AN: Apologies for the long wait, and I promise that Recollection is coming soon. Am just waiting to get it back from my fantabulous beta, bethaboo, who also beta-d this for me. Love you, B! And to everyone who reviewed/alerted/favorited...thank you! Enjoy.


Winter 2006

There was an almost calm atmosphere when one purged. The feeling of emptiness, of utter completion, was thrilling and calming and horrifying all at once, and if that wasn't a contradiction, Blair didn't know what was.

She set her phone down beside her clutch as she leaned towards the mirror, inspecting her skin for signs of imperfection.

The loud buzzing echoed along the tiled walls, and Blair hurriedly grabbed her phone, praying that no one had heard.

Two texts buzz in simultaneously, and a third one only seconds later.

Blair, where are you? You gave Mrs. McInery quite a scare by jumping up and rushing out. Get back here now.

Mom's asking wher u r. She wants a pic for nyt. Where r u? - N

The last one was short, poignant, and utterly heartbreaking.

Don't do this to urself B. Ur perfect. –C

Wardrobe malfctn she texted to the first two, be back soon- B

She doesn't bother answering the last one. She doesn't know what to say.

Blair's teased Nate for his pot habit before. Perhaps teased was the wrong word. Chastised would be more appropriate.

She's reprimanded Serena for one too many late nights and making out with investment bankers at PJ Clarke's. And on more than one occasion, Blair's turned up her nose at Chuck's various vices. Women, alcohol, various drugs, and indulgent escapes beyond their wildest dreams.

If Blair was virtue, Chuck was vice.

(Nate and Serena are somewhere in between. Perhaps skewed closer to Chuck's side of the spectrum.)

Problem was, Blair was right up along with the rest of them in terms of vices. She had her own, if secret, habit she just couldn't shake.

What made it so completely damaging wasn't the vice itself, but the way she depended on it. The way she found herself mentally calculating the calories she consumed on a daily basis, each macaron and petit four she consumed weighing heavily in her stomach.

The bathroom was a welcome release—a short respite in when she could sit back on her heels and feel complete. But the encompassing shame and regret that followed soon after would fling her into the deepest trenches of her own despair. And so, she would gorge herself on another box of delight, stuff herself until hers stomach felt full to bursting and tears trailed their way down her cheeks. It was a cycle that never ceased to stop; a cycle that she had tried to break out of desperation, out of fear.

She had always been unsuccessful.

Blair avoided Per Se. It was a favorite of the Captain's, and many dinners had been held there, invitations extended gracefully to the Waldorfs.

The Archibalds had already all but integrated her into their inner circle; Anne and the Captain already indirectly referring to Blair as family. Blair was to become an Archibald one day; it was simply accepted among their group.

There had been one occasion, the summer before freshman year, where Serena had accompanied them to Per Se, as she was staying at the Waldorf's while her mother jetted off on yet another honeymoon.

The two girls had dressed up in front of Blair's vanity, giggling and applying cherry-flavored lipgloss. While Blair had opted for the demure cream dress her mother had picked, Serena chose an almost indecently cut rose-colored dress, one that Blair had never been able to pull off.

Anne looked on disapprovingly, but Eleanor beamed, lavishing the blonde with compliments while Blair sat back in her seat, forgotten.

"You know," Eleanor was saying, "Blair was never able to properly pull off that dress. You should give it to Serena, Blair."

Her cheeks had burned, but Blair smiled stiffly and nodded her assent. "Of course. It looks stunning on you, S."

Serena's thank-yous and giggles attracted glances from other patrons of the restaurant, all of whom smiled indulgently at the sight of the laughing blonde.

Blair, seething, turned away from the spectacle and towards Nate, sure that he wouldn't be paying attention to Serena.

She had been wrong.

Nate was just as enamored as everyone else, his eyes locked on Serena's effervescent smile and shimmering blonde locks.

Tears sprung to her eyes, but Blair blinked them away quickly, focusing on the setting sun, the sienna and copper painting strokes of light across over the treetops of Central Park.

She could only stare at the sunset for so long, and Blair was soon pulled away from her reverie by the dish set in front of her.

Without thinking, Blair dug her dish, Oysters and Pearls, one which she had formerly despised.

