Prelude of In Love & War
"The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return."
Summary: Post 1.13. Chuck Bass left New York after he lost Blair and Nate in one day. Years later, a deep economic crisis has left the world broke and the only family in the UES with money left is the Bass family and its sole heir: Chuck Bass. Eleanor convinces Blair to marry Chuck for his money, but all the feelings Blair left buried a long time ago start to surface when she realizes he's not the man she thought he was. CB. NV.
Disclaimer: I own nothing, not Gossip Girl, not any quotes/lyrics used.
A/N – A special thanks to the ever lovely Tatiana for her BETA.
"Poverty often deprives a man of all spirit and virtue; it is hard for an empty bag to stand upright."
Things always start in pairs.
She stared at the bills in her hand. 298.
Lucky numbers always started with 2. A couple made a marriage. Two years of marriage equal a child. At age 2, it's perfect for the 2nd child to be born. Two years after he left, his kisses had finally faded from her skin.
It was a lucky day.
She was now 24. Started with 2, but was as unlucky as ever…
"How much?" She jumped at the voice behind her. She sighed when she saw it was her mother.
"There was well over 350 dollars here. Where is the rest, Mother?" She snapped.
Eleanor's eyes showed her inability to afford the Botox she had once overused.
"I was thirsty," she told her daughter and turned to walk away.
Blair stared after her. Her mother stumbled slightly, and Blair closed her eyes tightly against the reality of their situation. She took a deep breath and stuffed the money back into the small box, looking around for a place to hide it so her mother wouldn't use it for vodka.
Since the room was nearly lacking in furniture department, there really weren't a lot of places to hide the small box that contained all that was left of their money. She opted for under the winter sheets. Summer still abounded in Manhattan, and they wouldn't need the winter sheets until a few months from then.
She entered her mother's room and found her mother on their bed. "Their bed" because it was the only bed left, aside from the small cot that Dorota used in the kitchen.
"Mom?" She asked, quietly entering the space. Eleanor Waldorf was lying on the bed with her torn silk robe as she stared at photos.
"Mom…" She said, more gently this time.
Her mother looked up at her. "I lost Mrs. Kline today…" she told Blair softly.
The little constant pit in Blair's stomach shivered. "How…?"
"She… Her husband killed himself and apparently there was no money," Eleanor told her, embarrassed at having to be constantly talking about money.
"But…" Blair looked around, more than frustrated. "She owed us for last month's dress!"
Eleanor flipped more photos.
"We will pay our respects to the Kline family tomorrow, they're holding a small wake-"
"I was counting on that!" Blair fumed, tired and angry.
"-do wear sometime tasteful," Eleanor continued, without pause. "I remember when Anita and I used to-"
"Mother, listen to yourself!" Blair insisted, sitting before her. "I needed that money to pay the electric bill, without it-"
"-sneak into Mrs. Kline's closet and stare at her dresses-"
"-they will cut it off!" Blair cried.
"Blair!" Eleanor shouted right back, finally pausing her story.
They stared at each other, both too tired, too exhausted.
"Winter's coming," Blair said softly.
"We have candles, you've always enjoyed candles," Eleanor told her, touching Blair's hair, noticing the split ends.
"Candles won't keep us warm, won't cook our food-"
"I remember those candles you used to keep all the time when you dated Nathaniel." Eleanor smiled slightly.
"…. Mom…." Blair said softly, wincing at the sadness in her voice.
Eleanor stopped with the picture flapping and finally stared at Blair. "I… I don't know what we're going to do, Blair. I just don't."
And her mother crumbled. She hadn't crumbled since the crash, but she did then.
Blair pulled her mom into her arms and held her close. "It's going to be fine, Mom. It is."
Eleanor held her closer.
"I'll fix it, Mom. I will. And I have that interview tomorrow at the Post," Blair assured her, petting her hair. "It'll be fine. I'll fix it."
When her mother was asleep in the bed, she rushed to be bathroom. She remembered that as a young girl, she used to puke to make herself be pretty. She hadn't puked in years. Years. Food was too precious now, and what little they had was to be preserved.
She closed the door behind her and opened the tap. Not to muffle her gags… But to cover sobs. She slump against the wall and looked at the wall behind the toilet as she placed her hands over her mouth to muffle the cries. Her body shook violently, and she had to close her eyes tightly because the world around her was entirely too real.
When her silent sobs subsided, she stood on shaky legs and stared at her reflection in the mirror. She no longer had the luxury of keeping her curls long and full. So she had Dorota cut her hair right above her shoulders, and she mostly kept it pinned behind one of her old headbands. Her eyes seemed duller and flatter; long gone was the happy shine she used to sport. A brisk wind came up the bottom of the door, and she shivered with memories.
Though she would never whisper it out loud, she still remembered his scent as he stared down at her through hooded eyes and promising looks. No one made love to her the way he had. Evermore.
