It was easy to see, Serena had told him. Chuck had never been calmer in his confidence. And Nate sometimes looked at Blair and shook his head with a grin. By the time they graduated from Constance Billard and St Jude's, there was not one person in either school who did not know that Chuck was Blair's and Blair was Chuck's.
They were not boyfriend and girlfriend.
It would be an insult to use the terms.
Graduation had been surprisingly sentimental to Chuck. He had not predicted that it would be so. For a place where he barely tolerated the people, it was with a twinge of sadness that he smirked his way through the goodbyes. The knowledge that at least, the person he wanted to most to stay with would always be with him was his only comfort. That same day he went to Blair's—who still would not move in—and offered a summer away. She had cocked her head to the side in consideration. And for the longest moments, Chuck's head went to the year before when he had stood her up. And he was afraid of how easily she could decide to say no.
"I promise to show up this time," he said, keeping his voice light.
"Don't tell me we're going to Italy," she teased, from her place in her bedroom, in front of her computer table.
"It deserves another try," he told her. "There are so many places there I would have loved to show you."
They were the most romantic places in the world. They stood at the top of the Spanish steps, and he had sucked in his breath with such effort. Holding on to her, with his arms around her waist and the Piazza di Spagna looming within sight, he could think of nothing but his father's words that had sent him scurrying away from that trip.
What was so wrong with change that it had sent him cowering in fear? Now he had changed, and he was all the better for it.
The Trinita di Monti called to him, and he could even imagine a wedding there. Blair is a simple little white number, squealing in his arms when he held her up, and him laughing his ass off.
When they returned from that trip, and she told him what she wanted—that was when he knew why he had been so afraid.
"When I go to Yale, I don't want you to visit," she told him. He had blinked silently at her, waiting for her to continue, or to start laughing, because for sure it was a joke. "Chuck?" she prompted.
"Have you gone out of your mind?" was all he could say.
"You asked me what I wanted."
The frustration showed, he knew. He could feel the heat around his neck. And he felt like he would choke right there. "I was asking for a college gift, like the ones people give the people they love who go off to college. A fricking car, Blair, furniture for your new apartment, a pair of diamond earrings or at least a notebook computer you get to haul around with you to your classes!" Chuck ran his fingers through his hair. He paced, and wore a path on her carpet. "I don't believe this!"
"I'm not breaking up with you," she said slowly.
"Don't visit me," he threw back. "That doesn't sound like breaking up? It sure doesn't sound like foreplay to me."
He was angry, and he had tried to keep himself from being angry for a good long while. The last time he showed any anger was when he faced off with her former minions after he heard them spewing about Blair's place in the race for school valedictorian.
"You don't become valedictorian when you don't even have enough sense to use birth control," Penelope had said.
And when the girls had all giggled, Chuck had stalked towards them and showed them exactly why St Jude's feared Chuck Bass. It was a series of finely chosen words, insults so thinly veiled they sent titters of discomfort across the courtyard. For months afterwards, none of the boys in St Jude's even looked at those girls.
Her voice brought him back to the present, to the clear threat that had been placed in front of him. "You have to understand, Chuck."
"Why?" he asked. "Did I do anything wrong?" It sounded near desperate and he did not care. "Why do I have to understand, Blair?"
"Because," she said softly, "you needed some time to yourself once. And you came back better." Blair took the first badge he had ever given her. Fifteen days, it said. She handed it to him and continued, "I think I need some time apart from you."
Chuck stared at the badge that he had been so proud of. "But you're fine," he said.
He saw her swallow with effort. She took his hand. "I'm not. But I'm a great actress," she said softly.
He told her that after the school play, and never knew how true it was. He settled on the bed, rested his elbows on his knees then held his head tightly.
"Okay," he surrendered, the way she did when she was backed into a corner and she only wanted to make him happy. "Okay, Blair."
And she went to sit beside him and wrap her arms around him. "Thank you."
He pulled her close and kissed the top of her head. "Conditions," he said. "There has to be conditions."
"No other guys for me, if there will be no girls for you," she said quickly, as if she had already thought up the terms beforehand.
He smirked. "I hope there wasn't even any question of that. I would probably have mechanical problems even if I tried to—" At her glower, he amended, "Not that I would," in a quick, easy save.
It was not even a matter for discussion that Chuck Bass would take Blair Waldorf to Yale. Even Eleanor and Cyrus knew it. They threw a bon voyage party for the only Waldorf child, and Eleanor had ended up giving Blair a pair of earrings.
