Warning: if you haven't already, I would recommend reading the first part to this story, 'Catch and Release', so that this makes sense! Although I'm sure it's not too hard to follow if you haven't...
Blair was half asleep when he left, moving instinctively towards the warmth as it eased away from her; she felt the heat of his chest, then, over hers, and the taste of his lips, hot hands sliding over her bare arms. She relaxed into the kiss with a soft, sleepy sigh of contentment, eyes fluttering closed again as his mouth moved over her jaw and cheek, lingering on her mouth one final time.
She was asleep again for his murmured love you, dark eyes drinking her in before the bedroom door closed in his exit.
When she woke up properly, it was to early morning sunlight streaming through the window, and a bowl of glistening strawberries with a large, sugar laced croissant on her bedside table. A tall glass of freshly squeezed orange juice - no pulp, just the way she liked it - was set next to the tray with a single note that read, Morning, sunshine.
She grinned faintly, picking up the embossed C.B. card. Her fingers traced the curve of his writing as she plucked a strawberry from the bowl, sliding it into her mouth.
She'd been in New Haven for the past week, running an exhausting series of talks, parties and events at Yale. There were few enough females at the university that the presence of the Girls' Foundation had been somewhat of an honour; and Blair had been in her absolute element. If there was one thing she was good at - had always been good at - it was charming adults. The dusty professors had been impressed enough with her intelligence and sophistication that they'd soon got over her youth.
She'd always assumed that the type of girl who went to university was something of a freak; the odd females who ignored society around them to pour over books. Not that Blair didn't enjoy reading, but the most they'd achieve from all their efforts would be a position as a teacher. Or a librarian, if they were lucky. But she'd actually found herself enjoying the intellectual company. Most of them were sharp young women, and she couldn't help but be impressed. It was actually nice to have people (other than Chuck) who didn't look at her blankly if she dropped a literary reference. The girls were in need of polish, obviously. (Some of the things they wore...) But most of them had a determination that she could admire. They had ambition.
She'd enjoyed the week immensely, but it had been tiring. And what had made it all the more exhausting was the fact that it was seven days without Chuck. So it had been with equal parts regret and relief that the final event had finished early on Saturday evening, and she'd been able to go home.
Bass Industries had a function the same night - she'd already told Chuck she'd have to miss it. She'd known the party would probably be winding down by the time she arrived, but had decided to go to surprise him.
She'd found him masking with his usual skill just how blindingly drunk he was. Not that it had fooled her for a second.
His entire face had lit up when he'd seen her, through the haze of alcohol - and for that fleeting moment, he looked like a child, features softened and hazel eyes alight, despite the powerful frame, sharp suit and slicked hair. And even as she was rolling her eyes, she didn't think she'd ever loved him more. She'd slipped her arm under his - looking for all the world like his diminutive wife rather than the fierce little figure holding him up, and got him out of the party and into the nearest car.
"You're back," he'd breathed into her, burying his head into her hair.
"You're drunk," she'd answered him. "What happened, Bass?"
He'd kept insisting nothing, even as she'd pushed him into the bathtub and dunked cold water over his head, scrubbing and massaging his hair, pulling him out a nightshirt and letting him tug her into bed with him, arms circling her as she pushed him back onto the pillows. And then, snuggled on his chest, he'd murmured an apology into her curls.
"Baizen?" she'd asked, softly.
His lips had buried in her forehead. "Bart. Bass Industries. Fucking Italian stockbrokers," he'd mumbled. He wouldn't tell her just how awful his week had been; not that it would make a difference. He'd never need to tell her.
"You weren't meant to be back till tomorrow," he'd accused sleepily.
By which point he'd have washed and got his act together.
She'd just grinned and nestled in closer to his chest, feeling the exhaustion from both their bodies, pressed together, seep into the silk sheets.
"Go to sleep."
His hand had caught in the strands of her hair, eyes closing.
"How was Yale?"
She'd smiled to herself; he'd felt it, and it had made him smile too.
"When we have daughters," she'd whispered back, "That's where we're sending them."