She remembered, as a little girl, loving epic war films where lovers would reunite despite the war as soldiers returned heroically home to meet their waiting ladies. She remembered imitating their classic 1940's styles with soft curls and red lipstick, always waiting for her own soldier. Nate was to be her soldier for many years, but she quickly grew out of that. And then he entered her life. Smooth as silk; dangerous as fire, passionate and caring despite his inability to be the man she needed him to be. The man she wanted him to be.
They were such children then. They played games and smiled triumphantly when one won. Such children.
She had remained a child until the death of her father. Suddenly, the world seemed colder, harsher, and her beautiful movies and dreams were quickly replaced by the reality of life. The threat of the impending war was in the air, and she had lived and breathed it for over six months.
And he was gone.
They were all gone.
Serena was the first to leave, a year after high school, she and Dan married (what she would call a mistake) in secret and thus began the mess. The stock market crashed on May 7, 2010. It came as a great surprise to the Upper East Side, despite the whole world expecting it. She remembered wearing Hermés and drinking Clos du Mesnil when it happened. Her lips were painted with Chanel Russet Moon, and her scent was Shalimar. She felt vintage that month. She didn't think much of it – the day it happened. That would affect the lower classes. No need to worry. She had plenty. She was a Waldorf. She felt rather sorry for Serena and her mistake marriage.
But the moment she walked back into her home, she saw it in her mother's eyes. Eleanor Waldorf Designs had plummeted. The stock was useless, and the fashion industry had burnt down overnight. The house of Chanel, Gucci, Prada, Versace were useless and as impressive as lemons.
She held her mother's head as she cried that night, but she still felt that it did not affect them. Her mother's empire was only 25% of their wealth. Their true wealth came from her father and his impressive trust fund passed down since the late 1800's. But her father died a month after it happened and, amidst her tears and sorrow, she found out he had invested the majority of their money in a lucrative company… That same company had gone under during the crash.
She sat very still as she processed this. She was the sole Waldorf heir. In times past, this would've pleased her. Now, in times present, that meant all estate bills had fallen on her shoulders.
That's when the fairytales ended.
All around her, things began to crumble and crumble fast. The Archibalds had lost their fortune some months before, but they limped by on their good name and on old Archie Archibald's good graces. But Archie was 98 years old, and the day he died, he left his money to charity as a punishment for the Captain's deceit. Nate was left with as little as she was, but he seemed to accept it as he continued his tumultuous semi-affair with Vanessa.
Granted, they had a few months of passion after Chuck left, but that had quickly ended when she saw Nate and Vanessa laughing and enjoying coffee. He never laughed or smiled like that with her, and she had realized then she was holding him back from being truly happy. Plus she didn't love him. Hadn't loved him for a long while.
And then there was Chuck. Chuck Bass, whom she would sooner like to forget than remember, but they were more intertwined than she liked to admit. The night he called her a horse (because that's what he did), Serena convinced her to stay. After moping around her home for a week, she returned to school to find out that he had been the one to leave.
He convinced his father to hire him private tutors and let him move overseas. She had despised him for months, convinced he was doing this to torture her. To win a game. But no letters came, no text messages, no calls – just a passing message from Serena, his new step-sister, on his whereabouts. He did come to the wedding of Lily and Bart, but their eyes briefly met only once across the room before he rolled them and attended to the red-headed slut in his arms.
The next time she saw him was when his father died. His father died during their senior year, and she remembered wanting to go to him, but her feet wouldn't take her to him. He didn't even bother to look at her then. He'd been stoic.
He'd also been pronounced the richest heir in the world, topping the Onassis empire at an estimated 15 billion dollars. She studied him from far away as Nate and he avoided each other, and she thought he'd never looked lonelier.
The Van der Bass war broke out when Lily quickly fled to Rufus Humphrey's arms, infuriating Chuck. He stripped her of all the money she would've received from his father's estate with the help of his jazzy lawyers. But no one ever saw him through this little war; he did it all from Japan.
The Van der Woodsens still had money, of course. It was the manner of the scandal that broke Lily and Rufus up… Which in the end, like Blair knew (because she knew Chuck Bass), was what he had wanted.
All of Chuck Basses plans went exactly the way that psychotic mastermind wanted them to go.
She hadn't seen him since. Very little was heard of him, except from those who studied business and finance. He was craftier than his father had been and nearly doubled his fortune in the months before the crash.
What really and truly saved the Bass Empire was not all the real estate he owned or the investments made in foreign trade—it was a small company his father had purchased a year before he died. A company that made and sold corn. Corn production, which replaced petroleum the moment cars became too expensive to drive or own, had saved the Bass empire.
He'd lost millions of dollars, but corn was so very valuable that even his small company kept him filthy rich. So filthy rich that he was considered one of the world's richest men. The youngest and most eligible. She read about him sometimes, when she could find a newspaper. He was rumored to live abroad in a Scottish estate, surrounded by exotic women. She had scoffed at this.
