Title: "All You Ever Wanted"
Character/Pairing: Blair, Blair/OMC, Blair/Chuck, various others
Spoiler: "Carnal Knowledge"
Length: Part V of V
Summary: Blair can't be the girl her father wants but she can be the person she's always been meant to be.
Disclaimer: Not mine, just borrowing them for a few paragraphs.
lAuthor's Note: And thus, the saga ends. Multi-part fics are one of my greatest enemies so I'm very happy to have finished this one and within a decent amount of time. Thank you so very much for the wonderful support and encouragement.
V. When you run the streets, make sure your sneaker laces they get tied...
They end the day before Thanksgiving Break.
He chooses his timing well; he's been with her long enough to know her father will be in town to pick up the pieces.
It doesn't take her completely by surprise but it doesn't hurt any less. Since his show in September there have been fewer visits and more quality time on hold, less conversation and more small talk. He has a new life and she's not a part of it, and even when he tried to fill her in she could feel him slipping away from her through the phone line even as he whispered words of love through the static between them. He's been the most important thing in her life for two years; she can't believe he won't be hers anymore.
He takes a day off work (at a coffee shop on the Lower East Side populated by other starving artists and trust fund bloggers) and breaks up with her in person. Having him there doesn't make it any easier.
She comes home from "Collective Action and Social Movements" to find him sitting on her doorstep. He has a key but chooses not to use it; she takes it as a sign of what's to come.
"Hey baby," she manages to say even as her heart constricts in her chest. "What are you doing here?"
He smiles at her, sheepish and sweet, and holds out his hand so she can help him up. She falls two years into the past and it's that first day of art history, when he told her she was the most beautiful girl in the room and took her hand in his and opened her eyes to a world she didn't know existed. She's happy with the life he helped her build; she doesn't want to create a new one.
The door opens and Handsome is underfoot within seconds, overly excited that his mommy is home and bringing a friend with her. Sam bends to rub his head and tickle behind his ears and it's only when she drops her bag on the couch that she realizes he didn't kiss her hello. A warning bell rings in her head but she pushes it out of mind when he straightens and takes her in his arms to press a gentle kiss to her forehead.
"I've missed you," he whispers against her skin and holds her longer than usual. Another warning bell goes off and this time she can't ignore it.
She lets him hold her so tightly she thinks her ribs might crack and finally pulls back to look in his eyes; they're a deep blue and sad and brimming with tears. "It's over isn't it?" she asks and his head drops into the crook of her neck and soaks through the shoulder of her silk dress. Her own eyes are dry but she's had practice; Sam isn't the first boy to walk out of her life.
She leads him to the couch and it takes him a moment to meet her eyes. His are red-rimmed and wet and even with his hair falling across his brow she almost doesn't recognize him. "I love you so much," he tells her. "I love you so much it hurts but I can't do this anymore."
"Then don't," she says. "Whatever you're going through, I want to be there for you." She trips over the words even though she's said them before because another boy who loves her is turning down everything she wants to give.
"Blair…" he trails off and won't look at her but can't stop touching her, the curve of her cheek and the long dark hair pulled back with a headband or the tips of her Berry Hard polished fingers.
"Is it me?" she asks because it always was in the past. "What did I do?" She might not be the girl she was at Constance but she's still Blair Waldorf; fixing mistakes is second nature.
He reaches up to brush her hair from her face, something he's done so many times before, and she finally feels tears pooling in her corners of her eyes. "It's not you, it's me," he says and laughs, strangled and painful, but a laugh anyway because the line is so cliché. They've come full circle; it's only appropriate to end the way they started. "I know that sounds lame but it's the truth. Graduation isn't what I thought it would be. Every day I meet a hundred people just like me. What if my paintings don't sell? What if no one ever knows my name?"
"We'll figure it out," she insists. "That's what couples do."
He shakes his head. "I spent the first eighteen years of my life working to get into college, and the last four living the dream. It's over now and I don't know what to do. I don't know who I am." He runs a hand through his hair and it doesn't fall back over his brow. "I don't want to lose you but I need to do this alone."
"I'll help you," she promises. She remembers how hard it was those first weeks at school and how much easier it was to find her place with him at her side. She wants to do the same for him.
"I don't want to leave you but I can't stay. Please don't make this any harder."
Easy has never been something Blair has had much experience with; complicated is the only way she knows. "Do you love me?" she asks softly.
"I can't stop loving you." He smiles through his tears and leans forward to brush his mouth over hers. "I love you enough to know this is right. I know you don't want me to leave but I don't want to hold you back. You need more to your life than keeping me afloat."
"But I want to," she says through her own tears. "I want to help you." She loves him and he loves her; it isn't supposed to hurt this much.
He kisses her again and she tastes the end on his tongue. "I want you to be happy but right now it can't be with me."
