Epilogue

He hadn't bent her over anything for at least a week, and it was beginning to get to him – only exacerbated, of course, by the fact that the bitch was running one finger slowly up and down the slender column of her neck and deliberately not looking at him. That was the problem with Blair: she knew just which buttons to press, even isolated as they were on opposite sides of the table with Nate and Serena seated between like buffers between chemicals. Chuck glared at her, at the torturous way she was pouring water into her glass and at the curve of her throat as she swallowed.

"I'm not in the mood to play games." It came out as a growl.

"Neither are we," Serena said brightly, laying her fingers briefly on his sleeve and then withdrawing them as if he might scald her. "Which is why we're here."

"The Cold War must end," Nate supplied ominously, and Serena beamed at him. Chuck silently wondered whether Blair shared his nausea over the born again couple. "When you two don't talk, thing tend to go from zero to nuclear in a matter of minutes. The fact that it's been a week and we're still standing –"

"Is nothing short of a miracle." The mane of golden hair tossed, and he needed to catch her eye.

She wouldn't look at him (naturally).

"It's not my fault, S –" The glass made no sound as she sat it down on the pristine white tablecloth; when Blair did cast her eyes his way, it was to scowl. "If someone doesn't get that I don't want to have an education bought for me."

"You got that scholarship on your own merit, I had nothing –"

"Of course you did, as if I could –"

"...student, you are perfectly capable of –"

"...talented than I am, they would never –"

"Explain," Nate muttered.

"She got a scholarship, and thinks he's behind it. She's refusing to touch it and is still stealing to prop up her income and trying to pay him rent, which he can't understand because he bought the place outright, and then she tried to give him money for some furniture they smashed during...anyway, that made him mad, which made her mad, and instead of just breaking some more furniture, she stormed out and she's been sleeping in Eric's room ever since."

"So it's not like last time?"

"Which last time?"

"The time when she texted you that she needed you and then you walked in and –"

"No." Serena gave a little shudder, and Nate reached across the table and squeezed her hand. "Nothing like that." She rapped smartly on the table like a judge with a gavel, and tried in her own personal way to call for order. "The dollar has dropped below the level of the yen! The entire country is bankrupt!"

Silence fell.

"Right," she continued. "Now the two of you have stopped snarling at each other, perhaps you'll stay quiet long enough for me to explain why we've brought you here." She gestured around at the empty restaurant, at the polished tables and elegant sidebar. "We're tired of always having to take sides and getting caught up because there's no official way of keeping us out of your business, so we've come up with this: a peace treaty based on more than just a handshake, with terms and actual rules which can't be broken. If one of you does break it, you'll be excommunicated – we'll no longer be your friends, and both of you will have to go elsewhere when you're hiding from each other. We won't have anything to do with you anymore."

The angle of his mouth was sharp, and hers was twisted. Serena poured herself some water from the pitcher and took a long, soothing drink.

~#~

"Article six: that she is obligated to attend at least one of my corporate squash games per month."

"Squash?" Blair retorted sweetly. "I'll squash you." She rifled through her own notes. "Article seven: that he is banned from the Columbia campus except in times of dire need and emergency, not just to pop up and terrorise my project partners."

"All your project partners are male."

"And all your secretaries are female. Besides, I don't like competing with other women for the things I want."

It was enough that their eyes locked across the table, that one finger was still at her throat, that he was mad enough to want her and almost to hear the slide of her stockings as she crossed one leg over the other. Her tongue darted out, pink and petal perfect, to wet her lips – he knew that tongue, that mouth, and her eyes went dark when they followed his mind to the same place, the same plan, the same clandestine thoughts about white linen table cloths and broken china and the rasp of nylon, of silk between her legs.

Serena made a disgusted noise. "Can you hold back on the angry eye sex at least until we're done here, please?"

"Of course I can – everyone knows that my self-control is unparalleled, my forte if you will – though I can't speak for him."

"While I hate to be the one to break up a good fantasy, you should know that, while Waldorf has many talents – not least of which is her Olympic standard flexibility and that thing she does with her nails which I won't mention here – when it comes to certain things, including myself, she has no self-control whatsoever." Now Chuck was the one holding himself firm, facing away from her with the tense line of his jaw broadcasting strain to the room. She was furious, certainly, with high spots of colour painting her cheekbones crimson, breathing quickly and unevenly. The rise and fall of her chest was more than of interest to him, because it was miraculous; Blair, however, could not seem to find it in herself to forgive him for the comment about her nails. He turned, and was surprised when she ducked her head, hiding her face behind a ready curtain of brown hair.

