AN: Apologies for the long wait, but I've realised that having two stories roughly around the same time period is not only confusing to my beta and I, but my readers. Updates for Atonement will continue to be a little slow, but Recollection will be updated regularly, and finished by Christmas. Which leaves me time to work on Atonement. Thank you to my beta, Bethaboo, and my wonderful, amazing readers. An extra long (nearly 12K!) chapter for you to enjoy...


The entire time she was being wheeled out of the hospital—part of some ridiculous hospital policy she'd believed only existed on TV—Blair kept hoping she would see him.

The past week had seen visits from her mother, her father, Serena, Dr. Sherman, and even Nate, whose awkward disposition had been at odds with Serena's sunny smiles.

But he hadn't visited. Not once, since she had asked him to leave the week before. Blair knew she could do her best to push him away, but he would always push his way back in.

Blair sighed, and her mother cast her a curious look, before nodding towards her driver and slipping into the town car, followed by Dorota—and Blair's bags—and Blair herself, dressed so casually she hardly recognized herself.

She wasn't even wearing a headband, for goodness' sake.

"Everything alright, darling?" Eleanor asked, and Blair smiled stiffly in response. Eleanor's presence had been welcome, if uncomfortable, but Blair found herself wishing for space, something Eleanor's newfound principles disallowed.

"Just a little tired," she said carelessly, avoiding Dorota's searching look.

"Your father is returning to France tonight," Eleanor said, after a brief moment of hesitation. "You're having dinner with him and Roman."

Blair nodded mindlessly once more, having heard the information a dozen times, and turned her attention towards the window, where the traffic moved at a snail's pace.

"Harold isn't sure if he should leave—," Eleanor said, speaking loudly as if to offset the silence in the car.

"No," Blair said, returning her attention back to her mother, "I'll be fine, mother."

"You were just released," Eleanor pointed out, "And you weren't very receptive to Dr. Sherman."

"I'll talk to her tomorrow," Blair said with another sigh. "Really, mother, you both have nothing to worry about."

"You're our daughter," Eleanor replied simply, "I have a right to worry."

And as Dorota smiled slightly, Blair couldn't help but smile as well.

"What are we doing?" Serena's question came from out of the blue, and Nate regarded her, sitting beside him in his shirt, her blonde hair slightly mussed.

"Having breakfast," Nate answered cheekily, reaching across for a blueberry scone, only to be halted by a slim hand.

"Nate," Serena stressed, her blue eyes serious. Nate withdrew his hand, and braced himself.

"What are we doing?" Serena repeated.

She had been staying at the Empire the past week, had taken Nate's bed after numerous protests on his part. After a night on the stylish, if uncomfortable, couch, Nate had decided Chuck's bed was much more to his liking.

Serena had originally wanted to stay at Blair's for the remainder of the month, the atmosphere at the Van der Woodsens' being uncomfortably tense, every action speaking of grief, and empty smiles dropped like pennies.

Before she had the chance to ask, however, a brief phone call from Chuck, a tense forty-five minute cab ride, and a vigil by Blair's bedside had ensued.

Nate had asked her where she was heading after the hospital, she had replied with a shrug, a wry smile. Hesitantly, almost unwillingly, Nate had offered her a place at the Empire, claiming that the couch was every bit as comfortable as its ridiculous price tag suggested. Hesitantly, almost unwillingly, she had accepted.

And here they sat, a week later, a week of hospital visits and unanswered phone calls on Chuck's part.

He had returned briefly, chiefly on Blair's request, or so he had said. Nate and Serena took turns staying at the Empire, peeking into his room every so often, listening to the occasional snores and quiet breathing.

Just in case.

He had slept for a solid nine hours, despite his request they wake him at four, placated a worried Serena and sent her off to dinner with a half-hearted smirk and unenthusiastic comment about her and Nate's relationship.

When they had returned to the Empire later that night, shivering slightly from the cold, raindrops fresh on their shoulders and hair, Chuck was nowhere to be found.

His wallet, his phone, a few of his favorite ties, and his passport were gone. In his apparent rush, he had left his safe open, and Nate had grimly reported that the cash box had been cleaned out.

Why Chuck would need thirty thousand dollars they could only come up with one conclusion.

Serena had collapsed onto the couch, head in her hands as Nate sat beside her, staring into empty space.

Nate had proposed they keep Chuck's disappearance to themselves, and Serena had agreed.

It was for the best, after all, if no one else had to worry over his disappearance.

"I don't know," came Nate's quiet admission, bringing her back to the present.

"You never do," Serena responded bitterly, and Nate bristled, his fingers tensing around the steaming mug of coffee.

"What did you expect me to say?" he shot back, and Serena recoiled slightly at the unusual display of irritation from Nate, "that we were going to get back together? I don't know Serena. You—"

"You hurt me," Serena cried out, "He's my dad, Nate. I couldn't just hand him over to the cops, I—"

"I did," Nate told her, quietly, almost as if he were speaking to himself rather than her. "Or at least, I was prepared to. It wasn't because I didn't love my own father. He did something wrong, and I wasn't going to let him run away."

"And maybe you're honorable enough," Serena mocked, pushing her chair back, "but I'm not. You had no right to choose whether or not my father was to go to prison."

"Serena—" Nate called, seemingly rooted to the spot as she stormed into the room, the door closing behind her with enough force to rattle the doorframe.

He sighed, leaning back in his chair and taking another long sip of his coffee. The hot liquid burned its way down his throat, and for a moment, he momentarily forgot about Chuck's disappearance, Serena's stubbornness, and the funeral he was to attend in a few days.

Such thoughts could not be easily banished, however, and he was still mulling over where Chuck could be when Serena emerged from the room, hair tossed into a quick ponytail and dressed as though she had worn the first outfit she had grabbed.

"I'm meeting Blair after lunch," she mentioned as she jabbed the elevator button, refusing to look his way,

Nate nodded, even though they had just barely begun breakfast, and he knew Blair was not to be let out of Eleanor Waldorf's hawk-like stare till she ate lunch.

And at this point, getting Blair to eat a decent lunch was nearly as improbable as Chuck's return.

"Why is this taking so long?" Chuck growled, rubbing the back of his neck as he paced the room.

"These things take time," his PI, Mike, replied evenly, though it was clear his patience was waning as well.

"They're going to call today?" Chuck asked instead, the same question he had asked for the past six days.

"They'll call," Mike replied confidently, the same answer, the same tone, that he had replied with the past six days.

Chuck muttered out a response, stalking over to the bar in search of salvation. He poured a generous amount into his tumbler, ignoring the reproachful sound from the other end of the room.

"Why is this ring so important anyways?" Mike asked timidly, as if the question had been on the tip of his tongue for the past few days.

In return for his courage, he was rewarded with a glare, the sound of a glass slamming down onto the granite counter, and a haughty response.

"I'm going to the bar. Call me if you get anymore information."

"Another fight with Nate, S?" Blair commented, slightly sick of hearing Serena's angry stomps and the loud screeching noise of metal against metal.

Serena shot her a look, and returned to flipping through a rack of Herve Leger dresses that Blair only wrinkled her nose at.

"I'm sorry," Serena said with a sigh, and Blair turned from her own perusal of dresses, raising an eyebrow at Serena.

"It's just…" Serena began in frustration, but found herself unable to voice her grievances with Nate, "he called the cops on my father," she finished with a scowl.

"That argument got old about three weeks ago, S," Blair responded, ignoring Serena's glare.

