Title: You Can't Forget Your First
Category: Books » Gossip Girl
Author: amomentintime3
Language: English, Rating: Rated: M
Genre: Angst/Drama
Published: 06-25-08, Updated: 12-27-08
Chapters: 28, Words: 164,019


Chapter 1: Prologue


You Can't Forget Your First: No Matter How Hard You Try

Prologue

This isn't a story about love. Love is an unknown concept for someone like me. I might have loved once; but, to be honest, I'm not sure. What I am sure of is that I was loved once. That's what I couldn't let go of. It wasn't in the loving but in being loved. There is nothing as intoxicating as pure adoration.

I tell that truth from experience, because I have tried every substance, attempted to recreate the natural high that the enticement of another brings. I have played every role meant to mesmerize, and they have all succeeded for a time, filling emptiness before ending in it. If I sound hollow it's because I am, but it won't make you pity me.

You have to hate before I can win. If you revile me for my wickedness, or for malevolent plots that corrupt everyone they touch, then I will rejoice in success. My intent was never popularity, but infamy.

Only one man has ever loved me, and I will crush him below my stiletto heel if he dares contradict that simple truth.

Chuck inched out of the bed, taking care not to wake the sleeping beauty beside him. He opened the Ralph Lauren curtains, letting the morning light spill into the room. It danced through the girl's auburn curls as she sighed in her sleep. She rolled over, arms searching sleepily for Chuck's absent form. He had never seen her so peaceful, her doe eyes shut with feather lightness, her mind clear of schemes and insecurities. He loved watching her like this, studying the small changes that had taken place over the summer.

Blair no longer woke at the break of dawn. She would laze with him until all hours of the morning. She no longer obsessed about her appearance, restraining every curl and fixating on her perfectly lined lips. She was still controlling, self-conscious and regal but he wouldn't have had her any other way.

Chuck crawled back into bed beside her, smiling as her arms automatically encircled him. He rang his thumb up and down the length of her arm, lightly so as not to wake her. Blair snuggled closer, burying her face into Chuck's side.

He reclined like that for half an hour, needing neither drink nor blunt to enjoy the moment. He still wondered at how his life had ended here, but never with regret.

"What time is it?" Blair mumbled into the crook of his shoulder.

"7:00am."

"7 o'clock!" Blair shot up in bed. She grabbed the pillow and threw it at Chuck's head. "I knew I shouldn't have stayed the night."

"What's the big deal," Chuck pulled the pillow off. "School doesn't start until 8:30."

"Arrg," Blair started grabbing her clothes off the floor. "Don't remind me. By the time I get home I'll have like thirty minutes to dress."

"Who says you have to?" Chuck raised one eyebrow suggestively.

"As enticing as that suggestion is." Blair rolled her eyes. "I think nudity is against dress code." She grabbed her monogrammed bathrobe and quickly tied it around herself.

Chuck jumped from the bed, his eyebrow never dipping. He walked across the room, brushing deliberately close to Blair. He opened the larger closet and pulled out a Blair's St. Constance uniform, perfectly pressed and prepared.

Blair gasped in shock. "How?"

"I sent a car last night," Chuck smirked happily. "Apparently Dorota doesn't hate me as much as I originally suspected. Chuck surrendered the hanger to her. "So," Chuck sat back on the bed, "now we have time for recreational pursuits."

Blair stared at him and laughed. "Yeah, like I want to start the first day of senior year with bed head."

"You could start a new trend," Chuck suggested, standing back up. "In fact," he twirled a strand of hair around his fingers, teasing it higher. "There," he stood back "now it's perfectly symmetrical."

Blair laughed aloud, feeling the evidence of his handiwork.

"Though," Chuck gave a little tug at her belt, before Blair could slap his hand away. "I never have liked perfection," he grabbed the tie again.

Blair shook her head. "I need to shower," she used both hands to pull her robe back and walked towards the bathroom. She turned back at the doorway, "And that wasn't an invitation," she commanded before Chuck could follow. "I'll be back in twenty. Amuse yourse..." Blair caught herself. "Not that way."

Chuck gave a sigh of defeat threw his head back on the bed. After staring at the ceiling a moment, he decided to arrange his books. When that task was completed before Blair's shower, he arranged her belongings as well. He sighed loudly to the still empty room, and then jumped on the bed. He pulled open his bedside drawer, withdrawing a small bag. He had the joint rolled, ready to light, by the time Blair returned.

Blair crossed over quickly and took it from his hand. She waved it in the air, like a scolding parent's finger. "Short leash remember!"

Chuck gave a little groan.

"I am not letting you be expelled. I fully intend for you to attend prom," Blair reminded him, "as my date."

"Fine," Chuck threw up his hands in resignation. "Though if I have to play the good boy all year, then you'd better be amazing."

Blair raised just one eyebrow, and let her robe fall to the ground.

Chuck groaned again, but this time not from annoyance.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena bounced on her stilettos, hammering the door to 1812. "I can hear you," she screamed through her door, checking her watch for the hundredth time. Dan and Eric crowded the hall behind her.

"Here," Blair swung the door open with a vengeance. She ran her fingers through her hair, smoothing down the last couple kinks.

"Finally!" Dan nearly stomped his foot.

"What the hell is with your hair?" Serena asked.

"She's trying a new style," Chuck slid his blazer on.

"Bed head hasn't been popular in years," Eric reminded the quintet.

Chuck glared at his brother.

"Is it that bad?" Blair asked self-consciously. When the group remained silent she turned to Chuck.

Chuck wanted to tell her she looked fine, but he couldn't lie about fashion. "There's some product in the bathroom," he advised drawing a huge groan from Humphrey. Blair ignored the Brooklyn boy and went to fix herself.

"We're going to be so late," Dan glowered at Chuck.

"It's 7:45am. It's a five minute ride. You do the math." Chuck stared the other boy down. "Or you could take the bus. Still got your transfer?"

Serena calmed her boyfriend down, by wrapping her fingers through his. When Blair returned, Chuck did the same and Eric was left to walk behind two happy couples.

"Maybe I'll take the bus," Eric decided aloud.

"What?" Serena was shocked. "Why?"

"There is something depressing about this much coupled happiness."

Serena dropped her boyfriends hand immediately and ran back to join her brother. Chuck didn't break with Blair, but he did put one arm around Eric.

"Maybe we could set you up," Chuck suggested.

"You want me to date someone you know?" Eric couldn't help but laugh.

"Why not?"

"Save the thinking for school big brother."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck sat against the cement steps. Blair sat one step lower, leaning her back against his knees. They formed the perfect picture of a happy couple, drawing the amused looks of everyone that passed. Chuck basked in the attention; he always loved attention. Within two days he'd be bored and back on the courtyard wall. And if he wasn't, he's sure Blair would push him that way.

Chuck lit up in clear view of Constance and Judes. He revelled in the fact he could. The staff was keen to turn a blind eye to one vice if it meant Chuck could forgo the rest. The nicotine-laced air drew circles around Blair's curls, but she never said a word. Chuck wondered how long that would last.

Blair was deep in conversation with Serena, the two studying some catalogue or other. Nate was chatting amicably with Dan; a side effect of romancing Vanessa. Chuck considered joining in, but decided his cigarette was more entertaining. He closed his eyes and took a deep drag, only opening once his lungs had expelled all of the poisonous gas.

It was then that he saw her; strutting across the courtyard. She possessed it as surely as if it were her personal runway, shoulder's back and legs crossing in rhythm. Chuck felt his entire body tense. Blair noticed the change and turned to him in question. He said no words, but expressed all with a darkened expression. When Blair followed his eyes, the tension passed to her.

It was Georgina Sparks.

And the bitch was wearing a Constance Billiard uniform.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N - It's short but it's the prologue (and I wanted to fulfull my promise and get it up before the weekend).

Summary

This story is three interwoven stories told from the point of view of the three Van der Bass children as they struggle through the return of Georgina.

Eric – meets the guy of his dreams, but will he be able to keep his sexuality a secret with Georgina on the prowl?

Serena – feels the pull of her old life. What will she chose: the outrageous and dangerous, or the predictable and comforting?

Chuck – is adjusting to his new position as King but when Georgina returns is she harbouring more than just revenge for the former playboy?

Sequel

-This story is a sequel to Try Honesty. It's not essential to read TH to understand this but it would increase your enjoyment.

-If you want a summary of TH rather than reading it than just PM and I'll send it to you. I'd post it here but I don't want to spoil it if anyone wants to read it.

-As of the end of TH Chuck has undergone a rather life-changing experience and is a more considerate version of himself. He and Blair are together. Nate is still with Vanessa and Serena is still with Dan. This story will shake that up though.

The Alternative Universe

-The original Georgina story-line never occurred

-The whole Pete wannabe murder never happened. Serena went to boarding school because she felt guilty about sleeping with Nate

-Eric was never outed to his family by Georgina. He agreed to go along with Blair, and once Asher trashed him to his face, agreed to let Blair use his correspondence. This means he was outed on GG, and his peers knows he's gay but not his mother (or Bart who is now his stepfather).

Up Next - The story begins!


Chapter 2: Chapter One


You Can't Forget Your First - No Matter How Hard You Try

Chapter One

Do you hate me yet? If you do then you'd better check your prejudice at the door. A few clicks of my stiletto heels ought to create interest, maybe even inspire apprehension but never hatred. After all, I may have changed since I left.

Then again, some things never change.

"Serena." The voice was so familiar that Serena didn't need to turn. Except there was no way Georgina was here. Georgina was in Athens fornicating on the Parthenon, or in Barcelona drinking shots off some bartender's flat stomach. Dan was here. He was real. Serena squeezed her boyfriend's hand a little stronger than she was inclined to.

Then she heard the impatient click of stiletto on the pavement and she knew it wasn't a dream. She turned around and there Georgina was; her sometimes friend, but always comrade. "Oh my god! Georgina." Somewhere in the middle the sentiment changed from fake to genuine. There was something about the way Georgina's lips curled, or how her eyes stared dominantly from behind blackened lids. Georgina had an aura that drew Serena in every time.

Realizing it brought the nervousness back.

"I see the gangs all here," Georgina eyed the rest of the group. "Nate." Georgina eyed the boy's muscular frame appreciatively. "Blair." Her eyes darkened over the auburn-haired beauty. "Charlie," she saved her smile for Chuck. None of the three bothered with a response. It was not unexpected, but their rudeness forced Serena to overcompensate.

"This is my boyfriend," Serena moved her hand to Dan's shoulder. "Dan."

"A pleasure," Dan put a hand out, oblivious to the glares that surrounded him. Before they could talk the warning bell rang.

"Well I must go," Georgina announced to the group. "Want to make a good impression; first day and all."

It's unfortunate that Nate fidgets when nervous. If he hadn't taken a comforting gulp from his Nalagene bottle then he wouldn't have sprayed it all over Dan in response to Georgina's out of character declaration.

"What the hell!" Dan brushed at his artfully gelled hair.

"Sorry."

You could see it then; the way that Georgina's smile grew darker. Her contentment always deepened with another's suffering. It's too bad that those who knew it saw it and those who needed to see it were too preoccupied with a wet shirt.

"Oh Serena," Georgina drew the blonde's attention back. "Lunch?"

Serena stared up at the girl, her stomach jumping at the thought. "Okay," she agreed. Serena decided to name the acrobatic feeling dread rather than the excitement it truly was.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric sat at the front of the classroom. He could remember every step of his pilgrimage to the front row. The Van der Woodsen name was St Judes royalty and he had been prepared to take that role from the first day of freshman year. He'd started last year at the back, because that's where everyone else decided he belonged. Except it wasn't. Eric wasn't an intellectually challenged bad boy and he soon tired of their questions about his really hot sister. Eric actually enjoyed learning. So he shifted a couple rows closer. Not so close that he risked social suicide, but close enough that he could actually hear the teacher. Then, once social suicide paled in comparison to real suicide he'd inched closer. He no longer cared about cliques, and he couldn't quite handle sitting in the same place as before. He took up almost permanent residence there, two rows from the front, last row to the right. He sat there long enough to crack regular jokes with Aaron Bearsley and William Wintour, his seat mates. Then he'd come out of the closet and the jokes had changed from being from him to about him. Maybe Eric should have waited to come out because, in hindsight, freshman year was far from ideal. The boys in his grade nine class were just starting to date and to explore their own normal sexuality. He became the huge question mark in the room. So he repositioned himself in the first row, metaphorically and physically setting the rest behind. The sad thing is it wasn't even about Eric. They all liked Eric. It was about their own doubts and insecurities.

That's not to say that Eric didn't have friends. He did. Or at least he had lots of acquaintances, but maybe that's not the same thing. Eric never did like people much. He was born into a vacuum; a period without touch and marked by silence. With Serena it had been different. Serena had been the beautiful blonde baby girl, born at the height of wedded bliss. She'd been reared with unending enthusiasm, of optimism for a future which seemed both bright and unending. Eric had been nurtured on the verge of his parent's divorce. He was the baby that had failed to bridge the gaps in the crumbling ruin. He had been reared with rampant pessimism, taught to fear a future which threatened and cling to the present, no matter its imperfections.

That is why he had tried to kill himself. It wasn't being gay; it was all the uncertainty that came with realizing he was different. It was knowing that his future wasn't going to be simple, and straight and narrow. That his mother was going to cry and he was going to be the cause of it. It was being in an empty house and not having anyone to talk to about it. It was not being able to stomach friends, and therefore not having them when he needed it. It was not having Blair. He would have said his sister but Serena wasn't much use to him in those days. She was great when she was sober, but as she progressed through high school those days grew further and further apart. When Serena left for boarding school Eric was overjoyed. His sister would get the help she needed and return to him the person she used to be. He loved Serena but he missed Blair. Blair had supported his sister through every episode, and by doing so silently supported Eric as well. That's why Eric had been willing to help her, even to the point of outing himself. Blair had taken the uncertainty from his life. When Serena left, Blair left and all that uncertainty came back.

But all that had changed with Chuck. Who would have thought that Chuck could have a positive impact on anyone's life but he did. Eric had been drawn to Chuck, not in any weird sexual sense (apparently he had better taste than Blair) but because Chuck was his antithesis in the one thing that counted: Chuck had a laissez-faire attitude towards life. Chuck didn't plan for his future because he had the impermeable belief that everything would eventually put itself right. Chuck wasn't an optimist like Serena; he still believed that life would bring more misery than happiness. But Chuck believed that with enough effort things could always be put to rights, and he never fear that period of uncertainty between a plan and its fruition. Eric had been initially drawn to the confidence, hoping silently that a small part might transfer to him but he'd learned something else in the end. He'd learned that he could be a true friend, have a true friend, and that he might have been confident all along.

He just prayed the lessons would stick. Especially now. The entire class was talking about Georgina Sparks. They might be two years too young to know her, but the stories were infamous; of scratched faces and expulsions, of coked up benders, banishment from elite schools, and of her dangerous friendship with Serena. The talk whirled about but no one questioned him. It was the way he held himself, closed off, writing furiously. It didn't matter anyway. Eric didn't know anything about Georgina's return but he was planning to find out.

Uncertainty was back with a vengeance.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

The lower courtyard wall had officially been vacated for a new home. Chuck sat with Blair and the rest of their circle on the largest picnic table. Even the absence of Serena hadn't kept Dan away; his relationship with Nate definitively tipping from acquaintance to outright friend. They waited only on Eric, but the younger boy always lingered.

Blair would have to take her throne before the end of the week, but for now, Chuck was content to have her here. Kat and Is were bunched up on the far side, giggling about something or other. That was enough for now. Chuck knew he looked like a whipped loser but he couldn't quite bring himself to care. There was something intoxicating about having Blair's legs resting against his side as she sat on the top of the table, something enthralling about being fed grapes from her blood-painted nails. It made everything else tolerable.

"Georgina seems nice," Dan muttered between carrot sticks.

Chuck's happy buzz died an abrupt death. "She's a psycho bitch."

"You'd know that better than anyone." Blair eyed her boyfriend, popping the last grape in aggressively.

Dan watched the two, and then stopped eating. "Okay, I'm obviously missing something. And I'm a bit unnerved by the idea that Chuck Bass could consider any girl psycho."

The group gave a collective grunt.

"Did you guys date or something?"

