A/N: So here it is: the last chapter of "Signs." It's been a roller coaster, but to all of you who have stuck with me, thanks for reading. I hoped you enjoyed this alternate version of Blair and Chuck getting together.

Thanks for reading! Enjoy :)

P.S. The song lyrics throughout this chapter are from Ray LaMontagne's Hold You In My Arms.

Chapter 16

We Burned So Bright

/When you came to me with your bad dreams and your fears
It was easy to see you'd been crying/

Things are quiet now.

It's late May, and the flowers are blooming, twining and clinging to the stone buildings lining the street. There's less than a week left of the NJBC's junior year of high school, and the air has a relaxed feel to it. Even the birds are singing, high, chirping melodies drifting into the hazy white sky.

Blair smiles to herself from within the protective enclave of Chuck's limo. The windows are tinted, of course, and as the car races past sidewalks and clubs and restaurants, she breathes in and closes her eyes in contentment. She swivels her head, lacing her fingers through Chuck's, cheeks flushed, smile easy.

He returns the grin, leaning towards her and letting his lips graze her forehead. "We're almost at school now," he whispers against her soft skin, a note of wistfulness slipping into his voice. He sounds delightfully lazy.

Blair's smile doesn't falter; her teeth shine in the dim light. A devilish gleam flickers in her eyes, and she pulls Chuck closer to her, murmuring under her breath, "There's always after school."

Chuck's eyes darken a shade or two, and he clears his throat, squirming uncomfortably. Blair has softened him somewhat, but he's still a man. He moves a little closer to his girlfriend and growls, "God, I love you." His voice is gruff, but wonder lurks in those coffee depths, and Blair has to bite back tears.

This boy has been so good to her.

She lays a hand against Chuck's cheek and whispers, "I love you too." She touches her lips to his tenderly, and they kiss for a moment.

The limo reaches Constance/St. Jude's shortly after, and Chuck and Blair part after a quick grazing of the lips. This is their daily tradition – he picks Blair up before school and drives her home once that final bell rings in the afternoon. It's easy, it's simple, and it's comfortable.

Blair embraces Serena once she reaches the courtyard. The two best friends – former, present and future – mended their broken ties soon after Blair was discharged from the hospital, and they think they're stronger than they were before.

Serena helped Blair weather all the rumors and gossip that surrounded the brunette and Chuck once their relationship became public. She held her hand when the girls from the steps threw yogurt in her hair, stood up to Eleanor when the older woman threatened to sever all ties if Blair continued to see Chuck. Serena was there for her, and Blair loved her for that. They were best friends again.

But they don't talk about Nate much; he's their past, and they're learning to live in the future.

Blair remembers the night they really talked about Nate and everything that happened and changed and broke. They curled up on Blair's bed after watching Breakfast at Tiffany's in late April, hugging pillows to their chest, trembling with the force of their mistakes. They looked at each other, took a deep breath, and then told their stories.

Serena confessed that perhaps she had always cared about Nate, that she was really drunk the night she forced herself on her best friend's boyfriend, that she had fled to boarding school to escape the memories that threatened to consume her. Blair nodded and listened, holding Serena close occasionally. She realized she had secrets to tell, too, and so she told Serena about all the times Chuck had saved her while she was away at Hanover Academy, about that magical night in the darkness of the limo, about the day she found out about Nate's betrayal and how Chuck whispered "I love you" when he thought she was asleep.

The two girls cried themselves to sleep that night, and they never looked back.

/Seems like everywhere you turn catastrophe it reigns
But who really profits from the dying?/

At school today, Serena and Blair lock arms and approach Penelope, who shakes her dark waves somewhat disdainfully and extends two steaming lattes in the girls' direction. Blair fixes her with an icy glare, and the shorter, less fashionably dressed – it has to be said, Blair thinks ruefully – socialite almost curtsies in her haste to show respect. Serena giggles slightly at this newest of attacks; it's been a long time since she's seen the youngest Waldorf work her Queen B magic. It feels good to have the Blair she knows and loves back.

Hazel, Iz, and Nelly Yuki – the two names are inseparable – lurk in the distance, and Serena and Blair breeze past them in a flurry of gold and caramel. They don't even turn their heads.

