Disclaimer: I don't own Gossip Girl.

AN: Because I wanted that week.

Thank you for reading. -- Sarah

End game.

Blair's barely even present, mentally speaking, when Carter Baizen slides onto the bar stool beside her, but he calls her beautiful and so she grants him a long look and decides there's no malice in his tired eyes, no game evident across his surprisingly somber features, and so she's certain she can win this one, whatever it's about to be.

She offers him a ghost of a smile that's not exactly friendly as she asks what he's doing there, and doesn't blink when he slides his hand up her thigh.

One drink quickly becomes two and before she knows what she's thinking, much less doing, she tells him about Yale.

"Oh," is his response, and she's more amused than offended.

"Oh?" she demands. "I tell you my life is over, and all you can come up with is 'oh'?"

He meets her eyes directly when he responds. "Condolences never really make anyone feel better, Blair," he tells her. "And people rarely mean them. They're just a formality, another pointless rule we're expected to follow to convince ourselves we deserve to be the kind of people we are."

She nods. "I see. Still too good for the Upper East Side."

He shrugs. "Maybe. Or not good enough. It depends on who's judging." There's a challenge in his eyes but she doesn't rise to meet it, so he continues. "I will say this: If you think your life is over because you didn't get into Yale, it's probably about time you start actually living."

She leans forward, her hand on his thigh now a mirror of what his was on hers, and he lets his gaze drop briefly to her lips as she speaks, tone low, words loaded.

"How about I do that now?"

--

She kisses him first.

A soft drizzle has begun to fall over the city and he's one step ahead of her in an attempt to catch a cab turning the corner at 61st and Lex when she grabs his hand and yanks, surprising him.

There's a question in his eyes but she's not looking at them as she launches herself at him, and he catches her around her waist helpfully as she backs him up against a brick wall.

"You're tall," she observes as she twists one hand in his hair and slides the other inside his shirt collar, ice cold against his hot neck.

"Thank you?" he manages laughingly before her mouth is on his, hungrily, borderline viciously, and when it becomes apparent she can shove him no further against the wall in her attempts to get closer to him she fairly climbs up him and he again acquiesces, slinging one arm below her ass while keeping the other hand at her neck as she wraps her legs around his waist.

Her pencil skirt has ridden up to her hips when he somehow manages to get them into a cab without removing his lips from hers.

He's fairly stunned, and she's fully alive.

--

She wakes with a start when she feels a hand snaking around her leg, fingers splayed gently on the skin at the back of her knee, and Carter twists his head to look up at her with a sleepy wink.

"Good morning, beautiful," he says, and she can't help but smile.

Her hair is undoubtedly a mess from the previous night's rain, and she realizes quite suddenly that she's very much naked.

He looks a bit entertained as she scrambles to yank her sheet more tightly around herself and then she takes pause as her eyes fall on fresh scratches along his back and she gasps.

"Did I do that?"

His amused smile broadens to a grin and he reaches for the hand currently fisting her sheet in white-knuckled horror.

"It didn't seem like it was anything new for you," he comments appreciatively, kissing his way from her wrist to her shoulder and up her neck until she sighs involuntarily into his mouth and feels herself slipping back down against her bed as he draws the sheet away.

She doesn't make it to school. He doesn't mention it.

--

On the evening of the second day he holds her hand in a cab and won't tell her where they're going when she asks but instead turns the question around and asks her if she could go anywhere at all in the world, right then, where would it be?

She skeptically demands to know if he'd really be about to make that happen, and he tells her that's not an answer, and looks further disappointed when she stares back at him without response.

"You should have answers for questions like that, Blair," he tells her. "How else are you going to make things happen?"

She scowls and takes her hand away and informs him that she likes to keep her dreams more in the realm of functional over frivolous, and he immediately grabs it back and asks her how that's going for her.

Before she has time for outrage, they've arrived and he helps her out of the cab somewhere in Alphabet City and she yelps at a puddle of what she's sure is vomit as he leads her toward an unmarked door.

"If you were going for exclusive, I would have voted for Cielo," she informs him, and he laughs and leads her inside.

The club is dark, with sunken floors and narrow doorways and strangers upon strangers.

She feels relief within moments and she's the one to draw his face to hers, his mouth cold with ice and what tastes like rum.

When she leads him to the cramped bathroom and locks the door behind them with a plea in her eyes, he throws his jacket over the sink before he lifts her on top of it.

--

She's limping and incredulous when they somehow end up standing in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge as the sun comes up on the third day and she demands to know what they're doing there.

"We're looking at New York," he tells her with an infuriatingly easy grin and stubble on his cheeks.