"But he's my father," Serena protested, "Nate had no right to—"

"Nate was doing what he thought was best," Blair replied with a roll of her eyes. "You know Nate. He was always slightly more morally inclined than Chuck."

Blair paused, as if mulling over a thought, her hand skimming past a red dress with elegant beading.

"It's not difficult to be more morally inclined than Chuck,," Serena commented with a laugh, but at the look on Blair's face, she stopped short, and she remembered her and Nate's conversation with their PI the night prior.

"Where has Chuck been lately?" Blair asked casually, turning her back to Serena as she continued to scrutinize the dresses.

"Boston," Serena replied easily, the lie coming easily to her lips as it had with Lily's same inquiry. There had been preparations for the funeral, Rufus' and Dan's grief, and Bass Industries related-crisis to deal with, leaving her mother slightly wrung out and thankfully, accepting of their excuse. "He had some last minute business in Boston."

It would not do to worry her, Serena knew, and though Blair's strong front had been keeping up appearances as of late, they still tread on eggshells around her. Afraid that their actions would only draw her further in her downward spiral, they tiptoed around subjects and wore bright sunny smiles in attempt to pretend.

But Blair had always been a master of pretend, and she saw through their pretense as easily as Chuck would have.

"Boston?" Blair questioned, frowning slightly, "What business would he have in Boston?"

"Oh, you know," Serena replied airily, "he's Chuck Bass. He hardly left notice with Nate and I before leaving."

Blair nodded, the latter half of the sentence she was all too familiar with, "Did he say when he was coming back?" she asked, her voice casual.

"No," Serena bit her lip, wondering how long they would be able to keep up the charade, "Why?" she couldn't help but ask, looking slyly towards Blair.

"No reason," the brunette replied breezily, picking a beige dress with a wide, peony-colored sash at random, "What do you think of this?"

"Gorgeous, B," Serena assured, a sigh escaping her lips as Blair walked over to another rack, this one rife with black dresses.

There was really only one reason to shop for black dresses in the heat of the summer.

"You're still here," Rufus said in slight surprise, upon entering the Humphrey loft.

"Where else would I be?" Georgina snapped back, but her anger disappeared upon the sight of Rufus' tired, weary face and despondent countenance.

"We're still working on Dan," Rufus said, effectively changing the subject, "I didn't raise my son to be a—"

"I know," Georgina replied tiredly, closing her eyes and leaning back on the couch, "I'm okay with it."

"Just give him time," Rufus suggested, scrutinizing her carefully as he turned the coffee machine on. He had already stopped for a coffee on the way over, downing it quickly in an attempt to make his sleepless night carry him through the day.

But the simple act of grinding coffee beans and carefully measuring spoonfuls into the machine was calming. It was something he had done daily, before they had moved to the Van der Woodsen's penthouse, where gourmet coffee had been served in elegant ceramic mugs.

He had missed his slightly chipped 'World's Best Dad' mug, the one Jenny and Dan had made him when they were six and four respectively. He had missed the sound of his coffeemaker and the wafting aroma of freshly ground coffee beans.

He had missed the loft, he realized, looking around the space he had called home for so many years.

"I'm supposed to be on my way soon," Rufus said into empty air, "I was just here to pick up one of Jenny's—"

His daughter's name caught in his throat, and he held back a small sob, as he had been the past few days.

"I'm just here to pick up one of the dresses Jenny made," Rufus finished, "Alison thought it would be the most appropriate."

His ex-wife had not made the journey down from Hudson to say goodbye. It had taken coercion on his part, to get her to Jenny's funeral. Alison had agreed, one stipulation made abundantly clear.

She was not to see her daughter's body, she had told Rufus through sobs, she wanted to remember her daughter before the entire mess had happened.

Rufus had given his consent almost immediately, and when he had hung up, found himself almost jealous of Alison's ignorance to the person Jenny had become.

At least Alison could hold onto the girl their daughter had been. The sweet, ambitious girl who had begged her parents for a sewing machine on her twelfth birthday and taken pride in re-creating designer labels, instead of wearing them.

"I'll be here," Georgina said absentmindedly, her eyes trained on the TV, though it seemed her thoughts were elsewhere.

"Do you want to help?" Georgina turned to him, eyes wide with disbelief, and Rufus could hardly believe the words that had come from his mouth.

"I'm not really good with this whole fashion thing," he said with a wry smile, "And I could really use a woman's opinion."

"Sure," Georgina answered, standing up slowly.

She averted her eyes from Rufus as he stepped into his daughter's room, his shoulders hunching, fingers clenching.

"I can leave," she said quickly, already halfway out the door as Rufus collapsed onto the bed, tears springing forth as he took in Jenny's room.

"Stay," Rufus nearly pleaded, his voice broken. "I promised myself I would be strong. No amount of crying is going to change things. What happened to Jenny was terrible, tragic. But it's not going to take over our lives. I won't let it."

He said the words with terribly hopeless conviction, as if he were trying to convince himself, as if the words were pre-programmed into his head.

"Okay," Georgina winced at the odd tone in her voice, but she sat down in a chair beside the bed, looking warily around the room.

"Dan's not doing any better than I am," Rufus tells her quickly, his eyes on the bulge that was her stomach. "He's not himself right now, you can't—"

"I know," Georgina said tiredly, not wanting to relive the conversations they had already had. "I don't need anyone."

Her words are strong, confident. But even Rufus can see past the façade.

"You shouldn't be alone," he told her quietly, "when…you know."

She knew. She had been preparing for this day for the past few months. Hell, she had been preparing since she had visited the doctor and gotten the positive result.

"It doesn't matter either way," she replied simply, eyes still roaming the strange, unfamiliar room. She had spent weeks in this loft, yet Jenny's room had always remained a mystery to her, an untrodden corner of the loft she had come to call home.

"Have you decided?" Rufus asked quietly, his eyes trained on hers, and Georgina frowned to herself as she realized his intent. To forget about his daughter through talking about her child.

"I decided long ago," Georgina snapped, "I'm giving it up."

"You're sure?" Rufus asks after a moment's silence, voicing his trepidation.

"There isn't a place for a baby in our lives," she explained simply. "This is the best option."

"If you're sure…" Rufus said leadingly, and Georgina glared at him in return.

"I'll never be sure," she spat, "I'll always wonder what it'll be like, to take this child into my arms and call him or her mine. I'll always wish I had a chance to get to know them, no matter how stupid or disgusting children can be. I'll always wonder."

"You will," Rufus promised, his own experiences with his own recently discovered child still fresh in his mind, "it's not impossible, Georgina."

"In this situation?" Georgina gestured around her, but it was not towards the physical space around them, but the situation itself. "It's no place to raise a child."

"I know," Rufus agreed, rubbing his eyes tiredly.

They sat in silence, with Rufus looking thoughtfully, if sadly, at the open door of Jenny's closet.

Georgina pulled herself to her feet with a quiet groan, walking towards the yawning opening of Jenny's closet.

Taking out three dresses at random, Georgina held them up in front of her, a critical eye sweeping each ruffle, each hemline, and each perfectly placed dart.

"What do you think of these two?" Georgina asked, turning around. The sigh that came from Rufus told her that she had done the right thing.

She was helping him move on, as odd as it sounded.

"Jenny made that white dress to attend the White Party," Rufus recalled with a faint smile, his fingers touching the white lace delicately, as if it would break as easily as his daughter. "She was so ambitious. She—" his voice caught in his throat, but he soldiered on, "she had a bright future ahead of her."

