Disclaimer: I do not own "Gossip Girl."
Author's Note: This chapter is mostly CS with cameos by Blair and Mia. Thank you all for reading and for the comments and reviews! I appreciate them. I hope you enjoy.
Serena takes a sharp breath; it'd slipped her mind for a moment – and there's a burn of shame that follows on the heels of that realization. She looks away from Chuck, presses her lips together and reminds herself to just breathe, just takes this one moment at a time, and it would work out. Even if nothing else had, this would.
She glances down at Mia, "I'm going to watch you from over there, sweetie…" she tells her softly.
"Watch!" Mia demands, tilting her head back.
"I will," Serena promises, moving around the coffee table to the sofa, "From over here."
Mia eyes her suspiciously, "I do! You watch."
"I'm watching." Serena assures, sits down with down with her eyes on Mia. The little girl liked for people to watch her accomplishments, "Go on…" Serena prompts.
Mia nods, pick up a star-shaped block and turns it around in her hands, momentarily satisfied.
Chuck sits at the other end of the sofa, places his briefcase on the table's hard surface and cracks it open. "I'd recommend not perusing this in detail, considering the company you're expecting."
Serena sits on the edge of the cushion, "Just give it to me."
Chuck sends her a serious look for a moment and then retrieves a crisp looking manila folder from inside his case. It's about an inch thick, binder clips showing through the rubber band holding it all together. "It's a replica," he tells her, "Exact, I believe."
She holds her hand out; ignore the way it shakes just like he will.
He hands her the folder without another word; they're past warnings now.
She avoids his gaze as she sets it on the cushion to between them, and doesn't let herself think about it. She flips it open.
"Just so you know, I'm not accustomed to illegalities involving children." Chuck states, leaning back and stretching his legs out. "It complicates matters; people are less inclined to view grays."
Serena doesn't hear him. She'd expected a page of statistics, name and age and height and weight; she hadn't expected a five by seven color photo, paper-clipped to the front of that page. She falls still, her eyes widening slowly as she studies the boy her baby grew up to be.
The boy looking back at her from the picture is nothing like what she'd imagined; no almost-too-long blonde hair over his brows, no curious bright blue eyes looking at the camera, no mischievous smile on his lips – and she realizes abruptly, it'd been a version of Nate she'd imagined.
And this boy was no Nate.
He's blue-eyed for sure, but there's no brightness in the way he's glaring at the camera, his hair is buzzed short, almost to the scalp, just a fuzz of blonde hair visible, and there's a set to his jaw, to the slash of his lips, that dissuades thoughts of smiling. He looks angry and there's a reddening bruise along the outside of his left eye.
She touches fingertips to the spot, her gaze frozen on the picture. "What- what is that…?" She finally whispers, mouth dry.
Chuck doesn't answer for a moment; and the silence in the living room stretches, her eyes staring unblinkingly at the boy, memorizing the lines of his face.
"Matthew Rhode Warner," Chuck answers after a beat, "Twelve years old."
"His face, Chuck," she hisses, breathes out on a rush of frustrated fear, "What happened to his face?"
"I gathered the impression," Chuck answers casually, "From the paperwork I glanced at, that the boy likes to throw punches…" a pause and then he adds wryly, "A bit like his father, I suppose."
Serena's head snaps up to look at him, a scowl on her face, "You're such an asshole."
He shrugs one shoulder, "It's hardly my fault."
He arcs an eyebrow, "Is this how you're going to thank me?"
"If you're going to be-"
"Aun' Ree!" Mia calls throws a block their way, "Look!"
The block bounces off Chuck's knee and he jumps, "Hey!" Rubs at the spot.
Mia giggles. "Aun' Reena!" She calls again, reaches for another block.
"Whoa, no!" Chuck calls, holding a hand out, "Throwing bad!"
She pouts at him and then hurls the block at his head.
"Jeezus," Chuck hisses, dodges the throw. The block bounces off the backrest of the sofa and falls to the floor.
