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 8 - Forever

May 19, 2013. Friday after graduation, Chuck's 22nd birthday. New York City.

Serena

"Maybe I should go to the pharmacy again," said Dan. "There's probably another brand out there we haven't tried."

Serena sighed, plopping down next to him on the sofa in the loft, feeling extremely tired although it was eight o' clock in the morning. "Dan, it's no use. That was the fifth and final test, and we bought one of each kind, remember? I've taken one every day. I'm not pregnant."

Dan, for his part, stared straight ahead. He didn't seem to be registering what she was saying to him. Serena understood what he was feeling. They'd come home that Sunday night, breathless but shy with each other, so careful with their words and actions, not voicing their hopes or fears.

She'd gone to the bathroom to take that first test, expecting to see a plus sign...

But the test was negative. It took three days and three more tests for Serena to accept the fact that she wasn't pregnant after all. She'd even gone to the doctor just to get checked out... perhaps the home pregnancy test kit wasn't picking up on it. But the doctors' tests were negative too...

"That doesn't mean you're not pregnant," Dr. Strauss had told her. "However, given what you've told me about your work schedule and sleeping and eating habits lately, you may just be very late. It's not uncommon for a woman to skip a month during times of extreme stress. So I'd like to wait a few weeks before we resume the Depo-Provera. Until then, I recommend that you use your backup method of contraception."

Serena didn't need any backup contraception. She was keeping her promise not to sleep with Dan Humphrey any more. They'd spent the week writing the pilot script for their proposed television show, and writing the business plan for a small company of their own. Dan had found the perfect name for it... October Eighth Productions, he'd said, looking meaningfully at her.

Yet Serena still slept in what had been Rufus Humphrey's old room, locking her door every night after slipping away from him before whatever movie they were watching ended. Serena knew the comfort of that sofa, the warmth of Dan's arms...

...but ever since graduation, couldn't stop thinking about the fact that he'd held Blair just like he held her.

Some small part of her, a part she didn't want to admit existed after Dan humiliated her yet again with his roses and nonsense for Blair, really wanted to be pregnant. Sure, the timing was awful. She and Dan were friends with benefits. They weren't fixed, and they hadn't talked about anything. But a child would have connected her and Dan for eternity, even if... even if they weren't meant to be. Serena had already seen her in her mind and heart a cute little blond boy with piercing, intelligent dark eyes, and an adorable raven-haired beauty with her own starry blue eyes staring out of a face that was a perfect blend of hers and her first love's.

And... even though she was furious with Blair...

...that would have been something they could have shared together for the rest of their lives. Pregnancy. Becoming mothers. Childbirth. Raising their kids together, celebrating all their milestones with joy. College, marriages, grandchildren. Holidays and vacations and good times. It would have been just like Nate said. Their kids could've all grown up together just like their parents did.

But now everything was a huge mess. She wasn't pregnant. Dan didn't love her, and she wasn't sure if they'd ever be the same. Neither would she and Blair...

"We'll try again."

Serena looked back at Dan. He'd stopped staring into space, and instead was holding her with his eyes almost as if he were afraid to blink, lest she disappear.

"What?" Serena said, not understanding.

"It's not the end of the world. We're young. Time is on our side. And someday, whenever you're ready, we can try again. Whether that's a week, a year, or ten years from now, we'll be okay."

"Dan," she said sadly, "maybe we're trying to rekindle a dead fire that burned out a long time ago. Things happen for a reason. Maybe this is for the best."

"Yeah? Then why do you look exactly the way I feel?"

Serena's eyes began to fill. Dashing away tears, she whispered, "And how's that?"

He closed the distance between them. Took her into his arms whether she wanted him to or not.

"Devastated."

And they mourned the loss of what could have been together.

Blair

The technician's pager beeped just as Blair laid back on the examining table for her ultrasound. The other woman frowned, then sighed.

"I'm sorry, but it's your doctor, Mrs. Bass. I have to take this. I'll be back in two minutes."

"That's fine, Renee," said Blair. "As long as we're done by ten-thirty so we can get to the oncology unit." Bart was going to have his procedure done then, and they wanted to be at his side.

"Of course." The technician and her pink-and-purple scrubs disappeared out the door.

Chuck, who'd had one hand resting on Blair's thigh while he used the other to scroll through BI email, glanced at her. She was lounging awkwardly in her hospital gown, trying not to panic.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"I don't know. It's just... did you notice how weird Dr. Greene acted today? And now he's calling the tech. What if something's going on with the baby?"

"Nothing is wrong with our baby, Blair. Don't overthink it."

She squeezed his hand. "I know, it's just that sometimes I can't help but worry about everything. This news about Bart was so unexpected. I just don't think I can take any more bad news right now."

"And there will be no bad news," Chuck said, caressing her hand with the ball of his thumb. "Our baby will be fine, and my father's going to come through this with flying colors."

Blair didn't voice all of her fears. Instead she mustered up her brightest smile for Chuck. She knew he had to stay on top of BI business, even if it was his birthday, and there was a lot going on with his wife and father. She was afraid he'd guess her thoughts, but she winked at him, he'd smirked at her, and continued to read email, still holding her hand.

In spite of herself, Blair's tumultuous thoughts rose to the forefront of her consciousness. What if they couldn't find a liver transplant for Bart? What if her eating disorder and Audrey's stillbirth had repercussions for the baby she was carrying?

Ever since graduation, Blair felt... strange. She knew that some of it was grief and sadness over the serious nature of her father-in-law's illness. She'd almost lost Chuck the first time his father "died," and feared having to pick up those pieces again.

She also was really tired and really hungry. Blair had been researching things frantically all week (but only when Chuck was away from home), and wondered if she had gestational diabetes. But when they were in Dr. Greene's office, she couldn't bring herself to say it out loud, especially when the doc kept listening to her heartbeat, and the baby's, over and over again for nearly ten minutes. Chuck had looked up from his email around minute four of this, and by seven, she could tell he was worried, so she didn't say anything. He was dealing with so much as it was.

Blair knew that she was the glue that held the tenuous bond of the Bass family together. She needed to be strong for her husband and father-in-law, and the last thing she needed was for there to be any complications with her pregnancy. It would have been too much for any of them to take.

So when Renee reappeared with Dr. Greene following her in, Blair's heart leaped to her throat. She felt as if she was leaving her body, becoming numb...

"Mr. and Mrs. Bass, I'd like to check something that I'm starting to suspect. I could run some tests, but at this point, I can confirm via ultrasound. May I?"

Blair looked at Chuck, who'd dropped his phone, and was now pale as a ghost. His grip on her hand was almost punishing before he had to let her go when she shifted positions on the examining lounge. She flashed him a reassuring look, but she knew he could tell it was forced.

So she quit the act, and blurted out, "Dr. Greene, is there something wrong?"

"Not necessarily wrong, but there is something that I suspect. I can't believe I missed it before, but you weren't quite so far along. This is your first visit of the second trimester, yes? Fourteen or fifteen weeks?"

"Yes," Blair said matter-of-factly. "So what do you want to do?"

"I'd like to conduct your ultrasound. May I?"

"By all means," she said.

The older doctor quickly donned gloves and picked up the transducer probe. Blair now knew, from other examinations and her first pregnancy, that the gel would be warmed up, not cold, but it surprised her every time.

She looked over at Chuck as he stood up next to the bed. His smile didn't quite reach his eyes.

Soon, four pairs of eyes were looking at the images on the screen. Renee turned up the volume...

"Do you see it, Renee?" said the doctor. Renee nodded with a smile, but Chuck and Blair were most entranced by the sounds coming from the speaker.

"Sounds fast for a heartbeat," said Chuck. "Is that normal?"

Dr. Greene broke into a half smile. "Perfectly normal for this kind of pregnancy. See, there's the first head..." he pointed at the spot, and they could see it.

"Oh my God! Chuck..." Blair's dark eyes shone up at her husband, who dropped a kiss on top of her head. "That's so... amazing!"

"You're amazing," he assured her, kissing her lips quickly. "What a birthday present."

But Dr. Greene had another surprise in store for the couple.

"I have even more amazing news than that for you, Mr. and Mrs. Bass. If you look closely, just there, although they're trying to hide from us... there's another little head behind the first one."

Blair's eyes and mouth went completely round.

"Oh, my GOD! Our baby has two heads?"

Renee and Dr. Greene couldn't help it. They both laughed.

Neither Chuck nor Blair were amused. Blair's eyes filled with tears, and Chuck looked furious.

"I don't see what's so funny," snapped Chuck. "Care to let us in on your little joke?"

"Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Bass," said Dr. Greene, "you're having twins!"

Chuck and Blair didn't react at first. They just froze.

Chuck, not being the one on the table wearing thin, sterile linen, recovered his powers of speech first.

"Run that by us again?"

"Your wife is pregnant with twins, Mr. Bass. I suspected during her last visit, but when she told me about the extreme fatigue and I heard their heartbeats, I knew the ultrasound would confirm it. And it has!"

Chuck's eyes said it all as he drank in the sight of Blair, who was still in shock. "It's only nine-thirty and this is already the best birthday of my life."

At his words, Blair's features softened into a little smile, which he leaned over to kiss. "I love you too."

Dr. Greene was elated. "Perhaps we can muster up another present for you, Mr. Bass... do you want to know if you're having boys, girls, or one of each?"

Blair was shaking her head slowly. "I thought we couldn't know that until weeks eighteen through twenty-six?" she chirped, sounding like the pregnancy books and websites they'd been poring over for months.

"The technology is improving, and you're further along than I initially suspected. So if you'd like to know, we can tell you now. The first baby's genitals are quite clear, and I think Renee can help me take a look at the other if we move our instrument to the other side here."

Blair was still wary. She glanced at Chuck, then back at her doctor.

"Seriously. They really have two separate bodies? Two separate heads, four different arms, four unique legs... not all joined together?"

"If you want to know if they're conjoined, Mrs. Bass, the answer is no. Their heart rates are normal and everything looks fine. Here, I'll show you what you're looking at..."