He puts his hands in his pockets as he rises and she resists the urge to throw herself at his feet. Three years ago she would have begged, the way she went to Chuck when she had nothing left, because a scrap of a relationship was better than being alone.
She's not that girl anymore. She keeps her back straight and her head held high as the man she loves walks out of her life.
She runs home to her father and Cyrus and they alternately hold her while she struggles to come up with ugly things to say about Sam.
She can't. Hard as she tries, he didn't do anything wrong. He loved her for as long as he could and kept on loving her even though the end had to come.
There's a gaping hole in her chest where her heart used to be but she can't fault him for his choice; she made it once herself.
She dreads returning to school but she's Blair Waldorf and she's no quitter. Her first day back, she does what she does best – she grits her teeth and endures.
Everywhere she goes and everything she does reminds her of what used to be. She walks on the quad and attends art history class and orders in from her favorite Chinese restaurant and his ghost is right beside her.
Caitlin keeps a constant supply of ice cream in the freezer and Jess buys her a Criterion collection of Audrey dvds and Emily makes a dart board with a big heart right over the bull's eye. It helps but not enough. She wishes he had cheated on her (like Nate) or never cared about her at all (like Marcus) because it hurts too much to know he still loves her but can't be hers. She understands the look in Chuck's eyes every time he sees her face because it echoes the pain she knows radiates from hers.
She cries a lot and feels like she can't breathe most of the time and it's only when she breaks down in the library (the regular library, because she doesn't want to look at cute boys any longer) that she knows she needs a change.
College has always been about reinvention but the real Blair Waldorf is still lurking beneath the surface and she puts on her best Diane Von Furstenburg dress and her favorite Sergio Rossi boots and lays out her case for why she should be able to study abroad a month after applications were due.
The plan works and she chooses Prague. Half the people she knows will be whoring and drinking their way through Barcelona and Florence and London but she needs to this by herself.
Her life is hers to live again. It's time to try on more people and see what fits.
Prague is cold and windy but the most magical place she's ever seen. She understands why Chuck kept disappearing into its medieval streets; she can't think of a more beautiful place to spend a lost weekend.
It's not perfect. The plane ride is long and cramped and Ruzyne is the nastiest airport this side of Miami. She disembarks with her matching Hermès luggage and takes in the people that will now make up her life. They're wearing heavy puffy coats and carrying travel backpacks and fumbling through guidebooks even though they just landed. They're not what she's used to but they're all she has.
Yale has taught her that people can be anyone but what they appear to be. If she wants them to like her she has to like them. She pastes on her best smile, a real smile, and holds out her hand. "Hi, I'm Blair," she says to a blonde girl with a freckled face and bright blue North Face parka. "It's so nice to meet you," she adds and means every word.
She doesn't become friends with the blonde girl (Sarah, from Massachusetts, Georgetown '13) but she does bond with Caroline and Abby from USC. They both have good highlights and better quality bags and when they tell her they know Nate she knows they'll get along fabulously.
They book a triple at the Kolej and together battle the hot water that disappears after midnight and tweed couch cushions masquerading as mattresses and the food poisoning they all endure their third night in town.
They don't love her like Caitlin or get her like Jess or fight for her like Emily but they make the days go by faster. Caroline loves borrowing her Walter dresses and even she's jealous of Abby's seemingly endless supply of headbands. Their relationship is closer to the bond she had with Penelope/Hazel/Iz than the friendship she shares with her friends at Yale. They drink and do drugs, but they make sure she returns to the Kolej in one piece every night and don't ask about her life back home; she doesn't share. She came to Prague to get away; she isn't ready to unpack her baggage quite yet.
She walks the Charles Bridge to school each morning and buys coffee from a little stand at the edge of the Vltava. She sees plays at Narodni Divadlo and operas at the Rudolfinum, laughs at the ridiculous head shops in Stare Mesto and rolls her eyes as the tourists ooh and aah over the show at the Astronomical Clock. She and Caroline take an architecture class and spend afternoons in drafty rooms at Prague Castle or touring Tyn Church while the wind wails around them. They laugh at the lunacy of it all, laugh so hard it makes her sides heart. It makes her miss the easy intimacy she has with her friends back home but also makes her appreciate the new friends she's found.
She doesn't date either.
It's too much and too soon but it's also too wrong. She came to Prague to put herself back together. She can't let anyone else do it for her.
She tries not to think about Sam but he still follows in her wake with every step she takes. There are artists guarding the path between Mala Strana and Stare Mesto and she knows how well he'd fit in here. He'd love the cobblestone streets and winding alleys, the cheap beer and locals' sad-but-sweet affection for bad 80s music. He'd love that a city this old could be untouched by years of war and he'd love sketching the people populating Charles Bridge. He'd love this place as much as she does; it hurts to know she's exploring it without him.