Her voracious appetite continued throughout the entire meal, from the forest mushroom ravioli to the bluefin tuna—the flavors dulled and utterly bland, chased with hearty gulps of red wine.

Her behavior had gone quite unnoticed by Nate and Serena, though they were the closest to her, they were trapped in their own world of perfection. However, Eleanor had not granted her the same luxury.

"Blair," she hissed over the table, "smaller bites. Follow Serena's example. Do you want to burst out of that dress? And stop gulping down your wine. People are beginning to stare."

Her cheeks burned once more, but Blair met her mother with a defiant look, shoving another too-large spoonful into her mouth and picking up her wine glass.

"Blair," Eleanor warned, her voice dangerously low, "stop."

Nate and Serena finally realized that they were not, in fact, the only patrons at the table, and both turned towards the mother-daughter pair, twinned curiosity plain in their blue eyes.

Lifting her chin imperiously, Blair pushed her chair back, and stood with a polite excuse, one that failed to please Eleanor.

Her steps were clipped as she made her way to the bathroom, the alcohol throwing the slightest of wobbles into her rebellious march.

The bathroom itself was a welcome refuge. But as Blair collapsed onto a velvet settee, shoulders shaking, hot tears tracking down her perfectly made up face, she found the silence unsettling.

The silence allowed for thoughts; thoughts led to realizations; and the realizations had not been welcome.

Never enough. She had never been enough.

The thoughts swirled in her head as she stumbled forward, her bare knees hitting the marble with a deafening crack.

Tears continued to rain down her cheeks, over the bridge of her nose and the bow of her cherry red lips.

Almost experimentally, Blair reached her index finger to the back of her throat, wondering if—

Her throat seized, and Blair pitched forward, coughing and gasping for air. No. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Serena had whispered to Blair about the things her older, infinitely cooler, model friends had taught her. The ones who smoked Gauloises and wore brands like Erdem and Issa.

"They said it keeps them perfect," Serena had whispered between Blair's silken sheets. "That's how everyone stays so skinny."

There wasn't a doubt in Blair's mind that Serena had never intended for the information to be taken to heart, but it had stuck with Blair for a while.

The image of perfection, however unattainable, had stuck with Blair for a while.

But it had remained buried until this moment, kneeling on the bathroom floor, tears flowing relentlessly, her index finger coated with her own saliva.

Determined, Blair jammed her finger down her throat once more, now anticipating the seizing of her throat, the coughing that followed.

Obstinately, Blair continued the same actions, the same repeated movements that eventually led to her stomach seizing as well, forcing up her entire dinner into the porcelain bowl.

Blair was just grateful for private bathrooms as she dragged the back of her hand across her mouth, smearing her lipgloss.

Satisfied, she flushed the toilet, washed her hands—twice—, dabbed away her tears, and reapplied her lipgloss.

She was smiling when she returned to the table, and for the rest of the meal, she had no more than two bites of each course, including the poached apples—her favorite.

The proud smile on the edges of her lips remained.

However, the next time the Captain and Anne had invited the Waldorfs to Per Se, sans Serena, Blair had not been prepared.

She had been unprepared for the deluge of memories that bombarded her as soon as she set foot in the restroom—to touch up her lipgloss once more.

Blair hadn't done it, since, but being there, the same vanilla-cinnamon scent masking a stronger, crisp lemon, flooded her subconscious with unwanted images.

Blair avoided the restroom for the remainder of their dinner, and for every one that followed after, she came up with inventive excuses.

The second time she purged, it was in a restroom at Nobu, and the sake afterwards had removed all traces of evidence.

The third time, she hardly had to think.

After that, she lost count. Only reasons remained behind, each time blurring into one another, until they were fused into an incomprehensible jumble of emotions and tears, petty words and sneering smiles.

Waldof penthouse—too many petit fours.

Butter—Nate was too busy fawning over Serena to notice Blair shoveling her foie gras into her mouth with incredible speed.

East Hamptons estate—Eleanor's once-over of Blair in Serena's skimpy two-piece was enough.

Le Pain Quotidien—Nate had invited Serena along for their after-school coffee and pistachio tart tradition.

