Fumbling Towards Happily Ever After

Epilogue

Dear Anna,

I got your letter. The one that demanded I tell you about everything that happened after the wedding. I was a bit surprised to be asked. I mean I'm sure I wasn't your first choice. I guess Eric must have had finals and Damien had to have been too busy painting. Serena was likely chasing after rock stars and Nate was probably screwing random sluts. Vanessa must have had both her ears plugged and eyes closed to the request. I suppose Dan was scribbling the next worst American novel and Jenny was ripping fabric. Did you even ask Bart and Lewis? What do old people do with their time? Oh you tried Chuck and Blair. Well I'm sure they were too busy procreating their personal army to bother with a little letter.

So I guess I'd better inform you or no one ever will. I know I'm a little bit late, maybe like forty years too late but I had a life too you know. Well, sort of. At least I didn't die of a drug overdose by the age of twenty-five. So, anyway, Chuck married Blair, Vanessa never married Nate but Serena did eventually marry Dan. They, along with the prior newlyweds, all fell into a disgustingly lovey-dovey happy pit that lasted the rest of their respective lives.

THE END

What? You want details? Lots of details?

I suppose I could do that for you. I mean you did write some rather sweet notes to me. But where to start? There is so much to tell. I know...let's start with the Golden Boy. After all, is there a person alive who doubted he'd get his little happily ever after?

Eric and Damien

Can you even guess how much pleasure I took in selecting Damien to be Eric's downfall? The British boy was perfect in every conceivable way. He was handsome enough to tempt even me. Well if he hadn't been gay and if I hadn't already sucked his brother behind the chapel at Changeways. But it wasn't just the physical appeal. That was secondary to the smugness born of genuine talent. I knew Eric would fall hard. Damien should have been the perfect bait for a broken heart. Well, if he hadn't been dumb enough to fall for the target. It took only five weeks for Damien to show on my doorstep and beg me to break our terms. He couldn't make me though, not when I'd been the one to save his loser of a brother. He's loyal that one. It's why I could ensnare him into my game. Unfortunately that same loyalty is what broke it. I was sorry about Tom. In some twisted way he might just have been my soul mate. If I believed in crap like that. Mostly he moaned with the most perfectly rounded lips I'd ever seen. It was a vision to behold. But anyway, what was I writing about? Ah yes. Damien has one fundamental personality trait. He is loyal to a fault. Eric is too. So really? Is it surprising that they would put that loyalty to law years before the rest?

They'd fallen into the routine before Eric finished his first year: calls in the evenings, weekends in London at the apartment Damien never sold. It was also Eric's in essentials if not legal fact. The bookcases were filed half with reference books and the other with novels. It proved that even a move abroad couldn't alter Eric in essentials. The changes were more subtle. Eric was no longer top of his class though he was near enough to be respected by his peers.

That afternoon marked three weeks remaining to his final year and Eric had half the bookshelf pulled down to prove it. It wasn't necessary. Eric had already been accepted to every school of his choice. Not that he'd related the details to his boyfriend. There was too much pleasure to be had in a small quantity of retribution. He was quite enjoying watching the Brit come up plans for meeting between Cambridge and Oxford. "I don't think that's necessary," Eric dismissed the latest with detached neutrality and it was his boyfriend's turn, nearly two years later, to feel the panic and the impending loss.

So Damien added another slash of black to his abstract work, tried to put his thoughts to words. It was absurd for him to think that they'd end at three years when, excepting the first, those years had passed easily and happily between the two. "Eric...I..."

"I've already accepted admission to Oxford."

"What?"

"I applied there too."

"But Cambridge is your dream."

"But Oxford has other dreams." Eric pointed out, smile turning smug at the other boy's surprise. "Ones that have become more important to me."

Damien dangled the brush in his hand, stared at the lines of red and black and decided the entire presentation was entirely too dark now. He kept searching for words, this time the ones to express his happiness but they never came. So he gave out the ones that did. "I love you Eric."

"I know that," Eric said as he sat on the coach nearest his boyfriend's stool. Eric eyed the painting that always gave him his understanding first.

"I want to marry you," Damien put it out abruptly and Eric stopped breathing. His eyes went round, head not turning with each blue orb as they turned to the side. He stared at his lover, paling skin not quite matching the happier flipping of his stomach.

"Excuse me?" Eric managed to squeak out.

"I want to marry you," Damien repeated it again, idea solidifying with the second retelling, gaining permanence in both boys' heads. "And I want to do it now."

"Now?" Eric took a deep breath. "As in..."

"Right now. I want to marry you right now. I don't want to wait until we're older or wiser or for any single thing. I want it now." Damien put a hand to his lips, added three spots of red to the paler template. You could see the thoughts play out against his features, eyes moving in time. "We need a ring," He decided with a look around. "I don't have a ring."

"That's okay."

"You deserve a ring," Damien decided with another look. He hit upon something when he remembered the brush in his hand. "Give me your hand."

"What?"

Damien took Eric's left hand in his own rather than asking again. He painted a perfect line of black the full circumference of the younger boys ring finger. "There."

"In black?" Eric couldn't help but tease.

"Marry me and I'll buy you a better one," Damien promised.

"I don't want rings," Eric decided as he put the hand to his boyfriend's face, added a smear of black to the red as his fingers followed a cheekbone. "I just want you."

From that day forward, at every interview Damien ever took, when the journalist asked him which of his work was the most personally meaningful, Damien would always quirk a brow and reply 'a single line of black'. It was only the beginning of what he would paint though. He would paint, craft and design a legacy. By the age of twenty-five he was nominated for the Turner Prize. They ought to have done their research because Damien had been mentored by a very vocal opponent of the direction of contemporary art. Damien was and would always remain a traditionalist at heart. Then again, maybe they knew that but simply couldn't ignore the young artist. He had gained a following that could not be passed over. So they nominated him in July, he showed through October and won in December. He refused the prize as they put it into his hands.

"If you can't draw, then you're not an artist," Damien smiled as he said it, took another sip of his champagne rather than the accolades. He lifted his glass across the room of stunned spectators. He didn't see any of them except the tall blonde in the back. He imagined he could see the blue in his lover's eyes. He can't. The distance is too far. Damien is close enough to see the gesture though, to watch Eric raise his own glass in solidarity. Damien winks and Eric smiles and they drink to the fervor that has been unleashed. They toast to their triumph because they'd planned every moment of it together.

Damien would accept the Turner Prize ten years later. He'll be polite and graceful because in the interim it had changed to reflect all styles of art rather than just those meant to shock. That was all Damien had wanted. Or maybe it's just that as Eric and Damien trade their twenties for thirties everything seems to calm and mellow around them. It was different in the university years, when Damien limited himself to showing in London even at the cost of working for nearly nothing. He wanted to stay near to Eric even through the law years. In their thirties things changed. They were both established enough to be comfortable. Eric was quickly rising to one of the world's premiere lawyers specializing in artistic copyright. His name sought and feared after in equal measure.

Eric changed his citizenship at thirty-two and Chuck and Blair bemoaned it for a whole month. They sent him thirty-one gifts, each with a printing of the American flag. It started with pencils, progressed to stamps and stickers and finally shirts and sweaters and famed photographs. They'd have bought him the original but there were limits to even Chuck Bass' checkbook. Eric mailed them back thirty-one variations of the Union Jack. Towards the end Eric traded down for gifts to their children and hatched a plot that's been in his heart for a long time.

Eric Van der Woodsen had always wanted to be a father and watching his best friends have three, joining those with the others of their circles, the Allenby family and all the brothers and sisters he'd acquired in heart if not blood Eric decides that it's his turn. It's not a complicated issue despite the fact that there could be no mother between the two. Jenny had put the offer to them nearly five years before and Eric had agreed to the scheme if not the timing. It's simple to call her, to discuss semantics and decide on a course of action. It's more difficult to follow through.

In the media fallout from the Turner Prize the boys moved from their first apartment to one with security. They downgraded to one bedroom but upgraded to a view of the Hyde Park. It was a new development in historical Mayfair. They rose high above the surrounding as Eric chose to purchase near the top. The men had their own patio, a shared pool at the base of the building, a high end kitchen that they learned to cook in. There were no servants like the rest of their inner circle. What was the need? Eric knew how to pick up after himself and Damien had learned by association.

They brought the color scheme from that first apartment, tried to preserve the feel because, though they'd deny it, both Damien and Eric were the sentimental type. They decorated with bamboo, with Eric's photos and Damien's paintings. It was a perfect cohesive mix of two and their bedroom was no different. It was decorated in shades of beige and blue, pillows in plaid, comforter in solid. On that comforter were three bags, two zipped but one still hanging open. It was as fully packed as the others but Eric couldn't bring himself to close it. He couldn't. He already knew he wasn't going anywhere. He couldn't now. He had admitted to himself what he'd been ignoring throughout the whole scheme.

