "It doesn't matter anymore."

Serena shot her an incredulous look then shook her head in disgust. "It could matter, if you'd let it. Do you think I stopped loving you?"

"I think you found the strength to move on," Blair said bitterly, jaw clenching. "You're not exactly pining away."

"Because I'm with Dan?"

Blair scoffed. "That would be one of the more obvious clues."

"Dan's a great guy. He's sweet and caring and sensitive."

"Yeah, a real knight in shining armor," Blair said sourly.

"He deserves more than me," Serena said starkly. "He deserves to be more than a distraction. He deserves to be with someone who isn't in love with someone else."

"Let me cry a river for Dan, then," Blair murmured sarcastically.

"Because the point you're deliberately missing," Serena continued, ignoring Blair's interruption, "is that I love you. I want to be with you. I'm not going to leave you, no matter how much you want to believe I will."

Blair's lips curled up in a smirk. "After all of this time and everything that happened, I'm supposed to believe that?"

"That's up to you, B." Serena smiled, the expression bittersweet. "I can only do so much. I can tell you how I feel and show you how I feel and make you promises, but ultimately you're the one who has to accept it. You're the one who has to believe in it. You're the one who has to act on it. No matter how much I wish I could, I can't make you do anything. You have to want it enough to try. You have to be willing to take the risk."

And there was the crux of it – the risk, the thing that Blair had to take if she wanted the reward, if she believed in the reward enough to want it.

When Vanessa answered the knock to her door, the last person she expected to see standing on the other side was Blair.

"Hey," Blair said, trying hard to look like she wasn't feeling uncharacteristically shy as she offered Vanessa a small smile. "Do you mind if I come in?"

Stunned, Vanessa took a step back, watching warily as Blair walked into the apartment.

"I think we should talk," she said, settling daintily into a chair. Vanessa eyed her cautiously, trying desperately to forget about what they'd been doing the last time Blair had occupied that same position. "I think we deserve more than a misunderstanding and a text message."

"We?" Vanessa questioned caustically. "There was a we?"

"This is already hard," Blair said testily, shifting uncomfortably. "Please don't make it even harder."

"It finally sunk in," Vanessa said bitterly, ignoring Blair's request. "It just… it finally hit me what I was."

"You're wrong."

"Someone you thought was bought and paid for," Vanessa continued, shoving her hands into her pockets and looking away. "It wasn't a good feeling, Blair."

"It was brought to my attention that I sometimes express affection in inappropriate ways," Blair said stiffly, surprisingly hurt by the accusation now that it had been said to her face. "I wasn't trying to buy you. I was trying to tell you that I cared about you."

The look Vanessa shot her at the confession was viperous. "When you kissed Serena in public the other day, I figured out just how much you cared about me."

"I didn't kiss her." Blair clarified, shaking her head wryly. "She kissed me. She wanted to prove a point."

"And what point was that?"

"That she was tired of the lies and the pretending and the denial. She had just figured out what was going on between you and me."

"And she was angry."

Blair nodded shallowly, lips pursed. "She was angry with me. She assumed I was doing the same thing to you that I had done to her."

"Which was?"

"Putting my own fears above your happiness."

Vanessa was quiet for a long moment, processing the implications of what Blair had just divulged. "She's still in love with you, isn't she?"

For several seconds, Blair remained silent. Then she nodded, offering a soft, "Yes, she is."

"And you're still in love with her," Vanessa said flatly, the words a statement.

She was gratified to see that Blair looked hesitant and torn.

"It's okay," she murmured gently, trying to give Blair an out. "You don't have to lie. I know you are."

"I like you more than I thought I would," Blair said starkly, evasively. "I wasn't supposed to care about you, but I do."

Vanessa smiled ruefully. "You don't love me."

"Maybe I do," Blair challenged, the words and her expression defiant.

Unwilling to refute the statement, Vanessa shrugged. "Maybe you do," she allowed, "but it's not the same, Blair. And maybe I care about you too, probably a lot more than I should, but I'm not delusional. You're going to leave and this will officially end and I'm going to be sad. I've already cried and I'll probably cry even more – maybe a lot more. But you and me, we're not the kind of stuff forever is made of, Blair. What we had wasn't ever supposed to be that. You're not breaking my heart. You're bruising it, but this was always going to end. What you can have with Serena… maybe that's the kind of thing that's supposed to last forever."

When Blair looked at her, there was something surprisingly vulnerable about her. "Do you really believe that?"

"I do." Tears gathering unexpectedly in the corners of her eyes, Vanessa joked, "I'm making a gallant sacrifice here, alright, so don't fuck it up."

"You're too good for me," Blair said wryly. "You've got to stop dating losers, Abrams."

"No," Vanessa corrected. "I've just got to stop getting involved with people who are already in love with Serena van der Woodsen."

"Maybe I'll take her off the market for you," Blair joked, lips curving up in a cautious smile.

"You'd better," Vanessa warned, suddenly feeling a little more at peace. "I don't cry over just anyone, Waldorf. If I'm going to do it now, you'd damn sure better make sure it's for a good cause."