Archibalds' townhouse—her dress was too small.

Blue Ribbon Sushi—Nate didn't even bother to show up.

Yet, to this day, she still avoided Per Se.

Something was wrong.

Blair used to have no qualms in meeting Constance Billard's strict physical education requirements. The school touted a state-of-the-art fitness room, and generously sized gymnasium that they shared with St. Jude's—all a part of their 'physical education' initiative. One that had been funded by their parents' deep pockets and despised by nearly every student.

These girls, Blair knew, preferred to keep their size zero figures in other ways, frowning down upon any sort of physical activity. Particularly when there were the boys of St. Jude's present.

But Ms. Queller had enforced the four-times-a-week physical education classes with exacting measures, going so far to threaten expulsion.

Blair had perfected the art of looking as though she were pushing herself to the point of exhaustion—while still looking pristine, of course. She had even managed to keep up with Serena-amazon-long-legs-van-der-Woodsen during the weekly track runs.

But lately, Blair found herself making ridiculous excuses to skip class, coming up with make-believe calamities that were only half-truths.

She had attempted a class earlier this week, not wanting to arouse suspicion. But within the first few minutes of her usual warm-up jog, she had found herself gasping for air, clutching the black rubber handles of the treadmill as she fought to remain standing upright.

"B?"

Is looked over from touching up her lipgloss—Is spent about forty percent of her time on the treadmill admiring herself in the mirrors, fifty percent of her time chatting to Kati, and ten percent of her time barely breaking a light jog.

"I'm fine," she spat out, but the venom in her voice fell flat as drew in another few deep, rattling breaths.

Taking another few deep, calming breaths, Blair steeled herself and continued on, only to find her vision tunneling out, the edges blurring as her breathing grew labored. It was a struggle to right herself after that, and this time Kati joined Is in exclaiming worriedly over Blair's weakened state.

By this time, Coach Spalding had approached the trio, shooing away Blair's minions, and asking if Blair had recovered from her bout of the flu.

Weakly shaking her head, Blair had asked for leave of the day's class, perhaps to lie down in the Nurse's office for a while.

The older woman had nodded, her eyes raking over Blair's emaciated appearance, having seen the symptoms the girl was currently exhibiting, more than once before.

It was almost a cliché, the number of times she had seen the warning signs in these perfectly coiffed, filthy rich children of CEOs and hedge-fund owners. And the number of times she had seen these signs always maintained the same ratio as to the times she would speak up. It simply wasn't done, an unspoken rule in Constance Billard's hallowed halls.

And so Coach Spalding smiled tightly and waved the girl on, deciding to focus her attentions on a lagging sophomore instead.

She didn't notice the way Blair could barely made her way back to the change rooms—the way her knees shook and she gasped for breath, though she was no longer running.

Instead of going to the nurse as she had suggested, Blair had opted for a quick forty-minute massage at Bliss. By the end of her session, her headache had worsened, but the dizziness was barely detectable.

She chalked the headache up to the looming AP Chemistry test—one she later passed with ease—and the dizziness to the cold.

Blair had presented a note from her physician to Coach Spalding today, not wanting to risk another embarrassing episode in class. It wouldn't do for a Queen to faint in front of her subjects, after all.

As it usually did when her mind grew bored, her thoughts turned towards Serena. Serena, who had left without a word. Serena, who had exactly sixty-one e-mails from Blair, all of which went unanswered. Blair wondered what her best friend—ex-best friend, she mentally corrected herself—was doing at the moment.

"She's probably recovering from last night's hangover and wondering where her shoes ended up," Blair decided out loud, before checking quickly to make sure she was alone. Finding herself quite alone as she continued out the courtyard, destination unclear, her mind continued in its curious daydream.

"Or, she's asking her Literature teacher why we can't spell favorite with a 'u'," Blair mused, allowing a small smile at the memory. "Then again, this is S. She's probably bemoaning her third F of the year to—"

At this, Blair stopped in her outward thinking, the pang in her heart deeper than she remembered. Sharper, almost. As if time had not dulled the pain, only fostered its growth. As if remembering Serena after months of trying to purge the memory of the blonde, effervescent, indecisive girl only made her disappearance all the more painful.

