A/N: To everyone that's still reading this or just discovered it, you have my extreme respect for hanging on this long. Real life has been insane and it's never going to slow down, I guess. It's good to know I still have this little part of the universe that I can control. I hope that ya'll enjoy this chapter; it's about 600 words longer than usual, which I hope makes it worth the wait. Oh, and be forewarned: I'm considering this, the next, and the past few chapters the "downward spiral." So let's just hope that the pilot remembers to pull up before we crash. And points the plane towards someplace sunny. :)

SPECIAL THANKS to everyone who keeps leaving "OH MY GOSH! HOW COME I DIDN'T FIND THIS STORY SOONER" reviews. Ya'll remind me that there's still story to tell. :)

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Gossip Girl, Chuck Bass, or Blair Waldorf. I just want to prove that two people, who are meant to be together, will find their way back to each other when the timing is right. And, as always, story and chapter titles belong to Hanson's ever-growing songbook.

Chapter 40


Leaving school later that day, Chuck had gotten into his limo and simply instructed Arthur to drive. He needed to get away from the scene of the crime, but there was no place he needed to be, no where in particular that he wanted to go. Without Blair and Nate it was like he had the slightest clue of what to do with himself. The thought of returning to his empty hotel room, filled with memories of both his ex-best friend and his ex-girlfriend, consumed him with dread. It was like he'd somehow lost two best friends, instead of just one.

Without them in his life, he was literally lost.

He had just resigned himself to driving around the city for the afternoon when his phone rang, filling the gloomy cabin with the ringtone that he'd specifically chosen for this caller. He looked at the caller ID and was shocked at the picture displayed; the last person he thought he would hear from today was smiling at him from the screen. It wasn't a mechanical glitch that caused this particular song to play.

As he fumbled with his phone, he debated internally for a moment, wondering if he should answer it. Would it be worth the potential trauma to pick up the phone and find out what the caller wanted? They definitely hadn't parted on the best of terms...

Steeling himself for the worst, Chuck failed to keep the nervous tremor out of his traditionally purred greeting. "Nathaniel?"

"I talked to Blair." His former best friend began without preamble, obviously not in the mood for small talk. "She told me a few things about how this happened-"

Chuck tentatively interrupted, "You mean, how Blair and I happened?"

"Yeah. That." Nate sighed, staying quiet for a moment while Chuck waited for him to continue."And, it's weird, but when Blair broke up with me this last time, I kinda knew it was you." The pause on the other end of the phone gave Chuck the chance to hide his own shock at this revelation. "It was a shock, but it wasn't, you know?"

"How... how did you figure it out?" Chuck sputtered, unsure of what else to ask. His former friend wasn't exactly known for this deductive reasoning skills.

"Blair wouldn't use the word love about someone she barely knew," he replied. "And, she's right on this one, you've always understood her better than I did. The way you two bickered makes so much sense now, man..."

His mind blown, Chuck needed to narrow this line of conversation down to the point: "Where are you going with all of this, Nate? Is this a strange way of saying you forgive me?"

Exhaling loudly, Nate said, "I don't know about that." Then there was a moment of silence. "I have a lot to think about."

"Okay." Chuck shrugged to his empty car. "That's more than I thought-"

Nate cut him off. "But that's not why I called."

"It's not?"

"I wanted nothing to do with you, I was so angry..." Nate's voice trailed off. "Then Blair came to me to ask me to forgive you both. She cares for you, Chuck and, now that I have some background to your relationship..." he sighed, "I believe that you might care for her, too."

Baffled, Chuck asked, "What background?" What could Blair have said that made this conversation possible?

"She told me about Cotillion. How you broke up the night you left for Monaco? It was strange that you weren't ordering maids to go along with your room service, but now I know why." Then he paused. "Am I wrong?"

Chuck shook his head, even though his former best friend couldn't see him. "I was too messed up over what I thought happened with you and Blair in that hotel room. It was all I could think about." He cleared his throat, nervously, knowing this might be the only chance he had to convince Nate that he'd been serious about Blair. "I even stayed away from New York as long as possible, so I wouldn't have to see you two together."

There was silence again, a throat clearing, a deep breath; it was like Nate was thinking hard, trying to make a decision. And then he said, "Then... that's why I called: because you care about her and you should know."

Sitting up straighter, Chuck asked earnestly, "Know what?"

Nate huffed out a breath. "That Blair's finishing the semester in France. And she's leaving as soon as she can, from the sound of it."

The news added another weight to the pile that had building in his stomach all day, making him sink back down into the soft leather seats of his limo.

On one hand, it was still difficult to believe that Blair would leave without telling him, no matter what they'd done to each other. On the other hand, this would have been a day from hell in her mind. Running away from the source of her pain was the mirror image of what he'd done by fleeing to Monaco. And he'd definitely played a large part in hurting her.

Forcing himself to survive this phone conversation before sinking into the deepest bottle of scotch he could find, he asked softly, "And why did she tell you this?"

"She wanted me to be here for you when she was gone." Nate sighed gruffly, "Which is something I'll have to work on."

