A/N: So, I know it's been a ridiculously long time, but I was suddenly struck with some inspiration for this story. I apologise to all those readers who've sent me messages asking for an update – I was suffering from a lot of writer's block and found that life kept getting in the way. I hope you enjoy this chapter.
Between the Shadow and the Soul
A Chuck and Blair Story
Chapter Seven: If I Could Tell You
Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.
If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.
There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.
The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.
Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.
Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.
30 November, 2010 (10.00am)
Lennox Hill Hospital, New York City
Patient's Name: Chuck Bass
Notes: Patient to be released into the care of Nathaniel Archibald. Orthopedic boot to be worn for six weeks and then to be returned to this hospital. Neurological damage restricted primarily to memory retention. On-going psychological treatment recommended. Referral attached.
30 November, 2010 (9.45am)
Waldorf Penthouse, New York City
Nate entered the penthouse through a cloud of Eleanor's perfume ("Nate, darling, I'm sorry I can't talk – send my regards to your mother. Look at those cheekbones of yours. Call me – we should talk about getting you to do some modeling for the new line.").
He had merely mumbled something inaudible and hurried to the heart of the household, where Blair was standing with a clipboard in hand, barking orders at Eleanor's assistants who scurried like ants around the room that was bursting with colour and clothing.
Nate felt like an intruder in the world of women as he tried not to trip over the shoes and scarves that formed an obstacle course to Blair. When he finally entered the circle she had cleared for herself, she didn't seem to notice his standing there. Her malicious eyes were focused on a wilting intern standing before her, all but shaking with a silky garment in her hand.
"…So now I'm confused," Blair said disdainfully. "Because I was almost certain that I had asked you to press the dresses and hang them on the racks. But, I must have asked you to scrunch up my mother's dress into a ball and play a game of soccer with it before throwing it into the corner. I must have said that, because you don't appear to have any obvious brain injuries preventing you from following simple instructions."
"I'm sorry," the girl rasped, paling underneath her fringe.
"So am I. Obviously you weren't ready for lofty heights of responsibility you've ascended to. So, maybe you should go sort some buttons."
The girl scurried off, the first tears forming in her eyes as she brushed passed Nate, and Blair smiled blandly after her.
"Try not to swallow any," she called sweetly. Her eyes, when they focused on him, were sparkling with malevolence. "Nate. What a surprise."
Nate's hands were buried deep in his pockets. "Did you have to be that mean to her?"
Her face was the very picture of innocence. "Who?"
"That girl – the one whose self-esteem you just drop kicked?"
Blair waved dismissively. "Please, she's got interning for Eleanor Waldorf on her resume. She's going to RISD. She'll be fine." She turned on her heels and glanced over her shoulder. "Now is this a social visit or was there something you needed?"
Nate was suddenly very aware that the look of exasperation and fondness must have been written on his face because her eyes softened slightly and she gestured to the kitchen. "Let's talk in the kitchen. You can indiscriminately eat whatever is in the fridge."
Nate sighed, but dutifully scurried after her.
The kitchen was immaculate as always. Blair opened the fridge with a look of utter disinterest on her face – adopting the same oddly distant look she got around food. Nate was suddenly reminded of the lengths that Chuck used to go to convince her to eat. It had always shocked Nate - how someone so profoundly selfish would think to call ahead and have her favourite meal waiting for her when they got home. He would make it a ritual; distracting her from how much she was eating by wrapping his arms around her and feeding her himself. One for you, one for me. Perfectly balanced – as it always was when Chuck and Blair, Blair and Chuck were involved.
Once, in the heat of an argument that Nate had been mortified to overhear, she had thrown this sweet gesture at Chuck's feet. "You're always feeding me – what is it Chuck? Some sick attempt at making me fat so no one else will look at me? So that everyone will stay away from me and I'll always have to do what you say?"
There was a long silence, so long and deep that Nate wondered whether they were even in the next room anymore. And then Chuck's voice had come, smooth and quiet and almost vulnerable in a way that Chuck would only allow himself to be around her.
"People will always look at you. It would be impossible not to."
"I'm serious, Chuck," she said, her voice losing its harsh edge. Nate wondered, concealed as he was behind the wall of the hallway that divided his bedroom from the living room, whether she hadn't started this fight because the fine fissures of vulnerability that covered her personality like a fine lace were starting to show. "Why do you force me to eat?"
Nate could hear Chuck swallow. He knew their dance by heart. He knew that Blair would have taken two steps closer to him. Two steps and no more to show Chuck that she wanted to make similar strides into his impenetrable mind.
He even stole a glance, then, under the pretence of checking whether the way was clear to the front door. He saw Chuck reach out and press a hand to her cheek. "I've only seen it in films and on television," he said sadly, with a look of heartbreaking tenderness on his face. "But, I thought that's what people did to look after each other. And I want to look after you. Properly. The way neither of us have ever been looked after."
For a long moment, Blair and Chuck stared into each other's eyes, as if coming to some kind of accord. Then, with a soft smile, Blair nodded.