It's best this way.

The two girls are about to go their separate ways – Blair to AP English, Serena to Honors Physics – when they see Nate. He's lounging against the brick wall, arms crossed, gaze impassive, streaks of yellow flitting in his messy hair. He's wearing a hunter green pullover and khaki pants, and he's tapping his foot impatiently. He appraises his former best friends with an air of such indifference that Blair feels hot anger pulse beneath her skin. She can't believe it. She can't believe he's still trying.

He does this everyday. Everyday, he stands by that wall and waits for Blair and Serena to address him. And every day, the girls exchange quick, somber glances, nod a little, and walk by him. They try to avoid the hurt that alights in his eyes.

They know they can't handle a conversation with him right now. He's hurt them too much, too much to forgive him so soon. Maybe they'll be ready come the summer, or maybe in a few years disdain won't flicker in their eyes so much.

Someday.

But they're not ready now, and so they put their friendship over any residual feelings they might have for their fallen prince. They walk away, walk past him, and they don't look back.

/I could hold you in my arms
I could hold you forever/

The day is slow and wonderful, as per usual these days. Junior year – stressful, horrible, cramp-inducing junior year – is finally ending, and the teachers are mostly done with the required curriculum. They're too tired to teach much of anything, and besides, they'd rather just flip through magazines and check their emails. Which leaves the Constance girls free to sit on the desks and gossip about the latest hook-ups and summer plans.

Blair, however, doesn't join in the petty talk. She likes to stare out the window at the azaleas blossoming in the courtyard and contemplate the success of her life: she's got a doting, sexy boyfriend, she's on the road to Yale, and she has a perfect best friend. So she daydreams during class, because at any moment Chuck will pop his head in the open doorway and…

"Waldorf," he hisses, right on cue. It's the middle of third period, AP French. The sound travels just far enough; only Blair hears, somehow.

Blair turns her head subtly and smiles. He does this whenever the weather is particularly nice, because there's this little windowed alcove by the library steps that overlooks the many delicate flowers in the courtyard. The space is just big enough for a certain brown-eyed couple.

Couple. What a wonderful word, Blair muses.

She gets up silently and slinks past the circle of girls, reaching for Chuck's outstretched hand. Madame Bouvier looks up, weariness etched in the lines of her forehead, but says nothing. She merely waves the giggling, blushing, lovesick girl on with a flick of her hand. It's a tired gesture.

Blair nods gratefully and wiggles her fingers. She wonders why the young professor is acting so cavalier, but resolves not to think about it any further. (She's decided to leave her scheming past behind).

The moment Blair steps through the doorway, Chuck tugs on her hand, pulling her down the empty hallway. She laughs breathlessly and follows him through winding corridors and around sharp corners. (She'll follow him anywhere). There's a nagging ache in her side by the time she and Chuck reach the heavy oak doors that swing shut with a welcoming thud, but she really doesn't care.

Chuck pulls Blair close and attacks her lips as soon as he pushes her up against the recently painted wall. He's smiling widely, happily, and Blair keeps her eyes open so she can trace the curve of his lips and the shape of his eyebrows. She hooks her leg around his waist and pulls him closer still, eliciting a gasp from his willing lips. She's wearing bright yellow patent leather heels, and the fabric shines in the sole light stemming from the light bulb hanging from the ceiling. It's strangely beautiful.

This is beautiful.

Blair will admit that Chuck has become more tender in the past few weeks, but she can't resist this side of him. He's wild and he's passionate and there's such…adoration in his touch that she's trembling even before his fingers reach her waist.

She closes her eyes when his hands rest on the top of her skirt. He pushes up the navy oxford caressing her skin, delicately undoing the buttons encasing her body. (He doesn't ask her permission anymore, and she's glad). She moans against his moist lips and writhes as his hands flit further and further up. She breathes in the air he breathes at her and kisses him with a fire she never knew she had.

Chuck's hand creeps towards her breasts, and his fingers flick beneath the soft lace of her white La Perla demi-cup bra. She arches her back, leaning towards him, her breath coming harsh and ragged as his long, lithe body presses against hers.