"I'd like to think she did, too," Georgina said, the sincerity of her words surprising even her.

"And this one," Rufus chuckled lightly as he took the pink-and-white dress from Georgina's fingers, "Jenny made this when Alison brought that sewing machine home for her."

"When was that?" Georgina asked, unable to help herself. She blamed it on the hormones, making her irrationally nostalgic and eager for details of the father of her baby's dead sister's childhood.

"She was twelve," Rufus replied with a faraway smile, "and she had found a dress she liked. A dress she coveted. Of course, the price tag was astronomical. But Jenny found a way around that. She used sewing machines at a community centre, running back and forth between here and there, her eyes bright. Alison found the antique sewing machine for her the next week. It was supposed to be a Christmas present, but Jenny found it before we even had a chance to get it checked out."

"Where is it?" Georgina blurted out, unable to help herself once more. "Her sewing machine."

"Storage," Rufus admitted, looking down, "I didn't think anyone could stand to look at it, after…"

Georgina nodded, understanding, "If you don't mind, I'd like you to keep it."

"Why?" Rufus asked, his voice only slightly sarcastic, "It's not like we know anyone who would use it."

"I'd like to keep it," Georgina said, firmer this time, "we may find a use for it yet."

"If you say so," Rufus said, though he knew that Alison would not want to part with the antique in any case. "So which dress?"

"We should put her in black," Georgina said, considering Jenny's wardrobe. Most of her own designs had been stunning, no doubt, but the few black dresses she had found were either too short or too ridiculous, even by her standards.

"No," Rufus said, adamant, plucking the white dress from her fingertips, "this is perfect. Jenny worked for hours on this dress. And when she couldn't get Eleanor's assistant to wear it, she wore it to the party instead, wrangling an invite from Eric. This dress is Jenny."

With an argument like that, all Georgina could do was place the palm of her hand on her overgrown belly, and nod.

"It's your favorite," Harold said, nodding towards the seared yellowtail and truffle risotto that Blair was currently picking at.

Her glass of red wine had been refilled once already, and was currently verging on being nearly empty, despite the fact that it had not been consumed in conjunction with her dinner.

"It is," Blair assured her father, "I'm just not hung—"

At the warning look from Roman, and the apprehensive expression that passed over her father's face, Blair backpedaled quickly, smiling through her unease.

"I had a big lunch, that's all," she claimed with a sugary smile. It wasn't entirely untrue. Dorota had ordered her favorites from Nobu, laid it on the table with a proud smile, and encouraged Blair to eat, very nearly stuffing sashimi and lobster ceviche down her throat.

In the end, Blair had acquiesced, eaten exactly three pieces of salmon sashimi and four bites of ceviche before claiming her stomach full. In truth, her stomach had protested at the food, but after spending days in the hospital, where take-out usually arrived cold and unappetizing, she had found the food oddly welcoming.

The rich, fragrant aroma of her truffle risotto curled under her nose, and her stomach clenched in protest, as if it were warning her against it.

"You could do with eating more," Harold said lightly, but his words carried an undertone of warning she did not miss.

With a placating smile, Blair grasped her spoon in her right hand and scooped up the tiniest amount of risotto possible. Nearly shoving it into her mouth, she swallowed without tasting, knowing that savoring the buttery, rich taste would only lead to her knees on marble floors and her finger down her throat.

Harold smiled, taking a sip of his own wine, seemingly appeased.

"So where are you going to school in the fall?" Roman interjected, his accent grating slightly on Blair's nerves, though his change of subject was a welcome one.

"Columbia," she replied with another smile, though the mere thought of the school reminded her exactly who had gotten her in there in the first place.

"I've seen the campus before," Roman said with a beatific smile, "simply beautiful."

"Yes," Blair agreed, "and a welcome change from NYU. The campus was utterly horrifying."

"How so?" Harold inquired, a small smile twisting at his lips.

"The students there are in desperate need of some advice—fashion and otherwise," Blair answered simply. "Leggings-as-pants is a generally accepted rule in NYU," she added with a shudder.

"Horrible," Roman sympathized, nodding eagerly as Harold stifled a smile.

"Quite," Blair responded, taking another bite of risotto. "And the bags! Those girls must not have heard of Lanvin or Mulberry. There were all sorts of…furry things they carried. And odd prints mixed with ostentatious jewelry was the norm."

Roman shook his head, completely serious as he leaned forward, intent on listening to the many faux pas committed by NYU students.

"Of course," Blair continued, "Vanessa was the worse. She hardly washed her hair, she was so busy mixing prints and making hideously large rings that she wore on a daily…"

Harold leaned back as Blair continued listing the various fashion crimes, pausing after each sentence to take another bite of yellowtail, or perhaps a spoonful of risotto.

She would be alright, he thought with a relieved sigh, one that went unnoticed by the two other occupants of the table, who were embroiled in a conversation so intriguing Blair had already finished half her dinner without her knowledge.

The scotch at the bar was no better than the one he had half-consumed in the room, Chuck thought wryly, eyeing the liquid in his glass with distaste and wishing he were in New York, or at the very least, a place with decent scotch.

But being down in the bar meant avoiding Mike's question—an unusual one as Mike had tended to keep to himself and do Chuck's bidding, no questions ask.

He supposed that scouring Europe for an engagement ring and emptying out his cash box in a vain attempt to ensure no one could outbid him warranted some questions.

In no way was he obligated to answer—Mike worked for him after all—but the fact of the matter was, Chuck wasn't able to answer it to himself.

The estimated price of the ring was projected at 30% above its original cost, and though the figure Mike had shown him had left him slightly taken aback, Chuck knew there was no price too high.

Another ring just felt wrong, as if he had given up too easily the first time.

And he knew, just knew, that this was the ring Blair Waldorf would wear on the fourth finger of her left hand.

One day.

He just had to retrieve the ring first, and though Chuck knew that he had left with nary a word, he couldn't bring himself to call.

It was easier, to focus solely on getting the ring back, than to attempt and unravel the mess he had created back home.

Leaving abruptly had been the best course of action, even if he was running, in a way. Though he had felt he was leaving Blair alone, especially when she needed him most, he couldn't help but relish the breath of fresh air the trip provided him with.

A chance to escape the grief, the sadness, and the misery that had encompassed them all.

A chance to reflect, to reminisce, and to recall the days where things were so much simpler.

A chance to figure things out.

He was interrupted by the buzz of his phone against the bar top, and he grabbed it eagerly, his anticipation growing as he spotted Mike's name on the screen.

The man knew better than to interrupt Chuck in his current state, knew more than well enough to leave him well enough alone.

The call could only mean one thing.

The ring.

Harold had left with an encouraging smile and a warning in his eyes; Roman, on the other hand, had given her a beaming smile and a promise to send over a pair of Parisian-exclusive Manolos.

Blair couldn't help but feel slightly more inclined to Roman, not entirely due to the shoes, but because he had done something her father could not.

He had helped her forget.

Everyone else, from her mother, to Serena, her father, and even Nate, had been dead set on getting Blair to 'deal' with her problem.

When in reality, Blair wanted a single, simple, perfect night where she could throw caution to the wind and simply allow herself to be happy.

There had only been a handful of times she had felt like that, and one that stood out most prominently was a night, nearly four years ago, where she had stepped up onto a stage because of a dare.

And she had performed the most daring, risqué, liberating striptease of her life, peeling away insecurities with every layer, and feeling freer as she shed her clothing.

