"She's not my responsibility!"
Bart's eyes were cold as he surveyed his son, but Chuck saw it; the flash of disappointment. Weary.
"You will make her your responsibility." His voice was flat and offered no argument; because once Bart gave an order, it was carried out.
Chuck's jaw clenched, ever so slightly - but he wasn't Bartholemew Bass' son for nothing, and there was no flicker of any other emotion from him.
"Fine," he answered, short and low. "As you wish, father."
"Good." Bart was already glancing to the clock on his study wall. "I have business to conduct. But I've invited mother and daughter over for dinner tonight, and I expect you to take care of Miss Waldorf."
"Mrs. Archibald," Chuck corrected, almost a snap. "Her husband's only been in his grave a week."
Bart acted like he hadn't spoken, eyes merely narrowing at his insolent tone. Permanent frown lines. "They'll be arriving at eight." His attention returned to the documents on his desk, dismissing his son. "And Charles?" His eyes didn't even lift for the briefest second. "Make sure you're not wearing that purple tie."
Chuck gritted his teeth, swallowing the unpleasant taste in his mouth. "Yes, father."
He stalked out.
"I'm not going."
"Don't be ridiculous, Blair."
Eleanor narrowed her eyes at the pale girl before her, thinking with a flicker of irritation that the black dress she was wearing really did nothing for her. Why must her daughter look so washed out?
"Bart Bass has kindly invited us to dinner, and it would be rude to refuse."
"I'm in mourning, mother," Blair answered icily.
But Eleanor's tone was fifty degrees colder; "I think that much is obvious, dear."
Blair was aware she shouldn't even have cared - but it was instinctive; ingrained - the look her mother gave her was enough to make her shrivel up, just that bit more, inside.
"Now," Eleanor smiled, back to pleasant. "Why don't you go and change into something a little more...enchanting, hmm?"
Blair struggled to control her expression, the bile rising in her throat.
"I want you properly dressed in the parlor by half seven, Blair - and if you could remember how to smile, it would be much appreciated."
"Fine," Blair bit out, shaking, and left.
It had been too painful, seeing her at the funeral.
Her face was hidden by a black veil, but he saw, even from the opposite pew, the tremble of her slight shoulders under her cloak.
The smiling portrait of his - best friend, even if they'd barely spoken for so long, because it was Nate - seemed to overwhelm the slender frame in black that sat underneath it. She didn't cry, and neither did he. He saw her back, ramrod straight, her head raised. He knew when he took her hand to kiss it, cold even beneath the glove, that her fingernails had been pressed into her palm the whole time.
She could've cried under the veil, but Blair Waldorf would never cry in public.
She'd have done her sobbing already; not in a church filled with people, when everyone was talking about what a great man and wonderful son Nathaniel the hero was.
That wasn't their Nate; the easy laugh, one strong arm ready to wrap around Blair or punch anyone that Chuck wouldn't; the hazy smell of narcotics, expensively creased suits and confused blue eyes that yearned for the sea, or freedom, or...something. Nate never did seem to know what, and Chuck never cared.
But everyone was always perfect at their own funeral.
He'd caught her before they'd gone in, and he hadn't been able to say anything; just pressed her hand to his lips with a murmur of, "Blair."
She'd looked too small and too alone next to the shadow of her mother; there was no one to wrap an arm around her, to support her or keep her warm. Her poise had been perfect, and all Chuck had wanted was for someone to hold her. Stupid girl.
The last time he'd seen her, she'd been wearing a veil too; but a white one, decked head to toe in lace and diamonds - a picture of perfect purity as she moved down the aisle to her groom. He had declined Nate's offer to be his best man.
He couldn't stay for long, at the wedding - business in Boston - and anyway, he knew Nate's cousin Tripp wanted it more. Tripp van der Bilt had been over the moon when he was asked instead.
Nate had insisted on giving him a seat at the front, though - and he'd mistimed his late arrival. She was in the foyer, alone, when he came in; everyone else was sitting down, waiting for her entrance. He'd been hoping to slip in at the back and miss the whole thing.
They had stared at each other in silence.
She'd wanted to make a pointed snipe at his lateness - dark hair windswept, droplets of water still gathered on the broad shoulders of his black coat - and he'd wanted to make a lewd comment about ravishing, but their voices had stuck in their throats.
She was so achingly beautiful in the church's candlelight that he hated her.
He hated her.
"Blair bear, are you ready?"
Their gazes had snapped apart, jolted, at her father's appearance.
"Ah, Charles." His glance, while warm as ever, was ever so slightly curious; "Aren't you meant to be inside already?"
Chuck cleared his throat. "My apologies." His eyes slid to Blair's, and their gazes met one last time, the fraction of a second; "I think I've arrived too late."
She broke the connection first, head ducking, and he managed a smile at Harold instead - "But do go in. I'll just stay at the back."
The first chords of the string quartet sounded on the other side of the door; Pachabel's Canon in D.
"That's our cue," Harold caught Blair's cheeks. "Are you ready, my darling?"
She lifted her head. "Let's go."
Harold lowered the veil over her face, shadowing her brown eyes, and Chuck moved aside to let them pass.
She was right next to him for a moment, and before he moved back, he murmured, very softly, into her ear; "You look beautiful, Waldorf."
Her head remained erect, but he saw her eyelashes flutter closed, even behind the veil.
The doors opened, revealing the packed out church, Nate waiting at the other end.
"Goodbye, Blair." She couldn't have heard him; she was already walking away, down the aisle, as the congregation got to their feet.
And Chuck promised himself this would be the final time he'd have to watch her walk away.
Of course, fate would never be that kind.
Despite the shining sun - only Nate would have blue skies at his funeral - the graveyard had been icy, forcing the mourners to huddle together as the coffin was lowered into the ground.
Not Chuck, lurking at the back; and not Blair, standing alone at the front.
The Captain had beckoned him over, though - Chuck was Nate's best friend, and he deserved his place at the front. Chuck didn't have the heart to correct a grown man who was struggling not to cry, so he took his place next to Blair.
They stood in silence till the coffin disappeared completely; and then he heard her breath catch, almost inaudible, and it occurred to him that this was the last he'd ever see of his best friend; and then he was suddenly gripping Blair's hand, squeezing it, tight, in his. Blair didn't say anything, but she didn't pull away; and he let her press her fingernails into him instead until the final rites had been read.
She broke away at the end, and he had to watch as she departed, a tiny figure, alone.
Neither had noticed the eyes of their parents. Watching the dark couple - they really were a handsome pair, two dark heads and two pairs of dark eyes, matching in black, hands interlinked and faces white - and the idea took root in that moment.
Two minds working overtime.
A widowed daughter needed financial support; Eleanor had just had one beautiful union snatched away from her - years of planning from two families come to nothing - and she was all too aware of the threat of being burdened with a spinster child for the rest of her life.
The image of a loose libertine for a son, meanwhile, did nothing for business; the way things were going at the moment, Bart was in danger of his legacy ending up in the hands of some bastard grandchild. Or squandered at the bottom of a burlesque club. He had accepted the fact that the Waldorf's old money was tied up with the Archibalds - but with a certain Archibald now out of the way...
Two pairs of eyes met over the dark heads of their children. Eleanor regarded Bart with a smile, and he allowed his own lips to curl, thinly, back.
An idea indeed.
A/N Title comes from the film 'Catch and Release', which inspired the idea for this fic.
Reviews are always hugely appreciated :) Just to know if this is worth continuing...And future chapters should be longer!