Chuck couldn't help laughing. "That's not what I do," he reminded Dan. Then he felt Blair's nails dig a bit into his arm. "Until now," he ran his own fingertips up Blair's tights in reassurance.

"Chuck lost his virginity to her in the seventh grade," Nate supplied.

"Sixth actually and I've been avoiding her ever since. She is cracked in the head."

"Sixth grade huh," Dan bit another carrot stick. "That actually explains a lot."

"Hardly," Chuck glared at the boy. "But my sexual history is not the point of this conversation. You should be worried about your girlfriend."

"Whatever." Dan wasn't going to give credence to anything Chuck said.

"You should," Blair echoed.

Dan turned his head at this. Blair's concerns held more weight but it was the last voice that convinced him.

"If anyone can bring the old Serena back it's Georgie." A slam of books on the table announced Eric's arrival. He jumped up on the edge, taking a sip of Blair's diet coke.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Despite her usually ravenous appetite, Serena picked at her sandwich. Georgina had led her to a small café close to campus. Usually Serena was delighted to be free of Constance's cafeteria food, but all she could see was Eric's face. Her brother had caught her between classes to ask if Georgina was indeed attending Constance. She could still see his hurt when she had told him it was true.

Across her Georgina was keeping up a constant dialogue about clothes, foreign countries and cocktails. "Earth to Serena," she finally announced exasperated.

"I'm sorry," Serena took another bite of her sandwich.

"What's happened to you?"

"Sorry," Serena repeated again. "It's just a lot has changed since you left last year."

"I can see that," Georgina raised an eyebrow. "Dan seems nice."

"He's great," Serena declared, her enthusiasm for Dan instantly outweighing her discomfort.

"Listen I get it," Georgina admitted. "You've changed, you're doing well."

Serena nodded her head. "And you? I don't mean to be rude but how did you get into Constance Billiard?"

"You don't have the market on redemption," Georgina wore a perfectly structured smile.

"Really?"

"I'm the proud graduate of Changeways Rehabilitation Centre in Switzerland!"

"Really!" Serena screeched. She grabbed her friend's arm and squeezed for all it was worth.

"I'll show you the pictures." Georgina took out her bubblegum pink phone. "She pushed a few buttons and then handed it to Serena.

"Wow!" Serena flipped through a few. "This place is really beautiful. The mountains are amazing."

"Yes," Georgina forced her smile to widen. "It was a very amazing experience. We got to ride horses. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed that."

"It sounds like you're doing so great," Serena said pushing through a few more pictures.

"And what about you?" Georgina prompted. "What gorgeous things have you been up to?"

Serena reciprocated by opening her own phone and handing it to Georgina. "Here! You have to flip through the Monaco pictures. Bart took the whole family there for a month."

"I can't believe how much Eric grew!" Georgina looked through a couple more stills before her fingers took a large detour.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck grabbed his physics text and pressed it under his arm. He dug around the bottom of his locker until he emerged with the right notebook. Then he felt his cell vibrate and smiled. He threw the notebook under his arm and flipped the cell open as he walked.

Are you being good?

Chuck smiled at Blair's message. He sat at the back of the room, and typed his reply, smirk replacing his smile.

Only until later.

The late bell sounded and Chuck put the phone in his pocket. Blair took school too seriously to reply until the next break. The cell vibrated anyway. Chuck's smirk widened. Maybe he really was that good. He discretely, so as not to draw Mr. Pisor's attention, slipped the cell from his pocket. He held it under the corner of his desk, and flipped it open.

Hello Charlie.

Chuck's smirk turned to a glower.

How did you get this number?

I have my ways.

He was going to kill Serena.

Lose it!

Is that anyway to talk to an old friend.

Drop dead bitch.

I like it when you talk dirty.

"Charles!" Mr Pisor's stern voice brought Chuck's attention back to the class. "I'm sure you're aware of school policy concerning cellular devices." The science teacher held his hand out expectantly.

Chuck considered ignoring the summons, but Mr. Pisor wasn't the teacher whose bad side you wanted to occupy. So he stalked to the front and dropped his platinum cell into the teacher's hand. Mr. Pisor placed it onto the corner of his desk and then turned back to the chalkboard.

The first time the cell vibrated a little path across the teacher's desk, the boys in the class laughed and Mr. Pisor ignored it. By the tenth time, the laughter had turned to amused glances and Mr. Pisor couldn't ignore it anymore. With an annoyed look at Chuck, the teacher picked up his cell and tossed it into the top drawer, closing it with a bang.

Spotted: Bass' text box runneth over. Queen B's fingers were too busy punching calculators to be crafting love notes. So who's got the fast fingers?

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair glared at the message from Gossip Girl, and then shut her phone. She raised one eyebrow when the likely source came into view.

"Blair Waldorf," Georgina pasted a false smile on her face. "My favourite person."

"Georgina," Blair didn't bother with the pretence. "I need to talk to my mother. "Standards for admission have suck to a new low."

"As have standards for boyfriends apparently."

"Shouldn't you be snorting coke off the railings of the Eiffel Tower?"

"Haven't you heard? Redemption's the new catch phrase."

Blair rolled her eyes.

"You of all people should know. That or you must be pretty desperate; casting that wide a net to find your Prince Charming."

Blair laughed aloud. "Jealous?"

Georgina's false smile died. "I don't need to be. Charlie and I are two sides of the same coin; you can't separate us."

Blair snorted.

"How long do you really think he'll be able to keep up this White Knight act he's got going?"

"A lot of things have changed since you left," Blair stared her down before gliding easily away.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

"Hold the elevator!"

Chuck recognized the voice, and began to furiously beat at the close door button. He wasn't fast enough, and before the doors could shut a slim hand stopped them. She forced them open again, a dozen dangling bracelets jingled with the effort.

"Now Charlie," She chastised him lightly. "That wasn't nice."

"Didn't not answering your twenty-four texts get the point across?" Chuck raised one lip in disgust.

"Gym class was really dull."

"You certainly made an impression on Mr. Pisor."

"What can I say," Georgina spiked an eyebrow. "I'm unforgettable."

"I'm sure Brittany Avamy will never forget you. Not after the plastic surgery."

"Please! She was looking for an excuse to get her nose done."

"She had a three inch scar!"

"Are we going to drudge up the past? I've grown up so much since then." Georgina assured him.

Chuck snorted.

"I'm much more subtle now."

"Listen, whatever you think we had, get over it!"

"Are you going to deny it now?"

"I don't need to deny it. Everybody knows. We had sex in sixth grade. Big fucking deal! I've banged half of New York since then.

"That's not what I'm talking about."

"Than enlighten me."

"I remember it differently. You told me that you loved me, and that you always would."

Chuck rolled his eyes in disbelief. "I was eleven years old and about to get laid for the first time. Even I didn't believe what I was saying."

Georgina was unfazed. "You've kept to it until now."

Chuck shook his head. Only Georgina's deranged mind could warp his rampant womanizing into some twisted form of devotion. "Let me spell it out for your remedial brain. I lied. I never cared for you. I was just looking to pop your cherry."

Georgina's whole face went dark. "It's too bad that you've forgotten."

"I didn't forget anyt..."

Georgina's voice grew louder. "Forgotten what we had. Now I'm going to have to remind you."

Chuck shook his head in frustration. The ding of the elevator saved him from having to debate further. You could never win a logical argument with the disturbed. He threw himself out of the elevator and practically jogged back to the Van der Bass suite. When he opened the door, Serena was waiting.

"Whorgina came for a visit," he glared at his sister.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Georgina and Serena were encamped in her room. The instant Georgina entered the suite, an old line resurfaced in Lily's forehead, Eric huddled in the corner of one couch and Bart gave out an involuntary cough. Of the family, only Eric gave the pretence of friendliness. It wasn't because he actually wanted to be friendly, just because his nature was naturally kind. Needless to say, the two had fled within ten minutes of arriving and now Georgina was lying on Serena's designer pillows and Serena was reclined on her bed.

On the surface they were chatting about fashion, underneath Serena was waiting to speak on deeper topics. "You're not still hung up on Chuck are you?" Serena asked with honest worry. "He's my brother now."

"I'm just messing with him," Georgina teased. "You know how I love to play."

Serena let out the breath she'd been holding. She had guessed as much, but one could never tell. "Good! I think Blair really loves him."

Georgina laughed. "And Chuck?" she asked with deliberate flippancy.

"Strangely," Serena laughed. "I think he does."

"See," Georgina smiled at her friend. "That's that. Besides, I got asked out by Bryan Ruthers yesterday."

"Really!" Serena gave a little squeal of delight.

"He's taking me to Butter on Friday."

Serena grabbed onto her arm. "This is so perfect. We both got things together. I've got Dan, and you've got a hot date."

"Serena," Georgina touched the younger girl's arm. "Your optimism is positively infectious."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N - I forgot to put my warnings up from last time. So here's the official warning. This story is very DARK and TWISTED. If you don't enjoy that sort of thing than I suggest you bypass it. I wouldn't want to disturb anyone :) And I'm a bit nervous writing Eric because i have never written a gay character before. So if he sounds off I apologize up front.

kcaitlink - thanks for the review. I was definately not a fan of the original Georgina storyline. I just thought they could have done so much more than what they did, without adding in the whole wannabe murder. I didn't need to go the way of this story but since I enjoy writing Chuck it's easier to make me centre things around Chuck.

Karamine - thanks

Delphin4ik - Don't put much faith in Georgina's words. She is a psycho bitch afterall.

Chairforever - I definately wasn't true love :)

DanSerena - I'm not a fan of Georgina and Dan hooking up. Dan is smarter than that and in this story he has the information about Georgina up front. Can't gaurantee he won't hook up with anyone else, or maybe not ;)

lamiss12 - I'm a fan of the B-C-G dynamic, but it's not a true triangle.

BlairCorneliaWaldorfBass - Blair and Chuck is true love. I hope this chapter helped to clarify what Chuck feels towards Georgina.

AudreyAva, BeachBumYeahh, Voodoochild93, Sharrrk, livontheedge, nadakesgurl, RDX- thanks

Up Next - Dan and Serena have a chat about Georgie, Eric meets someone, Chuck gets a birthday gift but what is it and from who?


Chapter 3: Chapter Two


You Can't Forget Your First - No Matter How Hard You Try

Chapter Two

Do you hate me yet? Of course not. What's one spiked eyebrow or a few nasty comments? Even Serena could manage that after a few drinks. But do not fret. The game has just begun.

I've learned patience. It was the only thing I learned at that Changeways dump. I got put in there for trying to chase ecstasy with blow. I've learned to pace myself; that if you can only limit yourself to one high at a time, then the whole experience lasts longer.

Well I also found out that screwing the right person can get you out of anything. That's the plan for my high school diploma.

Serena studied room 1812 and decided she'd stepped into another world. It looked so different that one could almost forget it had once been Chuck's den of licentiousness.

She, Chuck and Eric had redecorated; not formally like Lily was planning for the family suite, but on a spur of the moment. They had changed the carpets, chairs, bedding, ornaments and even the wall hangings. Each sibling had their say on the parts most important to them and now it stood as a testament to their different personalities. Yet strangely there was cohesion, a blending of opposites that charmed each piece. The walls were littered with artistic photographs courtesy of Eric. Serena had seen to the furniture and linens. Chuck hadn't cared as long as the liquor cabinet was the best money could buy and always well stocked. In the end they'd changed everything except Nate's couch. It stood out as an artefact in a completely renovated room but some things can't be touched.

Now, with candles lit and two rich chocolate tortes laid out on the room's main table it looked soft and romantic. Serena smiled when she heard Dan's knock. She rearranged the main bouquet and then opened the door. Her smile died when she saw Dan's expression, and a frown replaced it entirely when he spoke. "We need to talk."

That was never good. "Okay," Serena tried to smile and directed Dan to the artfully laid out table.

Dan sat at one side of the table, stiffly placing his napkin in his lap. He reached across the table and took Serena's hand in his. "We need to talk about Georgina."

"What about her?"

"Chuck told me some stories."

"So now you're listening to Chuck?" Serena pulled her hand back.

"I promise not to make it a habit." Dan rolled his eyes.

"You shouldn't listen to Chuck. There's a whole history that you don't know."

"So enlighten me."

"We used to all be friends."

"I know that."

"No! Georgina too. We all went to St. Albans Primary School."

"Okay."

"Anyway, Georgina was always a bit more…" Serena searched for the least provocative word, "undisciplined than the rest of us. She and Chuck slept together in the sixth grade."

"Strangely, I knew that too."

"Did you hear what happened after?"

"Define after."

"Chuck started messing around with some girls from the local junior high."

"I'm sorry," Dan was dumbfounded. "He was…" Dan did the math in his head "eleven years old."

"He's always been ahead of the curve."

"In nothing that counts apparently."

"That year was pretty messed up for him." Serena rubbed her eyebrows in frustration; she wasn't supposed to be taking Chuck's side. Dan waited expectantly for more information but Serena shook her head to show it wouldn't come. "It's not my place." Dan snorted at her refusal. "Besides, I don't really know everything anyway."

"But what does this have to do with Georgina?"

"She saw him with some grade eight girl, Brittany something or other. She ripped the girls face up."

"I'm sorry, define ripped up. Like with a knife or…"

"No, she just scratched her up pretty bad. Chuck's hated her ever since."

"Can't say I blame him."

"Come on, she was eleven years old. I think she really liked Chuck."

"And she brought the nails to prove it?" Dan held his own up in mocking.

"It's not really that. Georgina lost a lot because of the incident. She got thrown out of school, and she lost her friends. Chuck didn't want anything to do with her, and Blair sided with Chuck right away. Then once Blair sided with Chuck, Nate followed along. I was the only one who refused to take a side. Chuck and I were never as close after that."

"I've now fulfilled a secret yearning to know more of Chuck's life history, but it doesn't affect my initial concerns. I don't care about what happened in elementary school. I care about the fact that she's a hardcore drug user and apparently your new best friend."

"But it has to take some weight away from what he said. He hates the girl."

"And what about Blair?"

Serena bit down on her lip.

"And Eric?"

Serena bit down harder. She didn't even know why she was defending Georgina. "People can change."

The declaration was met by silence. Serena grew more uncomfortable than before. It was important that Georgina could change, because if Georgina of all people could change, then it meant that Serena had changed, had really and truly changed. Serena played with her chocolate torte which had moments before seemed so tempting. She couldn't even look up when she said her next sentence. "You don't think people can change?"

"Of course they can." Dan reached across the table and gave his girlfriend's hand a squeeze. Serena almost let her breath out, but then Dan kept talking. "It's just that they usually don't. Or if they do it's just for a time and then they're back to their bad habits."

"You think that's going to happen?" Serena wasn't sure if she was talking about Georgina or herself.

Dan looked at his own plate and then up at Serena. "You have such a caring heart. Don't let her use it to get to you. You have to be careful. You have to keep an eye on someone like that. Don't let your guard down."

Serena pulled her hand out of Dan's and pressed it into her lap. She wondered if that's the way Dan felt about her. Was he watching? Was he waiting for her to slip up?

"Just tell me you'll be careful."

Serena forced herself to look up and she saw how genuinely worried Dan was. She tried to push her own doubts aside and smiled for his benefit. If it came out half-hearted he didn't notice but smiled in return. "I will," she agreed; her eyes straying back down as she said it.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

After two weeks Serena had kept her promise. Georgina would remain her friend only if she stayed straight. Dan meant too much to her to throw away. She would endure his questions because they would keep their relationship safe. The problem was after two weeks the topic still hadn't dropped. It was the first thing that Dan asked about every time she saw him. She knew his insecurities were being fed by the rest. In particular Chuck and their division on the matter had reopened old discords.

It wasn't just Chuck though, it was everyone else. Serena stood on the subway with her brother. She had agreed to attend an art opening with him. It was a collection of photographs from WWI and WWII; definitely not Serena's choice, but she wanted the time with her brother. Their relationship had become strained as well. The trip had started out positively, but a two minute call from Georgina had caused the ice to resurface.

"So how is Georgie?" Eric tried to keep the sarcasm from his voice.

"She's fine," Serena slipped the phone into her pocket. "She asked about you."

"Hmmm." Eric opened his cell and made a show of studying it. He knew voicing his disapproval would earn him nothing and probably strain his relationship with his sister.

Eric was still fiddling with his cell phone when a sudden bump threw the boy standing beside him into it. The cell went flying under the feet of the evening commuters. 'Shit' he muttered under his breath, and started to push through the crowd.

