Chuck placed her down on a chair even though he wanted her abed. She reached for her child, and lovingly Blair nuzzled the soft downy dark hair on the baby's head. She looked up at Abram Baizen and saw the brilliance of his tears. It was the sight of her holding the baby. When a man was so advanced in his life, and yesterdays were full, a man looked to the future like it were the most precious in the world.
"Thank you," she said to him. She traced her son's lips with her thumb. "What a sturdy little boy you are," Blair said softly. "To have survived it all."
"Babies, Blair, are strong. Carter was hardly sick at all as a child," Abram began.
Blair could see the protest in Chuck's eyes, but she stayed him a hand on his arm. Abram's gaze turned to the touch, but Blair tightened her fingers on Chuck and refused to draw away.
"You are tired and you should sleep," Abram told her. "Come tomorrow I would that you and the child ride with me to Boston. There is a place for you, and it is warm and safe and guarded. And your son will have all that he will need."
It was a shelter from the snow, warm food and company, and everything that her son deserved. Neither she nor Chuck could provide their little boy with what Abram offered.
"The offer is generous—" Chuck began.
Blair cut him off and said, "and appreciated. I would be indebted to you." Chuck's gaze slammed at her, and she could see the displeasure in his eyes. She met him with a steady look. "Do you not agree, Chuck? A home and all the comforts that Mr Baizen could offer us. It would be best for Charlie."
"Charlie," Abram repeated aloud in surprise. "The boy is Charlie."
And to that, Chuck could not contain himself longer. "The boy's name is Charlie," he said firmly, daring Abram to protest.
But the old man merely said, "I had hoped for the child to carry the name of his father. My son is gone, but his memory lives in this tiny gift you have given me, Blair." And for once since this played out the way she decided, she was at a loss for words. Fortunately enough, he continued and removed the burden from her shoulders, "I suppose it is acceptable. Carter would want the child to bear the name of a brother he loved, Lord Bass. And you are the reason that his family survives."
And finally, her gaze fell to the infant. Her eyes filled with tears, and not for a second more could she look at the grieving old man. "Will you give me time alone with my son?" she said softly.
"Of course," was Abram's solicitous reply.
Without another word, she reached up for Chuck who helped her to the rented room. When they had settled, Blair remained silent as she unbuttoned her dress and revealed one heavy breast to the cool air of the room. Chuck walked to the corner of the room so cheap it had no fireplace. He turned the coals in the brazier and waited for the warmth.
In the next days, and months, and years—perhaps forever—it would be the first that he would know. In any room, in any house, he would know how to stoke the heat. The past few days had left him with a fear so ingrained in him he feared he would dream of the image of her buried in the ice.
Slowly, he pulled himself up to his feet and drank in the sight as Blair rocked on the bed while Charlie suckled at her breast. He walked over to and sat on the sight of the bed, then leaned closer. He placed a butterfly kiss on her exposed shoulder, then touched his fingertips to the infant's cheek.
"He is so strong. A miracle," she said, her voice catching in her throat. "He would have died. Out there without you, he would have died."
"Look how strong suckles at your breast," he assured her gently. She had not looked up at him once, kept her eyes on Charlie as the baby fed from her. He answered the knock on the door and accepted the plate of food, and knew at once it was old Baizen who had sent the food. He speared a piece of sausage with the fork and held it up to her. She turned away, but he told her, "You need to take this, if you wish to nurse Charlie."
And so she took the meat and chewed, swallowed with a sigh for the days that there had been no food.
When both she and Charlie were sated and they were warm, Blair lay on the bed with the child tucked safely beside her. Chuck took his place on the other side and pressed up behind her. He heard her whisper, "You're troubled."
Even though he wanted a little longer of this paradise, he answered, "Would you truly do this to the man?"
She knew of what he spoke. The body in his embrace tensed, but he refused to let her slide away. "He can give Charlie a safe home, one we cannot provide—not in the middle of this war, not here in America, not now."
And despite the way she had said the words, without blame, without accusation, the guilt stuck in his gut and held tight. "He is an old man, Blair."
Now he found her again, that old Blair from long ago, the one who would do it all—even what she did not believe to be right—just for her mother. This time, she did it for her son. "And Charlie is an innocent child. He cannot suffer for our mistakes."
"You would do this," Chuck said quietly. "You would allow Abram Baizen to believe that this is Carter's son."