Chuck took a moment to absorb everything Nate had said and tried his hardest to avoid thinking about Blair on another continent. Then he couldn't help but ask, "If you're still mad, then why tell me?" He was truly confused at about Nate's motives, considering the fact that Nate's hands had been around his neck only hours ago.

"Because that's what a friend would have done."

The phone call dropped suddenly, leaving Chuck with his former best friend's accusatory words echoing in his ears. It was simple to read between the broad lines of what Nate was saying: a friend would have told him that he was dating his ex-girlfriend. There were so many times Blair had reminded him that staying a secret was dangerous and it took this disastrous day for it to sink in. A day that wouldn't have happened if he and Blair had just been honest with Nate about their feelings.

He had royally screwed up by not confiding in Nate and he wasn't going to forget that any time soon.

It took him a few minutes to pull himself from the revelation that this was all his fault. Once he remembered why Nate called, he silently thanked him, then pressed the button to lower the driver partition.

He had a destination now.

Tears ran rampant down Blair's cheeks during her entire walk home, but she managed to maintain what was left of her dignity by not sobbing. After her break-up with Serena and her emotional conversation with Nate, it was hard to believe that she wasn't all out of emotions. It was almost like she was a bottomless pit of despair.

When the elevator signaled her arrival at her penthouse and the doors opened into the atrium, the aura of emptiness surrounding her was suffocating. This apartment she'd called home for years was filled with the echoes of time spent laughing and loving both Chuck and Serena. She wasn't going to survive the ache of loss if she stayed here, surrounded by so many memories.

If she didn't leave soon, they might swallow her whole.

She found her mother was actually home for once, just sitting in the living area; it seemed that fate had finally decided to give Blair a break. And even though Blair was usually convinced that Eleanor had been absent the day they bestowed the gift of motherly affection, she threw herself at her the older Waldorf woman's feet, jarring her from whatever paperwork she'd been pouring over. Maybe there would be a touch of the caring woman her mother was on Thanksgiving still lurking in there...

Blair knew the moment that Eleanor saw the tear streaks staining her daughter's face because the words that slipped from her mouth sounded slightly concerned. "Are you okay?"

Keeping control of her urge to cry everything out to her mother wasn't easy and Blair let an unladylike sniffle slip. "I'd be a lot better if I could spend a semester going to school in France."

Appalled, Eleanor asked, "A semester?" To Blair's answering nod, her mother continued uncertainly, "Well, I already talked to Harold about a visit and he was thrilled."

After taking a moment to be relieved that Daddy had kept his promise to stay quiet, Blair asked, "So, can I go?"

Her mother's eyes widened comically, "Now?"

"Mom, please try!" She knew she was begging now and she didn't care. There was no way she'd survive another few months in the vast and lonely desert that New York currently represented.

The older woman kindly smoothed the hair back from Blair's face, which Blair had been too distraught to realize had escaped her headband. "Blair, I am very concerned."

Even though this was the side of her mother that she was hoping to encounter, the back and forth was getting frustrating. "So book a flight!" The surprise on her mother's face reminded Blair that she wasn't being rational. She had to keep control of this exchange or her mother would send her to Ostroff instead of Lyon. "It's just that I miss Daddy so much and it's Spring Break; there isn't a better time for me to switch schools. It'll be less likely to affect my grades this way."

Eleanor still looked suspicious, but she finally relented. "Fine, we'll get you out," she replied. "Tomorrow."

Grateful to check another item off of her list of things to do before fleeing town, Blair fought tears as she whispered, "Thank you," and turned to leave the atrium.

Her mother's voice rang through the silence just before Blair reached the steps to the second floor. "Oh, and Blair?"

She turned back to face the elder Waldorf and then rested her hand on the railing of the staircase. "Yeah, mom?"

"Whatever your running from won't disappear while you're gone, Darling." Her mother's knowing expression caused a haunting chill to materialize in Blair's chest. "You're still going to have to face it when you get back."

Sighing, Blair replied softly, "I know."

She thought that she'd feel relieved once her escape route was in place, but her mother's final words rang incredibly true, keeping her from the respite she'd been expecting. As Blair climbed the stairs, her feet seemed to get heavier.

The closer she got to packing up her life in New York, the more she was regretting her decision not to tell Chuck about her departure. She knew that she wouldn't be able to face him; if that stunt he tried to pull at school today was indication, the pull between them was strong as it ever was. And she knew that picking up the phone would only end with her disconnecting the call before it could ring.

It felt like she was breaking-up with him all over again, even though they hadn't been together since the beginning of December. Her heart simply couldn't bear to break his again, but her mind knew that there would be no better opportunity to move her pregnancy to France than in the face of an untrue scandal.

When she pushed her bedroom door open and flicked on the light, the last person she expected was waiting for her, sitting on her bed.

"I figured out that you want space, Blair. You don't have to book an intercontinental flight to prove a point." Chuck stood, his face stoic as he continued his commentary, "France seems a bit excessive..."

Blair had frozen in the doorway, her heartbeat fluttering erratically in panic. "Who told you?"