"Okay," Chuck responded.
She had never complained about his feeding her after that. Nate wondered idly who made sure that Blair ate properly these days. Her movements were entirely mechanical as she put together a selection of tarts for him. He didn't have the heart to ask her to stop, until he realized that she had ceased paying attention – that she was piling more and more delicate fruit salad tarts onto the plate.
Eventually, he reached out one of his large, tanned hands and placed it lightly over hers – to stop it moving. For a moment, he admired the way their skin looked. How easy it would have been to continue pretending with her. Years could have passed. Perhaps they would have been together forever.
Or perhaps they would have walked further down the path that had laid down for them before her eyes caught sight of the dark, wounded creature that bade her follow him. Maybe he could have reached for her hand as she stood on the edge, considering whether or not the sight of the wide open sky was worth this sort of risk.
He let go of her hand. It was easier to let her go then to see her struggle. And he had seen that again and again. The way that she would talk to him, while longing to run to Chuck's side. Going through the motions.
But, at least today she seemed to be focused on one of her favourite tasks: humiliating the young women who would have killed to step into her life for even one day.
"What can I do for you, Nate?" she asked, her voice false and bright and surrounded by humming and buzzing appliances.
"I need a favour," he said. "This dude at Columbia informs me that if I miss another tutorial I am going to get an absent fail for the class."
"God, Nate," Blair rolled her eyes. "How difficult is it to merely attend class?"
"Well gee, Blair, but I've had a couple of things on my plate," Nate snapped, before sighing heavily. "Sorry. I'm just – it's been kind of intense…this whole Chuck thing. I mean, I know it's intense for everyone, especially you, but it's like one minute Chuck barely has time for me, and now I'm like his number one bud. And I feel bad always having class and lacrosse…I dunno. It's a lot.
It was possibly the most he'd said in weeks, and yet when he looked up he found Blair apparently unmoved, her hands flat on the bench between them, playing idly with the side of his plate. It was difficult, really, to identify what was wrong with her bearing. Outwardly, she was the same old Blair. But, there was something distant and unreachable in her.
In fact, she reminded him of how she had been at Constance. Always focused on herself, affecting the picture of empathy while calculating how far she could progress up the ladder of her ambition. He shook the feeling; that wasn't the Blair he knew. Not anymore.
"Anyway, I'm meant to be picking up Chuck and taking him home. But, I have to go to class."
He looked at her expectantly, but she merely offered him a bland smile. "What are you going to do?"
She was not making this easy for him.
"I know it's a lot to ask…but I was hoping you could pick him up. Take him home – to the Empire."
The words caused a small shudder to pass over Blair's delicate frame – moving her shoulders in their sockets and rattling her central nervous system. But, it was so miniscule that Nate fancied he might have concocted it himself. Certainly, when she had come to the hotel to pick up Bart's will she had been perfectly poised. Nonetheless, the structure of it, its weight and height and the grotesque lights of its name, had become synonymous with Chuck's betrayal. Nate's home had destroyed Blair's relationship.
"Fine," she said with a shrug.
"Are you sure?" Nate asked carefully. "I couldn't get in touch with Serena."
"Why would it bother me?" she asked, her eyes hard on his.
Because the Empire has fallen.
But, Nate had always been exceptionally good at pretending for her. So he shrugged and grinned and thanked her and took some tarts for the road.
They probably could have pretended forever. If only she'd never stumbled upon something real.
7 October 2005 (3.00am)
The Bass Cave, New York City
A strange sort of silence falls over the room - untidy, with floors covered with food and spilled drinks.
It had been the four of them – "The Dream Team," Nate had crowed – drinking and sharing those flirty little confidences that friends hand over to each other wish such abandon and fondness.
An exercise of trust. Truth or Dare. Her favourite.
But, now, only two of them sit cross-legged in a circle that used to four. Serena is asleep in the bathtub, and no one can quite remember how she got there. Nate is face down on the couch, snoring.
Around the corner, obscured from view by the side of the large, ostentatious bed and the wall that gave the only semblance of privacy in Chuck's suite, only two of the Dream Team are left.
Dark eyes meet dark eyes. Knees nearly touching.
It is fitting that it is only the two of them; no one was ever as willing to go to the edge of the precipice quite like Blair Waldorf. And no one knew how to hurl themselves off the edge quite like Chuck Bass. Especially this Chuck Bass - drinking straight from the bottle.
He was reaching that state of drunkenness when anything seems possible. The drinks were making him think thoughts that he didn't usually allow. Perfection – Blair Waldorf's own personal brand of perfection – is what he is after. He wishes to sully it – to prove that human folly is universal.
The game they are playing now might as well be re-named 'Truth.' It is daring to speak secrets.
How often do you masturbate?
Her question – not his, and the surprise at hearing her say such a word makes it hard to resist leaving this little circle they've created in the corner of the room and closing himself away in the bathroom.
Why do you ask? Enjoying the mental image?