As the doctor explained, Blair breathed an audible sigh of relief. Chuck's smirk turned into a genuine grin as he looked at her, trying not to laugh at her antics. Blair felt bathed and surrounded by her husband's genuine love for her. She was overwhelmed by the knowledge that she was carrying not only one of her beloved's offspring, but two. According to Dr. Greene, she had two healthy, wonderful babies growing within her, perfectly normal for their stage of development.

Mom's going to faint when we tell her, Blair thought with satisfaction. I'll have to prepare myself for her remarks about my figure. But my dads will be excited and so will Nate and Ser...

Oh, well. I'm going to have my S back soon enough. Chuck's given me a great idea, he's my perfect scheming partner always. And I can't wait to see the look on Bart's face when he hears that I'm not just giving the Basses a single heir, but the start of our Bassian army.

"Congratulations, Mrs. Bass, Mr. Bass," chortled Renee. "I know this must be big news for you..."

"It's wonderful news," Chuck corrected him. "We couldn't be more pleased by it."

"Great! So Mama and Papa, are you ready to hear whether you're having boys, girls, or one of each?"

"Bring it on," Blair said euphorically.

Less than an hour later, a fully dressed, fully clothed Blair walked into Bart's hospital room beaming, followed closely by Chuck, who looked as if he'd swallowed a star. In spite of himself, the famous businessman's stony expression cracked into something approaching pleasant.

"Happy birthday, son."

Chuck grinned. "You know, I can't remember the last time you said that to me. Thanks."

"Well, last year this time, so much was going on that I didn't get the chance. And before that..." He paused, looking over at Blair as he turned away from the past to consider the future. "What did the doctor say?"

"Bart," she said, sitting in the chair next to her father-in-law's bed. "Chuck and I have some good news."

He raised an eyebrow.

"We're having twins!" she said, pulling out one of the sonogram photos for Bart to see. "One of the babies is a boy for sure! They could tell right away! Usually at this stage, their little wee-wee isn't as prominent..."

"Obviously he takes after his father," said Chuck smugly.

Blair shot him a look as Bart raised his free hand slowly to take the photo from her. "And they're pretty certain that the other baby's a girl although she was being prim and proper today..."

"Sounds just like her mother," her husband drawled, "that is, before she danced for me that night at Victrola..."

His wife glared at him, then turned to see her father-in-law was now subdued.

"Bart, what's wrong?"

Bart's reaction wasn't exactly what they expected.

"What's wrong? Blair, twenty-two years ago today my wife died trying to have one baby. My mother also died in childbirth. And now, you're telling me you're going to have two?"

Chuck, standing next to Blair with a hand on her shoulder, visibly swallowed the lump in his throat. Blair wished that she could hold him tightly, comfort him in the way that only she could. Yet she knew that her presence was enough.

She took the sonogram photo away from Bart and handed it back to Chuck. (Knowing her husband, he'd have copies made for his desk, her dresser, and the new locket before the end of the day.)

"Dad, things are different these days," Chuck said, reverting for a moment into the young boy who desperately wanted his father's approval. "Modern medicine has taken away a lot of the risk. You said yourself that you couldn't remember the last time anyone in the family had a daughter. Dr. Greene says..."

"Forget what Dr. Greene says. There's no way you're going to be able to give birth normally, Blair. This changes everything. You'll have to have a C-section, which..."

"...is something that I'm not going to discuss right now with my father-in-law!" said Blair, not wishing to rehearse old demons just an hour after she'd received the news of a lifetime. "Bart, there's no need for you to become an expert in obstetrics or gynecology. I'm going to deliver a healthy baby boy and girl in November, just in time for you to get your clean bill of health. Now, no more of this."

Blair knew that Bart was going to say something else, but there was a limit to how ferocious he would be while clad in a hospital gown, an IV stuck into his hand. Especially since he was tremendously fond of his daughter-in-law... and Blair knew it. (If there was one thing that Blair Waldorf Bass was extremely good at, it was getting her way when it came to boys and men. Even Bart Bass, so formidable in the business world, was no match for a girl who had three fathers, all of whom adored her... not to mention the Gordian knots she'd twisted his only son into when they were only sixteen.)

"We're here for you, Dad," Chuck said. "We'll be here until the procedure starts, then we'll wait. We'll be here when you wake up."

Bart looked at his son, then his daughter-in-law expressionlessly. Then his eyes traveled to the ceiling, and closed.

"I don't know what I'll do when you two move to New Haven," said Bart. "Chuck, have you put any more thought into the fact that I am asking you to accept your admission?"

"Yes, actually," Chuck drawled slowly, "I have. Blair and I have been discussing it all week. And... we agree that I should go to college."

Bart's eyes opened, wide with surprise.

"Well, that was easy." His eyes darted over to Blair. "I'm curious about what you promised him, unless it's something a father shouldn't know."

Blair, in spite of herself, laughed. "That sounds like something Jack would have said, Bart. You Bass men are more alike than you'd like to admit!"

"Anyway," said Chuck, cutting his eyes dangerously at Blair. He still had issues over her past dealings with Jack, even though they'd all been on good terms during the last year of Jack's life. "I'm going to college, Dad, but not in New Haven."

"Ah, so you'll commute from New Brunswick. Or have you called Wharton after all?"

Blair shook her head. "No. We're both going back to Columbia."

The business magnate frowned. "Columbia? Why there? I thought Yale was your family's school, Blair. Your father, grandfather, and great-grandfather went there."

"Yes, they did," said Blair. "Waldorfs, each and every one of them. Waldorfs and Vanderbilts go to Yale, just like Archibalds go to Dartmouth, and Kennedys go to Harvard. But it has yet to be determined where Basses go... and as Chuck and I were talking, we decided that perhaps we should be the ones who get to decide that."

Chuck glanced at her gratefully. "Dad, you talked a lot about the legacy you wanted for our family. I think that our university should be Columbia, not Yale. You've made sizable donations to the school, and so have I. Blair's now a member of their alumni. The Bass family is based in New York. You and Mom grew up in the outer boroughs, and the two of us grew up in Manhattan. There's only one Ivy League school in this city, and it's one that our family already has ties with. I even looked into taking classes there."

"But your admission is for Yale," Bart pointed out. "Not Columbia."

"Yes, and we brought the letter along when we had dinner with Dean Reuther on Wednesday," Blair told him. "I think we just may have talked her into admitting Chuck into their sophomore class this fall..."

"...No easy feat," Chuck said. His eyes and Blair's met as they remembered the events from a few years ago, the takedown of Juliet Sharpe, and the steamy night they spent together afterward.

That night, she'd felt like his bride in every way, although she had to wait nearly two more years before she was his truly. Sometimes, Blair wished that things had been different, and that she and Chuck had gotten it right earlier. That line of thought invariably ended when Blair would realize that she wouldn't change a thing... because somehow, everything she and Chuck had endured before their forever brought them to the happiness they lived every day.

Bart still wasn't satisfied. "What about law school, Blair? Chuck has been saying all year that Yale was your dream."

"Yes, Yale was my dream, Bart. But Chuck is my dream come true. Columbia was your son's gift to me when we weren't even together... I don't think you know this, but when I was miserable at NYU, Chuck loved me enough to send in an application on my behalf. He gave me a school that was truly perfect for me, and that really did everything to ensure that I graduated on time. I loved my classes, and I wished that I'd begun there. But I would've never had the courage to apply for a transfer after everything that happened my senior year.

"When we had dinner with her earlier this week, Dean Reuther put me in touch with the dean of the law school. He isn't guaranteeing a spot next fall, but with my grades, LSATs, and shall we say, my unique biography, he did a lot of winking and nodding that I could hear even over the phone. We've invited him over for dinner next week."

"Sounds promising," Bart deliberated thoughtfully. "Perhaps one of their lecture halls hasn't been renovated in a few years? I'm sure Bass Industries would be interested in such a project."

Chuck was studying his father's face. "So you think it's a good idea?"

"A very good idea, Chuck," said Bart, turning it over in his quick mind. "One of the best you've had lately. So you'll both go to Columbia, you for business and Blair for law, and in another eighteen years, little Charles Jr. and Charlotte will walk around a Columbia campus filled with the Bass name... lecture halls, labs, an amphitheatre..."

"Oh, no," Blair said. "We are not naming the babies after Chuck. Or me, for that matter. That's so tacky and petit-bourgeoisie. Our children need to have their own names."

"I was thinking about naming the boy Cary," Chuck explained. "Cary Bartholomew, after me and you. But Blair says it's a girl's name."

"I get why you like it, Chuck," Blair said. "You've always had such an affinity for the leading men of the silver screen. And I like the idea of Cary. Our first daughter w-was... you know we used Audrey for her name. But I don't want him teased. You just don't understand how ignorant of classic Hollywood film the average American is..."

"Basses aren't average," asserted Bart, closing his eyes again. "We're extraordinary."

Jenny

It so happened that Jenny Humphrey didn't exactly leave for London on time. After she arrived home in Hudson after the boat ride, she stayed. It was almost as if she needed a pause, an interlude after everything that had happened during her brother's graduation weekend.

To people in Manhattan, Hudson might as well be on another planet. But Jenny had grown to love the small riverside village, especially the artsy gayborhood that her mother's home studio was located in. During the year she'd lived here and gone to the local high school, Jenny learned the names and faces of their neighbors, gone often to the shops to get this or that, walked alongside the river or sat and sketched in the waterfront park.

The day was particularly fine, so Alison had suggested a picnic. Jenny, who'd been holed up in her room working on Blair's clambake dress (or would be when, not if, Blair selected it), wasn't particular about going at first.

"Jenny, you've been hunched over that machine all week," her mother sighed. "I know all about what it's like for a project to consume you. But you're looking pale. Come on, I've got all these great strawberries from the co-op garden, some fresh cream, and I've made some sandwiches."

"No waffles?" Jenny teased, slowing down the rate of her stitching, but not stopping.

"Ha, very funny. You know that's your father and brother who believe in eating breakfast griddle fare and chili for every meal. Up here, we don't have to pretend that everything needs to be drowned in maple syrup."

Jenny grinned. "That's men for you. They expect you to cater to their every whim..."

"Men," said Alison slowly. "So is that why you decided not to go back to London, even after I begged you before Dan's graduation to stay for a while?"

That made Jenny stop sewing. Suddenly, what she'd been trying to ignore all week had popped back up right before her eyes, at the forefront of her consciousness.