To have a baby they'd have to buy another apartment. That wasn't a problem. The problem was that this apartment suited them. It suited their life. They were two successful men in their thirties who had each reached the pinnacle of their dreams; Damien was a internationally renowned artist and he was an internationally sought after lawyer. It meant they made sacrifices. They traveled across the globes often to opposite ends from each other. Their apartment was only one of the places they reconnected but it was where they recharged as they packed and unpacked. It was their home base in constantly shifting demands and lives that wove back and forth into an oddly perfect tapestry.

"Are you ready?" Damien asked and Eric didn't need to turn to know his partner was waiting with jacket in hand.

"How is a child going to fit into our lives?" Eric asked it almost innocently, with softness that didn't suit his thirty-three years. He could hear Damien inhale sharply but no words came. That just confirmed every thought Eric had. "A child needs time. They can't be put in a box and mailed," Eric pointed out. Not like the packages they exchanged when it was months rather than weeks apart.

"We could figure out a way."

"How?" Eric asked as his eyes went upward, not to study the ceiling but to open his eyes enough to keep the tears back.

"I could stay home to paint," Damien offered. "Stop showing."

"For eighteen years?"

Damien ran a hand through his head and tried to make the promise come. He wanted it to. It wasn't because he wanted children. Damien was content with their life staying exactly like it was but he knew how much Eric wanted to be a father and when it came right down to it, Damien would do anything for him. "I..."

"It's too much," Eric cut him offer before the offer could come. His eyes went down and the twisting in his stomach went deeper with it. "You would be unhappy.."

"No I woul..."

"You love to show," Eric stopped him again and Damien didn't deny it. "And I love to argue, debate legal precedent and harass witnesses," Eric tried a laugh through the building heat but it couldn't linger. Not as the heat crawled through his cheekbones and forced a layer of fluid to his blues eyes. "That's who we are Damien. That's what makes us who we are."

"We could figure something out." Damien offered again but Eric had already stood there for a half hour, staring at that damned suitcase, trying to figure out a way to have it all. There wasn't a way that wouldn't begin and end with a nanny raising their child. They would never be better than two part-time fathers who, when added together, could never add to one whole.

"Maybe you're just not meant to have everything in life," Eric said with words growing shaky at the end. He shook his head to try to clear the pressure but it wasn't in his head, it was in his chest and it was slowly taking over regardless. Damien could feel the foot tapping on the carpet before he saw the tears form. Both were awe inspiring. Eric Van der Woodsen didn't cry often. It didn't mean he didn't have a gentle soul because he did. He just didn't cry. When he was angry he spoke his mind clearly and distinctly. When he was nervous he hid behind sarcasm. When he was sad he sat quietly but he didn't cry. But he was so rarely any of the three. That was purposeful. He was intelligent enough to make sure he didn't fall into the pitfalls that tripped others and good enough that people were loathed to push him either. Even at the end of a trial, when he'd destroyed the other side (which he did more often than not), the other lawyers still respected him. He had tact, and consideration and everything good. But like Eric had said, that couldn't give you everything but only stop you from ending with nothing.

"Sit down," Damien suggested softly, pushed aside their suitcases so the younger man could.

There were no wracking sobs just a muted clouding over of two beautiful eyes that ended in the dampening of cheeks. Eric Van der Woodsen was always logical and this was the logical response to lost dreams. The fist he pressed to his chest hanging over a broken heart. The tears didn't last long, chased away by the arms of his partner and the soft reassurances. The ache would last longer but eventually it would be okay because Eric always made everything alright in the end. "Will you be okay with not...?" Damien whispered as the moment passed and Eric nodded his head. "Would you like me to be the one to call Jenny?" Damien asked into his partner's cheek, kept stroking the temple with his other. Eric could only manage to shake his head again while he leaned further into the man he loved.

It would take a while but Eric would joke about it as he stared out at all their other children, the sons and daughters of their friends and family that yelled every greeting. He'd lean over to Damien and suggest that if they had had kids of their own, then they'd have deprived a lot of others. He was, after all, awesome uncle Eric. Damien would laugh, throw an arm around his husband and decide that they had got everything in life, just not in the ways they thought they might.

Having everything won't stop Eric from having a midlife crisis. He is the only one in their circle that did despite being the most likely not to. At forty-two Eric ran off to the Middle East, lived there two years as a freelance photographer. You know what the saddest thing was; he as damn good at that too. Times bought so many of his images that they might as well have put him on staff.

The fact that that qualified as a midlife crisis in Eric's world. Well that really says it all doesn't it?

Bartholomew and Lewis

I have to admit, I was more than a bit bemused to hear that Bart had married again and done so happily. It actually brought joy into my darkened heart (not that I'd ever admit to it). In fact, even if you were to show this pretty letter for evidence I swear I would perjure myself rather than admit the sentiment. It's still there though.

Bart and Lewis just worked together, their tendencies both good and bad seemed to match together in sometimes obvious and at other times intriguing ways. Bart still travels for work as many days as he's home and that works perfectly for Lewis. She doesn't brood with glasses of tea because she needs to be alone as much as she needs to be with others. He leaves just as she starts to feel bound, returns just as she's feeling lonely. It just works. She doesn't try to compete with a ghost and he doesn't try to compete with her need for silence or separateness. She knows that despite everything, if given the chance Bart would still trade her for his first love but it doesn't hurt because she understands the loss. She's not entirely she she wouldn't trade what she'd gained for her mother to be driving that Christmas day. So they hold hands and when they look at each other, they just know without having to put it to words. They built something beautiful with the pieces that were left.

Bart changes Lewis in a more fundamental way than hair color. She becomes more consistent and steadier. She learns her worth and limits her running away to marathons where Bart is always waiting at the finish line with no flowers in hand. They don't talk about that either but it shows. Lewis stops changing the outside presentation, doesn't flip between sweats, skirts and pants. She doesn't change her hair in a desire to be something just a little different from what she is. She learns to love herself along with her history and once she does she dresses in print dresses, bold colors and tiny white sandals that make Bart smile. She was, after all, just a little bit like Misty from the start. On their fifth anniversary Bart buys her a Mary pendant to replace the Antony of Padau medallion that has graced her neck since she gave the other to his oldest son. The reason? She's no longer lost. He found her.

Lewis changes Bart in ways that are half resurrection and half new creation. He smiles like he used to, laughs at the absurd. He takes long vacations to match his long trips and learns to cook rather than ordering in. He gets that second chance he'd wanted all along. Lewis does reeducate him, teaches him to be a better father. He starts with Aidan, learns enough that their daughter Madeline grows up to be self-regulated, calm but driven. Bart knows that it was mostly Lewis but he still hopes it was a little bit of him. He applies what he can to his oldest son but Chuck is already a man. So Bart figures his chance has passed but he still keeps trying. Years later, when his daughter graduates from Constance Billiard, Chuck will slap a hand to his back and congratulate him for being such a great father. It could have been all about Maddy but Bart chooses to believe it's just a little bit about the two of them.

Because his life no longer has hills and valleys that he has to pull together by being the stoic middle. Everything flows easily, he never fights with his wife and his children are always excited to see him. So he doesn't have to center anything. The only problem is that nothing ever flows that easily. Sooner or later the fates show their cruelty and they were no different with Lewis and Bart. They offered a challenge that pulled at every single healed scar.

They're lying in their bed within two hours of her diagnosis. Bart has pushed the button at the top of his phone to keep the room at a comfortable silence. Lewis has buried herself into the crook of his arm, brushing her nose against the brushed wool of his suit jacket and the unique blend of ashwood and suede that is him. They don't say much. She'd already related everything the doctor had explained and Bart didn't have anything to say in return to it. Lewis didn't need to be a psychologist to know what he was thinking. So she turns her face deeper and he tries breathing more evenly and they just don't put it to words.

Bart threads a hand through his wife's blonde hair, runs it like strings across his business suit until the navy is undone by white. He loves that hair, enjoys winding it between his fingers at night or catching it in flashes between crowded dinner parties. The fact that within two months she may no longer have it, it makes him worship with more intensity.

"Mom," The yell breaks through their calm. Lewis moves to follow it but Bart pulls her back.

"We have servants."

"Mom," Aidan yells a little louder but Lewis doesn't try to follow the second time.

"I give him three minutes," Lewis teases into wool instead.

It's less than that when their teenage son comes bounding into the master bedroom. Aidan Wiltshire-Bass was all hair with thick brown curls like his birth father. They overpowered his slender frame the same way his green eyes overwhelmed his pale face. The teen freezes when he enters the space to find two. "Sorry dad," Aidan offers through a smirk. It proves he'd acquired more from the Basses than a last name. "I didn't realize you were back." He stares back and forth between his parents a moment and then finished the thought. "I'll make Maddy and I a snack." He doesn't wait for the incline of a head before he's dashed down the three flights to their kitchen.

"I'll talk to Chuck tonight," Bart offers as the silence returns.

"I"d rather not talk to our children until we've met with the doctor together."

"Chuck isn't a child," Bart reminded her. It was true. Chuck was a thirty-two year old man with three children of his own.

"You offered him fifteen years."

"It's been ten. Besides, Chuck will understand. I mean Aidan's sixteen but Maddy's only nine." Bart took his hand from her hair to run through his own. God had a twisted sense of humor. To threaten him with the exact situation he'd already failed at once in life.

