POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE
Summary: One year after the events of Season 5, it's college graduation day for Nate Archibald, Dan Humphrey... and Blair Waldorf Bass. Serena and Chuck are planning a celebration to remember. Everyone's back in town, including Eric, Jenny, and Vanessa. Even in adulthood, the scandalous lives of Manhattan's elite are still scandalous! A Chair centric, post-Dair fic. (AU after 5x19, with a few late season 5 spoilers.)
Disclaimer: I own nothing in the Gossip Girl universe, not even (sadly) Chuck or Nate. Major props to Cecily von Ziegesar, the CW, the producers, actors, and crew, and everyone involved with bringing these amazing characters to life.
Chapter 1 - Morning
Serena van der Woodsen cracked open her eyes, the first rays of morning sunshine falling on her face and brightly illuminating her golden hair. It was one of those one-martini-too-many mornings, but she'd seen far worse. Sitting up, she placed a hand to her head...
...then smiled, remembering. She rolled to one side, looking at the dent in the pillow next to her, hand running over the warmth in the sheets. Although she knew he was gone, it had been a night to remember.
There wasn't time to think about him, though. She had a busy day planned and unlike a certain brunette who was her best friend in spite of everything they'd been through over the years, plotting didn't come naturally to her.
However, she had an ally for whom it did.
Blinking long lashes over bright blue eyes, Serena yawned once, then reached for her cell phone. At first, she thought she'd send a text message, but it was still early. Her brothers could both sleep through a hurricane, and she needed to check over the details of their plans. Holding down the 4 on her phone, she speed dialed the elder of the two.
For a moment, she thought that the phone would go straight to voice mail, even though she told him she'd be calling. Serena rolled her eyes at those two. As much as she loved them both, they'd ratcheted up their level of disgusting to intolerable over the past twelve months. But they'd been that way ever since she caught them together junior year... unable to keep their hands off each other. Serena didn't think she'd ever get what her BFF and sister-in-law saw in her stepbrother. But, it was apparent that Blair Waldorf would never get enough of Chuck Bass.
Just as she was preparing to leave him a message (and a piece of her mind), the rumble of a deep, slow voice filled Serena's ear.
"...And to what do I owe the pleasure of this phone call, sis?"
"You know why, Chuck. Don't be annoying. Not on today of all days. We've got too much to do."
"We? I seem to recall that this was all your idea."
"Which you agreed to help me with, Chuck! It has to be perfect, you know how critical of everything she is!"
"Yes, I know," he said, and Serena detected amusement in his voice. "Well, Gramercy Tavern is catering, the band's just arrived at the Palace..."
"Chuck! Stop, you'll ruin it! Is Blair right there?"
The exasperation was evident in his voice. "Of course not. She's still asleep upstairs... why do you think it took me this long to answer your call? Now, keep up, amateur. You've already said event planning's not your forte."
"Chuck, it has to be perfect," Serena repeated. "You only get one shot at something like this."
"If you're done..."
"No, I'm not. I need to know where everyone is. They were supposed to check in with you, but you haven't called or texted me..."
"All because you partied your ass off at NYU's graduation celebration last night."
Serena glared at the cell phone. "What? Did you or Bart have me followed?"
"It was a Gossip Girl blast, irrelevant girl. Nice work. I thought you said body shots were so sophomore year at Constance."
"When you have a body like his..."
Chuck snorted. "You disgust me. Anyway, Eric's here with us, comfortably ensconced in his usual guest room with his paramour of the moment. Just consider that. While you were out getting hammered, we were having a proper family evening with your little brother and his new friend."
"Who is likely scarred for life after getting no sleep," muttered Serena.
"We've soundproofed since that last time, sis," Chuck said smoothly. "But we sincerely hope that the sounds of our passion inspired you to improve your own..."
"Ewww, I do NOT need to hear this! Anyway, so that's Eric. Did Jenny actually make it into town?"
Pause. "Lily says she's at their penthouse."
"I just hope she doesn't make any trouble. Look, I tried to convince him not to invite her, and it caused a huge thing... when he and I are finally trying to..."
"No need to explain," said Chuck smoothly. "Water under the bridge. I'm sure that Humphrey would want his sister to be present during such a momentous occasion." Before she could ask, Chuck continued, "Blair feels the same."
"How about Nate?" Her voice softened, became more hesitant. "Is he OK?"
"Yes, after the dramatics of last month's gala, I think that he is."
Serena laughed uncomfortably. "I thought that was the real 'water under the bridge.' But Lola's still furious, and Dan won't talk about it... or to her."
"Well, she's been... crashing, should we say... at the Empire penthouse. I suppose that Brooklyn looks different after two years in Spain."
Serena took a deep breath.
"Something happened in Spain, Chuck... when Dan went to Rome last year, he..."
Now it was Chuck's turn to yawn. "Sis, must we really? As fascinating as you van der Woodsen women seem to find all things DUMBO, I'm bored and need to wake my wife up properly..."
"Get your mind out of the gutter. Although, you've been slumming it for so long, I'm sure you don't know the difference."
A knock sounded on Serena's door. The doorknob turned...
...and Nate emerged into the room. Blue eyes locked.
"Can I come in?"
"I have to go," she told Chuck. "Bye... and don't forget what you're supposed to do!"
The dial tone sounded in his ear just before Dorota appeared at the open door of his study, signaling that breakfast was ready.
"I never do."
"So. Is it weird?" asked Jenny.
Daniel Humphrey considered his sister. Her hair was really short, still platinum blonde, and she was still all limbs. But instead of mischief in her starry eyes, Dan saw tranquility. Peace.
Something that he hadn't felt in a long time.
"What?" he asked, picking up the mimosa after eyeing the usual pile of waffles warily.
"Everything. Being done with college. You and Serena. Vanessa showing up out of the blue. Dad, Lily... and Bart. The whole thing with Blair that I apparently missed. Your second book being optioned by Paramount. Everything."
Dan took a sip. It was a good hair of the dog after last night's activities. But too sweet, and too pulpy. Why did rich people always have to have their orange juice freshly squeezed?
Maybe he'd have a Bloody Mary next.
"No more weird than everything that's happened since your freshman year at Constance. Remember 2006? Back when Mom and Dad were still together, and we all lived in Brooklyn, and other than me being invisible at St. Jude's, we were just another average middle class family?"
"With the rock star dad? And the loft that costs more than most people's lifetime earnings? Yeah, Dan, we were really just average middle class!"
"Yeah... forget that part. Dad was a one-hit wonder, and he and Mom bought before the neighborhood gentrified and got the ironic hipster coffee houses on every corner. Anyway, you know what I mean. Do you ever think about the way it used to be? Before... all this?"
Jenny shrugged. "Barely. It's like you've said. A lot has happened since then."
"A lot has. And the main thing that's happened, Jen, is that we're now part of this world, but we'll never really be from it. Our kids will be, but we're always going to feel a little out of place."
"You?" Jenny quirked an eyebrow. "The ultimate insider? Let's see, you've had two New York Times bestsellers at the ripe old age of twenty-two. You've dated an It Girl, caused a teacher to lose her job because of you, broke the heart of the biggest Hollywood starlet under 25, crossed the line with your best friend, and a real life princess left her kingdom to be with you. I don't think that the man who's on the cover of this month's Poets and Writers magazine is 'out of place.'"
"Yeah, but the difference is, Jen, you and I are still trying to find ourselves. Look at others we graduated with..."
"That you graduated with," Jenny reminded him, no bitterness apparent in her voice.
"Yeah, whatever. My point is that some people don't have to worry about their next step in life. Like, right now, the writing thing is good, but lately, I've been thinking about going in some different directions. But someone like Chuck, well, his future's been planned since he was in diapers."
"Dan, forget Chuck," admonished Jenny. "I don't know why you're even bringing him up. Or are you still upset about everything with Blair?"
The siblings sat in silence, both remembering when Dan arrived in London on the way to his stint in Rome. Jenny thought it was the first time when she felt like the older, more mature sibling, comforting her brother, who was clearly not okay with the way things went.
"Nothing good ever happens when we Humphreys swim with the Basses, that's for sure," Jenny said. "I know I can't avoid them this evening, but I don't plan to stay long. I need to get back to London."
Dan frowned. "Are you still angry over everything they did to you?"
"Not at all. Chuck has apologized several times for what happened at the beginning of my freshman year, I paid him back a few weeks later at the masquerade, and then what happened at the end of my junior year, was my own choice."
"Choice? Jen, you were 16... he was almost..."
"We were 17 and 18, Dan. I'd had my birthday already, but he hadn't had his."
"You were upset. He took advantage of you."
"I was upset because of the way he treated me, disregarded me, and went right back to Blair while I was in his bedroom. I wish... well, it's not who I wanted my first time to be with, but he didn't rape me. We were both drunk and crazy."