Instead, she explores Eastern Europe with the same determination she brought with her to Yale. She stops making plans and starts living wherever life takes her. She takes overnight trains and stays in hostels and goes on vacation with three t-shirts and a backpack to keep her company.
She doesn't bring a guidebook and learns each new city by wandering its streets and talking to its people and breathing it in. She wears comfortable shoes and a money belt under her sweater and buys a puffy parka at Tesco because her Balenciaga peacoat isn't practical for a Czech winter.
She eats local food at local pubs and absorbs local flavors and practices her Czech on a cute Polish boy she meets at a milk bar. He doesn't try anything further and she doesn't want more.
She spends less time at the Globe and more time reading at Vysherad Castle. It's the seat of the mythical empire, the foundation of a people who've been conquered and oppressed time and time again but always picked themselves up and brushed themselves off and started over. She's Blair Waldorf; rising from the ashes is what she does best.
Every day she walks home over Karlov Most and takes a moment to rub the cross and stars on the statue of John of Nepomuk.
She makes a wish, hopes it comes true. She didn't come to Prague to fall in love; she came to find herself.
She comes home three pounds heavier but lighter on her feet.
She didn't find herself in Prague's snow-crusted streets but she can discard another person that doesn't fit.
She returns to her blue bedroom and takes inventory. She's been so many people and done so many things but there isn't enough room in her life for everything to stick.
She throws out the parka and the comfortable shoes and spends the summer in three-inch Manolo sandals or Bernardo thongs. She donates the David Sedaris books (still unfunny three years later) to the local library and sells her Beirut and Bright eyes albums for cash. The clerk at Kim's Video and Music gives her an odd look as she passes through the doors in a Rodarte dress and Jimmy Choo heels but she puts on her brightest smile and tells him to keep the change
His mouth gapes as the entire transaction but she doesn't back down.
Her mother smothers her with kisses the day she arrives home and Serena comes over for coffee and croissants her second morning in NYC and Aaron takes her to dinner her third night back. He tells her about the new installation he's designing for Madison Square Park and Amber (the model he's been dating for the past seven months) but he doesn't talk about Sam and she doesn't ask. It's been nine months but she isn't ready. She's not sure she ever will be.
It's been three years since she broke Chuck's heart and she still can't talk about him.
She clerks for Cyrus and one day a first year associate asks her to lunch.
His name is Ben (again) and they've already met so he doesn't introduce himself or lavish her with compliments straight out of a middle schooler's handbook and he doesn't take her hand in his, but she likes the warmth in his eyes and the way his smile lights up his face and she can't say no.
He spends the summer asking and she always says yes. It's not love but it's a distraction. She isn't ready but she still needs to get back into the game.
He takes her to lunch a few times a week and dinner on opposite days and they spend their weekends riding bikes along the Hudson and watching the Philharmonic in Central Park and once or twice she takes him to the Hamptons (in the limo, never again the jitney) and they play rounds of squash with Serena and Eric and soak up the rays with Penelope and Iz.
When August rolls around she kisses his cheek and thanks him for a wonderful summer.
"Will I see you next year?" he asks and he doesn't mean as his girlfriend.
"I don't know," she says because she likes law but it's too much to plan so far in advance.
"I think you should come back. You're really good at this, Blair. I think you could be happy here."
He doesn't know her, not really, but she takes his words to heart. It can't hurt to try.
Emily is a local and Jess is spending the summer working at an investment bank on Wall Street, and it's the Upper East Side and not Yale but they still fit effortlessly into her life.
She's lived in Manhattan for eighteen years and never known the city beyond the Upper East Side. When Emily beckons, she follows, and goes along dutifully while her friend takes them to parts of the city she didn't know existed – bars on the Lower East Side, art exhibits in Bushwick, a public pool on the FDR that makes her want to bathe in bleach – but she doesn't complain. This is the place she spent two-thirds of her life and she should know more than penthouse apartments and Chloe boutiques.
It's July and Brooklyn is hot and she'd rather be sunning herself at the country club but she keeps her mouth shut and her eyes open wide.
Serena has an internship with Annie Liebovitz (she's Serena, Blair's no longer surprised by the way her life turns out) and it occupies most of her time but results in the most glorious photos of their adventures in how the other half lives.
Her camera is never anywhere but at her side and she documents Blair drinking beer at Loreley and dancing at the Annex and sucking hard at bocce ball at Union Hall and watching the sunset on a blanket in Bryant Park.
It's a Monday night and Breakfast at Tiffany's is about to play. They have food and wine and there's a gentle breeze wafting over the moviegoers and it's a perfect summer evening. Despite a Humphrey hanging between them, Serena and Emily have a lot in common and it's a relief when her worlds emerge and it's anything but a disaster.
The camera clicks in the background as Emily directs Jess to their spot in the park and Blair finally has had it. It's hot and she's sticky and she doesn't need humidity's effect on her hair documented for eternity. "Enough, Serena," she says and covers her face. "You already have hundreds of photos of me."
