The Little Princess
By Isabelle Hernandez
Rating: R, mature later chapter
Disclaimer: I own neither Gossip Girl and much less Chuck and Blair. Sadly.
Summary: A journey begins when Chuck sets out to find Blair after a tragedy. He brings his inquisitive five year old daughter with him. This is the story told by her.
A/N: It came to me in a dream, and I decided to write it down. Thank you to my beta, Tati.
Chapter 1: Mr. Burke
"The earliest memory of my mother was of her dressed in a pale ivory coat, smiling at my father. She had a round belly and a smile on her face. I didn't see that smile again for many, many months. Years later, I asked her what had happened that was so sad, to which she replied that though life is not always happy, it is always true." ~ Ilsa C. Bass
The thing that made Ilsa happiest was the fact that Daddy let her wear her red coat. She loved her red coat. It had a lovely silk bow on the waist, full skirt and a soft caramel-colored fur around the collar. It felt like she was being hugged by a teddy bear. But it also reminded her of the films she watched with Mommy, cuddled in silk sheets on cold days. They were from old times, where the film always ended with a kiss of true love. She wore her white gloves and shiny patent shoes as Dorota carried her luggage behind them. In her right hand, she held Prince Albert the frog prince her mommy had gotten her when she was a baby. In her left, she held on tightly to Daddy's hand, attempting to keep up with his long steps as he stared ahead towards the plane.
Her red coat had been a present from her grandfather Harold, and she was only allowed to wear it on special occasions, which was how she knew this was a special trip because Daddy said 'let her wear what she likes' to Dorota, and she had promptly insisted on her red coat and soft white gloves.
"Where are we going, Daddy?" She peered up at her father. His face was not soft and smiling like it usually was; it was hard and distant, and she didn't quite know what to make of it. There was only so much a five year old could understand, you see. She had been on their plane many times: to visit France and London, to go to the mountains, to travel to Barcelona. She had memories of it, but she had never been on the plane with just her daddy. On occasion it had been just her and her mommy as they flew to meet Daddy while he was away on business, but never just the two of them. This felt special, like a bonding trip.
"Prague," he responded, still not looking at her, and her eyes lit up.
"Is Mommy in Prague?" She inquired with great curiosity.
"No," he replied and left it at that as he continued walking towards the plane.
Ilsa frowned. It wasn't like her father to go monosyllabic on her, and much less ignore her. She noticed a strange man, badly dressed, waiting by the plane for them. It wasn't Joe, their pilot, but someone else. They walked until they were directly in front of the man, who smelled like something bitter and smoky and she didn't like it.
"Family outing?" The man asked her father, and her own brows furrowed.
"Who are you?" She demanded, not used to being ignored by adults. Adults usually fawned over her, complimenting her coat, her froggie, her caramel locks or her lips. This man ignored her, and she didn't like it.
The man turned slowly to meet her eyes, much taller than her father and much dirtier.
"Don't worry about that, little princess." He sneered down at her, and she recoiled back, hiding behind her father's well-shaped legs, tucking Prince Albert firmly under her chin.
"She comes, and that's final," she heard her father declare. Before she knew it, he had picked her up in his arms and started up the stairs of the plane with her. She peeked over her father's shoulder to stare at the mean man.
The man stared right back at her.
She stuck her tongue out.
Served him right. She didn't like smelly people.
"Daddy, he smells like Brooklyn," she whispered to her father. And though Ilsa couldn't see it at the moment, it was the first time a miniscule smile tugged at her father's lips. "Mommy said that people that smell like Brooklyn can't be trusted." She eyed the man who followed them up the plane stairs, never taking his eyes off her.
Once inside the plane, her daddy placed her on a large plush chair and made sure her coat was well hung so it wouldn't get wrinkled. He placed a soft cashmere throw over her legs and secured her seat belt. She beamed up at him when he handed her Prince Albert, hugging the frog with all her might.
"Get her some milk," he commanded a pretty flight attendant who flashed her father a wide smile, which made Ilsa frown.
