AN: This was supposed to be Parts 3 and 4, but I wanted to complete now. Let me know your thoughts. Thanks for reading.
"You're closer to death than you are to waking up," came the cool, calm information, delivered without emotion, phrased in a logic with which it was difficult to put up an argument. "So I hope you're getting ready."
He had wasted so long in the chase, when two years before they could have been together. In the span of a lifetime those wasted months would have been nothing—forgettable even. But then, when a lifetime was as short as eighteen years, the lost time was an era. "Dad," Chuck asked, "why do you want me to die?"
"The longer you cling to a life that's over, the harder it is to find peace," his father said.
"When you died," he said, "how long did it take you to let go?"
"It was easy to do," his father answered. And then, as if it was a punishment he needed to bear, he said reluctantly, "You were the hardest to leave. But I let go of my marriage the moment I knew."
She was asleep now, in a stiff chair that was beside his bed. She rested her head on top of his sheets while her hand remained over his. The back of his own hand tickled, and knew it was her breath teasing his unresponsive skin.
"You don't know what it's like, dad," Chuck said softly.
There was a tone of patronizing surprise in Bart's voice when he answered, in the way acceptable only of a father speaking with a son who thought knew more than the elder. "I don't?"
"I didn't see this from Lily," Chuck replied, a little ashamed now for the statement. "Look, I like the woman but, dad—" And then, he gave a humorless chuckle, "But you probably saw all that."
Chuck felt the hand rest on his shoulder, and he glanced quickly back to see his father move beside him. Just as quickly as he took his eyes away he returned to watch the dull, uneventful scene before him—never thought he would be willing to spend an eternity just watching someone else sleep. But if this was what his consciousness would entail from here on out, it was not the worst way to spend forever.
And just like the kiss at the Empire, the impulse possessed him that what he wanted was to touch her. So he leaned over his own body and pushed the lock of hair that had fallen across her face.
In her sleep, she smiled.
In itself it was his reward.
He took a deep breath and turned his back on her. There was her entire lifetime before him, and there was time enough to watch her. When he saw his father, the older man shook his head with a furrow on his brow.
"You don't remember how it was when your mother died," Bart recalled, that one implosive moment in their lives that neither said aloud. Not until now. And then, referring to the gentle, unintended accusation from minutes ago, he continued, "Don't let everything you remember about me fool you. I was alive long before you were." At the statement, Chuck allowed his lips to curve. His father emphasized, "I know what it's like."
Once upon a time, his life came along with his mother's death, and it was so long ago so many people thought it did not matter. It mattered only to two people then. And still, to him, who had only ever experienced this, "You moved on. You had a parade of women. You married again."
"So will she."
But he was Chuck Bass.
Chuck Bass. And she was his, and she cared when no one else did. She had sworn it like a promise on a cold night on the rooftop. And now he could swear his father hovered over him the way he hovered now over Blair. Because it had been heavy—in his heart, on his shoulders, in his head. She had sworn that she cared when he knew the rest of the world did not.
She was there, waiting with a hand reaching for him, and he had promised when he clung to her that he would not leave again.
"She won't," he answered, with a finality that chilled him.
When all around them everyone loved, and lost, and moved on to another love.
"I thought the same thing when I lost your mother," his father confessed, and Chuck wondered how long it would be before his father's words sat ill with him. Had he been alive, would they ever have come to a point when Bart Bass could say the same to his son. "But everyone moves on. That's why life is an amazing gift."
But his father did not understand him in life. His father would not understand him in death.
And everyone else in the world who thought knew them, never really fully understood what it was to be them.
His father's voice held a note of concern when he admonished, "Your brain is closed off again. Is it just my voice, Chuck?" He sighed. "I want you to understand this, because when the time comes and you need to go, I want you to go." And then, in a gentler manner, he continued, "If you don't move on when it's time, you're going to stay lost here." His father patted him on the back, and it had been such rare commodity when the man was alive that the gesture at once called his attention. "You won't miss it. To me it was the entrance to a skyscraper. It was going to be the tallest in the world."
"Doesn't sound inviting," Chuck muttered, wondering how anyone would want a cold, well-lit hallway to be the way to the other side.
"It will look like anything—anything you love—anything you enjoy—anything you see heaven as. In fact, your mother told me hers was a seat to your kindergarten graduation."
Warmth rushed through him. "You saw her."
"Where else would she be?" his father replied with a smile. "She said she saw you get up on the stage. But she'd seen you were a little golden-haired boy. I can't imagine why."
"You can't blame her for that," Chuck answered. "She never saw me."