He'd gazed down at her, in the dark, at the silhouette of her lashes, silence enveloping them as her breathing deepened.
"I love you, Blair Waldorf."
"Bass," she'd corrected drowsily. "Now sleep. I'm waking you up tomorrow."
And it was the first proper night's sleep they'd both had in a week, curled in each other's arms.
She'd kept her promise, too, and cheerily woken him the next morning - they may both have been tired, but she wasn't hungover - with an unceremonious bounce on his chest, ignoring all his curses and dragging him to Lily's brunch. Sunday on the Upper East Side was not a day of rest.
Nonetheless, she was grateful now that Monday had granted her a slightly more languorous morning. Not poor Chuck, who at this point would already have finished his morning meetings - but anyway.
She rose from the bed, pulling a silk robe over her negligee. She was already forming a list of things she needed to do as she sipped her orange juice - the morning may have been lazy, but that was lazy by Blair Bass standards. She had plenty to accomplish before her lunch plans with Serena.
"So you see, sir, this is the problemo. If the figures continue in this way..."
Chuck's gaze flickered over the charts, confused scrawl disappearing over two pages in a mess of lines and figures. It hadn't taken long to work out Mr. Luccio's methods. Distraction. The man was all flowery sentences and rambling excuses and numbers that made no sense, when in actual fact he'd failed to complete a single task Chuck had asked of him.
The Luccios had worked for Bass Industries for years, but Bart had always dealt with the eldest brother. Clearly this one was a different case altogether. Had it been anyone else, Chuck would have sacked him weeks in advance.
"Cut to the chase," he interjected, almost a snap. Regarded the Italian man between narrowed eyes. "Can you do it or not?"
"Ah. Well, this is the-"
"No," Chuck sighed. "You can't." He rose to his feet, brushing his suit. He always seemed to think clearer when Blair was there. The weekend was all he'd needed to put things into perspective. He should have fired Luccio weeks ago. Fuck family diplomacy - enough was enough. He spared Luccio a glance. "I don't think we'll be needing your services any more."
Luccio's mouth opened in shock. Shock that rapidly turned to outrage. "What? The Luccios have always served the Basses! What you mean, you don't need my services? My brother-"
"You can tell your brother," Chuck sliced him off, smoothly, "That if he wants to carry on working with Bass Industries, he'd better send someone else."
And with that, he saw him out.
Carter watched the Italian storm down the corridor, muttering furiously to himself, with some amusement. His head slid round Chuck's door, smirk already in place.
"Firing Luccio, Bass?" he drawled. "How are you going to explain that one to daddy?"
Chuck made a point of ignoring him as he ripped the messy charts clean in two, dropping them into the waste. Baizen had been unbearable as of late. It had started last month, when Bart had given him an office on the same floor as Chuck. Three years of working with Bass Industries, and he'd climbed high. Like a little cockroach.
Chuck honestly couldn't see any reason for Bart putting them on the same floor, other than to torture him. His father had been distant and distracted for a while now. He was supposed to be back for the function Chuck had thrown on Saturday night - and the only explanation Chuck had got for his no-show was a brusque telegraph stating that he was tied up in Chicago. No apology, of course; not that Chuck had been expecting one.
Chuck knew better than to wait for Bart's constant approval by now. He'd actually just wanted to spend time with his father.
Which sounded stupider and more humiliating every time he thought about it. That was what had driven him to his first glass of scotch that night. Had Blair not turned up, he would've managed fine. He didn't drink himself to destruction; hadn't done for a long time now. He could've kept in control, outwardly, at least - and got himself home for a scotch-fueled sleep alone. He didn't need her to take care of him.
(But warm relief had still flooded his veins when he'd seen her, when he'd held the only thing that felt like home. He wasn't home till she was. And maybe he didn't need her to take care of him, but she did. And he wanted her to, more than anything, even if he'd never admit it in a thousand years.)
"Don't you have work to do?" Chuck answered now. He gave Carter a look of disdain. "Scurry along back to your office, there's a good boy."
"You do know Bart's back today, don't you?" Carted replied idly, ignoring him. "Or did daddy dearest forget to tell you?" He smirked again. "So you'll have plenty of time to explain to him how you just drove away our best accountants."
