For Love or Legacy
Since it's been a while I'll just write a summary reminding you all of the overall storyline:
It takes place four years after the end of season three, but I changed a few things. The hotel thing still happened, Chuck and Blair still separated, he still got her into Columbia, he still told her to meet him at the top of the Empire State Building, but she didn't miss him because Dorota wasn't pregnant or having a baby or married at the time so in turn, the Jenny thing didn't happen. After she met him, they decided to figure things out together with no labels, but Blair got pregnant and attempted to broach the subject of children to Chuck and he shot her down. She was shattered and left to Paris where she somehow lost the baby. Four years later she returned to New York for an interior design contract only to discover that Chuck had a four year old daughter named Cate. This devastated her and she decided to hurt Chuck by making him lose an award he was after for his new hotel, The Legacy. What she doesn't know is Cate is Jack's biologically. Chuck for his part, thinks Blair got with Jack. He went after her four years ago only to find her kissing Jack then went back again when Cate was two to find Jack around Blair again. In present day, Chuck is getting back at Blair by giving her no choice but to work for him designing his new townhouse. He's threatened her with destroying her company/career if she doesn't do as he says. Through all this there's been a constant push and pull with now even Lily and Eleanor teaming up to try to get them together for Cate's sake and so they both could heal. There's also Nate and Serena. Nate is trying to prove himself at The Spectator and for once, trying to ignore what he feels for Serena, finally accepting that he will never be enough for her. Serena has just graduated and gotten her degree in public relations, but she's lost. She doesn't know what she wants to do with her life or who to turn to.
Other notes, there's also Andrew 'Drew' Parker, Blair's good friend from Paris whom she's known for years. He was staying at the Waldorf penthouse with Blair, but Chuck hates him, hated how in close quarters they were and sold him the penthouse he was originally going to move into with Cate until he and Blair saw the townhouse.
And Gretchen Mason, Chuck's general manager at his new hotel, The Legacy. She would love nothing more than to get her hooks into Chuck. She's even told Cate to pretend to be happy around Chuck so he could be happy thinking she was happy.
Now on to the previously on:
Previously on FLOL:
Chuck and Blair kissed but Blair put a stop to it when the pain in her ankle brought her back to herself (she hurt it trying to save Cate from falling down some steps in her skates in Central Park). They were also interrupted by Randall Ross, the concierge doctor at The Palace. Chuck took her to see him because she had a panic attack about going to the hospital, something Chuck can't seem to figure out so he told his PI, Hues, to look into it. Chuck held Blair against her will at his penthouse in The Palace and made her spend the night. There, they determined that her ankle wasn't broken, but sprained. She was given orders to stay off it. Chuck spoke to Drew and after going back and forth a bit, Drew confessed that he and Blair are just friends but it didn't ease Chuck's mind. Back at The Palace penthouse Chuck, Blair and Cate had dinner, but the tension was high between Chuck and Blair and more than a few heated looks were exchanged. Later, Nate called Chuck for an update. Nate made a mistake and located William van der Woodsen and let slip that Serena was graduating. Nate asked for Chuck's help to stop William from attending the ceremony to spare Serena the hurt. Chuck told Nate that his PI had located William and that he would stop him from attending. Cate and Blair bonded throughout the evening and it was hard for Chuck to witness. They all watched Sleeping Beauty together and Blair fell asleep. Chuck carried her to bed. The next day, Blair dressed in the clothes Chuck bought for her because she had no other choice and they all went to attend Serena graduation. Nate attended the graduation too but he was distracted, nervous about William and made Serena feel off and confused when it felt like he was brushing her off. After the graduation everyone went to a celebratory brunch at a restaurant. Serena observed how homey Chuck and Blair looked together when they both worked in sync to get Cate ready for her meal. Blair fled the table to the bathroom under Serena's scrutiny, Serena followed and they both confronted each other about what they were hiding. Neither one wanted to admit to anything and Serena left the bathroom to be confronted with her father when she got to the table. She was hurt and left the restaurant. Nate went after her. Rufus got upset because William appeared and he left, Lily went after him and Dan followed. Chuck and Blair and Cate and Eric were left at the table. A waiter came up to ask their order and the chapter ended with Cate revealing that her middle name is Blair.
Blair's lips parted in a silent gasp, trying to understand what had just been said, but she couldn't. It didn't make any sense. She must have heard wrong. That was it, she must have…
"Well it's nice to meet you, Catherine Blair Bass," the waiter grinned teasingly, pulling back and the name hit her again, deafening her ears.
No, she hadn't heard wrong.
Catherine Blair Bass, Catherine Blair Bass, Catherine Blair Bass, was roaring over and over again in her ears.
Her chest tightened to a near unbearable degree and she whipped her head to the left, clashing gazes with Chuck.
"So what will you be having today?"
"Uh, we need a few minutes," she heard Eric say, but she couldn't look away from Chuck. She was too shocked, too confused, too many of the too's to process what any of it meant.
"Cate, why don't you and I go have a huge sundae instead of this boring old brunch?" Eric asked and Cate nodded enthusiastically, "Can I Daddy?"
A nearly imperceptible nod, that was the only movement Chuck made. His eyes were still stuck and glued hotly to hers.
There was movement in her peripheral vision, but she barely noticed when they left. Then Eric and Cate were gone and she was suddenly sitting all alone with him in the middle of the restaurant as everyone else chatted around them, none the wiser to the bedlam being created between the two.
"Blair?" she was finally able to get past her lips, and he blinked in response, turning his hard gaze away, "It's not what you think."
She didn't know what she'd expected him to say, but that tired cliché wasn't it, "It's not what I think?" she said, incensed and dismayed, "How in the world could you possibly guess what I'm thinking when I'm not even certain of it myself?" she snapped, suddenly so angry that he seemed to dismiss it all altogether, infuriating her.
"Yes, well I didn't want you to jump to the obvious conclusion," he fired back, equally riled.
"Obvious conclu—," her lips thinned, "You named your daughter after me, why?" she demanded, "And what of her mother? It didn't bother her that Cate was named after another woman?"
His gaze was deadpan, but she could see the harsh hostility lurking beneath, "Cate didn't matter to her in the least so by equal measure I don't imagine what was printed on her birth certificate would be a cause of concern or discussion."
"That explains nothing," she reproached, but hearing straight from him how the unknown woman felt about Cate made a hollow pit in her stomach. How could anyone walk away from Cate? Much less her own mother?
"Well it's all you're going to get," he told her, "And her name? Is inconsequential. I didn't choose it, Lily did."
She frowned, "Lily?"
"The check!" he said, motioning then throwing his napkin down and rising from his seat, conversation over and questions? More than she had before.
"How did you find me?"
"It's Grand Central Station," Dan shrugged and Serena looked away, shifting in her seat as straphangers milled about, "Fine, then why are you here?"
"I have to get home somehow," he said and she sighed, knowing they were dancing around what she didn't want to get into, "I don't want to talk," she warned him.
"And I wasn't running away. I had no plans to leave the city," she said defiantly, needlessly so and he nodded, "I know that too."
"You just know everything, don't you?" she mocked as he took a seat beside her, "Just about," he teased and she scoffed playfully, then everything quieted, well as much as it could be quieted in the middle of all the hustle and bustle.
She sat up straighter then crossed her legs then uncrossed them impatiently, wrinkling her Jenny Packham dress in the process, finally she huffed, "Just say something," she said when she couldn't take it anymore.
"The Metro-North is delayed," he pointed out and she shot him a glare, "Okay," he said, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees, "You know this isn't just going to go away. William is here and he's probably going to stay here until you talk to him."
"Why should I?" she said, knowing she sounded like an angry child, but she didn't care, "He's never been there when I needed him. Suddenly he decides to drop in uninvited and I'm supposed act like the past two decades didn't happen or even the past few years?"
"No," he replied quietly, "But I think you should go to him and tell him everything you've just told me."
"I have," she said, crossing her arms, fighting the knot in her throat, "I've given him chances, I've tried to connect, but I'm tired of trying. It's exhausting," she said, croaking out a laugh that sounded pitiful to her own ears, "He's my father. That should mean something. It—it shouldn't be this hard," she said as she turned her blurry gaze to him, "Why is it so hard, Dan?" she whispered unevenly and Dan put an arm around her, drawing her close.