"I don't want you getting lost down here. If it's time to let go, then let go. You might think she won't get over you, but I promise, Chuck—she will. If you let go, she will."
The thought of it scared him. Despite his father's words, of loving, and learning to move on, despite the reassurance that he still loved his mother when he chose to marry another woman, he was terrified.
If he stayed, if he was lost—
He could whisper into her ear, and wait for the moment she could hear.
He could kiss her, and touch her, and wrap his arms around her. And she would not feel the pressure of his body, or the warmth of his skin. But she would know he was there and she would never forget.
He heard her. It was a shift in her breath, and at the faint sound he turned around. She had woken up in the night, and he watched as she touched each of his fingers, playfully intertwining them with hers for the lack of other entertainment.
She drew back one hand and reached for her purse, and faintly he heard the ringing sound slowly pierce through his senses. He was losing touch with the world, with how long it took to notice the noise. But when her thumb drew circles on his wrist he felt it.
"I'm sorry I can't. But thank you for the invite," she said politely, cheerfully. "I've got dinner with a few people from NYU. Alright. Bye!"
And she put down the phone, returned her attention to his hand as she talked, "That was Nate. Don't be jealous." In a petulant voice, she said, rising from her chair and carefully hopping up to sit on the bed and leaning down to speak closer to him, as if in confidence, "On second thought, be jealous. He wants dinner. And you know he wants more."
The lilt of her voice was childish and taunting, and it made him grin at the transparency.
"I mean, how can he resist this? And if you're not going to wake up there's a vacancy that he can fill."
It was her own words that stopped her.
So instead, she trailed fingers, tracing his cheekbones, brushing her thumbs across his eyebrows. She kissed his lashes. "Dorota wanted to come over to my dorm today, but I told her I had a study group session." She made a face at the sight of his lips. "That's a crime," she said. "So dry. I don't exactly have some Chapstick." And she shifted, "Daddy's telling me to visit his vineyard for a few months. But I have college, you know."
She laid her head down on his chest, over his heart.
"I love this music," she sighed. "I don't ever want it to stop."
In the dead quiet of the room, it could only be his heartbeat.
"Take me back," he said to his father. "Just one more time. Take me there and show me what you saw. Show me why you think she can move on."
And at once, his father agreed. "And when you see it," his father said, "you're going to let go."
"Show it to me," Chuck repeated.
Bart brought his hand up, not proffered with his palm facing up, but extended as in a handshake. He took the hand, then Chuck looked away from Blair. When he faced his father, they were standing inside a suite in the Palace. It was the best suite, one that was decorated by a Swiss designer that Bart had hired in a social function.
"Good taste," his father said appreciatively. "Deep pockets."
Chuck turned around and made his way to through the living area, then the kitchen. It was empty, so he walked towards the bedroom and found the bed neat and tucked. There was no trace of an occupant save for the slight way that the closet door was ajar.
He heard them arrive, so he walked outside and stopped at the doorway. When Nate and Blair stepped into the room, he knew at once that she felt him, because the smile she used on everyone grew slightly dark, and she drew back, very slightly, that it would have been hardly noticeable to anyone.
But he knew. He saw it, saw her, saw the gap between their bodies widen every so slightly.
She glanced towards the suite, spanning the empty room until her gaze rested back on Nate.
She was going insane.
She swore, in the periphery of her vision, that there was a shadow by the bedroom door.
Five years and even a phantom memory could make her heart skip.
"So, what do you say, Blair?" Nate prompted her.
She scanned the room with her eyes, saw nothing but knew, just knew. Instinctively she put a hairline between them.
It was not as if she did not expect it. She had known eventually she would go insane, and she knew it the moment they told her he was dead. She had cupped his face and kissed slack lips, then imagined he had kissed her back.
When they took him away, she thought she felt his arms surround her.
And that was when she knew, and she relished it, waited for the moment that she would go insane. Now here it was.
"You're drunk," she answered. "You're high on something."
"I've not taken anything since I started campaigning," Nate protested.
"You're high on winning. It's adrenaline," Blair argued. "And I think we had two bottles of champagne to celebrate. Between the two of us," she said, "that's—"
She trailed off, now certain that simple math became more difficult with alcohol and hallucinations already crowding one's head.
"One each," he said.
She raised her eyebrows. "That's it. I need to go to bed," she said. "Chuck was right. It pays to have a suite ready anywhere you are." With a slight smile, she reminded him, "Chuck told me that the moment Nate Archibald sounds more level-headed than you do, it's time to stop drinking."
She looked down. Every time she looked up, he weaved in and out of a dancing suite. She took a deep breath and held onto his arms.