"With honey!" Ilsa snapped at the woman, who turned to stare at her in surprise. "And slightly warm, if you please." She huffed and fixed her curls.
Her father spared her a sidelong glance. "You heard her." He told the woman who quickly stopped smiling at her father. She must be new.
Dorota entered the plane right after the smelly man, who went directly to talk to Joe. The woman was crying, and Ilsa couldn't understand why. She placed a little suitcase next to Ilsa, sniffling the whole time.
"Your toys, Miss Ilsa," she said, fixing the blanket around her. "You be good with your papa, yes?"
"Yes, Dorota," Ilsa agreed. "I promised I would be the best little girl."
"Good, child. Good." Dorota fixed her curls some more, making sure her sparkly headband was well in place, and tucked Prince Albert under the blanket. She leaned in close to the girl. "Your papa very sad, yes? You make him happy, yes?"
Small Ilsa could hardly understand what her nana meant, but Mommy had always said to obey Dorota no matter what so she nodded eagerly, eager to make her father happy since he was so sad.
Dorota kissed the top of her head and quickly left the plane.
"Why isn't Dorota coming with us?" Ilsa asked her father, who had now sat on the other side of the plane, his face still hard and sad, holding a glass of dirty water in his hand. Ilsa wondered why he didn't get milk also.
He didn't answer her and simply looked out of the window. Ilsa sighed, annoyed once more at being ignored. She watched with wide and curious eyes as the smelly man came to her father, whispered something, handing him some papers and leaving them to sit in the front where he spread out, pulled his raggedy hat over his face, and went to sleep. It seemed to Ilsa that it couldn't be a very comfortable position.
She turned her small head to her father, who studied the paper before him with a set intensity, like when her Mommy told her not to bother him because he was a very important and busy man. Yet… In those times, when he would sense her spying on him in her nightgown, whispering to Prince Albert that he needed to be quiet or he would disturb Daddy's concentration, her father would turn and invite her to his lap, letting her fall asleep there as the continued going over the paperwork on his desk.
"Daddy?" She asked quietly, finishing the warm milk the lady had brought her. "Can I sit with you, Daddy?"
Her father sighed tiredly, running a hand over his face. It seemed to small Ilsa that she had never seen her father look so very… devastated. So lost and alone. It was at that precise moment that she realized how much she missed her mother. Her mother always knew what to do when her father was angry or sad. She always knew what to do when Ilsa herself was angry or sad. She just didn't understand what she had done so very wrong to make her mother leave without saying goodbye.
"Not now, princess," he whispered quietly. Ilsa sighed and pressed her small face into Prince Albert's soft fur, whispering and explaining to him that they needed to be good lest Daddy leave them in New York with Auntie Serena and her new Uncle whose name she couldn't remember. After Prince Albert agreed, the soft hum of the jet's engine lulled the small child to sleep. Sometime in the night, her father picked her up, laid her against his chest and let her and her frog sleep there for the rest of the night.
"The first time I saw Prague, it was under a sad circumstance which I could still not comprehend. But for the first time I finally understood beauty. My mother's love was Paris and mine became Prague. I found a twin soul and years after I made a point to visit as often as possible, basking in its dark streets and wet cobbled steps. I was a heroine there; the star of my very own film." ~ Ilsa C. Bass
In the old limousine, riding through the city as the early morning greeted the Prague citizens, little Ilsa Bass pressed her face up against the window, intent on memorizing every detail of this new city. Prince Albert was just as excited as she was, falling in love with it along with her. The pristine and impressive buildings were so very different from New York.
"This place is magic, Daddy!" She exclaimed to her father, who now wore sunglasses and stared blankly ahead. "This is where princesses live, Daddy, real princesses!"
Her father said nothing, but Prince Albert was quite chatty. From the front of the limo, the smelly man mumbled and grumbled at her chatter but she firmly ignored him. Mommy always said that if something needed to be said, then it should be stated not hidden.