"I don't know," he murmured against her head as she leaned on him, his scent so familiar it was comforting in the way few things were, "But what I do know is you've just graduated from Columbia University and you did that all on your own," he said as she pulled back, "I know you want him in your life, Serena, but you don't need him. Everything you've done, good or bad or vaguely ambiguous," he grinned, "You've done on your own, remember that."
She smiled, though it wobbled slightly as she gripped his hand, "Thank you."
"Anytime," he said as their gazes lingered just as a shadow moved in front of them. She forced her eyes away and looked up. Her gaze widened and her heart tripped as Nate looked down at them, his eyes zeroing in on their clasped hands.
"Miss Blair, I get ice pack," Dorota said fretfully, helping Blair onto the couch in her penthouse.
"I'm fine," Blair waved her off, "Stop flittering about and get me the phone. My cell is dead."
Dorota was slow to move and Blair felt her suspicious stare prickling her skin, "Oh for god's sake, nothing happened," she sighed, "I was all but sequestered and I spent the night in his guestroom—alone," she emphasized, "Did that appease your officious curiosity?" she inquired dryly, but didn't wait for a reply, "No? Well my sincerest apologies," she mocked as she turned towards the side table, "Now for the last time, the phone," she nodded, "Gladly in this century."
The maid frowned as she rushed towards table, "Something happen. I not certain what, but you wrung tight and not in way you like," she noted with an arched brow.
Blair closed her eyes and rubbed her temple. She didn't want to discuss it. How could she when she didn't understand a thing?
She blinked a few times and focused on the maid, firmly intending to avoid the conversation all together, but she quickly realized it was useless. Dorota would find out and she knew her unequivocally well to know it would be sooner rather than later.
"Cate's middle name is Blair."
Blair's brow's furrowed. She'd waited for a reaction that never came, or it did, but too late to be sincere.
"Dorota," she said thinly.
"Dorota," she demanded, wanting the fabricated blithering to stop.
"Enough," she said angrily, "You knew all this time and didn't tell me?" she said leaning forward and snatching the phone out of the maid's hand when she neared.
"I—I—eh," Dorota said helplessly, "I find out recently and, eh, I smart enough to step away from ticking time bomb."
She hissed, "We'll discuss this infraction later, but now? Give me the intel."
"The uh, huh?"
"Don't give me that," Blair told her, "Coy doesn't go with your uniform," she remarked mockingly, "If you knew her middle name it means you went digging. I trained you entirely too well, so spill."
The maid's shoulders slumped, "I not get much, just I know Miss Lily help with name. I try to find more, but I hear Mr. Chuck never talk over Miss Cate's other name."
Blair let out a disappointed huff. She already knew all of that, or better yet it was just what Chuck had told her, but she didn't believe for a second that that was all there was to it.
She lifted the phone in her hand and started dialing. She wasn't sure which way she was trying to convince herself, but regardless she needed answers and she knew just who she could needle them out of.
"Nate, pick up," she said into the receiver.
Chuck cursed himself as he strode into Serendipity looking for Eric and Cate.
He hated that Blair knew, hated that it was out, hated he'd ever signed and made Cate's middle name official.
What the hell had possessed him? He asked himself, but he knew whatever it had been it had gripped him without him even being aware.
He remembered the lapse, no, the moment of weakness, because there was no other explanation for it. It was a moment of weakness he was averse to admitting in which he'd fleetingly forgotten that she was gone and wasn't coming back—and more importantly, why.
Just the reminder of his uncle made his jaw tighten even more.
It had been a mistake, a huge one, one he could put to rights he acknowledged, but dismissed it just as quickly as the thought came. He could easily change her name, but he wouldn't. It would confuse her, hurt her and he could never do that to his daughter.
"Cate," he said, when he spotted them at a table together. He needed to get out of there so he could sort through the mess he was in.
"We didn't expect you so quickly," Eric said as Chuck stopped in front of the table, "Cate, we have to go, Eric, I'll give you a ride home if you'd like."
"But our order hasn't come yet," Cate protested as she looked behind him, "Where's Blair?"
He was going to need to see his dentist for the way he'd been grinding his teeth so often lately, "She had to go home as do we," he told her and her face drooped, "But I didn't get to say goodbye."
He held in a curse and lifted his daughter up into his arms, already expecting the waterworks that he was currently ill equipped to deal with. He hated to see her cry. He felt helpless and foul as if he were failing at the most important thing in his life.
"Eric?" Chuck questioned as Cate started sniffling.
"You two go, I'll see you later," he said and Chuck nodded just as rivulet after rivulet started slipping down Cate's cheek.
He let out a heavy breath, rubbing Cate's back as he retraced his steps out of Serendipity.
"Cate, you have to stop crying," Chuck said, offering her his handkerchief once they were settled in the limo.
"But I want to see B, B…Blair," she hiccupped, "I want another sleepover. She told me I was—was the bestest nurse ever when I helped her with her bandage. Who's gonna help her now?"
He wanted to expel his exasperation, but he couldn't, "I'm sure Dorota will handle it," he replied, but it was clearly not what his daughter wanted to hear because she wailed loudly.
"She doesn't know how."
Evidently she didn't know Dorota well enough yet or she was just rejecting anything she found contrary.
"How about I send Dr. Ross out to see to her?" he tried to reason, but Cate was having none of it and he finally threw in the towel.
"Catherine," he said, at his wit's end, "Stop this," he scolded, "Blair isn't one of your dolls. She's not at your beck and call. She's a person. She has her own life and it's thousands of miles away," he told her harshly, eyes burning, throat tight, not knowing if he was telling her or himself.
Everything was still and silent for a blessed moment until Cate's bottom lip trembled.
"But I want to keep her, Daddy."
The expletive he'd been holding in, he let fly, he couldn't help it. He unsnapped Cate out of her booster seat and pulled her into his arms.
"It's not fair," Cate cried quietly while Chuck held her close, "I know," he finally gave in and relented. He'd suspected—knew what this meant, this fascination with the one woman who had turned and ripped his life upside down and inside out, but he had managed to mostly avoid those thoughts until right then. Being confronted with it head-on and from the source was more than he could handle.
"Why can't we keep her, Daddy?"
His throat throbbed and his Adam's apple wobbled as he swallowed with difficulty. How could he possibly respond to that? But he had to and in the end, he did.
"Because she doesn't belong to us."
"You followed me too?" Serena said, fidgeting as she pulled her hand out of Dan's grasp.
"Yeah," Nate shrugged, "But I guess Dan beat me to it," he said, trying to keep the sourness out of his voice as the subsequent again was left unspoken. That was not why he'd come and it wasn't why he was there.
"You must have left right after me," he commented, more to fill the awkward silence than anything else.
"Yes, I did, a few minutes after," Dan said, standing up, "I'm going to go check up on my dad and your mom," he said turning, "Things were strained when you left."
Serena nodded and Nate watched Dan settle his gaze on her once more, "Just remember what I said," he told her then walked away, leaving Nate's curiosity gnawing, but he wouldn't satisfy it. He didn't have a right nor did he want it.
He and Serena were in the best place they'd ever been or at least they had been before he'd screwed up and practically rolled the proverbial red carpet out for William van der Woodsen, but he'd fix it. He had to, then they could go back to being what they were, which was something he wouldn't risk anything for, especially not over what he knew wouldn't work. It never had and he'd finally accepted that it never would.
"Look, I know you probably don't want to talk to me right now, but at least give me a chance to explain," he said, taking the seat Dan had vacated; there was irony or a wryness to that action which was not lost on him.
"You brought my father here," Serena shifted away from him, elbow on armrest, resting her head on her hand with two digits at her temple. Even her body language was repelling him, but he had to speak regardless, "I didn't bring him here," he said and she shot him a look, "Okay, I may be responsible, but I didn't mean to be," he admitted, wanting to own up to what he did, "I talked to him and somehow it slipped, I swear it slipped. I didn't mean to mention your graduation, but once he knew, I knew I'd blown it," he said, angry at himself and disappointed, "I tried to stop him, even Chuck did, but it didn't work and I—I'm sorry," he finally said, needing to get that out amidst his ramblings, "I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to ruin this day for you."