Serena bent down and eyed the floor, looking for the black object. "Over there," she instructed her brother, pointing to a row of seats.

Eric followed his sister's finger but someone else got their first. It was the same boy who had knocked it over, so it was fitting that he was unflatteringly bent over, digging under the seats, and receiving the glares of disturbed passengers. After a couple moments he emerged victorious; standing up with a smile.

Eric met the boy's green eyes and then something strange happened. Something jumped in his stomach.

"I'm really sorry mate," the stranger held the phone out. .His voice was rich, with a definite British accent. It matched his appearance. The boy was tall, taller than Eric but just as thin. He had thick dark hair that flopped over equally dark eyes. He wore dark jeans and a dark green tank top. To complete the look he wore a small black leather chain from which dangled a single shark's tooth.

"No problem," Eric made a quick grab for the phone. He could feel a burning in each cheek and cursed the fact that he was probably blushing. The boy went to stand by the opposite doors.

Eric shook his head to clear it and felt Serena tap him on the shoulder. "Are you alright?"

"Fine."

Serena started to study something behind her and Eric tried to study the unusual jumping sensations at the pit of his stomach.

"Oh my god!" Serena grabbed his hand. "Eric."

"What?" Eric looked from right to left, half expecting the train to crash.

"That guy is totally checking you out."

Eric laughed and dropped her hand. "Sister, I'm going to explain to you the Serena Van der Woodsen effect. When a boy is staring in our direction he's looking at you. When a girl is staring in our direction, chances are she's also looking at you."

"Stop joking around." Serena playfully punched his arm.

"I'm not."

"Fine," Serena shook her head. "But he is definitely not staring at me."

Eric rolled his eyes at his sister's naiveté. He turned around to prove his point but rather then staring at the side of the boy's face, Eric was staring directly into two green eyes. He turned away immediately.

Well, that was unexpected.

Eric gave another quick look just to be sure. Sure enough, two green eyes met his again.

"I told you!" Serena grabbed his arm. "Go talk to him," she gave her brother a push.

"Are you nuts? He's probably straight."

"I don't think so."

"Whatever." Eric stared at the windows, pretending that the endless darkness outside was more exciting than anything within.

A few movements from Serena brought his attention back. When he realized what she was doing he grabbed at her hands. Serena was pointing at him and nodding invitingly, all for the benefit of the handsome stranger. "What the hell are you doing? You're going to get my ass kicked."

"Where's your sense of adventure?"

"It died the day I came out of the closet!"

Serena shut up at that. Perhaps Eric had a point. Flirting with a perfect stranger on a crowded subway probably wasn't the best plan. Even if that stranger was gay, which Serena was pretty sure of.

As if to punctuate the point, the automated voice announced their stop. Eric braved one last look at the stranger on the way out. The boy was watching him intensely, slight smile playing at his lips.

Eric turned back to the door, trying to ignore the burning at both cheeks. Unfortunately, it didn't go unnoticed by his sister. She wrapped her arm through his and giggled at the change in her brother.

The siblings made it ten steps from the train when a voice called from behind. "Hold up."

The English accent made Eric freeze in his steps, and Serena giggle louder. Eric ignored the jumping in his stomach, and chanced a quick look behind. Sure enough, the green eyed stranger was standing right there.

"Listen, I never do this. And if you're straight than you can tell me to go to hell, but my name's Damien."

Eric just stood there dumbfounded so Serena intervened. "This is Eric…"

"Eric Van der Woodsen." Eric recovered himself, and put a hand out.

"Eric Van der Woodsen," Damien laughed at the formality but took the offered hand. A ding from behind signalled the departure of one train. Damien looked at it leave and then glanced at his watch. "Listen, I have an appointment, and apparently a new train to catch, but," he smiled at Eric, "would you mind if I rang you sometime?"

Eric stood there uncertain until Damien shook his cell to explain himself. Eric laughed then, all nervousness forgotten. "I'm sure it would be alright. Considering you know my cell so well."

All three laughed at that. Once the digits were exchanged, Damien left on the next subway car, and Serena retook her brother's arm, knowing smile in place.

Once Damien had left, Eric turned to his sister. "How did you know?"

Serena laughed at her brother. "He was wearing a rainbow armband."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair had returned to the Met steps, her Prada-clad army gathering around, higher or lower based on importance. They were just done debating the merits of the new Physical Education teacher when she appeared, sporting a skirt shorter than Serena's.

"What are you doing here?" Blair looked Georgina down.

"I heard this was a great place to enjoy yogurt," Georgina lifted one eyebrow and a blueberry yogurt cup.

Blair laughed. She almost admired the girl's brass.

"I invited her," Penelope stepped out from behind.

Blair shook her head in disgust. She wasn't really surprised. Penelope had gained the most when Blair had been dethroned and lost the most when she'd clawed her way back. She didn't expect this kind of betrayal though.

"It could be fun," Georgina's eyebrow rose. "We were friends once" her eyes darkened over the last word.

Blair was about to overrule Penelope and send the psycho packing when she reconsidered. It was always good game to keep your enemies close. Blair nodded her head for Georgina to sit, and felt Serena relax beside her. It didn't mean it was going to be easy.

Georgina immediately sat beside the blonde. Blair laughed aloud. "Lower," she smiled knowingly.

A hint of anger surfaced and Blair watched Georgina bite it back and move down.

Blair waited until she was settled and then stared innocently into the blue sky. "Lower."

Georgina jabbed the spoon into her yogurt but then forced a smile and moved lower. This time she didn't bother to arrange her belongings.

Blair stared at her perfectly painted nails, gave out a sigh and then ordered Georgina lower.

"Blair," Serena attempted to intercede but one poisonous glare silenced her.

Georgina grabbed her books and slammed them down on the lowest step. It took her a moment, but she calmed enough to smile again.

Blair was disappointed. She was hoping Georgina would lose it, and therefore do away with the pretending.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

The Van der Bass siblings entered the family suite after school, Blair joining the trio to plan Chuck's birthday festivities. Chuck was turning eighteen in a week. He'd always felt a bit awkward being older than the rest, but because of his late birthday Misty had been given the choice to hold him back the extra year before Kindergarten. His mother had taken it, hoping it would help Chuck with social skills. Chuck had never been the happiest or friendliest of children. It seems some things never change. Chuck didn't mind now. It was another thing he had in common with Eric.

One of the multitudes of servants that seemed to populate the walls brought a package to Chuck when they were settled.

"What is it?" Serena asked.

Chuck eyed the return address and sighed in perfect contentment. He just smiled at his sister, and then slit the packing tape. "It's my birthday present, from myself, well one of them anyway."

"Like you need an excuse to buy things for yourself," Blair laughed.

"And you do?" Chuck shot back.

Blair gave a shrug in agreement. "What is it?" She asked trying to get a look from around his shoulder.

Chuck put a hand out to block her. "Wait for it."

Blair rolled her eyes but her curiosity had been piqued along with the rest.

Chuck flipped open the box lid with flourish, pushing aside the tissue paper. He removed a soccer cleat, holding it delicately in his hands. He showed it to each of the room's occupants.

"Soccer cleats?"

"These aren't just any soccer cleats, they are the Nike MVII. Cristiano Ronaldo wears these. And they're custom made. See the pattern?" Chuck waved his hand over the side. The cleats were almost entirely green except for small purple flames down each side. They would match the purple and green uniform perfectly. "I designed them myself."

"I can't believe you bought another pair of soccer cleats." Serena rolled her eyes.

"I can't believe you signed up for soccer when it wasn't mandated."

"What can I say," Chuck smirked at his girlfriend. "I like the improved stamina running gives."

Blair smiled back. "It's not like you needed it."

"Too much information," Serena screeched, covering her ears.

"You know you love it," Chuck winked at her sister causing Serena to shut her eyes as well.

Eric gained a certain twisted enjoyment out of watching Chuck torture his sister. He was almost sorry when his cell rang, but when he eyed the call display the disappointment fled. He excused himself from the room to take the call."

"Fifty dollars says that's the Brit," Chuck sat back into the couch, slinging an arm behind Blair.

"I'll take it," Serena decided.

Blair laughed at her friend. "S, he left the room to take the call."

"He always does that. He's polite."

Chuck's confident smirk never wavered. The trio waited expectantly for the younger's return. When he did return, Serena resigned herself to defeat and reached into her purse. She didn't need to ask, Eric's giddiness made it a forgone conclusion.

Chuck checked his watch. "Less than twenty-four hours. You must be a hot piece."

Blair gave him a slap across the arm.

"It's not like that," Eric assured him. "He just moved her and he doesn't know anyone. I agreed to show him around."

"Starting with the Palace?" Chuck suggested before Blair could cover his mouth.

"It sounds really sweet," Blair tried to cover her boyfriend's perversion.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair hugged her thermos of rich, black, imported coffee. It was nearing the end of the second half and Blair had been positioned in the stands since the start. She wanted to pretend it was no big deal. It was Chuck's first soccer game of the season and one should attend their boyfriend's games. The problem with her logic was that she had never attended any of Nate's lacrosse skirmishes. And it wasn't just that she was here. Blair Waldorf could actually such explain such foreign concepts as offside and free kick. Not to mention she was wearing pants; really fashionable, expensive pants but pants all the same. Maybe she'd gone soft in the head. Or maybe it was because Chuck made her feel soft all over.

"Is this seat taken?"

Blair could feel her skin crawl at Georgina's voice. It wasn't enough that she'd had to endure her mindless rambles on the steps for three weeks. Now the bitch was intruding here as well. "What are you doing here?"

"Didn't you hear? I'm dating Brian Ruthers."

"They don't call what you do dating," Blair countered with a contented smile.

"Jealous?"

"Of you?"

"I am with the team captain. You used to be with a team captain," she reminded Blair.

"A lifetime ago," Blair reminded her.

"Still," Georgina gave a flip of her straight brown hair. "It's still a large step down to bench warmer."

"Chuck is not a bench warmer," Blair corrected her.

"He's a very fine sweeper," Georgina rolled her eyes, and then smiled. "I never thought I'd see the day that Chuck Bass prevented anyone from scoring."

"Perhaps he's content," Blair smiled at the other girl. "With scoring enough off the field." Her smile deepened when Georgina's died.

The final whistle called, and Blair stood up. She brushed the dust from her already spotless grey pants and then marched away.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck, ignoring the household of servants, had volunteered to fetch his own birthday champagne. He needed to get out of the room. It was supposed to be a quiet family meal to celebrate his eighteenth birthday. Chuck and Blair had joined forces to plan a huge blow-out but that was planned for the following day. Tonight was supposed to be about family, but of course Georgina had dropped in, and Serena never had the strength to tell her to get lost. So another place had been set, and the entire evening had been ruined. Serena and Chuck had grown close after the events of junior year, but now he was fed up with her. He was fed up with her naiveté, and he was fed up with her inability to stand up for herself.

Chuck grabbed the bottle from the fridge and dug angrily through the drawers to find the corkscrew. He usually knew exactly where all liquor procuring instruments were, and the fact he couldn't find it was proof of his agitated state.

"My, my, we're quite angry."

Chuck looked up to see Georgina and slammed the last drawer with even greater force. "Why the hell are you here anyway?"

"I thought I'd give you a chance to admit that you love me?"

Chuck laughed. "Get a clue."

"See, talking to me like that is a really bad choice."

"Oh sorry," Chuck put a hand to his chest in mock horror. "I looooove you," he mocked cruelly.

"You shouldn't ridicule it like that."

"What are you going to do?"

"You don't know what I'm capable of."

"You think that you can scare Blair the way that you scared Brittany. Blair can take care of herself."

"I don't play those games anymore."

"What games do you play?"

"If you disrespect me then I will destroy you."

Chuck laughed. "The whole threat gets old when it's been four weeks without follow-through."

"Who says I've done nothing?"

"Oh yeah," Chuck laughed. "I forgot about the steps. How many down are you? Is it two or three? I bet a coked up poodle could occupy that spot. Mind you, I guess it wouldn't be all that different."

"You can think that, if it gives you comfort. Perhaps I've been too amused by the sight of you both. Charlie Bass holding hands, how endearing."

"Get to the point."

"I remember holding your hand once," Georgina paused theatrically. "To get the angle right."

"You're disgusting."

"And you're so pure now?"

"I'm in a healthy relationship. I don't expect you to understand since the only healthy relationship you've had is with your NA sponsor."

"No, I fucked him too." Georgina laughed at Chuck's lack of surprise. "But that's not the point."

"I didn't realize there was a point."

Georgina breathed out in one huge hiss. She shook her head and then pasted a fake smile on her face. "Happy Birthday Charlie."

Chuck rolled his eyes. "Don't you get it? You are the last person I want wishing me a happy birthday, or an unhappy birthday, or to be here for my birthday."

Georgina grew serious at this last insult. "I warned you. Maybe I'll have to get you a present." She raised one eyebrow and stared right at him.

Chuck chose to ignore the threat. "Like a transfer to another school. Or state!"

"You'll have to wait and see."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXO

A/N - Thanks for all the wonderful reviews on last chapter. I wanted to explain how I see Serena so maybe it will help explain why she's coming off as so oblivious. This story is set in an alternative universe where the whole Pete episode never happened. In the show's storyline Serena is apparently conflicted about killing someone with Georgina and yet she still agrees to meet her twice. In fact, she agrees to meet her a second time even though she got drunk the first time. To me, Serena is really naive, but that's part of her charm. She's an optomist who tries to see the best in people. Remember, in the pilot she agrees to go with Chuck even though she's drunk and aware of his reputation. She agrees to go out with Dan even though she doesn't know anything about him etc. etc. Plus in this story Georgina appears to be reformed and Serena really wants to believe she's reformed because it's tied up with her fears about not quite having changed herself. She just thinks that Georgina is messing with Blair/Chuck and she kind of sympathizes with her because of the past.

Up Next - Bart puts his foot down, Eric goes on a gasp date and Chuck's birthday surprise.


Chapter 4: Chapter Three


You Can't Forget Your First – No Matter How Hard You Try

Chapter Three

Do you hate me yet? You shouldn't. You should pity me instead. I'm the one who had to endure Brian Ruthers, the oversexed and under-talented. It was worth it though and not just because I had an excuse to watch Chuck play. No, having had a boyfriend was going to prove so much more useful.

Not to mention, Brian kept me discretely well-supplied and he didn't make me hold his hand, though I kind of wish he had.

Eric made a formal study of his menu. Damien has suggested a coffee house for their first meeting. Not a surprising choice, except the coffee house he has suggested was as far from expectation as could be. The restaurant was strictly for the truly rich, and usually middle-aged. It was one solid block of white broken only by the green stems of further white plants; an unending blankness.

"Well this is a pretentious joint." Damien eyed the groups of gaggling matrons.

"It was your choice," Eric reminded him.

"It's the last time I listen to my neighbour."

"I take it you don't do pretentious."

"I've done lots of pretentious with my father; it never gets better." He leaned in a little closer to Eric. "What do you say we create a little entertainment?"

"The violins aren't enough for you," Eric teased.

Damien just winked and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. "Why don't we make a wager? How long will it take before they throw me out?"

"In this place? They probably have some five foot tall, underpaid immigrant in the back just for guys like you."

"I'm insulted. You think I could be taken by a five footer?"

"Maybe they have two," Eric suggested. "But then they'd have to be illegals."

"Twenty bucks says they usher me out within five minutes," Damien took out his lighter.

"You're on."

Damien lit up to the disgust of everyone sitting around. The other patrons, mostly grandmothers in matching white, shook their head in synchronized disapproval. Within a minute the server was upon them. "It is against the law to smoke in restaurants," he explained to Damien who watched with a blank stare.

"He doesn't speak English," Eric improvised.

"What does he speak," the waiter asked unconvinced.

"He's an Indian, he speaks Cree or something."

"Well, can you tell him to please put his cigarette out?" The waiter glared at Eric who didn't flinch.

"Do I look like an Indian to you?"

The waiter's eyes seemed to slant together in agitation, and then he stalked off.

"That was brilliant," Damien laughed.

Eric checked his watch. "You owe me twenty."

"Double or nothing?"

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena dumped the contents of her purse on the kitchen counter. She dug through the mess of gum, and lipsticks in search of her keys. Chuck stood off to the side, disapproval etched into every line of his face.