She shivers when his nimble fingers snake around her back and unclasp her bra. It's such an intimate, intense moment; he's the only one who's ever seen her like this. She shrugs out of the constricting straps enthusiastically and pulls Chuck closer to her, pressing her bare breasts to his chest.

This is so naughty – they're next to the library, for God's sakes! – but Blair can't muster the energy to consider the consequences of their rash actions. He's here and he's kissing her and she just wants him to take her. Right now.

And then she suddenly wants to cry.

She knows – knows – that she'll never get over him, never get over this. She will always love him, and the memories of this day, this moment, will linger as long as she lives. He is her one and her only. He is Chuck Bass, and she is Blair Waldorf, and she can't go any longer without him knowing how much he means to her.

"Chuck," she whispers, breaking her lips from his. His hands still on her breasts, and his fingers flit to the hollow beneath her throat. Blair's breath hitches, and she falters.

He's feeling her heart.

His eyes flutter open as she realizes this, and he gazes at her reverently, affection dancing in his eyes. "Blair," he murmurs, one hand falling to the curve of her hip. It's not a question at all.

Blair smiles, blinking back a few tears that embody the overflow of joy, and averts her eyes. A blush creeps into her pale, once-virginal cheeks, and she says softly, "I love you."

She does.

Light flickers in Chuck's eyes, but she ignores that. She has to say this now, has to tell him she needs to be with him forever, has to explain that she can't be Blair Waldorf without him. She doesn't want to be. But she only says, "And it's a really big deal." She wipes her eyes fretfully.

Chuck gazes at her for a long moment, his eyes unreadable. Then, breaking the silence, he chuckles under his breath and leans his forehead against hers. Blair looks up at him with wide, doleful eyes. (How dare he laugh at her insecurities?)

But he strokes her cheek gently, his fingers curving to the contours of her jaw, and there's a quiet sincerely lurking in his touch. "I love you," he asserts, waiting for her smile. He resists the urge to tack on the "too." His love doesn't depend on her reciprocation, and she deserves to know that.

She trembles a little, crossing her arms to cover her bare chest. She feels slightly exposed. Those words always bring that combination of exhilaration and fear.

The heat of the moment – the passion, the yearning, the desperation – is almost gone, but she doesn't think she minds so much. She and Chuck have plenty of sex, but sometimes they avoid the heavy conversations, because they've been through so much and they just want to be happy. But she's Blair Waldorf, and she has to know what they're doing and if it's enough.

Chuck sighs; he sees the hesitation in Blair's eyes. His hands fall to her slim shoulders, his gaze sweeping over the dip of her cleavage, and murmurs, "You're my future, Blair." A smile plays at the corners of his mouth as tears brim in her eyes. "I won't let you go," he promises sincerely.

He smiles widely, enjoying this honesty, and a soft gleam settles in her eyes. She steps forward. And slowly, leisurely, she folds herself into the hold of his arms.

She's supposed to be there.

/When you kissed my lips with my mouth so full of questions
My worried face that you quiet/

Lunch is quiet, boring, gentle. Wonderful. Blair and Chuck sit on the Met steps, holding hands, laughing and eating and scheming as the sun warms their faces. Serena and Dan perch on the step below them – as always, Blair is a queen and acts like one – and the couples just enjoy the midday blue skies. (Chuck and Dan are friends now, miraculously).

Blair doesn't allow herself to think about all the calories she's consuming in her lunch. She's healthy now, healthier than she's been since that December night freshman year, and she won't jeopardize that. It's a struggle, of course; every time she eats an egg salad sandwich she gags, and sweets are almost totally out of the question. But she hasn't thrown up in three weeks, four days and six hours, and she feels much better than she expected.

Today's challenge is a Santorini-themed salad from Sweet Green, an eco-friendly frozen yogurt bar on Madison and 2nd. It's got mint, grapes, roasted shrimp, and feta. It looks delicious, but Blair hesitates. The dressing is probably very fattening; it's balsamic vinaigrette, and it's a cheery gold color, which doesn't bode well. Salad dressing should always be translucent. Blair glances over at Chuck, who squeezes her shoulder reassuringly, as he does every day.