Serena slowly turned, at last an acknowledgement, but her eyes were dull, sad and he felt even worse, "What were you doing speaking to my father to begin with?"
Nate looked away and rubbed the back of his neck. He knew the question was coming, knew he was hard-pressed to respond but he also knew she'd hate the answer.
"You've seemed—off lately and, I don't know. I was trying to help. I thought if I could talk to William, tell him a few things he'd—"
"He'd what?" her brows creased in fury, "He'd fix me? Well guess what, Nate, I'm not broken and even if I was, a man who doesn't know the first thing about me wouldn't know where to start even if he tried, and William van der Woodsen sure as hell wouldn't," she spat.
Nate looked down in response to the verbal onslaught. It was well deserved but it didn't make taking it any easier, "You're right, I should've known better," he acceded and she gave a curt nod, but he wasn't going to let her get away that easily, "But how about me?"
She frowned, "What?"
"I know the first thing about you, and the second," he looked up, "And on a good day I could even say the third," he grinned, trying to ease her out of the mood she was in, "But I don't know where to start either," he shrugged, "So why don't you help me? What's going on with you? And this time, the truth."
The anger melted away, her features softening, but only to droop in a way that gave him a bad ache in his chest, "I, I don't know," she told him helplessly, "Today is a happy day, I should be happy, but I'm not and I don't know what to do about it," she said, her shoulders slumping in defeat.
He reached over and took her hand, her warmth spreading like wildfire through his fingertips, "I'm not sure if it's graduating or William or something else that's got you like this, but—you know you can take a moment to breathe. The rest of your life doesn't have to be decided in the next twenty four hours or even in the next twenty four days," he said, tugging on her arm then reaching into the inside pocket of his suit jacket.
"I'm sorry it's not in a box or in a little blue bag," he said, pulling out a long, thin but solid gold necklace with an equally solid gold pendant attached. It was round and filled his palm, "But I grabbed it in a hurry," he said, dangling it in front of her.
Her lips parted as she looked at it, "Is this—"
"Yeah," he cut in, "It's the van der Bilt compass, the one my great-grandmother gave to Cornelius. It was sort of a gag gift for his 52nd birthday. Story goes he had a bad sense of direction, but of course now we know it was Alzheimer's," he said, opening the clasp, "Do you remember when I snatched it out of my grandfather's safe when we were eight?"
She nodded as he smoothed her long blonde tresses away from her neck, "I was fascinated. I made myself dizzy going in circles until your grandfather found us and yelled at you."
He nodded back as he secured it on her, "You told me you loved that no matter which way you went it kept on spinning," he said as he pulled back, "That's still true today."
She brought an unsteady hand up to cover the heirloom, "I, I can't—"
"You will," he said, pulling back, "And you don't have to worry about my grandfather this time. He gave it to my grandmother and my grandmother willed it to me when she passed."
"Stop being scared," he said to her before he lost his nerve, "No matter where you go or what you choose, the world will keep on spinning and so will that compass."
"But it's always just going to point North," she told him.
"Then find your North."
Chuck stepped away, watching Cate as he walked. She was moping; her eyes downcast as she clutched the bear Blair had given her tightly with one hand and slowly ate her omelet with the other.
He turned and walked further away from the dining area of his penthouse at The Palace until he lost her from view completely. He tried to shake off their earlier exchange but it was proving to be impossible.
He kept telling himself Cate was young, she'd get over it, but he was less and less convinced with every little shudder and every single tear that had spilled from his daughter's eyes on the way back home.
He had to do something, find a viable solution. His thoughts drifted back to the conclusion he had settled on before, find a suitable woman and get married with the tightest pre-nup known to man, but where just days ago he'd been confident in that aim, now his gut tightened at the mere thought of tying himself to some random woman who was, at present, just an unknown blur.
And that made his gut tighten even more, because the more he thought about it, the more she wasn't just a blur. Dark enthralling eyes, a silk dark mane that had the tendency of curling around his eager fingers…
Unbidden, her face came into painful focus and he immediately staunched his thoughts, rejecting the path his wandering contemplations were leading him.
It wasn't an option.
She wasn't an option.
Before he spewed an invective or drove himself mad, he pulled his cell phone out to occupy his senseless thoughts, connecting himself with a man who was teetering on the line of unemployment.
"Hues," he lashed the name, forthright and concise in the tone of his displeasure.
"Mr. Bass, I apologize," the usually composed man stammered in opening, "I don't know how he got away from me. I had him in sight and I lost him in a crowd, I—"
"Enough," Chuck's verbal assault continued, "I had a simple request, Hues, to keep William van der Woodsen away from my sister so that she could enjoy her graduation day, as her due for all the hard work she's put in, but I guess that was too much to ask."
"You failed," he cut the man off as he walked into his study, "And worse, you didn't warn me the moment you lost him so that I could intervene."
"I apologize again. I'm very sorry, Mr. Bass," his PI replied, his tone dejected, resigned, "I thought I could find him, stop him before he got to you, but I underestimated the traffic."
Chuck was not appeased and his eyes narrowed in suspicion as he sat down at his desk, "Just how did he get to me?" he wondered out loud, but his tone was harsh and saturated with sarcasm, "How did he know exactly where to find us?"
"I—I don't know, I—," Hues stumbled.
"I don't own the restaurant and not many knew of the arrangements I'd made beforehand, but you did," he accused.
"No, I swear, I didn't even speak to—"
"So," he said, once more not letting the man continue, "What you're so eloquently alleging is that out of all the dining establishments in all the city, in all the Upper East Side, he just so happened to walk into mine?" he drolly said, the cynicism bleeding through his words.
"Mr. Bass, I had no part in William van der Woodsen—"
"You're fired," he said without mercy, remembering Serena's crumbling features when she'd caught sight of her father, "And be wary of your next step once I end this call," he warned, "You try to breathe a word of any aspect of my life to the press, or anyone else—well, if the non-disclosure I had you sign doesn't bury you, I'll be forced to find a more creative method," he remarked, "Oh, and Hues?" he said in parting, "Don't forget I can possess a very vivid imagination if I put my mind to it."
Blair tried to keep busy which was a feat and was why she was in her newly decorated design studio. She had Dorota moving a few things while she adjusted a picture, fluffed a pillow, anything to keep her hands occupied, but nothing worked. Nate had ignored all of her calls and she had enough self-awareness to know she was quickly losing it. With every passing moment she grew more and more uneasy, about Serena, about Cate, about what everything meant and her best friend's state of mind.
Even though she wasn't that much certain of her own.
Catherine Blair Bass
She held in a helpless whimper. It was a wonder she wasn't blowing out smoke through her ears.
The sound of the door to her left came as a welcome relief, halting her spiraling thoughts.
"There you are," Blair sighed seeing who had just walked in, "I swear if I would've gone one more moment without you or Nate's whereabouts I would've unleashed the hounds."
"And by hounds you mean Dorota," Serena smiled, walking past the threshold.
"And by Dorota I mean me yelling commands which a certain Polish maid likes to pretend are lost in translation."
"I love that film!" Dorota grinned, placing a bouquet of fresh flowers in a vase to which Blair rolled her eyes, "Do you see what I have to put up with?"
"Oh, I'm sure she's the one who got the short end of the stick, B," Serena said, making Dorota laugh and Blair's mouth form an aggrieved O, "Go unpack something," she ordered the maid, but she smiled in the end as Dorota left grinning, but all the teasing and the smiles were set aside once she hobbled close enough to Serena, "How are you? I was worried when you ran off like that and I couldn't follow you."
"I'm fine, really," Serena said to her then turned as if surveying the scene, "So how do you like your new studio?"
"Don't do that," Blair shook her head, "I love it," she said and meant it. It was elegant, but warm. The space invited you in and made you want to linger. Pictures of her previous designs were displayed on the walls just like she'd wanted, but as you walked further in and into the sitting area, there were pictures of her and Serena hanging. When she'd first laid eyes on them she'd had a difficult time saying anything. Seeing the pictures up of so long ago, when they'd stolen some of her mother's designs and orchestrated their own photo shoot made her realize so much of what she'd been missing by moving her entire world.