She rubs her jaw in what she hopes is a discreet manner, and then glares at him in what is entirely not a discreet manner when she feels the rawness. He cocks an eyebrow and throws an arm around her shoulders.

"That," he tells her. "Was all your doing."

"You could have shaved," she replies lamely, and he laughs.

"Sorry," he murmurs, and she follows his gaze out over the lower Manhattan skyline and gasps as it shimmers like gold rising above the harbor.

They look at New York in silence for several minutes before he clears his throat.

"I am sorry, you know," he says, sort of hastily, but when she turns to him in surprise he's looking at her directly, as he always seems to be. "About Yale, I mean."

"Condolences rarely make people feel better," she mimics with a smirk that's not as patronizing as it could be, because she really doesn't feel patronizing, she feels … oddly excited.

He nods and matches her smirk. "Well, I just hope you feel better, then."

She holds her breath for a beat when she tucks herself against his side, but his arm falls securely around her immediately, hand tugging gently on her hair as they both return their gazes to the sunrise.

--

On the fourth night they go to MercBar and the hostess seems to be a personal friend of Carter's, cupping his chin in a way that suggests a familiarity at that's a creepy cross between maternal and animalistic of the they've-done-it-all-over-Soho-and-beyond kind of way.

Carter smiles charmingly and Blair puts up with it long enough to ensure that their prime couch seating is secured before letting loose a torrent of nasty comments, mostly referring to things like lopsided implants and a cheap weave.

"If I didn't know better, I'd say you're … jealous," Carter interrupts her, and his eyes are full of too much knowledge in that moment so she snipes that it's a good thing he doesn't know better and then she blows his mind a little and orders shots of Jameson.

Within the half hour she's full-on drunk and regaling him with the tale of her night at Victrola, so long ago, as he stares at her, wide-eyed and with something like disbelief mixed in there with what appears to be his ever-present amusement.

She's just beginning to wonder if she's supposed to omit the parts about Chuck and the limo, when Carter's hostess friend reappears and offers a palm full of small white tablets and Blair's words catch on her tongue as she gapes.

He watches her carefully as she carefully looks anywhere but his eyes, and then he dismisses the hostess with the flip of a hand.

Blair regards him with cool surprise. "You didn't have to do that."

"You didn't need that," he replies, but she pushes.

"Well, you didn't have to send it away on my account," she insists. "I'm not looking to change anyone, Carter."

He frowns slightly. "People change every day," he tells her. "Sometimes it's for someone else, sometimes it's not. But you don't need to feel bad about it."

She suddenly feels sober, too sober, so she simply nods at this and frantically beckons their server for more drinks.

--

On the fifth day he blindsides her again when he wakes her up early and drags her across the park.

"Seriously?" she mutters dubiously as they stand at the foot of the steps to the Museum of Natural History.

"Seriously," he replies, nodding. "It's my favorite museum. I like the blue whale."

She stares after him as he ascends the steps and shakes her head. "You like the blue whale. Fine."

An hour later she decides she likes the blue whale too, as they're sitting cross-legged beneath it and he's telling her about swimming with dolphins at the Great Barrier Reef and with sharks in The Maldives and getting in trouble with the border patrol that time he swam too close to North Korea, though the details on that story are hazy at best.

"I had no idea you were such a big … swimmer," she comments, her lips tugging at the corners as she takes in his flushed cheeks and the way he looks not unlike a five-year-old in this moment.

He shrugs and straightens up a bit, suddenly a little embarrassed. "You don't like the ocean?" he asks and she shakes her head.

"No, no. I do. I like the Cote d'Azur, of course-"

"Of course," he interjects with an eye roll, and she glares but it's hardly angry.

"Amongst others. But sometimes the ocean's a little … dark. And … wet," she finishes lamely, and he laughs.

"Sometimes it is wet," he agrees, and she suddenly feels a bit breathless, locked into his eyes as one of his more wicked of grins takes over his features. "I'm surprised you have a problem with wet."

"I think I'm … over it now," she informs him, and they're on their feet in an instant and glancing around frantically with the same intention.

The make it as far as the bird hall before she yanks him into a corner eclipsed by foliage and crosses her fingers that there won't be any grade school tours passing through for the next few minutes.

--

It's her turn to shock him on the sixth day, when she abruptly halts the fingers she's been running through his hair as he holds her close against him and pulls her head back a bit to look in his eyes.

"Were you sad, too?" she demands bluntly, and he gapes. "That first night, at Bar Boulud."

"Of course not," he replies, gently tucking her head back down against his shoulder. "What are you talking about?"

She sits up again.