"I would do this to him." And then she answered his unspoken question. "And yes, Chuck, I would do this to you. If it means that Charlie will be safe, I would do this to us all."
They stayed in the quiet, in the darkness of the room. By tomorrow morning Abram would know that Chuck had stayed in the room with Blair, and would have questions that the old man would not ask. Chuck had seen the old man's eyes, and knew the man was not done grieving for his son. A man such as Abram Baizen would not dare ask, would not show displeasure, would not exhibit anything that could drive away his only remaining link to Carter.
And then he felt it, the way her shoulders trembled. He heard her sniffle. He tightened his arms around her and said, "There is nothing to fear."
"I have everything to fear!" she answered. "A wrong move, a secret spilled, and we would be hunted out here like animals. We have a child, Chuck. We cannot run as fast as before."
"And so you lie," he said.
Once she had been a spy for Vanderbilt, and she had been flawless. She had played the role of Nathaniel Archibald's fiancé and moved around the Boston circle to gather intelligence. It would have been the perfect mission until he and Carter were endangered and she saved their lives.
She had been a natural, and when she omitted the truth from Abram, he wondered.
"There is no pleasure in this game, Chuck," Blair confessed. "I take no pride in deceiving an old man."
He had never been as powerless, and realized that without the wealth he had abhorred so much before, without the prestige he had deemed a burden when he decided to sail to America with Jack, he was nothing. What he would not give for his title and his monies now. They had abandoned him just when he needed them most.
Blair was right that night once upon a time, when she shared with him the secret plan. She needed to marry money, because money, her mother informed her, would set her whole world to right.
"If I could give you and Charlie a safe place, if I could take you home—"
And she did not wait for him to finish. She answered, "In a heartbeat."
It was the death of him. That, or he was going to get arrested and languish in prison for the rest of his life.
When he started writing for the Patriot paper in a mission to educate his countrymen about the excesses of England, Daniel had not imagined that he would end up getting hunted down by the same men he had roused from their stupor. Rather ironic if one thought about it. Then again, Daniel Humphrey's life was irony in black in white.
If he had a pen and paper, Daniel would write about this.
After all, he had fallen in love with Serena van der Woodsen only to be run out of her life by an old woman. He had been out of the spotlight as he wrote about freedom from a tiny desk in a newspaper office only to be placed in the center of it all when he spoke at the House of Lords. Then he traveled to England to accompany his best friend in the search for her English lord only to abandon her for the woman who was betrothed to Chuck Bass.
And abandoned Lady Georgina in time to save Blair.
Lord, his life was a novel. If only he had the time to write of it.
He looked out the window and peered at the clear horizon. It had been far too many hours that he could see not two yards in front of him. The snow had been ravaging and steady, and he hoped that Lord Bass and Blair came through the blizzard.
What irony it would be if he should lose his life only so that the people that he saved would die out in the cold.
He was surprised to see the lone figure tethering a horse to the fence. It was such mark of his little skill for war and strategy that a stranger had managed to come so close without his knowledge. Daniel waited until the man shook off the snow and faced the cabin.
"Lord Bass," he muttered. Daniel stood with his back against the door. He heard the knock. Daniel remained silent.
"Mr Humphrey, I wish to speak with you!" Jack Bass called.
Daniel stilled his breath.
"I am alone, Mr Humphrey!" And then he added, "I wish to speak about my wife."
And then Daniel opened the door by an inch. He asked, "What have I to do with Serena?"
Jack Bass looked cold and harassed, so Daniel pulled him into the cabin. Jack answered, "Do you love her still?"
"You come to me, and beat Nathaniel Archibald's men, to ask me that," Daniel said.
"Aye. I would know the answer." A pause. "Surely you were not blind to her when you charged into the square."
And he had been blind. In that moment he needed only to take Chuck Bass. Serena had been there. He did not see her, but judging by Jack Bass' presence—Daniel shook his head. No. He would not think it. "I have no wish to tear a man and his wife apart."
"We will have a child."
And then it hurt. "That—that is wonderful," he managed. "Serena would be a lovely mother."
"She loves you still. I would have you know." Jack grabbed his arm and asked, "Knowing that, tell me that I have nothing to fear from you."