She used to eat, of course. But before her hospital visit, she always had the luxury of expunging the contents of her stomach after every meal. Now, she must fully consume and digest the food she eats. It's scary.

And so she still finds it hard to enjoy eating. She can't like eating; it's not in her nature.

But Chuck is helping her with that. He brings her food from the most delectable take-out places, and they go out to the most talked-about restaurants with the most prized chefs. He wants to help her overcome her inherent disgust of food, wants to help her learn to relish every bite like she relishes every kiss. He wants to help her heal.

And so far, it's working.

/Place your hands on my face
Close my eyes and say
That love is a poor man's food/

The rest of the afternoon breezes by (AP World History, Photography, AP Chemistry), and Blair can't help resenting that. She has group therapy after school – it's Wednesday – and she's dreading today's session. She and the other girls (who are either required by the hospital to attend the sessions or willing attendees) are supposed to identify the event that triggered their very first bout of bulimia. Blair revisits that memory much more than necessary, but she's not sure she's strong enough to voice it out loud.

But she can't avoid this session. Dr. Reilly told her that if she doesn't go to therapy, she'll have to stay in the hospital again. And besides – and she's almost ashamed to admit this – she thinks all this talk might actually be helping. She's made a few friends at therapy, and it's strangely invigorating and gratifying to hear girls who are so different from her express the feelings she can never put into words.

And so when the final bell rings, Blair gathers up her books and bounds toward the courtyard. But her head is down, and she averts her eyes. She usually walks tall, because she rules this place, but she's not sure she wants people to know about these weekly shrink sessions just yet. The entire school – and probably all of Manhattan – knows why she went to the hospital a month or so ago, but she intends to keep the therapy a secret. At least for now.

But all that ceases to matter when she sees Chuck.

He's breathtaking in moments like these, moments when he doesn't think she's watching him. His famously checkered scarf is loosely wound around his neck, and he's leaning against the brick wall by the steps. He's texting someone, his head bowed, eyebrows furrowed, ankles crossed. And he raises his toffee eyes the moment Blair's yellow heels come into view.

"Blair," he breathes, an instinctive, automatic, uncontrollable smile brightening his dark features. He looks so happy that Blair's heart swells. She has made him this happy. Blair Waldorf has made Chuck Bass happy.

"Chuck," she greets him, love clouding her voice, muddling the word. She reaches for his hand and laces her fingers through his, swinging their arms a little as she admires how perfectly they fit together.

"Let's go," she finally suggests, looking at him. He nods, and they walk towards the street where his limo – the dark, memorable limo – awaits their arrival. They slide across the leather streets and sit quietly for the ten-minute drive to the office building where the therapy sessions [unfortunately] take place.

They pull up by the nondescript building at last, and Chuck grazes Blair's cheek with his lips. He whispers "Goodbye, good luck" hastily and almost pushes her out the door; he knows that if she's not forced, Blair might not ever get out of the car.

And then she's gone.

/I could hold you in my arms
I could hold you forever/

Blair musters her courage and descends the stairs in the lobby of the building; she's heading to the basement. The room is large and spacious, and the walls are painted a lemon yellow. It's a happy place.

Usually.

The girls are grouped in a circle, as always, and Blair takes a seat next to Ruby, a Brooklyn hippie whose hair is as ferocious as her loyalties. Today the fiery redhead is decked out in a puffy vest, purple skinny jeans, and golden bangles up to her elbows. This girl reminds Blair of Vanessa, that girl Dan is always hanging out with; she's passionate and she's driven and she defends her roots to the end. Blair smiles faintly at the comparison, but falters when she remembers that Ruby is crippled by her father's absence since she was five and an abusive boyfriend her sophomore year of high school. (Blair knows what neglect feels like).

The two girls exchange quick greetings, babbling easily about their summer plans and the day's homework. Blair's surprised she's managed to befriend a girl like Ruby, and she's proud of herself.

After a few moments, the conversation dies off, and Blair smoothes her white pleated Ralph Lauren skirt and crosses her legs, looking at the leader expectantly. Danielle is a teacher at a French international elementary school on the Upper West Side, and she says she volunteered to head these sessions because she was bulimic until her first year of college. Blair respects her – she dresses unusually well for a teacher – and so she's not her usual bossy, bitchy self on Wednesday afternoons.