She swallowed hard and blinked, making herself continue for Serena's sake, "I honestly couldn't have done better myself, but you're not going to just brush today under the rug like it never happened."
Serena's face blanked and she physically stiffened, "Pot and kettle, Blair," she said, attempting to turn, but Blair didn't let her, "It's me, S, and it's you and—it's William, I know," she told her, "I know how angry you are and hurt, and it's not fair that he took this day from you like he's taken so much else."
Serena sighed then gripped Blair's hand, "It's not fair," she agreed and admitted, "I know it isn't and I'm going to deal with it when I'm ready, okay?"
"Okay," Blair said, knowing that was as far as she was presently going to get with Serena. She knew something else was up with her, but she would bide her time. Now she hoped a little distraction would help or maybe she was just trying to help herself.
"Let's go try out the couch," she said, releasing Serena's hand to grip her arm as Serena helped her over.
"What do you think?" Serena asked once they were seated.
"What do I think?" Blair said, feigning contemplation as she shifted in her seat, "I think my best friend has been holding out on me."
Serena's lips parted, "What are—what are you talking about?"
"Oh no, don't you dare give me that van der vacant stare," she said, not going to accept another dodge, "You know exactly what I'm talking about," she arched a brow, "Catherine—Blair…?" she pressed and waited as Serena floundered a bit.
"Oh uh, how—how—"
"How's not important, why is. Why didn't you tell me her middle name before? And how in the world did she end up with my name in the first place?"
"You just said how wasn't important," Serena pointed out and Blair's mouth pouted angrily, "Serena," she huffed and Serena relented, "I—I didn't tell you because I didn't know how you'd react and—I don't know, I guess, I, Chuck…well…he loved you. I, I think he still does and—"
Serena stopped abruptly, probably in response to Blair's frantic head shaking. Everything in her roiled and rejected what was being said for the farce that it was, "Don't, don't you dare go there."
"You asked," Serena shrugged, clearly not knowing what else to say.
"I asked for the truth, not lies and blatantly erroneous suppositions," Blair said, then hobbled to her feet, leaning on her crutches.
"Be careful," Serena said, trying to reach out to help her, but Blair started moving before she could.
"B! Blair," Serena said, following her into her new office, an office she hadn't seen before then.
She stopped in her tracks and looked around. It was beautiful, dark hardwood floors, gray walls, pops of her favorite color blue in the desk chair and ottoman, but that wasn't what had stopped her dead.
It was what was on the wall behind her desk, next to her calendar. In one frame was a picture of her and Serena, but in the other was a picture that was taken sophomore year. It was Serena, Nate, her and Chuck and her face was pressed against Chuck's as he had wormed his way between her and Serena.
If that wasn't enough, below it was a picture of Cate. She was lying down, a hat in front of her and she was smiling adorably.
It was so unexpected and it threw her so far for a loop that all she could manage was a terse and choked, "Take them down."
"Take them down!" she nearly yelled.
Serena looked at her, eyed her for a few moments then said, "Take them down yourself," before she turned around and left.
One Week Later
Chuck was nursing his drink, spinning the glass so that the amber liquid swirled around the cup. Over and over, nearly methodically he kept at it, hardly even aware of the act until the glass slipped and crashed down onto his hardwood floors. He cursed coming to, not even sure how long he'd been standing there, staring out at the city through the view that the 55-story building afforded, but he knew it had to be the middle of the night.
He bent, heedless, scooping the shards of glass up, nearly slicing his palm in the process.
"Shit," he spat under his breath, crossing over to his bar to toss the remnants of the thirty year old scotch.
His mood left very little to be desired, but that wasn't a novelty. For days at Bass Industries his assistant and several other executives and employees had been treading lightly around him. No one wanted to be around him, not Nate or Serena, even Lily had accepted his need for space, but he wasn't even sure that that was what he needed. He'd had all the space he could possibly want lately yet the tick in his jaw was just as prominent as it had been a week ago when Cate's full name had slipped.
He unbuttoned his suit jacket and yanked at his tie with aggravation.
It was just a damn name. He didn't owe anyone any kind of explanation, least of all her.
But then why had he kept his distance all week?
Why had she?
His fingers tightened on the tie he'd pulled off.
So he hadn't seen her in days, so what? He tried to tell himself. He was really just angry he hadn't been able to dig up the source of her panic when he'd checked into various hospitals in France. That was it. Yet the fact that she was supposed to be checking in, asking his opinion on inanities: colors, curtains, swatches, silverware, and she hadn't, was irking him—and why the hell had she missed Sunday brunch earlier today?
He spun around.
Cate stood there in her nightgown rubbing her eyes with one hand and with the other she held the stuffed bear Blair had given her by the leg so that it looked up at him upside down, he swore it was in an accusing way.
"Did I wake you sweetheart?"
She shook her head somberly, "I can't sleep."
The corners of his mouth stiffened seeing the despondence in her eyes. It was the same sort of hopelessness he'd noted for days since he'd whisked her out of Serendipity. It was a sense, an emotion that had no place resting on a child, let alone his.
Damn her, he nearly let slip as he bent to lift Cate up in his arms. He couldn't take this anymore, "You know what? I'm not the least bit tired, are you?" he asked, his mind making the decision before he could properly process the thought.
"Nope," she replied, at last showing some kind of enthusiasm.
"Then how would you like to go for a drive?" he asked and before long, he'd made a few calls with no regard for the hour and then they were off.
His hands tightened on the steering wheel as he noticed the time. It was just past two AM. His mood should have lightened, knowing how Cate's would momentarily, but it hadn't. The inquiring calls he'd made had made his mood fester further.
"Daddy, where are we?"
He wasn't sure how to respond so he simply pulled the car to a stop.
"Let's go," he said, ignoring her questioning tone as he pushed his door open to then help her with hers. He looked right then left, taking in his surroundings. Not a single person was about as he made his way to the door with Cate in his arms, a rarity in Manhattan at any hour.
"Who lives here?" Cate asked in a hush tone, but again he didn't answer her. He pulled out a set of keys and opened the door.
"Wait here," he told Cate, settling her down on a couch in the first floor parlor which was laden with boxes.
"Daddy," Cate said, nervously squeezing the bear she had insisted on bringing with her.
"I'll be right back, promise," he assured her then turned and took to the stairs two at a time. He made it up quickly, but each step he took more grudgingly than the last. He didn't know what the hell he was doing there, moreover, what the hell she was doing there so late, but it became completely apparent when he strode into the second floor sitting room.
"Perfect, I got the shot. I like the set-up here. It'll look great in print," said a dark haired, green eyed man with a camera in hand.
"Good," he watched Blair respond with a smile from her precarious position on a latter against the bookshelves on the right wall.
"You know, just one more wouldn't hurt," the man went on, and Chuck's eyes narrowed. Oh it would hurt. He'd make sure of it.
The photographer lifted his camera back up again, but Chuck could see perfectly what he was zeroing in on and it had nothing to do with the décor and everything to do with his vantage point, pointing straight up Blair's—
"What in the world are you doing here?"
Chuck's gaze snapped to hers, prompting his response, "I could ask you the same thing," he clipped out, walking up to her.
"I'm doing exactly what you're not paying me to do," she tossed back sarcastically as he reached out a hand, "Get down," he told her, but she refused, "We're not done here," she argued.
"I'd say you are," he said and shot a glare at the man who took the less than subtle hint and stepped back.
"We can pick this up tomorrow," the photographer said, then must've thought better of it because he added, "Or whenever," before he nodded and bowed out.
"What is wrong with you? Neil was with Architectural Digest."
"Really? Because to me he was digesting everything but the architecture."
Blair rolled her eyes, "I honestly don't have time for your misplaced bouts of jealousy."
"Jealousy?" he gave a mocking laugh, "Don't flatter yourself, it's unbecoming."
"You know what's unbecoming? Your lack of self-awareness."
His lips thinned into a straight line, "Enough," he silenced her, "Get down from there before you sprain the other ankle," he said, reaching for her again, "How did you even get up there?"