Why are you avoiding the question?
Twice per day.
Another pause, neither of them have noticed that they are slightly closer than they were before; both are secure in the sound of Nate's snoring. They might as well be alone. But it's safer having people around.
There's one question he longs to ask her, so he asks it with a nonchalant shrug, taking a sip from his glass, as if he couldn't care less.
"Why don't you put out?"
She wrinkles her nose and he fancies she might leave him here, along in his dark room to curl up next to her boyfriend on the couch. She can take this sort of liberty tonight; her mother thinks she is at Serena's house, if she thinks of her at all.
But, that's not how they play. They play for keeps. Winner takes all.
She looks down, her eyelashes casting shadows on her cheeks and making her eyes look impossibly large and dark in the low light.
"I just think there are better moments."
"Spoken like a true virgin."
She rolls her eyes. "I don't expect you to understand, Bass. But there's a moment, before the first kiss. Before things get messy and complicated." Her mouth and eyes move in a perfectly synchronized dance. She is taken away by her own words. She romances herself with the notion of fairytales. "One moment, your lips even touch someone else's, that is absolutely perfect. It's so innocent and full of potential. Until a kiss matches that moment before a kiss, I don't think you should rush into anything."
His drunken synapses are making connections that his sober mind wouldn't dare to. "But isn't that what it's like with Nate?"
It's the first lie she's told in this game. And it pleases him so much that he ignores the way her mouth says one thing as her eyes examine the small patch of ground between them.
30 November, 2010 (10.20am)
Lennox Hill Hospital, New York City
Chuck sat in the armchair of his hospital room, dressed in soft grey slacks and a button down shirt with his immaculate suitcase sitting primly on the ground by his side.
His overcoat was draped over the back of the seat and he was perfectly still, save for the silver pen that he rotated around his fingers. He had run his hands over the engraving so many times that he fancied the numbers may be written on his finger tips.
11 and then 17 and then 07.
The numbers were written on the back of his eyelids. The numbers were in the air between him and Blair Waldorf whenever they spoke.
When they used to speak.
He had been awaiting this day since his eyes had opened on the alien landscape of 2010, with nothing in his pockets but memories that were now three years out of date. His eyes had been fixed upon this day: the day when the maddening institution of the hospital would release its grip on him and allow him to step back into his life.
And now this day was here. The sky was overcast without being thundery and his bag was packed.
"You must be looking forward to getting out of here," the ambulance driver he had bummed a cigarette from yesterday had commented.
Chuck had smirked at him, leaning on the wall of the hospital and picking idly at a leaf that strained over the fence. He had given his nurse the slip under the pretense of 'exercising' his leg.
"I'm looking forward to getting into some slut's pants more."
The gruff laughter of the ambulance driver was a welcome respite from the faint panic that filled his chest at the thought of the vast, cloudy world that waited for him outside of the four familiar walls of his hospital room.
Had he been the sort of person who reflected on his feelings with the focus of a philosopher, he might have nodded sagely and assured himself that it was perfectly normal to feel this way.
His life, since he had woken from the accident, had been defined by waiting. Waiting until he could get out of bed, waiting to be told the truth, waiting for a treatment, waiting for a visitor, waiting to be given a clean bill of health.
Waiting to see Blair Waldorf, so that he could see whether this time, finally, his heart would stop beating out of hand. Waiting to see that the words Dan Humphrey had told him – about them dating, about them fucking, about them sharing some semblance of a life – had been bullshit.
So far there was no sign of her. Not since he had opened his eyes and spoken in a voice that he didn't recognize: Hello, beautiful.
There had been no sign of her since she had come to his side in a dress that made his heart beat in the back of his throat. On a date. He couldn't even begin to understand why just thinking of her on a date made his stomach churn, underneath his stony outward countenance.
And now, finally, the day had come when he could start living again, and he was sitting in this drab little chair, waiting for Nate to pick him up.
Because he didn't know where he lived.
Of course, Nate was now 20 minutes late and Chuck was starting to feel a little bit like one of those children left at afterschool care whose parents forget to pick them up. He entertained himself by watching the floating dust motes that floated through the air – oddly mournful in the dim, overcast light of what would become a miserable day.
"Not that I want to disturb this pity party," a voice said from the door of the room. "But you realize that you're now staying in the hospital by choice, right?"
Chuck's head jerked up at the sound of her voice. It was Blair Waldorf, looking more energetic and upbeat then she had in weeks. Her curls were held in place by a positively regal headband and her shoes were teetering stilts that lesser women would have broken an ankle in.
She looked so much younger than she had the last time he'd seen her that Chuck felt suddenly extraordinarily self-aware – felt every inch of his nineteen years, and then some. No longer felt like a teenager, but rather like a brittle old person summoning the courage to turn a stubborn tap with arthritic hands.