Blair's smile widened, and her eyes glinted with what Vanessa recognized, finally, as genuine affection.

"I'll try."

The door opened just as Dan was preparing to knock, and the shock of who he saw on the other side of it left him speechless.

"Dan," Blair said, looking uncharacteristically awkward.

"Uh, Blair." He shook his head, perhaps expecting her appearance to be some sort of hallucination. "What, uh… what are you doing here?"

Blair's mouth opened and closed soundlessly, and she glanced back over her shoulder at Vanessa before turning to look at Dan again.

"Don't worry," Vanessa said, the situation evoking a hint of amusement. "I'll explain it."

Blair turned to face her, then nodded shortly. "So," she began, then cut herself off. She'd never been particularly good in emotional situations, so instead of saying anything, she looked at Vanessa for a protracted moment, a soft, wistful smile on her face. Then she leaned forward, kissing her one last time, the gesture as heartfelt of a good-bye as she could manage. "Thank you," she whispered, then slid around Dan, steps purposeful as she disappeared down the hallway.

Dan's eyes were wide with astonishment, the look so comical that Vanessa laughed. "Oh, come on," she chided. "It's not that shocking."

"What was that?" he said slowly.

"That was good-bye," Vanessa answered, smiling ruefully. "Blair and I… well, we kind of had a thing."

Dan nearly choked. "A thing?"

"Like a relationship, but not really." Vanessa shrugged. She moved over to the couch, sinking down into it, and motioned for Dan to follow. "If you wanted to go old school with it, I guess you could call it an affair, except for maybe we got a little carried away."

"Carried away?" he echoed faintly, stumbling over to the couch and sitting down alongside her.

"I think I came to care for her," Vanessa said cautiously, "and I think that she cared for me too."

"Yeah, well, I think Serena cares for her too," he said bitterly, mind returning full circle to the reason why he'd appeared on her doorstep to begin with. "She broke up with me."

"I'm sorry," Vanessa said honestly, reaching over to place a comforting hand on his knee.

"Was that what Blair was doing? Breaking up with you?"

"Something like that," Vanessa murmured awkwardly, easing her hand back into her own lap.

And then it hit her, suddenly and with unexpected force. Blair was gone, and she was going to miss her.

Back pressed in a comfortable slouch against the back of the couch, in a world of his own, Dan Humphrey began to smile. The smile soon slid into a chuckle, and soon the chuckle was a full-blown laugh.

"What?" Vanessa asked defensively, scrubbing hard at the few traitorous tears that had managed to escape.

"Serena probably left me for Blair Waldorf. You were…" he paused, clearly stymied, before waving his hand in frustration, "doing something with Blair Waldorf that I don't think ever needs to be fully explained to me. It's some kind of irony or 7th circle of hell. I'm Jason, all of the women in my life are the Argonauts, Blair's a siren, and I don't even have a harp. You know what I mean?"

"Uh, the, uh, analogy is a little obscure, maybe," Vanessa said slowly, shooting him a dry, arch look that was somewhat watered down by her tear-reddened eyes.

Sobering suddenly, Dan sighed. "The point is that my own personal favorite for frontrunner for the contemporary embodiment of the antichrist has stolen the girl of my dreams and seduced my best friend."

For a moment, Vanessa considered letting it go at that. She wondered if it might be best to simply let Dan wallow, to be unfailingly supportive of his heartbreak and angst, or if she was doing him a disservice by not trying to help him paint the full picture. She was aware that offering up the unfortunate fact of the matter wasn't always the most comforting of tactics, but having Dan blame himself, no matter how self-effacing his method, for a situation that had been set in motion long before he appeared on the scene didn't seem like the best approach either. "You know they've been in love with one another for, like, forever, right?" she said finally, offering the truth up with what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

In an instant, Dan's expression morphed into something so devastated and mopey that Vanessa was afraid his features were going to slide straight off into a puddle.

Despite that, the look he shot her was cutting. "To be honest, no. It wasn't something I'd ever really considered."

"Well, they have been. Don't blame yourself."

"It's kind of hard not to blame yourself when your girlfriend leaves you for the biggest bitch on the Upper East Side," he muttered dryly, palms pressed against his bowed forehead. "I mean, Blair Waldorf. God."

Vanessa sighed. "I know you're not going to believe this, but she's not that bad."

"You're right. I don't believe it."

"She's not perfect," Vanessa said quickly, "but I think all that stuff that happened with Serena just made her go kind of batshit for a while. Serena's like her kryptonite, you know."

At Dan's look of disbelief, Vanessa tried to elaborate. "Blair is obsessed with order and appearances." Vanessa'ss mind flitted back to some of the things Blair had said, off-handed comments that offered a startling insight into her life. "If you think she's a bitch, from what I hear, you should meet her mother."

"I have met her mother, remember," he said dryly. "Is that supposed to make me feel sorry for her?"