"With help," she replied offhandedly, smacking his hand away.
He nearly sneered as he watched her try to navigate herself to the floor, but her ankle couldn't manage it. She slipped and he reacted. It all happened so quickly. He put his arms out and caught her mid-air. It was an instant blur that he was still trying to put into focus when he found himself flush against her, arms around her waist.
Silence reigned and his gaze lowered to her parted lips. She was panting slightly, her breath mingling with his as his hand slid slowly up her back.
"I—I'm fine now, you can let go," she said, but it was barely a whisper that tingled on his parted lips. He forced his eyes up, seeing hers widen as he leaned in a few unbidden inches.
Their noses brushed.
Her bottom lip quivered and he nearly felt it, craved to taste it with an unexpected fierceness that had him clenching the delicate fabric of her dress.
"Don't," she pleaded softly, so softly he almost missed it, but he didn't and that small murmured plea brought him out of the haze. He blinked once, twice, truly taking her in as he hadn't since he'd arrived and what he saw there made him finally step back.
There were dark smudges under her eyes and she was too pale, far too pale for his peace of mind. His gaze hardened and his gut coiled, "Have you been doing this every night?"
She gave him a glare of her own and pushed back, stumbling slightly in a pair of Ferragamo pumps she shouldn't have been wearing to begin with, "I got it," she said, refusing his assistance when he put out a hand.
"Good," he retorted right back, "Then answer the question."
"If I understood what you were asking me, I would have gladly replied," she said with a mocking bite.
His damn jaw ticked again and he feared for his sanity as he cupped her elbow and pulled her back towards him, not about to take the bait she had cast, "Have you been here at all hours of the night all week?"
She looked up nonchalantly with innocent eyes that shone with a devilish gleam, "I had to get this place done somehow in the ridiculously tight schedule you provided," she shrugged, "But at least I wasn't alone," she grinned, "Neil has been wonderful company. He's been surprisingly, incredibly helpful."
His grip tightened on her elbow, his eyes dark and set on her, "The elevator or the stairs, now," he stressed the word in a way that made her falter, but she didn't back down nor did he think she would.
"I'll leave when I'm ready and not before," she stated, ripping out of his hold—or intending to. He held fast and spun her, hauling her over his shoulder.
"Not again!" she squirmed in his arms as he started moving.
"I'm so sick and tired of your caveman tactics!" she shouted, banging his back, not able flail as much as he knew she wanted because of her ankle, "Chuck!" she growled and he nearly tripped down the stairs as the sound reverberated and traveled south.
His fingers turned white gripping the bare flesh of her thighs as her dress rode up and he cursed every single uncomfortable step until he reached the landing and was able to release her.
She huffed and her eyes flashed angrily as she shoved him, "What the f—," but he didn't let her release the expletive. His hand covered her mouth and her hot breath fanned his palm as he turned her and her eyes grew big.
"Blair!" Cate screeched excitedly as she ran, barreling straight into her.
Little arms squeezed around Blair's waist and instantly dissolved her simmering anger. She didn't know what Chuck was doing there much less with Cate or a million other questions she had filtering through her thoughts, but they all fell away, every single one and every single thing—her anger, her annoyance, her exhaustion, her throbbing ankle—she felt nothing but the warmth spreading as she lifted Cate up into her arms.
She hugged her close then pulled back, needing to sit on one of the bottom steps to take the pressure off her ankle.
"Hello, Miss Catherine," she smiled, smoothing the little girl's dress into place, "What are you doing up so late?"
Cate giggled and shrugged, "I don't know, why are you up so late?"
"Great dodge," Blair grinned, hearing the light, soothing, carefree sound of her laugh. It was like nothing else in the world.
The giggling slowly subsided then she watched as Cate gripped Bear-Bear tight and leveled her gaze on her, "I missed you."
Blair's heart gave a twinge so sharp, she nearly had to bring a hand up to soothe the ache, "I missed you too," she replied honestly, momentarily forgetting Chuck was in the room. For that small space of time she didn't even care. She had eyes only for Cate.
Every single day since the last time Blair had seen her she'd been actively banning any and all thoughts of the little girl. After she had tried and failed to get answers out of Nate who had kept harping on the same tune Serena had, she had kept herself busy with the townhouse, no longer letting her mind dwell on what was now literally staring at her in the face.
Catherine Blair Bass.
She smiled so wide it hurt. Regardless of the why's, this beautiful little girl was named after her and for the first time she realized she was happy about it.
She had almost forgotten what that felt like.
"It's time to go," Chuck's voice shot out hard, shattering the silence and coming as a painful reminder that what she was feeling was transient. It wouldn't last, it couldn't.
"Can Blair come with us, Daddy? Please?" Cate begged, climbing off her lap.
That got Blair on her feet, too rapidly for her ankle though she didn't let it show, "No, I can't. I still have a lot of work to do," she said, and Cate looked around curiously, "You're working? Who lives here?"
"Uh—," Blair started, but Chuck jumped in before she could form a few words, "It's late, Cate and we still have to give Blair a ride home before getting you back to bed."
"No," Blair said, the refusal already adamant on her lips, "That's not necessary—"
"It is," Chuck said, his voice low and controlled, too controlled. She knew she couldn't fight him, not on this and not in front of Cate. If she was honest with herself she was too tired to even bother. She would be home momentarily. She could recharge for a few hours and be back before the next delivery was set to arrive in the morning.
"Fine," she said, giving in, "Let me get my purse."
"This one?" he said, with a wry arched brow, dangling her Phillip Lim tote.
"When did yo—how—," she attempted then shook her head. It wasn't worth it, "Come on, Cate," Blair said, snatching her purse back and putting a hand out.
The little girl readily took it and skipped out the door with her, "Can you sleep over again?" Cate asked hopefully, but Blair shook her head, wanting to give her a straight, firm answer. There was no point in giving her false hope. There was no way she was ever going to share a roof with Chuck again, not for a day, a night or any extended length of time, "I can't. I have to go home. Dorota's waiting for me."
"Dorota can sleep over too!" Cate said and Blair grinned at her reasoning, "Dorota is already at home in bed as you should be too," she replied then stopped because her ankle was protesting the distance she was going. Where in the world was the limo?
"Over here," Chuck called out to the Bentley parked in front of the townhouse, "You drove?" Blair frowned.
"Surprised?" he asked, pulling the passenger door open for her.
"Concerned," she said dryly, then slid into the seat.
She sighed gratefully as she put her seatbelt on and rolled her ankle with care. Was it starting to swell again? She wondered, but decided she'd deal with it when she got home.
"So you brought your four year old daughter out at this ungodly hour just to escort me home?" Blair asked him once the car was on the move, with her following his every movement.
"I'm almost five," Cate pointed out from the backseat.
"Of course, my apologies," Blair smiled back at Cate then the smile died when she glanced Chuck's way.
"She couldn't sleep," he replied stiffly, "I thought a drive would help."
"A drive straight to the townhouse?"
"Whose townhouse?" Cate asked, reminding Blair of her presence, "Uh—a client," Blair said quickly.
Cate frowned, "What's a client?"
"Someone who hired me to make their home pretty," Blair tried to gloss over, but Cate was too quick, "Then why did Daddy have the key?"
"Smooth," Chuck muttered, as if it was her fault, "Blair's client is a friend of mine," Chuck explained to his daughter, lying to keep part of her birthday present under wraps, "He asked me to keep an eye on the place while Blair fixes it up."
"Oh," Cate said, satisfied as they came to a stop at a red light.
She saw he only had one hand on the wheel and gave him a look, "Why are you driving? You hardly ever bother."
"Daddy drives lots in the summer," Cate supplied, "Just the two of us when we go to—," but Chuck cut her off, "It's not something I frequent," he shrugged, "But I do do it more often than I used to."
With a furrowing brow she nodded, confused beyond belief. How did she find herself in a vehicle with Chuck and Cate at nearly three AM and why was Chuck suddenly being civil in his responses? She shook her head. She was starting to give herself a headache so she spoke up to offset her ill ease, engaging Cate who was eager to respond. She got so caught up, she lost track of time and didn't think to look around. When she did she noticed they were going too far in the wrong direction.