"Yeah, but then my ex banished you so you couldn't even finish school. She had no right..."
"Dan, you've got to let go of the past. Without Chuck and Blair and everything they did to me, I would have likely gone to Parsons. But Central St. Martins has been the best thing for my career."
Her brother beamed with pride. "So are you going to take Gaultier's offer, or Dior's? My little sister, a Paris designer..."
"I'm going to finish school," said Jenny, cutting into a waffle. "Next year will be time enough to consider the offers. I've missed New York. Who knows where I'll set up shop? Besides..." she slanted a grin his direction, "I'm proud that you're starting to get to know your designers! Very good, big brother!"
"Funny. Guess my time with Blair was good for something, at least."
The siblings' cozy chat was interrupted by Lily and Rufus, coming down for breakfast.
"Well," said Rufus, beaming at Dan as he leaned down to kiss his daughter's cheek, "how's my almost-graduate doing this morning?"
"I don't know, Dad," said Dan. "It's like, even with everything that's happened, today's the first day of my adult life, in a strange way." He looked at Lily. "So why do you want everyone to come to this thing tonight, again?"
"Oh, Dan," said Lily, in that sighing way that his father always seemed to find endearing (but that Dan was impatient with... it seemed so affected, in his opinion), "it's our chance to celebrate you and your friends. College graduation is a big deal. Besides, we've got all kinds of influential guests coming, the kind that can expand your literary career even further..."
As Lily went on and on, his mind started drifting. He thought of Serena, and the good times they'd shared the night before.
He thought of Vanessa.
He thought of Blair.
Then, he thought of Serena again.
Perhaps someday, he'd figure out what, and who, he truly wanted.
Blair Waldorf Bass turned the taps of her shower off, enjoying the cool air on her glowing skin. Usually soft porcelain, it was temporarily rosy from the warm water. Normally, she preferred to enjoy a long morning bath (with either macarons or Chuck... preferably Chuck, but with her husband's schedule, the delicate French pastries sometimes had to do). But, a powerful woman only graduated from college once in her life... so, a powerful woman needed to look absolutely stunning when she did.
Stepping out of the shower and swathing herself in one of the luxurious microfiber bath sheets, Blair caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Normally, she'd find fault with something, even now, even after sleeping with someone who told her she was perfection day in and day out. She glanced warily at the toilet...
Then a small, smug smile tugged the corners of her red lips upward. No, she didn't feel that old urge again.
She thought about the delicious meal she'd enjoyed last night with her husband, her brother-in-law, and his new partner Alec. Marinated roast duck with shaved black truffles, dressed with shallots, white asparagus, leek, carrots, and bok choy. It was a bit unusual, but the new chef, Xavier, had come very highly recommended from her father and Roman. Blair enjoyed every bit of the meal, and enjoyed a tiny sliver of the chocolate ganache afterward, but refused to have anything to drink. Still, the good times, the laughter, and the snark had lasted half the night, until Eric and Alec slipped into the guest room, and Chuck pulled Blair into the butler's pantry when she went to put the ganache back.
(She should have known better than to clear away their desserts and tapas! Dorota had gone home, but she would have done it in the morning. That motherchucker got her every time she did it! Blair wondered if Dorota would ever notice that the shelf had been...)
Starting to reminisce, Blair stopped herself. She had to get ready. No sense in being late to one's own graduation, was there?
They'd just finished breakfast. Blair enjoyed meals now. The man of the house, holed up in his study on a Skype call, was a huge reason for that. So was therapy. Eat small portions, she had learned over the years. Enjoy the tastes, melting on your tongue. Enjoy the company, without putting on your mask, without panicking if everything wasn't perfect...
Perfection was an illusion.
Well, it was an illusion in all areas of her life except for one.
Now dry, Blair exchanged her bath sheet for a deep purple silk robe... his robe. It still smelled of him, his scent, his heat, his cologne, arousing her, everything about him driving her crazy.
She was still learning to accept the depths of her love for him. Even nearly a year after their final reunion, the one they both knew would be forever, Blair was shaken to her core by what happened to her every time Chuck Bass was around. It was still the biggest shock of her life, even nearly six years after that night in the back of his limo. She'd spent the next four and a half years frightened of him, of them, even when they were together... as frightened as he had been.
They were far too young, far too broken, and far too dangerous for the kind of love they'd stumbled upon. They weren't ready. And it had nearly killed them both.
Yet in the end, it had saved them.
Blair knew that Chuck felt the same as she did. That there were hours, entire days even, when everything else in their lives, including his corporation and her legal career ambitions, were just vague, blurry time in between their shared world, with room enough only for two. They were both selfish like that, greedy for each other's company, greedy for each other's bodies, and all the time in the world alone together. But Blair knew that soon, there would be another very welcome, very loved addition to their private world. Someone they'd always let in, because they were him and her, together.
Everyone would be shocked. Shocked, just as everyone had been when, after only five weeks back together, after two eleventh hour calls to Serena and Nate, they went to City Hall, and married without fanfare, pomp, or circumstance one bright June afternoon. (They both wore white: Chuck in a tailored Dolce & Gabbana suit; Blair, in a Dior original.)
They did more than honeymoon. They disappeared for the entire summer after that, Chuck handing over the reins to Bass Industries to his father, Blair arranging with her professors to take her summer semester online so that she could graduate on time. They traveled here, there, and everywhere on a whim, Chuck having sworn to make love to his new wife on every continent (and in the case of the Americas, every country on said continent). Blair had so many memories of steamy nights, glorious sunrises, morning strolls, and making hot afternoons even hotter as they fucked each other's brains out... sometimes making it back to whatever five-star hotel suite they'd booked... other times, not so much.
There were dinners at the most memorable restaurants all over the world... tasting, no, devouring food that wasn't her beloved pumpkin pie for the first time in her life. Sometimes snuggled up next to each other, sometimes, sitting on his lap, sharing a single plate, a single glass, and a single fork.
They shopped... and how! Blair learned that she had to be careful not to let her eyes linger on anything too long, because before she could blink, Chuck would buy it for her.
The global press followed their travels eagerly. The fashion heiress, society darling, and disgraced royal who'd left her prince for a pauper. The billionaire, dark knight, ladykiller, and handsome beast who'd been tamed by a world-renowned beauty. They were dark, decadent, oh, so newsworthy, and oh, so gorgeous.
At first, they shied away from the paparazzi, remembering the nightmare that happened the last time they were hounded. Then they got used to them. A thousand of their kisses were immortalized in papers, on the news, on entertainment shows, online.
Then, upon their return to New York, they threw not one, not two, but three lavish receptions: a summer outdoor renewal of vows at Bart's home in the Hamptons (which, at the close of the party, he gave to his new daughter-in-law as a wedding gift), a formal society reception in the ballroom of the Palace (with Blair resplendent in an Oscar de la Renta original bridal gown; she'd worn an Eleanor original for the ceremony in the Hamptons), and a smaller, more intimate toast for their same-aged friends at Victrola.
It had been nearly eleven months since that glorious June day. Still, still, every time she saw him, she caught fire... and it seemed as if the heat got more intense over the years, with no sign of cooling. When they were seventeen, a single one of his touches would leave her wet, hot, and ready... by age twenty, it was just a look... now that she was twenty-two going on twenty-three, just the very thought of Chuck could turn her on. Everything reminded her of him, and the things they did together. And to each other.
Blair knew that their family and friends, when joking about when their honeymoon period would end (there were actually bets on it), didn't really mean it. For although their relationship was very physical (to say the least), that wasn't all there was to it... and never had been. Theirs was an unbreakable bond. Everything that had happened in the past had only strengthened it.
She ran her hands over the slight rise of her stomach, thinking about breaking the news of her Yale Law deferral to their nearest and dearest. Children hadn't been something they'd expected so soon in their marriage. Even though they'd been at it like rabbits all year, Blair had been on the Pill for a long time. Of course, there was the stress of her final semester, and the fact that she'd messed up on a couple of her packs around Christmas when they were in France.
Blair blushed a little when she thought about how careless she had been with protection over the years. Far from the most promiscuous girl on the Upper East Side, she'd had a pregnancy scare in high school, had gotten pregnant at age 20, and two years later, at age 22, was nearing the end of her first trimester.
The last time, she had retreated into the movie constantly playing inside her mind. A baby wasn't in the plans she had for her real life princess fantasy, so other than taking prenatal vitamins and visiting the OB/GYN, she hadn't thought much about it. She'd hidden the morning sickness from Louis by saying that her stomach was getting used to the water, the wine (although she drank none), everything. And after the paternity test revealed that it wasn't Chuck's, she'd pretended as if she didn't feel the faint fluttering of the baby's kick. She didn't purchase any couture maternity clothing unless there was an event, choosing to wear shapeless frocks instead. It was a dark time in her life.