It had not only freed her of her mother's horrid, Mayflower-esque dress, but of burdens and anxieties she had bore on her frail shoulders.

It had been magical.

It was what followed after, in the limo of one Chuck Bass, that had truly sealed her freedom, truly given her a taste of what it was like to be simply Blair.

And she had experienced that, a small slice of that, tonight, laughing with Roman.

Blair entered the foyer slowly, preoccupied with her thoughts and trials, too focused on reminiscing to notice her mother.

"Blair!" Eleanor said, slightly exasperated after her third attempt at gaining her daughter's attention.

"Sorry, mother," Blair was at the ready with a bright, artificial smile.

"How was dinner?" Eleanor inquired, her voice seemingly genuine.

"Fine," Blair replied tonelessly, already losing interest in the conversation, "Daddy and Roman took me to Le Bernardin."

"And you…" Eleanor trailed off, unsure, "ate?" she finished awkwardly, holding her tongue.

Blair sighed, though she had been expecting Eleanor's bout of concern, "Yes, mother, I ate. And if you don't mind, I'm exhausted. I'd like to retire for the evening."

Her words were stiff, formal, and not lost on Eleanor.

"Of course," Eleanor sighed in defeat, a wan smile on her lips, "just…Blair?"

"Yes, mother?" Blair turned around, and if the exasperation were not clear in her voice, it was clear in her eyes.

"Don't lock your door," Eleanor warned, "if Dorota or I hear running water…"

Blair scoffed, a scornful look on her face as she turned to face her mother fully, "I'm fine, mother," she snapped, "you don't have to agonize over my well-being just because you never did before."

As soon as the fury left her lips, Blair paled, and her hand reached out, as if to pluck the words from the air and grasp them in her tiny fist.

As it was, Eleanor had been attacked by the very words, crippled, even, as she sunk to the low velvet chaise, a frown etched on her features.

"I know," she began with a quaver in her voice, "that I was a little bit absent in your upbringing—"

"A little?" Blair scoffed, and once more, she wished the words had not flown so easily from her lips, but she forged on, "mother, even when you were here physically, you were never here with me. Your mind was always on your next ball, your next gala. Or your next big fashion line, or fawning over my best friend."

Blair took a deep breath as she finished her tirade, and though she knows her words are sharp as knives, she cannot bring herself to regret finally telling her mother the truth.

"I know," Eleanor said again, her voice full of anguish, an emotion unheard of in Eleanor Waldorf, "Blair, I never meant—"

Her voice cracked, shook, and Blair took a step forward instinctually, as Eleanor's shoulders bowed.

But it was Eleanor Waldorf, and the woman simply held up a hand, stilling Blair's movements as she composed herself.

"I never meant," she began again, "for it to turn out like this. You were always your Daddy's girl, Blair," Eleanor recalled with a nostalgic smile, "only Harold could quiet you when you threw a tantrum. If anything, the tantrum was because of me. There was always a bond between you two, one you and I never had. Sure, I could dress you up in silk dresses and bowed headbands, but it never compared to what you two had. It was indescribable."

Blair opened her mouth, but found that no sound was willing to come out. Instead, she simply nodded, taking a seat across from her mother.

"And when your father left, I closed myself off from the world, believing that I had brought it upon myself. Do you remember, what you told me? The night Harold left?"

Blair nodded once more, as fresh tears found their way into the corners of her eyes, and she blinked furiously, unwilling to cry in her mother's presence.

"You told me I should have left, instead of him," Eleanor recalled with a sad smile, "I don't blame you."

"I didn't mean it," Blair whispered quietly, "I was so angry…at him for leaving, at you for pushing him away, at…myself, for not being enough to make him stay."

"You were always enough," Eleanor told her daughter gently, "Harold left for his own happiness, as selfish as that sounds, and I admire him for being brave enough to pursue that."

Eleanor cast a glance at Blair, who was staring off into space, and she knew that they were remembering the same night, the same tears, the same call that had been placed when Blair had been found, ice cold and unmoving, on her bathroom rug.

"We each blamed ourselves," Eleanor told Blair, her voice growing stronger, "for something that was never our fault in the first place. Your father left, not because he didn't love you, or because he hated me, but because he wanted happiness. We can't blame ourselves for something that isn't our fault, Blair."

Eleanor's words paralleled her current situation, Blair thought wryly, blinking back the last few tears as she regarded her mother, who also knew that her words were to be applied to the current situation.

"Were you brave enough?" Blair piped up at last, after what seemed like an eternity of silence.

"I wasn't," Eleanor admitted, "at first. But I think my being with Cyrus is proof that I am brave enough to pursue my own happiness. Did you think I hadn't had the same worries as you? What would everyone else say? About Cyrus and I. There would be gossip. There would be talk. And yet, being with Cyrus, nothing else mattered. I loved him enough to marry him in an impromptu ceremony, everyone else be damned."

Eleanor stood up then, walking over to Blair and pulling her up to her feet.

Tipping her chin up, Eleanor looked into her daughter's deep brown eyes, brimming with tears and tragedy of someone well past her young age.

"I know," she told Blair firmly, "that you're braver than I ever will be. Which is why I'm confident you'll find your own happiness."

Blair made no sound, no agreement, only removed her chin from her mother's hand and wrapped her arms around her mother's waist, burying her face into her mother's shoulder, as she had when she was a child.

"Thank you," she whispered, her gratitude muffled, but heard all the same.

"Still nothing?"

Nate nearly jumped, though he was unsure why, as he had heard the quiet sound of the elevator, the quieter sound of flats slapping lightly against hardwood floors.

It was the fact that she had returned, the fact that her tone held no anger, only curiosity that surprised him.

"Nothing," he confirmed, glancing at the silent phone on the table.

"Where could he be?" Serena wondered aloud, her exasperation with the missing brunette apparent as she sat next to him.

"I don't know," Nate said with a sigh, willing his phone to ring, "but when," Serena noted the usage of 'when' and not 'if' with a small smile, Nate was always an optimist, "he does return, he'll wish he never left."

"Do you think it's because of…" Serena's voice dropped to a whisper, and Nate was forced to lean closer to her. Not that he minded. "Because of Blair?"

Nate frowned, drawing back slightly, but answered despite the indecency of the question, "If anything, he left because he loved her," he reasoned.

"If he loved her," Serena shot back, "he wouldn't have left. Ever."

"This is Chuck Bass we're talking about," Nate reminded her, his patience laced with a touch of annoyance, "he doesn't deal well with these things. So he—"

"He just doesn't," Serena finished, and Nate nodded.

"I don't blame him," Nate said wryly, after a moment's silence, one that consisted of glances out of the corner of blue eyes, "right about now, a vacation in…well, anywhere, really, would be welcome."

Serena leaned her head on his shoulder, her actions almost hesitant. But their bodies seemed to know each other, as he lifted his arm automatically, and Serena snuggled further into his chest.

"I don't blame him either," she admitted quietly, "but I can't help but envy him."

"Envy Chuck Bass?" the slight laughter that came from Nate reverberated deep within his chest, and Serena smiled once more.

"We can't just leave," she reasoned, "he can."

"Says who?"

Nate's tone was challenging, hopeful, and Serena knew that nothing good could come from the turn their conversation had taken.

"Me," she replied firmly, lifting her head up to look into his eyes, "you know we can't leave, Nate."

"Why not?" Nate asked, meeting her gaze defiantly, "If Chuck can leave, we sure as hell can leave."