Chuck bit back a growl of resentment. Of course he didn't know Bart was back. How the hell did Baizen even know? Still, his face was a carefully controlled mask of scorn. "Get back in your hole, Baizen. You're boring, and I have things to do."
He turned his back on him, dismissing him.
"I'm sure playing dress up in daddy's office is exhausting," Carter sneered back. He'd thrown it at Chuck enough times; and even as Chuck ignored it, it didn't stop the sting. Because sometimes, for all his achievements, that was exactly what he felt like he was doing. Playing an adult. "Have fun doing damage control," was Carter's last dig; and then he finally left.
Glowering, Chuck tossed Luccio's business card on top of his ripped charts. Even if the biggest obstacle was believing it himself, he knew he'd made the right decision.
It was still unseasonably warm for September, and Blair was relieved to get out of the glare of the streets and into the coolness of Depardieu's restaurant. She smoothed the cream ruffles of her dress, handing her elegant hat to the maitre d' and sliding off white gloves as she searched for Serena. Their table was waiting already.
But she stopped in surprise as she spotted the familiar blonde head, surrounded by a group of figures she already recognised.
She approached. "Serena."
They turned to look at her, temporarily distracted; and Blair had that unsettling sense that she'd just interrupted a nice conversation.
"Blair!" Serena moved to embrace her instantly. Blair hugged her back, though with an edge of restraint, still aware of the others.
"I thought the plan was lunch for two?" she asked pleasantly. Her tone was light, eyes sliding between them.
"Of course it is," Serena assured her with a grin. "Sorry, B. I was just saying bye to the girls."
"We're going now," a voice chimed in, hastily.
Blair turned her cool gaze on the other blonde who had spoken. Jenny managed a smile back, pulling at her pale ringlets self-consciously. "I love your sash," she added, drinking in the red silk around her waist. Blair, for her part, noted the pink around hers. The sash wearing was definitely a new trait Jenny had picked up.
Blair faked a smile back. "So...what were all of you doing? Together?" She tried to keep her voice airy, she really did. Eyes moving over Kati and Iz. Since when did Serena spend time with them? She'd been practically a recluse for the past two years; she'd said she wanted to keep a low profile - as low as one could, on the Upper East Side - and Blair had eventually believed that she did.
So why did this...rankle her, quite so much? Why should she even care that Kati and Iz were flanking the tall blonde?
"We were shopping," Serena responded happily; and Blair tried to ignore the kick in her stomach. Shopping?
Serena noticed, then, that her smile didn't quite meet her eyes. She gave her best friend a nudge. "For Dan," she added pointedly. "It's his birthday next week - I asked Jenny to come." Still trying to appease her - "I guessed you'd rather enjoy your morning than help me pick out a present for him?"
Blair remembered how to smile properly. And she did relax, a little. Serena had a point. "Right. Of course."
That didn't quite explain Kati and Iz, though.
"Jenny invited the others," Serena clarified.
Jenny cleared her throat, nervously. "Well, I'd better go..." She dipped her head at Blair. "It was really nice seeing you, Blair. I hope you enjoy your lunch."
"See you later, Serena," Kati added. Iz smiled at her, and then the three of them left, Jenny's gaze flickering one final time back to Blair.
Serena tucked her arm into Blair's with a bright beam. "So, shall we sit?"
Blair swallowed back the unpleasant taste in her mouth. Serena was her best friend. Serena was her best friend. "Let's."
"I think the numbers are all in place." Chuck glanced over at Eric, who was still flicking through the leaf of papers carefully. He flashed his big brother a grin. "As far as I can tell, anyway." Eric was studying finance in one of the big Manhattan business schools; Chuck already knew that he was top of his class, and it was no surprise.
He exhaled. He'd thought as much. "You realise you're doing a better job than an actual stockbroker, van der Woodsen?" he asked wryly, shaking his head.