"You're back," he said simply, his hands curled into fists and pressed onto his knees. His grip on the silver pen was painful – and he knew she could see the white of his knuckles. But, for the first time since he had woken up, she seemed utterly unaffected by the sight of his nervousness. It was hard to say what was different in her gaze. But, if he had been compelled to name it, he would have said that she no longer looked as if she wanted something from him. No longer willed him away, no longer willed him to say words that refused to form.
If it was a mask, it was an exquisitely crafted one. Even though he now knew that he and Blair had been embroiled in some kind of romantic relationship, he found himself more in the dark than ever. Foolish in his expensive pants. Foolish and waiting for someone to lead him home.
"Nate couldn't make it," she said, her china doll lips curled into a half-smile. "He asked me to take you home."
She could not have picked a worse way to phrase it. It was impossible not to shake the feeling that he was the overgrown child of Nate and Blair, to be ferried by one or the other to a soccer game.
"You don't need to waste your energy, Waldorf. Give my driver the address. I'll make my own way."
As always, the words they said out loud were underscored by the unspoken words that both of them shied away from. It was made worse for Chuck, knowing that Blair was more in control than he. She refused to be ruffled, and her new attitude – of controlled distance – was palpable to him. In contrast, he teetered on the precipice of a new life he didn't know at all. The uncertainty made him petulant, but in the deepest recesses of his brain, a feeble voice called out for help.
I want you to stay. But I will not keep you here.
"I promised Nate," Blair said simply. "So even if it injures your delicate sensibilities, I'm going to take you home."
I want you to follow me. But I won't tell you were to go.
Chuck knew the battle was lost. Because, if he was honest with himself, he really didn't want to be left alone.
"Fine," he said with dignity, tucking the pen in his breast pocket. "Lead the way."
Armed with nothing but a suitcase and the one, mysterious date that seemed to represent the start of it all, Chuck Bass followed Blair Waldorf into his new life.
F.C.A. ¶ 661; 
S.C.P.A. ¶¶ 1701 – 1704
Proceedings for the Appointment of a
Guardian for Financial and Property Management of
CHARLES BARTHOLOMEW BASS
A Person suffering mental incapacity
TO THE FAMILY COURT
The Petitioner respectfully alleges to this Court that:
I am the legal guardian of the person who has suffered mental incapacity and is the subject of this petition and I am submitting this petition in order to be appointed Guardian of the Person.
My name is LILY VAN DER WOODSEN (nee RHODES) and was married to BARTHOLOMEW BASS in 2007. After his death, I became the legal guardian of CHARLES BARTHOLOMEW BASS and have previously taken over Charles Bass's financial affairs with his the express consent (see Attachment 1).
On 15 November 2010, Charles Bass suffered head injuries after a vehicular accident. This injury causes Charles to lose any memory of the years from 2007 to the present day. In effect, he has the mental age of sixteen-year old minor….
29 November, 2010 (9.05pm)
Justice Joshua Katzmann's Chambers, Family Court, Manhattan
The judge's chambers were oddly cold, despite the warm fire that moved in the corner.
Although she tried to concentrate on what was being said, her eyes were continually drawn to the fire – attracted to the vibrancy of it, mindful of the violence that those flames could unleash if they escaped from their confines.
It seemed like such a long time since the judge had spoken that Lily had allowed her mind to wander to other things.
As it had since that night, her mind found itself wondering to Chuck. The last time she had seen him, he had threatened to have her removed by security. What worse things would he say if she succeeded in her quest tonight?
"Mrs. Humphrey," the judge finally spoke, his chin resting in his hands and his glasses perched at the tip of his nose. "I understand the extraordinary nature of this situation, and you have my sympathy. But, to do this now, under the cover of darkness – in my chambers – without Charles present to discuss his situation as he sees it is extremely improper. I don't see how I can accept your request, Mrs. Humphrey."
For the first time since she had explained the situation to him, she turned the entirety of her focus on the judge. It had become predictable, over the years, the way men would react when faced with her beauty in full force. She had often tried to determine what it was in her face – her fairly unremarkable face – that made great men fall to their knees. If it was true that everyone had one special thing about them, surely for Lily it was the ability to make men fall in love with her.
She smiled sadly. "There was a time when you called me Lily, Judge."
He smiled in a way that told her he was out of practice. "You used to call me Joshua." He paused, before looking her straight in the eye. "Bart was a friend. He wouldn't like that I haven't been keeping in contact with you. Keeping an eye of you."
The moment her eyes met his, she knew that he would do anything to protect her, that he wanted desperately to protect her. Even though years of practice in court had given him an exceptional poker face.
"I think that Bart would find quite a few of my decisions questionable," Lily said, surprising herself with her candor. He would have been impressed with how she was playing this night, Lily mused. Bart would have admired the way she exploited his old friendship with Joshua Katzmann.
What a weapon to have in your arsenal, Bart had said once, his hand on her chin, moving her face in the light to examine it. What would men do to see this face? How could men deny such a remote, cruel beauty?
"But regardless of what he thinks of me," Lily continued, swallowing, "you know how he would feel in this situation. Mentally, Charles is sixteen years old. He has no attachments - "
The Judge chuckled. "I seem to recall that he has attachments to half the escorts in the city."