"Nothing is going to happen to me," Lewis countered her husband's pessimism.

"Can you promise me that?" Bart asked and she didn't need to look up to see his clenched jaw.

"Should I quote you the percentages again?"

Bart tried a laugh but it didn't form. It didn't matter if the survival rate was nearly a hundred percent because he didn't have enough faith to overcome those last two percentage points. "I don't think I can go through that again," Bart explained instead. His voice was typically neutral but he wasn't feeling neutral. Lewis could feel the tension at every point in his body. She knew he was terrified.

"I promise you that nothing will ever happen to me," Lewis combined it with a prayer to make it true. The fact that she had faith enough for two, it relaxed the older man. "Though," She smiled into his chest, "If they have to cut of my breasts then I'm going up to a b cup with the implants."

It works. Bart manages a laugh and the the tiny shudders tickle Lewis' side. She decides that, should the worst happen, she is going to miss his laughter most.

It never would. Lewis gets to keep her promise along with another thirty years. But the threat is enough to enact change. Chuck comes to work at Bass Industries five years earlier than the plan. For possibly the first time in his life, Chuck Bass far surpasses his father's expectations and that makes it possible for the older man to ease away from his life's work. He never gives it up but eventually Chuck takes it all the same.

Serena and Daniel

To this day I don't understand what about Daniel Humphrey was so enrapturing. As a person he is pigheaded, only ever moderately talented and generally dull. But who am I to question matters of the heart? The closest I came to butterflies actually did turn out to be food poisoning.

Serena and Dan never meet until he calls. Even though their parents are lovers and despite the fact that Dan has infiltrated her circle, adding a close acquaintance with each of her brothers to his preexisting friendship with Serena's best friend, they never cross paths unintentionally. They don't meet at Thanksgiving or exchange gifts at Christmas because Dan never shows up for the shared holidays. He stays at a loft on the East River while his sister marries into a penthouse on the Upper East Side. Serena is vaulted by Eleanor Waldorf Designs to other contracts, bigger shows, more publicity and fame. People stop and stare as she walks by and Serena decides she likes it but a part of her knows she likes Dan just a little more. So she waits for the calls.

And Dan calls because he still believes in them. He still believes they will eventually get things right if for no other reason than the fact that there has to be a reason they kept falling together. He's always the one to call but the calls always end with a meeting in a middle. A place where they almost go back to the easiness of that junior year of high school. Suddenly everything seems to fit, at least until life comes calling and they remember why their puzzle pieces have warped in the intermediary period. So she runs away to another fashion show and Dan pens crime, or adventure or even science fiction. He drafts the sort of stories he can't base on his life with heroines whose hair is never blonde.

He eventually sits down and contemplates not the coming together, but the falling apart. He never finds the reason for it, but comes to a different conclusion entirely. He realizes that their continuous circle, their push and pull has more drama than any novel he's ever written. It can't be right. It can't be sound. Stories are supposed to pike and twist to amuse from life which is meant to remain essentially straight. He's Dan Humphrey. His life isn't supposed to resemble the tabloids that follow Serena's every move. So he retreats from their game. He doesn't call her for five whole years. And somewhere in the middle Serena gets wilder but he never relates it to his absence because, honestly, what did a few whispered 'I love yous' really mean to a girl who was loved by the whole world?

The waving hand is nothing but the norm, another curtain pulled aside and a stage assistant directing Serena and three of her model friends back behind it. Her friends pull her along because Serena Van der Woodsen doesn't chase rock stars. It's too close to the prediction whispered in Central Park to feel kosher. So Serena is pulled by the other girl. Her name is Natasha and she's twenty to Serena's twenty-six but that's okay because they've spent the same number of years in front of the camera. And Natasha is different. She was born in a tiny village in Africa, moved to Paris when she was twelve, was discovered within the year. She had a daughter at eighteen, lived enough of a life by twenty to seem older than her blonde best friend. She's different from the other models Serena knows, the girls with blonde hair and blue eyes that parade in never ending number. The girls like her. Except Serena Van der Woodsen isn't another girl. Her portfolio is five times as deep and her voice is whispered with reverence from fashion circles to pubescent boys fantasies.

She steps beyond the curtain and the spotlights no longer light her blonde locks to blue and green. She'd returned her hair to long, natural waves that still stunk of smoke from the venue's fog machine. There are the tiniest beads of sweat dangling at their roots, proof that her circle had danced through all three sets. They are led through three black corridors before falling into a larger room. It's painted in light shades, has enough flowers to make it classy except that is undone the stench of cigarette smoke. There are four musicians in the room and four of them but Serena never bothers to match up numbers. She's offered a glass of champagne and arches a brow in amusement at the guitarist. They must have known there were models coming because real rock stars didn't drink anything that bubbled and Natasha swore these were real ones. He arches his brow back and something jumps in her stomach but it can't because Serena Van der Woodsen doesn't fall for rock stars. She falls for brown haired boys living a continent away. Except it's been years and the memories were staring to fade between glasses of champagne and the arms of rich playboys. The boy's red hair almost feathers beneath a plaid fedora. He pauses before he relinquishes the glass and for the first time in years, Serena blushes. It makes him smile back, a kind of angular supposition that divides his wide face. He has a wide frame to match, hidden behind a tweed jacket. Serena hides the butterflies behind a sip, turns with panicked eagerness when she hears another of the boys greet her.

"Serena Van der Woodsen," the voice follows a hand casually dropped to her waist. The casual familiarity could have made her agitated but she didn't feel that when she turned. At her elbow was the lead singer, the exact physical opposite of his guitarist. His hair was dark, curling into thick waves. He had a boyish look to him even though Serena knew he was older than her. It was the smaller frame, the skinny jeans that emphasized it. It was in the rounded eyes and the wide nose, the pale face that smiled engagingly at her. There was something in that smile, something that made her stare longer. He was intriguing in an entirely different way. "So glad you could join us," The accented man promised.

Serena looks back at the guitarist and feels the butterflies, looks back to the singer and feels the intrigue. She decides that this is the start of some definite trouble.

And it was. For nearly six months she bounces back and forth between the two, tiring of one, chased by the other, tired by the other, chased by the first. There is something so intoxicating in the pure dysfunction of it. She brings the band to the edges of falling apart, receives a wall of pure hatred in the press for her not deliberate but no less damaging effects. Eric doesn't talk to her for those six months because it was his favorite band. Then it all ends in a messy but delightful cacophony. The band is reunited and there are whispers of a resolution that began and ended with sharing. Serena never denies the rumors but she does tire of those two. She works her way through the American Top 40, lingers on the bad, the kind of men with reputations and illegitimate children.

But Dan dates good girls, the kind you bring home to mommy. The kind that doesn't inspire anything but prose as mind-numbingly dull as good girls tend to be. So he changes things up, dates the psychotic types instead. The girls whose eyes don't flinch when he takes them in, whose mouths are the only plaint part and he writes with more layers. But then he remembers that Serena was never crazy and somehow the whole illusion falls to nothing and the stories stop three chapters before the end.

There an irony in it. Serena trades up for security as Dan tries to crack his. She dates the Nate Archibald type, she even dates Nate Archibald again but it doesn't last. So she moves to men that can match a respectable exterior with a responsible interior. She turns thirty and even though the model contracts continue her interest in that life wanes. She seeks out something.

Dan changes between the twisted and the tame and finds there is no complete pleasure in either: one bores him and the other scares him. There is no real endings, just a lot of shaky beginnings until he realizes. He might have thought he only loved the good side of Serena but now he knows that the bad intrigues as well. And knowing that brings him closer to the illusive end he'd been seeking all along. So he breaks the silence and they spend a week in Paris seeking nourishment in one another. They hide from the world until Serena admits that she's traded rock stars for distant relations of royalty, and that this time it's serious. It might have been a challenge but Dan Humphrey never played those games so he's on the next flight back stateside.

He never questions why her engagement stretches into years because the fact that she's engaged, that is enough. It's also enough to remember the words he'd whispered to her on a picnic blanket and remembering that makes him angry. She'd gone on to fulfill every single one; from rock stars to princes, from remembering to forgetting. She had broken their promise and somehow that broke him. So he takes the pen and puts their life to fiction. He breaks her promise as completely as she'd broken his. He layers her whole history through barely disguised fiction and somehow it's easy to write. Somehow all the thoughts, all the doubts and fears find expression and the questions answers. He chooses her point of view, he writes her story and somehow in the process he not only finds the ending but understands it. He knows why she ended up wearing the ring of the younger son of an earl, but more fundamentally he realizes why she was never destined for him.

And that novel brings him fame and fortune. He sits on the bestsellers list for more weeks than even he could remember and his phone never stops ringing. Suddenly he's traveling the world as easily as she does, taking interviews but always dancing around his source. He inclines his head when they ask about his relationship with a supermodel, never says more because he still has morals. After all, he could have launched himself by publishing something related to her years ago but his moral code had never permitted what his anger does. It still isn't a biography. It's just what the title suggests: the Diary of a Very Pretty Girl.