This time, she only ignored the very beginning of the pregnancy. All winter, she had been working too hard to pay attention to the initial signs. After having a bit of a gap year because of the princess thing, the Louis thing, and the Dan thing, she'd taken two classes over the summer (Blair would write essays for her political theory course while Chuck kept up with BI's reports, whether they were in Bali, Queensland, or Marrakesh). Then, she took twenty-one credit hours during both the fall and spring semesters.
It would not be said that Blair Waldorf Bass hadn't earned her admission into Yale Law... that the great and worthy institution had only admitted her because she was Chuck Bass' wife. (Some of her fears about that had been alleviated over the past two years, though... her actions back in 2011 and early 2012 had led to her being more notorious and even reviled than her husband at the time! But public opinion was fickle. Blair was, once again, Queen.)
Chuck almost had a heart attack when he thought her bulimia had returned that March. He heard her in their bathroom, one morning, with the water running, and tears running down her face. Once she was done, he handed her a water glass so that she could rinse out her mouth, and when Blair turned to look at him, his eyes were filled with tears, too.
"We will get through this," he told her, voice in that tone he saved just for her. "Together."
"Yes, we will, Bass... since this is all your fault."
"You're strong, you've beat it once, you can beat it ag... wait, how is this my fault, Blair? What did I do this time?"
The panic was evident in his dark hazel eyes. Before he could start beating himself up for being a fuck-up of a husband, Blair managed a slight smile just before she kissed him.
"Chuck, I'm not sick," she breathed. "My bulimia's not back. But yes, since I did hurt myself before, it's best that I get to the doctor today... he'll have to confirm what I suspect, but if it's true, not only am I done hurting myself... I wouldn't hurt our little one for the world."
Chuck's entire face changed. It was almost like seeing the sun, Blair thought, breaking through late on a stormy day. Then he actually yelled, which made her laugh. Chuck Bass just didn't yell. Then he started kissing her, then kissed her some more, and then...
Well, Blair missed class that day.
Their first child would be born in November 2013, right around her birthday and Thanksgiving, in her month, her favorite season, her favorite time of year. They would finally have a family of their own. She and Chuck would give their child everything they'd been denied as kids, not just money and material things, but themselves.
Sometimes, Blair would feel sad, remembering her first baby as her second grew within her. Everyone thought she was over that, because she never talked about it. It was not her way, not the way of a girl raised as an Upper East Side society princess, who was now the widely acknowledged queen of not just an exclusive private school, but all of Manhattan. But she did think of that little baby Grimaldi, her and Louis combined, who would have been both an heir to the throne... and the spoiled stepchild of the best stepfather in the world.
Chuck understood, though. They really didn't talk about it much. Blair had told him everything one night after the casino and the rooftop, after they'd reconciled and she was wearing his ring, but before they said to hell with another wedding and raced to City Hall.
Chuck listened without saying much, just holding her and listening to her.
"She should have been yours, Chuck," said Blair.
"She would have been, in every way that mattered," said Chuck. "She... Did they tell you it was a girl?"
Blair nodded. "I was nearly six months along. At first they thought maybe she could survive. They tried to save her, but it was too late." Her voice lowered to a whisper. "In my heart, she was my Audrey..."
"Ours," he reminded her. "Audrey Grimaldi Bass. And someday, she'll have brothers and sisters. She'll be like our guardian angel, keeping watch over them... and us."
Of all Chuck's gifts, this baby (this one who would live and thrive in a loving home) was the most precious. Far too precious to share! Last year, they'd briefly entertained the idea of keeping their marriage secret, close and precious, until they realized that she was Blair Waldorf (formerly Grimaldi, Princess of Monaco) and he was Chuck Bass. No way could they have married without it making Page Six. Not even if they disguised themselves.
But they could keep the news of the child strictly for themselves. No one knew yet, not even their parents.
Blair thought tonight would be a perfect time to tell them.
She just had to convince her husband.
Nathaniel Archibald didn't know what drew him to the old Waldorf penthouse, on this of all mornings. Although Eleanor Waldorf Rose muttered off and on about putting it on the market, it had been Serena's in all but name since the day Blair married Chuck. Serena had left things much as they had always been, and Nate knew that it had been a point of comfort for her.
When Chuck was out of town on business, Blair would come spend the night in her old, beloved room. Back when Nate was splitting his time between here and the Empire, he sometimes would run into her, his childhood sweetheart, ex-girlfriend, and lifelong friend. They'd talk about classes, about the Spectator, and about Chuck. And Nate would wonder what made his primary school self fall for the petite brunette instead of the ray of sunshine that was always with her.
What could one say about the motivations of a six year old? Nate was starting to think that his thing for Blair had been birthed by his mother. Vaguely, he remembered Anne's voice: I think that Blair Waldorf is such a polite little girl, so pretty and sweet and smart. Anyone would be proud to have a daughter like that, and every mother would love for her son to bring home a girl like that. Nothing like that Serena van der Woodsen, whose mother lets her run wild.
Nate, deep down, knew that he'd always preferred Serena. Even though Blair was supposed to be his girlfriend, he most often wandered off with Serena on their playdates when he wasn't with Chuck. When they were teens, they continued to wander off, until that wandering led to their fast and furious coupling on a deserted bar at the Shepherd wedding.
She tasted of too much champagne. She was long limbs and white-hot eyes that wrapped around him. She was the most perfect breasts he'd ever seen, even in the movies. She was hair that turned into molten gold in even the dimmest light.
Serena was everything, and Nate was suddenly in love... and then, she disappeared for a year.
He felt like shit. Hot, guilty shit warmed over, especially every time he was around Blair. She wanted them to take their relationship to the next level. Nate liked Blair well enough, knew she was a beautiful girl, but she would never be sunshine and starlight and supernova... not like a certain wild van der Woodsen who'd gotten under his skin.
It didn't occur to Nate until much later that while he was wandering off with Serena, his girlfriend and his best friend were often left to their own devices. These days, whenever he did think back (which wasn't often, because things had been the way they were for many years, and Nate had few regrets), he figured he was lucky that Blair and Chuck didn't hook up years earlier than they did, given Chuck's reputation.
Once it was BlairandChuck, ChuckandBlair, the way was clear for Nate to be with Serena. But things never clicked for them. The summer after junior year, Serena was so hung up on Dan Humphrey until Nate knew that things were going nowhere fast. Then over the next year and a half, there was Catherine, Vanessa, Jenny, Vanessa again, Blair again (although things didn't work out, she'd always be special to him), and Bree.
Then, finally, he and Serena were a real couple. It was hot and passionate. It was warm and companionable. She was everything that Nate Archibald ever wanted in a girl.
The problem was that Serena was still hung up on Dan.
Now, Nate was an adherent to the guy code. Bros before hos. He didn't want to give up his friendship with Dan, who wasn't Chuck (Chuck would always be his best friend), but who was sometimes easier to understand than an inscrutable Bass. Nate wanted Serena, and knew they were more suited for each other than she'd ever be with Dan. Besides, Serena's mother and Dan's father were married, and they shared a half brother. Nate knew that things would work out in the end.
But it didn't. Juliet, Vanessa, and Jenny played their hands, and he'd believed the worst of Serena. When the dust cleared, Serena was dating Ben, and he was dating Raina Thorpe. Then he started seeing Diana. He almost had a fling with Ivy, who he thought was Charlie Rhodes. Then, he started seeing the real Charlie Rhodes, Serena's cousin and half sister Lola.
God, the Upper East Side could be nasty sometimes. Incestuous...
Hey, Nate figured, they all probably came from long lines of inbred blue bloods. Maybe this was how it all happened...
For a year, Lola had been Nate's Serena substitute. On the margins of his vision, Nate watched Serena eat her heart out over Dan being with Blair, then actively sabotage them. It backfired. When Blair went back to Chuck (Nate could've told Dan that was inevitable), instead of turning to Serena, Dan ran off to Europe. Lola went back to Florida for the summer. And Nate was once again alone.
It took a while for Serena and Nate to reconnect after that. This time, it was because half of the Non-Judging Breakfast Club was tying the knot. Nate never forgot the call he got in early June last year from Chuck (who'd barely surfaced for air since reconciling with Blair) to come have dinner at the Waldorf penthouse. Serena was already there, and Dorota had laid out quite a spread.
"We're getting married," Blair announced, perched comfortably on Chuck's lap, snuggling closer than close.
"Yes, we know," said Serena, trying not to look nauseous at the PDA. Nate almost laughed at her. She was so funny when it came to them! "Thanksgiving."