He hated it when she did that.

He hated it when she did anything to conceal her thoughts from him.

"Blair, I –"

"No." She put up a hand. "As well intentioned as this was, Serena, Nate, whether I won't stop snatching purses or he won't stop following me around – because I know he does that, and he thinks I don't, and I know he only does it because he cares, but I don't care – is not the problem. The problem is that we're not wired to have a relationship, unorthodox or otherwise." He felt her words like a shock, like a heart attack, and the subdued lighting glinted on her ruby ring. "He's ready to drop bombs for me, but not to be my boyfriend."

"Blair." This time it was Serena trying.

It still made no difference.

"I'll sign the treaty," Blair said quietly, and then she was looking at him, and that look gave him a stroke on top of his heart attack and crashed a car on top of that so that Chuck was dying generally rather than specifically. "But I'm not getting back together with him. I...I need time. I need the kind of space we used to have. I need to work out whether being so unnatural and unusual is enough."

"Blair, please."

"I love you. I do." She presented him with a small, uneven smile. "And don't you dare think I don't."

"Don't go," he returned (or possibly begged). It was beyond humiliating to be reduced to such a state in front of Nate and worse, Serena, never his strongest advocate, but then again that hardly mattered. What mattered was the light going off behind her face, the light that had been there since their kiss on top of the Empire State, since his birthday when she'd stolen his proofs and sat him on the carpet and made him eat dinner with her on the rug like a child, since he'd taken her with him to Amsterdam and she'd been infinitely amused by his avoidance of its red light district. That light classified Blair as Blair, as a real person instead of a daydream; he was enough like a moth by now that he needed that light to survive, to guide him to death or exquisite ecstasy in bed beside her when she held his hand in the dead of night.

She was more than sunlight, and he needed her.

But still she was going, and he sat still at the immaculately laid table and heard her footsteps and the swing of the door, and then got up himself and was out the back door before anyone could see him, see the wreckage of his heart-attack-stroke-car-crash and pity him.

But he had a plan.

Nothing, after all, could compare to the pain of losing her the first time.

~#~

Hamilton House was never empty enough for Blair's purposes, but today she allowed herself the luxury of slouching in her armchair rather than sitting upright and pretending. Her cab ride had been dogged by thoughts of the black limo which was usually not so far away and which now, at her request, was wherever he was, knee deep in his own thoughts or neck deep in liquor. She fingered the key around her own neck, the key which granted access to these hallowed halls, walls, floors, paintings, chairs; it fell flat today, and she had only herself to blame.

The truth was no amount of tradition could explain away the fact that the place she belonged was the Park Avenue penthouse she had grown in before he even knew her name. She may as well have been playing at being November her entire life, and had only lately realised it. She was still trying to redress that balance, but he wasn't going to make it easy on her. Why, she wondered, couldn't he understand that her worth came purely from the fact that she could love him, and served no further purpose? Perhaps it was petty to visit the Guggenheim with the express purpose of parting tourists from their pathetic money belts, but at least it meant she wasn't Cinderella – but Cinderella didn't seem apt, somehow. Perhaps she felt like Christine, giving her voice to the Phantom and receiving fame and fortune in return.

Fame and fortune came, it seemed, as part of the package deal of being Chuck Bass' girlfriend.

"It's because they've never seen me with anyone like you," he'd explained. "Stumbling out of Victrola with some vapid model? Yes. Escorting a Columbia student to a formal gala? No – but then I doubt they've ever seen anyone like you before, with or without me."

He'd breathed a kiss against her forehead, and she'd felt it in every part of her.

Why couldn't he understand that she wanted to repay him for that kiss, for every kiss he'd given her when he hadn't cared if she'd snuck in off the street? No one would forgive her when she was poor, because poverty was unforgivable; Nate had gone long before then, and she had been glad when he'd studiously avoided her as his own way of showing deference and sympathy. Chuck, however, was as different from her first love as it was possible to be – she sometimes wondered how it was possible that they were friends at all. She could recall references made by one about the other when she was younger, still in the first flush of someday being a Vanderbilt. Nate had mentioned from time to time that she really should meet his best friend, that this person had read some book that she had too, that maybe she could come along to one of his poker games so they could be introduced.

Poker? Blair Waldorf?

She'd declined.

But it wasn't Blair Waldorf who'd met Chuck Bass.