And Serena could have ignored it, could have left it with the other life stories, both authorized and otherwise. She shouldn't have had enough time to read it all, never mind read with the depth she does. Except four months after it debuted she was running back to New York to help fix her best friend. Blair had cracked to pieces and the sharp edges were cutting Chuck with her. So she plays nursemaid to her best friend but that best friend doesn't talk about things and Serena doesn't want to think about those things so she reads. She'll never understand Chuck and Blair. That's why when Chuck kidnaps his wife, locks them in a hotel room and swears they'll work it out on their own, Serena is almost relieved.

But she doesn't leave the city. She takes root in her own hotel room, uses the hours to read Dan's novel and understands herself instead. She understands that it was only her pieces that were warped but maybe she'd comprehended that all along. Dan had always known himself and that had been what scared Serena because she'd spent nearly her entire life trying to find herself. Dan had consistent motivations, he was stable and balanced and well thought. Even his life experiments were rational and planned. She'd become the next Van der Woodsen hurricane always searching for a bit of information to explain why. She felt like she never matched Dan because he saw himself clearly but she only knew herself in foggy shadows. Reading her life brought her to a different conclusion. It didn't matter if she didn't understand herself because he understood her enough for both of them. So maybe their puzzle pieces didn't need to match anymore because there was nothing puzzling about their attraction to the other.

The queue at Barnes and Noble was over fifty people long when she got there, traveled a full block down East 17th Street. For a moment Serena is speechless, even motionless because this is what Dan wanted for so long. At thirty-three years old he has become what he strove for in each year that fell between. So for a moment she stares in awe of it but the whispers swallow up her contemplations and the fingers remind her that she was the jumping board. It doesn't make her angry. Nor does the slow parting of the crowd make her either embarrassed or uneasy. She's learned to accept it and she isn't above using it. Now it's just a quiet murmur she doesn't even hear as she walks into the store, right to the front table without stopping.

There's an expression in his eyes that she doesn't recognize as she holds the hardcover out. It's darker than anything she'd ever seen in them before. She would ask about it. She doesn't. It could have been the crowd. More likely it was the fear that she'd been the one to create such twisting malevolence. It almost makes her take the book back but he flips it over before she can. She wants to tell him that she didn't break apart their unspoken ritual. He was the caller, the chaser, the instigator. Then she realizes. Maybe that was the problem.

"What would you like as an inscription?" Dan asks as the crowd waits in too interested silence. "How about have a nice life? Or maybe good to have know you?"

Serena doesn't say anything at first. She waits until he'd adds the signature first, dug deep enough to create an impression seventeen pages deep. "I don't want an inscription."

"Well then," Dan slams the cover closed and holds it out to her. "Here you go."

"I want you to write a new ending instead," Serena admits and the book wavers just a bit. The face doesn't. "I want you to write a happier one. One that reflects what your pretty girl truly wants."

He didn't leap over the table and take her into his arms. She hadn't really expected him to but they did work things out. Dan penned out a shared history rather than a new ending. He put aside his reverse snobbery to shack up in an apartment he could now afford. Serena put aside her modeling because she finally admitted it was secondary. Serena never gave birth but at thirty-five they still ended with a child. Serena's friend Natasha died in a car accident and her ten year old daughter came to live with the Humphreys. Dan never again wrote a bestselling novel but that didn't bother him. If it took pain and anger to fulfill his potential then he'd rather take pleasure with happiness and leave the literary dream to more tortured souls.

Vanessa and Nathaniel

I'm actually glad that Vanessa and Nathaniel never worked things out. How humiliating would it have been to have every single one of my schemes nullified within a decade. I'd like to believe that I was more talented than that. Except, in the end, it wasn't really about what happened between Nate and Serena. That was just a symptom of a much larger problem.

There were so many different ways that the two could have found their happily ever after. If she hadn't gotten pregnant, if he hadn't been made team captain of the UCLA squad within his first year. If he had moved back to New York she might have forgiven everything for the sacrifice. If he hadn't listened to his parents, if she hadn't listened to her gut instinct. If he had learned his lesson the first time or the third time or even the seventh. If he could be a little more controlled, she a little more open-minded. If she could have been a little less insecure in his affection or him a little more in hers. Then they might have found their way. But truth was laid out years before the story moved to match it.

Vanessa wouldn't let Nate buy her an apartment until he returned from California to share it with her. She couldn't stomach the permanence of ownership. So she rented another loft in Brooklyn, a glorified box with two bedrooms and a view of cement and brick wall. It was still larger than anything she'd lived in since Vermont, with a living room that stretched the same size as her former apartment. It was more than she could afford but she permitted Nate to pay half. Not for himself, he still lived in the land of palm trees but she let him pay for his daughter. She was proud but she wasn't an idiot.

Today that apartment was paying host to a three year old's birthday party, every square inch of space filled with their closest friends and a little girl surrounded by too many boxes for life in a city. Most had been wrapped in designer paper but now that paper lay in strips between pink bows and purple ribbon. The colors matched the balloons that were strung from one side of the apartment to the other, each taped with loving care and spaced exactly right. The man who hung them hadn't needed a ladder, just a step stool and his tiptoes. He arranged everything with a father's care except he wasn't the little girl's father. He just looked the part. He was the one sitting beside her on the carpet, drawing her away from a new doll with sparkly purple hair with the promise of a marble run instead. Isabella grabbed the box happily, dumped the entire contents on a clear section of carpet, her mother sitting automatically beside. Vanessa read the instructions while her best friend constructed without them. They were the perfect little family.

Except Isabella's father wasn't in the three, he was traveling the far wall, greeting friends and talking to family. He had a gin and tonic dangled in one hand because beer reminded him of freshman year too much. Nate kept up the small talk but his eyes kept drifting back to the obvious, the couple that were sitting in the middle of the room. There was an ease between the three that he didn't want to see so he'd turn away again. He kept talking to Chuck about something. He didn't really talk to Chuck much anymore. There were hints of their former affection, they'd arrange runs or cross paths while in New York. It was just hints of something that used to be. Sometime after first year Nate had replaced Chuck with Marcus Anders. It just fit better. Marcus hadn't reformed himself.

"Isabella really seems to like Adam," Chuck touched the topic and it made Nate wince. Maybe the words had been purposeful or maybe Nate just wanted them to be.

"Sometimes I think that Adam is her father," Nate offered between sips. He wasn't talking fact, they'd proved that years ago. "And I'm just the Uncle Nate."

Chuck stared at his friend and even if the man was slumped at the admission Chuck couldn't make him feel better for it. That was the division that guaranteed they'd never be close again. Chuck could forgive Nate anything that had been done to him, forgive him Blair but Chuck couldn't quite forgive his best friend for not being a proper father to the little blonde girl because, to Chuck Bass, family was sacred. "You only have yourself to blame for that," Chuck returned instead.

Nate turned to him in disbelief, glass dangling a bit further to one side. The blonde had accepted a lot of things, his best friends journey to sobriety, academia and even responsibility but he couldn't accept judgment. Chuck understood that as the blonde walked away without even a backward glance. It didn't made him sad. He just wished Nate would take the words to heart in more than offense.

If Nate had then the story might have ended differently but it didn't. Nate was never proud of cheating on Vanessa. He considered each impropriety a slip, a mistake that he tried to correct. The problem was he never got any better. The sins multiplied instead, pushing him gradually down a slope until he hit the point where he realized the bottom was closer than the long climb back up. He still didn't give up because, as much as Vanessa, Nate truly believed when he came back to New York that mountain would transform back to a hill and Nate could jog hills without breaking a sweat. People always forgave Nathaniel Archibald and, though he'd once considered otherwise, he knew Vanessa would as well. She'd been forgiving him since Serena. So he lived in his own fairytale.

And Vanessa lived in hers. Except she never was interested in crumbling castles and graying princes. She'd probably have left both within six months of first year except for Isabella. Her daughter didn't stop her from leaving six months after the last though. Nate moved back to New York, walked into a job as head lacrosse coach at Brown, walked into a fully furnished apartment on the Upper East Side. He could have walked into a dream but he made it a nightmare, took only six months to snap Vanessa's last illusion. The person he snapped it with, that was enough to start a cold war that would never thaw. Nate had an affair with Jenny Humphrey. One single event setting off a chain reaction: breaking his friendship with Marcus, breaking hers with Jenny, breaking them apart forever. It got nasty. Nate and Vanessa didn't even talk for years, Nate seeing Adam Starr as much as his own daughter. Sometimes he thinks Vanessa did that on purpose because every time the filmmaker crossed the Archibald apartment with Isabella in tow Nate's eyes couldn't help but drop. He couldn't help but stare at the band of gold that proved he'd screwed things up forever. And sometimes, that really hurt.