"I'm not blind," Nate said. "I know you love him. I know he loved you. Remember, I knew before you knew." With her eyes still closed, she smiled. Chuck and his own paralyzing fears. They could have begun so much sooner, could have spent more time together than the pitifully few months that they did. "And I know you're still in love with him."
At the words, her eyes fluttered open and she met his eyes. "Then why are you asking?"
He licked his lips, then admitted, "I won't fight it. It's pointless. I can't demand for you to stop because you won't."
"If you make me promise you to stop, I'm probably drunk enough to say I will," she confessed. With a hand on his chest, she suggested, "That's why it's better if we have this conversation in the morning."
"In the morning he'll still be dead," Nate said gently. "Same as today. Same as last month when I asked. So I'll never tell you to stop because I know you won't. But he's dead and you're not." He shook his head. "It's not cheating."
She blinked up at Nate. Her lips parted when she felt fluttering butterfly wings on her nape. Knew he was there, just behind her, kissing her—selfish bastard.
"Chuck, you wanted to come here to see," his father called to him when he strode to the living room and took a place behind her, "not to participate."
"You're not, Blair," Nate continued.
The man could look and sound sincere so easily, and Chuck hated that he could not see past the sincerity when he most wanted to.
"You've loved two guys in your entire life," Nate told her.
And to that, Chuck could not help but whisper, "You loved me."
She stiffened in his arms, and he wondered if she could hear him.
"I was one of them," Nate said. "You've got to come out of this, Blair. You can't hang on to someone who's been gone for half a decade. If you do," he said quietly, "then you might as well be dead too."
At the words, Chuck raised his head and stared at his best friend.
"I love you," Nate said. Chuck looked long and hard at the guy. "For two years, it's always been between him and me. But you loved two guys, and I'm the only one here."
"It's not the same," she answered. "I loved you both, but I loved him." If he did not know her, if he did not breathe her, if he did not live her, he would not have understood. But he had heard almost the same from his father earlier, recognized the distinction as a difference so utterly basic it was essential.
It was the distinction that made the difference between letting his mother go, and letting go of Lily.
"Think about how you feel. Do you really want to feel like this your entire life?" Nate asked.
She shook her head. Chuck met his father's eyes.
Nate held out a hand. "Give it to me."
She hesitated, but Nate encouraged her with a nod. She reached up behind her and felt for the clasp at her nape. Chuck watched as she unlocked the clasp and lifted the thin strand from her neck. Carefully, slowly, she locked it again and held up the ring she used as her pendant.
And it had hung from her neck for five years.
Nate took the ring and glanced at the inscription, then dropped it into his pocket. He pulled her close and kissed her forehead. "This is good," he said. "This is a start."
She walked with Nate to the door of the suite, and Chuck went to his father.
"Have you seen what you need?" his father asked.
Chuck nodded. Because Nate was on a mission now, and he was, surprisingly, right in most of what he claimed. And if he stayed away, then maybe she would be more willing to participate.
She wasn't dead, although she sure as hell was trying to live like she was.
"I just—I want to say goodbye."
So his father nodded, and Chuck followed her closely as she walked to the bedroom. She looked at herself in the mirror. He stopped behind her and stared at their reflection. They did look good together, always had. Unfortunately for her, it was only her own reflection that she saw.
Abruptly she placed a hand over her mouth and she stumbled towards the bathroom, then he heard the gagging noises as she threw up the liquid contents of her otherwise empty stomach. He stood beside her by the sink.
Afterwards she made her way back and settled on the bed. He lay down behind her and placed a kiss on her cool, moist neck.
This would be the very last time, so he wrapped an arm around her waist and drew her to him. "This is the last time," he said softly. Because he was not going to make it more difficult. And she was going to move on.
"I can't," she murmured. Blair sighed in the darkness, and he realized she was talking to him. "Chuck, I can't. Not when I know you're right here with me."
"Not while there's a chance."
He wondered when in the last five years since he died did she ever believe there would be a chance.
"Not while I still feel you. Not when you're with me. Even if it's like this," she whispered.
He emerged from the room a little more than an hour later, tearing himself away from his side after she had fallen asleep and he swore he had filled every space in his memory with the scent and the sound and the sensation of her. He pulled the door open and found himself stepping back into the hospital room.
He saw her pushed behind the doctors when a team rushed inside the room. His figure on the bed seized violently, and she huddled in the corner watching with a horrified look on her face.
Chuck started towards her, and his father caught his arm.
"It's time to go," his father said.
Chuck stared at her, then the body on the bed. The doctors stabilized him with drugs, because he felt the calm pump through his veins. She made her way back to the side of the bed, and he felt the warmth on his face, saw her tears drop on his cheek.
