She would never smile like that again. It was clear to her the moment she saw the picture that still hung on the wall, in the suite that no one lived in. Such a waste, because once upon a time they had been happy within those walls.
Blair looked up at the monitor, heard the almost inaudible whisper in a voice that used to be so certain, so arrogant.
She turned to look at him like she expected him, and it was odd to her that this time she almost hoped that he would come. It was sadistic even, because not for a moment did she ever consider that she would stay. Masochistic because she wanted to. Better because she acknowledged that she needed not to.
"I won't make this hard," she told him. Blair wanted to reach out and push his hair out of his eyes. He needed to get a haircut. He had only been as unkempt after he had lost his father. It was not him, looking like that. He was brash and suave and self-assured. He needed to be.
"Then don't leave. Let's try again," he urged her.
"Chuck," she answered, weary now, just because all she wanted to do was step back into his embrace.
Forget the past.
"I'm not the same," she finished.
And he heard it from Carter, his own assessment, his own belief that she had became more Carter's than Chuck's. It was the one thing he would not believe. No matter what she became, she would always be the girl he knew.
With a sharp release of breath, he responded, "Neither am I." One year he had mourned for a baby; one year he had grieved for Blair. "I'll show you."
She licked her lips, and what killed him was that he could not see hesitation in her eyes. Her gaze did not waver, like she was settled on a decision that not even Chuck Bass could change.
"I'll say goodbye," she said slowly, stepping towards him, leaning close and placing a soft whisper of a kiss on his cheek. "That's all I can do."
Her fragrance surrounded him, and it was not even memory. Flesh, and body, and skin, and bones, and she was all over him even when she was still a foot away. When she came close, and he felt the brush of her lips, he told her, "The way you love me, Blair," recalling to her mind all the words they had exchanged—which she rendered empty now—when they were young, "apologies shouldn't be necessary."
She pulled away, looked into his eyes, then slowly, and to his relief, nodded in acknowledgement. "You're right." Even when she wondered if he could hurt her, there was no need for apologies. The way she loved him—
No one else could ever understand.
His dreams showed him, even while they morphed and became possessed by other people's stories, and she had to know it. "I couldn't ever have hurt you. The way I love you—" he trailed off.
And she wrapped her arms around herself, because suddenly the admission was too much, too late, too irrelevant. "I have to go, Chuck. I don't want the plane to leave without me."
His face morphed into disbelief, confusion. And then he demanded, "Did I miss anything?" She shook her head. "You know we never stopped. Not even when we were half a world away."
"I know," she said softly. "But I need to be somewhere other than here."
"Tell me you were lying in the park. I want to hear it from you."
The portrait was in her bag, and the girl in the picture was so far from who she was now. The boy in the photograph was happy, conceited at the knowledge that he had her. And it was far from who he was now. But she would take it with her, across the distance she needed to have.
"You said it yourself, Chuck. It's impossible to stop."
"Then if you love me, and I love you, why the hell can't you give us a chance?" he demanded.
She sucked in a tremulous breath. "Because tonight," she answered, "I realized that I love you." She looked up at the digital clock overhead, and stepped away.
"This is insane, Blair. What are you doing?"
She raised her arm, pulled up her sleeve, showed him the scars she had made without the jewelry that adored and hid them. Three pairs of eyes had seen them before.
To Carter, they were the mark of his greatest failure. When he tried over time to make her forget, and still she ripped herself open and sobbed that Chuck had killed her baby.
To Serena, it had been a preview of the shadows behind the luxurious curtains. It had told her that behind the makeup, the beautiful dresses, the contented smiles, there was only rotting flesh.
And to Blair—
It was salvation. It was cleansing. It was escape.
And now, with Chuck's eyes on them, it was humiliation.
"I told myself you killed the baby, Chuck. It was so easy to believe. And as long as I blamed you, I didn't have to face it. But I knew," she confessed, "deep down, it was me. I hate myself for lashing out at you, for getting fucked by someone else just because of one argument. And I loved you, and I couldn't blame you. Even if you had pushed me, I would've forgiven you and not forgiven myself."
And the flood of words, to him, was a forceful waterfall. He could not breath while it washed over him. Instead, he grasped her arm. "What?"
"You can't be with me. I can't even love myself."
"Blair, you can't blame your—"
"I love you. And I can't let you love someone who hates herself like this." She glared at the scars, knew that one day she could walk into a doctor's office and find them miraculously gone. Cheated away. And one day she could pretend they were never there.
He raised her wrist, brought it up to his lips. She flinched at the sight of his lips moving over her scars. She swallowed when he met her eyes. And then she felt the warm liquid, and they were raindrops on her arm.
"Don't do this," she pleaded. Because when he was devastated, she was gone.