She parted her lips angrily, "Chuck!"
Chuck's lips curled into a hard, involuntary smirk. He'd wondered when she would catch on. She'd actually taken longer than he thought, enabling him to put further distance between them and the Upper East Side.
"Where are you taking me?" Blair demanded, but keeping her tone eerily light, for his daughter's sake no doubt, "You told me you were giving me a ride home."
"You need a break," he told her, not taking his eyes off the road, "And it's clear you can't be left to your devices so I decided to offer up my assistance."
He felt her eyes grilling a hole at the side of his head, "Thank you, but no," she said overly politely, "I can take care of myself."
"You're unsteady on your feet and you're exhausted."
"No, I have a sprained ankle and I'm slightly fatigued," she clarified, "Nothing a few hours in my own bed can't remedy."
He darted her a look, "There are four creases in your skirt."
"What?" she gasped, trying to shift and see for herself.
"One or two happen naturally as you sit, three if you're busy and Dorota isn't around to assist in a quick change, but four?" he said, stopping at a red light, "You never allow four. It means a lack of discipline, of pride," he told her, his tone daring her to say otherwise.
Her gaze flinted his way in response to the provocation, but he could see her through his periphery self-consciously pulling at her skirt, "It's been a long day," she grudgingly got past her lips as his curved into an automatic grin, "That's usually not an excuse," he reminded her, not letting up, "Actually, it's completely unacceptable. Remember when Penelope walked into Constance with four? You bent her over and took a steamer to her a—," he cleared his throat, looking into the rearview mirror at Cate who was silently observing them.
What was wrong with him? What the hell was he doing reminiscing like an idiot with her? There was nothing to reminisce about, unless he wanted to recollect the sight of her lovely form walking away from him.
"You haven't pulled over," she said after a tense, silent moment.
"I never said I was going to," he replied in monotone.
She sighed, "At least tell me where we're going."
"The Hamptons for a couple of days," he told her, "Tomorrow's the 1st, Labor Day and Eric's birthday. Everyone will be there."
She tossed her bag to her feet, the sound making a loud thumping noise in the otherwise quiet interior, "You have no right to force this on me."
"You don't want to go to Uncle Eric's birthday party?" Cate asked, interrupting the heated exchange. He was about to speak, soothe Cate with a word or two, but Blair turned and spoke first, "Of course I do, honey. I just have my work to think about," she said, so tenderly he nearly glanced her way. He hated how warmly she spoke to his daughter. It made his chest heavy and inhaling a feat.
"Put it out of your mind," he said, through the gravel in his throat.
"I can't," she turned back, righting her seatbelt, "What about the feature? And—and I have no clothes, no—"
"That's all been taken care of," he stopped her and he could feel the fury radiating off her in waves, but he knew she wouldn't argue. She couldn't. As long as Cate was around civility was guaranteed even if it was artificial.
Another silent stretch prevailed and he nearly smirked. He was glad she was on edge and stewing. Turnabout was fair play and he'd been on pins for days.
He risked a quick glance only to be confronted with her hard, angry irises, "Keep your eyes on the road," she snapped.
"You're lecturing me on operating a vehicle?" he said dryly.
"Yes," she fired back.
"You don't even have a permit," he said to her, but a counterattack was already formed on her lips, "No, but I've read the manual," she said, pointing ahead of her, "Signal your changing lanes," she demanded and his smirk remained as he obliged, "You seem tense, so little faith in me?"
"Even less," she glowered.
"You never used to think so," he said, feigning regret, "In fact you had every confidence in my ability involving certain means of transportation."
Some much needed color rose on her cheeks and he knew she fought to remain silent, but he didn't grant her any latitude, "Would you rather I pull over and call for a limousine?"
"No," she said with an imperious look, "Just keep your hands at nine and three and your mouth tightly shut."
"Not ten and two?" he goaded her.
"Ten and two is no longer recommended as it's a hazard for—," she sucked in a breath then pursed her lips, stopping herself from rambling on.
"You know you should get a license. I'm sure you'd give your instructor a field day, finding fault with his every move."
"No, Bass, that special measure of contempt is exclusively reserved for you," she said wryly and he gave her a condescending smile, "I'm touched."
Those two small words hit him with force. He felt the heat creep up his neck and his fingers twitch in response. He tightened them on the wheel and shifted, trying to relieve what would become completely apparent if he didn't rein it in.
He lifted his gaze to the rearview mirror, seeing Cate busily playing with her stuffed bear then he glanced back ahead, biding his time before he settled his gaze on Blair once again.
She couldn't sit still and he fed off that. The air between them seemed to crackle and grow heavy, volatile at best. He knew she realized what she'd done because her breaths started to come in small, short gasps and he tracked them, every single one.
"There's a car in front of you," she said throatily, trying to distract him, but he was in control. She fidgeted nervously under the scrutiny and he narrowed his eyes as she tried to slide as far away as she could, but the seatbelt and his gaze pinned her in place.
She'd made a wrong move.
She knew it.
He knew it.
Her nails dug into the expensive leather seat and he graced her with a heated look that more than promised retribution before he finally turned to the road again as if nothing had happened.
But it had, and he couldn't think straight.
"Daddy, are we there yet?" Cate yawned from the back seat, and for once he was grateful to hear that usually tiresome inquiry.
"We've been on this drive plenty of times before. You know we aren't," he told her, "We have at least two hours to go. You should try to sleep."
Cate cuddled into Bear-Bear, "Can I drive?"
Chuck laughed and he saw Blair give a small smile and it seemed to expel the tension confined to the space, "Not until you're thirty," he lied and Blair rolled her eyes, "When you're sixteen," she told her and Cate seemed to consider this.
"How come you don't drive?"
"I have a vast appreciation for the car service industry," she replied, but Cate frowned and Blair had to clarify, "I like having a driver drive me places and besides, I'm not the only woman on the Upper East Side who doesn't drive. Serena doesn't either," she pointed out.
"Oh," Cate said, "But driving looks fun. Gretchen drives."
He nearly looked back, but he couldn't, needing to change lanes to let a truck go past him.
"She does?" he heard Blair ask. Her tone was casual, but there was no mistaking the ice underneath.
"Yeah," Cate nodded, "She drove me and Daddy home yesterday when Arthur got stuck in traffic and couldn't pick us up in time, then she stayed for dinner."
"Well, I bet that was fun," Blair said brightly and he had to stem this conversation quickly, "Cate, it's time to get some rest," he told her, but Cate ignored him.
"It wasn't that fun," Cate shrugged, "I fell asleep, but Gretchen came for breakfast too."
He finally managed a quick look Blair's way. She was still and stiff and the ice in her eyes turned glacial.
It'd been almost an hour or maybe more or less, Blair wasn't sure because she'd been near catatonic the entire time, staring straight ahead with her hands folded tightly in her lap.
It was all she could do to avoid them crashing horrifically because she was fairly certain that if she shifted her eyes even a centimeter, she'd lunge Chuck's way to inflict grievous bodily harm.
Chuck and his hotel manager.
She was still trying to wrap her mind around it.
He'd slept with the conniving, opportunistic twit, and with Cate in the vicinity. Her throat ached and her hands shook as her nails dug crescents into her palms painfully, making tears spring to her eyes.
At least that's what she told herself the tears were for.
"Blair?" Cate said worriedly from the backseat.
"You have to sleep, sweetheart," she managed to say, though every word shredded her throat raw.
"But I'm not tired."
"You will be if you just try closing your eyes," she said, blinking rapidly without looking back, "I bet Bear-Bear could use a rest."
"But he's not tired either."
"I bet he is."
"Catherine, not another obstinate argument," Chuck grated, his voice booming out hard and unexpectedly, startling Cate into silence. It had nearly startled her too, making her glance back to check on the little girl. What she found lit a ball of rage that threatened to consume her from within.
Cate was huddled and her small face was buried in the stuffed bear's neck.
For a moment all she saw was red and she turned to Chuck before the haze could even clear. She wasn't sure what came over her, but all her protective instincts leapt and she couldn't help herself, she snapped, "You're vile and hateful and that performance of your engenderer could rival the man himself," she accused with an angry glint in her eyes.