"Actually, you don't know, sis," Chuck told her, grinning like an idiot at Blair. (Nate couldn't remember at the time the last time he had seen Chuck smile like that.) "We're getting married day after tomorrow."
"WHAT?" said Serena. "Chuck, Blair, have you lost your minds? There's no way we can put together a wedding in two days..."
"S," said Nate, "I don't think they mean a wedding. You're just going to get married, right?"
"Right," said Chuck, staring into Blair's eyes.
"I've already had the big wedding, and it was a huge mistake," said Blair, still looking at Chuck as if she was afraid he'd disappear if she blinked. "You were right, it should have been us up there. But it wasn't, and I can't change that, and I'm not going to have the New York or international society press comparing things or calling me tacky my second time around."
"But Chuck," implored Serena, "don't you want a wedding?"
"I do, but we'll have something later. All I want," his voice lowered as he kissed Blair's ear, "is her. She's all I've ever wanted."
"Man, you've gone completely soft," Nate chided. "Blair, what did you do to my boy all those years ago?"
"Natie," implored Serena. "They're in love."
"S, he's whipped..."
But Blair and Chuck didn't hear a word either of them said. As Nate and Serena bantered, they'd slipped out, leaving their best friends to have at it.
So Nate and Serena were thrown back together, getting everything together for the City Hall civil ceremony. There were blood tests and check ups to be scheduled, there was the matter of the license, there were dresses and suits to buy (because even during a civil ceremony, Chuck and Blair had to look fabulous), and there was the small dinner to arrange afterwards with the parents to break the news to everyone.
It was like old times, only now, the couple among the club was Chuck and Blair. They had a wonderful, whirlwind of a time, plotting and planning so that no one would know, not the press, not Gossip Girl, not their Columbia classmates or former St. Jude's and Constance people, and especially not nosy Upper East Siders.
There were two nights when they dressed up and went out, the first for a fancy dinner at Per Se, the second for drinks at Gimlet (which had earned its license long before), and then out dancing. Since neither Chuck nor Blair wanted bachelor and bachelorette parties, Nate and Serena called up a number of their friends to club hop at the most exclusive spots in the city.
"Look at them!" laughed Serena. "I never thought I'd see Chuck Bass dance! Someone take a picture!"
"Chuck doesn't dance, the way he doesn't do girlfriends... Blair's the exception to every one of his rules!" Nate snapped the picture with his Android. "He's actually not half bad. Neither is she."
"We're better, Natie! Are we going to let those two sticks in the mud show us up?"
Shining blue eyes caught the light, and he was caught up... again.
"Of course not," he said. "Let's go!"
They made their way to the edge of the crowded dance floor, where Chuck and Blair were busily being very un-UES-like, and grinding to the most popular party song of the summer.
"You call that dancing?" said Serena. "That's not dancing!"
"That's having sex with your clothes on," said Nate, egging Serena on.
Chuck looked a bit amused, and a bit exasperated. "Some of us are more efficient than others. Now if you don't mind, I want to dance with my soon to be wife without all this..."
"Shininess fluttering around?" said Blair, resting her perfect mane of chocolate curls on her fiancé's strong shoulder. "I agree. It's headache inducing... totally annoying."
"Boring, boring, boring... Whoo-hoo!" said Serena, kicking up a leg as if she were a Rockette, then shimmying. "C'mon, Nate! Let's get this party started!"
Just before the two blonds headed to the middle of the floor, Chuck shot him a questioning look. Nate leaned forward to reassure him.
"Don't worry, have a good time. I'll take care of her."
And he did. He took care of her on the dance floor, and later, when they arrived back at the penthouse. And when he woke up on the morning of Chuck and Blair's wedding, he was still there with her, watching her sleep in his arms. It had been cloudy all week, but that morning, the sun was back out again.
He went for his morning run to clear his head, to think over things. And then, he came back to find Serena, clad only in her panties and a tiny camisole, dancing around her room to the strains of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun."
Nate had laughed. He felt as if he could live forever in her light...
Of course, their best friends noticed, even in the midst of their bliss. On the way to City Hall, Blair said it.
"Something's changed here. You two back on?"
Their looks said it all.
"It fits," Chuck said. "I suppose this is the part where we make a pact to marry our kids off to each other. I'll have my lawyers draw up the papers, and all four of us will sign in blood."
"Yes, and that worked so well for me and Nate, of course," said Blair, small hand cupping his jaw and turning him to face her. "If our mothers had their way, new money would have never had a chance to aspire to a Waldorf!"
"Now, Blair. Nothing smells quite like new money... or..."
He whispered in her ear. Blair didn't even have the decency to blush at what Chuck was saying. Instead, her eyes darkened, and she whispered something back.
"Well, Miss Waldorf-soon-to-be-Mrs. Bass, that can be arranged..."
Serena groaned as they kissed. "You two are going to be gross forever, aren't you?" she said, lifting her head from Nate's shoulder.
"Yes," said Chuck, after Blair let him breathe again.
"It's what we do," said Blair.
They locked lips again. Serena tried to cover her eyes, but Nate didn't let her... because he was kissing her, too.
Things were so perfect between them, Nate reflected as he climbed the stairs. When Chuck whisked Blair off for their honeymoon, Serena and Nate had been together all summer. There were more mornings where they laughed and teased each other and made love. Afternoons when Nate was at school for summer session, and Serena was writing, and they'd text and Tweet and call each other. Evenings when they made dinner for each other, although neither knew how to cook, then eventually give up and go out.
They made it to the Hamptons by July, and enjoyed the beach and each other. There was one memorable weekend when Nate's mother was up at Martha's Vineyard, and they had the house to themselves. Of course, they christened every room, made love on every possible surface, overcome with joy and each other.
Nate thought about the famous Vanderbilt ring, the one that his mother insisted Blair try on many years ago.
He thought it would look perfect on Serena's slender finger.
Maybe at Christmas, he thought. He didn't want to get married right away... he wasn't Chuck, and she wasn't Blair... but they'd be twenty-two, going on twenty-three by then. They could have a long engagement, leading to a very Nate and Serena wedding. Probably an exotic destination, somewhere on the beach.
Of course, summer had to end, and their pasts had to intrude. He hadn't talked to Lola since she'd gone back to Florida with Carol in May... hadn't really hashed things out. He just assumed that things had fizzled.
Everything had been so confusing the spring before with Diana's return, and then Jack Bass, whose visits never led to anything good. But then Bart Bass came back from the dead, shaking up the Upper East Side, all of New York City, and the entire business world with his abrupt return from the federal Witness Protection Program. It was a crazy time, and in the midst of it, there was the Dan thing, the Dan and Blair thing, and then the Dan, Blair and Chuck thing...
"It's too much," Lola had said. "Way too much. This world is too crazy."
Yet at the end of the summer, she'd shown up at Blair and Chuck's garden reception in the Hamptons, wanting to talk. He and Serena had argued after Serena made Lola cry. (She didn't show that side of herself often, but Serena van der Woodsen could be every bit as much of an Upper East Side HBIC as her best friend and sister-in-law.) Then Lola had shown up at the grand society reception at the Palace, once again, wanting to talk. Once again, he and Serena had argued.
"We didn't really get any closure," Nate tried to explain. "She deserves at least that much from me. It's you that I want. Why are you being so insecure?"
"She just wants you back," Serena said. "Lola knows all about my history with you now. She should back off."
Nate couldn't help it, although afterward, he regretted it.
"Now you see how I felt about you and Dan."
It was almost as if his words had made it happen. After a long summer of being overseas, Dan had shown up at Victrola, coming face to face with Blair after their explosive last conversation, Blair who had been Mrs. Bass for almost three months.
It was a charged moment. Even the band stopped playing as Dan approached the table.
"Congratulations," he told Blair, looking at her the way he'd done during their yearlong friendship, and months together.
Her eyes were warm and kind, as they had been with him since her engagement to Louis. But they were the eyes of a friend. Blair had never looked at him the way she looked at Chuck.
And never would.
"Thank you, we appreciate that," she said, stroking Chuck's neck with her fingertips.
Dan then turned to Chuck. "Congratulations to you both." He lowered his voice. "Take care of her, Chuck. She's special."
"Of course I will, Humphrey. But you know, my wife is far beyond special. Your words imply that there are others in her class, and there are not." Still looking at Dan, he dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "She's priceless. Incomparable. And... unforgettable."
Dan turned away as they kissed, turned to find Serena.
"I need to talk to you," Dan said to her.
Nate didn't see Serena again for two days. When he finally did summon up the courage to come to the Waldorf penthouse, he knew what he would find. Thankfully, the culprit was down in the Village, at NYU.
"Nate, it's never going to work with us," said Serena. "It's good for a time, but history always catches up with us."