Because Serena had always lamented her bad grades to Blair, while the girls lounged on the steps of the Met, Blair's paper, with it's bright red A+ tucked safely in her books.

Blair would suggest studying, a concept Serena would pretend to be mystified about, and the two girls would dissolve in fits of giggles. When Kati and Is arrived, lattes in hand, they only shot the two girls a look of confusion, before shrugging it off, and sitting a step below.

The top step of Blair's dominion on the Met steps was oddly lonely without Serena. At first, the blonde's insistence on sitting on the same step as Blair—she clearly didn't understand hierarchy—had annoyed Blair, who had gone to lengths to snub Serena for the first week. As it was now, it felt as if she were missing half of the equation, oddly separated from the rest of her group. She was now the only one worthy enough to perch on the top step—she didn't have to share the spotlight with Serena.

Only now, Blair wasn't quite sure if she wanted the spotlight to herself.

So lost in her own thoughts, Blair found herself walking aimlessly down the street, the wintry New York air barely a bother, until she found herself surrounded by an indistinguishable scent.

"Waldorf," she scrunched up her nose as she took in Chuck Bass, signature scarf and all, smoking just outside the walls of St. Jude's. Of the herbal persuasion, as expected.

"Bass," she sneered back, and Chuck laughed at her as she drew back from the proffered joint.

"Blair Waldorf, skipping class?"

"I'm sick," she told him imperiously, throwing in a cough for good measure.

Chuck raised an eyebrow, falling into step with her, "You were never good at acting, Waldorf. Besides, isn't this your gym period?"

Off Blair's questioning look, Chuck smirked, and realization dawned on her as clear as day—"Of course. You're Chuck Bass."

"And Chuck Bass knows exactly when to skip Trig to make the trek to Constance," Chuck finished with a nonchalant shrug, ignoring Blair's look of distaste.

The next half of the walk consisted of the sound of the passing cars, Blair's black velvet flats against grey pavement, and nary a sound between the two.

"You've been skipping gym lately."

It was a passing comment, said lightly, but with more weight behind it than Blair could hope to comprehend.

"I've been sick," she defended, but her excuse fell flat.

"You seemed perfectly fine last Friday," Chuck pointed out. "Or maybe that was the alcohol."

Blair frowned at the memory, though she remembered that Nate had saved her that night—though Chuck had apparently been the one to call Nate in the first place.

"I saw you," Chuck admitted, "in the bathroom," he clarified quickly.

"You were imagining things," Blair brushed his comment off easily, though her stomach had begun to twist into knots.

"You downed those Blavod shots, not me."

"You're Chuck Bass," Blair said offhandedly. "You probably had half a bottle of scotch without realizing it."

"I know what I heard, Waldorf."

"It's not your job to take care of me," Blair spat out fiercely, turning on one heel to glare at Chuck. "I can take care of myself."

"And a damn good job you're doing of it, if you're ruining your perfect attendance by skipping gym," Chuck shot back, perhaps harsher than he had intended.

"I'm fine," Blair said stiffly, "just getting over a cold."

"Like hell you are," Chuck said, throwing up his hands in frustration. "How am I the only one who knows about what you do behind closed doors, Blair? Does your mother not notice? Nate? I wouldn't be surprised, his head's been elsewhere since he randomly disappeared for four days and came back disoriented."

"He went to visit his grandfather in Maine," Blair said through gritted teeth, though she knew that the excuse was flimsy. Nate's driver had told them Connecticut had been the destination—and a small, minuscule part of Blair knew that a certain blue-eyed blonde had been the cause of Nate's sudden disappearance—Blair just refused to believe it.

"You just keep telling yourself that," Chuck said with a roll of her eyes. "Speaking of things you tell yourself, what do you tell yourself that could drive you to get down on your knees—and no, I don't mean in that way, Waldorf."

"Unlike your perverse mind, I wasn't thinking that," Blair snapped. "And for your information, I don't."

"Don't what?" Chuck pushed, eyes glittering dangerously. "Don't make yourself throw up or don't give bl—"

"Neither," Blair said firmly, but Chuck saw past the lie.

"You don't need to keep doing this to yourself," he said quietly, surprised by his sudden change in tact. "You know you're perfect already."