"My point exactly. Imagine you wake up one day, sixteen again, and find out that your father has died and left you a fortune."
The Judge leaned back in the chair and turned to look at the fire.
"Joshua," Lily said, leaning forward in the chair and touching his hand lightly. The old man jerked and looked down at her perfect white skin against his old hands. "Sign the order tonight and you can review it in a week when Charles has calmed down enough to discuss it with you. Don't sign it, and if I know Charles, he'll be on the first flight out of New York. And everything that Bart worked for, everything that Charles himself has worked for, it will be finished."
And he will be lost to me.
It was such an absolute certainty that Lily scarcely even felt a thrill of victory when the Judge signed the petition and slid it across the table to her. With that signature, he had just signed over to her all power over Chuck's assets and property. From now on, whatever he did – whatever he charged to his account at the Empire – she would be signing off on the bill. With that signature, Chuck's hard won independence had been slashed.
With that signature, he had brought her time.
"You have two weeks."
For a while, both of them sat there in amiable silence, wondering what the ghost of Bart Bass would have to say about their follies.
30 November, 2010 (11.30am)
The Empire Hotel, New York
Chuck had shown her the Empire for the first time with a flourish of his hands and an expansive grin. He had been proud and Blair hadn't had the heart to tell him how dark and threatening she found the place.
It was like stepping into his mind: the red lights of the illuminated sign for the hotel casting an almost seedy light across the bedroom. All red, everything red. It made her miss the way they had stolen moments in her largely blue room in her mother's house.
At that time, in that place, the Empire had seemed as dark and remote as his own mind. She had taken the Alice leap behind his eyes and had been confronted with the creep of varying light, of coagulating dark reds and unwholesome art.
But he had looked around so ravenously – eager to drink in every detail. She had been fascinated by the sight of him looking so excited, embarking upon something terrifying and intimidating. She had pulled off his clothes not because she was excited by the next step, but because she finally had a sense of the scale of the mind she was trying to gain entry to. She finally saw him, the way Bart had left him. She saw him as if through at the end of a long tunnel and she tore off his clothes because she wanted to feel the comfort of his skin pressed against hers, because as long as she could hold on tight, she could find a rebuttal to the meaning she read into the scene of him opening those doors with a showman's flourish and staring wolfishly at his new digs.
She really hated this place.
They had travelled from the car to his front door silently. The hum of the elevator was all that could be heard. Blair noticed, in the sidelong glances she shot towards him, that he had done his hair in the way he used to at school: slightly disheveled, lacking the groomed perfection of his later life.
In fact, he looked much the way he had the first time she told him that she loved him. In the drizzling rain outside his father's wake.
"Here we are," she said unnecessarily, opening the door with the ease of one who was used to the complex bolt. She hoped that Chuck didn't notice the certainty of her hands, turning the keys.
It was a strange sort of role reversal, to open the double doors for him and show him his home, the way he had once done for her.
He took a few uncertain steps into the room: taking in the large artworks, the pool table, the well-stocked bar.
He must be loving this, Blair mused, watching his back as he wandered around the living room. Chuck at sixteen would have been even more excited to have a little club-house than Chuck at twenty had been. And at twenty he had loved it enough to – she shook her head, banishing the thought.
She had begun making strides towards the way she had once been, on Nicholas' advice. She had been trying to remember what it had felt like to believe fervently that she was blessed with an inspiration, a will, that would allow her to triumph over her every adversary. So much of that had been because of him. And now not even he knew that.
Her telephone buzzed audibly, breaking the silence of the room. She noticed idly that Chuck had yet to progress particularly far.
I can't stop thinking about you. I'm riding a hard deadline tonight, but have dinner with me tomorrow night? – Nicholas.
He was oddly persistent. But she smiled at the way he evoked their strange, interrupted date of the other night:
"I haven't been able to stop thinking about you. There's something so elusive about you, Blair Waldorf. What do you do with your days?"
There was a time when she would have shrugged nonchalantly at that; there was a time when she would have rolled her eyes at the sentiment. Of course he couldn't stop thinking about her; she was Blair Waldorf.
Back when Chuck was a boy donning a bright-orange cravat who had smoked weed on the crosswalk outside school, because he was Chuck Bass and what the hell did he care about whether teachers or students hated him? It was a complex hatred, one that he relished. It was the sort of hatred that caused haters to feel a strange sort of self-hatred for hating someone who scarcely even thought of them. And that tended to make them involuntarily hate him even more; as he stood there, wrapped in his expensive coat, his only concern whether he could buy the answers to his SAT test and where his next drink was coming from.
She loved the picture he cut as he stood there – even before she'd ever associated him with feelings of love. She found him visually pleasing; she found him like a young Gatsby. That was the justification she gave herself when she walked over to him in the school yard. They were aesthetic kindred spirits and he was her boyfriend's best friend.