She watched as elderly women dressed in fine Italian shoes walked briskly in the streets with bags of groceries, stopping to greet one another, exchanging idle gossip and soft smiles. She watched tourists, which her mother had taught her to despise, with contempt. Their shorts, cameras and hippy backpacks became quite offensive and she sniffed at them. Tour groups filled with lost and eager teens blocked the limo's path, and she explained to Prince Albert that the lower classes had no choice but to travel in packs in order to make Europe more affordable.
"I wont ever have to travel in packs, will I, Daddy?" she asked her father as the limo slowed down before an impressive building. "Where are we, daddy?"
"A friend's home. I need to speak with him privately," her father said, pulling on his gloves to guard against the cold weather outside. Ilsa imitated him, ensuring her own gloves were firmly closed around the pearl buttons. She also made sure Prince Albert's cape was well-fitted; she didn't want him to catch a cold and slow them down in their adventure.
"Stay here, Ilsa. Stay with the driver," her father said. It was not a request, but rather a fact.
"No, Daddy! You promised! You promised you wouldn't leave me behind!" Ilsa cried, her heart hammering at the thought of being left alone with a driver she didn't know. She knew Arthur well and was fine with him – Arthur drove her all over the city and ensured she arrived safely at all her location – but she didn't know this creepy man and she refused to be abandoned with him. Plus, Prince Albert had forgotten his sword and who would defend her if not her father?
"The kid is slowing us down," the smelly man grumbled, coming around the car when her father opened the door.
Her father turned and gave the man a hard glare, harder than Ilsa had ever seen her father give anyone else. Even Ilsa recoiled back from said look.
"Mommy would never leave me with a stranger," Ilsa assured him with finality. That apparently did the trick as her father got out of the car and turned to offer her his hand. She happily took it, making sure she had a good grasp on Prince Albert and followed him outside.
The air even smelled different here than in New York, she realized. It smelled of old things. Like her grandmother's jewelry chest, which she was allowed to peek at once in a while when Grandma Eleanor let her play dress up in her room. As her father spoke to the mean man, she listened intently.
"I wasn't able to reach him," the man explained to her father.
"Then a surprise visit it is," her father replied, cold smoke blowing from his lips.
"Are you sure he's the man to help?" The driver inquired.
"I pay you for many things, but questioning me is not one of them, Parker." Her father snapped and Ilsa had a little delirious smile on her lips as she nodded, emphasizing her father's words to Parker. No one questioned her father… Well, maybe her mother. Definitely her mother. Sometimes her Grandmother Eleanor, but even she knew when to stop meddling.
Her father started them towards the grand home in the center of the city. Ilsa stretched her little neck upwards to see how high the building went. Was it as high at the New York ones where she at times couldn't see the end? Was it a short building like the Hamptons house? One thing was certain; the Basses didn't own a home this old. It wasn't decrepit… it was simply old. Like the Palaces of Versailles where her mother took her last fall with her Uncle Eric and Grandpa Harold.
"Are we staying here, Daddy? Is this a hotel? Do you own this hotel?" She asked, attempting to keep up with his quick steps. Her curls bounced around her, and she nearly tripped on the hard stone steps but her father, realizing he was dragging her, quickly pulled her up before she snagged her tights or scraped a knee.
"No, no and no," he answered quickly, arriving at the door and ringing the elegant bell.
Ilsa fixed her hair, making sure it was properly in place. She dusted off any invisible lint on her fine coat and made sure it was presentable. She narrowed her small eyes when she spotted a small scuff on her shiny black shoes, which her Uncle Eric had gotten her for her birthday. She would have to get one of the maids to properly clean them. She told this to Prince Albert as they waited for the door to be opened, adjusting his twisted cape.
When the door was finally opened, a serious old butler appeared and looked down at the Basses past his crooked nose. Ilsa scurried and hid behind her father as she peeked up at the man.
"Charles Bass to see Remington Burke," her father announced, unconcerned with the man's sneering look.
"Into the foyer, sir." The man had a refined English accent, one that many of her parents' friends had. Her father pulled her into the home, but Ilsa stopped, knowing her manners very well, and curtsied before the butler.