Daniel observed the aristocrat in front of him, who had now been reduced to a secret rendezvous with a rebel. Jack Bass, he realized, had fallen in love with his wife.
So he told him as honestly as he could, "I pose no threat to your marriage, Lord Bass. Indeed I could die tonight."
"And you do not love Serena."
"I will always love Serena," he answered smoothly. "As I will always love Blair. And I will love Lady Georgina."
"Little Georgie," Jack said in surprise.
Daniel grunted with humor. "It was unexpected."
"Lady Georgina is everything unexpected," Jack added. And then, as if convinced, he nodded at Daniel. Jack Bass looked out the window then looked back at Daniel. "When I left, Nathaniel Archibald had gathered his men."
"I thought so."
Jack Bass threw a black coat at him. "Burn your coat and use this. I will take you as far as Massachusetts, and then I will leave you to fend on your own."
Boston. There was a port there, and a way back to Georgina. He hoped to heaven Blair and Chuck had found their way.
"Thank you," Daniel said.
"No need for thanks," Jack assured him. "This is a favor you do me."
With the morning came the sunrise, and with it her body began to heal. The days passed and saw her walking. With Chuck's arm around her waist, she took her first trip down the street. He held tightly to her when he spied Colonial rebels with their muskets. No one approached them, and some merely nodded in greeting.
In this leafy hamlet everyone knew that the two residents of the inn were protected by Abram Baizen. The old man came for afternoons and spent time with Charlie, brought him clothes that were warm and ones that Chuck could ill afford. Blair dressed Charlie in a pale blue shirt and held him up proudly. Her lips parted at the sight of little monogrammed letters on the collar.
"It was Carter's," Abram told her, then took Charlie and carried him close to his heart. "CB."
She drew back her hand as if burned. Chuck combed his fingers through his hair. "I cannot accept this." It was the very thing she said to Bartholomew when he offered her Chuck's infant blanket, which now would be ash along with the remains of the Bass manor.
"Why can you not accept them? They were my son's," Abram said firmly, sharply.
In the weeks that followed, Blair grew strong and walked without Chuck holding her up, but she never walked alone. On the day she walked without his help, he followed with Charlie bundled tightly to him.
"Soon he will tell you that you are strong enough to live in Boston," he said. They were out in the street, but no one was close enough to listen.
"Then I will tell him I need more time," she said.
"This has gone on long enough," Chuck told her. He had held his tongue, swallowed his pride until he choked on it. She had been ill, and recovering, and they were so newly reunited. But the past weeks had showed him just how strong she was as she gained strength. She showed him how stubborn she was that she took her decision and executed to it. She reminded him how she could manipulate when needed. And she proved to him how very uncertain she still was. They were all reasons he fell in love with her, and he could not stand back without playing his part. "My son will not live off of Carter, will not live off on a comfortable lie."
She turned to him, then asked softly, "What do you propose?"
In America, when they fell in love, they were both caught in the middle of their own lies and it nearly destroyed them. In England, when they found each other again, they believed in the lies the other wove and drew long in pain about the misunderstanding.
"The truth, Blair, for once. The truth as our shield."
Because lies were weapons and they sliced so raw and jagged.
On the day that Abram came with a carriage for her and Charlie, the old man embraced her warmly. Chuck stood by the window with the baby in his arms. At the feel of the arms surrounding her, the knowledge overcame her that this was the precise moment to say the words. "Charlie is not Carter's son. Charlie is my son with Chuck Bass," she said quietly.
Chuck turned to look at her. His eyes registered surprise. His silence had always been her decision, and now she was prepared to break the quiet.
Abram pulled slowly away from her. It was not until she faced the old man, and saw the look on his face upon hearing the truth, that she truly understood.
Abram's lips thinned. He swallowed, then licked his dry lips. "Do you remember my promise to you, Blair, before you and Carter sailed?"
She nodded. Softly she said, "You promised me the grandest wedding of all. A feast that would last for days."
"When you and Carter returned," Abram continued. "All this time I pitied you your hasty wedding and widowhood before your twentieth year."
There were no words to use that could respond to him. She waited.
"You were already with child," he said as he assessed the boy and the time in between.
"Your son brought me to England with Charlie already taken root in my belly," she confessed. "We were not married. In truth, he had paid the captain of the ship to perform an empty ceremony so he can take me with him."