But in reality, she had loved the way that someone so perfectly bored by everything would find her interesting. She was refreshed by someone paying her the due she was confident she deserved.
"If you think the rest of us are so humdrum, then what's stopping you from going back to the time when your life looked the way it was supposed to?"
She was shaken from her reverie by the feeling of eyes on her, and she looked up to find Chuck had turned his back on his hotel and was focusing entirely on her.
"What are you looking at, Bass?" she said, adopting that same petulant voice she'd had in high school.
"Nothing," he scoffed, before looking once more at the walls of the apartment. It could have been her imagination, but he didn't seem particularly interested in exploring the place where he'd lived.
After a few minutes, he glanced at her again. She was about to open her mouth to comment, but before she had the opportunity to, he blurted out what was bothering him.
"Why don't you wear headbands anymore?"
Blair shook her head incredulously, unconsciously reaching up to adjust her curls. "That's the question you want to ask me?"
He chuckled at her rudeness. He had always enjoyed her bitchiness. "They were always your crown. And…" he peered at her through his eyelashes. "You looked hot in them."
It was possibly the most immature way he could have put it, but in spite of herself, she felt his heart contract with his clumsy compliment. Suddenly, the Empire didn't seem like a threatening extension of its owner; this Chuck may have been hurt by years of neglect, but he had not suffered the trauma of seeing his father in hospital, of an Uncle who hated him for no reason other than that some streaks of cruelty are hereditary, of a fake mother, of a disappointing attempt at a family, of a rejection from the only girl he'd ever had feelings for.
And this Chuck was only pretending to be calm, while really trying to estimate whether she would rip out his lungs for saying something so audacious to her.
"I looked hot?" she said, one eyebrow raised.
"Yeah," he said with a shrug. "I mean, you would have looked hotter if that were the only thing you were wearing..."
"You are such a skeeze," she said flippantly.
And then it had hit her: they were interacting like they had back before everything went to hell. The thought thrilled and terrified her. For the first time, his memory loss appeared as a blessing, rather than a curse. She found herself shifting slightly, watching his eyes travelling down her leg as she fully committed to entering the room and perched on one of his bar stools. She watched as his eyes followed the way her legs crossed and re-crossed on the stool.
He straightened his shoulders and walked to the kitchen, a look of strange uncertainty on his face as he walked up to a particular cupboard and found it well-stocked with different spirits. He allowed himself a small smile of victory before placing two glasses on the bench: a glass of scotch for him and a gin martini for her.
Blair frowned briefly at the way he had known her favourite drink; the complex mystery of those things that were conscious memory and those things that nestled somewhere in his unconscious was not something that should be fathomed when you were starting drinking this early.
"It's early to be drinking," she commented as she accepted her drink.
"It's noon," he shrugged. "And I don't seem to have anything else to do."
She shrugged, taking a sip as he came to sit on the stool next to her – it was slightly more of an effort these days with his cast. But he angled his body to face hers as she spoke. "I wish I could say the same. But, Eleanor's show is soon and the house is a mess."
"You love it," he said smoothly, sipping his own drink and stealing sidelong glances at her face.
"I'm looking forward to her clearing out again at the end of the week."
"Where's she off to?"
"She lives in Paris," Blair shrugged, swallowing one of the olives, before looking up to find his face posed in rapturous focus. She was suddenly uncomfortable with his scrutiny. She bit her lip and noticed that his eyes had trailed down her face to her lips. "Don't you want to look at the rest of your house?"
He cut his gaze away. "I can look around later." He shrugged. "It doesn't really feel like my house. It just feels like a hotel."
"That's what I always thought," she said sadly, before downing the rest of her drink and standing up. "I should go."
He seemed taken aback, and his voice was oddly needy when he spoke. "Where are you going?"
She stopped to look at him. "I have to get back to my life. And you probably have a lot of Googling to do."
"What do you mean?" he said innocently, still standing to block her path to the door. Trying to create the illusion of distance between them, she pressed her back to the bar. But, she had forgotten who she was dealing with. The illusion of distance wouldn't last for long.
"Don't play innocent with me, Chuck," she said softly, trying to ignore how close he was standing and the way he smelled and the tired shadows under his eyes that made her want to lead him to bed to watch him while he slept. "You're home now. Nate can't stop you from finding out about your life now."
"It's not the same," he said, lowering his head slightly. The sound of his forlorn voice made her body pull away from the bar slightly, entering the space that was warm with his body heat. She knew, suddenly, that within a few minutes of her leaving he would go to the computer, type in his name and see at least some of it: he would see their pictures from the society pages. It would be impossible to hide. A part of her would have liked to tell him herself. But the moment she did, the illusion would be shattered, and things would change.
Walk away, she willed herself. But, it was impossible.
"What isn't the same?" she whispered, now only a few centimeters away from him. She wondered why he wasn't pulling away, she wondered why he wasn't running for the hills, with her almost nuzzling his neck. Although they weren't touching yet, she could feel that the same force was holding him in place; they were magnetic always had been.