"Oh, Mom. I screwed up. Again."

"What?" said Alison, confused. Then a look of horror crossed her face. "It's not..."

"Oh my God, no," said Jenny. "Not at all. You know, Chuck and I finally had a conversation about what happened all those years ago. And we came to the conclusion that getting drunk and high and feeling sorry for ourselves one sad night doesn't mean that we should be awkward forever."

"All the same, Jenny..."

"Mom, Chuck was a different person as a teenager. He's grown and changed. So have I. He's part of Lily's family, and Lily's my stepmother. He's always been in love with Blair, and now, they're married and starting a family. So I think we've agreed to be civil. All of us."

"Thank God," said Alison. "You're still so young. I worry about you."

"Mom," snapped Jenny, feeling very insulted. "I'm in my twenties now."

"You're twenty," said Alison. "And you weren't making great choices back when you were living with your father, although I do blame Rufus for much of what happened. We should have never encouraged you to go to school on the Upper East Side with your brother. So much of that was your father's idea... and now that he's back with Lily, sometimes I wonder about his motives there." Jenny saw her mother shake that train of thought off; Alison wasn't big on revenge and resentment. "I'm just glad that we can close that chapter of your life."

Jenny thought about closing the Upper East Side chapter of her life. She remembered the social hierarchy, how exciting it was to be chosen, how exhilarating it was to be on top, how crushing each and every one of her falls were. She remembered going toe to toe with Manhattan's reigning society princess, being pawed and smarmed over by one of the richest teens in the world, and eventually falling for a golden boy who someday might give JFK Jr. a run for his money (but hopefully with a much longer lifespan!). She remembered working her fingers to the bone, first for Eleanor, then for her own line...

But that was all so long ago.

That's when the events of the weekend flashed through her mind. Breakfast with Dan. Running into Nate with Vanessa. Sitting at Dan's graduation, critiquing the fashion on display at Yankee Stadium. Racing over to Columbia's graduation with Dan and Serena, then her encounter with Jenny. Riding in the Bass chopper and bantering with Bart Bass of all people. Running into Nate and Serena before dinner, and their random "blond power" bonding moment. Then there was dinner, and all the fireworks with Vanessa... the Black Keys and Adele concert... and catching up with Eric.

The rest of the night. Nate's challenge, promise, and dare all rolled into one: "Come find me." Sleeping, then Dan waking her up to help with Serena. Watching over the sleeping Nate, dreaming up the dress she'd been obsessively working on all week. Playing "quote the sea movie" with him, then... talking... and making out. Her heated confession... and then...

And then...

Well, Jenny refused to think about it. Nate let her get into that town car at the docks, and she hadn't heard a peep from him all week, not even a text message. Which is exactly the way she wanted it, she told herself a hundred times each day...

Jenny Humphrey, you're a liar. Keep deluding yourself.

Shut up.

"Yeah, I know what you mean," said Jenny, hoping that she sounded bored enough with the topic. Maybe then her mother would leave her alone.

No such luck. Alison was more astute than that.

"But there's something keeping you here, isn't there? Or... someone?"

Jenny shrugged. "Mom, don't be ridiculous. I told you I'm staying for a while because Blair's invited me to her clambake. If this dress is a hit, it could open many doors for me."

"What if she doesn't choose it?" said Alison. Dan and Jenny's mother had heard stories about Blair Waldorf over the years, most of them not good. Blair and Dan never got to the "meet the parents" stage, so Alison never had reason to be around the society girl. Jenny knew that Alison was wary of Blair at best.

"If she doesn't like it, then I'll alter it and wear it myself. At any rate, someone's going to photograph it, and I'll be able to use that for my portfolio."

Alison nodded. "Smart girl. Well, I'm going downstairs to finish our picnic basket. See you in ten?"

"Half hour?"

"Fifteen minutes..."

"Twenty."

"Don't push your luck."

Jenny met her grin. She and Alison had their issues over the years, but she was definitely her mother's daughter. Jenny only wished that Dan and Alison had a closer relationship, but that was really Dan's choice. Jenny could relate; she and her dad Rufus had certainly bumped heads over the years.

Jenny went back to what she was doing, letting the hum of the machine comfort her as the silver thread disappeared and reappeared in the delicate fabric. So much of life didn't really make sense to her, but textiles? They just did. She'd given up her sewing during junior year when she was being Lily Bass Humphrey's stepdaughter; she swore she'd never do so again.

No matter how jumbled up her thoughts were.

She had no idea how much time had passed when she heard her mother's voice.

"Hey, Jen? I'm headed out to the store to grab some celery for the tuna salad... you have a visitor. Shall I send 'em up?"

"Sure," said Jenny, thinking it was one of the girls from the local high school. She'd seen a few of them over the week she'd been in town. Jenny had been well liked, seen as sophisticated and otherworldly by the upstate New York girls, and now that she lived in London, they all wanted to chat about the latest styles.

But the person who appeared in the open doorway of her bedroom wasn't a girl from Hudson. Far from it.

When Jenny looked up into Nate Archibald's blue eyes, she nearly sewed her finger... something she hadn't done since she was eleven. As it was, she'd ruined the pattern and would have to pick out the thread later.

Not that she was complaining, of course. Or thinking about the existence of the dress at all.

"Hey," he said quietly. "Your mom said it was okay for me to come up."

"It is," said Jenny. (Why is your voice shaking, Jennifer? Woman up.) "Sit down."

Well, she didn't think that one through. Since she currently occupied the one chair in her room, the only place for Nate to sit was on her bed. And he chose to sit on the side that was nearest her desk, so close that they were less than a foot apart.

Nicely played, Archibald, Jenny thought as his newly familiar, tantalizing scent invaded all of her senses.

Don't you dare turn around! You cannot encourage him, girl. Be strong... you really don't want to ride that rollercoaster again...

Oh, hon. The wrong thing to do is to remind me about that particular ride.

Anyway. Here goes nothing...

"Nate, I..."

"What are you working on?" said Nate, peering over her shoulder at the garment.

"It's a... dress that Blair wants to look at," Jenny whispered, losing her voice the minute his hand curved around her upper arm. "I thought I'd stay here and finish it."

His lips were now millimeters away from her ear. "When I heard you hadn't gone to London, I thought you would be in the city. With your dad, or with Dan."

"I... needed to spend some time with my mother." She turned her head, out of curiosity to see how close he was... and they bumped noses. Wow. That close.

"I missed you this week."

"What, don't rich people have cell phone service anymore? You couldn't text me? What happened to your fingers?"

Why did you say that, Jenny? Oh, no...

"What happened to my fingers?" repeated Nate, using them to trace a line down the side of her face, then her neck, "Well, my fingers decided to give you a break when I heard you weren't going to London after all. My fingers thought they'd wait until the clambake to try again, after Blair told me you'd be there. But Jenny..."

Oh, holy shit! she thought as his fingers reached her collarbone.

"...my fingers couldn't wait that long. And neither could the rest of me."

And his fingers... his hand... curved around her breast, cupped it through the t-shirt she was wearing, at the same time that his lips pressed into her temple.

Jenny wanted to point out that the door was open, her mother would be home soon, that it was crazy for him to feel her up in one of her childhood bedrooms. She opened her mouth to tell him one of these things, but the only sound that escaped was a strangled cry.

"Nate," she breathed, "I can't do this. I won't."

In response, he drew her out of the chair, pulled her to sit on his lap.

"Yes, you can. And you will. If you didn't want me, Jenny, you would've gone back to London and not come back until the clambake. Tell me you didn't come here just so that I could chase you..."

She blinked. "I wouldn't do that!"

Another lie, Jenny. Keep going, you're really in fine form this afternoon.

"Yes, you would. Especially if you didn't believe that I really liked you."

"Nate, you can't tell me you've been alone all week," snapped Jenny. "You're the Blair Waldorf of society boys... you don't know how not to be in a relationship. Did Vanessa come back? Did you fly Lola into town? Or what about that old British lady who Dan told me was pretending to be Chuck's mom? Or..."

"Or none of them. Just me... thinking about you... and remembering you and me, together, on my boat." He swept her hair away from her ear, and pressed a kiss behind it. "It's all I've thought about since I got back, Jen. I've never felt like this before."

Jenny shifted on his lap, feeling uncomfortable and self-conscious. "Nate, you don't have to lie to make me feel better..."

"I wouldn't come all the way up to Hudson to lie to you," he said frankly. "There are too many girls on the Upper East Side for me to do that. But I don't want any of them... I want you. I want to see where this goes."

"No," said Jenny firmly. "It can't go anywhere."

"Why not?"

"Because you're fucking Nate Archibald, that's why not," snapped Jenny impatiently. "What, am I supposed to date you, then when things get serious, get shot down by your mother and grandfather because my blood isn't blue enough? Are you going to introduce me when you dine at the palace with the Queen? Leave me to chit-chat with Duchess Kate while you, Will, and Harry go hunting?"

"So you have thought about us being together," Nate observed. "My grandfather didn't have a problem with Vanessa when we were dating. I don't think he'd mind me dating Lily Bass' stepdaughter."

"But your mother would," Jenny pointed out.

Nate let out a deep breath. "Yeah, but my mother has a problem with anybody I date who isn't Blair or another girl from old money. She can't stop me from caring about who I want to care about, Jenny. Not after everything that happened to my father."

"Nate, it's not the life I want to live," she said. "Not even for a little while. I mean, someday... one day, I think you're going to go into politics..."

His blue eyes flashed. "No, I won't! My grandfather wants me to, but I don't..."

"You don't know what you want out of life yet, Nate," Jenny told him. In spite of herself, her own fingers traveled up to his lips to trace them. "You're the proverbial prince who's skeptical about the inheritance... remember Ever After?"

"Nah! I didn't see that girly movie."

Jenny looked up at him through half-hooded eyes. "Please, I know Blair or Serena dragged you guys to it when you were little. It's the one with Drew Barrymore."

"So maybe I did see it. Yeah, and?"

"You're just like Henry was in that story. And it's just like Drew's character said. 'A bird may love a fish, but where would they live?' You're the bird, Nate. I'm the fish. You need to find another bird..."