"I don't care what you say Chuck."

"Consider it a birthday gift to me. Don't go see her right now."

"Chuck, your party is not for another four hours. And she sounded really upset on the phone."

Chuck snorted.

Serena stared up at him, stuffing the contents back into her silver bag. "Why do you have this thing against Georgina?"

"Are you kidding me?"

"Because she scratched some girl's face in sixth grade?"

"It made a lasting impression."

"I always knew you were arrogant, but I didn't realize just how full of yourself you are. You think she's obsessed with you?"

Chuck didn't say anything, but the pursing of one lip gave his thoughts away.

"Oh my God Chuck. It was sixth grade." She threw her phone back in a little harder than she should have. "Has she been pretending to be my friend for years just to stay close to you?"

"I never said that."

"Your ego is unbelievable," Serena threw her bag over her shoulder.

"Maybe you should find alternative transportation for tonight," Chuck suggested. There was no way he wanted to be in close quarters with his sister at the moment.

"Maybe I'll find an alternative party," Serena glared at him and stalked out of the family suite.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric and Damien fled the restaurant in bursts of laughter. A disturbed manager and two servers trailed behind, watching them hurry up the street. "I really think you had them going," Damien admitted between chortles.

"Until you blew it by laughing so hard you fell over."

"It was a substandard chair."

"In a pretentious coffee house?"

"You're the one who broke into a war call; In the middle of the restaurant!"

"You're just bitter because I'm up forty bucks."

"Perhaps," Damien admitted.

"I'll buy the sandwiches," Eric suggested in truce. A half-hour later the two boys were sitting in Central Park making comments on the crowds of people passing by.

"Well I'm entirely out of witty banter," Damien admitted. "You'll have to settle for small talk."

"Proceed."

"We'll start with place of residence. Have you always lived in New York?"

"Yes, well except for the six months we spent in South Africa. My mother's third marriage," Eric gave an involuntary shudder.

"Third marriage?"

"She's been married so many times that it's easier to date life events by what marriage she was on." Damien laughed at the younger boy's frankness. "How about you?"

"Not as complicated. My parents are still together."

"Obviously you haven't lived in New York your whole life."

"That is a little more complicated. We've lived all over. My father was a mayor when I was little. Then once my father moved to federal politics we lived in London. Once I reached the teen years my dad changed jobs again. He still works for the EU and still lives all over. If it's in Europe chances are I've probably lived in it. We even left siblings behind in several countries."

"You come from a big family?"

"Five brothers, I'm the youngest."

"So am I."

"Do you have many siblings?"

"Just my sister."

"No brothers?" Eric had to think about that and Damien laughed at his indecisiveness. "Was that a hard question?"

"No, it's not," Eric decided. "I have one brother."

"Is he that much of a prat?"

"Oh, he'd definitely a prat," Eric agreed. "But he's also a good guy." Eric looked at his watch. "Which reminds me; it's his birthday and I was expected a half-hour ago."

"Don't have to tell me twice," Damien stood up. "I wouldn't interfere with brotherly bonding."

"I should introduce you two, I think you'd get along."

"You have my number," Damien reminded him as the two parted.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena scanned the restaurant, searching for Georgina. She was about to take out her cell in exasperation when she spotted her. She was hunched in the corner booth, arms partially covering her face. When Serena sat beside her the other girl looked up. She had been crying. The effect was dramatic; her black eyeliner cutting dark rivers of anguish across her face.

"Georgina," Serena put an arm around Georgina's still shaking shoulders. "What happened?"

"Brian broke up with me," Georgina admitted between sobs. Serena curled the smaller girl in her arms, and Georgina hid there a moment.

"I'm so sorry."

"I thought he really liked me."

"I did too," Serena agreed even though she'd never seen evidence either way.

"You know what he said?"

"What?"

"He said that girls like me never change." Serena stiffened at the thought. "He said that guys like him never got serious with girls like me."

"Like Brian Ruthers is such noble stuff," Serena rolled her eyes.

Georgina sat back at that thought. "I know, so if a guy like Brian won't even stick with me, what chance do I ever have of landing someone better." She sniffled dramatically.

"Don't go by what that loser says," Serena smiled at her friend.

"Maybe he's right though. He's the first real boyfriend I've ever had and I never felt like myself with him."

"Then he wasn't right."

"Maybe, I just felt like I had to put on this show; like I couldn't be my real self. He was always judging me, expecting me to be better than perfect just because I had a sorted past."

"I can understand that," Serena admitted.

"It is so exhausting trying to live up to someone else's ideal."

"It is," Serena stared at the other side of the booth in thought.

Georgina smiled into her nearly empty vodka tonic.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck stood at the front of the ballroom. The entire room was draped in red and black fabric. One half of the room was given over to gambling, cards and roulette competing for favour amongst the underage set. The other half was set up for dancing, live band keeping everyone entertained. Blair and Chuck had outdone themselves with the theme. Bart has been so overjoyed by his son's transformation that he had offered money in unending quantities.

Chuck wore a silk red shirt overlaid by a black suit. There were two diamond patterns cut into each lapel, and on his head he wore a gold crown. He was supposed to be the King of Diamonds. He surveyed the room, looking for his Queen.

"Why did I ever agree to be your jack?" Nate sidled up beside his friend. He was dressed like Chuck, but in place of a crown he wore a silver sword and sash.

"You were high when I asked," Chuck smirked at the memory. "Besides, you know you've secretly wanted to wear a sword in public."

Nate fingered the handle and smiled, "I guess it could be worse. You could have asked me to be the joker."

Nate and Chuck eyed Eric. The younger boy was juggling for the benefit of an admiring crowd. "Are you kidding me? Chuck asked. "Eric's wanted to juggle since he was five."

The two boys laughed. "So where is your Queen?"

As if to answer Nate, Chuck's cell rang. He nodded to Nate and then walked a few steps aside. "Did I forget to unlock the handcuffs again?"

"I'm going to be late."

"Correction, you are already late. Where are you?"

"I'm on my way to pick up Serena. She sent me this weird voice message and I need to check that she's alright."

Chuck held the phone away for a moment, not sure he could stop himself from yelling. "What did she sound like?"

"To be honest? Not that great. I don't know what's happened."

"Georgina happened."

There was silence on the other end for a moment. "That's what I was afraid of. Listen, I'll find her and make sure she gets home safe. Then I'll meet you."

Chuck took one deep breath, deliberately calming himself before he spoke. "Your court will be waiting," he replied and cut the call. When he turned back to Nate he hated the knowing glint in his friend's eyes.

"Serena?" Nate asked.

Chuck's phone rang again before he could explain anything.

Happy Birthday Charlie. I hope you enjoyed your present.

Chuck could feel the pressure in his body build; anger expressed through a single glare at the screen. He slipped it open, started to write a snarky reply but stopped. She wasn't worth the effort. He slipped the cell back.

"Blair?" Nate asked.

Chuck shook his head but didn't explain further. "Cards?" Chuck asked, grabbing another glass of champagne from the revolving waiters.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair held one arm under Serena's side as the two staggered from the elevator. She helped the blonde to sit beside the door to room 1812 while she fished through for her key. Finding it she flung the door open and helped Serena inside. She had intended to take Serena to the Van der Bass suite but decided against it at the last minute. Lily seemed so proud of her reformed daughter, but she knew that it would take one drunken delivery to change that. She also knew how much Serena relied on her mother and their slowly and delicately rewoven relationship.

"Sorry Blair," Serena smiled at her sober and agitated friend. "Chuck's party, you're going to be so late." Blair tried to smile in reassurance, but it was too thin to be real. "I'll just lie down and have a nap. You go and see Chuck."

Blair rolled her eyes. Leaving Serena alone in this state was hardly advisable. She needed someone to take care of her. The problem was every single one of their friends would be present at Chuck's party. Blair kicked off her shoes, and helped Serena the last few steps to the bed. Serena collapsed easily into the thick sheets, and Blair smoothed out her dress.

Blair was already dressed in her theme outfit. It was a fitted black dress that hugged every curve of her silhouette until fanning out below her knees. There were a few hints of red, in the bustier and the folds of her pleated fan but the largest example of red were two interwoven diamonds sewn at the base of her hip. The trip to rescue Serena had added several creases, and crumpled one edge of her fan. She sat beside the bed, and tried unsuccessfully to recover it. It didn't matter. She could be a mess, but she was Chuck's mess and she was going to get there for him. She grabbed her phone and started to dial. She would enlist the help of Dorota.

Then Serena started to gag. Blair stood up, phone still ringing, and went to stand beside her friend. She probably shouldn't have because Serena leaned over the nearest side and a stream of vomit flew through the air and onto Blair's one of a kind dress.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

"Which one of you two were lucky again?" Chuck eyed the two vacuous twins that stood on either side of him. They were attractive he supposed, but had about the same depth as Eric's roots. They giggled predictably, and Chuck held the dice up to the nearest lips. "Blow," he winked.

He was seated at the Craps table, fitting since this whole evening had gone to the craps. He was suppressing the urge to call Blair because he so wasn't her bitch. She had called an hour ago to say that she had finally located Serena and was taking her to the suite. Blair promised that once a suitable replacement could be found she would be underway. Chuck eyed the clock behind. It clock behind showed twenty minutes to midnight, proof that her effort was by now in vain.

As if to denigrate his evening further, Dan took the place in the seat beside him. Chuck turned slowly, looking his nose down at the boy. "Brooklyn?"

"Chuck, I hate that I have to ask you this, but have you seen Serena?"

Chuck grabbed another drink from the attentive servers. He had past drunk three glasses ago, but that never stopped him before. "She's with Blair."

"Where is Blair?"

Chuck took a deep breath and channelled some ill-founded sibling affection. "Blair is feeling sick, and since her mother is out of town, Serena is taking care of her." It sounded lame even to Chuck. Blair had a household of servants to see to her needs. But Dan was not Upper East Side bred and seemed content with the explanation.

"Well, thanks. Happy birthday by the way."

"Yep," Chuck's eyes narrowed further. The blonde blew on his dice and he threw them across the plush gaming table. He lost. It was hardly surprising. The entire evening had been a loss.

He grabbed the dice again and eyed the other blonde twin. "You turn to blow." She acquiesced; he tossed, and lost again.

He cell rang again. Chuck pulled it only far enough from his pocket to eye the caller id. When he was it was Blair, he exhaled in relief and lifted to his ear.

"Where are you?"

"I'm not going to make it."

"I figured that out half an hour ago," Chuck tried to keep his voice neutral.

"I'll make it up to you."

Chuck laughed, but there was no true mirth in the sound. "As much as the idea of you being indebted to me is rather intriguing. I don't think this can be made up."

"Happy birthday?" Blair tried.

Chuck took a deep breath and held the phone to his chest. He reminded himself that this was not Blair's fault. Waving to a passing server, he grabbed a bottle rather than a glass of champagne. He put the phone back up, paused a moment and then spoke. "If you can't come, than I shall move the party to you." He shut the phone before she could reply.

Chuck stood up from his position at the table, and waved off both bimbos. He wrenched the crown from his head and threw it across the table.

Spotted: King C abdicating his crown. Could it have anything to do with Queen B's mysterious absence? Is there trouble in the Kingdom? You'll know when I do.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck tried to move quietly through his family suite, but he had imbibed far too much to allow for subtly. He stubbed his toe on the door stop and cursed aloud.

"Chuck?" He could hear his father's voice from the other room. Just great.

Chuck peeked around the corner. Lily sat with her legs propped on her husband's lap but when the two saw Chuck; Bart dropped them to the carpet. "Don't stop on account of me," he winked. "I'll be out in a moment."

Lily exchanged a look with Bart. "There's a gift for you in the kitchen."

Chuck smiled. "Another? I thought I had already been spoiled mercilessly."

"It's not from us," Bart looked grave and Chuck's smile dropped. "It's from Georgina Sparks."

Chuck's lip curled in disgust. He took a deep breath and then walked to the kitchen. Sitting on the counter, and wrapped with a single red bow was a bottle of bourbon. It wasn't any ordinary bottle of scotch, but a limited edition bottle of Campleton scotch whiskey. Priced at nearly one thousand dollars a bottle it was inaccessible to most. Chuck smiled despite himself. It would be the perfect gift if it was from anyone else.

Taking the bottle in his hand, Chuck smashed it against the kitchen sink. He watched the liquid drain before tossing the broken top in.

Lily and Bart followed the sound of the smash, but neither dared say anything to an inebriated and agitated Chuck.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair curled deeper into the plush chair. She rested her toes on the edge of the bed's comforter, studying her friend's sleeping form. A loud and irregular knock at the door distracted her attention away. Blair gathered the robe tightly around her and shuffled towards the sound.

She peered through the key hole, granting herself a circular profile of her boyfriend. Blair prepared herself for the required Chuck Bass hissy fit before swinging it open. Chuck reclined on edge of the doorway, hair half hanging in his face, and collar disturbed. "Room service," Chuck pulled the bottle of champagne from behind his back. "Someone ordered an overpriced bottle of Dom Pérignon, to be delivered by a devilishly handsome man."

"I thought I'd ordered a redhead."

"He wasn't as easy," Chuck leaned in to kiss her cheek.

The moment he drew close Blair could smell an overpowering mix of spirits and nicotine. "You're drunk," she observed.

"You weren't there to baby-sit," Chuck reminded. He tried to keep any anger from his voice but he had been a selfish child his entire life and his agitation showed.

"I'm sorry Chuck."

"I understand," Chuck surprised himself. He should have been complaining, moaning at his own wasted evening but he really did understand. Perhaps his narcissism has subsided enough to permit sympathy. Or maybe he was just too tired to fight. That didn't mean he wasn't pissed at Serena. He couldn't avoid one agitated glance at his sister's prone figure.

"I didn't think that vomit went with the theme," Blair pointed at her ruined dress.

Chuck glanced briefly at the dress and sighed. He had been looking forward to removing that little piece. When he looked back at Blair she looked so worn out. In contrast to her usual exacting level of perfection, she her make up was smudged, her skin dry and lips chapped. "You need a shower," Chuck decided, putting the champagne bottle aside.

"I'm not in the mood Chuck." Blair rolled her eyes. "For anything."

"Neither am I." Chuck teased. "Not when there's vomit in your hair."

Blair gave an involuntary shudder, "Really?"

"No," Chuck laughed.

Blair gave him a tired slap. Then, he bent down and slipping one arm under her knees he lifted her up and carried her towards the bathroom. Blair's laugher mirrored his when he hit the first table.

"This would be a lot more romantic if you were sober," Blair reminded him when he smashed her arm into the doorway.

"I am what I am." He smirked sleepily as he placed her on the long countertop. Bending down, Chuck took a clean washcloth and ran it under hot water. "Spread your legs," he smirked again.

"You can do better than that," Blair raised an eyebrow. "Nevermind, I forgot who I was talking to," she teased further but offered no objection when he pulled himself flush with her. She felt dizzy and pretended it was because of the smoke laced air and not the fact that she could feel every inch of Chuck beneath his silk shirt. He cupped her face with one hand and started to wash her make up off with the other. The touch was tender, unrushed in its movements. She had expected a livid Chuck Bass. She hadn't expected this kindness. Her eyes dropped to his lips.

"Waldorf," Chuck teased, "I thought you weren't in the mood."

"You have a way of changing my mind," she admitted, closing the small distance in a fiery kiss. She wrapped her legs around his waist and twisted her hands around his neck.

"Promise that will never change," he rasped as her fingers found the naked flesh beneath his silk shirt. They managed to undo Blair's robe before loud retching from the other room killed the mood. Chuck pounded his fist on the counter in frustration, but Blair viewed the entire situation with more humour. She pressed her nose against the hollow of his shoulder and giggled at the absurdity of their evening.

"Please tell me that wasn't my thirty dollar a square foot carpet." Chuck tried to stop the smile from playing at his lips but Blair's laugher unleashed his own. Blair peeked out the bathroom door, when she looked back Chuck knew it was. Blair started to close her monogrammed robe but Chuck stopped her. "Take a shower, I'll deal with it."