"No, I don't," she admitted, in a voice so quiet, so tragic that something in Chuck's chest stirred, and he had the sudden urge to reach out and embrace her, to comfort her.

It was an odd feeling indeed.

But before he had a chance to act on any such feelings, Blair had turned and walked away briskly, clearly ending their conversation.

Chuck wasn't sure what kept him from going after her.

"Serena, pick up," Nate murmured into his phone.

The trip to Connecticut had been a waste—upon arriving in the city Nate realized that he had no clue where to start.

The list of boarding schools he had drawn up for himself was long, to say in the least. And Nate hadn't thought that it would be quite this difficult.

Frowning at the piece of paper in front of him, he directed his driver towards a hotel instead—at the very least, he could phone every school and ask if a Serena van der Woodsen was enrolled.

The problem with that strategy—even after he had found the school Serena was enrolled in (after hours of phone calls)—was that Nate still didn't have a clue about what he would do when he found her.

He had settled for attempting to visit Serena. But even that didn't work, and after the ninth failed attempt, gave up, leaving another note with the receptionist.

And now, Nate had resorted to calling Serena every now and then—whenever his mind thought to think of her.

Which was too often. And Nate knew, in the back of his head, that this was wrong. He was calling his girlfriend's best friend after she had run away, because they had done something so inherently wrong that even Serena van der Woodsen felt guilty.

He knew what this was doing to Blair, too. Perhaps not the full extent of the damage he inflicted, but he knew this was hurting Blair as well.

He just didn't know how he could stop.

In hindsight, Blair probably shouldn't have had the extra slice of cheesecake Kati had bought for her.

Because upon finishing said cheesecake, she found herself in the bathroom, finger down her throat, tears beginning their relentless journey down her mascara-streaked cheeks.

It was exhausting, pretending to pretend everything was perfectly fine when she was crumbling inside. But pretending was too heavily ingrained, nearly second nature in Blair Waldorf. It was a habit—a reflex embedded within her very core—and it came too easily to be pushed away.

Yet at the same time, it was draining. It was the feeling of everything else being two steps ahead of her, leaving you to struggle to claw her way out of the hole she had dug.

Above it all, Blair hated being a cliché. She hated falling into someone else's patterns—following trends set out by dozens of society Princesses before her. She hated knowing she was a statistic, another tally to a list of bulimic teenage girls. Bulimia was such an ugly word as well. She never let herself use it—in relation to her, or anyone else. It didn't flow nicely, it didn't curl around her tongue, nor did it sound euphonious in any way. It was crude, almost brusque in a way. But it was a habit she couldn't shake. It was an addiction she had promised herself to gain control of—an addiction that proved difficult to conquer. For the short, brief, period of time between the purge and the guilt, there came a moment of glorious respite.

For a moment, the hard, cold, marble below her bare knees, and the faint burning sensation in her throat fell away. There was only a welcome wave of relaxing calm, of being in control once more.

Then the full impact of her actions would hit her, and the guilt would spiral and tunnel into her very heart, until the emotion consumed her entirely.

It was the same cycle, every time. And this time was no different as she washed her hands. Once, twice, thrice, just to ensure that no remaining scent lingered. The travel toothpaste and toothbrush she carried with her at all times was used thrice as well, until her gums nearly bled with the force of the brush against sensitive gums.

But her hands were clean, smelling faintly of vanilla and amber; her teeth were gleaming, her breath reeking strongly of peppermint.

Reapplying her signature red lipstick, Blair ensured that any and all mascara smudges had been removed—that her hair had remained in place, and that she wore no signs of her previous activities.

When she exited the bathroom, she was flawless.

But it didn't keep her from noticing the look of reproach, of disappointment, and pity, from Chuck Bass.

Lifting her chin in the air and grasping onto Nate's hand tightly, Blair only smiled coldly at him.

Her phone beeped, and Blair refused to look at the message until later that night, the heat on full blast, curled up under three silk duvets.

Her teeth still chattered, and her shivers proved unyielding under cashmere blankets.

The text read:

Ur still perfect even when ur falling apart.

The tears didn't stop till sleep finally found her, some hours later.


tbc