"What I find on the Internet," he said, his voice catching and his breathing ragged. "It may tell me what, but it won't tell me why."
"Why what?" she breathed.
His hands hovered just over her skin, as if he was too scared to actually touch her bare arms.
"Why you let me stand this close to you," his fingers finally lightly brushing her skin, like a ghost, like a touchable dream. "Why you let me do this."
At the word 'this' he pressed his lips against hers, still more gentle than she had remembered: as gentle as that first kiss in the back of his limousine. So many of their kisses since then had been ragged, passionate, raw and longing. But this kiss was as innocent as the first blink of a child. It surprised both of them. All conversation was forgotten in the intensity of the feeling that came over them at the feeling of their hands on each other. It was a single, perfectly innocent moment of awakening that shook both of them to the foundation.
But it could never last for long; not when it came to them. The gentleness gave way to ferocity within a few minutes.
Within an instant, she was pressed flush against him and his hands were lodged in her curls and she couldn't remember to be annoyed at him for messing up her hair. He kissed her so hard that she imagined her mouth might be bruised, but she knew that she kissed him even harder. His heart was thundering against his chest – in perfect synchronicity with hers – and for a moment the world tipped on itself, until she felt his hands slide under her blouse, and heard his breathing hitch at the feel of the skin that he couldn't remember ever having running his hands over.
Lost in the moment, she planted her palm flat against his chest, before sliding it down his stomach, pausing above his belt to pull back and look at his face.
His eyes were wild and his skin oddly white. He looked so utterly out of control that she was scared for him. He couldn't make sense of any of it – of the intensity of the feelings between them, of the way his body responded to her. It was mystifying and terrible and he looked winded by the sheer thought of it.
"Blair," he rasped. "Blair."
He didn't seem capable of saying anything else, so he pulled her to his mouth again, his hands struggling to cover more and more of her skin.
She was better placed than him to know it what it felt like to be with him. But even as she lost herself once more in his kiss, the look of his aroused, terrified eyes filled her mind. There was something about the franticness of his touch that made her pause; it was as if by shedding their clothes, he expected to unlock the riddle of his past. He was holding onto her for dear life.
And she could give into him, and pretend that they were still what they had once been. She could give him everything she had to give because he asked for it. But it still wouldn't be enough. And then she'd have nothing left to offer him.
She pulled back, using all the strength in her arms to push him away. With a new found composure, she pressed her hands against his cheeks and watched as the colour returned to his face and a look of confusion overtook him.
"What's wrong?" he asked, uncomprehending and trying to catch his breath.
"We shouldn't do this," she said gently, kissing him once more on the lips before pulling away and tucking her blouse back into her skirt.
"I don't understand," Chuck said, running a frustrated hand through his hair. "I thought we were…you know…together."
I thought we were…you know…together.
The moment of revelation came swiftly and cruelly as Blair watched his confused face and the sharp, jagged motions of his hand at his side. For some reason, the image of him standing there, struggling so intensely with making sense of the nature of their relationship reminded Blair of an infant. The red-faced frustration reminded her of a child on the verge of speaking, who knows what they want and just don't quite know how to ask for it.
For her part, she wanted to know how he had found out. But, for the moment it didn't seem to matter much. So what if it were Nate, Serena or even Dan Humphrey? He would have found out the moment he had access to wifi anyway. He could never stand not to know. But he was right; nothing he found would tell him why because nothing he found would show him what they had been to each other. He might suspect, but the only way to know for sure was to live it.
The thought saddened her, and when she spoke her voice was unusually grave. "You don't have the slightest idea what that even means, Chuck."
She couldn't bear to be in this room with him any longer, so she hurried to the exit, eager to get away from the scene.
"Then explain it to me," he called after her. "Explain what this is."
She paused at the door, looking back at him looking unspeakable small and lonely in his grand apartment.
"This is over," she said simply.
The words wounded him and he didn't know why. "Then tell me what this was."
She opened the door and slipped out. But at the last moment, she seemed to have a change of heart and stuck her head back in.
"You want to know what this was? Look on your computer at the file marked 'Viewing Organic Solvent Solidify.'"
"What are you talking about?" he asked, confused.
"Watching paint dry," she said, almost smiling. "It was the most boring name we could come up with. The password is 111707. Maybe then you'll start to understand. And stop trying to find out."
As the door closed behind her, Chuck looked around the large, empty cavern that his 20-year old self had chosen out of all the amazing real estate in New York.
He couldn't have known it, feeling desolate and more than a little horny. But, he was also the way he had always liked to be.
30 November, 2010 (4.30pm)
The Empire Hotel, New York
When Nate got home from university, the Empire was quiet and brooding in the late afternoon light.
"Chuck?" Nate called. "Are you here buddy?"
He fancied he could hear noises coming from the living room, and at the sound of glass tapping against a table top, he knew that Chuck was indeed at home.