"Ilsa Cordelia Bass-Waldorf, if you please," she decided to introduce herself, seeing as her father had also introduced himself. The butler's eyebrows rose and hid under his thinning hair. He nodded at her.
"Yes, miss. You can also go into the foyer," he nodded at her.
"Ilsa," her father chastised, grabbing her hand and pulling her along to sit on a plush dark brown sofa.
"I'm sorry, Daddy, but he needed to know my name also in order to receive a proper introduction from our host," she explained, fixing her skirt around her. "Mommy said to always make sure that people know exactly who you are, otherwise they threat you like commoners, which we are not."
Her father sighed, burying his head in his hands, which made Ilsa feel guilty. Perhaps she should stop mentioning her mother so often, but she couldn't help it. All she knew she had learned from her, and she needed to state the source in order for her statements to hold any validity. She said this to Prince Albert in secret, and he heartily agreed.
Despite her folded hands before her, her crossed ankles and her perfect posture, Ilsa's wide eyes searched out the home with thirsty curiosity. From the thick Persian carpets to the fine porcelain china to the thick mahogany that covered nearly every corner of the home. To her, it felt a bit cluttered. Their home was simple yet classically styled and never overly furnished.
"You can always tell new money by the way they furnish their home," her mother told her some months ago. Her belly was large and protruding as she made sure Dorota properly moved the console table to the right angle. "I'll never understand the need for such sumptuousness, and neither shall you."
"Yes, Mommy." Ilsa trailed behind her taking mental notes of these important lessons despite the fact that she had no clue what 'sumptuousness' meant.
"Thank goodness your father has me, though he does inherently have good taste. Which is what attracted me to him in the first place, you know. I always knew I would fall in love with him," she said with authority.
Dorota sniffled dismissively, which earned her a glare from her mother.
"I always knew I would love him, my flower, don't you believe otherwise," her mother told her, and Ilsa eagerly nodded.
"Are they new money, daddy?" Ilsa whispered to her father, who for the first time turned to really look at her. It was then that she noticed he hardly looked at her, always talked to her from the side. Always avoiding her eyes and her gaze.
"Yes, Ilsa. They are," he confirmed.
Ilsa pursed her lips. Weren't the Humphreys also new money, and she had been firmly told to avoid them?
"Mommy said –"
"Be quiet," her father said as the butler came back into the room with an air about him.
"Mr. Burke will see you now, Mr. Bass… and Miss Bass," the man nodded at her direction.
Ilsa smiled prettily at him, and the man hid a smile as he led them up some stairs and into a darkened hallway. Her father walked behind her as the old butler showed them the way to Mr. Burke's office. Ilsa's eyes wandered to the paintings in the dark hallways. They were authentic, she noticed, having been taught this lesson by her Grandfather Harold.
She was so enthralled by the items that she stopped walking. Her father's hand was at her back.
"Walk on, Ilsa," he murmured and she looked up at him.
"We have more Picassos than they do, Daddy," she confided. Her father motioned for her to be quiet. She mirrored his actions to Prince Albert, who seemed to be very chatty today.
They were led to a door that the butler opened, ushering them inside. It was a grand office, with large windows overlooking the city. A large desk housed a man who was bent over his papers. He had a set face and a scar on his eyebrow. He was a cold man, Ilsa decided; he reminded her of the picture of her dead Grandfather Bartholomew, which her father kept in his office as far from his desk as possible. The picture made her grasp at her mother's skirt, burying her face in the soft cloth despite her mother's reassurance.
Ilsa grasped her father's hand tightly, attempting to be brave like she promised she would. This man could know where her mother was and that was most important to her, since she needed her father to be happy once more.
"Mr. Burke, Mr. Bass for you," the butler announced.
Ilsa cleared her throat and eyed the elder man.
"And Miss Ilsa Cordelia Bass-Waldorf, sir," the butler clarified. Ilsa turned her small head to study the reaction of Mr. Burke who finally looked up from the endless papers on his desk. It was obvious that this man didn't have a mommy to tidy up behind him. Her daddy's desk always remained respectable because her mother would go in with Dorota and organize it once a week.
