AN: This will be finished. And I gotta admit. I'm really just having fun now. I started this way before S2 opened, so the characterization of Marcus (even his name) was different. Even Chuck's reaction to Bart's death was different. So I'm letting the story ride for now, so I can wrap it up. Hope you like it anyway.

Part 9

The air between them hung heavy with words still left unsaid. Despite the tenuous friendship they had established, every time they were alone together, Blair felt the palpable tension that thickened the air. But there had never been more between her and Chuck than two failed attempts to be together.

Maybe it was because of that last argument she had had with Marcus.

His kisses were always like gentle little waves teasing the foot of a sandcastle. But when Chuck kissed, like he did at the stairway of her father's chateau—Blair released her breath in a slow exhale. Her eyes flickered to Chuck's lips.

Chuck kissed like the tsunami out of a disaster movie. Afterwards you would either be slammed back into rocks so hard you'd be dead, or you would be kicking and suffocating, paddling towards the light and the air.

How was it that her mind could still entertain thoughts of his kisses when she had such a perfect boyfriend? It was not every day that guys like Marcus Beacham Rhodes came along. Marcus would never abandon her like Chuck did. Marcus would do everything Chuck would not.

"How long is this internship for?" he asked her, bringing her out of her reverie.

"Two months," she answered.

"So he's going back to the mother country."

Blair's gaze flickered to Chuck. She slowly shook her head. "Marcus is thinking of moving here. He still has to get permission from his father." This was a man willing to stay—more than her father, more than Nate, more than Chuck. She was never a risktaker, and Marcus Beacham Rhodes was no risk at all.

Chuck licked his lips, and her eyes fell to the movement of his tongue. "Are you happy, Blair?"

She refused to meet his gaze. Blair looked out the window of the limo and saw them approaching a line of tall flags from dozens of countries lining the fences of the building. "I have an aristocrat for a boyfriend, who's head over heels in love with me," was her answer.

The limo stopped at the gates, and Blair already spotted Marcus jogging to the front to meet her. The door lock popped open, and she grabbed the latch to open the door. Before she could pull, he caught her arm. "That wasn't an answer to my question," he reminded her.

Her eyebrows furrowed, and she said, "Wasn't it, Chuck?"

She pulled at the latch, and before she could push the door open, Marcus had waved off the chauffeur and opened the door for her. She smiled gaily, ignored the rush of tears that threatened to choke her, and cupped his face. They shared a brief kiss and he was pulling her with him towards the building for a tour.

Marcus showed his pass to the guard at the entrance. While he explained her presence, Blair turned around to gaze at the heavily tinted limo windows as the vehicle waited outside the gates. In her mind she could imagine Chuck right behind that window, watching her. And then the limo started and rolled away.

"So," she said to Marcus as he signed on a logbook, "where are we off to?"

"I wanted you to see my little desk," he said, his voice filled with pride. "My first desk in the United Nations. I'll get a bigger desk in time. You'll see."

Blair gave him a small smile, then nodded. Forcing enthusiasm into her voice, she said, "Of course you are. You'll have a nice big office in no time." Her eyes drifted to the empty street. She turned a bright smile at Marcus. "Let's see it."

She didn't always walk alone, she thought. And now, here she was, walking into the cold shadowed halls of an office that many of the students from Constance would die to be in. She had a count holding her hand. Blair was pretty sure Marcus would be an important man someday. Maybe, just maybe he could be secretary general.

And if she was good, and loyal, and intelligent, then maybe he would never ever leave.

-

That smile. Chuck had seen that smile many times before. Blair used to smile up at Nate just like that. And then Chuck would smirk at her in private and find out from the lips of the Queen B herself, that the smile hid more hurt than she ever let on. She would snap at Chuck, not because of something he did, but because of something that Nate did not do. And he would spend an afternoon teasing her, taunting, testing to see how much she could take until she stomped away and pushed him out of her room.

And then he would remember his last comment because it was a clue that hinted on exactly what she would not let pass when it came to her perfect boyfriend.

Chuck had brought out too much of Blair Waldorf only to have her retreat behind the smile again. Different men, different circumstances, and still she hid behind the same fake smile.

No wonder she could not answer his question. That Blair Waldorf was not happy.

He flipped open his phone and dialed his stepsister's phone number. "Serena, you're on my side, aren't you?"

"Wait," the voice on the other line said nervously, "on what issue? Because I swear, Chuck, if you're in jail right now…"

"Relax, sis," he drawled. "I'm in the comfort of my own limo."

He heard a ding, and the noise of a cash register being slammed shut. Obviously, she was shopping. He could interrupt shopping, especially if she was using a Bass credit card.

"So what is this about?" Serena sighed into the phone.

And finally he admitted, and it gave Serena enough ammunition against him to use should she need it. "Blair." There was a pause. He was nervous with pauses. With Serena's pauses. Especially Blair's pauses. "So?"