"Sorry I couldn't pick you up man," Nate continued talking as he threw his lacrosse gear on the floor. "I thought the teachers at college were meant to be more relaxed than the ones at school. But if anything they're worse. It's like, dude – it's not my job to be here. That's yours. You know what I - "
The words died on his lips; there on the couch was Chuck Bass as he had seen him many times before: completely wasted and lost in thought.
The only difference was this time he had a laptop perched on his lap, his eyes glued to the screen and his finger poised in a way that told Nate that whatever he was watching he had watched a hundred times before.
"How long have you been sitting here?" Nate asked gently.
"I don't remember," Chuck said flatly.
Because I love you.
The moment the words came out, Chuck swallowed and pressed a button. Nate realized suddenly that he had to be watching a video.
Chuck – I'm trying to get ready!
Nate frowned, before moving behind Chuck's shoulder so that he could see the video that filled the screen of Chuck's laptop. (The laptop! Nate mentally slapped himself on the forehead. So much for Blair-proofing the house).
There, filling the screen, was Blair Waldorf.
Out of sheer habit, Nate cut away his eyes – convinced that he was about to inadvertently watch a sex tape of his ex girlfriend and his best friend. But, when he heard Chuck laugh – that real laugh that only Blair could get out of him - he looked at the screen again.
It was in her bedroom, she was sitting at her make-up table, wearing one of her lacy baby-dolls, but otherwise fairly decent.
You can't improve on perfection, came Chuck's disembodied voice from the video. You'll be the most beautiful woman there, no matter whether or not you do your hair.
I am trying to get ready for your gala, Blair chastised, but Nate could see that she was trying to hide a grin as she put her earrings in and Chuck placed the video camera on the table, next to her necklace. He had angled the camera towards the mirror so they were both in frame, reflected in the silver glass. I don't have time to make a sex tape with you.
There's always time for a sex tape.
Nate stole a glance at Chuck, wondering what he made of the scene as he sipped his scotch. He shouldn't have been surprised, really, that Chuck had kept this video as a morbid reminder of when they had been happy. But, the Chuck that sat on the couch now had never been this happy; had never even come close. And the Chuck on the screen positively exuded happiness and serenity as he ducked down and wrapped his arms around her waist.
Make yourself useful and do up my necklace, she said, her smile blunting the force of her words.
With an exultant look on his face, Chuck lifted her hair from her neck, doing up the butterfly necklace that Nate recognized as one of her favorites. Once her necklace was secure, Chuck kissed the back of her neck, and she turned her head to capture his lips with hers.
We're going to be late, she said, her will to get ready slipping away.
I don't care, Chuck said, reaching out to slip her silky robe from her shoulders.
Nate prepared once more to cut his eyes away, but to his surprise, Chuck himself turned the video camera away, so that all could be seen was shadows on the wall.
For my eyes only, he said.
Why is that? Blair asked, between the sound of frantic kisses and ragged breathing.
Because I love you.
Once more, Chuck pressed a button on his computer, rewinding the video to the beginning.
"How many times have you watched this?" Nate asked.
"I don't know."
"Chuck - " Nate said, not certain what else he could say to remove the heartbreaking look on Chuck's face. It was as if he had his nose pressed to a window, looking into a past – or a future – that could never be his. Neither of them could tear their eyes away from the screen. "We didn't want to tell you. We didn't know how you'd take it."
"Turns out you didn't have to," Chuck said. "Tell me, that is. Dan Humphrey took care of that for you."
Make yourself useful and do up my necklace. We're going to be late.
I don't care.
"You should stop watching that," Nate said, ignoring the fact that he was now hypnotized by the couple that filled the screen.
"Why?" Chuck asked ironically, swilling his drink. "It's my memory, isn't it?"
"You shouldn't be drinking alone," Nate said, searching for an excuse to close the laptop and save Chuck from himself.
"Then poor yourself a glass."
Shrugging, Nate did what he said and, not quite knowing what else to do, sat down on the couch next to his best friend, whose face was oddly illuminated by the glow of the computer screen.
For my eyes only.
Why is that?
Because I love you.
It took a moment for Nate to make sense of the sound he was hearing – until he saw Chuck brush angrily at his eyes, wiping away tears he didn't understand. Not quite knowing what to do, Nate squeezed Chuck's knee and sat by him as he shed tears for everything he'd lost.
 WH Auden, "Epitaph on a Tyrant"
 Based on Victoria in How I met your mother.
 I took some liberties with the guardianship form and the way guardianship proceedings would go in New York. Apologies for any annoying inaccuracies.
 Based on the poem, "If My Darling" by Philip Larkin.
 Based on a passage in David Foster Wallace's The Pale King.
 Carol Ann Duffy, "You".
 This scene is inspired by Weeds, episode 1.06, where Nancy watches a video of Judah. You can find it on YouTube. The song in the background is "Ballerina" by Leona Naess.
A/N: I'm a bit rusty! I hope this was okay! Hopefully it won't be as long between drinks next time. I'm also keen to do a new chapter of "Lightness and Weight".