"I want a family with you," he told her. God, he made it so hard. His words were everything she had wanted then, everything that would have made her happy.
"I want to pick up where we left off," he said. Chuck pressed her palm on his cheek. Chuck should not cry in front of her, but she still felt the wetness on her skin. "We don't have a choice, Blair. The moment we fell in love, that was it. I can try to live another life, but it will always come back to you."
It was what she had done, and only found herself despising every moment she was happy with Carter.
Slowly, she shook her head. "I can't stay here. Chuck, please," she begged, "I need time to figure out what I've become." She cleared her throat. "I can't have been Nate's Blair, and then your Blair, and then Carter's. I'm not any of those girls."
"How can it be wrong?" Because he would happily be known as Blair's Chuck for as long as he lived. And he would be proud.
Blair sighed, then closed her eyes. And her tears fell unabashedly down her cheeks. "I can't be here. I'd be lost. I have to go, Chuck."
A long time ago, when she first fled from the horror of losing a baby, when she needed to escape from Chuck Bass, when all she wanted was to be alone in the world, Blair Waldorf found herself in the cold landscape of Oedo Island. In the Botanical Gardens, she sat amidst the white snow-laden cedar trees and placed her feet on the thin ice that crusted the lake.
A little weight, and the surface could crack. And sometimes she wondered how it would feel if she fell into the freezing water.
Her heart was frozen even more, and she doubted it would make a difference.
In the forests of Laos they were hidden from the world. She and Carter had backpacked their way across jungles and rice fields and she had been so completely different from the New Yorker that she was that it was easy to hide behind sweat and an almost permanent tan. In rusty, rickety trains and buses she slept to wake up to an expanse of more green than she had ever seen before.
The planet was humid, and she breathing was so difficult.
Sometimes she wondered if the air would be ever be so hot and thick that she would suffocate trying to gasp for breath.
But she had been dead so long, she doubted it would make a difference.
Six months after she had left Chuck at the airport in New York, Blair found herself traveling alone in a place where every knowledgeable traveler knew a woman must never venture out by herself. But Blair Waldorf had always been more intelligent than most, and her time with Nate had given her a fierce desire for independence. Marcus had given her a trust in the world that she had not had before. From Carter, she picked up the street smarts she needed to gather enough courage for the journey.
And from Chuck—the destination.
It was not a suggestion, and if one asked, Chuck would likely not know the place. He had hardly paid attention in school after all, and probably forgot about the place the moment he stepped out of the classroom.
The travel was punishing, and the three hour ride from the airport, on dangerous roads in a vehicle that was falling apart, made for a more elusive goal. But if she could get there, when the sun was about to set, and the dome could capture the many colors of the sunset, she would it would be worth it.
She was covered from head to toe, the cloth more to protect her body from the punishing glare of the sun and the biting air than for disguise. It was almost the end of the day when she climbed out of the vehicle on unsteady legs and trekked her way to stand before the structure.
And when she looked up, and saw the dim light of the sky reflected on the dome, she felt tears rise in her eyes. The Yamuna river threw crystalline reflections up at the jeweled walls. The setting sun eventually gave way to a full moon, and still she did move. And truly, she was not even surprised when warm arms wrapped around her form from behind, and she felt his lips brush against her covered ear.
For every city, every country, every one of her destinations since she had walked away from him, he had turned up without fail.
Once upon a time he had let her go, his own guilt and mourning forcing them to give the other time and space. This time, when she turned, he was there.
It was only here, in front of the grandest mausoleum in the entire world, that he came up to her and held her.
"Did you find what you're looking for?" he asked softly, aware of the tears, of the one moment the last six months when she broke.
She stood in front of the final resting place of a queen that the world remembered for the way her king had worshipped her, for the children that she bore who became rulers of the large continent. In the trip, the guide spoke about the precious stones embedded in the marble, of the treasures that came from all parts of the world. But no one spoke about the queen. No one could say what she had been like. The greatest description they could say was that she loved the king.
And her mausoleum was a spectacle.
She had traveled the world, searched every place she could think of, wondered when she would recognize what it was that could answer her questions. And every time she turned, she would find him, a short distance away, quietly watching.
And she was so very tired.
Tonight, in front of the Taj Mahal, under a full moon, he finally came up to her and wrapped his arms around her. And she could not forget the baby, or the time in between now and then. Half a year and he was with her.
She turned around in his arms, closed her eyes when his lips searched for her forehead. He would probably think it was the place, or the story behind the destination.
In a place where afternoon were hotter than anywhere else in the world, and evening could be colder. In a place that was built to honor a dead queen remembered for loving a man who was almost always at war. In a place she had not been to before, in all her travels with or without Chuck.
In a place where she had lost hope in figuring out what it was she wanted, and found comfort in his embrace.
"I found it," she whispered.
He had been waiting for her all this time.