"I'm not on your side!" she gasped, but there was a thrill in her voice that he noticed. "I'm on Blair's side."

"Fine," he responded. "If you're really on your side, you won't find it difficult to help me. I want to get her away from Lord Marcus."

"What do you have in mind?" Serena asked.

His face split into a big rare grin. "I'm sensing you don't like the count."

She sighed into the phone. "Marcus in great," Serena told him. "He's nice and generous and he treats my best friend like a princess. Which is more than I can say about you."

Chuck winced. He did not need a list of Marcus' fine attributes. Blair had already given him a rundown. "Then why are you willing to help?"

"Blair's bored," Serena offered. "And when Blair's bored, I can't escape her. And she's stiff. When you two were about to leave, she made some sick, perverted joke that you're the only one who can relax her."

Somehow, the thought of the Queen B making a sleazy comment involving him made him a little bit proud.

That pause again, the pause that tried to make a point—the pause that irritated Chuck. "And then you stood her up."

If the two of them just stopped mentioning about that unfortunate decision, it would be better for all concerned. Chuck let it go, for the moment, and asked, "So will you help me?"

"What do you want me to do?"

--

"Thank you," Blair said to Marcus when he pulled her chair for her. "You are such a gentleman."

"I learned a lot from my father," Marcus told Blair. "One of those lessons is how to treat a lady."

She smiled sweetly at him, and imagined he was more interesting. If he were to become secretary general of the UN in the future, he would be a lot more compelling. And he would have lots of stories to tell her. If only for that, she should try to hold on to the relationship.

"Blair, isn't that your friend whom we saw in England?"

Why did he have to say 'whom'? She was already uptight with school, but she didn't distinguish between who and whom in oral communication.

Blair turned around, and spotted Chuck Bass strolling in a ridiculous black suit that shone under the light. She blinked. "Yes it is," she said. Her eyes narrowed at the sight of a blonde trophy he had on his arm. Chuck did have a thing for blondes early the year before. She turned her back on the sight and told Marcus, "You're right. That's Chuck Bass."

'Well isn't this splendid!" Marcus exclaimed. "Such a small world."

She shook her head furiously. She did not any more occasions when Chuck would be standing next to Marcus, showing her everything he had whispered to her in London, and seemed to have forgotten since her return to New York. "I wanted to spend the night with just the two of us," she said. "We just arrived."

"Alright," Marcus said agreeably.

Blair smiled. The waiter placed a bottle of wine on their table. Marcus looked up in confusion. "We haven't ordered anything yet."

"Courtesy of Mr Bass, sir."

Marcus looked up at Chuck from above Blair's head, then raised his hand in thanks. "It seems very discourteous that we don't at least pass by to thank the man," Marcus said in a hushed voice.

"Then go ahead. I'm a little tired," Blair said. "I'll call him later."

Marcus excused himself, politely but that was no surprise. Blair turned around and watched with hooded eyes as Marcus extended a hand to Chuck. When Chuck shook her boyfriend's hand, he met her eyes.

"Miss Waldorf," she turned around and saw the blonde that Chuck had arrived with holding out a bouquet of roses to her. "Mr Bass wants you to have these."

Blair's eyes narrowed, and her lips curved at the realization. Chuck was back in fighting form.

Marcus returned to their table a few minutes later. At the sight of the flowers, he frowned. "Those are beautiful."

"They're from Chuck, just like the wine."

Marcus glanced up again. "Tell me, Blair, is it customary for a friend to give flowers to a girl who's on a date with someone else?"

Blair grinned. "Absolutely not!"

Just once she wanted to see Marcus Beacham Rhodes react like a man. And she wanted to see, for Italy and for France, Chuck get punched. It would take his mind away for a second, at the very least, from what happened to his dad.

"Well," Marcus huffed, "that shows his breeding, does it not?"

If she were a cartoon, she would have been picking up her jaw from the floor. Blair released the breath she held, then said, "Marcus, this isn't working for me."

The count sputtered in his seat. "What?"

She stood up and gave him a lopsided smile. "Are you really surprised? It hasn't been working even in France."

Marcus shot up from his seat, then tossed his napkin on the table. "Because you couldn't feel passion?" Marcus asked. "Because I wasn't groping you?" he exclaimed in disbelief.

And then, the count grabbed her arms and pulled her against him, in full view of the restaurant. Blair found herself paralyzed under the onslaught of his kiss. Marcus' lips parted, and his tongue teased her lips, coaxing her to part them.

And then she could suck in a large breath of air, and she saw Marcus stumble, crashing into the table, sprawling onto the floor. Blair stared open-mouthed at the crumpled count. Her gaze rose and she saw Chuck Bass, in his sparkling splendor, standing over Marcus Beacham Rhodes, shaking his hand and hissing in pain.

She stifled a grin.

Passion.

tbc