The ten girls sitting in hard, plastic maroon chairs introduce themselves one by one. Blair always introduces herself the same way: "I'm Blair Waldorf, junior at Constance Billiard, best friend to Serena Van der Woodsen, girlfriend to Chuck Bass." Then she falters; she's required to say these next words, but she always feels weak afterward.

"And I am a victim of bulimia."

She lets out a sigh of relief when Ruby begins to speak. As much as she craves attention, the soothing, colored light in this cheerful room is so far from the spotlight she's used to. She's okay with being anonymous here.

She sees a couple new faces today: a tall, blond, emaciated girl who could easily pass for a model; a short, meek girl who looks far too young for this kind of disorder; an ethereally beautiful brunette with delicate features and full red lips. Blair sighs. She's always shocked by the types of girls – and boys (one time a man dressed in drag showed up) – who come to these group therapy sessions. It's just so sad.

Once everyone in the circle has been introduced, Danielle details the twelve steps towards recovery, as per usual. Blair fights the urge to close her eyes; she's heard this all before. She's on Step Five: admit your problem to others. She's still working on that.

Finally, Danielle poses the "question of the day" (as affectionately dubbed by Jade, a sophomore at Brearley). "Today, we're going to talk about the first time."

Blair almost smiles, because those words sound very similar to those spoken by Chuck only a few days ago (but he was talking about a limo, not petit fours and cold mothers). She stifles a small giggle; that's hardly appropriate.

Danielle takes a deep breath. "Can anyone tell me what happened the first time they made themselves throw up?" Her voice is blunt and unforgiving, and a few girls flinch. But Blair closes her eyes and musters the courage to tell her story.

It's strangely liberating. She talks about freshman year and her slowly deteriorating relationship with the boy she always thought she would marry, details her feelings of inferiority to Serena and her constant battle to be enough for her mother. Her voice is raw and hoarse as she explains that one night soon after her father left. She ate a petit four to console herself, and when her mother saw this, she scolded her for not fitting into a dress that would have fallen off Serena.

And so Blair threw up, to make herself feel better, to make her problems disappear, to alleviate that ache in her heart.

To have some control.

Blair gets a lot of sympathetic glances as she talks, and she's surprised to find that by the time she's chronicling the morning Chuck found her in the bathroom at school, a few tears have leaked from her eyes. She feels free somehow. (The moisture is healing).

The girl who looks like a model is the next to speak. She averts her eyes, nervously tucking her blonde waves behind her ears, and clears her throat several times. She's crying even before the first word leaves her mouth. But there's such strength in her voice that Blair listens intently.

"I've been a model since I was eight," the confirmed model murmurs almost inaudibly. Blair wants to shout, "I knew it!" but refrains; she can tell this is incredibly hard for the blonde to confess.

The girl takes a deep breath, wiping her eyes, and continues, "When I was twelve, agents started telling me that I had to lose weight. I didn't really believe them, but I wasn't getting as many jobs as I used to, and I thought that might be why." A sorrowful murmur sweeps throughout the circle, and the girl raises her dull blue eyes – weakened by insecurity, of course. She hasn't said her name yet.

"My mom was my manager, and we were really close." Blair smiles in both fondness and pain; she doesn't have memories like that. "My dad died when I was five, and my mom remarried when I was eleven." A few girls wince, and it's obvious they've been through something similar.

"I didn't mind my stepfather, of course; he was nice and charming and good to my mom," the girl whispers, a few tears trickling down her cheeks. Blair suddenly wants to cry. She wants her mother to have that kind of happiness.

Of course, though, even this fairytale will turn sour.

The blond girl shakes her head fretfully and explains, "But I didn't know the half of it. He was a bad guy, and I just couldn't see it." She gasps for air, her hands trembling as she struggles to continue. The other girls hold their breath. They know she's not going to say anything good.

"I was in seventh grade when my stepfather molested me."