Blair looked at him quizzically, but Chuck snaked a hand inside the shower stall and turned it on. Blair shock turned to a smile, and she touched a hand to his face on the way by. Chuck stayed a moment to watch her perfectly formed behind disappear. Then he rolled his eyes in agitation, and after wetting a washcloth, fortified himself for dealing with a drunken Serena.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

The next morning, Chuck awoke on the couch. He was pressed down into a crevice, every inch of his back whimpering in pain but he hardly noticed. All he could pay attention to was the feather-light goddess reclined on top of him. Her chestnut curls fanned out across his chest, and her tiny legs were wrapped within his own. Her painted toes traced a line along his ankle and she shifted.

"Good morning beautiful," Chuck whispered into her slumbering ear. He could feel her smile against his chest. When she turned her head, chin propped on his chest, the smile was still there.

She studied him, watching how his eyes winced against the light. "Would you like something for your head?" She offered.

Chuck took a look at where Serena was sleeping and shook his head. "It would be better if I was not here when Serena wakes."

"So you're sure it was..."

"Yes," Chuck didn't let her speak further.

"I'll talk to her when she wakes up."

"Thank you,' Chuck leaned down and kissed his girlfriend on the forehead.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena crept softly back into the Van der Bass suite. She needed a shower, and after enduring a thirty minute chat with Blair she needed a rest. Her stomach gave a little heave, and Serena decided what she needed most was a glass of water. Luckily the house seemed devoid of life, so she slinked quietly into the kitchen. Unfortunately, Chuck was already searching through the fridge. He turned at the noise, and when he saw who it was his face darkened. "Serena."

"Is there water in there?" Serena asked.

Chuck located a bottle and threw it at her.

Serena put two hands out to deflect. "I already endured a lecture from Blair. I don't need one from you."

"You're just lucky that Gossip Girl was too concerned with my absent girlfriend to track down your drunken ass."

Serena softened over that. "I am sorry. I didn't mean to ruin your birthday."

"I warned you!" Chuck reminded his sister.

Her softness died. "It wasn't Georgina."

Chuck laughed at that. He took his phone out and clicked to the correct message before tossing it on the counter in front of Serena. He raised one eyebrow, waiting for her to pick it up.

Serena read it, and then rolled her eyes at Chuck. "She bought you a bottle of scotch."

"Check the time stamp."

Serena bit her lip in thought.

"If you need to ask Bart he'll tell you Georgina dropped her little gift off at 11pm."

Serena shook her head. "That doesn't mean anything."

Chuck snatched his cell back, not bothering to reply.

"Take some Xanax or something. You're being paranoid. You want me to believe that Georgina manipulated the entire evening just so she could piss you off?"

Chuck didn't bother to reply.

"I am the one who chose to drink. It's not like she forced alcohol down my throat."

Chuck rolled his eyes. "Law of averages," he explained. "It's not like you make good choices when you're with her?"

"Oh my God Chuck. Could you be more of a hypocrite? You drink more than the rest of us combined."

Chuck's lips formed a thin line. "And you were just drinking?"

"Yes!"

"Do you remember last night?"

Serena wasn't about to admit that she didn't.

"And you just drank huh?"

"Why are you acting so high and mighty? A few months of improved conduct doesn't change you into a new person."

The line got thinner. He gave up. There was no point in reasoning with Serena. "I covered for you with Dan."

Serena was surprised, and momentarily confused by that statement.

"I did it once, I won't do it again."

"Chuck...I...you won't need to."

"This conversation is over." Chuck turned on his heel and left.

"You won't need to," Serena made her promise to a closed door. She could feel the adrenalin running through her. She needed to get out of there. As she stepped from the suite, Serena's cell rang. It was Georgina. Despite her fervent defence of the girl, Serena still clicked her to voicemail.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – thanks for all the great feedback. Sorry this chapter was slower to come than normal but it is longer if that makes a difference.

Blood Red Kiss of Death – I'm glad Serena was okay last chapter. I find her so hard to write and I know she's a little OOC in this chapter. Hopefully I'll do better as the story goes along.

Chucklover – thanks

Delphin4K – Dan has an advantage in this story though as he has a heads up on Georgie. Though he'd better watch his judgemental side because it's not winning him any points.

Chairforever – hope you liked Georgie's 'gift'

brucasbrathan – I hope they give Eric someone nice this season. He needs more of a storyline.

Cocomango – IF you already hate Georgie than you'll think she's the devil by the end. I always thought that if Chuck went that far to admit his feelings for Blair that he'd be giving it an honest try and not humping the first interior decorator to go by. But that's my bias

Nadakesgurl – Wow, Georgie would have to be pretty bad to mess with Eric

Steepe – I do have more S/G moments (like in this chapter). I get scared writing Serena though. It's hard to write happy and chipper

Ann - thanks

Up Next – Bart puts his foot down, Some Serena/Dan, Chuck buys art? and Lily introduces a guest.


Chapter 5: Chapter Four


You Can't Forget Your First - No Matter How Hard You Try

Chapter Four

Do you hate me yet? Why? Because I ruined a birthday party? Please! That was just a warning, a small test of what I'm capable of. Chuck should have heeded it. He should remember that I know him better than anyone else.

Now that knowledge is going to destroy him.

Serena and Dan huddled together beneath his umbrella; distant church bells chiming in the distance. The rain beat unceasingly, giving Serena an excuse to draw closer if she had wanted it. Instead, she stole a slice of bread and ran to the nearby pond. Tearing into the half-soggy crust, she threw it at the gathering ducks. They darted rain drops to feast.

A week had passed since the night of Chuck's birthday party. Her brother's lie had been upheld, and Dan remained ignorant of her slip. Serena ought to have been relieved, but instead she felt weighted down with guilt. She had politely, but firmly avoided Georgina but it didn't seem to help. The truth could be found in the words she yelled at Chuck; she was the one who took the drinks.

Why had she done it?

Maybe she'd just given too much weight to those commercials that equated a glass of champagne with glamour. She'd like to believe she wasn't that easily manipulated. Was it poorly constructed impulse control? A tendency to try anything once?

Dan reached her before she completed her thoughts. He put a hand to her nose, wiping the droplets of water that had formed there. Serena wrapped her hand through his, drawing it away from her face and back to her side.

"A penny for your thoughts?" Dan tried.

"They're worth more than that." Serena smiled half-heartedly back at her boyfriend.

Loud quacking drew the couple's attention back to the pond, and two ducks that were fighting over the last piece.

"Here let me," Dan tried to grab his bread back.

"Never," Serena turned away from him, jogging a few feet away.

"Come now, we can't let the ducks fight."

"Are you a duck humanitarian?" Serena ripped two pieces and threw them in opposite directions. The intent was to get the dominate males to separate, but instead they both swam for the closest piece.

"Good try," Dan teased.

Serena looked back to her boyfriend, rain clouding her vision and dancing across her perfectly structured face. "Think you can do better?"

"I try not to gloat but ducks and I have a true affinity." Serena held out the last few pieces of bread. Dan walked over and traded his umbrella for the meagre remains. "The secret is to chase them apart first." To demonstrate Dan ran towards the pond but the ducks were far too domesticated to be easily scared. Instead they spied Dan's full hand and started waddling straight for him. Dan took three steps back but they only increased the speed of their pursuit.

"Do you need saving?" Serena asked, trying to control her laughter.

Dan shot an amused look and threw the handful at the gathering crowd. Rather than prevent fighting, Dan had waited just long enough to include several others in the melee.

"How's that affinity?" Serena teased further.

Dan jogged back to his girlfriend and hid under the umbrella. "I should have known you can never control a wild animal."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck walked the halls of Constance Billiard, trying to locate Blair before she disappeared into a Social Committee meeting. He needed to talk to her. Well that was the pretence. He did need to reschedule plans for tonight, but that could be done as easily by text. He wanted to see her. As September had dissolved into the second week of October, free time competed with societal demands, sports, extracurricular activities and Blair's quest for academic excellence (a quest that had dragged Chuck to new heights as well). It was a fine balance, and not an unpleasant one. Chuck and Blair were not Serena or Dan; they both revelled in their individual lives and did not require the other to be a constant presence, but simply to give a constancy of affection. That being said, if one sought out the other on impulse, there was no complaint.

Chuck's eyes moved disinterestedly through the crowds of girls. He had known many, but only Brunette curls interested. That's until his eyes caught on something straight. One lip curled in automatic disgust. As if sensing him, Georgina turned and met his gaze. She was not unnerved, but put one hand casually to her side, eyes mocking him in triumph. He should have turned away then, but when did Chuck ever make good choices. He marched over to the shrew.

"Hello Charlie," Georgina spoke in false cheeriness. "Did you come all this way to see me?"

"If you come near my family again then I will ruin you."

"What, no small talk? Just straight to the threats?"

"Call it taking a page from your book."

"I'm shaking in my Louboutins."

"You should be."

"Drop the Mafioso styling and admit the truth. I'm not going anywhere, and Serena doesn't want me to."

"She'll come to her senses."

"Get real Chuck. She's never successfully stayed away from me, and I don't think this is going to be the year," she gloated.

Chuck pointed a finger at her face. "This is not done."

Georgiana laughed. "I couldn't agree more; we will never be done. Though this may not be the ideal place for chit-chat," she indicated the students who were eyeing the exchange with interest. "You could stop by my house later," she suggested.

"Like hell."

"It's a lovely place; mom just bought it. I have a photo," she grabbed it off the shelf of her locker. "Here" she held it up.

Chuck didn't plan to look, but the familiarity caught him off guard. He grabbed it from her hand, studying it in shock. It was a startlingly beautiful brownstone, with rose boxes and an old world charm. Etched above the door were the numbers 812. He crumpled it into a ball, and tossed it into her locker. "How the fuck did you manage that?"

Georgina smiled smugly. "I can manage just about anything. You should know that by now." He grabbed the collar of her blazer, dragging her an inch before rationality took over and he let her go. "That's a good boy," Georgiana laughed. "I heard about your predicament; hitting a girl wouldn't help that short lease problem."

"Just leave me alone," Chuck spun around and walked away.

"You really should visit," Georgina tried again. "It's been redecorated since 2001."

Chuck could feel his muscles grow tenser with each cackle of laughter.

Spotted: King C. putting his hands on a girl. but not the usual way.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck lay on his king bed with his eyes closed. His ipod blasted music at a volume meant to drown out not only every outside sound but every inside thought. He didn't know how long he stayed in that position; he simply knew when he started it was light and when Blair tapped him on the shoulder it had turned to night. At the sight of her dark eyes, Chuck smiled and pulled his earbuds out.

"Did you forget?" Blair asked.

"I never forget anything," Chuck smirked. "So did the social committee go for my bikini idea?"

"Chuck, I didn't go for the bikini theme."

"Why not?"

"A bikini theme for our graduation ceremonies?"

"It would keep me awake."

Blair rolled her eyes.

"Maybe just you in a bikini?" He tried.

Blair ignored the suggestion and dropped her bag on the bed. She started to pull out her texts. "Did you want to start with literature tonight?"

Chuck sat up. "I was thinking biology."

"You don't take biology and neither do I"

"It doesn't mean I don't have an intense interest in human anatomy?" He smirked at her.

"And a thorough knowledge."

Chuck ran a finger up her thigh. "I'm sure there are a few spots I haven't studied in full detail yet."

"Like the underside of my earlobe," Blair teased. "Or the back of my knee."

Chuck smirked fuller. "I know all sides of your earlobe intimately. Or my tongue does at least."

"Focus," she commanded, taking out her notebook, and slipping off her heels.

"I thought I was," Chuck pulled her close.

"On your schoolwork," she pulled his bag from beside the bed since he showed no inclination.

"Well you are work," Chuck decided taking her foot in his hands. "And vaguely related to school."

"Nice try Bass," Blair opened her text. "But I'm harder to figure out than quadratics."

"Don't I know," Chuck admitted. "Though quadratics are simple."

"For you maybe," Blair's doe eyes feigned confusion.

Chuck sat down beside her, taking the offered text from her hands. He had talked her through three questions before he realized something. "Since when did Blair Waldorf ever need help with schoolwork?"

Blair tried to contain her snicker. "Since never."

"You played me?"

"Got you to focus didn't I?" Blair said, taking her text back and punching contentedly on her calculator. "And if it soothes your abused male ego, you did teach it better than Mr. Prescott."

"Well," Chuck swelled under the praise a moment but then his perturbed expression returned. "Actually it doesn't."

"Perhaps I could find other ways to soothe your male ego" Blair suggested.

Chuck raised an eyebrow in interest. "It is in desperate need of soothing," he grabbed her foot again.

"After homework," Blair stated seriously.

Chuck moaned in disappointment.

Blair held out his books, confident smile bolstering her words. "Work first, play later."

Chuck took the books in defeat.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Bart and Lily had established several traditions since their marriage; the most consistently enforced was family meals. While conflicting schedules made it impossible to plan for every night, they convened on Wednesdays and Sundays without fail. The pomp and spectacle that surrounded a simple family meal was a bit comical, but the sentiment behind it true.

Eric followed his brother into the formal dining room. At the head of the table, Lily was positively glowing. Eric watched in amusement as Chuck brought out the charm he reserved for his mother. "Lily, you look even more radiant than usual this evening."

"Thank you Charles."

"May I inquire as to the source?" Chuck asked as the brother's took their seats.

Lily smiled, and pointed a magazine article that Serena was poring over. "Amelia Blackcot," Lily began. "The youngest, fastest rising and talented interior designer. The impossible to book designer."

"Oh dear god not another one," Eric muttered only loud enough for Chuck to catch.

"What's the matter?" Chuck asked Eric, playing with his veal.

"You've never experienced the joys of the home decorator?"

"No."

"Your mom never hired one?"

"Never," Chuck admitted. "My mother had her own personal style. We had contractors a couple times."

"My mother has redecorated twelve times in the last twelve years." Eric took a deep breath, "It's never been a good experience."

"Come on, it can't be that bad. I can remember painting my room once, it was actually kind of fun. It was supposed to be this lush purple colour but it came out washed pink. You should have seen my dad's face when he saw it. I thought the vein in his neck was going to pop fully out. He made my mom repaint it blue."

Eric had stopped listening when Chuck admitted he'd painted his own room. "Chuck Bass preformed manual labour?"

"I was seven; anything is fun when you're seven."

"Maybe you could help the new designer, considering you're an experienced painter and all."

Chuck rolled his eyes. "I'm not seven anymore."

"It's not like they'd let your untalented ass help anyway."

"What's the problem with interior decorators?"

Eric couldn't quite put his distaste into words but he tried. "They're arsty fartsy types who didn't have enough talent to make it in a true medium and so they've demeaned themselves to rearranging pillows. They walk around with clipboards full of paint samples and material swatches, pretend they own the house, and don't hesitate to wake you up at six o'clock just so they can change the sheets to match the room."

Chuck laughed at the visual. "They can't be that bad."

"They're like Neo-Nazis with colour palates." Eric stabbed at his steamed asparagus.

"Don't worry little brother," Chuck smirked. "I'll protect you."

Eric rolled his eyes before biting into his own veal cutlet.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Once dessert was served, a servant came up behind Eric to inform him that the car would be ready within fifteen minutes.

Lily managed to catch 'car' and checked her watch. "And where are you going at 7:00pm on a school night?"

Chuck had to swallow his laughter. Lily's mother-hen treatment of her youngest was amusing since she allowed both Chuck and Serena to do pretty much whatever they wanted (as long as it didn't end up on page six). Maybe it's because Serena had learnt young to laugh off her mother's concerns but Eric adopted a deer in headlights posture every time his mother questioned him.

"To Brooklyn," Eric managed to squeak out.

"Brooklyn?" His mother echoed.

"We're all going," Serena interceded on behalf of her brother.

Bart eyed his son. "You're going to Brooklyn."

"Yes."

"To do what?" Lily was starting to grow concerned.

Eric's deer in headlight posture transformed into road kill and Chuck rolled his eyes. "We're going to visit Bro...Dan," he explained.

Bart stared at his son. He wasn't that ignorant of his son's habits or likes and dislikes. "You're going to Brooklyn to visit Dan Humphrey."

"Everyone needs a charity case," Chuck muttered under his breath.

"As long as you're all going together," Lily agreed, giving both her children a kiss before they were allowed to leave.

"Thanks for covering," Eric offered to both siblings once they'd piled into the limo.

"She's going to find out eventually," Chuck shook his head. "I'm surprised she hasn't heard yet."

"I'm going to tell her," Eric promised. "But I didn't think we're going to visit my boyfriend was a good way to start the conversation."