"Wait," he stopped her. "Didn't they get together, and live happily 'ever after'?"

"Yeah, but that's not the point."

"That's exactly the point, Jenny."

He held her closer, so that her head rested on his chest. Closing her eyes, she could hear the beating of his heart (kinda fast, isn't it?).

"Nate," she murmured, "life is not a fairy tale. Maybe it is when you're William Vanderbilt's grandson, but not when you're Jenny Humphrey. I've worked for everything I've gotten... I wouldn't even know how to be what you need."

"You don't need to know anything for that," said Nate. "You are what I need, Jenny."

"It's just sex, Nate," she replied. "Good sex that will burn out in a matter of a few more tumbles..."

"So now you're this sexpert all of a sudden," Nate laughed. "Trust me, Jen, we have a lot more ground to cover before we even finish your first class."

And beneath her hips, she could feel him start to get very, very aroused.

"We're two different people!"

"Who are actually kinda good for each other. You're sexy and funny and fearless... a little wild and crazy... and smart about people. That's who you are to me, Jenny. And I want you."

"What about me?" she breathed, as he lowered her to her bedspread, then went to close her door. (Goosebumps stood up on her arms when she heard the lock click.) "Who are you to me, Nate Archibald, besides a whole lot of trouble?"

He walked slowly over to the bed, lazily pulling off his t-shirt as he went. Dear sweet... for the love of all that's... oh, my... She couldn't even put together her thoughts anymore!

"I'm your dream come true," he rasped, covering her without warning, making short work of her t-shirt, fumbling at the button of her jeans. "I'm the fairy tale."

Oh, fuck it. You've lost this one, Jenny Humphrey.

Maybe not...

"Okay," she murmured, threading her fingers through his hair as his mouth found her collarbone. "On one condition. Two, actually."

He raised his head. "What's that?"

"We're friends with benefits, nothing more. You need to spend at least six months without a girlfriend, if not longer, before I could believe you're ready to be serious about... about you and me."

Nate frowned. "But I don't want you seeing anyone else."

"Well, 'friends with benefits' means we're not exclusive," she said. (Although good Lord, did she ever plan to be exclusive with him. And how... starting in the few minutes they had before her mother got back from the store.) "Exclusivity is for people in relationships, and we're not going to be in a relationship, Nate."

His face told her that he completely disagreed with her words, and planned to convince her otherwise. "What else?"

"I don't want to be in that Empire penthouse," she said. "The last time I was there I came looking for you, and you know what happened. And you're not spending the night with me here, or at Lily's, or with my stupid brother. So you'd better find a good location for our... our thing... and not just your boat."

She could tell that his mind was racing, even as he started playing with her breasts through the thin lace of her bra. Good, Jenny's mind thought as her body responded to his touch. As many differences as she and Blair had over the years, she knew that they were united in their loathing for that place.

"Sounds like we have a deal," Nate said, working on the clasp of her bra.

"Yeah," sighed Jenny with pleasure as she felt the air hit her bared breasts and ruched nipples as he discarded the offending undergarment. "Oh, and Nate? Nate?"

For he seemed suddenly mesmerized by the sight of her. "Huh?" he mumbled, tearing his gaze back to her eyes.

"You'd better not fall in love with me," she warned him smilelessly. "Because I'm never going to fall for you again. My body and my head are in two different places right now. We'll see where this goes, and when it ends, we'll still be friends."

"Whatever you say, Cinderella," he groaned, plunging back to the task at hand.

And, for the next while, Jenny Humphrey found Nate Archibald quite charming indeed.

Eric

Like many New Yorkers, Eric van der Woodsen always felt as if nothing cleared his head like a good walk. That Friday, he found his mother and stepfather's cheerful company cloying. Dan was holed up in the Brooklyn loft (making up for lost time with Serena, probably), and Jenny was still in Hudson (hiding from whatever obviously happened between her and Nate, he supposed). So instead of eating another forkful of Rufus' waffles, he begged off, saying that he was going to stroll through the park to clear his head.

This late in the morning, there were fewer walkers and runners (although there were still some). Instead, nannies pushed prams, and mothers strolled together as their preschool aged children ran ahead.

Central Park was in full spring bloom, but Eric was oblivious to its beauty. He hadn't heard from Alec all week. When they'd arrived back at Chuck and Blair's later that evening, Dorota informed them that "Mister Chuck and Mrs. Blair" had gone to bed early. When Alec requested the use of another guest room (much to Eric's surprise), she informed them that "Mister Bass" was also staying over.

"If you need anything, Mister Eric, please let Ricardo know," said Dorota, picking up her handbag. "I will see you in the morning."

As soon as the elevator doors closed, Eric turned to face a stonefaced Alec, whose arms were crossed.

"I am not sleeping with you tonight, Eric."

"Well, I don't want to sleep with you, either," he snapped back, growing very angry. "But I'm not going to wake up my brother's butler and make the man turn down another bed..."

"Then I'll sleep right here!" Alec exclaimed, storming over to the living room sofa and plunging down onto it.

When he awoke the morning after the boat ride, Alec was gone. He wanted to mention it to the family, but Bart, Chuck, and Blair were subdued at breakfast. This was usual for Eric's former stepfather, but Chuck usually wasn't so reticent around him, and Blair was never, ever quiet. But that day, Chuck pored over the Wall Street Journal as if it were the most interesting read in the world, Bart read through a stack of reports as he picked through his fruit, and Blair seemed to be concentrating on her berries and oatmeal. None of them seemed to register the fact that Alec was missing without explanation.

"Alright, who died?" said Eric, trying to break the mood. But apparently, that was the wrong thing to say.

"Eric," Blair chided him. "I'd appreciate it if you'd refrain from being crude at my table."

"I wasn't," he said. "I was just..."

"Making a pathetic attempt at a joke? Don't quit your day job," Chuck snarled. "Wait, that's right, you don't have one."

Eric looked from his brother to his sister-in-law. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen them so... well, like the way they used to be.

"God, I'm sorry," Eric muttered.

Bart's cobalt blue eyes bored into him. "Don't you have somewhere you should be right now?" he asked.

"Um, yeah... I guess I do. If you'll excuse me..."

No one said anything as he left. Eric took that as his cue to grab his suitcase and make his way back to his mother's house.

When the engraved invitation arrived a few days after from Blair to join her in wishing Chuck a happy twenty-second birthday, Eric nearly threw it into the fireplace. Chuck and Blair had really been there for him over the years. Chuck had been one of the first people in the world he'd come out to, and he'd always seen Blair as another big sister before she became a part of their family through marriage. But he really could've used a friend to talk to during the biggest fight that he and his boyfriend had ever had.

He did reach Jenny once, on Wednesday in Hudson.

"Hi Eric," she said. Eric felt so relieved to hear his stepsister's voice on the phone. "How are things going?"

"Terrible," he blurted. "Alec and I had a huge fight."

"That sucks. Well, maybe it's better that it happened now, E. You don't want to get sucked in too deep by some pretty boy who makes love to you, fills your head with lies, and then leaves you alone."

Eric frowned. "Um, are we still talking about me? Or you?"

"Hey, Eric? Someone's calling me. Gotta go. Bye."

"Jenny, wait..."

His response from her was a click, and then a dial tone.

Eric had even ventured out to Brooklyn the day before to have dinner and watch Il Mare with Dan and Serena. Dan at least wasn't an asshole or indifferent when he called. He chatted with Eric about the progress he and Serena were making, then noted the movies that neither had seen yet.

After a bellyful of Humphrey chili (which Eric had to admit was pretty good), he settled down with the pair to watch the Korean version of The Lake House, which he'd seen the year before his suicide attempt. (At the time, he had a crush on Keanu Reeves that he was terrified to discuss with anyone. Gorgeous guy, but no acting skills.)

Towards the emotional end of the movie, when the lovers finally were together on the screen, Serena emitted a choked cry. Dan froze and Eric's eyes darted over to his sister. She stared back at them both, her blue eyes awash with tears, but bravely holding them in.

Then the dam broke. Serena ran to the bathroom and slammed the door. Eric could hear her loud sobs on the other side.

Dan looked miserable, but at a loss about what to do. Eric thought he'd try lightening the mood...

"Darn those pregnancy hormones, huh?"

That's when Dan shot Eric the meanest glare he'd ever seen from a Humphrey.

"You know, Eric, why don't you go home? Movie's over." From his tone, Eric knew that it wasn't a suggestion. He complied, but Dan clearly didn't spare him another thought, as he turned the knob of the bathroom door, and disappeared.

So by Friday morning, Eric felt completely out of sorts. He was definitely hoping that the fresh air would make him feel better.

"Well, well. Who do we have here?"

This is what I get for not looking where I'm going, Eric thought as he looked up into a familiar, smirking face.

"Carter Baizen. I should ask you the same thing," said Eric. "I thought the Basses banned you from Manhattan."

"Come now, Eric. Island's big enough for all of us to play."

"Yeah, but rumor had it that you were last seen 'playing' on an oil rig. How'd that work out for you?"

Carter shrugged. "I did my time, paid the debt for my crime... at least in the eyes of the Buckleys. Now I'm back, and wondering if your sister is still as beautiful as she was four years ago."

"What's it to you?"

"Oh, I think Serena will be interested in my answer to that question," he said. "Where's she living these days?"

"In Brooklyn," said Eric, then went to twist the knife. "With her boyfriend, whose baby she's having."

"Baby, huh?" Carter didn't seem phased at all. "Which one's the dad? That pathetic Archibald who's been pining after her since birth, or that poor guy from Brooklyn who's also her stepbrother?"

"Stepbro... I mean, poor guy from Brooklyn." Eric tried to gloss over Dan and Serena's sticky relationship status. "I'll have you know that she's completely happy with him, so going to see her would be a waste of your time..."

"Nice try, van der Woodsen," snarked Carter. "Next time, don't try so hard. Tell your sister I'll be seeing her beautiful face soon."

He sauntered off, and Eric watched him go.

"Baizen, never a pleasure," he murmured under his breath, problems with Alec temporarily forgotten. When Carter was in town, Serena always went a little crazy. (Wait, Serena was always a little crazy.)

Time to alert the troops.