A collective gasp flits around the room, and Jade cries out, "No!" Blair's hand flies to her mouth, and tears unwittingly leak from her eyes. This is so much more horrible than she expected, and she's not sure she can handle it. Her problems pale in comparison.

The girl to the right of the statuesque model inches closer to her and squeezes her shoulder reassuringly, her features twisting into a grimace that mirrors the expression on all the other girls' faces. The model raises her gaze, almost defiantly, and then finishes telling her story.

"Of course, I told my mother," the girl explains, fire dancing in her eyes, "She didn't believe me. I really shouldn't have been that shocked," she says ruefully. It almost sounds like she's chastising herself. "That's the way it always goes in the movies, right?" Her voice cracks, and tears stream down her cheeks.

Blair's heart breaks.

The girl shakes her head again, her blond curls tumbling over her shoulders, and breathes, "My stepfather kept coming into my room when he thought I was asleep. And so I started throwing up. That was the only thing I had any control over." She nods now, calmed by her justification.

Blair realizes that this all makes sense to the girl – the explanation, the reasoning, the consequences. That's the difference between a sick person and a sane person. A sick person believes that what they do makes sense.

Blair's been in that place before; she knows what it feels like to think that the only thing you can control is your weight. It's damaging and it's dangerous and it's just so false, and she knows all that. But it made sense at the time.

She really can't express how glad she is that she doesn't feel that way anymore.

/So now we see how it is
This fist begets the spear
Weapons of war
Symptoms of madness/

Danielle sighs. The sound is heavy in the silence. "Thank you for sharing your story," the teacher breathes. She falters – the former model's name remains a mystery. "What's your name, darling?" Her voice is soft, barely audible, but the girls in the circle hold their breaths.

Again.

"Renee," the girl whispers.

The room is quiet for a long moment. No one speaks until the short brunette named Alexandra perks up, voices her sympathies, and begins telling her story.

Blair tries to concentrate on Alexandra's explanation of her failure to be accepted to the prestigious high school she wanted to attend and the reprimands of her parents and relatives, but she can't stop thinking about Renee's story. She's moved by the former model's blunt words, but more than that, now she's reconsidering all her reasoning for being bulimic. She doesn't have any real justification. She's just an Upper East Side princess with a gay absentee father and a cold, disinterested mother. It's not exactly uncommon in Manhattan.

The conversation eventually turns to who is helping the girls overcome their bulimia. Blair eagerly volunteers, launching into a glowing portrayal of Chuck and his heroic attributes. She tells the group about the night Chuck told her he loved her, explains how he was the one who brought her to Dr. Reilly in the first place, details his continuing support since she was discharged from the hospital.

Her voice glows with unconcealed ardor as she speaks; she loves this boy and she wants everyone to know that.

But her joy subsides after a moment, because it suddenly occurs to her that Renee probably doesn't have someone like Chuck. Blair falls silent, sobered by the weight of everything she doesn't know. Which is a lot.

Once Blair is done talking, several other girls describe their saviors. And throughout all the tales of heartbreak and low self-esteem, Blair wonders whether she should approach Renee. She wants to tell the broken girl that she's sorry she had to go through all that, wants to offer her help and her support. She wants to make her see that she's not alone.

But Blair knows Renee will just brush her off – she would do the same in her position – and so she's a bit flummoxed. She doesn't know what to do.

The session ends at four-thirty, and Blair accosts Renee as soon as Danielle stands up. "Renee," she addresses the girl, clasping and unclasping her hands uncomfortably. She's humbled by all the blonde has seen and felt. How can she possibly relate?

Renee's features distort into an ugly mask of pain and embarrassment. Blair immediately feels horrible for approaching her; she's invading this girl's privacy. Renee crosses her arms and haughtily replies, "Blair Waldorf." She sneers the name, as if it's something to be ashamed of, and color floods Blair's cheeks.

She's about to fight back, about to deliver a biting remark like the trained actress she is. But she doesn't. This girl is just lashing out.

That's something Blair can understand.

"Renee," Blair repeats, her voice softening as the fire slowly evaporates from the girl's eyes. "I just wanted to say that I'm sorry you don't have anyone to help you."