"History?" said Nate, furious. "Excuse me, but I didn't sleep with my history!"
"I've always loved Dan."
"Loved him? He dated your best friend!"
"So did you!"
"Yeah, when we were ten!" Nate shook his head. "He's not over Blair yet, Serena. He doesn't deserve you!"
Serena's eyes filled with tears.
"I can't do this multiple choice thing with you anymore, S. I can't. I have to be your only choice. I've decided, why can't you?"
"Tell me you don't love me, Serena. Tell me, and I'll leave you the fuck alone. I will never try to be with you again."
For a minute, he thought she was going to pull him close, that she'd tell him what he wanted to hear.
"I love you. But I love him, too... maybe in the future, things will be... Nate, wait!"
But Nate didn't want to hear any more. He was done.
Nate plunged into work and school with a vengeance. He heard that Dan returned to Rome, and Serena was devastated. Then he heard (from Blair) that Serena wanted to talk to him. Nate told Blair off, and she got angry, then Chuck was put out with him for upsetting Blair. Then Serena went to California for the rest of the fall to work on some movie. Then he was gone over the holidays, to visit some of his Rothschild relatives over in London (his grandmother, Grandfather William Vanderbilt's wife, had been a Rothschild).
Then it was his last semester, and one night in January, Lola came back with tears and apologies, and a plea to start over.
Something that Serena had never done.
The thing with Lola had lasted three months. Then Vanessa, tanned, trim, and gorgeous, with better hair than he'd ever seen on her, and a killer new beach bod had turned up at the spring gala. She wanted to talk and explain what happened, why she left New York. Why she'd published Dan's book. Why their time together had been unforgettable, all these years later.
And that night, Nate was a cad.
He didn't care. After many years of wondering what was wrong with Chuck, he finally got it. There was something to having stupid meaningless sex when your heart was broken. Feeling like hot guilty shit wasn't pleasant, but you could always fuck the pain away... at least, temporarily.
Besides, he knew Serena hated Vanessa. If anyone deserved a taste of her own medicine for a change, it was Serena.
Suddenly Nathaniel Archibald knew exactly why he was climbing the stairs inside the Waldorf penthouse on that graduation morning, unsure of what he might find. Dan was back, and for some reason, the girl of his dreams was hung up on him.
Nate just knew he had to talk to her. Make her feel something, anything. But he wasn't sure what to say, or why he'd come. So when he heard her voice, he just stood outside the closed door and listened.
I thought that was the real 'water under the bridge.' But Lola's still furious, and Dan won't talk about it... or to her.
Nate frowned. So was Dan going after Lola now?
Something happened in Spain, Chuck... when Dan went to Rome last year, he...
What was she talking about? (And why was she so hung up on Dan, always Dan, fucking Dan?)
Of course, Chuck had said something off color... he wouldn't be Chuck if he didn't. Bored with the conversation, Nate knocked on the door, then opened it.
As soon as Nate emerged into the room, their eyes locked. She was beneath the covers still. Her arms and shoulders were bare, which knowing Serena likely meant that the rest of her was too...
After all this time? Nate was frustrated by his reaction to her. Serena van der Woodsen should be illegal.
"Can I come in?"
"I have to go," she told Chuck. "Bye... and don't forget what you're supposed to do!"
Serena hung up her iPhone, then placed it on the nightstand before pulling the covers more firmly around her.
"Hi Nate. Happy graduation."
"What brings you by?"
"Well... I just wanted to know whether I could bring a plus one to this dinner tonight."
His eyes narrowed. "You know who."
At that, Serena stared at him in a very un-Serena-like way. Nate broke the stare first. Chuck was just her stepbrother, but Nate always thought it made an odd sort of sense that they were siblings.
"As long as you can guarantee that plus one won't cause trouble, of course you can." Serena's face softened, and seemed more familiar to him. "How have you been?"
Nate shrugged. "Same old, same old."
"Happy about today?"
"Glad to get the piece of paper. Says I'm legit."
"Nate, you've been editor-in-chief for over a year now."
"Yeah, I know. Still, it feels good to get the degree. I know Blair's glad, too... it'll be good to walk across the same stage as her again."
"It must be weird, right? I mean, you guys always talked about getting married the summer after college graduation growing up."
"You know, not really. Last time I felt weird about it was when she married Louis. I didn't feel that way when she married Chuck."
Serena smiled at him. "That was a glorious summer."
In spite of himself, in spite of how angry he still was at her, Nate couldn't help it. He smiled back.
"Yeah, it was."
"Are you going to the Hamptons?"
"Yeah, Mom's already there, she spends more time out there than in the city these days... and Chuck and Blair will be there, too." He considered her. "Are you going?"
"Of course... until July, when I'm doing my next film project. Blair's going to open up their house in a couple of weeks, she says, and they're going to have a clambake Memorial Day weekend if the weather's good. Chuck's working crazy hours again, so it'll be my job to keep her out of trouble until he can get there during the weekends. Blair made me promise to stay on this side of the world for as long as I possibly can."
They were both silent. Remembering their last, happy summer together.
"I... uh, well, I should probably get going. See you later, Serena."
Just before he closed the door, he heard her soft reply.
For the millionth time over the past six years, Chuck Bass had the same thought he'd had almost every day:
It was ridiculous to love a woman as much as he loved Blair Bass.
That little fact had caused him so much grief, so much hell since he was sixteen years old, until he wondered if she was created just to torture him. Ever since he dared his partner in crime (his sexy vixen, his feisty little kitten) to climb up on the stage of a club that he'd just bought, he hadn't been the same. Over the years, his Blair had caused him sleepless nights, driven him to drink (even more than usual), got him punched, thrown out of parties, shot, and nearly strangled.
All because he went and got those damned butterflies for one dark-haired, doe-eyed Upper East Side princess. Prim and proper. Sexy and red hot. The cool exterior; the fire below.
The ink wasn't even dry on the damned deed of his very first club when the girl shimmed out of her prudish lace gown and shook her ass at him on that stage, outdancing all of the professional burlesque dancers with their heavy makeup and veiled lashes. Looking over her shoulder knowingly, with come-hither deep brown eyes... what did she know about it?
And if that weren't enough, she didn't even know how to leave well enough alone. She had to go and kiss him. Then she didn't stop there. She let him make love to her. Chuck had never, ever made love before that night, he'd just fucked, he'd gotten off, and the women were interchangeable, so it was all new for him.
He knew he wanted to make it good for her, so he knew it couldn't be all about him and his needs. So he treated her as if she was a china doll at first, stroking every inch of her (her damned skin, oh God, that soft, perfect skin), loving her neck because it was there that he first felt her pulse flutter beneath his lips (her neck, his Kryptonite), loving her breasts because he knew from the sounds that she made that he was the first one to pay any attention to them (Nate was a fool), loving the plane of her stomach (more soft, perfect skin), loving her hips and thighs because they were like the gift wrapping, the entrance, the foyer for what was to come (Nate was an idiot), and loving her perfect, hot, wet, tight, pink...
Even six years later, the memory of that moment had the power to make him rock hard.
He couldn't believe he was the first one to have this fucking perfect girl. And she was perfect in his arms, wantonly riding him, coming for the first time ever all over him, all around him. And if that weren't enough, it wasn't a fluke... they'd made love three times in that back of that limo. Some newly considerate part of Chuck worried that Blair would be sore, and thought that maybe they should have gone to 1812 first, but most of that rational part of his brain was in shock and disbelief. And the rest of him was turned on like he couldn't believe.
Chuck was still as much in awe of his wife as he'd been when they were teenagers. He knew that he always would be... especially since he'd thought he'd lost her forever for two, long, torturous, excruciating years. With the exception of the few weeks in the fall of 2010 when they'd had what they called "hate sex" (although both knew that it was more), that glorious night in the spring of 2011 after the bar mitzvah when Blair thought she'd conceived his child, and the few moments before the tragic accident later that fall, he'd spent two years without her.
Chuck swore that until he was pushing daisies, six feet under, there was no way that would ever happen again.
Many were the nights, even now, that he'd wake up from one of his nightmares. She was the leading lady, every time. Sometimes, she'd wake with him, and coax him into talking it out. Most of the time, just her sweet presence was enough to calm him down, the sight and the scent of her, watching her sleep, hearing her breathe. She was all fire and lightning and thunder when she was awake, a force to be reckoned with, but asleep, she was an angel.
His dark angel. His wife.
Now he was at Harry Winston, having slipped out of the penthouse while his wife showered to pick up the custom designed piece that was her gift. Not her graduation gift... that was already stowed away in the safe, and he'd retrieve it before they headed to Columbia. Not her first wedding anniversary gift, which was still in the works.
This was a "you're having my baby, and I love you" gift.