Chuck

The cigar lounge on the Upper West Side wasn't one of Chuck Bass' usual haunts. Then again, neither was it a place one often found European royalty. It wasn't exactly outer borough in its ambiance, but the neat Scotch he'd ordered was more midmarket than Glenfidditch, and the cigar more North Carolina than Havana.

All the same, it was neutral ground, and for this particular meeting, it would do.

"Charles," said Louis in his garbled accent. "I expected to see Blair."

"Now, why would I bring my pregnant wife to a den filled with tobacco smoke?" he drawled. "I think you've seen enough of Blair. Your dealings, as well as your mother's, will be with me and only me from this point forward."

"The letter was very clear," Louis snapped. "My mother wanted to meet directly with my ex-wife."

"Oh, I read what Sophie wrote," Chuck said smoothly. "Which is why I had Eugenia call you and set up this meeting."

"And exactly what is the purpose of this meeting?"

"Patience, Grimaldi."

Chuck dragged on his cigar a bit. He hadn't indulged in tobacco this cheap since he was a teen. The taste wasn't the best, but the mellow feeling that it produced mingled with the whiskey was nice. He hadn't been drinking or smoking at all lately, and wouldn't after this necessary inconvenience, but he'd take it for all it was worth.

Meanwhile, Louis' lit cigar smoldered in the ashtray and his drink remained untouched. Chuck noted the differences between the two of them. Louis was only a few years older than him, but when it came to waiting, he was like a small child. He remembered what Bart had told him long ago about royalty overseas and old money over here in the United States. They're so used to everyone falling down backwards over their asses that they'll always show their hand. Every time. All you have to do is wait.

Finally, Louis could take no more.

"Charles, if you do not return Blair's dowry immediately, we will shut down your Monte Carlo hotel."

Chuck didn't say anything. Instead, he dragged on the cigar again, and stared at the young prince.

"Go on. What other demands do you... I mean, your mother have for us?"

Louis sat up a bit straighter, and tried to look very severe. Chuck had to stop himself from laughing.

"Blair will issue a public apology to the kingdom for the embarrassment that her rash actions caused. In turn, we will bestow upon her one of our titles used for divorcees, and she will be restored to our peerage, although at a lesser rank."

"Oh? This is getting very interesting. Do continue."

"Finally, Blair will grant me an annulment in the Catholic Church, so that I may remarry and continue my family's line in spite of her."

"Finally. So those are your three demands... correction, those are Sophie's three demands, I take it?"

"They are... er, they are demands from both of us."

Chuck had been reclining easily in the leather chair across a low, black marble table from Louis. Now he straightened up, leaned forward, set down his tumbler, and snuffed out the end of his cigar. He didn't even look at Louis until he was completely done.

Once he was, he regarded Louis. The look on Chuck's face petrified the prince.

"Well, Louis, here is my response. As you were so kind to itemize your demands for me, I will do the same for you. First, it will be a cold day in hell before you get a single dime from the Bass fortune, from Waldorf Designs, or from the Waldorf-Rose family. Second, if you continue to harass my employees in Monte Carlo or elsewhere, your lackeys will find it extremely difficult to continue in their current capacity. It will be very hazardous to their financial well-being and career prospects wherever they find themselves on the globe.

"Number three: if you, your mother, or anyone associated with the House of Grimaldi dares to contact my wife, any member of our family, or even breathe the same air as Blair does, ever again, I will destroy you. By the time I am done, Monaco will be a republic, you will be waiting tables at a bistro, and your precious mother will be a fucking streetwalker. And when I own Monte Carlo, I will sell all of your precious royal treasures for scrap, and will auction the rest off for a single dollar.

"Be sure to tell your mother that from me, Grimaldi. Also tell her that her attempt to lard her coffers with the fortune of an American heiress in exchange for a kingdom a fraction of the size of the one that Blair is already queen of... has failed."

Chuck said all this in his typical nonchalant tone, without any emotion, anger, or upset. But Louis was sputtering and redfaced when he was done.

"I loved 'er!"

"No, you did not. Maybe you were infatuated with her, I'll give you that much. The only one who you fucking love is that mother of yours. Good luck getting an heir for your 'kingdom' out of her."

Chuck stood up, throwing a stack of bills on the table.

"Grimaldi, this drink's on me. I hear you're having a cash flow problem. Hope it continues. In fact, I think I'll make it my personal business to make sure that it does."

And without sparing the European prince another glance, Chuck sauntered out of the lounge.

Dan

At the first ring of the phone, Dan opened his eyes. When the first thing he saw was Serena's golden hair and bare, tanned shoulders, he was confused about whether he was still dreaming or awake. Serena hadn't touched him since the morning of his graduation...

...until that afternoon. After sharing their grief and sadness over there not being a baby, they'd kissed, which led to more kissing, then one thing led to another, and...

They'd ended up back here, in bed together. Making love until they were exhausted, then napping in each other's arms. Memories flooding his mind, Dan's lips pressed against Serena's hairline. She beamed in her sleep, but slept on...

...as the phone was still ringing. Dan snatched it up. His eyes widened at the name that flashed there. Disentangling himself from Serena, he picked it up, mumbled "one sec," slid back into his boxers, and padded out into the living room.

"Blair," he said, keeping his voice down. "You're the last person I expected to hear from."

"Yes, well, obviously today is a great day for you, Humphrey. I'm calling because I need a favor."

Dan's eyes narrowed. "I thought you and I weren't in the business of doing each other favors any more."

"We aren't. I wouldn't call unless this weren't an emergency. I need Serena."

"What? I thought you two weren't speaking to each other."

"We aren't, genius. She isn't returning any of my calls, which is why I had to resort to contacting you."

She didn't need to be so nasty about it, Dan thought. Blair acted as if they were never friends, let alone anything more. For the first time in many years, he felt completely annoyed by her, and not in a good way at all.

"Um, does Chuck know you're calling me?"

"Excuse me? What are you trying to say?"

"I'm not trying to say anything, Blair. It was less than a week ago when your husband gave me a black eye."

"Well, turnabout's fair play. You've certainly thrown quite a few punches his way over the years," Blair said matter-of-factly.

"Which he deserved." Dan couldn't believe that he'd ever fallen for Blair Waldorf. What a piece of work she was, he thought.

"Oh, as if you didn't deserve yours, Dan. You've ruined things between Serena and me, so now you're going to help me fix them. And I'll have you know that Chuck is the one who suggested that I call you. He isn't the jealous type, unlike some people I know. There's nothing more unattractive than an insecure man..."

"Okay," Dan cut her off. "I mean, you actually do want my help, don't you?"

"I do. So here's what you do, Humphrey: make sure you get Serena to Lily's by 7 pm today. That won't be too hard for you, will it?"

"Why?"

"Oh, I have something for her that will solve all of our problems. Then... I guess you can stay with her for Chuck's birthday party, since you'll already be there."

Dan rolled his eyes. "Gee, thanks. My life is now complete."

"Of course, if you ruin my husband's night, I will make that complete life of yours a living hell. Let bygones be bygones, Dan. We're done with college, and childhood, and all that. It's time for new beginnings."

"Look, Blair," said Dan impatiently, "I haven't had a single thought about you since you showed me your true colors. And before that, I only wanted closure. You and I were done before we even began... in fact, we should have never begun."

"Well, that's one thing we can agree on, Humphrey. And I've always been me... my 'true colors' are all the things about me you chose to ignore... things my Chuck loves about me... just as much as I love him..."

"Okay," groaned Dan, deciding that he was going to erase Blair out of his contacts after this. "I'll get Serena to her mother's in two hours, and you can take it from there. Bye."

"Why are we going to my mother's?"

Serena had just come out of his bedroom. As was her habit, she'd wrapped his sheet around her lithe, curvy body. Her sleepy smile let him know that she'd only heard the last part of his phone conversation.

Dan grinned at her. "Lily wants your opinion about a new color scheme for the living room, and says the decorator can only meet right at 7. Some famous lady..."

"Oh, did she finally get on Simone de la Cortes' calendar?" she exclaimed, closing the distance between the two of them. "Of course I'll go... but only if you come with me."

Dan wrapped his arms around her as their lips met. He'd fill Lily in on the plan later.

"There's no place I'd rather be. I need a shower... or do you want to go first?"

"I have a better idea. Why take turns?"

And the sheet dropped as she grabbed his hand, pulling him toward the bathroom.

Vanessa

"So what's the scoop?" said Vanessa, sliding into the seat opposite her former classmate.

Georgina Sparks' enormous eyes narrowed conspiratorially. "Blair's hosting a birthday party for Chuck. I can't believe how soft she's made him. The Chuck Bass I knew didn't do birthdays."

"Right. But there's no way we can get in."

"When there's a will, there's a way," Georgina said patiently. Vanessa could read the look of barely veiled contempt for her on the wealthy, slightly unbalanced woman's face: Abrams, you're such an amateur. Well, there was a lot on Vanessa's mind, especially that week. Georgina could either help her on her mission, or she could go kick rocks.

"Great. By the way, thanks for getting me out of that jam in upstate New York."

"Yeah, I must say that I was shocked to get that direct message on Twitter." She snorted. "I thought everyone from your little group had me blocked."

I did, until I convinced that bumbling upstate guard to let me use his phone for my one call, and I unblocked you. "I'm good for the bail, too. Once again, I really appreciate it."

"No big. We all have our days. Just know that you owe me, k?"

Vanessa didn't want to think about the kind of favor Georgina would ask in return. "Fine, whatever I can do."

Georgina eyed her. Then she dropped her gaze significantly.

"Oh, hon, I think you've already done everything that needs to be done. The only thing I wish is that I could take down that smug, awful Blair somehow... but she's got Chuck locked down. No chance at getting near him again..." She trailed off, and her face looked as if she were truly regretting letting a certain Bass off her hook back in middle school. "Anyway, I'll have to settle for her getting smacked by the fallout from the bomb you're going to drop tonight... do you know just how huge this is, Abrams?"

"Yeah, literally and figuratively," said Vanessa quietly. She'd been trying to put it out of her mind, but her mind and her body weren't cooperating.

"Don't look so glum, my friend," Georgina chirped. "Your life is now made. How better to get your revenge on the Basses than from being on the inside?"