"For Chuck Bass," Abram concluded. She nodded. "For his brother." And then, he sighed. "My son was killed for this."
And that Chuck could not allow to pass, lest memories of those words haunt Blair forever. She would not bear the burden of Carter's death on her shoulders. "Your son died because of elements in England who are vile and would fight against those who were sympathetic to America. Your son died because he had allegiance to people who would quell the war by any means," Chuck clarified. "And he swayed his loyalty because he could not bear for you to be disappointed in his choice."
Abram stared at Chuck, who was a mere silhouette against the bright window. "So that is your son."
And Chuck's arms around Charlie grew tighter. "This is my son."
His gaze was filled with hate and betrayal when Abram looked back at Blair. "Are you quite proud of yourself?"
For the first time since the lie, she held her chin up. "I am," she admitted. "I am a mother." It was only now that she understood everything why Eleanor had been so bent on dispatching her to the highest bidder. "I had done it so that Charlie would have a chance at a life. Without you Chuck would have been found by the New Yorkers and Charlie and I would have been cast out in the cold."
"I did not think this of you," Abram said in disappointment.
"I am sorry to have hurt you, but I would do it again," she said firmly.
"I should have you arrested."
Chuck stepped forward, but Blair continued, "But you will not. Whatever I have done, and whosever blood it is in Charlie's veins, you still see Carter in his eyes."
The old man wavered. "What an arrogant, stubborn thing to say."
Her lips curved. "My marriage to your son was not real, but I had spent nights and days with Carter to know what kind of man you are." And that told Abram that Carter spoke of him. He was caught off guard. "I know how you love. And I know that once you love that person can do anything and everything and you will love them still."
"And my son told you this?" She nodded. "Spoken like a young man who knew he had done his father many wrongs."
And Blair took a chance. "And you loved him still." Abram grew quiet. Chuck did not dare draw close. "I was your daughter," she reminded him, "from the day you embraced me on that ship."
"My daughter, who has lied to me, used me—"
"Nathaniel Archibald said it many times. It was his excuse for every decision he has made. This is war. And all is fair, is it not—be it love or war?" She went up to him and placed the whisper of a kiss on his cheek.
Abram accepted the kiss. She turned to Chuck. Abram caught her hand. She looked at the old man. "I cannot allow you to leave."
Her lips parted. "What?" she said softly.
Chuck strode to her side and looped an arm around her waist. He drew her close. For the first time in front of Abram Baizen, he established his place at her side. "I will take my family," he said, stressing the word, "back home to England where I can provide for them, and they will have the life they deserve."
"Have I not provided well for them?" Abram challenged.
"I would be in your debt forever," Chuck answered. "But we only ever needed this lie until Blair was well enough to journey across the ocean." His eyes narrowed. "And you will go through me before you can stop her. No one will arrest her—not while I live."
Abram looked at Blair, and then at Charlie. "I cannot allow you to leave," he repeated, then clarified, "because you are right. You are my daughter now, and Charlie—Charlie is my grandson."
"There is no lie now. I had suspected as much when the innkeeper told me that you had rented one room."
"The day you found us," Blair said.
"I had suspected for so long, and never asked. I did not wish to know."
Chuck cleared his throat. "I am an earl. The Bass estate is mine, and I will claim it for my family. They need a life that is more than beggar's."
Abram Baizen shared, "My lands here in America are large and profitable. And I have no son—not anymore." He reached to touch Charlie's chin. "You will not lack for anything here. My papers have been drafted to leave it all to Carter's wife and son. By all accounts, my entire holdings will go to your family, Lord Bass."
"You came here to begin again," Blair said when she looked at Chuck. "You abhorred the life you had in England. I would not have you live a life you do not want only because of us."
"Here you will learn to till the soil. And you will work." Then, Abram answered his last remaining concern. "Englishman or not, you will be safe here. I know that unlike Carter, you have not chosen a side in the war."
"I only cared about Blair," Chuck answered.
"And you have her," Abram said. "It's time to choose a side, Bass."
Chuck looked down at Blair, and she met his eyes with a searching gaze of her own. "What should I do?" he asked.
She smiled at him in encouragement, and then stood at the tips of her toes so that she could kiss his cheek. "I believe in you, Chuck. Whatever you choose, I will be behind you." He lifted her hand to his lips. "Beside you. Tell me where I should be and there I will be."