Maybe the problem, therefore, came from the fact that Blair was writing a story that should have, could have been written years before. She'd been so secure in her own superiority that she never would have lowered herself to dipping even a toe in the pool of depravity attached to Chuck, Nate's omnipotent wingman in every headline, every picture until his father had died and he'd lifted the weight of the world onto his shoulders.

Until now.

Bass Reveals New Belle

Spotted: Chuck Bass and Girlfriend at Gala

Designer's Daughter Dating Billionaire Businessman, Former Playboy

But none of that mattered as much as the fact that she was afraid – yes, afraid – of the depth of his feelings for her. It seemed that they either raced or crawled, incapable of maintaining a steady pace or doing anything but worshipping or loathing one another until she'd slapped him and he'd hoisted her onto some convenient piece of furniture, after which they'd sink back to adoration as if there were no level of comfort between. Some days, she felt like she couldn't breathe when she was with him; others, she could only do so if he were close by.

"Blair!"

And most importantly, why did Blair always forget that Juliet Sharp was keeper of keys at Hamilton House?

"Hello." A false smile stretched Blair's mouth taut.

"Oh my God, I haven't seen you around in forever! Guess the new BF must be keeping you busy, right?"

One of the many things Blair disliked about Juliet was that she didn't make the most of what she had. Her caramel coloured hair and blue-grey eyes were utterly betrayed by the palette of beiges and taupes she insisted on dressing herself in, always a bandage dress, always topped with a blazer. Her hair was always pulled back too tightly from her thin face, and she always wore too much eye makeup for the daytime. Still, Blair beamed, because once Juliet's money had parted company from her person, it had bought Blair innumerable hours of electricity and many pairs of Falke stockings.

"He works a lot."

"I'll bet." Juliet took an unsolicited seat. "What is he, a billionaire? A bajillionaire?" Her eyes sparkled at her own witticism. "Are you drowning in Tiffany's yet?"

"Not yet."

"And what about Serena van der Woodsen?" Those eyes narrowed. "Is she still secretly screwing Professor Forrester?"

The million watt smile died on Blair's lips, and she twisted her mouth into what was an undeniable sneer. "Actually, no. Serena is dating Nate Vanderbilt Archibald, and they're very happy. In fact, Chuck –" Her voice caught, but only a little. "And I were at Daniel with them earlier today. They're blissful," she said distinctly. "Very much so."

"But do I sense trouble in paradise?" Juliet brushed an imaginary piece of lint from her charcoal coloured skirt. "I don't hear you describing you and Chuck Bass as blissful."

"I don't want blissful."

"No?"

"No." Blair stood abruptly, gathering up her purse and accoutrements without taking her eyes from Juliet. "Because to be blissful, you have to be like Nate and Serena: uncomplicated. I'm not 'drowning in Tiffany's' as you put it because some of us don't value what we have by carat or cut." Realisation dawned. "That's what you think, isn't it? You think I'm dating him for his money. You think that's the reason I ignore all the other stuff, the profligate playboy stuff, the person he used to be."

"Aren't you?"

"I ignore the person he used to be because that's not the person he is now. I ignore the people telling me I'm dreaming if I think he can change because I know he already has. And I ignore people like you –" She jabbed one fierce finger in Juliet's direction. "Because you don't know him, and you don't know me, and if you think we're just fooling each other then fine, go ahead."

The other girl began to speak, but Blair didn't care. She was leaving. She was going home: home to a Park Avenue penthouse where it was safe to be safe and imperfect and sometimes blissful, sometimes so dark that it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Back where she belonged.

It had taken her a few more weeks to discover that her doorman was named Dexter, and now they exchanged words almost every day. She found him amusing because he called her 'Miss Golightly' when she told him she didn't want to be called Miss Waldorf. Tonight she found she couldn't say a word to him, and her throat was dry as she took the elevator upwards, all the way to the very top of her personal universe.

But the apartment she entered was very different to the one she had left a week earlier.

Clothes on the couch.

Papers on the floor.

Dishes – of what, and why? – in the sink.

Blair stepped apprehensively towards the bedroom, pushing wide its door in absolute silence to discover possibly the most bizarre thing she had ever seen.

Chuck was in bed, casually dressed in a pair of his habitual silk pyjamas, and the television was on. This in itself was not surprising – Blair couldn't count the times she'd come in to find CNN on and him already asleep, and she'd had to pry the remote from his recalcitrant hand and curl up against him because he was young again when he slept, younger, a child without a care in the world but holding on to her – but today, ESPN was sounding off several rounds of statistics in quick succession, and he seemed enthralled by the rush of multiple figures back and forth across the ice.