Renee opens her mouth to protest, disgust flaming in her eyes, but Blair continues, "You need someone to be there for you. I can be there for you." She slips her card – she's Blair Waldorf; of course she has a card – into Renee's hand and smiles. "Call me." She flicks her hand in the former model's direction.

And with that, she walks away, leaving Renee contemplating this strange proposal.

Blair thinks she may have made a difference.

/Don't let your eyes refuse to see

Don't let your ears refuse to hear/

Blair is noticeably quiet when she climbs into the limo waiting for her outside the building. She tucks her brown curls behind her ears, a few tears trembling on her curled eyelashes, and slides across the leather seats. She doesn't look at Chuck, instead burying her face in the warmth of his shoulder.

He doesn't say anything; she's always shaken and disturbed after therapy, and unnecessary concern only prolongs the process of recovery. She's usually fine by the time she and Chuck arrive at her penthouse, and she's grateful for her boyfriend's silence. Usually.

But Blair refuses to indulge the silence in the limo this time. Words are shivering on the tip of her tongue, and she wants to give them release. She shakes her head, tears blurring her vision, and breathes, "Thank you, Chuck."

Chuck tightens his hold on his girlfriend's still-too-thin body and murmurs, "For what?" He's genuinely curious. He doesn't understand why Blair always feels the need to voice her gratefulness; he loves her and he'll go to the ends of the earth for her. He doesn't need to be thanked for something he loves doing. (He thinks taking care of her might be his purpose in life).

Blair sighs. "For being that guy."

Even the silence is confused.

Blair shakes her head, her dark curls tumbling across Chuck's chest. "You know, that guy," she tries to explain, her hands flailing in the air, "The guy in those movies who breaks into the SAT office to steal the answers for his best friend and beats up the guy who cheated on the girl he's always –"

Chuck cuts off her bumbling explanation with a kiss. She sighs and melts into his embrace without protesting. Chuck silently rejoices; he just wants to touch her. Besides, she doesn't need to explain her feelings. He understands what she's saying.

He thinks.

/Or you ain't never gonna shake this feeling of sadness/

Blair steps out of the elevator leading to her penthouse and calls out in bell-like tones, "Mom?" It feels strange to call her mother anything other than "Eleanor," but it's a good kind of strange, and Blair fully embraces it. (Besides, shortly after Blair was discharged from the hospital, her mother requested that she not call her "Eleanor" anymore. Blair gladly complied).

Blair's mother's sensible beige Elie Tahari pumps click on the marble floor as she approaches her daughter. The older woman smiles warmly and asks curiously, "How was therapy?"

Blair stiffens minutely – it's almost undetectable. She's still surprised her mother has accepted these sessions as helpful and necessary, and she's not used to the undeniable concern in Eleanor's voice.

She'll have to get used to it, though. After Blair's unfortunate hospital visit, her mother apologized for her past treatment of Blair and promised to be more…motherly. So far, it's been an uphill battle, but at least she's trying.

Eleanor falters – try as Blair might, she can't think of her as her mother in her head just yet – but she bravely soldiers on. "Okay, darling." The word sounds infinitely more natural than it did only a month ago. "I can see you're not ready to talk about it right now." Her voice is easy. She doesn't sound strained at all.

Blair nods, grateful for the discretion.

Her mother steps closer to her daughter, obviously deciding to change the subject. She clears her throat and asks softly, "Where's Charles?"

Blair resists the urge to smile – her mother has never once called Chuck by the name he prefers. She shakes her head in slight amusement and explains jauntily, "With Dan. He'll be over in a few minutes."

Disbelief flickers in Blair's mother's brown eyes, but she hides it well. Blair stifles a giggle – she's just as surprised. Eleanor nods and mutters wistfully, "I suppose you'll be upstairs then."

Blair nods. Chuck dropped her off at her penthouse, kissed her quickly, and told her he had to go collaborate with Dan. Blair was, justifiably, surprised – she still can't believe that Chuck is willing to talk to awkward Lonely Boy from Brooklyn. Chuck is kind of antisocial (in the weirdest way), and all his life his only friend has been Nate. (Blair winces at the thought). But she only shook her head and told him she'd see him in a half hour.

She's learning to accept Chuck's many idiosyncrasies.