And Serena blows out a breath, her heart is pounding hard in her chest and she feels icy all over, like she's going to be sick.
She needs- she needs to calm down. She makes herself focus on Mia, "I'm looking," she whispers, fingers splaying out over the picture, covering him.
"Done!" Mia announces.
"Are you- are you sure…?" Serena asks, forces her lips into a smile. "I think you're missing…" she points out the two blocks the little girl has thrown, "Two pieces."
Mia considers this, blue eyes seeking the pieces out. "I find," she says seriously and then turns around on the seat, slides down the armchair to the floor.
"You'll get," Chuck corrects her; "You already know where they are."
The little girl pauses to look at him and Serena sighs, rubs at her temple with her other hand. "Leave her alone, Chuck."
"I'm speaking to her, Serena. Is that not what you implied I should do?"
Serena frowns at him, doesn't reply, her fingertips smoothing over the picture gently.
Mia turns back to the armchair before retrieving the fallen pieces, picks up the puzzle and then delivers it to Chuck; drops it right onto his lap, "You do!" She beams.
Chuck actually starts, arms moving out to his sides to avoid accidentally touching either her or the puzzle; and the surprised look on his face lifts Serena's mood a fraction.
"No," he says, "No… take that… back."
Mia giggles, pushes the block puzzle into his stomach, "You do…" she nods, glances at Serena with a smile.
"Go get the other pieces for Chuck then, sweetie…" Serena says with a smile, Chuck's obvious discomfort making it a bit more genuine, "So he can do it."
Mia nods emphatically, rushes away, and Chuck shoots Serena a dark glare, "I am not doing a puzzle,"
She lifts an eyebrow, "Why not?"
"Because… I'm not…" he looks down at it and then takes it and places it quickly on the table by his briefcase.
"It's not infected with SARS, Chuck," Serena rolls her eyes, "It's just a toy."
"Not the sort of toy I'm accustomed to," he drawls.
And she kicks at him for that, "Shut-up."
Mia comes around the couch with both blocks in her little hands, she pauses when she sees Chuck's moved the puzzle and then goes to him, puts the blocks directly into his hands before turning to the puzzle, picking it up, and depositing it in his lap again. She smiles, "Now do."
He stares at her for a moment, takes a quick breath, "No."
"Chuck!" Serena hisses at him. "Come here, Mimsi-Mi…" she says more gently, takes the little girl's arm gently and tugs her closer. "He doesn't know how…"
Mia looks up at Serena curiously and Chuck takes the opportunity to put the puzzle back on the coffee table.
"Why don't you do it again and let him watch you," Serena suggests, combs her fingers through the little girl's hair.
Mia glances over at Chuck, smiles at him, "'onky!" She giggles, pointing at him and stepping closer to Serena, "onky!" She leans into Serena's knee, hiding her giggles in the denim of her Aunt's jeans.
"What?" Chuck huffs, "What is she saying?"
Serena shrugs, "Not sure... what, sweetie?"
"'onky!" Mia grins, delighted. "Eppy 'onkey!"
"Oh!" Serena's eyes widen in comprehension and she shoots a look at Chuck, feels her own lips tilt up in a smile again. "Oh,," she says understandingly, "Eppy's Monkey on the cartoon... that wears a bow-tie," her lips twist in a smirk as she meets Chuck's gaze, "Just like Chuck."
"Eppy!" Mia announces with a nod, "'onky!"
"She's comparing me to a cartoon." Chuck says flatly.
"A cartoon monkey." Serena snickers, lifts Mia onto her lap.
His gaze turns to Mia, "I am not- not," he repeats for emphasis," Comparable to a cartoon anything."
Mia puckers her lips and points at him, at his bow tie they both realize. "Me see," she demands, fingers wiggling in the air.
"She wants to see your-"
"Yes, Serena, I got that." Chuck snaps, touches fingers to his bow-tie almost protectively. "I think not."
Mia's hand drops, she frowns.
"It's okay, sweetie..." Serena coos, rubs at Mia's back, "Chuck is a grumpy monkey."