"You've had six months since Gossip Girl outed you." Chuck closed his eyes and pushed his head back into the seat. "Haven't you figured out that timing will never be perfect?"

"Don't push Eric." Serena intervened on her brother's behalf. "You don't know Lily like we do. She doesn't take surprises very well."

Chuck gave a snort because, let's be honest, when compared to his father, Lily was June Cleaver. He felt too tired to be drawn into another argument so he chose to keep his eyes shut tight. When they approached the Brooklyn Bridge he pretended to sleep, but it didn't work and when Serena slipped her fingers through his he didn't complain.

"Are you alright Chuck?" Eric asked when the two approached Clark.

"I'm fine," Chuck forced his eyes open. Of course he was fine or at least he'd learned to accept a certain level of blurred vision and pounding head as norm.

"Seriously," Serena studied him a bit closer. "You're looking paler than usual."

"And you barely touched your food at dinner," Eric remembered.

"My veal was undercooked." Chuck sat up straighter, ignoring the ache in his back. "Chuck Bass doesn't get sick."

The topic was dropped and by the time they arrived at the non-descript building, Eric had already given an entire discourse on Damien's background and art work. Damien had travelled to New York independent of his parents because he had secured a private showing at the Grant Gallery. It was unheard of for a boy of eighteen to be invited to show, as Eric reminded the trio countless times during the commute.

Damien opened the door, denoting himself an artist through paint-spattered jeans as much as the studio atmosphere. Blaring music drowned out their welcomes and Chuck winced as the hyper-melodic madness seemed to reverberate within his head. "What the hell is that?" he asked Eric is a typical biting tone.

"The music? It's indie rock."

"It doesn't quite go with the headache," Chuck complained.

Eric checked his watch. "You have a headache? At eight o'clock? You are definitely sick."

"I am not sick!" Chuck insisted. Nevertheless, as the trio entered, Chuck kept deliberately back. He pretended it was to scrutinize the place and tried to formulate an opinion of Damien based on his home but it was too stark to permit it. Aside from the piles of art supplies and canvases that cluttered every inch, the place was bare. Chuck walked between the canvases, pulling on and then another out to study. Chuck was no artistic genius but even he could recognize talent. He eyed his brother's boyfriend. He was entertaining Serena with perfectly timed humour. It didn't impress Chuck. Anyone could amuse Serena.

After a time, Damien left the two siblings and made his way over to Chuck. "See anything you like?" Damien attempted when Chuck offered no greeting.

"It's more than passable," Chuck pushed a canvas back.

"I'm glad you approve," Damien stood.

Chuck eyed the boy. "I've approved the paintings, not the painter."

Damien just laughed at obvious insult. "Are you playing the overprotective brother role?"

"What? Me?" Chuck was amused by the thought until he realized it was the truth. How had that happened? He was supposed to be corrupting the impressionable youth, not protecting him from others. Damien didn't say anything, but there was a smugness to him that Chuck didn't like. He held out a pack of cigarettes but Chuck didn't take one. His stomach was churning too much to risk it.

"Ignore him," Serena advised, joining the two. "He's even more of a jerk when he's sick."

"I'm not sick," Chuck muttered peevishly, and started flipping through another stack of canvases. They were mixed media pieces and Chuck was intrigued by the texture. He flipped through three before he stopped abruptly.

"Find something you like?" Damien tried again.

Chuck didn't answer immediately. He was studying the portrait of a young man. The young man's was crafted in an explosion of colours, but it wasn't just the portrait; it was what surrounded it. The man was trapped within a tunnel of plaster and shades of grey. It threatened to cover the man, though it never touched him. It was intriguing. Chuck pulled it out from behind the others. "How much?" he asked simply.

"You can have it," Damien replied.

"I can have it," Chuck smirked at the boy's attempt. "Are you trying to impress me, bribe a good opinion perhaps?"

Damien laughed. "I'm not above bribery."

"And I'm not above accepting it."

The group didn't linger for despite Chuck's increasingly loud protests to the contrary, he really did look sick. He didn't even need to feign sleep on the return trip; by the first red light he was dead to the world."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck put his phone on the bed and tried to lose himself in the study of force and energy. He wasn't going to call Blair. He didn't need her here. So what if he felt like death warmed over? Blair was with Serena. Besides, no matter how he teased her about it on Tuesday, he was slowly learning to enjoy studying. No, not enjoy! That would be beyond all reason. He was starting to tolerate studying. It was amusing how simple it was. How if you actually read what was expected, and did enough assignments, than everything was simple. And just as Blair had guessed, Chuck did love the effect of his higher grades on Bart. It wasn't the money; it was the approval that came complete with the money.

Still, it was infinitely more pleasurable with a slim brunette's legs wrapped through his own, rose perfume tickling his nose, and strong feminine voice reading to him. His fingers inched closer to the phone, but he stopped himself. She was with Serena, and she'd be sure to visit him on the way home.

He could hear voices from the other room, and smiled smugly to himself. When his door clicked, Chuck chewed his pen and smiled at the arrival. When Georgina appeared rather than Blair, he pulled the pen from his mouth and tossed it in his bag.

"Charlie Bass studying! Serena told me but I had to see it for myself."

"You've seen," Chuck glared at her "now leave."

"I would," Georgina sighed. "But Serena isn't here yet and I'm bored. Think you could help with that?"

"Don't you have a pill to fix it," Chuck threw back. "Or better yet; you could go home!"

"I spent all afternoon there." Georgina's eyebrow spiked. "Sipping tea in the gorgeous solarium."

Chuck couldn't respond to that.

"Didn't Misty have that put in?" Georgina baited him.

Chuck dropped his text onto his lap. He kept right on studying.

"You really should come for a visit," she tried again.

"Are you done?" Chuck spat out.

"I'm never done," Georgina reminded him. She reclined against his dresser, making sure to hike up her skirt as she did. "So why are you here alone? I'm surprised Blair lets you out of her sight."

"Blair doesn't need to keep me on a leash."

Georgina laughed. "She must be more naive than I remember."

"She trusts me!"

Georgina laughed louder at that thought. "You must have really laid it on thick."

Chuck pulled at his shoulder bag and started rifling through it.

"If memory serves, your I love you can be rather convincing."

"Blair doesn't need that crap."

"You haven't told her you love her?"

"She's perfectly aware of it," Chuck threw back at her. "Blair knows me; she understands that I'm not some pansy who needs to fill her ears with sweet nothings to build up their own weak masculinity."

"The words flowed easily enough with me."

Chuck ripped a blank page from his notebook. He wrote in grade six in thick, bold letters, and threw it at her. Georgina picked it up with one finger and laughed lightly.

"I guess you can't read as well as hear."

"Your excuses are getting old Charlie. They can't change the sentiment."

Chuck shook his head in disbelief.

"It must be awkward though; little princess Blair waxing on about love and you standing there like a cardboard cut out."

Chuck tried to keep his expression neutral, but her words dug right at his insecurities.

"Unless she hasn't," Georgina's eye opened in shock. "Oh, now that's quite out of character. Shouldn't she be filling your ears with all sorts of romantic dribble? It is her style after all."

Chuck rolled his eyes and tried to focus on his equations.

"Mind you I guess you're no Nate.

Georgina always knew the right buttons to push. He tried to solve question thirteen, but pressed down on his pencil so hard it broke.

"Touched a nerve did I?"

Chuck looked right through her. "You don't know anything about me."

"I beg to differ," Georgina's lip curled into a knowing smile. I know everything about you; every sound, every expression. You might as well stop playing."

Chuck looked down at his text and tried to pretend she wasn't there.

"I know Blair too. How long before she leaves the black knight and returns to her fairytale prince."

Chuck flipped a page so roughly that he ripped the corner.

"I heard she did it once already. Do you really think you could be gentleman enough for her?"

That was it! That was the moment that tore through Chuck's poorly controlled temper. The text went flying through the air as Chuck went flying at her. Despite her persistent baiting of Chuck, Georgina was momentarily surprised by the speed of his attack. She stood there frozen until his hand made contact with her arm. "Get the fuck out of my room." He yelled, giving her a shove towards the door.

He managed to move her a few inches before she dug her stilettos into the carpet. She stared at him, raising one eyebrow at their closeness. She turned her head with calculated slowness, staring first at his hand that was still wrapped around her arm, and then back up at him. Chuck ignored his own discomfort and glared harder at her, "Don't you ever listen? I said get out!" He shoved her even harder than before. She stumbled back a few feet, before falling theatrically at the feet of both Blair and Serena.

"Chuck!" Serena cried out in shock, before kneeling down beside her friend. Blair stepped over the simpering Georgina. She saw the situation with a clearer eye, and was far more concerned with her boyfriend.

"Are you alright?" Blair studied his face, putting out a hand to calm him down.

He was wound too tight to be calmed by a few simple words. "Don't touch me," Chuck grabbed Blair's hand, throwing it off him. He fled to the far side of the room before. "Keep that bitch away from me," he asked no one in particular.

"Maybe I should leave," Georgina looked up at Serena.

Serena helped her friend off the carpet. "We'll both leave," she suggested with one last look at her brother.

Chuck leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. His pulse was running at marathon speed. He rubbed his mouth distractedly, trying to regain some semblance of control. He wished he'd never known that demented shrew, wished he'd never counted her as a friend and he definitely wished he'd never touched her. She was aware of all his insecurities and knew exactly how to target them.

"What did she do?"

"Nothing," Chuck ripped a hand through his hair and reopened his eyes. The sight of Blair's doe-eyed loveliness calmed him a little.

"What did she say?"

Chuck broke eye contact and stared to the side. He wasn't about to discuss the context of Georgina's taunts. "Does it matter?"

Blair sat primly on the bed, and Chuck guessed it did. In the perfect universe where boyfriends were drank coffee instead of scotch, ran across pristine beaches rather than darting traffic, and spoke their feelings rather than danced around them, Chuck would have told her everything. But Chuck couldn't do perfect or simple. "She said what she needed to get under my skin."

It was an attempt.

Blair nodded, recognizing it as such. She crossed the room and stood before him. When he offered no objection she wrapped her arms around him, putting her head to his chest. She pulled closer as his body relaxed, listening to his racing hard until it grew quiet.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena painted her lips in the large overhanging mirror. Georgina has suggested they head to Modern for a late dinner. Serena was obligated to accept. After all, her own brother had tried to hurl Georgina across a room. They'd chatted their way through three courses, before Serena had sought refuge in the bathroom. Georgina's catty remarks on fashion and dating were not as entertaining as they'd been two weeks ago. She was nasty without the wit. She was outclassed by Blair who had not only ten times the snark but the charm to pull it off. Serena ignored the fact that she was also an amoeba compared to her brunette friend. She focussed instead on Georgina. Was it possible that Georgina had turned just a bit dull? Serena shut her eyes to erase the thought. That wasn't possible. Georgina couldn't do dull. She was full of life, of mischief and carefully crafted schemes. Or at least she'd seemed that way, but Serena couldn't remember much of their history. Serena shook her head and studied her eyes. She tried to convince herself that this was infinitely preferable to drunken routs, or waking up in strange places with strange people.

Except it kind of wasn't.

Serena threw the lipstick back into her clutch, and continued her now-familiar mantra. I don't need to be drunk or high to have fun. Suitably fortified, she gave a last look in the mirror and returned to her table. Georgina was talking on the phone, but she pointed to the table. Their chocolate mousse had come, along with two green apple martinis.

"Oh no," Serena looked immediately at Georgina. "Did you?"

"It's from that gentleman over there," Georgina pointed to a well-groomed blonde at the bar. "I see your charms haven't diminished."

Serena stared at the drink apprehensively.

"Why don't we send them back?" Georgina suggested, putting up her hand to wave the waitress back.

"Yeah, maybe that's a good idea."

"Do you remember our cross-country road trip?" Georgina laughed. "I don't think we paid for a drink the entire time, or anything else for that matter."

Serena smiled at the memory. "Maybe one wouldn't hurt," Serena decided and Georgina dropped her hand. "Do you remember the car?"

"You promised him you were going to use it for a run to the liquor store."

"I didn't say which state that liquor store might be in."

"I can't believe we managed to get through four states before your ghastly driving got us busted. Do you even know what a yellow line is?"

"Hey," Serena laughed at her friend. "If I remember correctly you're the one who talked our way out of it."

Georgina smiled at her friend. "Anything to save your ass."

Spotted: S looking smashing at Modern, or is that just smashed. Be careful S, I heard Lonely Boy likes them sober.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck was fast asleep when his phone rang. He buried his head deeper and tried to ignore it but it wouldn't stop. It was a constant, buzzing irritation and at last Chuck gave up. He grabbed his pants from the floor and pulled the cell from a pocket. It was Georgina. He slammed the phone on the mattress beside him. He would have ignored the call, except he guessed it involved Serena. "I told you not to call me."

"I thought you should come get your sister: before she goes home with a yuppie investment banker." Chuck buried his face into the pillow before letting out a string of particularly foul expletives. "Are you there?" Georgina called lightly into the phone. Chuck didn't bother to reply, but she could hear him resume breathing. "He's kind of hot," Georgina laughed "So if you don't mind maybe I'll just turn my back a few minutes. Though I'm pretty sure Dan wouldn't approve."

Chuck was struck by the question of why he did care. Why did he care if Serena slept with some banker who cruised for teens? Why did he care if she broke Dan's heart? It wasn't his heart and it wasn't his problem.

"Wow, that's cold!" Chuck could almost see Georgina smile through the phone.

"Just keep an eye on her," Chuck kicked his blankets off.

"Much better," Georgina teased. "You could hardly be a reformed, caring young man and ignore your own sister."

"Don't change my mind," Chuck snarled into the phone. He started to search for his shoes.

"We're at Blue. I'll order you a scotch." He caught some of her twisted laughter before he could cut the call.

Chuck had half buttoned his fly when the waves of nausea struck. He barely made it to the bathroom before he hurled what might have passed for a dinner in rehab. The toilet mocked him and he couldn't hide it anymore. Chuck Bass was sick. He could down an entire bottle of scotch without a single gag. He was definitely sick. He survived a few additional dry heaves and then crawled back to his bed. Now was not the time to be sick. Not when Serena needed him. He was briefly struck by the idea of vomiting on Georgina's pumps. The thought nearly spurred him to finish dressing. But then the blurriness set in and he pulled the covers over.

He almost fell back asleep before he remembered Serena. He felt through the blankets for his phone and started dialling. "Hey Nate," Chuck tried to make his voice chipper, but by that time of morning, nothing could be coaxed into cheerfulness.

"Chuck," Nate's sleepy voice seemed to dissolve into the phone. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"

"I'm sorry man; I have a favour to ask."

"And it can't wait until morning?"

"No it can't," Chuck said with a firm voice.

He could hear Nate shuffle in his bed. When he spoke again, it was with a greater clarity. "You had better be dangling from a window with only your signature scarf between safety and ultimate doom."

"Like I'd stretch it."

Nate chuckled into the phone, by now entirely awake.

"It's Serena."

"Is she drunk again?"

"Yes, and she's with Georgina."

"I see," Nate said, understanding the implication immediately.

"Would you collect her?" The question was hardly necessary. He could hear Nate shuffling into a pair of slacks before the words left Chuck's mouth.

"Where is she?"

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – I'm really not happy with my writing right now but I thought I'd post it anyway. I feel like I can do so much better so I apologize.

silvermantella – don't worry about long reviews…I love them. I read and re-read my reviews to get motivated :) I kind of see Chuck and Serena as a good example of fighting siblings. They never quite get along (with good reason) but they've also got each other's backs when needed. Whereas B/S and C/N or C/E are genuinely closer.

steepe – C & B will both have a few chances to prevent Georgina's interferences. Let's see how they do :)

Blood Red Kiss of Death – I'm afraid that C/S relationship is going to get even worse

ChuckBassLova – thanks

tifa – I'm glad you like this take to Georgina. She's definitely a master manipulator here. Like she warns at the beginning of this chapter, she's only begun to play

candycorn – thanks

Chairforever – G will bring major troubles. She started it with Chuck's b-day but it'll come fuller force next chapter

rdx – I agree, I think the reason C/B are such a good mix is that one is shrewish and the other a jerk (but caring with their circle). They're a perfect blend of nastiness :)

Cocomango – what was that about Amelia cackles


Chapter 6: Chapter Five


You Can't Forget Your First: No Matter How Hard You Try

Chapter Five

Do you hate me yet? Maybe I hate myself a bit. Some of the manoeuvring was beneath me. Not the stuff about Nathaniel; that was too obvious a button not to push.