His response was immediate. Chuck pulled the car over, screeching it to a halt so much she had to brace herself. She knew he would rage, was ready for it, almost craved it because she didn't know where else to put all the fury she was storing but on him.
Which was why what he did next completely stupefied her…
He didn't say anything. He didn't even look her way. He turned to Cate, unsnapping her out of her booster seat to cradle her in his arms.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart," she heard him whisper, "I didn't mean it. I'm the one who could use the sleep. I was being a first-rate crotchety grouch, hmm?" he teased her, rubbing her back.
"A perfect Oscar," Cate agreed, peeking playfully from beneath her long lashes.
Chuck laughed, his voice a deep baritone that slid over her like a caress, making her shiver. She'd just been absolutely infuriated with him. She still was, though…
Watching him with Cate stalled everything but her rapidly beating heart. She was so confused and she hated him even more for it, if that was even possible.
"No!" Cate wailed, snapping Blair's attention from where it didn't belong. What had happened? Her eyes fluttered, trying to find the cause.
"Cate?" she said.
"Don't leave," her bottom lip quivered.
She looked down, that's when she understood. Her hand was gripping the door handle. She hadn't even realized she'd reached for the way out.
"Please don't leave," Cate said, reaching for her and she could do nothing else but pull the little girl into her arms.
"Please," came the small whimper that nearly broke her. Without warning, her eyes filled and swam with tears and she pulled Cate tighter to her.
What could she say that wouldn't hurt in the end?
She wasn't sure, but her lips were already moving, "It's okay, my sunshine," she said, softly threading her hand into Cate's hair, "I'm not leaving. I'm staying right here."
Cate sniffled and pulled back, "You promise?"
She went to respond, but Chuck's blistering voice stopped her, "Don't you dare give her your word."
She turned her face to him, the spark of fury lighting her eyes again, "Or what?" she challenged, "Don't you dare try to dictate a word I say."
"I'll dare and more when it comes to my daughter," he countered heatedly, "I'll not have you lie a momentary appeasement just to ease your own conscience."
"What?" she fumed, refusing to acknowledge that his words might hold a smidgen of truth. She knew she wasn't staying, she couldn't, but for Cate she wanted to attempt the impossible.
"Don't fight," Cate cried, rubbing her sleepy eyes.
The little girl's scared voice was like a bucket of ice water, dousing the stifled pressure between them.
"It's okay," she said, kissing Cate's temple, "We're not going to fight, right?" she said pointedly, looking at Chuck. She swore she was ready to murder him if he didn't agree.
He took a moment to respond, his glare impenetrable, but he ultimately gave in, "She's right," he said, and she knew it cost him a lot to concede, "We're not going to fight anymore," he said, reaching for Cate to deposit her back into her booster seat.
"Bass Bond?" Cate said, raising her hand with a small, sad Cupid's bow pout on her lips.
Blair watched Chuck sigh heavily and look her way. She knew he had a thousand and one things he wished to say, none of them pleasant, but she knew he couldn't. She slanted her gaze towards him, giving him a look.
He rubbed his jaw roughly then clenched his hand before he let it settle on Cate's, "Bass Bond," he agreed.
At first she wasn't sure what woke her, but her heart was racing as she darted into a sitting position and pulled her sleep mask off.
"It's just your phone, dear," Cyrus said tiredly, sitting up with her.
"My phone? Who in possession of all their faculties would be calling at this hour?" Eleanor squinted, reaching for her cell phone.
"Aaron left yesterday and Blair's still in the city, but something could be wrong," he told her and that made her stop trying to make out the number without her glasses and tap on the screen.
"Eleanor Waldorf?" she said, her tone level and stringent. If this was nothing short of an emergency then the person on the other end of the line would sorely regret the audacity, she told herself, waiting for a reply, but when it finally came it had her sitting up straighter, concern making her whole body rigid.
"Eleanor, who is it?" Cyrus asked, similarly affected by her sudden reaction, but she put her hand up to stave him off and listened closer, "Hello?" she said again when the line quieted.
"Eleanor?" a little voice said, and she knew she hadn't been mistaken, "Catherine, is that you?"
"Yeah, it's me," came the small reply.
She frowned in alarmed confusion, noting the time again, "What's wrong? Is it Blair or your father? How did you get my number?"
"I got it from Blair's phone," she replied, matter-of-factly, "You're not angry, are you?"
She opened her mouth, but no words came out, "I—I—no, of course not, just tell me why you called."
She could tell the girl was hesitant, but she couldn't take the apprehension any longer, "It'll be alright, just—," she exhaled, "Talk to me, darling," she said, softening her approach.
"Does Blair belong to you?"
Eleanor's confusion only deepened, "What was that?" she asked, as Cyrus tried to draw her attention again, but she just put him off once more.
"I want to know if Blair belongs to you. You're her mommy, right?"
"Well, ye—yes, I'm her mother, but I don't understand what you're asking me," she said and she heard the little girl sniffle, making her look at Cyrus. He was always so much better at these sorts of things.
"I don't want Blair to leave," Cate's breath shuddered and Eleanor put her hand on Cyrus's arm for support, "I, uh, is Blair there with you?" she asked, trying to sort her thoughts enough to somehow help the child.
"Uh huh," she heard rustling, "Daddy brought her the Hamptons with us."
Eleanor shook her head. She prided herself on her composure, but it was quickly slipping with every choked sound the child made.
"Catherine, it's alright," she said, not quite used to soothing anyone, much less a child, "I promise you that Blair isn't going anywhere for the time being."
"But, she gonna go away soon, right? That's what Daddy said and she didn't promise she'd stay. Daddy didn't let her."
"He said we can't keep her because she doesn't belong to us, but, is she yours?"
"He said what? Wait, Catherine," she tried to get a word in, but the young girl didn't let her, "Can I have her? I'll be a real good girl," she begged, "The bestest, I double promise!" she insisted.
"Please, Ellie?" she hiccupped.
No one had ever addressed her as such; no one had ever dared, not since—
Her eyes burned and she suddenly found herself overcome with something she couldn't explain. It was a sort of surreal experience; something she couldn't put into words, not that she would ever attempt to nor wanted to. What she did suddenly find herself wanting was to set right, with every fiber of her being, all that was wrong with the child.
One sob echoed in the receiver, then two. It propelled her thoughts, making them come a mile a minute even though they all proved useless.
She didn't know what to do or how to respond. She put a hand to her head and looked at Cyrus again who glanced back questioningly. What could she possibly say? But there were no answers in his puzzled gaze so she broke contact and thought for a moment. Wasn't this what she and Lily were trying to accomplish regardless?
She inhaled carefully. She was most certainly making a mistake of monumental proportions, no doubt about it. She knew it the second before the word left her lips that it should never have been uttered, but she said it anyway.
It was a little past ten AM the next day when Blair hobbled down the stairs of Chuck's Hampton mansion. She felt a wreck. She hadn't gotten any sleep. She kept tossing and turning, seeing Chuck and Gretchen in nauseating positions.
She quickly gripped the handrail, nearly missing a step in consternation. She didn't care who the hell Chuck slept with. What she cared about was Cate, she self affirmed, and she didn't want that dreg anywhere near her. She'd only come into contact with the woman a few times, but the distinct pungent smell of social climbing desperation she recalled wafting off of her was still clogging up her nasal passages.
She knew Gretchen would do anything to get to Chuck, even hurt Cate, and there was no goddamn way she would allow that to happen.
She finally made it to landing and grimaced when she looked down at herself. She was in day old clothes that needed pressing—direly—and though she'd rested her ankle, she couldn't quite put much pressure on it.
She ran a hand through her loose curls and sighed as she looked up, searching for the closest exit. She'd taken the back stairs so she wasn't quite sure where she was, but she needed to move. Maybe if she hurried she could slip out before anyone noticed.
She walked forward then took the first right and nearly collapsed in relief when she saw a pair of French doors leading straight to her freedom. She limped over as fast as she could then stopped abruptly when stepped out, her eyes widening. She'd scarcely gotten a glimpse of the massive grounds the night before since when they'd arrived it had been dark, dawn barely breaking, but she was awestruck.