The girl's expression clears as she looks to her Aunt, Serena drops a kiss to her nose and Mia giggles.
Chuck's frown deepens, "I am not-"
There's a knock at the door and Chuck's mouth snaps shut. Serena's head lifts from where she's pressing kisses to Mia's face, anxiety jolting through her abruptly. Blair.
Mia looks at the door expectantly, pushes off Serena's lap; and Serena follows suit, pushing up from the sofa quickly.
She's already taken a step when she remembers the file, turns back, heart pounding again, to see Chuck closing, slipping it back into his briefcase – there's a flash of gratefulness that courses through her and then another knock at the door.
"Serena..." Blair calls and already there's a tinge of panic in her voice.
"Momma!" Mia bounces excitedly to the door.
"Yeah, B, coming..." Serena assures, proud of how steady her voice is as she moves to the door again. She waits another breath, her hand on the doorknob, while Chuck closes the briefcase and places it on the floor by the sofa – mostly out of sight.
She takes a deep breath - don't think about, don't think about it, don't think about it - and it's easier than it should be to do.
She swings the door open with a smile, "Hey, that was fast..."
Blair lifts an eyebrow, but Mia rushes at her mother's legs and Blair looks down at her, "Hello…" she smiles, then glances at Serena, "And it's been almost an hour," she points out, bending down to lift the baby into her arms.
Serena shrugs, moves aside so Blair can walk in. "Went fast..."
Blair hugs Mia to herself, presses a kiss to the little girl's cheek, "Hi, baby..." she murmurs, "Did you have fun with Auntie Ser-" she stops half-way into the living, gaze landing on Chuck, "Oh..." she glances at Serena, "You have company..."
Serena shrugs, breathes out slowly, "Just Chuck."
"Thank you, sis," Chuck drawls, standing from the sofa. "Blair," he greets calmly.
She gives him an easy smile, "Chuck – nice of you check on Serena."
"'onky!" Mia announces, pointing at him again.
And Chuck rolls his eyes. "No."
Blair cuddles Mia a bit closer, "What monkey, Amelia?" She wonders, still smiling.
"There is no monkey." Chuck says seriously.
Serena snorts a little laugh, "The cartoon, Eppy's Episodes... the little monkey friend she has..."
And Blair laughs softly too, "Ah yes... with the bow-tie..." she smiles at her little girl, "Very observant, baby." She commends.
Mia giggles and then shifts in Blair's hold, wanting to be let down. The brunette shakes her head, "Nuh-uh, baby, no. We're going now," she tells her, adjusting her grip to keep Mia steady. "We have to go get you a dress, remember." She turns dark eyes turn to Serena, "Will you be accompanying us?"
Serena freezes, "Uh... I'm not- I don't know if- I-" she fumbles over words, thoughts racing. She can't leave right now, she needs to finish this.
"She has a guest," Chuck drawls, motions to himself, "Are you encouraging rudeness, Blair?"
Blair's smile shifts to him again, not dimming a single notch, but her gaze hardens. "What are you doing here, Chuck?"
"I believe that's between me and my dear sis," he retorts, smirking a little.
Blair's gaze narrows on him, "Serena-"
"We're planning something," Serena lies, "For my Mom…" It's really the only thing she and Chuck have in common.
"You're planning something?" Skepticism drips from Blair's voice.
And Serena cringes, this needs to go better, she has to hide this better or it's all over before she's even begun it, "Yeah," she laughs a little, gives a tiny shrug, "She was complaining at lunch the other day she never sees us all together." She glances at Chuck, "I mentioned it to Chuck."
"And here I am," he says expansively, playing along.
Blair looks between them for a moment and then rolls her eyes, "Alright then," she shrugs, "Mia's coat in your room?" She wonders, already moving in that direction.
"Yup," Serena nods.
When she's out of the room, Chuck sends Serena a sidelong glance, "Smooth," he taunts.
She hisses, "Shut-up," back, without even looking at him.