One of the (possibly most unexpected) benefits of Lily and Bart's marriage had been Chuck's sudden acquisition of a little brother. He'd never known Eric van der Woodsen all that well before, other than as Serena's sibling. It should still have been strange, acquiring him as his own sibling - but what was stranger was how easy it was. How much he genuinely loved having a little brother - and not just a little brother, but Eric. He was a pretty great kid. More than a kid, though - he was probably Chuck's closest friend.
It still amazed Chuck that he had anyone who could look up to him. And Eric's life hadn't exactly been easy, coping with the two van der Woodsen women.
It was even better that Eric's school was only a block away from Bass Industries; it made his lunch breaks far more enjoyable.
Eric just laughed.
"I'll take that as a compliment. Even if you are comparing me to Giovani Luccio." He'd discovered Luccio's charts in the trash, and had been torn between laughter and genuine bewilderment at the state of them. "How did he even pass his accountancy exams?"
"His brother probably sat them for him," Chuck replied darkly.
Eric laughed again as the clock chimed one o'clock. He pulled a face.
"I'd better go. A lecture on fiscal finance awaits."
"Sounds...thrilling," Chuck mused.
Eric rolled his eyes. "Oh, it is." He got to his feet, handing Chuck back the papers. "And before I forget - apparently we're having dinner tonight. Mother's pulling out all the stops."
Chuck raised an eyebrow. "Bart's back."
"Well, that explains it," Eric reflected. He picked up his satchel, glancing at Chuck a final time. "See you at eight?"
"We'll be there." His lip curled a little, waving his brother off. "Have a riveting lecture, van der Woodsen."
"So, how's Faith?"
Blair sipped her crushed lemon, lifting her brow at her best friend. She couldn't stop her face softening, ever so slightly, unconsciously. She'd always thought it would be hard. But it was far harder for anyone not to love the little girl. And if those wide blue eyes ever hurt, there was something about her little laugh and messy blonde hair that would always bring Blair back to Serena as a child. The little girl Blair Waldorf had fallen in love with, aged exactly four. How could she not love that again?
"She's great," Serena enthused. "She did a painting yesterday, actually." She gave the smaller brunette a grin. "Of her aunty Blair. Her teacher asked her to draw her best friend."
Blair rolled her eyes. "Oh, God. In that case I hope she hasn't inherited your artistic talent. Or I don't think I want to see it." She couldn't hide the glow of pleasure, though, or the quiet smile.
Serena pouted. "You told me you loved the painting I did."
"I was nice then," Blair sighed. "Fortunately I've since seen the error of my ways." She directed Serena a sweet smile as the other girl rolled her eyes, amused.
"What about Chuck?"
"Oh, he agrees with me. Being nice is a waste of time. Actually," she reflected, tilting her head with a slightly wicked grin, "He definitely prefers it when I'm not nice. Being bad really gets him-"
"Ugh, Blair!" Serena covered her ears with her hands in protest. "That is not something I want to hear!"
Blair just smirked. She knew they were in no danger of being overheard; the table was perfectly secluded, and it was worth it for the expression on Serena's face.
Serena shot her a half reproachful, half exasperated look. "I meant, how is he?"
Blair's eyes still sparkled a little, though there was a more serious hint as she pursed her lips. "He's fine," she sighed, picking at the cherry in her drink. There was nothing Serena could say or do about Bart, after all. "Though," she added sourly, "He'd be a lot better if he didn't have to deal with Baizen every day."
Serena shifted a little in her seat. It was something that was still a slight sore point between the two girls.
"Blair," she said softly; "He's not that bad."
Blair rolled her eyes in frustration. "Yes, he is."
"You don't know him-" Serena tried to protest.
"So you keep saying. But you still won't tell me how exactly it is that you know him." She looked at her best friend challengingly; and, as ever, Serena's eyes slid away.
"I...don't." Serena never have been a convincing liar. "I just..."
"Carter Baizen is bad news, Serena," Blair insisted. "There is nothing redeeming about him."
Serena sighed, vexed. "You know, I'm sure plenty of people have said the same thing about Chuck. About you, in fact." Blair's nostrils flared dangerously, eyes widening - but Serena cut her off. "And they're wrong. All of them," she stressed. "So why won't you even consider the idea that the same thing might be true of Carter?"