Blair Cornelia Bass (he never used Waldorf when referring to her any longer, not since the day she became his wife) was having his baby. Chuck wanted to shout it to the rooftops. (He did shout when she first told him, and he knew she'd never let him live it down.) Although they wouldn't know the gender for sure for another few weeks, Chuck didn't care. The decorators had already presented several designs for the baby's nursery to them.
He was even secretly glad about the timing. There had never been a question of Yale Law for her... although Blair insisted that she would be the one to commute, Chuck had already begun to look at real estate in Connecticut, and had planned to buy a place they could share while he commuted back and forth to the city. But with the baby, it meant she wouldn't be starting until the fall of 2014, when their child was nearly a year old. They'd have even more time to figure things out...
"Mr. Bass," said the fawning store manager. "It is a pleasure, sir. A pleasure and an honor. Right this way..."
As he completed the purchase, muttering noncommittal pleasantries to the manager, Chuck wondered if he'd ever be more like Bart when it came to money. As shocking and traumatic as his father's return from the grave had been, Chuck admired the man for being able to survive in the everyday world that he came from. Chuck and Bart had never really talked before his father's disappearance, but now that he was back, they were building a tenuous relationship.
It was almost as if his thoughts made his cell phone ring as soon as he was back in the limo. Chuck saw who it was, and picked it up.
"Good morning, Dad. I'll be in soon."
"That's not what I called about, Chuck... and why are you coming in today? Blair's graduating."
"I know, but I got the overnight email about the Hong Kong construction problem. I figured I could slip away for a couple of hours while she gets ready to see to things."
"No need. I've just got off the videoconference with the team over there. It was a miscommunication. I'll fly out there tomorrow and put out any fires, but I think they have things under control." Pause. "Have you had breakfast yet?"
"Yes, Eric and Alec had breakfast with us before I left."
"Then meet me for coffee. I have something I want to give you."
Chuck felt elated. If only he and Bart had been able to talk things out like this, before everything. If only...
But Blair was right. There was no use regretting the past. As she always said, they only had today, and the future.
"Sure, Dad. I'll just call Blair to let her know, then I'll meet you at the Palace office," Chuck said.
Chuck's phone beeped. He smiled when he saw who it was.
"Speak of the devil. I'll be there soon, Dad."
He clicked over. Before he could say anything at all, the voice he loved more than any other in the world rang in his ears.
"Bass! Where are you? And before you say anything, I'm standing here in the study."
"Well, hello to you too, lover. I'm heading in for coffee with Dad."
"Which one? You have two, and I have three. All of whom are in town."
"The one whose DNA I actually have... and I never refer to Rufus Humphrey as my dad. You know that."
"Fine. What does Bart want?"
"He didn't say. We have this damned Hong Kong project that you know has been a pain in the ass, so it's probably about that. But I'll be home in an hour."
"You'd better be. That Hong Kong project's been a pain in my ass, and I don't even work for BI."
You will someday, he thought. "Will you make it worth my while?"
"I was, but in an hour, I'll be dressed for my graduation. Such a shame, you should see what I have on now. All for my unappreciative husband, who leaves the house without telling me."
"Chuck, if I left the house without telling you, you'd have an entire PI firm and half the NYPD scouring all five boroughs, the airports, the train stations, the sewer system..."
"I would." He smirked. "So don't leave without telling me."
"You are the most exasperating man I've ever met."
"I love you too, Blair... what is it? Or did you call just to insult me?"
"I don't need to call for that, I just text." She sighed. "Chuck, when are we going to tell everyone that we're pregnant?"
"Didn't we talk about that last night?"
"We talk about it every night, but we never come up with any answers. I'm nearing the end of the time when I can hide this baby bump, and spring and summer couture doesn't do it any favors. So, unless you want everyone whispering about how fat Chuck Bass' wife is getting..."
"We'll tell them tonight," he said suddenly, thinking about all the planning he and Serena had been doing, and anticipating the look on Blair's face. "Our families will all be there."
"It's perfect timing," said Blair. "This way, I won't have to endure thirty tiresome conversations asking when you and I are moving to New Haven."
"Speaking of perfect timing, how close are you to being ready? You know we have lunch guests coming before we leave for your ceremony..."
"Not close at all, Bass, which is why I've called you. I suppose I'll make myself presentable. And I'd like to remind you that lunch will be served early, at 11:15, so that we will be at Columbia well before 2 pm..."
Dark hazel eyes twinkled as he saw the Palace up ahead. "Oh, I wouldn't dream of being late."
"I know we have to tell everyone. But really, it's been so sweet keeping it to ourselves for the past few months."
He could hear the smile in her voice. "Another one of those grand BlairandChuck, ChuckandBlair schemes that we're so famous for."
"Our very grandest of all."
"And just as notorious as his or her parents, I'm sure."
"Notorious? Oh, no. Our son's not going to be noted for anything except for his good graces, poise, and impeccable taste." Pause. "And his father's perfect bone structure, too."
"So you're giving me a son?" Chuck smirked. As much as he'd love a little girl, he had a hunch that their firstborn would be a boy, too. According to Bart, there had always been more male Basses than female. "How do you know it's a boy?"
"I just know. Chuck, as long as we don't tell anyone, he's that much more ours."
"Blair, he'll be ours no matter what. Contrary to popular belief, we are both human, and I assume our offspring will be, too. That means we'll have to let them out of the cage eventually."
"Very funny," she said. "Come home soon, Chuck. I miss you already."
It was true, what he said to her over a year before. She really was the lightest thing that ever came into his life. She lit up his entire world.
"I miss you too, Blair," he murmured. "And I'm proud of you. I'll find out what my father wants, then for the rest of the day, college graduate, I'll be right by your side."
"Our side. There's two of us in your corner now. You're not alone anymore, Chuck, and you never will be again."
As they said goodbye and hung up, Chuck thought about what she said. His father was waiting for him in the office, and Blair waiting for him at home.
And for the millionth time that year, Chuck Bass felt like the luckiest man in the world.
Even though she'd been gone for two years, New York was New York, Vanessa Abrams thought, running at Nate Archibald's side through Central Park. She'd only taken up running during her time in Spain, admiring the svelte shapes of the Spanish senoritas, wanting to be more trim. Yet she was too Brooklyn to actually worry about what she ate, or do really weird and exotic exercises.
Soon, she learned that running was the perfect release. Running helped to clear her mind. It made her feel less stressed. It helped her sort through the trainwreck that her life had become.
Nothing was supposed to be this way. She was sure that she would be a famous playwright by now, perhaps even premiering the ironic musical of the decade on Broadway like Jonathan Larsen had (without the untimely illness and death, of course... Vanessa appreciated a tragicomedy as much as any hipster, but still, she also liked living).
However, fate had stalled her. Fate, and a fickle Humphrey. She'd tried to forget Dan in the arms of Spaniard after Spaniard. When that didn't work, she moved on to the Italians. Then the Germans... and there was one Polish guy she just knew would help her move on. Pierogies and all that.
Yet the Pole just reminded her of Nate. Nate was the best she'd ever had... best sex, best boyfriend, best everything. Blair Waldorf had ruined that, of course, just swept in and like that, Nate was gone.
Mighty selfish of her, Vanessa had always thought. Everyone knew that Chuck and Blair were going to end up together. They were both so sick and twisted until there really was no one else for them. Vanessa was not surprised in the least by the fact that they'd married.
(She did, however, think her former best friend was the world's biggest idiot for voluntarily inserting himself in the middle of that particular clusterfuck... Blair, Chuck, and the Prince of Monaco? Dan kinda deserved everything he got.)
Everyone thought she'd come back for Dan. So when she'd shown up in New York City, no one expected her to show up at the Empire. Of course, the hotel staff informed that he was out. Of course, Gossip Girl informed her that he was attending at the Historic East Side Preservation Society's Spring Charity Ball, escorting a Miss Lola Charlotte Rhodes (who looked nothing like the Charlie Vanessa had met the year before). Rather classy of Nate to keep things in the family, Vanessa reflected, although there was no accounting for Nate's taste. Vanessa remembered the titled cougar he'd got himself tangled up with, and then there was Diana, who was tied into the entire Bass family drama.
Yet Nate was Nate. He was a guy's guy, refreshingly simple compared to former curly haired best friends.
So Vanessa did as she always did. She simply crashed the society party, and took her man. Within hours, she was in Nate's bed, enjoying him once again... and given how much he enjoyed her, she wondered what the eff that Lola tart had been doing all those months.
They'd fallen into an easy routine. Nate had his classes at Columbia and the Spectator, while Vanessa, who'd finished all her NYU coursework a semester early, sat on the rooftop of the Empire and wrote her play. She knew she needed to find an agent, but for now, she was enjoying her lot in life.