Maybe I should have left Misty out of it though. I had promised myself that I wouldn't drag his mother's sordid history into this. Oh who am I kidding? I'm not sorry one bit.

It's kind of kinky to sleep in Chuck's old room.

Serena could feel the strobe lights scorch her skin, or maybe her body was being burned from within, alcohol and drugs slowly burning away her new life. Her legs moved clumsily, instinctively to the music. She didn't need to be a talent; the men weren't studying her choreography. They were studying her legs which stretched a mile from this high. She'd mastered her eyes, trained them to promise everything and nothing in the same.

Georgina danced beside her, casually touching her side for the benefit of their small crowd. Serena had missed that. Blair was too intelligent, too iron willed, too perfect. Georgina's perfection was in her imperfections. She wasn't as desirable as Serena. She was too hard, not quite beautiful enough. Serena could stand beside her and still be the center.

She was the center. She could have any man in the crowd and they would be thankful for the chance. She wouldn't though. She wanted Dan. It was a riddle that she couldn't quite find the answer to. She loved Dan; she loved to be the center of attention but it wasn't enough to be the center of Dan's attention.

"Serena," a voice called out. Serena furrowed her eyebrows in drunken thought. Who was calling her? Why was the voice familiar? She was supposed to be Sarah. No, that wasn't right. Georgina was Sarah. She was Sabrina? No, she was Susan. No, that wasn't right either. It started with an S. Serena started with an S.

Someone put a hand on her calve and she pulled back. She didn't like to be touched there. She'd use a nasty glare. She turned to him, but then her thoughts stopped. "Nate" she thought aloud. It couldn't be Nate. It had to be her guilty conscience.

"Serena," Nate coaxed. "Get down from there."

No, that wasn't right. This was too familiar. Nate couldn't be standing here, bangs hanging in his eyes. Serena took one great big step back, nearly falling off the other side of the table that had become her stage.

"Serena, be careful," Nate walked to the other side.

No, this really couldn't be right. It couldn't be Nate; but there he was, standing patiently to the side, hands pressed into rumpled slacks. His posture was the same as that night. It reminded her of the past. Reminding her how dangerous the game she played was. That a longing to be noticed by everyone could only end in her own destruction.

"Serena," Nate offered his hand. "I've come to take you home."

Serena hesitated only a moment before inching her skirt back down and taking the offered hand.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck buried his face under a mountain of blankets. His phone had been ringing incessantly for an hour. If he'd been more lucid he would have shut the damn thing off. He just wanted to sleep. He pulled the blankets tighter, his head screeching louder than any ringtone. He briefly considered smothering himself just for the release. Chuck Bass could tolerate nearly anything. There were few things in life that he truly hated: flat pop, fake tans, being sick and the bitch on the other side of the line.

He heard a loud bang and a yell of frustration from the left; it was the wall he shared with Eric's room. You'd think as posh a hotel as the Palace would have better soundproofing. Chuck gave a kick at his cell but the stupid thing kept ringing. With a hiss of frustration, Chuck uncovered his head and dug around on the floor.

"Shouldn't you be passed out somewhere by now." Chuck yelled into the phone.

"Where were you?"

"Haven't you heard? I'm sick and I don't think seeing your horse face would help the matter."

"I don't care if you have the bubonic plague. When I say you come, you come."

"If memory serves, you've never been in control of that." Chuck could hear her breathing hitch and he revelled in his power.

"You're going to have to pay."

"What are you going to do?" Chuck taunted. "Serena's at home asleep."

"I have other ways of ruining her."

"You've got the wrong number. If you're looking for the man with the white knight complex, Nate lives three doors to your left.

"You can't pretend you don't care."

"I only care that she is not physically harmed and you don't have it in you to let that happen. You like her too much." Georgina started again, but Chuck stopped her. "You can blather on forever but I am not playing." Chuck repeated the last few words slowly and succinctly before shutting his cell off and tossing it on the bedside table.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Spotted: S taking the party to the morning hours. But those aren't Lonely Boy's arms carrying her home. Could this be rise of S and N or just the death of S and D.

Serena could feel the tears prick at her eyes. She pushed her hair back before her mascara could turn the tips black. Eric crossed the limo and sat beside her. He put an arm around her, and when she didn't object to it pulled her close. She fell against her smaller brother's chest; he kissed the top of her head and shushed her into a state of calm.

The phone lay abandoned beside her. She didn't need to look again; the pictures were etched into her memory. They were worse than the ones posted the night before. She'd been drunk at Modern but not disorderly. Her tank hadn't been hanging half off one shoulder, her skirt hadn't been hitched above her knees, and she certainly hadn't been half-unconscious and cradled in Nate's arms.

"Do you want to go home?" Eric asked when the limo arrived at school.

Serena shook her head. "Could we just drive a bit first?"

Eric instructed the driver to do so, watching his sister as the limo circled the block. The initial shock had passed, and she looked lost. Eric wanted to chastise her, but that never worked. Eric was impressionable, Serena was rebellious. If you pushed Eric he'd sway but if you pushed Serena she'd push back, not in an obvious mutiny like Chuck but in a quiet insurgency. He wondered if Dan realized that about her. "What happened last night?"

"I can't talk about it with you."

"Look around sister, there's no one else here."

"I had too much to drink."

"I know that," Eric said softly. "Why did you do it?"

"I don't know," Serena answered, staring out the window.

Eric wondered if Serena knew her own predisposition to defiance. "Is it going to happen again?"

"I need to talk to Dan," Serena ignored the question.

Eric pushed his head backward. He might not have had Chuck's mathematical mind but even he could predict the odds. This was the second time. How much longer before the third? "You'd better clean yourself up first," Eric said, handing Serena her purse.

Serena dug through until she found her compact. Flipping it open, she studied the image: her skin was ash, and her eyes were blurred by mascara. "I am a mess," she decided, not necessarily referring to her appearance.

"I have an idea." Eric dug in one of the countless compartments. He emerged with a package of wet wipes".

"Wet wipes?" Serena eyed the container. "You keep wet wipes in the limo?"

"They're Chuck's."

Serena didn't want to know why Chuck Bass kept wet wipes anywhere. "Then why are you touching them?"

"Because I'm brave," Eric decided and pulled a cloth out. He handed it to his sister and she used it to clean her face.

"Just be honest," Eric stared at his sister. "This isn't junior year, Nate and Dan are friends. Nate is dating Vanessa." When Serena didn't look convinced, Eric tilted her head up to face him. "It will be okay." He couldn't help but add, "As long as you make good choices from now on."

Serena wiped the last few traces of mascara from her face. "It's finally happened. My little brother is smarter than me."

"What do you mean finally?" Eric smirked at her sister's naiveté. "I was born smarter than you."

Serena gave him a slap across the shoulder as the limo pulled to a stop.

"Are you ready?"

Serena shook her head, lips pressed firmly together.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck rubbed his nose for the umpteenth time, throwing the tissue on the side table. It joined the towering collection, and Chuck lay back on his side. His laptop was open beside him, and he flipped through pictures of his drugged up sister until he reached the last couple. Nathaniel was holding his sister with every kindness. Every kindness underlay by true affection.

He rolled his eyes at Georgina's naïveté. She thought this would mess with him? It might mess with Serena but it was playing right into his hands. He felt a stab of guilt, but shut the laptop before it could linger.

The bitch was right, he was jealous of his perfect sandy-haired friend. How could he not be? Chuck loved Nate but hated him in the same breath. Chuck hated how Nathaniel could walk through life with a perpetual high and only seven functioning brain cells but still exude class from every pore. Nate didn't even need to try, he got everything he wanted, and he didn't even appreciate it. Well everything except Serena. So he threw Nate back at Serena. Maybe it was beneath him. Nate had Vanessa and Serena had Dan but Chuck suspected that if Nate had Serena then Nate would never have Blair again.

Chuck put the laptop on the table beside, and then snuggled deeper under his blankets.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena didn't have to look far for Dan; he was waiting for her when she stepped from the limo. Eric stood beside his sister a moment, offered emotional protection. Than Serena waved him away and she was left alone and unguarded.

"Hi Dan," She tried to smile but her muscle wouldn't co-operate. There was darkness to her boyfriend, his chin was set to steel and his eyes didn't blink as he stared. "Can we go somewhere to talk?"

"Here is good," Dan spoke evenly.

"Last night I…" Serena couldn't find the words.

"I'm perfectly aware of what you were doing last night. I woke up to streaming video of it," he reminded her. "What a wake up call that is."

"I made a mistake."

"I think that's pretty obvious."

"It wasn't as bad as it seems," Serena tried to explain.

"Oh no," Dan shot back. "Did you get on the table to check the height of the ceiling? Was Nate carrying you because you broke a heel, your ankle maybe?"

Serena bit her lip, trying to think of a way to make her boyfriend understand.

"Do you even realize how bad it really was? What if it hadn't been Nate carrying you out? What if it had been some stranger? God knows where you could have ended up, or what could have happened to you."

"Georgina wouldn't let that happen."

"From what I see," Dan's face went darker. "Georgina doesn't have your best interests at heart."

"No, it's not like that," Serena tried to touch her boyfriend but he shoved her hand off.

"I have Mr. Pisor first block. I don't need this right now."

"Dan," Serena put out a hand again, this time to stop him from rushing away.

Dan waited one moment long. He eyed his girlfriend from head to toe, shaking his head in agitation. "We'll talk later," he promised. He gave her a half-hearted kiss on the cheek and fled inside.

Serena watched him depart, eyes filling with tears. She scanned the courtyard; searching for Blair, looking for an escape from the sets of eyes that followed her and the phones filming her humiliation. What she saw instead was the source of her misery.

Georgina was only a few feet away, watching the exchange. She sat with her thin legs crossed; her blackened eyes were free of either embarrassment or shame. Serena marched over. "Hi S."

"We need to talk," Serena spoke harshly.

"Okay," Georgina put her coffee aside. When Serena said nothing, Georgina tried again. "Did you want to talk here?" Georgina spoke with complete innocence.

"Let's go for a walk."'

Georgina uncrossed her legs and stood. She dropped her half-empty coffee into a nearby garbage can and smoothed her skirt. When they'd gone far enough to evade the gossip-mongers, Serena spoke. "How could you let me do get that drunk? Dan is never going to forgive me."

"Do you want him to?" Georgina spoke seriously. "I listened to his little rant. So self-righteous," Georgina rolled her eyes.

"Of course I do! Why does this always happen with you. There's always alcohol, always drugs."

"No Serena, you don't get to play that game." Georgina's lip curled. "You don't get to pretend that you're innocent and I'm leading you astray."

Serena stared at her friend but could think of no way to refute it.

"You can't peroxide your hair enough to make your insides pure. The sooner you realize that, the better off you'll be. Some girls were born to be dainty, overachieving little prima donnas. We're not that type."

"I've changed," Serena muttered resolutely.

"You're playing a really fine game," Georgina countered. "But even you should know; if it doesn't feel real it's because it's not."

"I'm not playing," Serena insisted. "This is my life."

"It's not mine. I'm not going to pretend to a good girl any longer. I've figured out who I am," Georgina smiled. "And truth is liberating, even if it's not the lie that everyone else wants to hear."

"Georgina," Serena softened her tone.

"No," Georgina spiked one eyebrow. "I'm happy with who I am. I don't want to pretend. If that's what you want from me then maybe it's better if we're not friends."

"Georgina," Serena tried again.

"Go on," Georgina gave a wave of her hand, bracelets jingling with the movement. "Go back to your artfully crafted new life. When you get tired of it you know my number."

With that Georgina turned away and walked back towards the school. Serena watched her go and hated the fact that her words had hurt as much as Dan's.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck could hear a voice calling his name; it was so distant and disconnected from him. He dragged the covers even tighter around his face and mumbled "Just another hour mom." Before he could drift back into that calm place the blankets were ripped from him. Cold air hit his face and he rolled over, prepared to do battle with whoever had brought the pulsating light.

"Get up Bass," Blair stared down at him. "I'm not waiting and I'm not your mom."

"Is that anyway to treat the ill?" Chuck complained, brown eyes meeting brown.

"You've always been ill Bass," Blair's lips tugged instinctively. "Just not so obviously."

"You'll definitely not the Florence Nightingale type."

"I'm not entirely bad," Blair brandished a container. "I brought home-made chicken soup."

"You cooked for me?"

Blair gave a little chuckle at the thought. "Dorota did."

"Close enough." Chuck looked at the clock. "But shouldn't you be in history right about now?"

"I didn't feel like going to class today." Blair set the soup down on his dresser.

There were few universal truths; teacher's tests were always based on information he didn't cover, Nate was always high, and Blair never, ever skipped school.

"Why not?" Chuck studied his girlfriend.

"It's not the same without you," She smiled.

"Wow Waldorf," He smirked at her. "That was almost overly sentimental," And entirely untrue. Chuck wanted to believe her, but her eyes were haunted and told a different truth. He chose to ignore it; he was good at ignoring things. Besides she was here with him, and not shut up in a bathroom somewhere, crying her eyes out. That must mean something. Chuck propped a pillow behind him, smirking fully. "The nursing costume is three drawers to the right."

Blair jutted out her perfect chin. "Nice try Bass, but as you've already pointed out, I'm not the nursing type."

"You owe me," Chuck studied his perfectly coifed girlfriend. "You probably gave me this little germ."

"I'm sorry, I gave you something?" Blair couldn't help but laugh. "What's the likelihood of that?"

"I heard you sniffling the other night."

Blair laughed harder. "We were watching Sabrina. I was crying because it was a sad part of the movie."

"It all sounds the same to me," Chuck decided.

"We'll work on a catalogue of different emotions," Blair suggested taking out her phone. She sat on the edge of his bed and snapped a photo of herself. "This one will be called sympathy. In case you're not familiar with sympathy, that's the emotion you feel when you're trying to help your boyfriend and he's being a total prick."

"Drool.".

Blair held the phone out and before Chuck could hide behind his pillow she'd snapped his photo. "We'll call this one sick," she said. "I think you're aware of that one." Chuck pressed the pillow back over his head before she could snap another. "Eww, what is that hanging from your nose?"

"Excuse me," Chuck put the pillow back down.

"Maybe I should send this one to Gossip Girl."

Chuck went a little paler (if that was possible). Throwing the pillow aside he jumped from the bed. Blair laughed and clicked another photo. She easily avoided his grab, slipping to the other side of the room. "We'll call this one perturbed." Blair decided before jumping on the bed to avoid her boyfriend.

In an instant Chuck had an arm wrapped around Blair's legs. With a smirk he gave a pull and Blair fell backwards onto his bed. He grabbed the phone that she had dropped in her descent. Using his free hand he began to tickle. He waited until she was suitably red in the face and then snapped his own photo. "Shall we call this one tickled to death?"

Once she'd recovered her breathing, Blair shook her head in disappointment. "That isn't an emotion! You need a dictionary more than I originally thought." She went to grab the cell back, but Chuck held it just beyond her grasp.

"If once you fail," Chuck bent down to kiss his girlfriend. Rather than her usual encouragement, Blair held both hands up and tried to push him off.

"Chuck," she darted her face to one side but wasn't fast enough. He'd caught a kiss before she could turn away. "You taste like vomit," she complained loudly.

Chuck took a picture anyway. "I was going for horny," he winked "but I'll settle for disgusted. That is a genuine emotion, is it not?"

"Maybe," Blair grabbed the phone, and stuck her tongue out.

"Now that wasn't smart," Chuck smirked. "Putting that delectable tongue on display. It just reminds me of last weekend."

"I am not licking your sweaty, sickly skin."

"What if I took a shower?" Chuck suggested. "Or we took a shower?"

"Are you rediscovering your strength?"

"It's amazing what a visit from Blair Waldorf can do," Chuck smiled down at her. He ran a fingertip down her perfectly chin, his eyes never breaking with hers.

In one stealth movement, Blair snapped another photo. She smiled at the preview before turning it to Chuck. "Here's your pop quiz. What is this emotion?"