Not while there's a chance, she said, and he could feel her, feel the drugs, hear the frantic whispers she showered.
"No, dad," he said, surprising himself.
"You can't be selfish. If you're in love—"
"Love is sacrifice. It's letting go."
"Not with us," he answered. And with his decision, he felt his entire body draw together tightly, painfully. "You said it yourself. There's a different kind of love every time. For us, love isn't letting go. It's chasing and it's hurting and it's fighting and it's playing and it's never giving up even when she's begging you to." And then, "It's staying even if you know you'd be better off leaving."
The wall of the hospital room seemed to fall away, and Chuck blinked at the brilliant vision that appeared in front of him.
His father said, "If you see it now, you have to walk in, Chuck. Son, I don't want you lost."
He was blindsided by the sight. He had thought the concept marvelous, but not once did he expect heaven would tease her with a vision. He almost stepped forward, then he heard softly, "You scared me. I was so afraid. But you're okay. I have you."
Chuck stepped backward. The vision dimmed, and next he saw the wall was back, sturdy, and, he realized, a little but ugly.
His father sighed. "Is it gone?"
"Yes," Chuck answered, still staring at the spot where it used to be. "You didn't see it?"
"Your image of heaven comes from your head. And I'm not there in your head," his father admitted. He cleared his throat. "It's gone. If you die now—"
"It's not your fault, dad."
"I'm your guide."
"It was my choice."
"You'd rather here than heaven?"
Chuck looked back at his body, battered and cut and bruised, and he was beginning to feel the rawness of his cuts. He was pretty sure there was no pain if he went. Still, he nodded. He turned back to his father. But Bart had a grin on his face, staring at the door.
Chuck asked, "How does it look to you, dad? Still the tallest building in the world?"
"No," his father replied. "That was my doorway. Now someone's just picking me up." Chuck watched in fascination as his father's face was awash with calm. "He's not coming. It's not my fault!" Realized who it was who came for his father, wished for a moment he could see.
And then, as he walked, Bart Bass faded away.
He turned around to face Blair, heard the noises piercing his ears, then fell on his knees at the intense pain shooting from his skull.
He opened his eyes and muttered an endless string of curses when he was blinded by searing light. There was soft laughter in the background, and even that hurt his head. His entire body seemed open and rubbed raw with salt, and his leg was heavy.
"Rise and shine," he heard her say cheerfully.
And even if just for that he braved the painful light and opened his eyes. Her face swam above his, and he blinked until he regained his focus.
"Waldorf," he choked out.
"Lazybones!" she teased, her voice thick and he could see her eyes wet.
He tried to raise his arm so he could wipe them, but his limbs were heavy. She smiled, knowing what he wanted to do. She quickly dried her eyes.
"Everybody's here. They came as soon as they heard," she said, bubbling over in an effort to be enthusiastic. But she was tired. He could see it on her face, hear it in her voice. "They're all here for you. Serena and Lily, of course. Lily's required by law to be here, I think," she joked. "Nate and Eric. And Eric's here for me more than you." The boy shrugged, but nodded in agreement, then winked at Chuck. As an afterthought, she added, "Well, Dan and Rufus and little J too."
But he only wanted to talk to her.
When the visitors had left, she slid into the bed beside him. Her tense body took time to relax, and even then she clutched at him like she was afraid he would be gone by morning.
And then it was like coming down from an adrenaline rush, and she trembled in the aftermath, sniffling in tears she held the entire afternoon.
"You died," she said. "Just before you woke up, you seized and then you were gone." Her fingers tightened on the sheet at his abdomen. "I don't know how long. Just a minute, I think they said. It felt longer."
Five years, he thought. But she didn't know that.
"I wouldn't have survived."
"Don't say that," he cautioned. "You're Blair Waldorf."
"That's why," she reasoned. There was so much to do, so much to complete so that they would have a chance at life whatever happened. Even if they didn't want to. For now it was enough to hold her. "Chuck, what was it like?" she asked. "Did you see a bright tunnel?"
"No," he said.
"What did you see?"
He kissed the top of her head, then closed his eyes, remembered the vision that was his image of heaven, conjured by his mind as an invitation to the other side. It took a strong man to turn his back on heaven, but for him it had been easy enough. So he answered. "I saw you," he said, capturing in three words the images that were seared in his brain.
Blair, in her wedding dress, stepping out of the Empire with a bouquet in her hands.
Blair, pregnant and wearing a satin nightgown, pulling at his tie and pushing his jacket off.
Blair, waving away his video camera while nursing their baby.
"Me," she reflected.
"I realized it would have been selfish to go. We can have heaven right here."