There was an amazing garden, even peony bushes with huge elm trees cocooning the space, the land just seemed to go on and on.
She nearly lost track of herself staring, before she heard movement coming from inside and ordered her legs to start moving. Each step produced a twinge of pain which she ignored as she made it around the side of the house, reaching the driveway where the car that had helped in her abduction idly sat.
Her brows knitted, she could have sworn one of the staff had driven the car into one of the garages after they'd gotten out hours ago. She scanned the area, but all was eerily tranquil and quiet. She even bent to peek inside the car, but it was empty.
Chuck watched Blair whip around, the gasp wrenched from her lips as he surprised her. Did she really think it would be that easy to go unnoticed?
He knew the moment she'd exited her room down to the second. He'd been up for hours or rather he'd never gone to bed. He couldn't. He kept replaying her accusation from the night before, mulling it around over and over again.
He liked to think he was so far apart from the man his father had been, but the sinking doubt every so often liked to take hold and wheedle its way through his veins. He hated those times, loathed them because once he was in their clutches, once the pretense and his self denial slipped, he was left with one sure thing:
The unequivocal fact that there was a fraction of himself that was like him—and that knowledge, that reality stung to a near unbearable extent.
"Yes," she said, putting her hand on the car to orient herself, "Clearly I've lost my sanity if I allow myself even one more moment in your presence," she said, her constant sarcasm clinging to every word.
"Well then," he said, oddly grateful for the fight in her eyes because when he fought her, he didn't have to fight himself, "Should I make a quick ring to the East Hampton Psychiatric Center? I hear the jello is fantastic."
She rolled her eyes and gave her bottom lip an impatient little nibble that had him losing his train of thought, "What do you want?"
The connotations of that question made him take a step closer. It was a simple query, but one he'd refused to honestly ask himself.
What did he want?
It was polarizing.
He knew he wanted to hurt her, wanted to turn her life upside down as completely as she had done to his. He wanted to take out his frustration and anger and every bitter feeling roiling in him and make her pay for them all, but…
When she looked at him, the exhaustion marring her delicate features, the way she was unconsciously holding herself, so vulnerably…
He nearly reached for her and she retreated a step, making him want to take two more in her direction, prowling.
For fuck's sake!
She was consuming him, his thoughts, his mind, his life and, he wanted it all back.
"Don't look at me like that," she said, barely above a whisper.
"Like what?" he incited her, not able to stop himself.
She lifted her chin up, the defiance belied by the anticipating tremble of her beckoning bottom lip, "Go find your hotel manager," she bristled, her eyes traveling down, "I'm sure Gertrude can manage your little predicament as well as she did yesterday."
He smirked, "You know there's nothing little about it," he eyed her up and down as he came into the realization.
She was jealous.
His mouth formed a smile that was almost evil in his primitive satisfaction, "And, it's Gretchen, whom, by the by, didn't manage anything but The Legacy yesterday," he corrected her, though he'd had plenty of opportunity. The woman had tried to tempt him to her offerings all through dinner and through the drinks after. He'd found himself extending an invitation for breakfast just to get rid of her for the night.
"I—," she made a small, lost sound. He'd confused her, flustered her.
"I—I'm waiting for the car I ordered."
"I know, I canceled it," he said, quickly dismissing her attempt to change the path of their conversation.
"You, what?!" she said, striking out a hand, but he caught her wrist, stopping her from making contact, "I told you, you wouldn't be working today."
"This isn't about work," she grated, "This is about getting away from you!"
Not a chance.
"Well allow me to inform you, you just missed your opportunity," he said, releasing her wrist when she started to pull, "The keys are in the ignition," he nodded towards the Bentley.
"You know I can't drive," she crossed her arms.
He didn't know what the hell he was doing, but he found himself walking over to the driver's side and opening the door, "Get in."
She looked appalled, "Blair Waldorf does not drive."
"Have you ever attempted it?"
"No," she said with a horrified grimace.
He didn't know why he was insisting, but he knew she was moments away from disappearing into the mansion and he wasn't done with her yet, not by a long shot, "Trust me, you just might like it."
"I don't and I won't," she denied forcibly, starting to turn around.
"Funny," he stopped her, "I remember you saying the exact same thing, of course in slightly different circumstances," he amended, "But ultimately you enjoyed what I taught you," he said, keeping her captive, "Even craved it once you… got in the swing of things."
Faint color graced her cheeks and right then he would have gladly given up his considerable wealth in its entirety to know just which of their many moments she was recalling, "I—You're disgusting," she snapped, "And I'm going inside. The air out here has gone stagnant."
"Scared?" he stopped her again, his gaze calculating with anticipation.
She scoffed, turning around again, "Of you? Of the car? Not likely."
"Then what's stopping you?" he provoked her and she got that look in her eye, the one that would surely slice him in half if it could.
He grinned, he had her. He knew he did.
"Fine," she sighed with annoyance, walking over with a hitch in her step that she made him forget when she rammed her bag into his gut, "Hold this."
He coughed, nearly groaned as he crushed her bag in his grasp.
"Well, are you coming? I would like to get done with this within the hour. I have a prior engagement to attend to."
"With whom?" he inquired testily, walking over and sliding into the passenger's seat.
"I don't see how that has anything to do with operating a vehicle," she said, purposely playing coy as she fixed her lipstick in the rearview mirror.
His pupils dilated and he snatched the lipstick out of her hand, throwing it out the window before she could stop him. He hated how she could so easily turn the tables, but what she failed to realize was that he could turn them right back.
"Are you ready?" he asked her and though the window was open the oxygen seemed to be on short supply when she turned her face towards him.
"What—what do I do first?" she asked, her voice low and unhurried, making him that much more aware of the insignificant distance that separated them.
He mentally cursed and berated himself. He was officially so far gone. He really was because he measured and counted each and every small inch as her loose curls grazed his jacket and her hypnotic scent coiled around his senses wreaking havoc.
He was so caught up he didn't immediately see her reaching for the keys, but in the last moment he did, grabbing her hand in his, stopping her, "You're getting ahead of yourself," he told her and suddenly, they were in another place and time entirely.
She looked at him and he looked back as he guided her hand down slowly onto the gear shifter.
"Don't rush it," he murmured as the rise and fall of her chest accelerated, "Take it in your hand, get the feel," he instructed her, caressing her trembling hand down the length of the gear, "I know the first time can be a frightening experience."
"Not for me," she replied in kind and his body reacted so painfully he nearly grunted, making his hand tighten on hers as hers tightened on the gear, "No, not for you," he agreed unsteadily, "You're always so eager, such a receptive pupil," he said, turning into her, making her gasp as he reached out and brushed her heated body with his.
She was frozen, waiting for him, expectant, and he left her on that precipice as seconds ticked by until he finally moved…
Only to grasp her seatbelt in the end.
"Protection," he smirked lazily, heinously as he snapped her in, "That's the first lesson."
A/N: I know, I know. It's been FOREVER since I've updated. I'm really so very sorry but I had to take time off to deal with real life and work, but I'm back now! Hopefully there are still some people out there reading that want me to continue until all the truths are out—and they will be coming out. Promise! I already know what chapter too, but I can't say lol. So what did you think of this chapter? Chuck is losing it in the best way and Blair—well any guesses on how she'll react to where I just left off? Oh and I know what I promised you last chapter. That it would be changing to M and it will be very soon so if you're new or haven't put this fic on alert, I would do so now so you can find it once that M chapter (whichever chapter that might be) pops up.
One last note, Cate's middle name is not going to be just thrown under the rug now. There will be a continuation, possibly confrontation? In the next chapter, you'll just have to wait and see and comment if you want to read that.
P.S. There's a pic of Blair's office that Serena's decorated for her as well as a pic of the necklace Nate gave Serena. If you want to check them out go to my photobucket page. Link is in my profile. Oh and for some reason the pics are not uploading in order so when you get to the folder you might have to search/scroll for the pics, but they are both in the For Love or Legacy folder.
Please don't forget to review! Let me know if you're still reading this and want me to keep writing!