"I suppose travel abroad dulled your ability to-"
Blair walks back into the room before he can respond. "What are you considering?" She asks, Mia's propped on her hip and the little girl's jacket is draped over one of her arms; she doesn't seem suspicious, but Serena keeps her guard up – Blair's attacks are calculated and sudden.
"Um… not sure yet," she glances at Chuck, "We haven't gotten around to… discussing, yet…" The truth. There should be truth in your lies.
Blair nods, her attention on getting a wriggling Mia into her jacket. "Well, if you need help let me know."
"Organizing a simplistic family brunch is not out of my capabilities, Blair," Chuck offers amusedly.
She sends him a quick look, "I was speaking to Serena."
He lifts an eyebrow, "Even Serena can-"
"Mama, no…" Mia whines, tries to pull her arm out of the sleeve, "No, stay… no."
Blair stares hard at Chuck for a moment and Serena sees a flash of wariness cross her friends expression before her gaze turns back to her daughter. "We're going shopping," Blair tells the little girl, "It's going to be so much fun…" she encourages, wrapping the jacket tight around Mia's middle. "You're going to be the prettiest one there…"
Serena licks her lips. "She always is."
Blair glances up at her, "Mm."
"Why don't-" she finds her voice catches a little with Blair's dark eyes on her face. She clears her throat, "Why don't we have lunch tomorrow? You can show me what you bought?"
"Can't tomorrow," Blair says, eyes back on Mia as she buttons the coat. "Meeting through lunch; but I'll call you after…"
She straightens finally and Mia picks at the buttons with a disapproving look on her face. "You can come for dinner… or we'll bring it to you."
We. Serena holds back her sigh and nods, smiles. "Sure."
"Afraid I won't make it," Chuck smirks at Blair, "Thank you for the invitation," he adds snidely.
Serena opens her mouth to intervene before any possible insults are exchanged, but Blair's response is swifter and softer than she'd expected. "You're invited if you want to be," she says carefully and lifts Mia into her arms, before facing him, "You know that."
Chuck's smirk falters and for a moment and the room is quiet. "Right." Chuck says after a long moment, "Well, I can't."
She nods. "We're off then…" she states, looking between them.
Serena pulls in a deep breath and nods, moves towards her. "I'll talk to you later," she says, kisses Blair's cheek, "Thank you for staying with me, Mimsi-Mi!" She says to Mia, tickles her a little as he presses a kiss to the baby's brow.
Mia giggles, squirming into Blair, and giving her Aunt a wide smile.
"Say goodbye, Amelia," Blair instructs and flashes them both a quick smile.
"Bye!" Serena encourages, waves her hand as she moves to open the door for them.
Mia giggles and echoes, "Bye! Bye!" as she waves her little hand. Serena stands at the door and waves back until they get in the elevator and disappear from sight.
When she turns back into the room, Chuck is staring at the floor intently; looking pensive and she sighs, rubs at her face. "You make it harder than it has to be. We're all… still friends; you shouldn't try to antagonize her."
He lifts his head to look at her. "Maybe I should offer to babysit more," he says flatly.
Her gaze narrows. "That is not what I meant."
"Your deluded ideas of friendship don't apply to me Serena, so don't bother." He snaps, turns away from her and back to the sofa. "Can we get this over with now?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
He puts the briefcase back on the center table, "Your deluded ideas about your friendship with the Archibald's or your deluded ideas about this kid who's life you want to tip over – take your pick."
She flinches, can't help it. "Just leave it and go," she hisses, hates herself for the sting of tears behind her eyes; for the truth in his words. She doesn't give her relationship with Blair or Nate too much thought; takes it on the surface for what it has to be – they're her friends and she loves them. Them, them, them.
And this, Matthew, she can't-
He rolls his eyes. "Sit down."
"I have a proposition for you."
She blows out a breath. "I don't need anything from you besides what you've already done."
"You need my silence." He says simply.
The air goes out of her lungs; she can't breathe — he would.