Adam Starr lived in a loft apartment near the bridge but on the Brooklyn side. It was as small as Vanessa's had been but the views weren't cement and brick but an urban playground and strip of water. That made it more beautiful. He had mismatching pots but thousands of dollars in audiovisual equipment, stained furniture but a priceless antique writing desk. Adam and Vanessa weren't sitting in either tonight though. They'd started in both but that was before the wine. They'd started drinking when Vanessa had arrived even though they didn't usually have more than a glass over dinner. Isabella was at her home, Vanessa's parents took the train from Vermont to help her though. They'd pushed her out, told her to go see some friends and that's what she had done. That's why Vanessa was sitting with Adam, backs to ripped brown fabric, trading red wine glasses back and forth like water.

"Did you really throw all his clothing out the window?" Adam asked, pushed his thick hair aside to listen to her answer. He didn't really need to. He already knew. You couldn't litter an avenue on the Upper East Side with clothing in thirty-two shades of blue and not have everyone know.

"Well not the belts," Vanessa smiled back at her best friend. "That would have been irresponsible." It would have been. Nate had bought them a penthouse apartment after all. "I mailed his lacrosse equipment," She added, almost to forgive the other imprudence. "To the family townhouse in the Algarve." She finished with a deeper giggle. Adam held up his wine glass in toast, chimed once and matched her sip. It was their second bottle, first lying on the floor beside them. There were candles too but it didn't mean what you think. Adam really liked candles. "How was your media tour?" Vanessa asked next. Adam had traveled the globe to support his latest flick. Even at twenty-eight he was already building a following with his mingling of indie and mainstream appeal. He wrote some of the most twisted fiction and shot in a way that underlined every entangled point.

Adam just kind of shrugged his shoulders. "Long...and lonely. I missed your banter," Adam admitted without looking her way. He couldn't quite bring himself to. Vanessa leaned closer anyway, let her shoulder brush his as her lips disappeared behind her cup. A long silence stretched between them, the kind that dissolved the humor of retelling, left Vanessa with only the shocked truth of what she had done.

"Was I wrong?" She had to ask. No matter what Nate had done, he was still her daughter's father and that was the fundamental problem. She didn't want to be weak but she also didn't want to be the means of destroying her own family.

"Only in taking so long to do it." Adam assured her.

Vanessa shook her head but even the offered truth couldn't quite banish the second thoughts or tide the tears that formed because of them. "I just thought that he loved me."

"He probably does," Adam had to admit. "You are, after all, so damned loveable." He tried with a nudge of her shoulder with his. Her smile cracked but didn't hold so Adam tried harder. "Vanessa, this has nothing to do with you. It is entirely about him."

"I guess...I just..."

Adam shifted away from Vanessa but only far enough to cup her chin and focus her watery eyes for the next few words. "You are wonderful. You are beautiful, and smart, and such a great mother, and friend, and..." Adam cupped her cheek as the blush stared. "He is a stupid man." He promised as he brought his eyes closer, waited with an impish smile to see if his message cleared.

Vanessa laughed once under the praise, turned her head until her brunette hair brushed his lips, turned her face back to find her own lips nearly doing the same. She didn't pull back. He didn't either. They just kind of hung there until the words came. "And what about you?" Vanessa asked, voice low enough for the sound to tickle his throat. "Are you stu..."

He swallowed the thought with his lips, kissed her until she arched her back into him, proved that Adam Starr was never a stupid man.

He asked her to marry her six months later and Vanessa agreed thereby fulfilling the prophesy Nate had whispered at a crowded birthday party. Vanessa and Adam were married within a year, Vanessa giving to her best friend what she had denied Nathaniel for three. Perhaps it was a bit fast but, truth be told, Vanessa had loved Adam for years rather than months. They would go on to travel the world and add another two more children to their first (though they never said it aloud they considered Isabella to be theirs, and even though she had blonde hair instead of brown, Isabella truthfully was more Starr than Archibald). Adam Starr Jr. was well named being the spitting image of his father, Mahogany picking up her mother's unused genes. They had private tutors until high school because once Vanessa had pulled her blinders clear, when she finally turned her eyes from the blonde to find the friend that had loved her all along, then Vanessa didn't want to be parted from him. Adam reached heights no one could have predicted except maybe little Vanessa Abrams who had known her husband was a genius first.

It took Nate another three years to marry. He chased after the illusion that perhaps Vanessa had been the wrong person, that he could be nobler. He recast more beautiful woman, more educated woman, richer women, younger women. He dated his way through half the Upper East Side, even reconciled with Serena for a period (it ended as insignificantly as the first) before he finally gave up his own illusions of integrity and acknowledged who he was. He was a man who lived for the chase, the romantic build up, and tired quickly of anything remotely resembling suburbia. Once he knew that he married quickly and his wife of choice completed their messed up circle but, in hindsight, was the very best choice. He married little Jenny Humphrey.

Except she wasn't little anymore. Jenny had been a stunning girl in high school but she had transformed into an amazing beauty in adulthood. That's not to say that she bartered her beauty for a life on Park Avenue. Jenny had always had a girlish fascination with Nate and that did transform into a love like Vanessa had had. Except Jenny wasn't anything like Vanessa. She was a lot more liberal. Her husband valued her and protected her and said yes to all her whims. He gave her everything except fidelity and Jenny was maneuvering enough to accept the fault. Nathaniel had, after all, learned to be discrete. She used his name and his bank account to launch herself to stardom, built a label to battle Eleanor Waldorf Designs and a name in society to rival any of the girls who'd looked down at her in high school. She was a success in every way that mattered to her. She had no regrets.

Some days Nate had regrets. Some days he wished Jenny could have been a bit more nurturing, that she could care as much their sons Fredrick and Foster as his first love seemed to the girl. Maybe then the boys wouldn't have moved through school with the nickname 'the two f-ers'. Then again, that might have been more his fault. Sometimes he wished she'd get mad at him but she never did. Sometimes Nate just wished that Jenny was a little different. Then he'd remember, he had doubts with every girl he'd ever held, with Serena, with Blair, and even with Vanessa. It was his nature. So he washed those doubts away with a glass of gin and tonic, another fling and the triumphant realization that he'd ended with the most beautiful wife. And most nights that was more than enough.

Most days Nate knows he loves Jenny more than any of them because she took him despite everything. Vanessa had fallen for him with the illusion that one mistake wasn't a pattern. Nate had wanted to believe that too. Jenny knew the whole truth before she chose him. Most days that's why he loves Jenny most. Nate just wishes it could be all the days because those other days suck.

The Archibald family lived in a penthouse near the apartment Blair once lived in. It towered over Central Park, over most of the surrounding. It took up three floors, was decorated with a designer's exacting touch. It was the most beautiful of their entire circle, Jenny's artistic eye surveying every step. There were imported marble counter tops even though neither of them cooked, rich cherry wood furniture and flawless silk for window dressings. Everything Jenny did was flawless, from their wedding that was larger and most impressive than any of his friends, to the two boys that were the spitting image of their father to the fashion line that had generated more buzz than New York had seen in years.

Jenny Archibald was flawless. She walked into a room and had every eye turn to her, and their own house was no different. Everyone glanced at the hostess in the perfect blue cocktail dress, with the shining hair and the flashing eyes. Everyone but Nate because on that night his eyes were glued to the television. It was an enormous set, stretching the entire wall of their main entertainment area. Jenny had conceded to allow it mostly because aside from his meanderings she didn't have to make concessions. The room was filed to capacity with friends and family, all except two guests sipping champagne and feasting on gourmet hordevors served by short boys in white uniforms. Jenny Archibald always threw the best parties and her Oscar party was bigger and better than the best. It had to be. "Iza" Nate yelled through the one room to the other, "You mom is on television." He didn't say her father was too. He was his father.

Isabella ran into the room, an eighteen year old vision in floaty purple. She dragged the Bass boy behind her. Well I suppose he was as much Wiltshire as Bass. His name was Aidan Wiltshire-Bass after all but everyone knew which of the last names was dropped in common use. The rest trailed behind her. Even though she was six years older Isabella always dragged her younger brother and sister with her, their stories starting to intermingle with Nate's own children. Some days Nate thinks his oldest daughter does it on purpose. Then he remembers that she is no more manipulative than her mother. Isabella squeals when they announce the nominees for best screenplay, yells out "Uncle Chuck, Auntie Blair," because it was the Bass name that had funded her father's latest project. Nate gives another glare at his former best friend for it. He doesn't really blame him. Adam was a genius and if Nate had a little more drive or a little less hurt he'd have sponsored him too.

When Vanessa's husband wins Isabella kisses her boyfriend and Nate glares at a different Bass. He has to because it just another piece of the puzzle that is slowly assembling around him. He is left with a glass of gin and tonic and the nagging question of why everyone seemed to leapfrog him to great success. He'd watched Blair better her mother's successes, Serena reach the pinnacle of fashion, Eric become an internationally renowned lawyer, Dan finally manage one bestselling novel, Chuck equal his father in business smarts and drive, and now even Vanessa had managed an Oscar-winning replacement. They'd all reached high, pulled the stars down to meet them as they soared upward. Nate sometimes thinks that's why he grabbed onto Jenny, held tight so as not to be left behind. It still wasn't quite the same but he'd down his glass and pretend it was better.

But it was hard in that moment. When the camera panned onto the happy couple and Nate was forced to remember that Vanessa had once looked at him with eyes like that.