"I can't believe you're going. The time flew by so fast," Eleanor said tearfully.
Blair smiled and wore the earrings, murmured, "Thank you, mom."
And Eleanor had drawn her to her arms and said into her ear, "You're beautiful. I keep forgetting to say it, but you're beautiful, darling. More beautiful than anyone else in the entire world."
Chuck heard the exchange and met Blair's eyes from over Eleanor's shoulder. He turned around and looked down at the grinning man who smiled up at him.
"And how are you doing with the changes?"
"I'm adjusting well," Chuck responded.
"You two are okay, with the distance and everything?"
"It's going to help us," he said, enough conviction in the words to convince even himself.
The ride was quiet, impossibly so for several hours of sitting at the back of the limo. Only a few months ago this would have sent him into a panic. A few months before that and he would probably have scoffed at the very idea that he would take time out of his hectic life to bring her to Connecticut. And even a few more months before that, he would have arched his eyebrow and told Nate not to bother and just break up with her.
Long distance relationships always ended up in the crapper.
But when he took Blair to Yale, came along as his driver brought her to her small apartment and promised her that he would not come by, Chuck Bass gave her a sweet kiss on the lips, brushed his thumb on her chin and told her, "Enjoy."
Someday he would marry her, and she still wore his mother's diamond on her finger.
This was just a detour along the way.
On the first week of her freshman year, Chuck Bass swung the majority of the Bass shareholders and convinced them to buy out one of the largest coffee franchises in the US. When the papers were signed, he sent her an envelope of gift vouchers that would make sure she would be sufficiently caffeinated for the next four years of college.
By the end of the first month of her freshman year, Blair emailed him a scanned program guide of a production she joined for her theater elective. He read through the text and searched for her name. She was such a success in Constance that he found it odd not to find her at the top of the cast list. He had been about to email her back that she probably sent him the wrong image when he found it. Right at the bottom. Blair Waldorf on costumes. Freshmen got the grunge work all the time. That group did not know what they were missing. Humphrey was still blown away even now at Blair's stunning theatrical debut performance in their senior year of high school.
At random, he snapped a picture of Baby sniffing one of the headbands that Blair had left in the apartment, then emailed it back to her.
Two months went by, and Chuck lost four million on a small software company he had invested in. And it was enough to show him how naïve he still was in business. And it was different, because naïveté was something he thought he had lost long ago. He told her about it, over the phone. Four million barely made a dent in his bank account, but he was no longer flying high with the barely restrained power he felt when the money he had place in the coffee chain yielded twenty five percent gain within a month.
When he told her about it, Blair Waldorf used her key card to the Bass Highrise penthouse for the first time. She brought with her a brown paperbag. Chuck stared at the mysterious package until she retrieved two foil-wrapped burgers from inside and handed him one.
"It's not as easy getting gourmet meals in Yale as you might think," she commented, then popped open a can of Coke and handed it to him. She noticed Baby yelping from the floor, and she picked up the puppy for a hug.
He bit into the burger. His eyes almost rolled back at the juicy meat and the explosion of tomatoes and mayonnaise in his mouth.
The rule was that he would not come for a visit, and he adored that she would come when she thought he needed him. "How's college?" he asked her. She looked well, healthy, and he had to thank Yale for something. Maybe, after she was done, they would buy them a wing for any of those old buildings.
"Fantastic!" she replied cheerfully. "I have a professor who used to date Sofia Loren," she narrated. "Shows you how old he is—"
They didn't even have to talk about those four million dollars, and he felt better afterwards.
It had become an easy ritual then. No commitment was broken. Chuck never visited, because she elected to heal herself alone. Sometimes, he was curious, and even then there were no photographs of Blair taken. For the first time since high school, Blair Waldorf lived as close to anonymity as was possible. There was no Gossip Girl, no school to reign over.
And while they were physically apart, he was there. When she wanted to talk, she called. Or he would text her and ask her if he could.
And then sometimes, when there was something especially different—good or bad—he would hear the small beep, and see the blue light. At those cues, Chuck Bass would always straighten, wherever he was. He would run a quick hand to smoothen his hair, or he would tidy up by picking up one stray item in the penthouse.
That was exactly what happened that one night. He had been on a web conference and stayed at home because he was old enough to run a company but young enough to get a runny nose and be cranky when he caught the flu. He glared at the man on his computer screen. His table was littered by crumpled tissues. Chuck Bass looked like a fevered little kid.