"Maybe," Vanessa said with a shrug. "All I know is that most of the things in her life that hurt her, Blair just absorbs. She takes a deep breath, puts on that scary smile she has, and pretends like she didn't even notice. Serena, though… Blair can't protect herself from the ways Serena can and has hurt her. I'm not saying it's all Serena's fault. I don't know the whole back story, but I know Blair well enough to know that she couldn't have been entirely blameless."

Dan snorted. "Blair blameless?"

"Part of it was undoubtedly her fault," Vanessa conceded with a roll of her eyes. "Either way, when Serena left without even saying good-bye, I think it broke Blair a little. And then she came back and I think Blair was going to swallow her pride and forgive her and then she found out about Serena and Nate and that broke her a lot. Still, she couldn't cut Serena out of her life entirely. She punished her, no doubt, but she eventually let her back in." Vanessa paused, fixing Dan with a serious stare. "Think about the Blair that you know. Who else could abandon her for a year without a word, sleep with her boyfriend, and still somehow worm her way back in? If anyone else tried that, she'd crush them, but she doesn't really have any defense against Serena. If she's the supervillian, then Serena is her fatal flaw, the one thing that can defeat her."

Dan looked over at her in horrified alarm. "Are you, like, in love with her or something?"

"No, not in love with her," Vanessa muttered, "though I'll admit I did grow more fond of her than I would currently have liked. I'm not delusional. She's not perfect. That's kind of the whole point, actually. She's as human and stupid and fallible as you or me. She's just not very good at being nice about it."

"This is supposed to make me feel better?"

"Maybe," Vanessa shrugged. "Of course, you just lost the girl of your dreams so it's highly possible that nothing is going to make you feel better for a long time."

"Thanks," Dan said dryly.


"You realize that was sarcasm."

"You realize that knowing the truth will help. Maybe not today, but it will."

"I thought girls were supposed to be better at this comforting stuff," Dan grumped, pouting. "I need sympathy, not honesty."

Vanessa sighed, reaching out to find his hand. She twined their fingers together, the contact comforting. "So do I."

When her world grew a little darker, Serena looked up from her textbook to see Blair standing in front of her, blocking the sun streaming in through the windows.

"Hey," she said cautiously, hyperaware of the stiffness in Blair's shoulders. "I didn't hear you come in."

Blair eyed the seat beside Serena nervously, then muttered, "I, uh, used my key. It still worked."

Serena shifted, scooping a stack of papers off of the couch to make way for Blair.

When she'd settled, back still ramrod straight, Blair said tentatively, "I hear you broke up with Dan."

Serena nodded uncomfortably. "I did. After what happened, it didn't seem fair to him."

"You mean after kissing me in front of everyone, deliberately outing us both through Gossip Girl, and telling me you're in love with me?"

"Yeah, after that," she muttered, cringing.

"You're right. I guess that wouldn't seem fair."

"I thought you knew," Serena said caustically, something inside of her deflating at the coldness in Blair's eyes. "I'm a bad person."

Blair chuckled wryly though her words were sharp. "I'm not so nice myself."

"I've heard," Serena drawled blandly, screwing her eyes shut in anticipation of the blow she could feel coming. This was the day when Blair ended it all, when she decided that enough was enough and cut Serena out of her life.

The warmth of Blair's hand in hers came as a complete surprise, startling her into opening her eyes, and she turned, mouth gaping open in question.

"They say two wrongs don't make a right." The tone of Blair's voice was a practiced cool, but Serena could see the sudden, aching uncertainty in her eyes. "Maybe we should try to change that."

"You mean…"

"I don't need a shield," Blair said resolutely, interrupting Serena, needing to get the words out before she lost her nerve. "I just need you."

Despite her ardent wish that she wouldn't, Serena began to cry. The tears streaked down her face in rapid succession, and she swiped at them messily with the back of her hand.

"Don't do that," Blair muttered, batting away Serena's hand. She cupped the other girl's face in her hands, thumbs gently wiping at the wetness. "I was hoping you'd be happy."

"Of course I'm happy," Serena said impatiently, bringing her hands up to cup Blair's face in return. "I've been waiting a long time to hear that."

"So quit ruining your make-up and kiss me."

Serena leaned forward, intent on doing just that, before stopping short. "Don't you dare take this away from me," she warned fiercely. "I couldn't handle it if you did that again."

"Don't let me," Blair challenged gently. "I'll fight for you if you'll fight for me."

"How about we don't fight at all," Serena suggested, tracing her thumb over Blair's bottom lip. "How about we try something different."

"Did you have something in mind?"

"Yeah," Serena murmured, smiling softly. "I thought I might try loving you and you could try loving me back."

"I don't know," Blair teased gently, inching forward so that their lips brushed together lightly with every word. "It sounds kind of simple. Do you think it'll really work?"

Serena's attention drifted, but she managed to hold herself in check long enough to say, "It's something we haven't tried before, but I think the odds of success are pretty high. If you're willing to take the chance, that is."

Blair hesitated. As a general rule, taking chances had never worked out particularly well for her.

She took this one anyway. The risk/reward ratio was skewed in her favor.

The End

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