That's why he could pretend a lot of things but in that moment it was so fucking hard.

The feeling will pass as easily as it comes, reappearing and disappearing enough to have Nate reflect but rarely question. It never lingers because nothing even lingers with Nathaniel Archibald. He does learn the lessons though. He turns into the husband that never forgets a birthday, never slights his wife in public, lavishes attention on his children. He'll be good enough because he remembers being not good enough already cost him one family.

Vanessa is always good enough and though she never attains greatness she is content to have reformed her first family. She enjoys following her husband through the world, being his support and a full-time mother to her three children. When Isabella turns thirteen they purchase an apartment on the Upper East Side. Her daughters attend Constance Billiard and her son St. Judes even though Vanessa spent years turning her nose at both. She understands now that she has children. She learns to appreciate the advantages of wealth. But she never forgets who she was and what her dreams once were. She joins Eric in the Middle East for six months, films what the younger boy photographs and pens a documentary about the education of young women. It is neither a commercial nor critical hit. It's pretty much nothing but she's content in having finished something. She's happier to have a hand in convincing Eric to return to his own family.

Charles and Blair

I'd like to have believed Charlie fell from the wagon at some point in their lives. After all, who could one tumble so repeatedly and then never again? Sometimes I make it up in my mind, imagine that when he traded textbooks for trade or marriage for children he cracks and falls apart. It's more interesting than the truth. He never does and that's pedestrian. It's not that he doesn't think of it, doesn't get scared and want to run away but like his reckless tendencies Charlie finds other ways to express it. Far more boring ones. He's protected from the outside too, gathering genuine friends and family close enough to sweep through the moments when his will isn't enough.

Sometimes the reality makes me angry but that feeling doesn't linger anymore. Not once I remember that Charlie Bass wasn't the one to destroy me. In fact, he was the one who tried to save me. It's too bad he was only eight years old. He might actually have managed to do something. But still when I think of what he tried, I almost feel guilty for how I repaid his kindness.

Don't worry. The feeling never lasts. Not when I remember that Charlie managed to get everything back. Charlie Bass always manages to land on his feet. His life might twist through a lot of darkness, but he always walks a blessed path.

Chuck feels lightheaded by the time he looks into the bathroom mirror. He hadn't managed to eat much that morning to start with and depositing most of what he had didn't help matters. He splashes the cold water on his face, takes care not to dampen the collar of his dress shirt or the cuffs of his tuxedo jacket. He runs cream between his fingers and tries to rub away the floating and dipping that has returned to his stomach. He's pretty sure he shouldn't feel this scared. I mean he's heard the stories of cold feet but his feet weren't cold. His stomach was punishingly uneasy. It shouldn't have been. Chuck Bass has no lingering doubts about marrying Blair, he had had no doubts to begin with. He just has this irrational fear that seemed to plague every major life moment. So he splashes water again and is thankful his stomach has nothing left to give. He presses his palms harder into the granite to try to calm the rapid pulse at the base of each. When he looks up he sees Eric standing behind him, toothbrush dangling from one hand, mischievous smirk dressing the young man's features.

"You brought my toothbrush?" Chuck asks with disbelief.

"That and a paper bag," Eric admitted as he pulled the other from his pocket. "I wasn't sure which way you'd go."

Chuck turns his head back down to the sink, shakes his head in a cross between amusement and embarrassment.

"Need I remind you that the ceremony includes a kiss," Eric arches a brow and leaves the rest unsaid. The part that reminds him he doesn't want Blair's first experience as Mrs. Bass to be an exchange with vomit breath. Chuck grabs the toothbrush without words. Eric provides a travel tube of toothpaste and Chuck erases the remnants of his fear.

Within five minutes they're both in the other room, Chuck fixing his boutonniere and Eric reclining in the main chair with one foot dangling across the opposite knee. A knock and they're both standing to nod at Dan as he turns his head around the door. "They're ready for us." The Brooklyn man offers before departing again.

Chuck unbuttons his tuxedo jacket in nervous ritual. He goes to rebutton but his fingers don't easily cooperate. Eric offers the paper bag before Chuck realizes why. The younger brother holds a photo of Blair in the other hand. It makes Chuck want to check his brother's jacket, see if it it outfitted like James Bond. He doesn't. He doesn't need the paper bag either, at least not after the photograph. He stands straighter, turns his buttons and follows the Brooklynite into the main area. He doesn't make it to the between the pews before he's accosted.

"Uncle Chuck," Aidan stomps his seven year old feet up to his younger brother. His brown curls flop from side to side as he walks, arms crossing as his face turns red with frustration. "Make Isabella leave me alone. She's following me everywhere."

"She's supposed to follow you," Chuck reminds the boy. "She's the flower girl and you're the ring bearer."

"She's annoying," Aidan stomps his foot a little and Chuck is taken back to a certain overbearing toddler. "She talks all the time. I can't make her quiet!"

"Try kissing her," Chuck suggests as the young boy's face screws up in disgust. "It always worked for me."

"I'm not kissing a girl." Aidan swears as he catches sight of his tail. He takes off to the other room with a stunning blonde running behind.

'Definitely a Bass' Chuck whispers as he follows Eric beyond the chapel doors. He walks the isle that Blair will follow in moments, inclines his head to their guests. The entire church is dusted in flowers. The white, red and yellow compete but they are Chuck and Blair's arrangement. Chuck barely has time to take his place at the front before the music starts and when he turns to his best man he guesses that was planned as well. Eric squeezes his arm before both their eyes go together to the back.

Vanessa begins the progression and Serena follows her. Chuck doesn't think to put his eyes to Dan, to check if their plot had been successful. He catches a flash of white and he forgets everything, the fear and even the fancy. Every thought it washed clear, leaving only one consideration. He has never seen Blair look as stunningly beautiful as in that moment. It's not the Waldorf original, it's not knowing she'd designed it herself. It isn't the way the white straps reflect off her porcelain skin, or the way her hair is perfectly curled and pinned. It's not the flawless make up or the hand sew crystal shoes. It's her.

It's watching her slow path, the dusting of white, the final fulfillment of every single one of those dreams. There is no field of white daisies. In fact, the ones she holds are yellow but it's that same feeling. It's not the physical embodiment of his dreams but the feeling that always accompanies them. It's total freedom, the sense of ease and the intoxicating understanding that the moment her hands touch his that it will be forever. They'll be joined from that moment forward in law as well as heart, before god and every single witness. The realization has him put his hand out even though she is still more than a few steps away. He wants to hurry them to the combined truth.

Once they reach that moment Chuck wishes for the opposite. He wants time to hold forever to preserve the feeling of that hand, that smile, the sparkling of her eyes. He wants life to progress at half the speed so he can have double the years to spend with his wife. They purchase a townhouse and spend weeks christening ever square inch. They try to cook but they take more pleasure in selecting the perfect chef. They redecorate and host friends to celebrate every accomplishment. Their marriage is melded out in their shared space, half her and half him but cohesive in the borders between.

Blair forgives him the extra three years it took to marry because the three years after fulfill ever fantasy she no longer bothers to imagine. She hardly remembers the fight to that moment until she lies in bed one night and puts the idea of children forward. The total paling of his face is too familiar. It brings it all back.

Chuck wondered if it always had to be like this for him, fearful of every life changing moment, every significant decision that didn't begin or end at work. It's not that he wasn't confident because he was. He'd removed the smug feigned arrogance of a life ago with genuine confidence. He acted definitively, could both discipline and convince. He usually didn't question himself. It was simply the fear. And he didn't fear everything. In fact he feared very little. The fear only emerged with those he loved best and that was the basis of it all. It was all about love. Chuck could never forget how easily love had been taken away from him. It made him cautious with the few who held his heart. It made him question, doubt and fear change because in his life, change had been as bad as good.

Blair was reclined in the chaise at the foot of their stairs when he finally climbed down them, slim ankles tucked beneath as she waited. She had a magazine in one hand but she traded it for a sleepy smile when she saw him. Her slim cut blue skirt was folded over in the front, white piping drawing attention to the crossing detail. The slim white blouse stopping short of her shoulders but hanging lower through the base. They were supposed to discuss their issue over dinner but Chuck was planning to preempt that. He fondled the packet of papers in his pocket and felt the jumping in his stomach. A part of him wanted to flee upward again.

Blair put her hand out when Chuck reached it, waited for him to help him to standing but he didn't. He took the five folded sheets from his pocket and pressed it into her hand instead. "I want to have children with you," He promised as he gave every reason why that same idea scared him. How could it not? He had as his parental influences a mother who had killed herself and a father who had only ever done the wrong thing. He'd reconciled the first years before but they had never discussed the second. Bart might have improved with his daughter but Chuck was trained as his son. He was so afraid of making the same mistakes, repeating the same history. And, truth be told, Chuck is pretty sure Blair knows it all without the ink. She just needed his permission to broach it. "Maybe we could order in and you could read," Chuck suggests as she flips to the first page. She nods and he escapes but only to debate food choices in the kitchen.

