AN: I had already begun Part 52 of Mr and Mrs Bass, but had to scrap it because apparently, this is what I'm in the mood for. The title is from Christina Georgina Rossetti.

Between Two Barren Wastes of Snow

Part 1

The last time he was close to her, enough to breathe her perfume, with distance small enough that he could reach out and cup her jawbone with his hands…

Her nails dug into his arms, so deep he bled. She clawed at his wrists and pulled. She was terrified. Terrified. And he was squeezing, barely moved from where he straddled her and pinned her to the bed.

His fingers made marks on the skin of her neck.

Her eyes rolled to the back of her head, and he pushed deep with his thumbs until she choked and coughed and gasped. Until her entire face held a tinge of gray blue.

He ripped his gaze away from the television screen.

"Mr Bass, your uncle is here to see you."

He could avoid the man, utter a few curt words. He could ask building security never to allow Jack back inside the office. But he had already done it and it bought him forty eight hours before a group of lawyers on his own payroll had done their job and contested the demand.

Her hair moved. Those thin strands, the locks that had fallen out of the French bun. They moved like they were trembling. Her lips were parted, and he could tell she was breathing through her mouth. Her eyes were full, and the way she looked would be seared in his brain months afterwards.

"Tell me what I did," she pleaded.

And he held her gaze, kept himself strong and unrelenting because this was the only way both of them could survive. No matter to him that when she reached for him, to place a hand on his chest, he moved away like he was terrified of her touch.

Outside, the Bass limo rolled into a stop. He looked up, and she barely turned in her seat. He watched the mute scene from behind the glass doors of the restaurant.

Jack Bass made a spectacle when he entered. At the sight of Chuck and Blair, those thin lips curved into a smirk. The sight of the man revolted him, but he had returned and still had as much right to his share of the business as he had before.

"If you're not going to tell me what I did, then tell me how to fix it," she said. "Because I will. I promise."

"Desperation doesn't become you," Chuck returned.

The hand that reached for him fisted, and she cringed. Slowly, she drew her hand back to her side of the table. And it was good. All the better. He did not need that touch. One touch and it would unravel.

She stood stiffly, clutched her purse to her front like it was her shield. He could tell that she was struggling not to blink. He did the same, and for the very same reason. If they blinked, if their eyes so much as wavered, then the tears that threatened would fall.

He was afraid. And he knew at any time she could say those words, and despite the many times he thought of them he was still unprepared to respond.

"So this is it?" she asked, or said. He could not even tell.

"This is it. It was fun," he managed, and kept his voice even, smooth.

She started to turn away, and his shoulders fell because they could now. There was no need to pretend. But she stopped, and then with her eyebrows furrowed, in confusion, in anger. "I thought you loved me."

"I gave you everything," he returned.

And for that, she gave him a smile, a bitter one, and even that he would remember tonight. "Well," she said, sarcasm not a tinge but an overwhelming wash, "thank you, Chuck. I appreciated all of it."

She hurried away, in the way she quickly strode when humiliated and found. Many times before he followed her, rushed after her, spoke to her with an effort to soothe the hurt. But this time he was the one who inflicted it on her, had fully meant to, had planned to let her walk.

His uncle stepped in front of her, and she stopped in her tracks. Chuck watched the way that Jack closed his hand around her elbow. She pulled away. Of course she would. Blair Waldorf was intelligent enough to know that he still watched. But Jack held firm, leaned low to whisper in her ear.

Firmly, she pulled her arm out of Jack's grasp. Chuck relaxed in his seat and fixed his gaze on Jack.

He did not need to look at her. Even while he saw Jack turn to him and raise a glass of wine in acknowledgment, he could tell the precise moment she vanished into a car.

Jack tossed the thick folder onto his desk. Chuck picked it up, then leaned back in his chair. The first page, the second, the third. He flipped through the report like it was cheap fodder from national tabloids.

"We spent three hundred grand on consultants to get that study," he vaguely heard.

But he flipped through the pages. The charts and numbers made no sense to him. Not now. So Chuck dropped the folder back onto his desk. He looked up at his uncle, then said, "I'll get to it later. You're dismissed."

Jack's eyes narrowed. He picked up the folder, then informed him, "I'll return with these when you have time."

The audio from the television played, and the particular voice was familiar. Chuck glanced up at the plasma high up near the ceiling. Jack looked up in the same direction.

"Stalking your stepsister," Jack said aloud. He shook his head, chuckled. "You are sicker than I thought."

A video of Serena stepping out of a limo and making her way into Bergdorf's. Like always, she was exposed more than he cared. But Bergdorf's was much too close, not where he needed Serena to be.

Spend a little time with her, why don't you?

"Get out, Jack." Chuck took the remote in his hand and switched off the television.

But Jack was not done. He never was. They should have pressed charges when he assaulted Lily, so that Jack never darkened their door again. But they had made that mistake and they were now paying for it.