"Sit." He says again, motions to the spot she'd vacated when Blair had arrived.
And Serena does as he orders, feels shaky enough to need to sit.
He slides a vaguely resentful look at her when she settles down. "You know, if you're going to pale and appear on the verge of fainting every time I hint at a threat, this is going to be much less fun."
"This isn't- it's not a game." She whispers hoarsely, "Don't… make it one."
"Everything's a game, S," he says seriously, "If you can find your angle, you can win. You know that."
"Not this," she tucks a strand of her short hair behind her ear, takes a slow, deep breath. "There's no winning… I just-" she cuts herself off, rubs at her face. She wants to everyone to survive it.
Chuck doesn't respond. Instead he pulls the binder on Matthew out again, sets it on the table beside the case and then retrieves another folder. "Tell me what you plan to do with the information I'm giving you." It's not a question.
And Serena takes the folder in her hands, sets it on her lap without opening it. She lifts her gaze to his and doesn't reply, doesn't need to say it - they both know.
His jaw clenches, eyes hardening. "You'd risk everything."
"No one has to know," she says quietly, so quietly it's almost to herself. They're the words she's been repeating in hear heart for days now, nobody has to know. She could bring him home and make him hers and nobody ever had to know
Chuck sets the second folder on her lap, opens it over the first. "I have a less volatile alternative."
Serena watches him for a moment longer; before glancing down at her lap, she takes a look at the first page. Then a look at the second and then the third; she flips through them quickly – they're legal documents, and Matthew's name is all over them. "What is this…?"
"Just preliminary documents," Chuck explains carefully, leans towards her a bit, "For a trust… Set up in his name. We can have everything finalized by the end of next week."
She looks up at him, surprised.
"Hire a board, set up terms, a monthly stipend; he could be at one of the best boarding schools in the world by the first of next month."
Her mouth opens, but no sound comes out.
"Anonymous benefactor, distant relative, something his parent's set-up even, that took this long to go into effect – we can make it anything you want; set it up until he's eighteen or twenty-one or twenty-five..."
There's a thread of something almost like pleading in Chuck's voice and she bites the inside of her cheek, feels a lump forming in her throat. "Chuck…" she pushes his name past dry lips, lets her gaze fall to the paperwork again.
"It's the best solution, Serena," he tells her calmly after a moment of silence. "If you must do this, involve yourself in this child's life, this is the cleanest way. I'll have it done discreetly; it will never lead back to you, to any of us… and he'd be taken care of."
Her chest feels tight and there's a headache pulsing at the back of her head, because he's right. She could do this, she could see him taken of and it would be- clean, neat.
"No." The word breaks free before she's let herself consider anything more. "No… that's not-" she breathes out slowly, "He's not paperwork for me to sign, Chuck."
"He's a powder keg waiting to go off," Chuck corrects her.
She lifts her gaze to his face, locks her gaze with his. "I can't do it again; I can't just… look away."
"You're not. You'd be doing what a hundred parents in positions of political and social power do every year. You'd be giving him the best education, the best of everything."
"I'd be running away from it, sweeping it under the rug again. Because it's easier and neater and my life could go on without a hitch," the words tumble out of her mouth, "Because I could take care of it with a signature and nobody would know… Id' be- I'd be ignoring it… ignoring that- that he's- I'm his mother..." her voice trails off at the end and she stares at Chuck, implores him to understand that.
He presses his lips together, shifts closer to her on the sofa. "You're not looking at this properly," he says tensely, "That boy had a mother and she is dead, Serena. What you can do here is provide him with-"
"I want to bring him here," she interrupts, says it out loud for the first time. "What I want to provide him with is a home, a family. Okay? I want- I want him."
He stares at her in silence and she sets her jaw stubbornly; she won't take it back, she won't change her mind.
"That's all very sweet, Serena." He drawls; and the thread of mockery in his voice makes her stiffen. "But in reality, you're a New York City based, high society model-slash-socialite known for partying and the occasional recreational drug usage. He's a foster kid in Oregon. Whatever concoction you've drummed up in your slightly concussed brain is going to be toppled over by the media in week one."