"Jenny's—" Serena took a deep breath, squeezing her eyes shut against the tears that threatened to escape, "Jenny's funeral is in two days, Nate."

Serena laid her head back down, more hesitant than before, but unwilling to break the temporary contact they had forged.

"I know," Nate confessed, "Why else would I suggest a trip away?"

"It would be easier," Serena mused, "but we can't, Nate."

"We have to be here," Serena said into empty silence, her quiet words filling cold air, "for them."

Nate could only imagine that them not only included Blair, but that she was the main cause of Serena's concern.

"I know," Nate repeated, his hand somehow finding its way into her golden locks, running his fingers through her hair, he sighed once more, "I just wish it wasn't this way."

It had taken him more than ten thousand to his PI, a few miscellaneous expenses here and there, and exactly twenty-six thousand dollars.

The ring that bore an inscription, a promise, and their initials intertwined, now sat in front of him.

So much trouble for such a small thing, Mike had said, before disappearing into the night. Not without being assured the money would be wired to his account in a matter of days, of course.

But it was much bigger than a platinum band and eight-carat, cushion cut diamond. It was a representation of how far they had come. How far they had fallen. How far they had gone to pull themselves out of graves they themselves dug.

It was so much more than a ring, Chuck knew, because it would be on the fourth finger of her left hand someday...

Soon.

But as the plane taxied out of the runway, the engine roaring in his ears, the flight attendant across the way smiling all too welcomingly at him, Chuck felt himself gripped with an irrational fear.

Perhaps not so irrational, as he had disappeared without a word. When Blair was in the hospital, no less.

He had no excuse, other than he didn't want to be discouraged from taking the trip. But when it came down to it, he knew no amount of begging or pleading would have convinced him to cancel his trip.

Chuck knew that he hadn't told a soul, not even Blair, because this was something he needed to do. To reassure himself that they weren't over—not in the slightest and to reflect on what he had done, to himself, to his family, to Blair. To realize that the future he had envisioned for them lay not in the diamond ring in his hand, but the actions in which he proved he still loved her.

Because he never would, never could, stop loving Blair Waldorf.

The ding of the elevator could be heard, over Nate's snores, and surprisingly, Serena's sleep talking.

Serena sat up straight, accidentally elbowing Nate in the process. They had both fallen into bed, exhausted, but intelligent enough to keep some semblance of space between them.

With Nate's king bed, however, it wasn't too difficult. But the fact that she was nearly on top of him could only mean that they had somehow found each other amongst the blankets and pillows, in their sleep, no less.

"Serena?" Nate's voice was bleary, and he rubbed his eyes tiredly, "Go back to bed."

"Shhh," Serena whispered back, her voice hard, "I heard something."

"What?" Nate allowed his frustration to shine through, it being five am and all.

"The elevator," Serena said, a note of fear creeping into her voice, "Nate, you don't think—"

"We're in a five-star hotel, with a doorman and concierge," Nate reminded her gently, "I doubt it's a burglar."

"Right," Serena replied, a blush creeping over her features as she berated herself for her irrational thought. "Wait, Nate, you don't think—"

He refused to get his hopes up, having been disappointed by Chuck more than once in his life, but as Nate swung his legs over the bed and held out his hand to Serena, he couldn't help but hope.

Hands clutched between them, they made their way from Nate's bedroom, and into the dark lighting of the living room.

Chuck Bass stood at the bar, clearly exhausted, luggage beside him, and a customary scotch in his hands.

"Nate," he acknowledged, and Serena noted that the fatigue was also apparent in his voice, "Sis," he said with the barest hint of a smirk, his eyes travelling towards their joined hands.

Dropping Nate's hand quickly, Serena made her way over to the bar, barely able to keep from running, "Chuck, you're back!"

"I am," he replied in amusement, earning him a kick in the shin from Serena. Her being barefoot, however, had less of an impact than heels would have.

"Where were you, man?" Nate inquired, finally moving forward, as if the shock of seeing Chuck had stilled his movements. "We were…looking for you."

"I gave you no reason to worry," Chuck replied smoothly, "everything was taken care of."

"Except you," Serena cut in, eyes flashing furiously, "did you really think that you could disappear and none of us would notice?"

"No, of course not. I'm too important to not be missed."

Underneath his false bravado, the commanding tone of his voice, Serena heard something else.

She heard…fear. Fear that he wasn't missed, fear that they were better off without him in their lives.

"Do you know what you did to us?" Serena said instead, attempting a glare. "To Blair?"

The mention of Blair's name sent Chuck's façade straight out the window, and the color drained form his face, and his knuckles whitened as he clutched the glass in his hands. Nate winced at that, anticipating picking up glass shards if Chuck threw the glass.

"I had to," Chuck ground out.

"You didn't," Serena shot back, "whatever it was, it shouldn't have been more important than her."

"It wasn't," Chuck seethed, glaring at Serena, "I wouldn't have left if I didn't know for sure she would be alright."

"You knew she would be alright? Oh, that's rich, Chuck, coming from you—"

Frustrated, his sleep deprived brain urging him to do things he wouldn't otherwise, Chuck held the ring up in Serena's face, grim victory on his features.

"Is that a ring?" Nate stepped forward, squinting at the glittering diamond, "Whoa, man, you bought a ring for Blair?"

"I did," he admitted, setting the ring on the marble countertop, "but not recently."

"When did you buy it?" Nate asked, peering down at the ring as Serena stared at it, speechless.

"A while ago," he replied laconically, his eyes trained on Serena's. "I only recently got it back."

"What happened to it?" Serena's words are a quiet apology, and the nod he gives is an equally quiet acceptance.

Chuck heaved a sigh, looking from Serena's eyes to Nate's, both equally tired, both equally confused.

He poured himself another drink, sipping it before turning back to face the two, bleak determination apparent on his features, sharpened from a lack of sleep.

It was going to be a long night.

Make that morning.

It could be likened to explaining to a child how to tie their shoelaces.

Serena and Nate had required numerous explanations, which had spanned his entire morning and afternoon, depriving him of much-needed sleep.

Which was his only excuse for why he had shown up at the Waldorf's almost exactly a day after he had arrived back in New York. It was also his excuse for why his eyes were tired, and the peonies clutched in his hands were slightly wilted.

Blair had taken one look at him, fatigued and carrying a slightly wilting bouquet, and turned away from him, with a terse, "Get out."

"Blair," he called after her, his voice heavy with exhaustion. Not of her, but of the day itself. "I had to leave."

"I'm not arguing with you, Chuck," Blair spoke over her shoulder, regarding him coolly, "I'm just done."

He rushed up the stairs as quickly as his leg allowed, but she was already halfway across the landing, nearly out of reach.

"If it even matters," he said, between gasps, "it was for you."

"That's rich," Blair kept her voice even, nonchalant, stepping into her bedroom and watching him from her doorway, "considering I was in the hospital."

"You told me to leave," Chuck retorted, grabbing onto the banister for support. A flicker of concern wove its way through her indifference, but it was quickly smoothed over.

"I told you to go home," Blair reminded him, "I didn't tell you to leave for Boston. Though I suppose your business has always taken precedence over anything else."

"Boston?" Chuck repeated, and Blair allowed a short, terse laugh at his confusion.

"Did you suffer brain damage along too?" she taunted, but the jab fell flat when she realized that Chuck was sincerely confused.

"I didn't go to Boston," he said slowly, suppressing a wince as he ascended the last few steps, and crossed the landing. "I was in…some non-descript part of Prague."