Chuck nodded. He leaned down and captured her lips with a kiss.
That night, he took her hand. They tucked Charlie in the bed and asked Emma to stay with him for a moment. Chuck and Blair walked out of the inn until they were at the end of the street, and it was open. Blair breathed in the air of the night and looked up at the sky.
"The clouds are gone," she whispered.
"Look at all the stars."
Blair smiled, then leaned her head back on his chest. He wrapped his arms around her waist. His breath was warm against her ear when he told her, "I have made my decision."
"Where would you have us, Chuck?"
Because he would have them, wherever they went.
"We will rebuild our lives. We will begin anew," he answered. "We will stay in America."
She took a deep breath. Home. Always and forever. "And what of your heritage, Chuck?"
"I will send a message to my uncle. Jack had always desired above all else to be the earl. We cannot depend on Abram for our lives, and so I will propose a trade to Jack. This is one he cannot refuse." Blair turned around in his arms and looked up at Chuck. "I would take my lands in Virginia, and he will take the estate in England. The solicitors believe me dead. It should not be difficult."
"You understand, Chuck, that if we stay, we are Americans."
"American," he said thoughtfully. "Charlie and I would be Americans, just like you."
"Charlie already is one. He was born here in the snow," she reminded Chuck.
Chuck nodded. He kissed her again. This time, her arms rose and she rested them on his shoulders. "I have a question for you," he said.
"Hmmmm…" she murmured.
And then, on the cobbled street, Chuck lowered himself on one knee. He looked up at her, and Blair saw the reflection of the stars in his dark eyes. "I am Chuck Bass," he said softly, much like the way he did on the night they conceived Charlie. "I am a descendant of some of the most powerful men in England, Blair."
She smiled tearfully, because she remembered every second of that night. He had been Chuck Bass, and she had been nameless.
"And you have been the world since the first time I saw you in that balcony," he told her. "I am Chuck Bass," he said, because the name once meant everything in the world. He continued. "And I love you," because this time the whole world revolved around the love.
"Yes," she whispered.
His lips quirked. "Will you—"
"Blair Waldorf, will you keep your promise to me, a promise you made long ago, and finally marry me?"
She nodded, and tears fell like raindrops from her eyes. Blair fell over him with a clinging embrace and heady kisses.
The war was not over. It would not be over for years, would not be over until more of those who fought and even more of those who did not fight perished. The war was not over, and yet Abram Baizen threw the grandest week-long celebration that Boston had seen.
Blair came to Abram after the ceremony and found the man in his study, looking at the pocketbook journal that used to be his son's. She entered the room in her white dress. Abram looked up.
She asked, "How is it that I am happy, when death and destruction surround me?"
And Abram said, "Because you are happy."
She closed her hand over his. "I am truly sorry, Abram. Seeing this all must break your heart."
The old man shook his head. "Carter is dead. You are alive. Live your life and be happy for it. You are finally married to a man for whom you cross an ocean."
"Twice," she said.
At that, she left the room to leave Abram with the worn journal. Memories. Abram Baizen had only the memories of Carter and her family. Blair searched the ruckus celebration for her husband. She found him in the bedroom, seated beside their son. He held on to the sheets of paper in his hand, although he was not reading them. Blair made her way inside and sat beside him.
Chuck handed the sheets to her. She read each one. "These are land titles."
"To Virginia. To the plantations." He sighed. "And Jack has sailed with Serena back to London to claim the title."
She kissed the back of his shoulder. "I am happy," she said.
And he was happy, but she knew that losing something that you have had your entire life could rend your heart. Even though once he abhorred the title and what it represented, it had been a part of him since he was born. "I am happy to be a gentleman farmer," he told her. "The last English raid razed the entire crop for four of the fields."
"Then we will clean the fields, and we will plant another crop," Blair said.
Rebuild. In a land that was strange to both of them.
"I had hoped to plant only to two of the fields," he told her. "In the other I want a garden for you, much like the one that my mother had in London. Charlie would love to play in a garden." Despite the strangeness of the land, they would turn it into a home. "And in the other field, we will build a manor."
"Like the London house that burned?" she asked.
"Like your childhood home in Manhattan," he told her. Her heart fluttered at the thought. "What do you think, Blair?"
She nodded. "Let us rebuild."
AN: Another one done. Thank you for all of your thoughtful reviews.