Serena lowers the camera but doesn't stop watching her best friend. "Did you ever think we'd be doing this?" she asks.
"We watched Breakfast at Tiffany's all the time in high school."
"Maybe, but never like this. I mean, did you even know this film festival existed? We lived here our entire lives and had no idea what happened in our own city."
"I know," Blair sighs and pushes a damp lock of hair off her face. In her dreams, Dorota is standing beside her waving a peacock feather, but this is her reality. She said this would be a summer of exploration. She's determined to stand by her word. "I've been to Brooklyn so many times I can't count the number on one hand." She grimaces. "I'm trying, but it's impossible to get a cab there. I hate that place."
Serena gets that dreamy look in her eyes, the one she used to reserve for Dan Humphrey and but now has more do with the camera around her neck and spare memory stick in her back pocket. "It's why I started taking photos. I'm a girl from the Upper East Side and most of the time I'm okay with that, but I want something to show for my life. I want to prove I opened my eyes once or twice. This world has so much to offer. I want a little bit for myself." She can't resist taking one last photo, Blair in her summer dress with the last vestiges of day framing her face. "I'm going to be a photographer, Blair. It's what I want to do." She pauses and that dreamy smile reappears on her face. "It's what I need to do."
A hush falls over the crowd as the film begins and Blair lies back and loses herself in Holly Golightly's troubles and travails. She loves the wrong man and pushes away the right one and it's only when her life is truly in shambles that it all comes together.
Blair's life isn't perfect but she's not picking up the pieces either. It's a work in progress, like the paintings Sam struggled to complete those last few months together. Three years in and she's no closer to figuring it out but she's not giving up either.
The day before she returns to Yale for her final year of freedom and fun, she says goodbye to Sam.
She hasn't seen or spoken to him since that horrible day the previous November and she likes it that way. Absence makes the heart grow fonder but time also heals all wounds. She needed to move forward without him helping her along.
He's a little skinnier and his hair is even longer but his lips curve into the most beautiful smile when he sees her and his eyes light up and he's different but still her Sam.
He takes a break and leads her outside and just holds her for long minutes while hipsters and Chinese grocers brush past them. "I've missed you so much," he whispers into her hair and she closes her eyes and breathes him in. He smells the same even as he feels different in her arms. Some things change but nothing quite stays the same.
They sit at a table and just watch each other, the tanned length of her limbs and red highlights in her hair, the stubble coating his cheeks and the persistent smudge of paint on the back of his right hand. She doesn't know what to say to him. Two years she followed his lead like a pied piper and now she's struggling to form sentences. Awkwardness has never been a feeling she's associated with Sam and now it's creeping up in her belly in ways she can't shake. "How have you been?" she finally says.
He smiles and his eyes crinkle in that gentle way that brings laughter to Nate's face. "I'm exactly the same," he answers. "I sell coffee and paint when I can. It's not what I expected but it's a life. Aaron's been helping me. I have another show in a few weeks. Maybe this one will take off."
"Congratulations," she says and means it. She won't be there but she's happy he's finding success. He gave her so much when they were together; she only wants more for him now.
"I heard you were in Europe," he says. "How was it?"
Eye-opening? A little lonely? I thought of you the entire time? All three answers spring to the tip of her tongue but she chooses option "D." "I thought I would find myself there," she says even though it sounds cheesy because he's Sam and she always told him the truth.
She shakes her head. "We both know it's not something you can do on command. I'm still a work in progress."
He laughs because she's hit the mark right on target. "Yeah. I am too."
"How's life in the big city?" she asks because she has to know if the sacrifice was worth it. He gave her up but she's not sure he gained anything in return.
His smile dims a little but doesn't fade. "It's hard. I'm still trying to figure myself out. It's taking longer than I thought but I'll get it together one day."
She doesn't feel any better knowing he's still struggling. She feels worse, feels the nine months of pain rising to the surface. "I blamed myself for a long time," she says and could kick herself for opening the wound but she's always been a masochist and this is no different. "I understood why you left but it hurt just as much."
He takes a deep breath and the smile leaves his face and it turns serious in ways she's never seen on him before. "I think you're perfect, Blair. I don't want you to ever doubt that."
It's almost ninety degrees outside and they've been over nearly a year but she can't help the tears that spring to her eyes. "Sam…"
He reaches across the table to take her hand. "It's the truth. There's no one else like you in the whole world." He squeezes, to let her know he means it, before dropping her hand to cup her face in his hands. "My greatest regret is hurting you. You know I'm always going to love you but we're not right together."
He leans in to seal his words with a kiss and she kisses him back, sweaty-faced and damp-palmed, but she doesn't feel a fluttering in her belly and her head doesn't go weak. Sam was there at the right time and the right place, but the moment is over and there's no use mulling over what might have been.