"What would it take for him to simply put things back where he found them?"Her mother would hiss as Ilsa watched from the doorway. "Next week I will have to check the office, it must be a disaster."
"Can I come, Mommy? I can help organize!" Ilsa would offer.
Her mother would turn to her and smile. "Of course, princess. You and Prince Albert can come, and then we can all have lunch with your father at Fig & Olive so you can have your favorite Goat Cheese Crostini."
"Oh, yes, please, Mommy!" Ilsa would cry, delighted at the prospect of such a wonderful day. "And then can we stop by the park and feed the ducks my leftovers?"
"I think this is a wonderful plan." Her mother would hold her, and she would feel safe.
Mr. Burke stood from his spot, eyeing the curious pair.
"Charles Bass… It's been some time…" the man said slowly.
"Remy. How are you?" Chuck held out his hand. Ilsa eyed the two men, sensing that they fought a battle with neither words nor weapons. She clutched Prince Albert tighter and told him all would be well.
Mr. Burke slowly took her father's hand, shaking it firmly, and then turned to eye the little girl speculatively.
"My daughter, Remy," Chuck explained.
"Ilsa Cordelia Bass-Waldorf," she added, curtsying once more.
Mr. Burke was serious for a moment before a foreign smile broke out over his face. It was an odd sort of smile. A cruel one. "She's the spitting image of her mother, Charles. Are you sure she's yours?"
Her father's jaw tensed and his shoulders squared. Ilsa didn't like this at all, but she didn't hide behind her father's legs this time. She stood her ground. She did place Prince Albert before her just in case there was an attack.
"Remy," her father spoke, and she knew that tone well and clear. It was a warning. Like when he would warn her about running down the stairs or getting too close to a ledge of their roof, where they would often hold dinner.
"I'm only jesting, of course, Charles. No need to be sensitive. You live too long in the States and you forget you sense of humor. You should move the family out here for a while. Prague would do you good." Mr. Burke took out a cigar and offered one to her father. She eyed the apprehension in her father before he turned to her.
"Princess… I need some time alone with Mr. Burke," her father explained, speaking to her at eye-level. He ran his hand through her curls and met her eyes. "Do you mind –?"
"Phillip, take her to the play room. She can be entertained there while Paxton is out." Mr. Burke answered with a certain degree of finality.
"No, Daddy!" Ilsa urged a whisper to her father, her eyes wide. No amount of play rooms would lure her from her father's side.
"Listen to me, Princess. It'll only be for a little while; the moment we're done, I will rush in to find you," her father assured her and kissed her forehead.
Ilsa's lower lip stuck out and her eyes got large and watery. "What if I'm kidnapped?"
"Then I will rescue you. I swear it," her father said with the slightest hint of a smile on his lips.
Ilsa huffed. Prince Albert was violently upset with this news, but he bravely attempted to keep a straight face. She had to be brave like him and not show her father how terrified she really was of being left alone in a strange city and a dinky old house.
Her father stood high above her and turned her around, pushing her towards the butler. Ilsa turned to look at the two men over her shoulder as the butler guided her away from her father. She always remembered her father's distraught face once he turned back to Mr. Burke.
"I'm going to beg something of you, Remy. It's the one time in my life you'll ever see me beg…"
And then the door closed behind her.
"When I was a child, my father was grander than life. He wore fine suits and loved us very much, but he was a man in charge of the world. As I grew older, I learned more and more about him. I found him irreplaceable, and I understood how my mother could never truly love another quite as she loved him. He loved her with all the passion he had in life. He loved her all or none, and it was always all. When my mother died, when both of their hairs were filled with gray, I worried myself sick for him. I'd never seen a man so broken, not even when he thought he lost her long ago." ~ Ilsa C. Bass
A/N - Since I was off today I decided to post chap 1, I hope you all enjoy it. I should have the next bit up on Wednesday when I come back home. I want to thank each of you who sent me feedback, you all are so nice and wonderful on your reviews. I thank you for your encouraging words.