And then he heard the beep, noticed the quick blue light. He stood up abruptly, slammed the laptop screen down, then gathered as many little balls of tissue as he could to dump in the trash. But when she stepped in and saw him, there were still several of the crumpled balls on the table and the floor. He was still in the robe he had thrown on when he groaned himself out of bed, and Chuck swore there were probably still little bits of tissue sticking to his nose.
When she saw him, her lips curved into an amused smile. She did not seem to mind his mess, because she walked over to him, his pretty college girl, and wrapped her arms around his neck. "I got the lead in a play," she said, her voice tentative and soft. "It's a Greek tragedy."
He burst into a grin. "Finally," he said, his voice muffled with his colds. "I knew they'd realize sooner or later that they've stuck a wonderful actress in wardrobe long enough."
"You're sick, Bass."
He frowned. "What did I say?"
Blair chuckled. She took his hand in hers and pulled him along, then sat him down on the bed. "Lie down."
He did, but raised himself on his elbow. "Is this a booty call from New Haven?"
She grinned and folded her arms across her chest. Her dimple appeared. "What meds have you already taken?"
"Everything known to man." He pouted, then opened his arms. "Crawl in here with me."
And it reminded her. "Where's our dog?" she inquired.
"With Dorota," he muttered. Eleanor and Cyrus had dropped by, took one look at him, and kidnapped Baby. "They wanted to take me with them too." He decided he would tell on them. "But I was faster than Baby and they only got him."
"Some doggy daddy you are," she teased. He hoped she got her flu shot, because she had taken his suggestion and kicked off her shoes to crawl beside him.
"He's in a much better place. I would have probably sneezed him right through the window if he stayed with me."
Blair rested a hand on his chest, watched the rise and fall of it. "I hope you're better by Monday." His eyes went to the bag she had discarded on the floor, and noted the heftiness. "I was hoping you could take the day off to drive me back, then stay to watch my play."
And like that, he had been welcomed into her life in Yale.
He had no clue how many laborers he had put on hold. He hoped that Jack could handle well without him. After that invitation, even if it meant shutting down production of clean water, Chuck Bass could not have been kept from attending.
She was fantastic, as always.
And he almost choked during her nude scene.
There she was, on the stage, with her back bared for everyone to see that she was wearing nothing. College plays and nudity. Someone had to write that into a thesaurus. He was glad he attended, because he got to glare at every last man in that theater building who vibrated and hummed at the very sight.
He shoved the shock to the side, until it reverberated within him. Blair was comfortable enough to shed her clothes onstage. And he was here for the unveiling.
Het met her backstage, and returned the invitation.
The first AA meeting she attended, to which he invited her to, she was dressed in a cream suit. Business-like, professional, and exactly the wardrobe a person would wear when she did not know the appropriate attire. It was suitable though, because this was a special meeting. Even to him, it larger and scarier than anything he had ever attended.
They took their seats. Blair took his hand in hers and gripped tight.
A half an hour into the program, he excused himself. After months of heading an empire as large as the one Bart Bass had left, nothing had ever prepared him for what he was about to do.
Chuck cleared his throat, and it echoed through the auditorium. Belatedly he realized that the mic was on.
"Hello," he said into the mic. "My name is Chuck and today I'm one year sober."
A smattering of applause, but the only recognition he sought was hers. He had waited for months to say those words, to be recognized in his group for what he accomplished. But to him the accomplishment was all hers. He focused on her, seated on the third row, and saw her lips part at his revelation.
"You've heard my story—my father died and I spiraled. But I was sinking way before that," he shared. He saw the surprise in her eyes. No one would ever think he stood up for testimonials. But the very time time he did, he felt the burden lifted off his shoulders. "I've told you there's someone who's kept me sober, and made me realize life looks better when you're not in a drunken haze all the time. She fought her demons the way I fought mine. And we both made it out of own versions of hell. And now we're ready." Chuck moistened his lips, then held up a silver badge. "What do you say, Blair?" he said, not into the mic, but loud enough that people heard him.
He walked off the stage and to her side. And then he held the badge to her. "Marry me," he said, and it wasn't a question.
Blair closed her eyes, nodded her head and kissed him. "You didn't need to ask."
"I want to ride an elephant," she said, yawning. "I mean, you go to Bangkok, you have to have a story about how you've ridden an elephant."
Chuck held her hand when she jerked at the feeling of the cold gel against her skin. "I'm right here."