Yes, he was rich, and she was now poor. They were all poor. Money had been so bad that Dan and Serena had moved out west to see if he could get work in the corn fields (the same corn fields Chuck fucking Bass probably owned). There was no work in New York. Buildings were left abandoned, streets were often deserted, and talk of the 'second coming' was on everyone's lips. New York now reminded Blair of those World War II films she used to enjoy as a child. Only, the black & white pictures were much more comforting. Wall Street was deserted, and bums slept inside. For those that still had a working TV, one channel was available, and it was downright depressing. And in Chinese.
The United States had nearly collapsed, and on most good months, they were under Marshall law to prevent crime. But crime never went out past 7pm. Once it got dark, she would be indoors. This was not the New York in which she had grown up. This was not the world she knew. People killing for food, no police, disorder and chaos. And the eminent threat of war was around every corner. The majority of young people had joined the army in their desperation for money. But none had come back yet.
It had been her unfortunate duty to sell the majority of the goods in her father's French estate in order to pay back some of the bills left behind. Poor Roman had moved back with his parents, and she hadn't heard from him since. Now it was just her mother, her Dorota, and her. In a lonely crumbling New York apartment. An apartment that they and their $298 couldn't afford.
The light bill alone was over $400, and it was two months late.
Yes. Her world had crumbled, and it was slowly taking Blair Waldorf along with it.
When she exited the bathroom, she found Dorota closing the door to her mother's room.
"I give her pills, make her feel better," Dorota told her, and Blair slowly nodded.
"Help me get ready for tomorrow's interview," she said quietly, and Dorota was wise enough to not comment on Blair's red-rimmed eyes.
She shifted as the man studied the papers she had painstakingly put together. Her whole life was there, and she was wearing her best 'you should hire me because I'm responsible' face. Because nowadays, it was all she could afford. Her face.
"So… Miss Waldorf…"
She gulped and nodded. Her hands and feet placed like lady should.
"You don't actually have any journalism experience, do you?" He drawled, looking at her over his glasses.
"Well." Don't stutter, girl. Don't Stutter. "I did join the editorial staff at the Yale Herald for the short time I was there."
Shit. She stuttered.
He clicked his tongue.
"But… That's a student paper… With no pieces of your own?" He continued.
"Well… I… I was more into the management aspect of it. I'm a great manager," she encouraged. "I'm very responsible, highly organized, and neurotically meticulous."
He nodded, still looking at her in a slightly sad was.
"Yes, I read that," he breathed and put down her paper. "Miss Waldorf. The position is of field reporter. Not office manager… We… No one can afford them nowadays. You understand?"
"Yes…" she said carefully. "But, you see – I figured once you saw how responsible I was and how unafraid of a challenge… I actually love a good challenge. If all you have is field reporter, I'll take it."
"I understand that, Miss Waldorf," he continued, leaning back to reveal a hole in his shirt. A hole she couldn't stop staring at now.
"But the reporter we're searching for needs to be in the trenches… That doesn't mean the Bronx. It means Africa. Saudi Arabia."
"No facilities, no guarantee of return, no pay until the story is published… The one thing I can guarantee is that it's not for you."
"Well… I'm sure there are local stories…"
"No one cares about local stories, Miss Waldorf," he said plainly.
She took a deep breath and decided to use her Trump card. "Do you know who my family is?"
He stared at her for a long while. "Miss Waldorf? No one cares whose family is what anymore."
And he was right.
"Mr. Stockton." She grew desperate, learning forward. "If there's anything that you need done…" Shit, her voice broke.
"Would you like a glass of water?" He countered, and her face paled.
She slowly shook her head.
"Let me show you out," he said quietly. She nodded, holding back her tears by a quarter of an inch.
He led her back down the nearly empty corridor. She stared at desolate desks and dusty computers. The world seemed abandoned.
They passed by the small printing press, and Blair paused because there was something that caught her eye. The front page article.
She stared at the picture, unblinking, her heart hammering slightly.
He noticed she had stopped and turned to see the object of her interest.
"Ahh…" he nodded. "You noticed."
She stared down at the man in the front page.
"Chuck Bass," he said with satisfaction. "The last bit of American legend. He's said to be in town this week."
Memories that she'd long forgotten assaulted her.
"There's no interview…" she said softly.
"Oh yes… it's a well known fact that Chuck Bass doesn't give interviews," he proclaimed. "So we get what we can… If we're lucky, we get a picture."
Behind her sorrow and impending doom, a small little Blair Waldorf light went off.
She perked and looked at him, smile evident in her face.
"I can get an interview," she told him, and the man looked taken back.
"No one can," he countered.
"I can," she snapped.
He studied her face and determination. "You get me an exclusive with Chuck Bass… And I'll pay you fifty dollars."
Her heart leapt. "Done."
"I'm not hiring you," he reiterated. "This is a one time thing."
"You want me to say it in French?" She snapped.
He smiled, impressed. "No need. I was more of a German man myself."
He watched her, skipping slightly, a small little bounce into her step. He shook his head, the assignment was pointless… Good thing it was because, he didn't have the $50 to pay her.
A/N – This story will contain Nate/Vanessa also but does not revolve around them.