"Even better," Blair replied drily, but the ire in her voice had been replaced by curiosity, "and how, pray tell, were you in Prague for me?"

Chuck Bass didn't do heartfelt confessions. Not really. Chuck Bass had just barely begun to be able to say three words eight letters, and mean it.

There were no words for why he had been in Prague, only actions.

So Chuck Bass did what he did best. He showed her why he had been in Prague.

"I don't think this is a good idea, Serena."

"Shh," Serena shushed him, her legs beginning to cramp from being crouched on the floor for an extended period of time. Her and Nate had stealthily grabbed a cab, Serena eagerly shouting, "Follow that limo!" to the cab driver, her blue eyes shining with laughter.

"Isn't this…breaking and entering?" Nate whispered back, adjusting his own uncomfortable position.

Serena rolled her eyes, and shook her head, "The doorman let us in, and I used my own key to get in here. I highly doubt this is breaking and entering, Nate."

"Chuck and Blair won't be happy," Nate grumbled, adjusting his position further, though it did nothing to alleviate the cramp in his calf.

"They won't have to find out," Serena reminded him. They had taken the stairs up to the Waldorf's penthouse, and Serena had ascended easily in four-inch heels. For the first three floors, maybe. Nate's love of lacrosse, however, seemed to have paid off, for it was only at the fifth floor did his breathing start to become labored.

Nevertheless, they had made it to the eight floor, the penthouse, sweaty, breathless, and starting to regret their master plan.

The had snuck in a side door, then hid behind the large couch in the Waldorf's living room, the same one that they were now trapped behind, as they heard Chuck and Blair's voices from above.

"Shh," Serena said once more, and they both fell silent, straining to hear the argument.

A diamond ring fell from his fingertips, and bounced twice on the carpet, coming to a stop at her feet.

She had seen but a glimpse of this ring, yet she recognized it instantaneously as silence fell between them.

"This," she whispered, not daring to pick up the ring, yet unable to tear her gaze from it, "was why you were in Prague?"

"I told you I'd find it," he shrugged offhandedly, as if he hadn't spent a week on tenterhooks, eagerly awaiting a phone call.

"What did you have to do," she paused, unsure if she wanted to know, "to get it back?"

"Mike found the guy, I just paid him," Chuck said simply.

"You didn't say anything," Blair's voice remained strong, but they both knew that something in their conversation had changed. "You just…left."

"I didn't want to take the chance someone would convince me not to go." Said aloud, the excuse sounded flat to his own ears.

Chuck expected Blair to call him on his bullshit, as she always had. Expected her to scoff and demand a real explanation.

Instead, she bent down slowly, and picked up her ring. For a moment, a prolonged, stretched out moment, he thought she would put it on.

And in that moment, he knew that everything that had transpired between them—all the hurt and betrayal they had inflicted upon each other—meant nothing.

Because they were inevitable. He had known it from the beginning.

Now it seemed she had finally realized it as well.

But his hopes and dreams came crashing down when he realized that she was not, in fact, putting on her ring.

She had been toying with it, as if she were contemplating putting it on—but as she walked towards him, the resolve in her eyes told him otherwise.

The platinum band was cool against his heated skin, a contrast to the heat of her palm as she took his hand, pried opened his clenched fist, and dropped her ring into the palm of his hand.

She pulled away quickly after that, her fingertips still prickling with scorching heat.

"I don't love you anymore," she told him; her eyes glittering with unshed tears as her words pricked at his heart.

"You're lying," he told her coldly, refusing to accept the diamond in his palm. "You're doing that thing where your eyes don't match your mouth."

The words had been heard before, they were every bit as true as the

"How can you expect me to love you?" she asked instead. "After what you did?"

Her words were ice, the ruby lips around them doing nothing to lessen the blow. She eyed him with a level gaze, his stomach dropping as her words repeated themselves in his mind.

"Please leave," she told him quietly, her eyes averted as she turned away from him.

After what you did?

Her steps were quiet as she entered her room, and it was only when she closed the wooden door, did he collapse against it.

Chuck's eyelids felt heavy, silent tears pricking against them as his back pressed into the wood.

How long he sat there, he didn't know. He only knew the screaming pain in his leg, the dull ache in the small of his back, and the feeling of dread in his heart.

His ears perked up when he heard quiet, hesitant footsteps. She must have known that he was still there-still listening to her as she slid against the door.

Chuck's heartbeat picked up in pace as he heard her own, quiet breathing on the other side of the door. Her presence was palpable, even with the thick wood separating them. He could picture her, back against the cherry wood, eyes closed, hands fidgeting with the hem of her nightgown.

And he knew that he had been right once more.

You're doing that thing where your eyes don't match your mouth.

Minutes, maybe hours, passed, and Chuck found himself falling asleep against the door.

Getting to his feet as best he could, he listened for the even breathing on the other side of the door. Hearing nothing, he resigned himself to the fact that she had gone to bed, and that was his cue to leave.

Making his way down the stairs, stifling groans of pain, he heard another sound in the penthouse.

He would have recognized that giggle anywhere.

"Serena, Nate," he called out quietly, though his voice still carried to the pair, whose matching blonde heads were clearly visible.

"Dammit," Chuck heard, and he smirked at Nate's surprise.

"You're lucky you're pretty, Nathaniel. You and S should never go into the PI business."

The two emerged form their hiding spot, clothes slightly wrinkled, hair more than slightly mussed.

"You followed me," Chuck stated, his voice bordering on amusement, though he was fighting sleep.

"What happened?" Serena asked instead, her blue eyes bright. "What did Blair say?"

In an instant, Chuck's playful demeanor vanished, replaced with something Serena could only classify as….pain.

"She said no," Nate realized, and Serena elbowed him for pointing out the obvious.

"What did she say exactly?" Serena prodded, and off Chuck's raised eyebrow, she admitted: "We couldn't hear, you guys were whispering."

"Probably for the best," Chuck said with a roll of his eyes. "She doesn't love me anymore. That's all."

"She didn't mean it," Serena was quick to say. "You know Blair. She didn't mean it."

"No," Chuck said, considering, "she didn't."

He turned then, believing the conversation over, but Serena's voice stopped him once more.

"Where are you going?" she asked, her question almost childlike in its simplicity.

"Home," Chuck enunciated, punctuating his words with a roll of his eyes.

"You're not staying?" Nate's tone was surprised as well.

"It's well past midnight, Nathaniel," Chuck explained, just as the elevator doors opened.

"Mr. Chuck."

The three turned at the sound of another, heavily accented voice. Dorota descended glaring at the three for being there at such a late hour.

"Mr. Chuck can stay in guest bedroom," Dorota said, and Nate and Serena smiled at each other, stepping into the open elevator.

"I don't—"

"You can explain in morning," Dorota said tiredly, "Miss Blair need you."

Chuck frowned momentarily, then composed himself, "I didn't think you were my biggest fan at the moment," he said wryly.

Dorota simply shrugged, already turning to make her way up the stairs. "You didn't see Miss Blair at hospital. Every day, she look for you."

Her words were punctuated by a sharp glare, but Chuck simply opened his palm, showing her what he had been holding onto for the better part of the evening.

"I went to Prague," he explained. "I needed to get her ring back."

From the look on Dorota's face, Chuck knew that she had a dozen, hundreds of questions, all stemming from the diamond he held in his palm.

But it seemed, that Dorota's weariness had won out over her curiosity, and she waved him up the stairs instead.