"Because Chuck is nothing like Carter," Blair snapped. Perhaps there were superficial resemblances; but she knew Chuck, down to his core. In a way that she could never know Baizen.
Serena finally gave in, raising her hands in defense. "All right, all right." She gazed down at her best friend. "Look, I don't want to argue with you. It doesn't matter."
Blair knew perfectly well that Serena didn't believe that for a second - her mind was clearly made up about Carter, and nothing Blair could say would change it - but she didn't want to fight either. There was no point.
So she deflated too. "All right," she sighed. "Fine."
They exchanged wry half smiles. "Truce?"
Blair glanced at her watch, then, smile falling as she saw the time. "I have to go," she sighed. "I'm supposed to be meeting my mother for a dress fitting."
Serena made a face in sympathy. "I'll see you tonight?"
Blair hugged her, pressing her cheek to her shoulder. "Tonight," she promised.
Dan tucked the covers around Faith's sleeping form, pressing a final kiss to her forehead. She was already lost in slumber, golden hair tangled around her face. He'd adopted her officially upon marrying Serena - giving her a family name and the legitimacy the poor child deserved. He loved her like his own daughter, too.
But they didn't talk about her real father. In what Dan was gradually learning to be typical Rhodes fashion - Serena didn't want to. And Dan certainly didn't want to bring it up.
He knew, deep down, that a part of Serena would never stop loving Nathaniel Archibald. He just didn't really want to think about it. And he didn't need to - he could make her happy. As long as he could tell himself that, then the rest could be put to one side. And perhaps it wasn't the Humphrey way; but he'd given up fighting. Marriage to Serena wasn't easy. There were parts of her that he may have loved less than others; but he loved her, still, and he was determined to make it work. Who'd said marriage was easy, anyway?
He moved out of Faith's room and into their bedroom, where Serena was running a brush through her hair. She was running late, as ever.
"Is she asleep?"
"She is." Dan smiled, pulling her into his arms. "And how are you?"
Serena smiled back, lacing her arms around him. It was moments like these that made it all worth it; that radiant smile. "Very, very behind," she grinned. "And my mother will not be impressed if we're late." This was accompanied by an eye roll.
"So...how was your lunch with Blair?"
Serena was still smiling, though she went to slide out of his hold. "Mmm, great. You know. Lunch with Blair."
Dan tried to catch her hand. "And did you...talk to her?" he pressed.
"I..." Serena sighed. "I was going to. But I couldn't."
Dan looked at her, face instantly falling in disappointment. "Why not? Come on, Serena. You said you would."
"I know," Serena groaned. "And I really was going to. But there just wasn't the right time. And she was annoyed because Jenny and Kati and Iz were there..."
"What does that have to do with anything?" he asked, frustrated. "Serena, you said we couldn't tell anyone till you'd told Blair. How much longer are you planning on waiting? Because I want to tell people."
Serena caught his face, trying to soothe him. "I know, I know," she promised. "And we will. It's just hard."
"Why?" Dan snapped. "It's three words. Blair, I'm pregnant. If she was truly your best friend, she'd be happy for you."
Serena managed to overcome her irritation at the judgement in his voice. Because no matter how many times she explained it, he'd never understand Blair. Never understand her and Blair, more specifically.
"Dan," she attempted patiently, "It's not that simple. I told you. She and Chuck have been trying for a year now-"
"I know," he said between gritted teeth. "I know that. But I'm not talking about her and Chuck - I'm talking about us. Why don't I get to celebrate the fact that my wife is having my baby?"
"Just give me a bit longer," Serena pleaded, rather than answering the question. She pulled his face towards hers. "All right? I will tell her. I promise."
"Fine," Dan grumbled eventually. He never could win an argument with Serena.
She smiled, kissing him happily. "Good." She swept away from him to brush on a last bit of powder. "Right, I just need to get my things, and then we can go."
Blair was inspecting herself carefully in the mirror, clad in just her underwear. She ran a hand over the flat plane of her stomach. It was perverse, considering how hard she'd always worked to maintain its flatness. It wasn't that she was obsessed with having a child. Far from it. Part of it still terrified her.