Shrug. "I'm not on the inside, remember? I never was, and I never wanted to be."

Georgina appraised the girl from Brooklyn once more. A slow, wicked smirk spread over her features.

"Until now. Oh, what a difference a week makes! Let's make sure that Bass birthday party is one they'll never forget."

Blair

Maternity clothing wasn't something that Blair thought she'd ever get used to... even if the designer was Marchesa. Still, she thought the empire waist dress in deep purple was exquisite, and noted with pleasure how well it matched the bowtie she'd wrapped around her husband's neck a few hours earlier, right before he went to deal with Louis Grimaldi.

"I still want to have words with Sophie Grimaldi myself," she'd told him, adjusting the bow between her fingertips. "Seriously, Chuck, I could strangle her... and throttle Louis for being such a pathetic wimp."

"Sheathe your claws, kitten," he'd cajoled, pressing his hot mouth to her always eager one. "In time, all of our enemies will be beneath my queen's dainty feet, to deal with at her leisure."

"Of course they will, just look at the king who rules by my side," she managed to whisper before he lengthened their kiss. "Chuck... you don't want to leave my wormy ex waiting too long, now do you?"

"Actually, that's exactly what I want to do. He can begin his squirming before I arrive. I guarantee you that I will ensure it continues for quite some time to come. I always like to toy with my prey before I... Blair?" He cocked an eyebrow at her blissful, dreamy stare.

"Hm? Oh, I'm sorry, love, you lost me when you said 'come.'"

He'd chuckled, and his lips found his favorite spot on her neck.

"Insatiable little minx," Chuck whispered, trailing a damnably attractive hand up her thigh. "Don't worry, after this evening's festivities, I will regale you with all the details of Louis' takedown, and then you will indeed get lost as we give new meaning to the word 'come.'"

"Promise?" she teased.

Oh, how she loved her man.

Now she was looking critically at her reflection in the full-length mirrors of the van der Woodsen-Humphrey guest suite. She was glad to have her Chuck and Lily on her side, and Dan had been cooperative, too. All that mattered was that she and Serena would soon be friends again, ready to embark on this motherhood journey together.

(Of course, she did feel a little sorry for Serena. After all, her children would be Basses, and would have Chuck as their Dad. Poor S was carrying a Humphrey. Even during the worst of her time in Brooklyn, when she thought she and Chuck would never be together again, she never would have mingled her precious genes with DUMBO.)

Her phone rang, and she chatted with the caterer about last-minute details for the intimate strolling dinner that evening. All too soon, she heard Lily's voice, "Hi Serena... no, the decorator was delayed, but there are swatches in the guest room... here, Dan, won't you help your dad with the drinks?"

Blair steeled herself. She would never, ever admit it, but she hated it when she and Serena fought. Serena was more than a sister to her. She was a part of her, as much as Chuck was even before they fell in love, as much as Nate was. They were meant to go through their entire lives, being together, helping one another... the Upper East Side's answer to the Fantastic Four. It was best when they were all on good terms.

Serena came to the doorway and froze. Her eyes narrowed dangerously.

"Hey, Mom, I don't think purple's in this season. In fact, I think it's tacky."

"Serena," said Blair, very slowly. "Please talk to me."

"Why should I? It's clear to me that we're not friends, Blair. Maybe we never were."

In spite of herself, Blair's eyes filled with tears. (Damn pregnancy hormones.) "Don't say things you don't mean."

"You can't, Blair! You just can't jerk me around and expect it to be OK..."

"I know, it's not OK. What I did, what I said, none of it is OK. I... I should have been more patient with you. I know everything's so complicated with you and Dan, and I... I shouldn't have let things go as far as they did."

"You've already apologized," snapped Serena.

"I have. I told you I was sorry a year ago. But I never told you that I was wrong. And I was, Serena. I was such a bitch about Louis, then about Dan. You've always been there for me, and you supported me and Chuck being together when few people did. And I repaid that by getting in between you and your true love.

"I know nothing I do or say can make up for what Dan and I did to you," here Blair's tears spilled over, although she refused to cry (her eyes were just watering, she told herself, fucking hormones), "but all I can say is this. Serena, I love you. I love you. And I'm so happy that you and I are both having our babies at the same time. I think it's a sign... so I bought you something... I hope you don't think it's silly, but I..."

She pointed to the king-sized bed. On it were three exquisite white baskets, filled with personalized things for a baby's first days: receiving blankets, undershirts, booties, and cloth diapers. All monogrammed, two of the sets with B's, the others with H's.

"S, Chuck and I are having twins. I wanted... I wanted you to be the first to know, after Bart. Not even Mother or Daddy or my stepdads or Lily know it yet. And your baby and mine are going to be together, from now on... we're having a little boy and a little girl... can you imagine how much fun we're going to have? And no matter what, Chuck and I are going to support whatever choice you make about... S, what's wrong?"

For she'd never seen the look on Serena's face. Serena had gone from enraged to softening at Blair's apology, to...

"Oh, B," Serena said, very sadly. "I'm not pregnant."

"Not pregnant? But I thought..."

And the cry that came from Serena's throat cut her to the heart. Blair acted instantly. Okay, babies, we're gonna have to comfort Auntie S, she's really upset right now. Drawing Serena to the bed, she hugged her tightly as her best friend sobbed.

"I... I know the timing's so bad for me... and everything with Dan is so complicated... and we're all so young... but after I pretended it wasn't true, I wanted it so badly... I wanted to have his child..."

Blair kissed the top of Serena's golden head. "And you will someday, S. Maybe next year, maybe years from now... but you will."

Sob. "I-I wanted... everything that you said, B. I wanted to be a new mommy with you." She wiped her face, laughing dryly. "You're so bossy, I know you'd fuss at me about the vitamins and birthing classes..."

"I'd do more than fuss," Blair assured her. "I was going to draw up a daily schedule for you... and your iPhone was going to be programmed with alerts. Still will, whenever your time comes. This is my first niece or nephew, I'm not leaving him or her to the whims of a van der Woodsen!"

They both laughed.

"I love you, B. And I'm sorry about the stuff I said. I wouldn't trade you for the world. Even when you were at your selfish worst, you still tried to be there for me. And whenever I spiraled out of control, even the very last time, you always came to find me."

She tried to squeeze, but Blair patted her arm. "Careful, there! One of us is still pregnant. So... are things better with you and Dan?"

"Yeah," Serena said, a little shyly. "I think we're going to try to work on us while we work on sharing this project. I... I mean, I know what we have is different from you and Chuck, you're perfect for each other, but..."

"I have no idea why people always want to compare me and Chuck with the rest of you mere mortals," blinked Blair. "What Chuck and I have works for us. Our love suits us because we're us. That's why he didn't work with Eva or Raina, and I didn't work with Louis, Dan, Nate, or anyone else. And there was a time, not long ago, when everyone who's admiring our marriage and saying how perfect we are were thinking that we were totally crazy and that we needed to get as far from each other as possible! Right?"

Serena wiped her eyes and nodded. "Right."

"You and Dan are... you and Dan, I guess." Blair let out a deep, exasperated breath. "You always were. I'm starting to think that whenever someone comes back to the same person, time and again, either they need to cut them out of their life completely... or they need to realize that maybe there's a reason they can't shake them. Some people are just made and meant for us, Serena. Chuck's the one for me... and maybe what's happening is that you're starting to see that Dan is the one for you. If so, I hope he sees that too... even if you deserve much better."

"I know, but that goes doubly for me. After all, you actually married that horrible brother of mine," Serena laughed, then hugged her again, her slender, long-fingered hand resting on Blair's midsection. "Oh, my God, B, you really do have your baby bump now! I can't believe you and Chuck are having twins! Watch out, world! Here come the terrible two! The Upper East Side will never be the same again!"

"Don't you say that about my kids!" Blair laughed, then sobered. "Maybe it's a good thing that we're not pregnant at the same time. Do you know how enormous women carrying twins can get? I'm going to need all the help I can get."

"Blair, my brother's a billionaire. Hire a nanny. Or two. Or a dozen."

"I will not! I wasn't when I only thought I was having one, and I'm not going to do it now. Chuck and I can handle it."

"Whatever," said Serena, and Blair knew that her best friend was on Team Chuck when it came to Bass childcare. (Fine! She would take them both on. She'd done it plenty of times before.) "So tell me all about what the doctor said..."

Nate

"I forgot how much I hate playing Monopoly with Chuck," Nate complained, taking a swig of his beer, an arm around Jenny's shoulders.

The strolling dinner for Chuck's birthday had been a resounding success, as were all of Blair's events. The exclusive guest list was limited to only twenty-two people, which included a few top people at Bass Industries (who Chuck told Nate had been crowing for weeks after being tapped by Blair), a few of the young celebrities that socialized with their crowd, and their closest friends and family. Blair had asked that people not send any gifts, but of course, some didn't comply. The side table was crowded with cards and wrapped boxes, including a gilded envelope from an old friend of Chuck's, Prince Harry, with a centuries-old bottle of the finest Scotch.

Hours later, most of the guests had left except for the inner crowd, who were playing the game of Bassopoly that someone had sent as a gift. Soon, Chuck had multiple hotels up on the most expensive parts of the board, and was busily collecting rent from the rest of them. This was nothing new; Chuck was always the best of the Non-Judging Breakfast Club at most games, including cards, chess, or board games. (Chuck explained the reason to Nate years ago: "Most people don't pay attention. With the father I had, I had to pay attention to everything. I had to always think several moves ahead.")

"Yeah, this isn't fun anymore," said Eric, tossing the dice. "We roll, and then we give Chuck our fake cash. I'd rather play charades than this, and I hate charades."

"Oh, stop whining, people," said Blair, leaning against her husband. "Chuck bankrupted me first, and you don't see me complaining."

"Which is a totally new development," laughed Nate. "I don't think I'll ever forget you screaming about how much Chuck cheated while we were growing up, Blair."

"Speaking of new developments..." Blair purred, eyes darting from Nate to Jenny significantly.

"Come on, Blair," Serena snapped smilelessly, "that isn't exactly new."