"Explain later," she told him, as Chuck grimaced at the thought of another stair climb. "Ms. Eleanor asleep, if not for sleeping pills, noise would have woken her. Shh," she instructed.

Chuck nodded, and the rest of the walk was spent in silence, apart from his labored breathing.

But as Dorota ushered him into the Waldorf's guest bedroom, he could have sworn he saw the smallest of proud smiles grace Dorota's face.

"You talk to Miss Blair in morning," she told him, before shutting the door.

In the Waldorf's tastefully decorated white and blue guest bedroom, Chuck found himself smiling, and setting Blair's ring reverently onto the mirrored table.

"Thank you."

For a moment, Arthur looked surprised, and Chuck would have bet the same emotion was reflected in his own face. Arthur, however, quickly composed himself, nodded once, and stepped back into the elevator.

Chuck simply looked at the purple silk robe and change of clothes in his hands, smiling ruefully.

"Charles," came a voice behind him, and Chuck turned around quickly, knowing that he shouldn't have been surprised that Eleanor was awake at six in the morning.

"Dorota told me you'd stayed over," Eleanor stated, and her gaze ran over his rumpled suit with distaste.

"In the guest bedroom," he replied smoothly, and Eleanor nodded.

"Might I ask why you were here at such a late hour?"

"Dorota didn't tell you?" Chuck would've thought that Eleanor's favored maid would have divulged everything.

"Of course she did," Eleanor said with a wave of her hand, "but I wanted to hear it from you."

Chuck opened his mouth, but no response came forth as Eleanor regarded him haughtily.

Apparently Blair had inherited her perfected glare from her mother.

"She already told me about the ring," Eleanor said offhandedly, though her expression betrayed her curiosity.

Chuck nodded, still unable to form the correct words—unable to find the words that would make Eleanor accept this.

"You're both too young," Eleanor told him, scandalized. "Blair hasn't even graduated university!"

Chuck finally opened his mouth to respond, but Eleanor cut him off quickly, "I won't allow it. You knew that before you even bought the ring."

"That wouldn't stop me," Chuck added with a small smirk, "but you probably knew that, too."

Eleanor simply raised an eyebrow at him, at a loss for words, if only for a moment, "You disappeared for a week to find that ring, and from what I can garner, probably paid more than what you did originally."

"It was worth it," Chuck admitted, and Eleanor allowed the tiniest of smiles.

"I said before," Eleanor said, walking past him and to the elevator, effectively hiding her expression from him, "that Blair doesn't need you."

Chuck wanted to use Dorota's words as proof against Eleanor's fact, but Eleanor beat him to it, wryly stating, "I was wrong."

Eleanor stepped into the open elevator, shouldering her tote and leaving Chuck with one final remark.

"Make sure Dorota makes raspberry honey scones. They're Blair's favorite."

Chuck heard the hidden meaning behind Eleanor's words, and nodded his understanding.

"I'm not usually wrong," Eleanor murmured, more to herself, as the elevator doors closed.

Chuck suppressed another smile as he wandered down the hallway, in search of Dorota.

"Good morning," came a smooth voice from the kitchen table.

Blair jumped slightly, wincing as she stepped back into the counter's edge. Sitting at her mother's kitchen table, a cup of coffee and the New York Times in hand, was Chuck Bass in a purple silk robe-which she recognized from her many stays at the Empire's penthouse.

"Scone?" he asked innocently, motioning towards the plate on the counter. The scent of Dorota's trademark freshly baked raspberry honey scones wafted under nose, making her stomach clench in anticipation.

Shaking her head, Blair turned towards the fridge, intending to grab a cluster of grapes instead.

They were safe. Harmless, really.

"Oh no," Chuck's voice interrupted her mental calculation of the amount of calories she could afford to consume without having to purge. "None of that good-for-you healthy crap, Waldorf. You're eating a scone. There's also croissants in the bag over there if you're so inclined."

The familiar tickle in her throat, coupled with the turning of her stomach was enough to send her backing away from the proffered food. But the challenge in his voice was intentional-so was the firm set of his jaw.

Blair placed a scone on a plate, angrily grabbing the bag of croissants and yanking one out as well. Studying the two items on her plate, her stomach revolted angrily as she met Chuck's challenge with a glare.

"By all means," he drawled. "Sit."

Taking a seat as far as possible, Blair continued her icy glare as she bit into a scone with ferocity.

Chuck raised an eyebrow at her, but continued eating his own scone in peace.

The minutes ticked by, and Blair shoved piece after piece of the decadent scone into her mouth, each bite weighing like glue on her tongue. The bile rose in her throat as she forced down the final bite of the scone. Looking guiltily at the crumbs on her plate, Blair scrunched her toes and braced her hands against the table.

Breathing through her nose, Blair concentrated on the pattern of the plate, the cut glass vase of blooming yellow-red roses, and the CB pinky ring of the man in front of her.

Her eyes traveled upwards, over the plush silk robe and the strong, well-defined jaw. As if drawn by an invisible force, her eyes locked with his-dark molten pools of liquid onyx that captivated her entirely, her momentary panic forgotten.

Chuck's jaw was set; his lips pressed into a thin, rigid line that spoke of judgment and reprimands. But his eyes betrayed uncharacteristic softness, an aberrant worry that fluttered through his visage like a flicker of light, weaving its way through a sea of emotions.

The silence tore at her, more so than the previous guilt, weighing in the air as heavily as gleaming diamond necklaces and sparkling diamond rings.

Unable to look away from him, his familiar presence both comforting and unnerving, Blair spoke the question at the tip of her tongue.

The words tumbled out of her pale lips, coated in arrogance and imaginary anger.

"Why are you still here?"

"Crap," Georgina uttered, staring at the puddle forming at her feet. What the hell? There had been no warning, no contractions, just a rush of fluid pooling around her bare feet as she stood in the middle of the Humphrey's loft.

She had come here so she wouldn't be alone, but as she stumbled towards the phone in agony, Georgina Sparks had never felt more alone.

Dialing the numbers with shaking hands, Georgina felt a drop of moisture on her thumb as she pressed call. Bringing the phone to her ear, her fingers brushed across the most uncharacteristic of tears that had spilled down her cheek.

"Dan?" she said into the phone, her voice sounding too weak, too desperate to her own ears. "I'm going into labor. Dan, please…"

Georgina Sparks never felt more alone than hailing a cab outside a Brooklyn loft, her hand clutched to her swollen stomach as tears rained down her face, contractions wracking through her body.

"Why not?"

"I told you to leave."

"Your eyes weren't matching your mouth," Chuck said with a shrug.

"That didn't give you any right to stay." Blair retorted, though the smallest part of her still reveled in the fact that he knew her better than anyone else.

Just as she knew Chuck Bass better than anyone else-better than Nate, than Serena, and better than Chuck Bass himself.

So it came as a surprise to her to find him completely at ease in her home, as if the past night-and few months for that matter-had never occurred.

No words were needed as he raised an eyebrow, and Blair knew that she had just proven his point once more. Looking down at her plate in abject frustration, she noted that her stomach had all but calmed down. She felt no desire to leave the table and regurgitate her food into a porcelain bowl, felt nothing but the tension that surrounded the air.

She allowed herself the smallest smile of pride-one that did not go unnoticed by Chuck-and tore a piece of the croissant off with relish.

The croissant was gone in a matter of minutes, leaving the tiniest speckling of crumbs on her plate and a feeling of pride that swelled through her entire being. She had eaten a scone and a croissant, two decadent, fat-laden foods she had previously only indulged in for one sole reason.