But what terrified her far more was the possibility of never having one. The secret, deadly thought that she'd destroyed her chances once and for all. She'd kept herself occupied, distracted herself from noticing the months passing; each month another step closer to nothing, another step to build up the worry fermenting inside of her. And she'd succeeded in doing so, till today's dress fitting.
Her mother had remarked that she'd lost an inch around her waist. It wasn't even deliberate, either; Blair had been so busy running around that she hadn't even noticed.
The assistant dressmaker had chuckled, poking her waist fondly.
"You gals and your obsession with your figures. How you gonna bear a baby with them tiny hips, huh?"
She'd meant it as a joke, Blair knew. Nosy bitch. Blair had flushed, and Eleanor had glanced at her. Studied her daughter critically.
And, once she'd dismissed the dressmaker; "So, is there anything on that front to report, darling?"
Blair had stared at her for a second.
Eleanor had rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on. Don't act the goat. I'm not a fool, Blair - you and Charles have been married almost two years. I certainly hope you wouldn't hide anything from your mother?"
Blair had bit down on her lip, forcing her voice to stay light. "No, mother. Nothing to report." A weak attempt at a laugh; "I'll let you know."
Possibly one of the most uncomfortable conversations she'd ever had with Eleanor.
She'd forced it out of her mind and managed to carry on the rest of the afternoon like nothing had happened. And, really, nothing had happened. Just another stupid reminder.
She was happy. Happier than she'd been in so long.
She didn't need a child to complete her. Not when she had Chuck. (He was all she'd ever need). But that didn't make the idea that she'd never have one any less terrifying. Not to mention the fact that it was her role as a wife. How could she fail him that?
She didn't realise quite how hard her teeth were pressed into her lower lip till the heat of two familiar hands slid around her bare waist. So lost in thought that she actually jumped in surprise, breath catching as his dark eyes joined hers in her reflection.
She pressed her back against his chest, warmth through his shirt, letting her body mould into his as she shut her eyes in pleasure.
He kissed her neck, her arms curling back around around his, eyes still watching hers in the reflection.
"Mmm," he purred into her. "Looks like someone was waiting for me."
One hand slid down her thigh as the other caressed the bare skin of her stomach. He'd felt the tension in her shoulders; seen the look in her eyes before he'd come in. She wasn't ready to talk about it. Not yet. So he'd kiss all of the tension out of her if he had to.
"Someone took a long time to get home."
There was something about the word home on her lips that still sent a thrill through him; she turned in his embrace to kiss him properly, hands threading through the back of his hair.
He squeezed her closer, whispering against her lips, the shell of her ear, "I promise you that will never, ever happen again."
She grinned into the kiss. "Miss me?" she murmured.
Her hands tightened round his neck as she pressed her body closer; he pulled her back to the bed, dropping to the mattress and tugging her between his legs. His hands roamed her waist, holding her as she kissed him deeper.
"Well," she sighed, "I'm sure you can find some way to repay me..."
They both stood at the mirror; she, sliding in earrings as he fastened his cufflinks. They were dressed to perfection, his silver tie picked up in her dove grey dress, dark hair flawlessly swept back. He lifted her pearl necklace from the vanity and she turned obediently, lifting her hair up. His hands were smooth as they fastened it around her neck, slipping down to rest on the tops of her arms as he placed a soft kiss in her hair, inhaling its sweet scent as both of them regarded their reflections with a shared smile.
His eyes drank her in, silently.
She turned to smooth down his tie one final time, musky cologne mixing with the lighter fragrance of her perfume as her slender fingers ran the expanse of his chest. She could already feel the nerves inside him, even under the cool exterior he'd perfected. That alone would have told her Bart was back, even if he hadn't.
"Let's go, Bass."
She slid one hand into his, his fingers curling over hers, and they exited the penthouse together. Dinner with the van der Basses awaited.
A/N Please read and review :) The story will pick up, I promise - I just felt we were in need of some C/B fluff.
Also, the title of this fic is from the Audioslave song 'I am the highway'.