"You seemed sad," she insists. "Or … different. I saw it, you know. Before I decided I was going to talk to you."

"You had a decision-making process?" he asks, incredulously, and she just stares so he sighs. "Maybe I was tired," he relents. "Sometimes I hate coming back here."

"But … it's home," she points out, and he grimaces.

"And home is where they tell you who you are," he mutters. "And why you're wrong, and what's never forgiven, and what you can't change and what you need to change."

When he turns to her her eyes are huge and intent, endless and dark, and he lets himself get lost for a minute before sighing again.

"Don't you ever get tired of being Blair Waldorf?" he asks. "Of playing the same games?"

She thinks she's underestimated him, and that he's now telling her that's what everyone does, and it's terrifying and tragic at once, but he's watching her without any secrets evident on his face so she curls herself back down against him instead of running.

"Yes," she replies, honestly, because she thinks that this week, when she's spent not a moment trying to be Blair Waldorf, has maybe been the most free she's ever felt. But. "But … I like Blair Waldorf," she realizes aloud, and to herself it dawns that maybe there's just much more to being her than she ever thought, than is possible to box up with a boyfriend and a headband and Yale.

"I do too," Carter says quietly with his lips against her forehead.

--

Carter takes less pleasure than he'd anticipated in the distress Chuck Bass barely attempts to conceal when he steps up behind Blair in her parlor on the seventh day, adjusting the cuffs of his unbuttoned shirt and offering a sly smirk with surprising effort.

After all, it was a game for him, wasn't it? Beating Chuck at something yet again.

He supposes it's only fair that Blair was playing too, and he convinces himself he never for a moment imagined it was anything else as he watches the volley of barbs between the ex-lovers, scorn and pain evident in two sets of dark eyes so far from his own as he trails his fingers along Blair's throat and dismisses the easy way she takes his hand with nothing but the punctuation to the point she's making behind it.

Later he feels her laughing beneath him and he looks up from where he'd been kissing a lazy trail along her clavicle with questioning eyes and guarded heart.

"His face," she chuckles darkly, cutting off when she feels him stiffen above her. "What?"

He shakes his head and lets her guide his face back down to hers, and this time he really does ignore the tender way her fingers play at the back of his neck like it's anything but just sex and he focuses on making her scream his name.

--

He briefly contemplates a fight when Serena and Chuck present him with a plane ticket and a threat, and he doesn't stop to consider how easily, really rather pathetically, he went down until he's en route to the airport.

By then he doesn't care, because his exhaustion with New York and the façade it demands is back and anything that had had him reconsidering is gone.

--

Something feels too desperate as Blair makes her way to Dean Wheeler's brownstone, and the hysteria building inside of her is frightening no matter how well she knows it.

There's a moment on the steps of the brownstone when she considers texting Carter to let him know she'll be late and turning to meet him, but she doesn't.

New Blair has been fun but Old Blair is still kicking, and so she makes her last stand.

She's not surprised when it fails, just eviscerated, if that's not being too dramatic, and as she tears off down the street away from the shouts of Chuck and Serena, the call she makes to Carter goes directly to voicemail.

--

She's a complete mess at Nate's family reunion and she knows it, because after all, Old Blair, New Blair or whomever, her brain's still functioning which means her actions are still somewhat if not entirely calculated.

It crosses her mind that Carter would find the entire series of events absolutely hilarious, because despite Chuck's vehemence in the hallway a while later, it is her, just a part of her she's kept buttoned up until now, and Carter loves nothing like a good Upper East Sider letting loose and calling out the bullshit for what it is.

She thinks then, that Serena should appreciate the humor in the situation as well, but the Virgin Mary is all worried eyes and pursed lips, and Blair wonders why no one can understand that she's tired of crying and wants to laugh for a while, even if it's hysterical, even if it's hollow.

She knows she's harsh when she makes a mockery of Chuck and everything they ever, or never, were, and she has to turn away before she can fully register his wounded eyes, but she thinks it's only fair.

It's his own fault; she followed him the edge and while she brought him back from the brink she somehow managed to tumble over herself and still all he can do is talk about what he needs.

She'll apologize someday, and he'll accept, but she thinks she's beginning to accept in this moment that they'll never be what they once were, or all they could have been.

--

Nate fares better, surprisingly, when he descends upon her with his impeccable manners and sudden wisdom.

He tells her he knows her, as Chuck did, but more importantly he tells her he understands.

And while she certain a drunk and disorderly Nate Archibald making an ass of himself in front of high society is nowhere near the immediate horizon, the look in his eyes is as lost as she feels and he doesn't try to tell her she's wrong, just that she's better.