By the time he returns she has a page of her own for him, a listing of all the ways he differs from his father. She hands it wordlessly back and they don't end up discussing things that night. They don't have to now because both arguments have been penned. Chuck takes the paper and makes photocopies, glues one beside the list of reasons he's not like his mother, tapes another to the inside of his teaching desk, another to his mirror in their shared bathroom and folds one into the glove compartment of his Porsche. He keeps them there until he's read each enough times to quell any residual fears. By then there's nothing left to do but admire his wife's slowly rounding belly.

Children fit easily into their life and before Chuck ever expresses it Blair knows that's why her husband has constructed their lives the way he had. When they talk about it, that's when she knows for sure. Chuck chooses to be a teacher because he chooses to not be like his father. He doesn't want to be a father that disappears and reappears but a consistent influence. So Chuck talks to Lewis and she talks to Bart and somewhere in the middle they come to an agreement that doesn't involve yelling or threats. Bart agrees to leave his son to his own devices for fifteen years provided Chuck spends two evenings per week learning what he needs to. It's one of those evenings that his life changes forever.

Chuck is still wearing a suit when the time comes. It's blue which fits that moment because they've known since the twentieth week that they're having a boy. Chuck very nearly runs into the hospital with his father in tow. The elder Bass waits outside with the rest of his family but Chuck arrives to the delivery room in time to put his hand out, to have it returned within the hour with five scratch marks. Blair had the epidural within thirty minutes, the scratches were closer to remnants of fear. It takes her until that moment to realize, in questioning Chuck's precedents she had never considered hers. For a moment she realizes she's as likely to become Eleanor as Chuck is to Bart. So she squeezes and Chuck lets her regardless of the motivation.

The gathered family expands outside the delivery room as the tiny family within expands to three. Chuck watches everything that happens with a critical eye, questions everything the doctor does but only in his mind. He'd never forget that his mother had nearly died giving birth to him and even though his biological sister came easily, Chuck doesn't quite trust that the fates wouldn't reserve the failing hand for him. Blair relaxes after that first hour. She goes strangely calm. It confuses Chuck because all the birthing experience he has is what they show on television. He's pretty sure that his wife should be cursing him, damning the doctor and generally screaming. She's trading barbs with the whole room instead. It must have been the epidural. Chuck prods her to breathe, uses all those skills he'd learned in that awful prenatal class. Who ever thought it was a good idea to herd twenty pregnant woman into one small room? He still uses what he's learned, pushes back her curls and kisses her forehead. It's very nearly dry and Chuck decides it's fitting. Blair would never chose to sweat.

Their first child is a vision with Blair's doe eyes and his broad chin. After the doctor wipes him clean he's passed to his father. Chuck almost hesitates at first because he was never the boy to hold babies, to make eyes or tickle toes. Aside from his sister Chuck has never held a baby before. So he almost freezes but then his son opens his eyes and suddenly Chuck wants to do it all. So he stares at the little unfocused eyes, touches the tiny feet that are half him and half Blair. He makes faces without even realizing it. He counts all the fingers and toes before Blair's voice breaks his reverie and reminds him that he wasn't the only parent in that room. She's staring up at him with those mischievous eyes. He guesses Quinn will have the same as he lays their first beside her. She studies the dark eyes as fully as Chuck had done. When she looks up her smiles melds to his. All the fears he had had were washed out the moment he saw their blending. He knew. This was the start of something good. And the realization makes him cry.

The tears will have dried by the time he opens the door and presents his son. There will still be a telltale red and the rest will stare at it. A few of them will have seen him cry once or twice before but that was before things had settled through. After that year Chuck only cries in front of one brunette. Until one little hand hits his and then Chuck knows; here in his arms is another brunette to make him cry.

Chuck and Blair work to construct this perfect world where Chuck Bass can teach school in the mornings and Blair Waldorf can limit her involvement to Eleanor Waldorf Designs to afternoons. They develop the idea that they can be perfect parents. They embark on their new journey with untamed enthusiasm, convinced that they are going to undo the damage of their parents within a single generation.

The younger Bass apartment was halfway down the street from the other, piled gray brick rising up into yellow painted wood, tangling ivy twinning either post at the entrance. Blair had painted the entrance door purple on a lark, Chuck convincing her to keep it. They hire a household of servants to cook, to clean but never to take care of their children. Chuck never had a nanny growing up and it was a tradition he was adamant on repeating. That's why when Blair returns home from Eleanor Waldorf Designs her husband is wrestling his two oldest sons on the living room carpet, six year old Quinn working in team with his five year old brother Elijah (Eli for short). They don't truly have a chance to better their father but Chuck puts on the show. He let them pull him side to side, grabs the younger around the ankles while the older grabs his. It isn't long before the three fall as a mess to the carpet. Blair arches her brow at the sight.

Her daughter jumps down from the sofa the moment she sees her mother. She totters across the room in uncovered excitement and a fluffy white dress. Blair puts a hand under the tulle to pull her for a kiss. "Your father is being very silly," Blair whispers into her daughter's ear, remnants of a smile still playing at her lips. Blair waits another moment but when her husband still doesn't notice her, she clears her throat loud enough to get his attention. "I think Audrey dumped her sippy cup in your students' Calculus finals," Blair calls out with a look at her husband's patent leather briefcase. That has Chuck shove his two sons off in panic. He jumps up and runs across the living room, grabbing at his case only to find it as pristine as when he'd tossed it there earlier. He lets it drop back down and arches his own brow, hair still bent and crushed to a general mess. "I had to do something to get my coming home kiss," Blair points out.

Chuck never had to be asked twice.

The only problem is that there is no perfect world. Chuck Bass wasn't meant to be a teacher. He was born to inherit Bass Industries. Reality comes knocking at tens years in the form of a sick wife and a plea to put aside constructed fantasies. Chuck goes to work at Bass Industries shortly after his daughter turns one. Blair gives control of Eleanor Waldorf Designs to her father, stays home with her children every day. They try to preserve their construction but Blair Waldorf wasn't meant to be nothing beyond a mother.

That's not to say that she doesn't love being a mother because she does. There is just something monotonous in the repetitiveness of every day. It's just something about changing diapers when the rest of her circle of friends are traveling the world. And her body is no longer the same. Blair had lobbied very hard to have a third. She wanted a girl and got her hearts content but that girl had changed her in a way that the boys never did. There are so many marks across previously pristine skin. And she's fat now. At least to her own eyes. No one else would consider a size six to be too large but she does. She's used to being a size two. Then suddenly her husband isn't a high school teacher anymore, he's helping to head Bass Industries. Instead of small dinner parties amongst friends they have huge galas where the women stare at her husband and then stare at her. Then Jenny launches her own fashion line, poising herself to better what her mother spent a lifetime building. Suddenly it's about every single thing. Blair Waldorf has nothing left but an absent husband, three young children and a body that depresses her at every look.

So she falls back into old habits but it's not like before. She has a family and a husband who worships her. She promises herself it's just a diet. She just needs to lose a bit of weight so she doesn't lose her husband. Once she's done then she'll stop. It's just too easy with Chuck flying here and there, gone as many days as he's here. It's easy to skip a few meals or dispose of a few others. She promises it's just until she fits into her old clothing. But of course she never wears old clothing and somehow she keeps buying new clothing in progressively smaller sizes. But Chuck doesn't realize. He's too busy trying to master his last five years of training in five months. He's too worried about his father's family to notice his own until Eli offers up the evidence. His middle son asks, in a fearful six year old voice, if his mommy is getting ill like grandma Lewis.

And somehow, even after everything is settled, his not knowing will always sit heaviest in his heart. It was too much like the other time. It proved that he hadn't learned to listen longer, look closer or think harder. So he has to content himself with trying the most. And he attempts every course. He confronts and commiserates in equal measure. He calls Serena and she's there within a week. He sends her away within two when he realizes the blonde supermodel is causing more problems than solving. He sends his own children to England but that makes her hate him more. He doesn't flinch as she lashes out because he knows it's not him she's really angry with. She plays games and he plays along because sometimes that's the way it needs to end. He finally quits everything, drags her to 1812 and locks them behind an oak door. He keeps them together until they are either fixed or broken beyond repair.

But they can never be broken again. Not when they re-glued their rough edges to fit together in perfect cohesive disorder. So it only takes seven days for the bravado to be traded for honestly and distance exchanged for intimacy. When she lays spent in his arms he knows that not only is it going to be okay this time but it's going to be okay every single time from that moment further.

The room is dark when Blair finally breaches the last distance, a few inches to lay fully beside her husband. It was some time in the morning but Chuck didn't dare move to check the exact hour or minute. He wanted nothing to disrupt that moment. His wife clings closer to him, winds a slender arm above and a slender leg below and Chuck feels at home for the first time in nearly two months.

"I'm sorry," Blair whispers into their stillness. It takes only those two words to erase that whole week of hell, the month and a half of purgatory that preceded it. "It wasn't your fault."

"I understand," Chuck whispers back and Blair pulls closer to him, turning her face upward until their breath mingles to match their bodies. She doesn't kiss her husband and he doesn't attempt it either.