His uncle leaned over the desk, then said, "She doesn't know. I was wondering why you broke it off with her. Apparently, she was too. You didn't give her a reason, Chuck?"

"It's none of your business."

"Poor girl, though. She's always going to wonder. Maybe I should put the question to rest," Jack offered.

It was a test of his patience and his uncle had succeeded. Chuck knew better than this, but even so he shot up from his seat and grabbed the front of Jack's jacket. He pulled close, so that he could spit his response into his uncle's face. "Stay away from her."

"You're not together anymore," Jack reminded him. The man jerked his head towards the black plasma screen. "You're stuck in here watching Serena van der Woodsen. What do you care?"

"If you're not going to leave on your own, I will call security and have them escort you out."

"I have a right to be here," Jack returned. "You own lawyers told you that." But like a Bass, Jack knew when to surrender. He shrugged. Chuck watched his back as he left.

His cellphone vibrated on the top of his desk. He saw the screen light up. If the call had been for work, then it would have been filtered by his secretary. Instead, Chuck stared at the name on the screen.

He could let it go to voicemail.

But he would hear the same thing. He pushed the answer button, then held the phone to his ear.

There was no need to say hello. She knew exactly the moment he answered the same way he knew exactly who it was.

Silence. There were times when he heard her breathing, times when he let her hear him. It was wordless. But he held the phone close to his ear, pressed the cold keypad next to his cheek. The time on the clock was quarter to two, and he had exactly twelve minutes of this before she would hang up and leave.

She had Ethics at two, and a few months ago she brought all the rhetorical, unending questions to bed. Sometimes he wished she would ask him another question, and he could mull over the words and search his brain for an answer. And then he would not feel so stupid about the fact that he had nothing, because no one else in the world could say he knew the right response.

But it had been a long time now, and even Blair Waldorf tired.

At one fifty seven, on the dot, he heard the beep, then a silence that was more silent than the silence before. So silent it was hell of deafening.

He had sworn he deleted them, but Chuck Bass found himself lying more and more everyday.

He played the voice messages, put the cellphone on speaker, then leaned back in his seat. He closed his eyes, so he could conjure up an image of her in his head.

"It's not blue, Chuck. I checked again. It's an off shade of green. It looks like you lose this bet. Get your driver's uniform and pick me up at five tomorrow. I'm thinking—a chauffer who just can't keep his hands off his employer."

His lips twitched. He had waited for her outside her dorm. At the sight of him she placed her hands on her waist and tapped her foot on the steps, then told him he was late and instructed him to carry her bag. They had not left the limo for three hours and had to drive back to New York at past nine.

"The professor is out sick. It's my only class for the day! This is such a waste. I knew I shouldn't have gotten up from bed this morning. You were right."

He took the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, then started massaging.

"Sorry I didn't call earlier. I'm running late. Talk to you later. Love you."

He took a deep breath. That was the day he had a presentation for the investor he was wooing. He had not even heard the message until it was well past ten.

"I'm not coming home for the weekend. My nose is stuffed and my eyes keep tearing up. This is an allergy. I'm allergic to damned Whore-gina. She's gone for the weekend so I'll just stay here and be miserable."

He surprised her with a visit that night, discovered she had like always been exaggerating about being allergic to Georgina but completely accurate with the miserable colds. So Chuck had pointed out that allergy symptoms did not include a slight fever and continuous runny nose even when the allergen was away. So he helped her bundle up in bed and asked her driver to buy her soup, then spent the rest of the night breathing in her virus while spooning behind her and watching reality tv.

He gripped the armrest of his chair, knowing what came next but frozen and masochistic enough not to turn it off.

"Talk to me. Tell me what I did. It can't be that easy or that fast."

One.

"Chuck, please, don't do this. I know you're there. Answer the phone."

Two.

"Dammit, Chuck, I swear to God if you don't give me a reason I will hate you forever."

Three.

"I don't hate you. I don't. I just—I don't understand. What happened?" A breath. "I'm sorry." A sob. "Whatever it is, I am."

Four.

Dozens more. And they were depressing, and angry, and loud, and shrill, and sympathetic, and scary. She went up, down, but she remained. Dozens more, and he had watched in silence and kept close tabs on his stepsister because it was the only way he could discover glimpses of her without breaking his promise.

And then he ventured out into the world with a banker's daughter, planted a kiss on a stranger's lips right where he knew she would see.

He hit the accept button, and held the phone to his ear. He could hear the hitch in her breath, and he cleared his throat. "Blair—"

"I'll stop. Okay? I will. I can do it. I stopped loving Nate for you. I stopped loving Marcus for you. I don't know how, but I can stop loving you too."

"So don't talk about it," he said. He imagined his father's collector Victorian pistol lovingly cold, resting in his hand. He raised it to his temple. Squeezed. "Do it."

And that was when the silence began.

tbc

AN: Thoughts?