She was at first a little weirded out by the fact that Chuck and Blair had lived here, together, that Chuck had entertained other women there as well. Of course, his old room was now their guest suite, and the Basses never visited. Rumor had it that Blair absolutely refused to move back into that place. So Chuck made the news when he bought their brand-new penthouse overlooking Central Park, because it was one of the most expensive real estate purchases of the year. It was three stories, and so very them... it somehow combined his dark, contemporary style with her love of elegance, antiques, and Paris perfectly.
Vanessa had been there with Nate several times. The Basses seemed as overjoyed to see her as she was to have to deal with them. Still, it seemed that they'd all grown up, or else considered her unworthy of their notice. It almost made Vanessa nostalgic for the days when they schemed against her...
"What are you thinking about so hard?" panted Nate, slowing to a jog. Vanessa doubled back.
"Eh, just clearing my head."
"Still working on that scene?"
"No, just thinking about old times." Pause. "Where'd you go this morning?"
"Just out to return something to a friend. I thought you were asleep... you weren't awake when I left, and I thought I woke you up when I came back."
"And how," Vanessa said. "You're really planning on going to this thing tonight?"
"Yeah, of course. But I understand if you don't want to."
"Nah, I want to celebrate your graduation, Nate. They're your friends, and your parents and grandparents and everyone will be there. It's important to you."
Sweaty and still trying to catch his breath, Nate leaned out and kissed her quickly.
"God, I've missed you, V. Funny how after all this time, things are working out." He grinned. "I've got something I want to talk to you about."
"What is it?"
"Later. For now, I want a graduation shower... and I know just who I want in there with me."
His grin turned sexy, and Vanessa blushed.
She didn't deserve him. She really didn't.
"So, now that you've met all of them, what do you think?" asked Eric van der Woodsen, not looking at his boyfriend as they strolled down Madison Avenue. It was always scary when you arrived at the "meet the parents" stage, but it was even scarier for Eric, who always knew that the Upper East Side was dysfunctional beyond belief.
"I liked them," said Alec. "I enjoyed meeting your mother and stepfathers at breakfast yesterday, then Dan, who's..."
"Also my stepbrother... and yes, that was my sister he was with at lunch. It's complicated."
"Eric, I'm European," said Alec patiently. "I don't judge."
Eric, with a surge of gratitude, kissed his cheek. It was an innocent PDA, yet he could feel the eyes on them. It was frustrating. Yet it was the life he had chosen, and he was proud of who he was.
"I really enjoyed staying with Chuck and Blair," said Alec. "They're a wonderful couple. I had heard all kinds of things..."
"Few people really bother getting to know them, especially Chuck," said Eric. "And they don't exactly let many people in. But Chuck, when he's himself, he always takes care of me. I'm so glad Mom married Bart, even if it was just for a little while. Mom and Serena were always looking to me to take care of them... Mom needed a guy in her life who always approved of her, I guess, and Serena just was this little girl lost. She thinks she looked after me, but I looked after her. But Chuck helped me accept who I am. He had a terrible rep, but still, he was himself. Even though he's mellowed out a little, he's still himself."
"I wonder if he's bi," said Alec.
Eric frowned. "What, did he hit on you?"
"Of course not, he only has eyes for Blair. But I've never seen a straight man pull off that ascot and those socks. I was impressed."
"You'll like my stepsister, then," said Eric. "She's also a fashionista."
"The designer? I love a girl who knows how to dress."
"I wouldn't go that far," Eric laughed. "The last time Jenny and I met up in London, I had no idea what she was wearing. All I know is that it was latex and lace."
"Yes, I cannot wait to meet this girl," Alec said. "Blair has impeccable taste herself, but I don't think she'll be wearing couture much longer."
Eric snorted. "You don't know Blair Waldorf Bass."
"No, but I do know it when a woman is pregnant. Occupational hazard."
The youngest van der Woodsen stopped in his tracks.
"Blair's... pregnant? How do you know?"
"Eric, I am a medical student. I am hoping to specialize in women's health. I have been studying this, and my last rotation was in OB/GYN. From the looks of her, she's either at the beginning of her second trimester, or close to it."
"It would be just like her and Chuck not to say anything," said Eric thoughtfully. "Wow, you're right! Remember, neither of them touched a drop of alcohol last night!"
"I thought they didn't drink."
Another snort. "Clearly, you don't know Chuck and Blair Bass. Oh, this is huge. Huge! My parents are going to be over the moon! And I'm going to be an uncle..."
"We're going to be uncles," said Alec, meaningfully. "Eric, I want you to think over what I've asked you. You said you'd give me an answer..."
"After the graduations are over," Eric said, a little hesitantly. "Alec, you know what you mean to me. Today's for family, tomorrow will be for us."
They clasped hands and walked down the street, not caring who saw their bliss.
Still on London time, Jenny Humphrey had been up since 3 in the morning. She spent the early morning hours on the rooftop sketching, enjoying the light from the sunrise as she drew. Although she didn't have any fabric and her sewing machine was across the pond, her fingers itched to create.
After breakfast, she decided to go for a walk, to refamiliarize herself with the streets of the Upper East Side. Senior year in Hudson, two years at St. Martin's, and hundreds of hours of therapy in the US and England had helped, as did the prescription pillbox stashed in her Alexander Wang handbag. As a result, Jenny's life was much better than it had been since her early teens.
Grabbing a latte, she considered her personal life. Even as her future as a designer shone bright, friends were few and far between. It was something that really did hurt Jenny. After her failed attempts to be an It Girl and reigning social queen at Constance, she was popular and well-liked in Hudson, but hadn't really been there long enough to forge lasting bonds with the other girls there. Then when she arrived at Central St. Martin's, the competitive atmosphere and her giftedness meant she had more acquaintances than close friends.
Dan and Eric had each visited her several times in London, but it wasn't the same as having girlfriends. Although she'd come to terms with everything that had happened to her during her three years at Constance, it didn't mean that she didn't on occasion miss having someone like Agnes in her life, as crazy as she'd been. Or long for the approval of someone like Blair, as mean as she'd been.
To be successful, though, meant to be alone... at least, that's what Jenny had come to believe. She wondered why she was such an utter disaster when it came to relationships. There was the thing with Asher, who ended up liking her future stepbrother more than he liked her. There was the rejection from Damien, who had been terrible to her. There was the confusion around Nate, who she thought really liked her, and the madness around Chuck, who she thought lusted after her before his thing started up with Blair.
When she was younger, the fact that she'd made out with Chuck Bass at her very first society party secretly affirmed her, even before Dan asked about the incident the morning after the Kiss on the Lips party, and Blair initiated that whole "You're wondering what Chuck Bass is saying about you" conversation. When he thought she was a hot girl from Chapin at the masquerade ball, Jenny couldn't resist a little payback of her own. (Let the record show that Jennifer Tallulah Humphrey sometimes fought her own battles.)
It wasn't Chuck that she wanted, however. He was too dark, too intense, too complicated... and obviously Blair's. It was Nate who Jenny really always wanted. Nate who kissed her three times, each more memorable than the last. He kissed her when he thought she was Serena van der Woodsen freshman year. He kissed her after he rescued her from Agnes and that sleazy photographer sophomore year, then again after her guerilla fashion show at Lily and Bart's tribute gala.
And then junior year, he'd been her perfect Cotillion date. Of course, then Serena suddenly decided she wanted him. But Jenny was convinced that she and Nate were destined and would have been together if Vanessa hadn't stolen his letter to her the year before. So she went after him, Serena be damned. She kissed him on his birthday, during the game of Assassin. But when he told her he wanted to be with Serena, he broke her heart. It sent Jenny spiraling into a path of revenge and self-destruction. She never wanted to go there again.
If there was one thing in her life she could take back, she'd take back sleeping with Chuck. She'd given him her virginity, because she felt that nothing mattered. Nate was just the worst and latest rejection. Damien didn't want her, and neither had Asher or anyone else. And Chuck... Chuck was so inattentive until it had put Jenny off sex... it didn't hurt, she gave him that much, but she'd felt nothing, and judging from the conversation he'd had with Blair shortly afterward, neither had he.
Jenny hadn't indulged again since that night three years before. Not if it was going to be like that. Chuck was super experienced, so she should have at least felt what she did when she touched herself.
Jenny figured she was broken. Clearly, boys and men saw this, so the opposite sex didn't want her... at least those who she wanted. She just didn't know what was wrong with her. Maybe she was meant to just be talented, not to be loved.
Why hadn't Nate loved her?
She'd had many admirers in Hudson, and even went to prom with one of them. Mike was sweet, and kind, and utterly unlike any of the rich society boys she'd known while at Constance. They didn't do much more than kiss, though.