She loves him because she feels safe and secure and like she could fall off the edge of the world because he'd be by her side the entire way down. "I love you too," she says and pulls back to look in his eyes and they're warm and wet and remind her so much of Nate's that she doesn't know how she missed the similarity all this time.
She returns to Yale the next day and walks on the quad and orders in Chinese with Caitlin and Jess. The memories are the same but the meaning is different. She digs into General Tsao's Chicken (Sam's favorite) and it burns all the way down but it doesn't hurt.
Senior year is a lot like sophomore year; the only difference is the graduation date hanging over her head.
She's an unfinished masterpiece but she's still Blair Waldorf so she ignores it; even all these years later it's a skill she excels at.
She takes fewer classes and reads less. She spends more time with her friends and less time at the library and when she and Caitlin and Emily and Jess take photos of every party or social function they attend, she can feel their fingers squeezing harder at her waist.
The days go by quickly and she can feel her life slipping between her fingers. So many years were spent getting into Yale and when it's over she doesn't know what's left.
Caitlin has been accepted to Teach for America and Emily is going to grad school for creative writing and Jess already has a job offer at Goldman Sachs. Somehow, she's Blair Waldorf and the only one in her circle without a plan.
Law lingers at the back of her mind but it's a leap she's not sure she can make. She loves the research and she loves arguing and she loves fighting other people's battles but she's not sure law loves her. It's hard and it's work and she's still Blair Waldorf and failure frightens her more than most things.
The days tick by and finals approach and she's a semester away from adulthood and flying free with nothing to hold her down.
It scares her half to death. She's not ready to give up on fairytale endings but she knows they don't come to those who wait.
It's a cold winter day (but her Balenciaga peacoat is good enough for New Haven) and she takes a deep breath before knocking on the door of career services. She's had plans her entire life (a mom and only one dad) and futures carved out (an Oscar de la Renta gown and Nate at the Plaza) and none have come true. She's still living; she'll keep on living even if she can't do this.
"I think I'd like to be a lawyer," she says to the counselor and it sounds just right.
Her mother spends Christmas in Paris with Cyrus (five year anniversary, makes her want to throw up) and her father takes Roman to St. Tropez so she bunks with the Van der Woodsen-Humphreys for her break.
Dan has disappeared to Hudson to write in peace and Jenny spends most of her time holed up at FIT working on her final project so it's mostly researching law schools on her laptop and playing Wii with Eric and helping Serena in the darkroom. Photography isn't her thing but she likes the wave of peace that washes over the room as Serena mixes chemicals and brings strangers' stories to tangible life.
She thinks of the long future she has ahead of her; some day she hopes to have that peace for herself.
Three days after New Year's Chuck comes back from Berlin with a brunette on his arm.
Her hair is ink-black and her skin is pale and her eyes are an icy blue that provide a striking contrast to her otherwise dark coloring.
She's beautiful and he loves her. He doesn't say the words out loud, but Blair can tell from the way his fingers linger over hers and the multi-colored scarf wrapped around her neck.
"Blair," he exclaims as the elevator closes behind them and Serena pauses My Fair Lady with a worried expression on her face.
"Chuck," she manages to respond even as her heart constricts inside her chest and explodes between her ribs. "Happy New Year."
She gets to her feet to greet them and holds her head high despite the sweatpants she stole from Jess and the old logo-tee she still hasn't returned to Sam and the fuzzy green socks that leave a trail of lint with every step she takes. She thought her heart would break in two when her father left and Nate betrayed her and Sam walked away from her but nothing is harder than wrapping her fingers around of the girl Chuck chose in her place. "I'm Blair," she says and smiles because she has to. She wanted Chuck to find happiness; she didn't expect it would come at the expense of her own.
"Anabel," the girl says and Chuck watches her warily. The light is dim in the apartment but she can't miss the yearning in his eyes. His hand slips from his girlfriend's waist and reaches out, for half a second and no more, before he remembers where he is and who he's with and he shivers as if he's been burned. "We'll let you get back to your movie," she continues and Blair can do little more than nod as they turn for the stairs and Chuck's bedroom.
The tears come the moment they disappear and she's in Serena's arms before the first sob can escape her chest. They order in Thai and watch more Audrey movies and when they turn in for the night, curled together in Serena's bed, sleep won't come to her.
She can't escape the image of his hand reaching for hers. She wonders what would have happened if she'd taken it.
Graduation comes and she has her first panic attack since the day Ms. Carr got her unaccepted to Yale.
She wakes up and she can't breathe but Caitlin is at her side (as is Xanax) and together they get through the day. There's a big group lunch after the ceremony and a private dinner with her fathers and mother and brother and they tell her how proud they are so many times she knows it has to be true.
She started high school with three dreams and only one came true but it's the most important thing she's ever done.
She's a liberal arts major with no job and no career but an entire future waiting for her.
The months after college ends are some of the hardest of her life.