"Yeah, at this point, I think we've exhausted every possible dating option among this group, considering the fact that some of us are blood relatives, and all of us are straight," observed Dan from the open kitchen, grabbing a few beer bottles after Chuck cleaned him out as well. "Someday, the musical chairs have got to stop."

"Well, some of us have already bowed out of that particular game, Humphrey," said Chuck, accepting $250 in cash from Eric, who'd landed on a square where he had five houses. "Allow me to recommend the pleasures of marriage... although, there's only one Blair. I feel sorry for the rest of you gentlemen. After all, I do always win the prize."

"Aren't you the lucky one, Bass," Blair beamed, kissing him.

"Man, not everyone wants to get married at twenty-one," Nate snorted. "Some of us are still sowing our wild oats..."

"Oh, so is that what you're doing with my sister?"

Dan had brought over beers for himself, Serena, Nate, and Jenny. He hovered above where Nate sat cross-legged on the rug, a challenging, questioning look in his eyes.

"Never a dull moment," Chuck said to Blair, rolling the dice.

"I know, that's the reason why I keep them around," Blair replied, clearly enjoying the show.

Jenny was glaring at her brother.

"Look, let me make something clear. I get that when I was last in this room, I was a fucking crazy sixteen year old. That was then, this is now. I'm just as much of an adult as anyone else here. Therefore, it's none of your business what I do with Nate Archibald, Krusty the Clown, Santa Claus, or anyone else. And that goes doubly for you, Dan Humphrey, who's seen three of the women in this room in their..."

"Okay, who wants cake and ice cream?" Serena interrupted, jumping to her feet. "Jenny, come help me with the bowls, please... thanks!"

"But we're still playing the game!" protested Eric.

"Whatever," his older sister replied. "Chuck won."

"Of course I win. I remain undefeated," said Chuck, collecting all the money in triumph while Blair folded the board, practically glowing with pride.

(It was moments like those that Nate wondered how he ever thought that he and Blair worked as a couple, even if they were just kids back in those days. Just then, Chuck and Blair were in full Pinky and the Brain mode... Nate half expected them to rub their hands together and emit an evil laugh. Muwhahahahaha! And the devils were now spawning...)

Nate shook his head, accepting a conciliatory cold beer from Dan. The two men strolled over to the window.

"Seriously, man. What's going on with you and Jen?" Dan asked.

"I mean..." Nate said slowly, "...I think I'm falling for her. What can I say? She wants to keep things casual, but..."

"You don't."

Nate stared out at the cityscape. "No. I don't."

"Well, I can't think of a better guy for my baby sister, now that she's actually old enough to date you. And you know that if you hurt her, Dad and I..."

"I won't hurt her," Nate said quietly. "I've dated a lot of girls over the years. Jenny's special."

"Yeah, so is Serena. I think we might be okay, finally."

Nate looked at him. "Do I even need to say it?"

"No, I think I've got it. Take care of my ex and childhood friend, if not, death and destruction will rain down upon my head."

"You've got it." Nate took a swig of his beer. "Just seems right, you know? Everything's falling into place."

Ever afterward, Nate believed that his words conjured up the ding of the elevator. Nate and Dan turned around to see who was there...

"Georgina?" said Chuck.

"Vanessa?" said Dan.

"Carter?" said Serena.

"Well, if it isn't a trifecta of 'you weren't invited,'" said Blair, eyes narrowed. "This is why I hesitated before having the party here... someone, hand me my phone so I can have them thrown out."

"Not so fast, Mrs. Bass," Carter drawled, strolling into the room as Nate, Dan, and Chuck moved forward. "I was on my way to see if Serena remembered what she promised me before she left, when I ran into these two ladies. They were on their way to the Post, but out of the goodness of my heart..."

"What heart?" snapped Nate.

Carter's lips curled up into a snarl at his former protégé. "...I convinced them to come here first. Perhaps when you hear what they have to say, you'll change your tune."

"I don't want to hear anything you have to say, Vanessa," Nate told her, coming to stand next to Jenny, taking her hand in his. "It's over. Especially if you're running around with the likes of Georgina Sparks..."

"The likes of her? Nate, your friends tortured me all day, had me arrested, and you didn't spare me a second thought before you started sleeping with Jenny Humphrey. You are the very worst kind of manwhore, because even a slutty girl has more integrity than you do..."

"Now, wait a minute, Vanessa!" shouted Jenny. "You don't get to come in here and start shouting accusations!"

"Actually, she does," said Georgina, looking very much like the cat who swallowed the canary. "Oh, this is going to be good."

Serena impatiently regarded her former friend. "Alright, fine, Georgina, say whatever melodramatic thing you're going to say, and then all of you can just leave. That goes doubly for you, Carter. Eric called and told me you were in town already, so save it. It's been a long time, and I haven't heard a word from you. As you can see, I've moved on."

Carter's eyes darkened at the sight of her. The smirk faded from his face.

"Aw, beautiful, I came back to New York just to see you. I don't believe for a second you didn't miss me."

"I guarantee my fist won't miss your face," said Dan, taking a step forward.

"Humphrey, stop," Chuck interrupted. "That piece of scum isn't worth it. By the way, Baizen, I meant it when I said the travel agency was closed. The next time I toss you out of Manhattan, it won't be on a plush airliner."

"So what's so important, Vanessa Abrams?" asked Blair. "What, did you dig up some dirt on one of us? Are you and Georgina going to sell your story to the highest bidder? Be my guest, you'll need the cash when we take your asses to court..."

"I'm pregnant."

It took a moment for what Vanessa said to register. When it did, the tense atmosphere in the room instantly upgraded from outraged to oh, shit!

There was complete silence. Painful, utter silence.

Then everyone talked at once.

"Oh, my effing God!" gasped Blair.

"Nate, I didn't want you to find out like this," implored Vanessa.

"You did it on purpose!" raged Jenny.

"Wow, was not expecting that," intoned Dan.

"What, you don't know how birth control works?" snarked Serena.

"Oh, this is priceless," gloated Georgina.

"Best birthday ever, eh, Bass?" smarmed Carter.

"Fuck you, Baizen," snapped Chuck.

Then all eyes fell on Nate, who suddenly felt as if the ground under his feet had turned to Jell-O.

"Whoa," he said, feeling as if his voice was far, far away from him. "So you're pregnant. And I'm the..."

"Yes, you're the father, you bastard," Vanessa said angrily. "There's been no one else."

Nate's head swam. From somewhere far away, although she was standing right next to him, he heard Jenny scream, "Nate, what's wrong?"

And then all went black. Blissfully, thankfully black.

Chuck

The sleek black limousine pulled up to the Bass building on Park Avenue just as Chuck finished his call. He was going to open the door, but Arthur was too quick, as usual.

"Mr. Bass, what time tomorrow morning?"

Chuck looked at the calendar on his phone, then shook his head.

"I'll call, Arthur. Text Eugenia and tell her to cancel my morning appointments. I'll follow up in the morning, then let you know when I need to get back to the hospital."

He strolled into his building (doorman: "Good evening, Mr. Bass"), walked into the lobby (attendant: "Good evening, Mr. Bass;" security guard: "Good evening, Mr. Bass."), and made it to the elevator. (Thank goodness there was a card system here instead of an attendant for most of the residences in the building; for theirs, he had a voice and handprint recognition system installed.)

The elevator soundlessly and smoothly glided to the top floor. As soon as the doors opened, there was Blair, clad in a white silk nightgown and robe, her long brown curls falling over one shoulder. Her phone was still in her hand.

"Thanks for keeping me company on the ride home," he said, taking off his suit jacket, then striding over to her.

"Of course. Thank God for modern technology, huh?" She patted the space next to her on the sofa. "We missed you. Come here."

Soon, he was reclining comfortably, tie off and collar loosened, Blair in his arms. As much as he enjoyed all parts of his life with her, one of his favorites was holding her. She is my peace, he thought.

"How's your dad?" Blair asked softly.

"Resting, but out of it... you know how good hospital pharmaceuticals are. I'll go back to see him when he wakes up in the morning."

"I'll go with you. Wish I could have been there tonight, but your kids wanted Mommy to nap." His hands caressed her baby bump, and her small hands rested on his. "Demanding little ones..."

"They're true Basses," said Chuck contentedly. "They have every right to be demanding. Just like their mother... nothing but the best."

"I suppose." She took his hand in hers to kiss. "And Nate?"

"He's fine, no concussion. The doctor gave him some Tylenol-3 and sent him home. I dropped him off at the Palace, along with Jenny Humphrey. Said he refused to go back to the Empire, it's cursed." They both chuckled knowingly. Many were the times that Blair made similar comments, but as long as it was profitable, Chuck was reluctant to let it go.

"Well, I had Georgina and Carter thrown out on their asses after you left," Blair told him. "I just had Vanessa escorted out, since she's knocked up with our best friend's kid."

"She may go to the media," he pointed out.

"Let her..."

"No, no. You don't understand. The last thing Nate's grandfather will want is a scandal. Now that Tripp's disgraced, Nate's the Vanderbilt heir, the grandson he's pinning all of his hopes on. William will do whatever it takes to appease Vanessa."

Blair clucked her tongue. "And here, love, I thought you knew women. Vanessa's angry and hurt. She wants revenge..."

"Yes, but she also still wants Nate. Now that there's a child coming... she's got him."

That caused Blair to crane her neck so that she could look at Chuck. A frown creased her brow.

"How on earth has she 'got him,' Chuck? Nate's dating Jenny now. That seemed clear to me. And he never seemed all that into Vanessa, if you ask me."

"It doesn't matter who he's dating," Chuck said slowly. "If Vanessa gives birth to that child, she'll be Mrs. Nate Archibald long before her delivery date."

"Chuck..."

"Blair. Come now, let's be honest here. Families like yours and Nate's don't do bastards. Families like mine might, at least before now, but not the Vanderbilts. There's far too much at stake."

Blair gasped. "Oh, my God. Poor Nate. And... poor Little J. That's terrible." Then she got a wicked look on her face. "Unless..."

"Unless?"

"Well, Chuck, there are marriages... and there are marriages. Just because he might have to marry Vanessa now doesn't mean that he and Jenny can't..."

"Stay out of it," he ordered. "I mean it, Blair. Nate may be our best friend, but I don't think he'd thank us for meddling and scheming this time. It's too serious."