She rolled her eyes. "I know."
He looked up at the computer screen, seeing the sonar image. The lab technician turned up the volume on the computer and the sound of heartbeat resonated.
Blair sighed as the cold gel moved to the side of her left breast. It had been a hectic week, and they had been in and out for tests for the past three days.
"We'll take all the tests together," she had promised him, knowing that no matter how much they had progressed, the shadows wound hound them until they turned the lights of them.
Alcohol abuse. Bulimia. Neither was easy nor without consequences.
The day before, it was easier. They had blood extracted for liver function tests. It had not been surprising to find out that their livers were fine. For the third day straight they had their blood pressure taken, and theirs were both normal. Today, there were going through 2D echo to make sure their hearts were fine.
"Did yours hurt?" she gasped at Chuck, who had done his 2D echo before she did.
He smiled. "Not at all. But I'm not the one having it right at the onset of my period," Chuck joked.
"Very funny," she hissed, when the cold plastic pressed against her tender breast.
"I told you," he murmured, "we could have postponed this."
She sighed, then shook her head. "I want to know now."
Chuck gripped her hand when she tightened her fist at the considerable pain. "So an elephant," he started. "Really?"
Blair let out a small laugh at the obvious segue. "Yes. I saw it on a travel website. You get to ride on the back of an elephant while the elephant walks up a steep hill."
"Now why would I want to do that?" he drawled.
Blair winced as the plastic moved to the bone. "Because it's a thrill and you owe me one real vacation in Bangkok," she offered.
"Then we'll ride an elephant," he said smoothly.
Later that afternoon, they sat with the cardiologist when the results of the echo came back. "So you two took the test because you're getting married?"
Blair nodded. "We don't want any surprises. We haven't exactly been models at taking care of ourselves in the past."
"This is a good idea," the cardiologist assured them. "And you would be happy to know that there was nothing to worry about." He looked at Chuck. "You have some mild regurgitation, which just means you'll need to have an echo performed every year so we can keep track. Otherwise it shouldn't affect your life." Chuck sighed in relief. "Blair, would you stay?
She looked up at Chuck, and Chuck immediately informed the doctor. "I'm staying too."
At Blair's nod of agreement, the doctor opened a folded sheet of paper. "This is about your blood test."
Her lips curved. "The blood test I asked for when Chuck needed his done?"
"Bulimia has some side effects," the doctor started.
"Get to it," she said abruptly. She was too old to be set up for pain.
"Blair, part of what is checked for bulimia patients is their blood hormone levels. Your levels look severely out of range," he said. "I would advise that you see your family doctor immediately."
"Wait," she whispered. "What does that mean? I'm not having a baby?"
"It means, I believe, you will be placed on hormone therapy if you want to have a baby. And I want you to be aware so it doesn't interfere with your plans." The doctor folded the sheet of paper.
Once upon a time she would have looked to Chuck in terror, afraid that he would leave, wonder if she would lose him at this new knowledge. "Okay," Blair whispered.
Hormones, Chuck thought. It didn't sound too bad.
The doctor looked at Chuck. "It's best to put this all on the table before you two are married."
"Thank you for your concern, doc," Chuck said to the cardiologist. It didn't change anything. Did the man think it would? Easily, he slid in, "I'll make sure you get an invitation."
The cardiologist smiled. "I'm glad to hear that."
"Hey," Chuck said softly, as they made their way out of the hospital with his arm around her waist, "I love you." They were twenty two, young, healthy. And this was just another detour along the way.
She smiled. "I love you too."
He pressed kiss on her temple. "We'll go to Levinson tomorrow, okay?"
"And then to Bangkok," she said. "Elephant-riding."
He chuckled. "Definitely." Elephant-riding and shopping and dining and everything else he forgot to do on his last visit. "Did you ever get to ride a boat through the river market?"
"I'll be experiencing it for the first time if we go," she said. He would later find out she did, in a lonely afternoon, with a bunch of tourists pointing at her curiously. But she loved him enough to shake her head.
This week, Bangkok. Maybe next they could stroll down Champs Elysses holding hands.
They would explore the world together, him and Blair. They would visit all the places they wanted and enjoy just being married.
They would be happy, with or without a baby. It stuck to his gut. He dreamed of a family for so long he just knew, if he spoke now, she would know he was lying.
But he would make sure they were happy.
I will stand by you through everything, they had promised each other several times, in several occasions. And they had, over and over it had become close to unreal. This was nothing.