She's surrounded herself with people for the past four years and suddenly finds herself alone.
Caitlin is teaching history in Mississippi and Emily is studying in Iowa and Jess works 100+ hour weeks and they text and email and occasionally manage a real phone call but it's not the same. She misses the way Caitlin could read her moods like a crystal ball and Emily could make her sides split from laughing so hard and Jess always knew exactly how to cheer her up.
Caroline and Abby land PR jobs and share an apartment in Murray Hill and she has a circle to call home but it's not the same. Their stories sound too much like her adventures at Constance and their friends remind her too much of Poppy and that crazy model that tried to ruin Jenny's life. They're not Serena and they're not Caitlin or Emily or Jess but they're her friends and they held her hand through that semester she laughably thought a semester in Europe would lead to self-discovery and she loves them for who they are.
Serena takes a year to travel the world with a backpack and her camera in tow and sends photos and video messages from Patagonia and Tibet and South Africa and Perth. She chronicles different people and different lives and Blair is always surprised by how much of the world she doesn't know.
She still lives on the Upper East Side and still shops at Bergdorf's and still lunches at Gramercy Tavern and still has dessert at the Modern, but one night she and Nate meet for dinner at the River Café and she's mesmerized by the lights twinkling over her city and she thinks she wants to do it again.
She has her whole life ahead of her and a whole world to explore but she takes it one step at a time.
Penelope marries her father's junior associate and Blair is asked to be a bridesmaid.
She stands up for Penelope, Hazel on one side and Iz on the other, and watches her pseudo-friend marry a man fifteen years her senior.
She's wearing a white Oscar de la Renta gown and the smile curving her lips is stretched so taunt Blair fears her face might split in two.
She watches from the dais, a dream sixteen years old swimming before here eyes, and is grateful the blushing bride is anyone but herself.
She clerks for Cyrus (again) and is a step higher on the totem pole but still manages most of the grunt work. It's rarely fun but she learns a lot and her law school applications look better and better with each passing day.
She takes an LSAT class populated by college seniors and she hates them on sight for living the life she misses so much. They ask her questions about applying to schools and what life is like post-graduation and she mostly tells them to enjoy the time they have left.
She applies to Yale (of course) and Harvard (sacrilege) and Columbia and NYU because she loves her city more with each passing day and isn't sure she wants to leave it again. She adds Georgetown and Stanford to her list and gets into both.
In the end, it's Harvard she chooses. It's not ranked number one but she's used to coming in second place.
Boston takes her by surprise. It's old and the buildings are older, and it's cold, colder than New York and Prague combined, but it's quaint and cute and the people are kind. She likes the history, a revolution that shook a nation and changed the world; she hopes to change her own world there.
She and Dorota tour apartments and find a place that likes Handsome and has enough closets for her clothes and before she even signs a lease it feels like home.
She won't let Harvard be a repeat of Yale.
She attends every One L mixer and organizes a few happy hours of her own so the different sections can meet.
She rarely sleeps and studies all the time but she appreciates how hard she has to work. The reading never ends and her nerves practically pop through her skin every time a professor calls her name and the entire class hinges on her answer but the challenge grips her soul and doesn't let go.
Yale was all she wanted her entire life but it never quite wanted her. She's at Harvard because of exactly who she is and what she can give. She never forgets that and she won't give up.
She comes to class early and leaves late. She attends office hours so every professor knows her name and they grow to respect rather than fear her.
She bonds with girl named Julie and discovers Princeton isn't quite a trade school; when Jules is the one to keep her sane during finals, she's grateful New Jersey has more to offer than the Turnpike and Garden State Mall.
She breaks pattern and dates a blond Georgetown alum named Shane. He can trace his lineage to J.P. Morgan and wears button down shirts and has a background in lacrosse and crew and it's kind of like dating a grown up version of Nate. He doesn't cheat on her and he doesn't open her eyes to anything new, but she feels safe in his arms and it's enough.
She doesn't read Gossip Girl but she occasionally graduates to Gawker and one morning there's a photo of Chuck perusing diamond rings at Van Cleef and Arpels.
She doesn't cry and she doesn't throw things and she doesn't call Shane and strip out of her clothes the moment he walks through her door.
She won't let a man define her life.
She keeps on going and workers harder to get what she wants because it's what matters to her.
Chuck doesn't marry the girl but he doesn't break up with her either.
She catches glimpses of them on the rare weekend she can escape to the Hamptons with Caroline and Abby.
They're always smiling and holding hands more often than not and she ignores the way her heart constricts in her chest and she tries to be happy for him.
Some day she thinks she'll be able to see him and be happy for herself.
Her second year, she makes Law Review and it's like every dream she didn't know she had coming true.
She's given the keys to the kingdom and it's like falling five years in the past but with a different result. The crown isn't as heavy and the responsibilities aren't so draining. No one asks her approval to wear blue tights or buy last season's shoes. They want her opinion on Con Law or her help drafting a mock brief for legal research and writing.