"I just lost sight of everything."

"It's easy to do."

"I..." Blair starts but Chuck shushes her as her voice cracks.

"We'll talk about it in the morning," Chuck winds his arms tighter in reassurance. He stares down at his doe eye princess and sees her again. They'd talk about every single thing.

"I was so unhappy," Blair admits and the truth tears that little hole in the center of Chuck's heart again. The one that reminds him that he had failed again.

"We'll figure out what makes you happy." Chuck promises.

"Together," Blair offers her own promise and the thought sews the hole closed again.

They do. They remember the truth together too. That they are both happier when they don't play at make believe. So they trade little fantasies for reality and together find a compromise. Chuck gives up his perfect family dreams for one that includes a nanny. Blair founds a venture that ends in rediscovering herself and her husband stands behind her for every step.

Chuck learns something else important in the process. That he can be his wife's rock the same way as she has been his. That he can offer solutions that last longer than a line of permanent ink. So maybe it had to happen once so that it could never happen again. Maybe Blair had to know too.

The ballroom is draped in pearlized pink and blue balloons. They are taped into every inch of the ceiling, match exactly the silk that drapes all four walls and the tiny catwalk in the middle. It doesn't need to be large because the models who walk it are between the ages of five and ten. The sign behind is hand crafted in imported silk. Little Waldorf is spelled out in pastels, a sign post of Blair's new venture. It is the perfect blend of who she was, who she is and who she aspires to be.

Chuck watches his wife for a long while because the picture makes him smile. The shine is back to her eyes, the straightness to her posture and beauty to her parted lips. She is radiant in every conceivable way, laughing with teasing and watching everything with self-assured contentment. She may have given up the name years ago but Waldorf is back. You can see it in every confident movement Chuck would have kept watching but in that moment she has turned to watch him. She beckons him with a hand and he's beside her before it waves.

"You're a success," Chuck whispers into the nape of her neck as he reaches her and Blair sighs like she hasn't for a year.

They build upward from that moment. Blair goes back to her father, asks for control of all of Eleanor Waldorf Designs and he gives it without question. She masters drawing if not sewing. She betters Jenny not in schemes but with actual talent. She betters her mother but not only in fashion. She betters her at home as well. Her children grow up happy.

Her husbands reaches as high, brings forth all the brilliance that had appeared in flashes through the years. His brother Aidan, who heads the second largest company in New York at the age of twenty-one, waits only seven months after the death of his biological grandfather to approach Chuck. They combine their inheritances to create the largest real estate development company in the entire world. Chuck finds his own Jack in the younger brother. He learns to find the balance that eluded his father for years.

And that father? Bart can only look on in unmasked approval. To Chuck that will always be worth more than any multimillion dollar contract.

Aidan's main board office isn't that different than the one that Chuck holds sway over. The buildings are only five apart to start, and the long slab of brushed oak is almost familiar. Neither is the board itself that different, a collection of men in suits all older than the two Bass men sitting together at the head of the table. Every one of their faces is dusted in red, postures enraged even though Chuck knows they must have half expected the entire proposal. The business papers had been predicting a merger between the Wiltshire and Bass companies since the moment Aidan took the helm. Not that they could produce evidence. After all, who could differentiate between a business meeting and a family brunch between brothers? It was brilliant because of its simplicity.

Aidan runs a hand casually through his hair. It wasn't long anymore, he'd cut it to manage the curls, to present a more businesslike edge. He put the hand back to his hip, bent casually at the elbow, feigned disinterest falling from every pore. Chuck was proud of the younger Bass. Aidan had learned every lesson he'd been taught. "I don't believe you'll do it," The board chair spoke first. "That you would put aside everything your grandfather and father built up."

"Therein is your mistake," Aidan crossed his arms with collected ruthlessness. "And my grandfather's. Do you honestly think that I care for either my birth father or his damned legacy?" His entire board shifted nervously. "Make no mistake gentlemen. If you say no to me than I will happily sign over every last bit of my sixty-two percentage stake to my brother and I will not feel a moment of guilt in doing so."

Chuck's smirk crawled wider to match his brother's. He watched every suited proxy measure his brother's words, calculate whether he was ruthless enough, crazy enough to do as he said. "But," Chuck broke their concentration at the crucial point. "I'm sure we could all forge an agreement under far less hostile conditions." Their eyes shift collectively to the older brother and Chuck measures them himself. There are three that are already broke, he knows it in the flickering of their eyes, the telltale appearance of tongue across dried lips. He exchanges a look with his brother and without words they decide the rest will be broken before the anyone leaves that room. It doesn't take long. The Basses unravel every argument, debate every term and set the basis for a plot Aidan had once whispered to his brother when he was fourteen years old. The night is early enough when they are done for the brothers to head to dinner after. They meet a wife and a girlfriend at the door. Chuck knows why. Companies are not the only thing his little brother is intent on merging that night.

Isabella Archibald steps to greet her boyfriend with a kiss but Blair turns only her palm for her husband. Chuck runs a finger intimately from her pulse point to the tip of her longest finger before he brings it forward and kisses each corner of the journey. Their look is a private one disappearing within the public place. They exchange congratulations with arched brows and parted lips that bring no words. He sits close enough for his arm to brush hers as they eat their three course dinner. She moves her foot across his, looks deepening but exchanged words still on the pretense of discussion.

Aidan waits until dessert to fulfill what, in the intermediary hour everyone but Isabella expects. It's the shaking hands that give him away to Blair because the middle Bass is nothing but confident. His girlfriend ought to have caught him in the silences but, despite the drama that surrounded her upbringing, Isabella is still a strange blend of innocence. She doesn't realize just how beautiful she is. It's not just the external that leads men to follow her aimlessly down city streets. She's beautiful within as well. She's been protected in a different way from Aidan but they've both been nurtured with selfless care. When Aidan kneels to ask Isabella to marry him, Chuck takes Blair's hand beneath the table and leans in close. The younger brother's delivery is textbook and that makes Chuck smirk. "Mine was so much better," He whispers mischievously into his wife's ear.

"You mean the snorkeling trip with the underwater signs?" Blair arches her brow as her husband nods. "I don't think the proposal counts when the wedding is postponed three years," she wipes the self-assurance right off his face.

"I don't concur," Chuck offers back while the other two kiss.

"I do."

He squeezes her hand a little tighter. "So you're saying I never proposed to you."

"I didn't say that either," Blair teases gently. She runs her free fingers down the lapel of his suit. "Besides you did eventually get things right."

"I usually do," Chuck decides and closes their banter with a gentle kiss. When they come apart Aidan and Isabella are sitting close together, green and violet eyes studying her ring. It's not a standard diamond but a cutting of eight different precious stones that form a circular center. The diamonds flank each side of it. It fits the girl much better.

There is something in Blair's eyes when she stares at the two, it makes Chuck put an arm on the back of her chair and match her direction with his eyes. "Do you see it?" Blair whispers as he studies. He doesn't at first. He just sees two cute kids except of course they aren't kids anymore. It's not until Aidan smirks and Isabella smiles that Chuck realizes. It's them but only a tiny piece. It's Chuck and Blair without the parents that made her wicked and him cruel,without the fears that made him run and her hide. It's them without maliciousness, without mistakes, without restarts and never quite finishes, without coping mechanisms and lost innocence, without games and lost hope. Isabella and Aidan have what Chuck and Blair never had the chance to acquire: a happily straight line from beginning to finish.

And that gives them both hope for the next generation.

XOXOX THE END XOXOX

What? You want to know about me? Really?

I kept my promise, ain't that enough? I stayed entirely detached from Charlie's life forever. In fact, I kept out of all their lives. I never returned to New York but bought a ranch in South Africa. I took to raising thoroughbreds. I was quite good at it but then breaking wills is nothing new for me. My horses took every single international prize but I never traveled with them.

It's easier to fight temptations in your own home.

Did I ever get married? Are you kidding me? Children? I stopped doing drugs, I didn't transform into Mary fucking Poppins. Besides it's easier to trade up your playthings when they get too old or too demanding.

I suppose I could have done more, but like Sebastian, my demons were always harder to chase.

What? You want to know how I know everything I do if I've been living in virtual exclusion?

In two words...

I don't.

XOXO

Georgina Sparks

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – First off, thanks to gossipgirlxcore we have a video *shrieks* She made one to go with FTHEA and you can view it at www dot youtube dot com /watch?v=TavmWuab4Fk If you enjoy it as much as me ;) leave her a comment.

I also reposted the mature ending to chapter 14 after some editing to make it a closer match to the rest of my writing style. I felt that we needed to see that 'first' time.

I want to thank everyone who has followed me along this journey. I have had several people ask if I plan to continue to write GG after the completion of this story. I'm not going to write any more Gossip Girl fiction though I am currently working on something that is heavily inspired by the plot points of S1. If you want to see a summary then you can look at my livejournal (same username), or PM me and I can send you the link/put you on an update list.

I want to offer a special thank you to Annablake, Sky Samuelle, gossipgirlxcore and the girls at fanforum for reasons they'll know :)

I bid you all adieu :)