"I know. I also know that he hasn't been like he is with Jenny with anyone since me and Serena... and we were kids back then. I have plans for that girl, Chuck, plans that include her being the Karl Lagerfeld of the Waldorf fashion house once Mom retires. And I don't need her depressed and sad over this situation!"

"Should've known your sudden concern over the well-being of Jenny Humphrey benefitted you somehow," he laughed. "That's my girl. But," he was serious again, "that's enough about that. I told Nate we'd have brunch with them tomorrow."

"Good. He needs all the support he can get." She sighed. "I'm so glad that I have my Serena back. I just hate that she's not pregnant. But she says she and Dan are back together again. He was great help getting S to Lily's, but he's such a Humphrey... Chuck, what was I thinking?"

"Just plead temporary insanity, Blair," said Chuck, not really wanting to revisit their turbulent past. Especially when their future was so bright. "Besides, now that Baizen's back, I think he's going to give Humphrey a run for his money."

"I thought you didn't like Carter or Dan," said Blair.

"Can't stand either of them. In fact, I think my sister is only attracted to men who piss me off..."

"There was Nate, though."

"Oh, I've given up on that," said Chuck. "Fucking Humphreys and Abramses and Carter Fucking Baizen, ruining our plans for Non-Judging Breakfast Club world domination."

Blair giggled. "Well, Chuck, tell me how you really feel."

"I hate that damn loser. And it's been five years, but I can still hear you saying 'having the time of my life'..."

"Still hot under the collar about it, are you?" Blair was amused.

Chuck wasn't. "About every man you've ever been with who wasn't me," he growled.

"Good. I was so mad at you back then, Chuck. I can't believe you fell for Jack's nonsense after the board gave you your first chance at Bass Industries, then went around calling a prostitute the most beautiful woman you'd ever laid eyes on. You deserved your punishment... I'm glad I got to torture you."

"Torture me?" His deep voice rumbled against his wife's ear, and he savored her shivers. "You've been doing that since we were in kindergarten. And as for having the time of your life, Carter Fucking Baizen has nothing on Chuck Bass. Now, wouldn't you agree?"

His hands trailed over her body, up and down, as he spoke. Then he cupped her breasts, feeling their weight in his hands, thumbing the pebble-hard nipples. As Blair's head fell back against his shoulder, revealing his favorite spots on her neck, his mouth connected with its prize. She moaned in response, filling the air with her cries.

"Chuck, the staff," she pleaded as he pulled one of the straps of her gown down, baring a breast for his hungry gaze. "We should go up to our room..."

"Why? This is our home." He planted wet, open-mouthed kisses on her neck, then her shoulder as one hand continued to play with her breasts, and the other trailed downward to lift up the hem of her gown. "Besides, you love it when others listen in... or watch..."

"We're going to be two people's... oh, God... parents soon," she gasped, for his fingers had discovered that instead of her usual designer underwear, she was completely bare for him beneath her gown. "N-Nate said..."

"Are you really," growled Chuck, plunging two fingers into her heat, curling upward to find her spot as his thumb got reacquainted with her clit, "bringing up Nate right now? Fuck him..."

"No! I want to fuck you!" she screamed, staff completely forgotten. (Anyone who worked in the Bass household had long since perfected the art of disappearing late at night and staying in the staff quarters below, because after dark they were likely to see the man of the house and his lady anywhere.)

"Mm," said Chuck, growing rock-hard beneath her hips as she writhed at every single touch of his hands. "But... in your words, vixen... 'can you say it twice?'"

Another moan escaped her lips, so loud it would have made a hooker blush. (But no hooker ever had such sinfully plump, sexy lips, Chuck reflected.) "Aaah, Chuck! I want you to fuck me!"

"Uh-uh, that's not what you said the first time," he teased, dipping down his head to swirl his tongue around her nipple. (He couldn't wait until her milk came in. It wasn't his kink, and with two babies, she'd have her work cut out for her, but he would taste her at least once.) "Besides... I am fucking you."

"Nooo," she whined. "Not... enough..."

At her words, Chuck removed his fingers from her aching walls. Blair cried out in frustration, squirming even more.

"Not... your best lap dance, kitten," he rasped, feeling as if his erection would burst out of his pants at any moment. He loved seducing her with his voice, but it was all he could do to stop from coming undone himself. "What do you mean, I'm not enough?"

"Ohhhhhh... you're more than... enough..." Deep breath. "But... I want... more..."

One of Chuck's favorite sights was that of Blair, completely at his mercy, in his arms. No one he'd been with before her even came close to what she looked like as she twisted against him, the hemline of her gown meeting the neckline of the garment, covering only her waist. Robe completely discarded and forgotten on the floor...

...along with the buttons of his shirt, which went flying seconds after she turned around on his lap to face him. All the better to shove it open, and run her hands down his chest to the waistband of his slacks.

"I liked that shirt," he smirked, thinking he'd buy the line out just so that his sexy little wife could tear them all from his body.

"I know," she breathed, hovering over him, letting her hair curtain them both. "I bought it for you. Just like... you say... the clothes you buy for me... are yours..." Between hot kisses, Blair's fingers curled around his belt buckle. "...and you can demand them off any time, your shirts... are mine, Bass."

His hands curled around her sides as she opened his pants, reaching for what she wanted most. "And what," he hissed as her pretty little hands encircled his cock, "of yours is truly mine, Mrs. Bass?"

Blair, in all her haze of desire, was triumphant. She was glowing with the new lives that she cradled within her, new lives that came from both her and Chuck. She managed to smirk with satisfaction as she sank down just as her lover rose his hips to meet her, sliding home.

"Everything," she breathed.

Once he was secured within her, she went completely still. So did he. Their gazes locked. It was a moment so tender, so intimate, that he could tell that it took her breath away.

Once she gained her bearings, she leaned down and murmured against his lips, "Love me, Chuck. Love me."

Love her? Looking up at his beautiful wife, the breath leaving his chest, Chuck savored the initial sensation of being deep inside her as much as he did their first time together. He'd adored Blair his entire life, maybe in all the timelessness before he drew his first breath, maybe as long as there had been a universe. They were made and meant for each other.

He'd known that he would only ever love Blair when he was just sixteen years old. That night at Victrola, then in the limo afterward, remained the single most terrifying and incredible experience of his life. Now that they were all grown up, their love for each other had grown into something endlessly, heartstoppingly beautiful, and now, life giving. She was right, she really was his everything. In the face of that, he could no longer be afraid of anything, not even losing her the same way they'd lost his mother. The twins wouldn't be their last children, but the eldest of the most unstoppable family that New York City had ever seen. They, and their amazing mother, would break the curse of the Basses once and for all.

And if he felt this way at twenty-two, if six years had shown him the depth of his love for her... how would he feel when they were thirty-two or forty-two? Eighty-two or ninety-two? When they took their last breaths in this life, and opened their eyes in the next?

Whether they were destined for Heaven, Hell, or Paradise, or somewhere in between, Chuck knew there was only one answer to his wife's plea. He began to move, savoring her sweet voice...

Love me?

"Always, baby," he whispered into her ear. "Always and forever."

~The End~

A/N: Wow. It's been a fantastic ride.

Pomp and Circumstance may be over, but I've enjoyed writing this story so much. I have promised myself and others that I won't write another novel-length tale. If people are interested in more short stories from this AU, please review and let me know what you thought of my take on the Gossip Girl characters and universe, and where you'd like me to go next.

I do have two one-shots planned, one from Chair's clambake in the Hamptons 3 weeks after P&C8, and another one set at the beautiful home in France that Chuck bought for Blair's graduation present... 15 years in the future. I thought I'd do the future one-shot first, simply because that way, all of the questions P&C left you with will be answered. I know all of the endgames, pairings, children, and eventual fates of the characters in this 'verse. After that, I'd go back and tell the stories in-between. (After writing this story, and reading lots of Maryl, Kaela097, Ellibells, and especially DaeDreemer's "Imaginary Friends," I'm inspired!)

There are so many people to thank; I'll begin with my betas, DrGG and K, who guided me through chapters 1 through 7, giving so much of their time to help me shape the story I wanted to tell. Although I decided to go "barefoot" this chapter, I appreciate them. Any mistakes are mine alone.

My Chairy godmother, the incredible Maryl, is not only an incredible writer, but has grown into an amazing fandom friend. Thank you, Maryl, for encouraging me to finish this story. I don't think I could've done it without you. Special thanks also to Elizabeth, Danielle, Shawn Marie, Megan, Sabi, Jackie, Mary Scarlett, and a whole host of Twitter friends who kept asking me about updates. It is because of you that I was motivated to complete this before the s6 premiere. (Happy birthday, Megan! This one's for you! )

I'd also like to thank the wonderful Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who did the impossible, and actually got me, the ultimate good girl/good boy shipper to become a rabid fan of the ultimate bad girl/bad boy ship! (Also love Josh and Steph because ahem... they ship Derena.) As we approach the last 10 episodes of the show, I am also so appreciative of the cast. They sold what could have been just another teen soap opera, capturing the interest and the imaginations of not only people in their teens and early twenties, but also those of us who are slightly more mature than that.

Chapter 7 reviewers at the time that I post this, you get the season 6 Canadian preview! "Do. That. Again!" to: ADDED, Curious Blonde, notoutforawalk, Guest, CameronM201, SaNaa.91, anonym, SnowedUnderNJ, ChrysX, msboskiera, Dede, Nana Altro, BiteMeBass, TriGemini, SailorPikaAngel, iheartnywriter, pty, maryl, Trosev, Elise, madetobemrsbass, justamodernrock, livelovelaugh9704, QueenMab, wrighthangal, cj, amymitchellxoxo, Guest, aliciasays, CBfanhere and 24hourscout. (BTW, congrats to bonafide11/Carlybb for over 100,000 hits on her vid! That was an AMAZING weekend to be a Chair fan!)

I still can't believe that so many of you have followed me on this wacky journey. Thank you for sharing these pages with me.

As I take my final bow for this story and the curtain closes two weeks before the last time Gossip Girl ever premieres (sniff!), I'd like to remind you, dear reader, of one thing: you know you love me!

XOXO, Dr. Holland