It was odd, the feeling this small achievement had given her. As if a jar of glee had been opened, seeping through her veins like champagne bubbles.

"Is there anyone else we can call?" the young, pretty, nurse asked with what Georgina supposed was a comforting smile. It only made Georgina angrier. "I'm sorry honey, but he's not picking-"

"Rufus," Georgina gritted out, clenching her teeth as another reel of pain coursed through her being. "Rufus Humphrey."

The nurse left with another sympathetic smile at her, and Georgina wanted to scream. But at the same time, the hopelessness threatened to overcome her, and her anger ebbed slightly.

Georgina Sparks never needed anyone, but it seemed today was a study of contradictions.

She needed someone.

"So."

The tension was beginning to eat away at her, the silence growing larger as his dark eyes followed her every move. Their plates were empty, their glasses half full (though Blair suspected there was more than orange juice in Chuck's glass. He was Chuck Bass after all).

He barked out a short laugh, and Blair was too surprised to shoot him more than an irritated glare. But at the sight of his wry smile, Blair couldn't help but soften the tiniest bit.

"What?"

"It's just it's usually Nate with the one-word sentences," he told her in amusement.

Huffing at the thought of being compared to Nate, Blair turned to place her empty plate into the sink.

Mistaking her actions, Chuck reached out to grab her forearm as she passed him, eliciting a gasp of surprise on her part and nearly dropping her plate once again.

"Sorry," he muttered, dropping his hand. "I didn't mean-"

"I know," she said in slight amusement. "I was just putting my plate in the sink."

"Right."

It was strange, how they had progressed from fighting into an almost comfortable stage, their words civil, if not slightly teasing.

"So," he started, and he caught the tail end of Blair's amused smile before she turned. "What are we doing today?"

"I was going to go to Central Park today," Blair replied, averting her eyes.

"I'll join you," he decided, his tone brooking no argument—but his eyes pleaded with her slightly.

She surprised herself by nodding.

"I'm going to get dressed" she offered. "You should—"

"I had some clothes brought over," he admitted. "They're upstairs."

Rolling her eyes, Blair turned to him with a wry smile. "Why am I not surprised?"

"I didn't know how long this avoidance of yours would last," he said offhandedly.

We're inevitable—the subtext of his words was not lost on her.

"You would have left eventually."

"I've got all that I need right here," he countered. "Dorota's cooking, a supply of vintage scotch, yo-"

"And your pain medication?" she cut in, knowing that his next words would bring their conversation into dangerous territory.

"That too," he admitted. "I wasn't going to tell—"

"I would have found out eventually," Blair replied with a shrug. "How are you explaining away the cane?"

"I told Serena became a pimp," he told her dryly. Her resulting laugh was genuine—the first he had heard in days.

"Why didn't you just give in to them?" she asked quietly, her laughter having died out when reality set in. "It's nothing you couldn't have replaced."

The moment hung in the air, and Chuck opened his mouth to respond.

"It was your ring," he said simply. No other words were needed.

The intensity of his gaze stilled her movements, and Blair knew that the conversation had turned dangerous.

"I'll be ready in forty minutes," Blair said breezily, in an attempt to ignore the moment that had passed between them.

"Blair—" he called after her.

But she had already left the room.

"Lily?" the blonde head in front of her was unmistakable, even through the current tears and sweat that blurred her vision. The younger nurse, the one with the round face and auburn hair, stood by the door, wringing her hands at the sight of Georgina.

Her hair was matted, her skin blotched with sweat, and each time another wave of pain gripped her, she felt as if her last breath were being pulled from her lungs.

"Rufus asked me to come instead," Lily said tiredly, sitting in a chair opposite her bed. "I know I'm not you're first choice, but-"

"I'm not alone," Georgina told her. "That's all that matters"

A slim, elegant hand found her sweaty one, and Georgina knew.

She wasn't alone anymore.

"I called a car."

Blair turned to him in the midst of slipping the lowest pair of heels she owned-beige and pink Chanel slingbacks that almost shrieked of walks in the park. Alas, Chanel did not shriek, only insinuated quietly.

"We're going to take a car two blocks?" she asked skeptically, reveling in the slight embarrassment that flickered across his face.

"What else do you suggest?"

"Walking?"

She shrugged when he wrinkled his nose, brushing past him ever so slightly as the entered the elevator.

"You can take the car, but I'm walking."

"I'll walk with you," Chuck said hesitantly, and Blair fought against the triumphant smile that threatened to overtake her cool demeanor.

"The great Chuck Bass, walking? I never thought I'd see the day." Blair remarked, but her expression softened slightly when she noticed the grimace.

"Your leg…"

"I'll be fine," Chuck replied breezily as the exited the elevator. The elderly couple that bypassed the cavern of space between them did nothing to hide his pain.

Once in the bright sunshine, Chuck felt a trickle of sweat bead on his forehead, and he braced himself for what would possibly be the hardest walk of his young life.

"How's your leg?" Blair asked timidly after a block of silence, the sound of Chuck's harsh breathing heavy in her ear. They walked with enough space to let a crowd pass between them, and yet her fingers twitched at his proximity.

Being in Chuck's presence had always done odd things to her.

"Fine," he ground out, and Blair knew that it was anything but.

Sighing, she continued on slowly, wondering if allowing Chuck to come along had been a terrible idea. The duck pond had always been her sanctuary, an iota of calm in the midst of her troubles. The familiar feeling of a loaf of bread under her arm and the smell of freshly mowed grass only heightened this feeling.

As they neared Central Park, Blair began to feel Chuck's desperation. His forehead was slicked with sweat, his face contorted with pain, as his breathing grew labored.

"I want a lemonade," Blair said decidedly, leading the both of them towards a lemonade stand-and a bench.

His grateful sigh of relief could be heard as he collapsed onto the bench. And that was when Blair realized that she didn't know what she was doing.

She had meant to spend an entire summer in Paris, purging herself of Chuck Bass and having the time of her life. Instead, her summer had been halted with a call from home, a call that had changed everything. And now she found herself on amicable terms with him once more,

Shaking her head slightly, Blair took the two lemonades with a smile, making her way back to Chuck.

Blair didn't know what she was doing, bringing Chuck to the duck pond.

"Congratulations," came the voice of the doctor, breaking through the haze Georgina had found herself in.

A squirming, wailing, bundle of blue blankets and pink skin was placed into her arms, and the weight of a baby, another human being, sent her into another round of tears.

"It's a boy."

A boy. A boy with a dark curly hair and grey blue eyes, his tiny forehead puckering as he wailed once more.

"He's beautiful," came a voice, and Georgina turned towards the person sitting next to her. Lily's eyes were wide, and the adoration in her voice matched the softness in her face.

Georgina could only nod as she looked at the bundle in her arms once more.

She hadn't known what being a mother would have felt like before this. There was nothing in the world that could have possibly prepared her for the feeling that coursed through her veins.

It was foreign to her, barely tangible, and she felt as if it would slip through her fingers, light as air, if she attempted to grasp on to it.

The baby in her arms squirmed, and a tiny, small, hand reached up at her, grabbing at air.

"Hi," she told her baby, her voice uncharacteristically soft.

"I'm not going to be your mommy," she explained to the wailing baby, as if he could understand. But Georgina knew. This explanation was not for the doctors, not for Lily, not even for her son.

It was for herself.

"But I'm going to love you anyways."


tbc