She likes being valued for her mind rather than her pedigree. She likes being queen when no one has to suffer on her rise to the top.
She stays friends with Sam.
She attends his shows and he sends her chocolate every Valentine's Day. She forwards him interesting articles from The New York Times and his up and coming design friends send her samples.
Sometimes she misses what used to be but she's happy with what she has. He walked out of her life but didn't leave her. Despite the distance between them, her blond boyfriend and his French girlfriend, she knows he'll always catch her if she falls.
As it turns out, she's the one to catch him.
The truth comes out, as it always does, and Lily and Rufus' long-lost son returns from the dead wearing the face of the first boy to truly love her.
He falls apart and she helps him pick up the pieces.
It's not so different from her father leaving his family for Roman, the way one little change can blow apart so many lives in one fell swoop.
She hears the news from Serena, calling from Bucharest, and the line is scratchy but she can hear the forced humor in Serena's voice.
"You always did want to become my sister," Serena jokes because it's too much to let it all sink in at once. "Eric's off the market but maybe you and Sam can get back together."
Blair doesn't think so but she plays along anyway. "Or, I can marry Eric after all and Jenny can give me pointers on playing the beard." Mentioning a Humphrey is the wrong choice and Serena gets very quiet on the other end of the line. "Serena, I'm sorry. How are you doing with all of this?"
"Dan and I have been broken up for seven years," Serena says softly. "But this is really it. We've always known we share a sibling but now he's a part of our lives. There's no going back."
Blair knows the feeling. She and Chuck were never even together and just as many years later she can't say his name without her heart constricting in her chest. "How's everyone else taking it?" she asks to change the subject, because she doesn't want to think about Chuck and his brand new brother.
"We all love Sam, but he doesn't like us. He's so angry, Blair. I've called him every day since the news but he won't return my calls. He's ignoring Dan too. I've never seen my mom so sad. You have to help us."
"Me?" Blair gasps. She's Blair Waldorf; when it comes to the Upper East Side, destruction is all she knows.
"He loves you," Serena says. "He'll listen to you. I'm only asking because we don't know what else to do. Please."
Life has always come easy to Serena but this is one struggle she can't overcome on her own. Serena has always had her back, pregnancy scares and rejection letters and boyfriends that broke her heart; it's time she had hers.
"I'll do what I can," she assures her friend and knows she'll follow through. If she's learned anything about herself since this adventure began, it's that she never breaks her promises.
She takes a train in from Boston and Aaron picks her up from the station.
Together they haul Sam out of Brooklyn and into the shower in her mother's penthouse. He's covered in paint and smells like a pot and booze and pain and it takes two shampoos to get the grease out of his hair. She remembers the day Jack dragged Chuck home from Bangkok and she stood on the sidelines while he self-destructed around her.
She brushes Sam's hair back from his brow and guards his dreams; she won't take a backseat role again for someone she loves.
She watches him sleep and he seems so close yet so far away. She doesn't know how she missed it all these years, the way he's all her favorite (and some of her least favorite people) rolled into one. He has Serena's eyes and Lily's smile and he dreams big like Rufus the former rock star. He doesn't judge like Dan does but he wants more from life than the status quo. He doesn't see the world in black and white and shares Jenny's passion for technicolor. His heart is big enough to rival Eric's.
He loves the Redsox like his father back in Boston and cooks chicken soup with his mother's recipe. He wears his late brother's favorite baseball cap some days and misses him so much he cries himself to sleep. His bookcase has an album of family photos from a childhood that was also a lie and a last name that isn't really his.
He's had the rug ripped out from under him and doesn't know which way is up. She remembers Chuck wavering on Victrola's roof, the emptiness in his eyes and hollowness in his heart because his father was dead and everything he knew died along with him.
She doesn't love Sam in the same way but she's been here before and learned from her mistakes. She thinks about everything he has ahead of him. She won't try on the role of wife but she will stand by his side.
She does it right this time.
She doesn't hover and she doesn't crowd and she only gives what he asks for.
She answers when he calls and organizes meetings with Lily and Rufus and the family and holds his mom while she cries because she tried to protect her son and only succeeded in ruining his life.
She's there for him but she doesn't push. She doesn't want him to run; she doesn't want to lose him again.
It gets better over time and during her final year of law school, she's invited to Thanksgiving at the Van der Woodsen-Humphrey penthouse.
Her mother, Cyrus, and Aaron tag along and it's the definition of awkward as so many exes face off in the suddenly cramped living room. Sam stays by her side and Aaron and Serena struggle to make small talk and Dan broods in the corner. Some things change, but some always stay the same.
Chuck arrives late with a kiss for his stepmother but no girl on his arm. He's been out of school two years and working fulltime at Bass Industries. It suits him. For the first time in seven years, she doesn't see shadows lurking under his eyes.