"What are you doing?"

He didn't even turn to face her. "I'm being inadequate."

"What?"

"Inadequate." Chuck gestured at the screen. "I know how you feel, that it bothers you that we don't fight over who gets to pick the restaurant for lunch like Nate and Serena, that I don't get mad at you for leaving bags all over the floor and you don't yell at me for ignoring you when there's a Mets game on, so I've decided to be inadequate. I'll forget your birthday, I'll be late for everything. I've already taken up trashing the apartment, did you notice?"

"I did."

"Whatever it takes," he said. "Whatever it takes to make you happy, I'll do it. I want you to be happy, however that's achieved."

What could she do but be quiet for a while, not move her mouth as she watched him watching a sport she was sure would genuinely interest him if only he ever had time to stop stacking the financial decks and go and watch it. Then she walked over to the bed, pulled back the comforter – and suddenly halted, the dark blue fabric caught up in her hand with something hitting her hard, harder than any physical blow, shocking her to life with the force of electricity.

The box was small, black and velvet covered, and Blair eyed it as it sat without ceremony on the white sheet.

"Chuck Bass is a romantic," she remarked drily. "Who knew?"

"I know there should be knees involved." Chuck still seemed fixated on the game, but his voice was as apprehensive as so dark a voice could be. "And flowers, and candlelight, and all the reasons why – but after that, I'd want an answer. This way, you don't even have to open it if you don't want to, if you don't feel the time is right." The lights of the changing scenes flickered across his face. "But whether you consider this the appropriate thing to do or not, you should still know that I would do some highly stupid things for you, not limited to purchasing real estate, taking bullets, social annihilation and catching grenades."

Blair looked at him. She looked, and she saw: the hard line of his profile, his square jaw, the little boy who was too afraid of being rebuffed to even meet her gaze. "Chuck?"

"Yes?"

"I don't want you to be inadequate. I don't. I want you to be reckless and obsessive and intrusive, and I want you to scare me and drag me across floors and believe in me." She bit her lip, because they had been playing with bows and arrows and now he'd pulled a gun on her and asked her to be his. "I want all of you and I would do anything for you, whether that's right or wrong."

"And the box?"

She had already placed it on the nightstand. "I'll open it when I wake up."

Chuck did turn to her then, and his expression was an odd mixture of several emotions trying to display themselves at once. Blair shook her head as if she didn't know which one would suit either and slid into bed beside him, dropping her head onto one silk covered shoulder and inhaling the familiar scents of scotch and musk and cologne which clung to his clothing and even to his skin with something bordering on relief. "It's a strange future to want to buy into," she murmured. "The first time we met, I stole your wallet."

"It's still you that I want," he told her, mouth quirking up in half his signature smirk. "Wallet or no wallet." The screen went black, and she pressed her fingertips against the shadowed curve of his chin. "Corporate squash games or no corporate squash games." He couldn't restrain his grin then, and neither could she; her lips were curved upwards, and he could taste happiness when he kissed her.

It was about time.

They lay down together, and he drifted and put his hands in all the appropriate places (inappropriate would have to be saved for later, because he wanted an answer and she wanted to rest). He thought she was asleep and so was he, almost when he heard her speak, and the differing timbre from his own was as soothing as her breath against his skin.

"I still want to pay rent."

"Go to sleep, Blair."

"And utilities."

"No."

"And for that piano we broke."

"The New York Philharmonic has plenty of pianos."

"But I –"

"Goodnight, Waldorf."

"Same to you, Bass."


Ladies (and possible gentlemen), squee now or forever hold your peace.
Again, thank you so much for your support even for the darkest parts of this story, for sticking with me until the very end - if I ever get my hands on Ed Westwick, that boy is so being cloned until he has no DNA left to be spliced and replicated, and you will each receive your very own Chuck Bass, gift wrapped.
Thank you to:
sleepdeprived91, blair4eva, ChairForever, Lalai, GoodGirl793, 88Mary88, annablake, QueenBee10, TruC7, Stella296, Rosss, notoutforawalk, lesliexhale, louboutinlove, MegamiTenchi, ellibells, thegoodgossipgirl, mlharper, fswickar, CBfanhere, Kensley-Jackson, flipped, Nikki999, Krazy4Spike, SaturnineSunshine, anabella-chair, Kumiko212, CBLove21, Poinsettia, dyslin, BellaB2010, Heavenlydoll, libertine84, chuckandblairlove and A73104MG. May life bring you Harry Winston diamonds, complicated bliss and the happiest of endings.