She glowers at him, "You're really an asshole you know that."
"This is not about me."
"Exactly," she spits, "It's my life. I'm not asking you to care."
His gaze narrows. "Your life reflects itself in Bass Inc. at the most inopportune moments," he snaps. "The last thing I need is a potential client bringing up the train wreck that is my sister."
"Disown me then," she hisses and blurts, "I'm going to adopt him." She ignores the insult; it's meant to work her up, to distract her from the real point here – her son.
He rears back like she slapped him. "You're an idiot."
"No one has to-"
"But they will," he interrupts with a rough sigh, "Take another look at the picture, Serena. He's got a horrendous haircut and may likely require dental work someday, but he is Nathaniel's son. The resemblance is there and more than that, how long before someone digging around into why one of Manhattan's princesses decided to adopt a twelve-year-old finds it?"
She sets the folders on table, wrings her hands together a little. "So we'll… hide it better."
"There's no we," Chuck huffs, "I didn't sign up to help you do this; this is…" he pushes up from the sofa, paces in front of her. "You can't just adopt a kid." He tells her finally, stops in front of her.
She tips her head back slowly to look at him, mindful of the headache that's still threatening. "I'll foster him first."
"There are laws." He says tightly. "He's across the country… do you not see how obvious this is?"
"I see tha-"
"The trust is a better solu-"
"Chuck!" She stands from the sofa; too fast, the room circles around her and it takes a moment for her to focus her gaze on him, but she glares when she does, "No," she says emphatically, "I'm not- that's not what I'm doing. I'm… bringing him here."
And he's been trying to change her mind this whole time; from the moment he walked in, because he knew her enough to know what she'd wanted, maybe from the moment she'd asked for the information, he'd known this is what it would lead to. Just like she knew he'd do this, try to talk her out of it, but not actually deny her.
So when he leans back the slightest bit, his expression clearing, his eyes going flat; she braces herself, knows his final effort might draw blood.
"It isn't Blair that won't forgive you."
The words are soft; he doesn't need them to be anything but for them to have his desired effect. She flinches, feels tears burn behind her eyes.
The quiet stretches between them and she realizes belatedly - that's all he has to say, nothing else; and she takes a shuddery breath, looks away from him. She brings a hand to her face and rubs at one of her cheeks, at her eyes, presses the pad of her palm against one of her brows.
It's almost enough, because it's the truth. Because Blair will tear her life to shreds but then help her put it back together, a little worse for wear, scorched at the edges, but whole. Because it's Nate, who never turns family away and shies away from a lie and looks at his daughter like he's never loved so much before, who'll never-
She blows out a breath and snuffs the thought out; she's practiced at not thinking about Nate.
It's almost enough, but not quite. "No one ever has to know," she repeats, clings to the words.
Chuck presses his lips together, "You honestly believe that."
Serena stills for a moment and then lowers herself back into the sofa slowly, curls her legs underneath herself and reaches out for the folders. She tips the trust documentation shut, moves it away so she can open Matthew's folder, can look at the picture. There's a lot here she has to read; and to get this she might need a lawyer. She'll need a story to give the press, a story to give Blair, her mother.
She touches fingertips to the photo again, answers, "Yes." She has to believe that.
She keeps her eyes on the picture even when the couch dips when as Chuck takes his seat again. "I suppose you want me to orchestrate all of this."
Her fingers follow the outline of the picture; take in the gray hoodie and the slightest pucker to his bottom lip. "I can do it…" she whispers, feels her lips tilt a bit at the corners even as she says it because- "If you tell me how."
He scoffs and she breathes out, looks up at him.
He's watching her, relaxed into the corner of the sofa. "How about I coordinate the further shrouding of your youthful misjudgments and fostering of your biological son and you organize the function we have to host for Lily."
"Hm…" she gives him a tiny half-smile and extends her leg, pokes his knee with her toes, "Sounds fair."