He surprises her when he's the first to make a toast and welcomes his new brother into the fold. For a moment she thinks it's a joke, a nasty trick like the time he compared her to one of his father's race horses, but there's an honesty she's never seen before in his eyes and a genuine smile on his face and Sam's angry and bitter but can't help but smile back.
She's more surprised when the second toast is directed at her. "To Blair," Rufus starts and she lifts shocked eyes from her champagne flute because she's know this man nearly ten years and she's never known him to say a single positive thing about her. "We haven't always seen eye to eye, but eight years to this day she brought my daughter home to me. I don't know if she remembers but it's a day I'll never forget. Three months ago, Lily and I discovered a son we thought dead and if he had a choice it would have stayed that way. Blair brought him back to us."
It's Lily's turn to pipe in. "Blair brought my daughter back to me. She kept my son's secret and supported him when those who loved him most couldn't. Today is Thanksgiving, and we invited you here for a reason. We wanted to thank you for all you've done for our family. We wouldn't be here today without you."
Her mother leans in to lay a gentle kiss on her cheek and Cyrus wraps an arm around her shoulders and Sam smiles at her and she can barely focus through the sheen of tears in her eyes.
The entire party raises their glasses and in unison thank her for all she's done. "To Blair," rings through the room and it's Chuck's voice that's loudest of all.
Thanksgiving stays with her and she discovers that she likes helping people who aren't always herself. New York is home but she's not ready to let go of Boston and she stays another year.
There's a legal clinic in Cambridge that's always in need of extra help and she volunteers her services. The work is hard and the hours are long and it's nothing like Patty Hewes' world but it's good enough for her.
She leaves work and her feet hurt but it's the right kind of ache.
One morning she's crossing Harvard Square and a familiar flash of purple catches her eye. She blinks, because this is Boston and not New York and the only vestiges of her old life in this city are the dog napping on her couch and the Constance tassel hanging from her desk lamp.
She notes the sway of his walk and the scarf wrapped tight around his neck and even if he was wearing a brown paper bag she knows she'd recognize him blindfolded. He's been imprinted on her heart for ten years; she couldn't look past him if she tried.
He sees her and she skids to a halt in her Christian Louboutin suede boots, feels the wind whip around her as he comes closer.
With each step she finds it harder stay upright and it's becoming a habit, the way she falls years into the past every time they're breathing the same air, but she can't help the way her palms dampen and her dress feels tight and the air is suddenly too warm the moment he locks his eyes with hers.
She feels seventeen again and the butterflies in her belly come to life with a start.
"Hey," is all he says and she says the same in return. He's too close, too warm, and she can't concentrate long enough to say more.
"What are you doing here?" she does ask after a moment, after the cold air brushes over her cheeks and she can focus long enough to form full sentences.
He smiles, a smile not a smirk, and it's the most beautiful thing she's ever seen. "I turned twenty five last year and took control of Bass Industries." He gestures to the university sprawling behind them. "I thought I should have some idea of how to do it."
"You're in business school?"
He nods. "Class of 2018."
This time she's the one to smile, really smile, because he's twenty-six and he isn't dead in a gutter. His tie is perfectly knotted and his hair is freshly brushed and he has a future ahead of him. Deep down inside, she hopes there's a place for her too.
"I'm really proud of you," she says and it's true. Eight years ago she walked away because he held her down; today, she thinks he'd hold her up.
"I did it for you, you know," he tells her and she shakes her head because she didn't know. "You left me because you needed to find yourself and I let you because I needed to grow up." He takes one mitten-clad hand in his and presses a gentle kiss to its back. "We're inevitable, Waldorf. It was only a matter of time."
"What about Anabel?" she asks and her heart constricts as the girl's name leaves her mouth but she has to know. They've come too far to go back to where they started.
His hand reaches up to trace the curve of her cheek. "We broke up six months ago. What about you?"
"Over. They're all over," she says and it's the truth. Shane has been out of her life for over a year and Nate is her friend and Sam is caught somewhere in between but never the presence he was before.
"It's always been you," he says softly and when she raises her eyes to meet his she could swear there are tears lurking there. "Since I've been sixteen years old, I've never felt butterflies the way I do when I'm near you. I love you."
"Chuck…" she starts but her cuts her off with a kiss.
"Three words, eight letters," he says against her lips. "I've said them before but it wasn't right."
"I love you," she whispers and it's been almost a decade since she last uttered the same words but they don't meaning any thing less.
"I don't care if you aren't ready," he says. "I'm tired of waiting."
She feels like she's standing on the edge of the world and she isn't sure there's someone to catch her if she falls but it's time to take a leap of faith. "Then don't," she says and kisses him again.
She's still a work in progress and there are some things she needs to do alone but she likes the idea of reaching the finish line with someone at her side.
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