"A mutual friend," he responded evenly, a bit of an ironic twist to his lips. "Someone that thought you should have."

When he took a step toward her, she fled further into the room, away from him, flattening her back against her bathroom door. "Please go, Chuck..."

He sat on the edge of the bed again in an obvious attempt to seem nonthreatening and implored softly, "I'm not leaving until you tell me why you're leaving."

Blair now found herself in the precise situation she'd been hoping to avoid. Her brain was scrambling, trying to come up with a way to convince him this had nothing to do with her condition. She stalled. "Because I have to."

Apparently that hadn't been the right thing to say because Chuck's head snapped up, his eyes sharp, piercing through her, "Why do you have to?" Those deep pools of caramel were as alluring as ever, even when they were trying to read what she wasn't saying, trying to see something that they shouldn't.

"I've lost everything," she exclaimed in feigned exasperation, "my reputation, my friends, my dignity, you... I've even been de-throwned." Blair sighed. "I'm a humiliated nothing here." There. She'd thrown every persuasive emotion into her reason and given her best impression of defeat; if this didn't work...

He was up before she could blink, his hands cupping her cheeks like he used to, his mouth just inches from hers when he whispered what she'd been desperate to hear just weeks ago: "You haven't lost me!"

Standing so very still, with those precious words and his touch sawing away at her resolve, she struggled to maintain her determination. This was the exact situation she'd been hoping to prevent. The same one that could tempt her to confide in him about their child or ask him to run with her; two things that just couldn't happen right now. She had to get some distance and make a decision about two futures before she could tell him.

Holding on tightly to her need to think, to be free of the threat of her mother finding out and the thought-obscuring influence of Chuck, she gently removed his hands from her face. "What we had is gone, Chuck." Her heart splintered at her words, causing her eyes to water and she didn't try to hide as she choked back the tears. "So much has happened..."

"And how," he growled in frustration, "am I supposed to fix it if you put the Atlantic Ocean between us, Blair?" He sounded outraged, but his faced was filled with panic, like he knew what she was going to say next before she even did.

"You let me go, Chuck." She took his right hand in her left, her pleading eyes never leaving his. "I need you to let me go."

He pulled her closer by the hand that he held, touching his forehead to hers. "You're sure that's what you want?"

She thought of their child, of how much better it would be if she could find a way to tell him... How that would never be possible until she could learn to trust him again.

"Yes; I want you to let me go... then I want you to call me." Blair smiled guardedly, pulling back until she could meet his gaze again. "We can talk our way across an ocean." Affectionately squeezing the hand she still held, she continued, "Maybe we'll figure out what made us work in the first place."

He looked lost as he brushed the hair away from her eyes with his free hand, stroking her cheek with his thumb. Blair allowed herself to revel in his touch, preparing her heart to let him go as he softly kissed her forehead. "Goodbye, Waldorf," he whispered reverently, "I'll miss you."

Then he had abruptly pulled his hand from hers and walked away, shoulders set like he was trying his best to be strong.

He reached the door around the same time that Blair realized she wouldn't be able to live with herself if she let him go like that. Not when this moment was eerily reminiscent of that terrible fight they'd had, the one where she'd thrown her worst Nate-themed insults at him and he had gotten on the elevator before she recognized what had happened.

She went after him and yelled his name. "Chuck!" When he turned to look back at her, she threw herself into his arms and kissed him with all the turmoil that roiled inside her at this moment. Pouring all the things she couldn't say into his mouth, she allowed the passionate embrace to last much longer than she should have. She needed this final moment to drink him in, to gain the strength to leave him and wander the Chuck-less wasteland known as France. She had to give their hearts this respite before she spent the next several months dreaming of the moment she could tell him about the secret she carried under a few layers of the skin he'd spent countless intimate moments claiming for his own.

They were both breathless when she pulled away, cautious hope in his dark eyes as he looked into hers.

It all came down to this moment; this was the moment that she had to break his heart again, but, this time, she was going to do it with grace. Knowing what she had to do, it was a little easier now, post-kiss and holding tightly to the fact that they were parting on speaking terms this time.

This wasn't the book closing, this was just the start of a new chapter. A clean start for them, one devoid of the lies that had previously hindered their progress. Except, of course, for that one secret that would have to remain hidden for now.

Kissing him softly once more, she whispered, "Goodbye, Chuck." She held his disappointed gaze and ran her hand through his ruffled hair, then down the back of his neck. "I'll talk to you later, okay?"

He gripped her hand tightly before allowing their hands to fall slowly apart. "Yes, you will." He walked through the doorway and gave her a last glance before making his way down the stairs.

Blair shut the door quietly before sliding down against it to the floor. Giving in to her despair, her body started to shake with all the gasps and sobs that she'd been suppressing ever since her life's downward spiral began.

And, this time, she let herself cry.

A/N: Yeah, I know it's depressing... but necessary. We have to get through the angst so I can write some happy stuff! Please R.S.V.P. if you will be around for said "happy stuff" when we finally get there...