--

It's not going to work with Nate this time any more than it did the last two, but Carter still hasn't returned her call - or the follow up one she attempted only to be met with his voicemail yet again – and so she goes along with their new "friendship" and the wheels start turning automatically when he begins to mourn the demise of his relationship with Vanessa.

Somewhere between letting him touch her hair and sparring with Chuck about fireworks, or maybe that was the other way around, she realizes the emptiness inside of her is apparently insatiable, and if Blair Waldorf can't even be bothered to lie to herself that she's whole again, she thinks she really has failed in her efforts to live.

Nate talks to her about his summer internship and Columbia with uncertainty swirling in his perfect blue eyes and she rubs his shoulders and smiles vaguely and emptily when he tentatively suggests that maybe she could apply for January admission, or Fall 2010 at the worst.

She thinks that once being the devoted girlfriend operating all the complicated strings for the Archibald scion was at the top of her list of dreams, and that she should find some comfort in the fact that it seems to be still in reach despite all the others that had lined up behind it having disintegrated beneath her touch.

But she can't find any.

--

She dines with Serena at Nero and the blonde looks alarmed when she barely prods at her seared salmon and immediately offers to swap for her gnocci con granchio.

"Sure," Blair replies absently. "Have you ever watched the sun rise from Chelsea Piers?" she asks, suddenly.

"What?" Serena laughs. "I thought we were going to APT?"

"Nevermind," Blair murmers, taking a bite of golden beet salad and recalling the Tribeca cobblestones beneath her Proenza Schouler gladiator pumps as Carter dragged her to the banks of the Hudson the dawn after the night at MercBar and faux-earnestly told her to take in the glory of the New Jersey skyline.

"It's stunning," he had insisted with a cheeky grin, and she hadn't missed the fact that his eyes, clear and icy blue in the light of dawn, had never left her face as he spoke the words.

--

She runs into Chuck in the courtyard at school and bristles as he goes on about the third time failing to be a charm with Nate.

She's walking away when he offhandedly throws out a comment about having expected at least a thank-you note for his disposal of her recent dirty baggage, and she halts and turns on a heel.

"Carter?" she demands and she can't keep her voice entirely void of vulnerability.

Chuck actually looks shocked for a moment but he recovers quickly.

"Please," he replies dryly. "I know you were just using him to get to me. If I'd known how easy it would be to get rid of him I'd have enlisted my dear sister's help far sooner in getting his dirty hands off of you."

He reaches a hand toward her with the final words and she jerks away with a series of disgusted noises and flees toward Constance.

--

She fixes Serena with a glare that could singe eyebrows at lunch, and her best friend sighs.

"He's not who you think he is, B," she insists, and Blair fairly explodes.

"I don't know who he is! I was just getting to that, when you blackmailed him out of town!"

"You weren't you when you were with him!" Serena attempts, and Blair drops her gaze at that one.

"Well I still don't feel like me now," she says quietly. "I think I was just getting to that part too."

Serena shakes her head, her hair shimmering in the light and her eyes crinkled in that new Serena way, that good Serena way, where everything is a tragedy she needs to help fix to make up for her past sins.

"Santorini …"

"I don't care, S," Blair interrupts her, and the blonde looks taken aback. "I don't. It's done. It's in the past. It was a Carter I don't know."

Serena is still shaking her head with increasing vehemence and so Blair pushes. "Tell me it's unforgivable," she orders her. "Tell me it's something I can't move past. Tell me. Because you were there too, right?"

Serena freezes at this, the color draining from her face, and she says her best friend's name softly, brokenly, and Blair has to fight to keep her voice firm.

"Tell me."

"I can't," Serena answers, and Blair nods.

"It tells you who you are," she repeats, almost inaudibly, and then she looks at Serena steadily. "You broke the rules. So can I. And so can he."

--

When she calls a third time she's prepared to leave a message, though she's not sure even as the line connects and rings through what she's going to say.

He tosses the paltry even half a plan she at least had away with the wind when he answers with a breezy, "Hello, beautiful. Can't say I expected to hear from you…"

"I … called before," she manages, her voice sounding too small for her liking, and she clears her throat.

"Did you?" he asks, and she wonders if he really sounds pleased or if it's the connection. "My cell got hung up in customs. Seems they're not too fond of me here lately either."

"Maybe I can help improve your reputation," she ventures gamely, and there's silence on his end of the line for long enough that she panics. "Carter?"

"I thought it was just a game," he says. "For you."

She shakes her head before realizing he can't see her, and then speaks. "No. Maybe. But it's not now. I hate the games. And the rules."

He smiles before realizing she can't see him and then he invites her to rewrite them with him.