Then there was Central Saint Martin's. The English boys reminded her of Chuck, although she didn't know why. The European boys reminded her of Damien. The American boys reminded her of Nate.
So she decided to have tunnel vision, and focus on her career. She was only twenty years old. When she was a fashion mogul, there would be time enough to worry about finding the right man...
She looked up.
And it was just her luck that she'd run into Nathaniel Archibald.
With Vanessa Abrams on his arm, looking daggers at her.
The old Jenny would have felt intimidated or got defensive.
This wasn't the old Jenny, however. This was the new Jenny. She wasn't 15 anymore; she was 20. Confident, beautiful, and cool as a cucumber.
A half smile quirked her lips.
This should be interesting.
Bart got off the phone as soon as he saw Chuck come into his office.
"Excuse me, Friedrich, my son's here now. I've got to go. Yes, I'll be there sometime tomorrow... I'll relay your congratulations and best wishes to my daughter-in-law. Thank you."
He hung up as Chuck sat down. Face as impassive and stony as usual, Bart's blue eyes nonetheless grew warm. His longtime secretary Eugenia brought in coffee service, and Bart stood up, intending to go to the bar for Kahlua, Irish Cream, or something stronger.
"So how's Blair this morning?"
"She's... Blair," said Chuck. "Nothing in my coffee, thanks. I'll take it black."
Bart looked at his son curiously.
"I haven't seen you touch a drop in weeks. Anything I need to know about?"
"In due course. How's Hong Kong?"
They discussed the hotel complex Bass Industries was building in Hong Kong. It was always going to be an expensive project, one they'd avoided for years, but when the old Kimberly Hotel came up for sale in the fall, it was too tempting to pass up. It was Chuck's project, with Bart merely advising and stepping in when Chuck asked him to. But the costs were mounting even before the renovations began, so most of the winter had been spent securing permits to demolish and rebuild.
"The worst part of a project like this is the middle stages," said Bart. "When I was your age, I used to think of it as muddling in the middle. Sometimes, you get stuck. But maintain an iron will, accept no excuses from your team, and the building will start appearing before your eyes." Bart leaned back. "By Thanksgiving, you'll be able to fly your wife over to see the penthouse. The location is perfect. I think she'll like the view, don't you?"
Chuck didn't say anything. Instead, he asked, "Did they call you about our box at MSG for the Rangers next year?"
"It's all taken care of. We've got a ten-year lease on it. Box for the Yankees is a different story, but then, neither of us are huge baseball fans."
"I've started going to Knicks games sometimes with Nathaniel and Blair. Nathaniel's into basketball, and Blair likes to people watch. We should think about season tickets. Courtside, not a box."
"I'll ask Eugenia or Antonio to get on it right away... so, Columbia at four, right?"
"Commencement starts at four. I'd arrive early to avoid traffic."
"I've got a meeting with the legal team at two. Tried to cancel, but it's about the other project in Vegas, and they fly out this evening. I'll take the helicopter."
"Dad, don't rush," said Chuck. Only a tiny flicker in his eyes showed his nervousness. "Blair will understand if you're late."
Bart nodded once, in recognition. "I called you because something arrived this morning for you." He reached for a large envelope, resting on the velvet of his blotter. "I took the liberty of opening it, but I trust that you'll forgive me."
Chuck took the envelope and pulled out the letter inside. The first thing he noticed was the seal.
"Dad, this is from Yale."
"Dear Mr. Charles Bartholomew Bass. We are happy..." he glanced up at his father, frowning, "to offer you admission to Yale University, and are delighted to welcome you as a member of the class of 2017." His frown deepened. "Dad, what is this?"
"Admission to Yale."
"Strange. I don't recall applying."
"I called the president. Although your St. Jude's record was abysmal... Charles, really, a 2.8?"
"I'm surprised my GPA was that high, actually," Chuck observed.
"Your SAT was nearly perfect."
"It wasn't mine. I paid someone to take it for me."
"Not the time you took it during that prep course I forced you into the summer before your junior year. All of those practice tests were real. You scored a 2380 on one of those tests, Charles."
"Didn't know, didn't care... I hated every single second of school after eighth grade. I never wanted to attend college."
"It's not about what you want, son. I thought you understood that, especially after all this time."
"I ran Bass Industries for three years and handed it back to you better than before."
"You haven't exactly handed it back. We're running it together."
"All the same. You didn't attend college."
"Both Donald and Warren did."
Chuck had known the Trumps and the Buffetts all his life, and suddenly knew what this was about.
"Dad, my life can't be a do-over of yours. Not only did you not attend college, you're kicking Donald's ass in real estate these days. He's busy doing reality TV and campaigning, currying favor with the proles, while we're expanding our empire to every continent..."
"Your generation is different."
"It is not. Mark Zuckerberg is only a few years older than I am. He made his billion after he dropped out of Harvard."
Bart turned his chair to look out of the window.
"Your mother always wanted me to finish. When she was pregnant with you, she urged me to go back, to enroll at Wharton, at least take a few classes. She knew we'd be having this conversation someday."
He trailed off and turned back around to face Chuck.
"You do realize that your mother was a Princeton alumna, don't you? Your wife, my daughter-in-law, will be a graduate of Columbia in a few hours' time, and in a few years, her resume will be burnished with a Yale Law degree."
"No one is more proud of Blair than me," Chuck answered easily. "I'm proud of what Mom was able to do, too. But as everyone in the world has told me all my life, I am my father's son. Do you really want me to waste four years in college?"
"Six," said Bart slowly. "Four at Yale, then I want you to get your MBA from Wharton."
"Son, there's a reason why there are only a handful of old money families not only in the United States, but around the world. I've been studying this ever since I made my first hundred million, Chuck." Bart only used his son's nickname when he wanted to drive a point home. "Most families lose their wealth within three or four generations. The founder of a dynasty builds an empire. His heir maintains it. And then, his heirs squander it. The fourth and fifth generations are often worse off than the founder's parents."
"That won't happen to us."
"It won't. But part of that is building a legacy. Look at Nathaniel... not because I'm throwing him up as some shining example, the boy has always been a bit vapid... but even while defying William and the Captain, he always knew that he had to get a college degree from an Ivy League institution. He was never into school, but he's walking across that stage today. Your own wife comes from an established family, and Harold and Eleanor set aside the funds for her education the minute she was born. I remember when your mother and I first met them that Christmas, Eleanor was telling us about the hundred grand they set aside for their new baby girl's college fund. Evelyn and I were grateful, because we'd just found out about you."
In spite of himself, Chuck smirked. "I'm amused that my dear old mother-in-law has been trying to civilize me ever since the womb."
"Son, I'd advise you to never allow Eleanor Waldorf Rose to hear you calling her old. Or her daughter, for that matter."
"Of course not. I value my life."
Bart refused to change the subject. "Charles, being the head of this family is more than just about making money. You and I have both proven that we can make more money than we'll ever know what to do with. It's also about making a name in society, in philanthropy, and eventually making history. You know, I grew up reading biographies of Andrew Carnegie. He came from nothing, and now his name is inscribed on some of the most prestigious institutions and buildings in this country. I want that for the Bass family, and I know that you do, too."
"Dad..." He trailed off. Blair would be furious if she knew what he was going to say. But he knew Bart, had been observing him all his life, knew his father wouldn't say anything to get him in trouble with his wife.
And he'd tell her all about this conversation as soon as he got home. Other than their games and surprises, Chuck and Blair had no secrets in their marriage. Not after the hell they'd been through.
"What is it? Don't tell me that you're not going. It's non-negotiable."
Instead of arguing (and Chuck knew Bart was prepared for it, for his blue eyes had gone from warm to cold), Chuck sighed.
"Dad, maybe I'll consider this, but not now. Neither Blair nor I are leaving New York this year. She's going to defer."
"Because Blair's pregnant."
And the fear in Bart's eyes mirrored that in his own.
~to be continued~
A/N: Thanks a million to my incomparable betas, DrGG and K. Pink peonies and B's favorite macarons to all my Chair lovelies at the TV Fanatic forums, and all Chair shippers everywhere (SC&B, on Tumblr, the Gossip Girlsss, and the thousands who Tweet faithfully every week). You are the inspiration for this story.
This fic pays homage to a few of my favorite Chair authors and stories. Chair's elopement was inspired by DrGG's post-4x09 fic "We Can Build Our Futures Together." Eric being closest to Chuck and Blair, choosing to stay with them over Lily or Serena, was inspired by Bob5's Fraternite. BI's executive secretary was inspired (and named after) Eugenia in kaela097's stories. There are so many others; I'll be bookmarking my favorites soon.
Hydrangeas and cabbage roses to all the GG fans who are still sticking with this show, no matter what (or if) you ship. And laurels and roses to the actors who are doing their best to entertain us, no matter what.