But she doesn't tell Eleanor any of that. She merely smiles widely and wraps her arms around her mother. It feels better than she expects it to.

Eleanor lets out a small gasp of surprise, but Blair only holds her mother tighter. Before the infamous hospital story, Blair would never have dared to hug her mother. But she thinks that now she's on the road to recovery, she should allow her mother to be a part of that.

After a long moment, Blair releases her mother and sighs. "Thanks," she whispers. Eleanor doesn't bother responding – she has no idea what Blair is grateful for, and she knows there's no point in asking her daughter.

Blair bounds up the stairs to her room, a casual smile flitting across her face as she leaps through her doorway. She collapses on her bed and stares at the ceiling, her eyelids feeling heavy, exhaustion seeping into every fiber of her being. She thinks that maybe she'll just sleep until Chuck comes, just close her eyes and let the darkness take her away…

/I could hold you in my arms

I could hold you forever/

Blair awakes to the soft murmur of lips across the nape of her neck. Chuck sweeps her dark waves away from her face and wraps his arms around her waist, whispering in her ear," Good morning, Waldorf." He chuckles under his breath and pulls her tight against his body.

Blair sighs in pure contentment and twines her legs with his, purring slightly. "Hi, Bass."
Her voice is shy and sleepy, and she wipes her eyes as her eyelids threaten to close. She burrows deeper into the hold of Chuck's arms and lets out a little noise of delight.

The two lovers stay like that for a while, staring out the window and breathing in the light summer air. They don't say anything.

After a few minutes, Blair swivels her head and turns her body so she's facing Chuck. She smiles, and he muses silently that she is most beautiful when she has just woken up.

He could get used to this.

"How was your..meeting with Dan?" She asks ruefully. He laughs, a husky sound that sends shivers down her spine.

"Fine," he mutters. His voice is strangely secretive, and Blair resists the urge to laugh. Obviously, he's keeping something from her. Normally she'd be worried – she likes to be the one with secrets – but this is Chuck. She trusts him.

She smiles again and asks softly, "Chuck Bass, what aren't you telling me?"

He falters, then leans forward and grazes her cheek with his lips. She shivers and giggles giddily, her hands braced on his broad shoulders. But she won't be thus deterred; she tugs her body closer to his and warns, her voice a dangerous murmur, "Don't make me ask again."

Chuck laughs nervously and releases one of his hands from its perch on her waist, reaching into his back pocket. Blair looks on curiously, her eyes straining in an effort to discover what he's hiding.

Her eyelids flutter when she realizes he's holding two plane tickets.

"Chuck," she stutters, "What are those?" She's strangely scared.

He smiles widely. "Come to Tuscany with me," he suggests, tantalizingly waving the tickets in front of her face. "Come to Tuscany for the summer." He looks at her, gauging her reaction, but her eyes are blank. He panics and struggles to explain. "You don't have to, of course, but I just thought that since you're not doing anything this summer that you might want to –"

Blair's excited squeal cuts him off. "Of course!"

Chuck grins, grasping her waist and flipping her over so she's on top of him. "We leave in a week and a half," he murmurs, closing his eyes as she kisses him enthusiastically. Unlike Nate, he responds in kind.

They're kissing hungrily for a while until Blair pulls away and mutters angrily, "My mother's downstairs."

Chuck falls back on the pillows and laughs, a hard laugh so rare for him that Blair grins. He's laughing. Chuck Bass is laughing.

Blair stares at him in admiration before suggesting, "We could…just kiss?"

He smiles and strokes her cheek, nodding. She shakes her head in gratitude and wonder and leans down to press her lips to his.

Damn, did she get lucky!

They lie in bed like that for a long while, fully dressed, kissing lazily as the light streams in through the paned windows. Blair twines her arms around Chuck's neck and lets her dark hair fall in front of her, tickling his nose with the feather-light locks. He smiles gently and reaches for her lips, sighing as his fingers caress her face.

Blair smiles and whispers, "I love you" against his lips. Chuck nods and murmurs, "Always."

They smile.

They're happy.

Oh, what a wonderful world this is.

I could hold you in my arms

I could hold you forever

fin