Chuck studied the still, his smile slowly turning frozen. A boy in love stared back at him. There was softness in his features, a smile that was naturally formed, and eyes clouded with emotion. It was Chuck Bass and yet it wasn't. His stomach pitched, fear twisting every inch to knots. He chanced a glance at Blair and saw that she was waiting patiently for his response. Bile crept into the back of his throat, and Chuck realized it was a force other than just fear that was twisting his stomach. "I'm going to be sick," he said before fleeing to the bathroom.

It took three heaves before his mind was cleansed of his own lovesick expression; his bile slowly turning the water of the toilet yellow. All his energy expended, he collapsed back on the cold, tile floor. When he looked up he saw that Blair was standing in the doorway, disgusted expression on her face. "You could'a helped."

"Your hair is too short to hold back."

Chuck stretched his legs out, putting one on either side of the toilet. He leaned his head on the shower stall and closed his eyes.

"You can't stay here."

"It's more convenient," Chuck pointed at the toilet. "And I'm all about conveniences."

Blair gave up her vigil at the door. She flushed the toilet and taking a washcloth made a cold compress. Pressing it to Chuck's head she ordered him to stand.

"Slave driver!" Chuck muttered before standing up.

"Come lie down," Blair hitched an arm around him. "I'll read you a story or something," she suggested as he leaned against her.

"I just got the new Playboy," Chuck whispered into her ear.

Blair let her arm drop, causing Chuck to drop as well.

"Well, that wasn't nice," Chuck said, struggling to stand again.

"I don't do nice," Blair reminded him.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena sat at a coffeehouse on fifth. Dan had ordered for then both, and now they sat in uncomfortable silence. Each hid behind their mug, so far managing nothing beyond chit-chat about their school day.

"Are you really angry?" Serena tried at last.

"I'm not," Dan slipped a hand over hers. "I mean I was, but now I'm…I don't know what I'm feeling…disappointed maybe."

"I really am sorry."

"Are you really?" Dan questioned her. "Because I warned you. We all warned you. It's not like this was some weird accident, it was pretty predictable."

"I know."

"So if you knew then why did you do it?"

"I wish I can explain it to you. It's just a part of who I am."

"Of who you are?" Dan touched a hand to his face in thought. "I thought it was who you were. I thought you were happier now."

"I am happy now. I don't know how to explain it."

"Try me."

"It's just that sometimes I like to go out and have a few drinks. I like to just let loose and enjoy being free."

"It was more than a few yesterday."

"I know, I got carried away. But just having a couple of drinks can't be bad."

Dan rolled his eyes, taking a large gulp from his coffee.

"Why do you have a problem with drinking?"

"Because we're underage," Dan stared at her. "And maybe there's a reason why we're supposed to wait."

"What does that mean?"

"Look at yourself Serena. What boundaries has being drunk made you cross?"

Serena stared down at her own coffee.

"Look at Chuck."

Serena had to see the logic in that. Her brother was like a poster boy for AA.

"It's not glamorous." Dan insisted. "It's stupid, and it's dangerous."

"Can you forgive me?"

"Of course I can," Dan reached across the table and cupped his girlfriend's face. "Just please don't let it happen again."

"I promise," Serena agreed, covering Dan's hands with her own.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

"Welcome back father," Chuck nodded at his dad and took the seat opposite. Bart had left the night before Serena's indiscretion, and arrived home only this morning. He had been away on business for full week.

"How are you feeling?" Bart asked his son.

"Much better," Chuck dug into his pancakes with a rediscovered appetite. He'd devoured the first before anyone noticed his brother's absence.

"Where is Eric?" Lily asked.

Serena sent Chuck a panicked look, but her brother too busy devouring his second pancake to notice. "He must have fallen asleep upstairs. He said he was going to watch some movie last night."

"I'll go get him," Lily stood from the table.

Serena gave a startled gasp, and Chuck looked up from his plate.

"Is everything alright?" Lily asked.

"I'm fine," Serena said. "It's just my eggs are undercooked. You know how I hate undercooked eggs." Serena looked straight at Chuck. "I really, really hate undercooked eggs," she finished tilting her head awkwardly to the side.

Chuck shrugged his shoulders at first, but then recognition hit. He mouthed Damien across the table. When Serena nodded, Chuck stood up and dropped his napkin to the table. "I'll fetch Eric," he volunteered.

"That's not necessary," Lily began but Chuck was out of the room before she could finish the thought.

The moment the elevator doors shut, Chuck grabbed his cell and dialled Eric's number. "Get some clothes on" he spoke into his brother's voicemail "there are some things that even I don't want to see."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric was just done tying his shoes when he heard the knock. Walking over he tried to calm himself; hoping there was no blush as he opened the door. It figures that Chuck would be here. At a distance, the guy was connected to everyone's deflowering.

Chuck leaned against the door frame. He eyed the stereo with disgust, "Based on the soundtrack, I gather he's still here."

"In the shower."

"I suggest you say your goodbyes and get yourself downstairs. Before your mom comes up to get you."

"Hey Eric," Damien emerged from the bathroom clad only in a pair of jeans. "Have you seen my smokes?" When he caught sight of Chuck, he grabbed his t-shirt from the dresser and pulled it quickly over his head.

Chuck smirked at their mutual embarrassment. "Good morning."

"Thanks," Damien attempted a smile. "Charles, right?"

"Chuck," he corrected before turning back to his brother. "I suggest you get moving," Chuck checked his watch. "Or prepare for introductions"

Damien dug through the books on the dresser, emerging victorious with a pack of Richmonds. He took a cigarette out and let if hang from between his lips. He studied Eric, waiting for his reply. When he made none, Damien spoke. "I could wait," he suggested.

Eric was floored. Damien had never shown an interest in being introduced. Of course, prior to last night he'd never been inclined towards staying the night either. Eric was so overcome by the sentiment that he almost allowed it. Then his rational side regained control. He eyed Damien critically: his jeans were ripped, the wife beater clearly showed the eagle tattoo that stretch from one shoulder blade to the other, and his ever present cigarette dangled unlit. "I don't think this is the moment."

Damien shrugged his shoulders. He could have been hurt but it clashed with his unaffected cool. Eric hastily grabbed his belongings and left.

Chuck followed him out, hesitating just a moment to remind Damien to smoke on the balcony.

"So," Chuck smirked at his brother when the elevator doors closed.

"Yes," Eric said simply.

"Really?" Chuck bobbed his head and waited for his brother to elaborate.

"I'm not talking about it," Eric shot back at the ding.

When the siblings reached the apartment, Lily was laying in wait. Eric rediscovered that deer in headlights expression, and Chuck tried pretending that he didn't derive evil satisfaction at his brother's discomfort. Eric went to walk around his mother to the dining room table but she stopped him. "We need to talk."

Chuck sauntered by the two and retook his position at the table.

Bart put his paper aside and added to Chuck's entertainment. "Serena, I'd like to speak with you as well."

Chuck had to suppress a chuckle. He bit into his pancakes with renewed vigour, watched both siblings march to their relative execution, and wondered when exactly he had become the good child.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena could feel every muscle in her body freeze, but she forced herself to follow Bart into his study. She had never been sent for. After the escapade last year even Eric had faced Bart but never Serena. She couldn't be totally surprised. After her drunken escapade last Thursday she'd exchanged strong words with her mother. That was the thing with her mother though. There would be strong words, disapproving glints but within a week it was all forgotten. She knew that it would be entirely different with Bart. Serena sat in the room's principal chair, waiting for her stepfather to take the seat opposite. He never did. She felt some relief in that fact.

Instead he leaned on the desk beside her, fixing his expression on her. "Serena, I'm going to say what you mother is too polite to. I do not want Georgina coming around anymore."

"Georgina is my friend," Serena stated, ignoring the fact that she'd disowned her a week prior.

"She is not a good influence on you."

Serena couldn't disagree with that.

"And she is an even worse influence on Chuck."

That was pushing it a bit far. "She hasn't done anything to Chuck. I know they don't get along but…"

"And I know the reasons for it."

"She just likes to play games, to get under people's skin."

"And Chuck doesn't need that right now, not when he is doing so well. He doesn't need any reminders of the past. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"And you don't need it either. You have also been doing well. Do you know how proud of you Lily has become? Is that really worth throwing away?"

"No," Serena admitted, but she couldn't quite look at her stepfather.

"I'm glad we understand each other. Now you'd better hurry or you'll be late for school."

Serena slunk from the room. She knew what Bart could be like. He'd gone easy on her, but she still felt defeated.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric managed to get as far as his room before the interrogation started.

"Who is she, Eric?"

"What are you talking about?"

"For nearly a month, you've been walking around with a constant smile, rushing from the dinner table to take private calls, leaving for hours at a time..."

"So I was a friendless and apparently a constantly frowning person prior to September." Eric interrupted his mother.

Lily tilted her head slightly and stared at her child. Eric squirmed but hoped he didn't. "Where were you last night?"

"I fell asleep in 1812."

Lily narrowed her eyes to show she wasn't buying his story. "Why did Charles, who'd been sick for the six days prior, nearly sprint from the suite to fetch you?"

"And if it was someone?"

"I don't approve of sleepovers."

"Except with Chuck or Serena?"

"They're seniors in high school," Lily crossed her arms. "You're fifteen years old."

Eric rolled his eyes and turned away.

"And I'd like to meet her."

Eric's stomach jumped at the thought. Why was he arguing for sleepovers? He should have been letting the issue drop. "Why?"

"I'd like to know what kind of person she is."

Eric nearly snorted at the irony. Eric was sure that if he introduced Damien the last thing his mother would be worried about was his character.

"Eric?" His mother's voice turned stern.

Eric stared his mother right in the eye and withheld the truth. He didn't lie. Neither did he squirm or drop his gaze. "I promise that should it turn serious, you will be introduced."

Lily wasn't fully satisfied, but knew that of her children, the younger was the only one to follow through with a promise.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Both siblings were quiet on the drive to school, only increasing Chuck's amusement. The moment they stepped from the vehicle, Chuck put an arm around them both. "So how did it go?"

"Fine," the two cried in unison.

"It is such a beautiful morning isn't it?" Chuck took a contented breath. "The birds are singing, the sun is shining, oh and I'm the virtuous offspring."

"You've been sick for a week," Eric shot back. "I give you a day to return to the bottom of the heap.

"Oh, my dear brother, you underestimate me." Chuck smirked. "I'm sure it won't take more than an hour." The other two laughed, their own thoughts temporarily forgotten. "But you must excuse me; I have matters to attend to." He patted his bag, which was stuffed full. His girlfriend's super management skills had kept him up to date in his studies while away. If it was left up to Chuck he'd have left everything, probably only completed a third when he finally did return and not even felt guilty about it. Blair wouldn't let him, and even though he teased her mercilessly about it, it was kind of calming to know everything was taken care of.

Chuck searched the courtyard, and when he couldn't see Blair he headed straight inside. He shuffled through his bag, grabbing all but the work he needed for first block. When he pulled open his locker, a manila envelop fluttered to the ground. Chuck threw the rest of his work inside, and picked it up curiously. Slipping a manicured nail inside, he tore the flap and pulled out the back of a large photo. Scrawled across it as a simple message:

I noticed you didn't have a photo of her in your room.

G.

Chuck closed his fist around the photo. He wasn't entirely surprised. He had guessed this is the route Georgina would go. He'd kind of hoped she was above it, but Georgina never did like being on top.

Should he flip it over? Did it even matter? His pulse was already racing. Maybe it wasn't what he thought. How would Georgina manage it? Maybe it wouldn't hurt that much.

Maybe he'd better do something because he was frozen in the hallway, staring at the back of his own hand.

He chose to turn. The moment he caught sight of the eyes he wished he hadn't. They were dark chocolate brown, a perfect mirror of his own. At the corner of each were two tiny little lines, proof that his mother would always remain five years too old to be a trophy wife.

Chuck stuffed the photo back into its envelope. There was a pressure building in his chest, an overwhelming pressure that threatened to sink him. He threw the envelope onto the top shelf of his locker and tried to breath, but no matter how much he inhaled his lungs would not open.

"Are you alright?" someone asked. Chuck turned to the side and noticed Nate standing beside him.

"No," Chuck admitted.

"Are you feeling sick again?"

"No." Chuck licked his lips and forced another shallow breath in. The need to escape was overwhelming. "I'm going to hit the side. You want to come?"

"You're not supposed to…."

"If one joint was worth expulsion you'd be in public school by now," Chuck slammed his locker shut.

"Blair." Nate tried again.

"I didn't realize you were still her bitch," Chuck spat out and started down the hall alone.

Nate watched him for a moment before following. His white knight complex never had extended to Chuck, and he never turned down a free toke.

It took fifteen minutes and a half a joint later, but Chuck managed to calm himself. He was glad it was Nate beside him. Nate had always been there for him, always calm, never judging, never fishing for the cause of his friend's distress. He was content to just sit until it past.

And what had Chuck done with that friendship. He'd tried to use it. "I'm sorry about last weekend," Chuck muttered honestly between hits. "I hope Vanessa wasn't too pissed."

"Nah," Nate took the blunt from his friend. "She's not the jealous type."

"Mmmm,' Chuck muttered noncommittally.

"I talked to Dan."

"Mmmm."

Nate fidgeted with the joint before handing it back. "Was Blair alright?" He asked hesitantly as their fingers touched.

"Why wouldn't she be?"

"Well I thought," Nate broke off. "Maybe it's not my place to mention but she was pretty peeved that morning and then when she left after first block."

"She was at school?" Chuck couldn't hide his surprise.

"Yeah. I know it's all in the past…"

"You're right," Chuck interrupted his friend before his fears could go into overdrive. "She cut to play nursemaid to me."

Nate let out his breath, relieved that it hadn't been something else. "Did she wear the costume?"

"Sadly no," Chuck smirked knowingly. "But she can now attest to the quality of the writing in Playboy magazine."

Nate chuckled beside him while Chuck took an extra-long hit.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – I guess I can now explain that whole dark & twisted thing. Georgina is going to mess with Chuck's mind. It's not like characters are going to die or anything.

I'm going to keep with these longer chapters. It's hard to make them shorter and still balance all the storylines. That means the posts will more than likely be weekly rather than the biweekly I aim for but they'll be longer.

puresimplicity-xo – thanks. Serena got a hint of how much trouble Georgina was here but she still misses he old life.

Cocomango – Who's to say that Chuck will do anything with Amelia :P

Chairforever – yep, I don't think Chuck will ever quite feel comfortable about B & N's history.

beachbumyeahh – Chuck had his reasons for picking Nate and not Blair

CrimsonKiss – the coupling is SDNV which means anything can happen in that little foursome (well except a foursome).

RDX – thank you

Steepe – Georgina has a whole game plan but she's not revealing each bit until she's ready/

kiwi-window – Chuck has already changed a bit from Try Honesty (the fic this is a sequel to). I don't think he'd ever be a nice, upstanding citizen though.

wayhott4u – thanks

Sue – opening up to Blair is the key to defeating G. Can he do it? I guess you'll have to wait and see.

Up Next - Did Georgina have a good idea? The dreaded I love yous, who's saying - who's receiving?


Chapter 7: Chapter Six


A/N - sections in itallics (aside from the intro) are flashbacks.

You Can't Forget Your First: No Matter How Hard You Try

Chapter Six

Do you hate me yet? You shouldn't. I'm the one who's lost her best friend to some loser from Brooklyn. Serena is the only one who has ever understood me and I'm not going to lose her to some guy who barely knows her.

I attempted patience but sometimes nature just doesn't move at the right speed. I'm just going to speed up what would eventually happen. It's almost not worth doing. It's almost beneath me to manipulate marionettes, but I need Serena.

She's not only my partner; she's the weak link that can devastate the rest.

Chuck reclined on the back steps of St. Judes; feet keeping time to his music. He was waiting for Nate but the blonde was late. So Chuck kept his iPod blaring, and chuckled at the groups of students that had to struggle around his stretched out legs. Finally someone tapped him on the shoulder and he dropped the ear buds.

"You're late," Chuck turned, expecting to see his friend.

"Hello Charlie," the familiar female voice made the hairs of his neck stand on end. "Did you get my little present?"

Chuck glared at Georgina, and inched to the side as she sat down. "Getting desperate are we? Serena doesn't want to play with you anymore."

"I don't want to play with Serena the second version." Georgina lit a cigarette and settled herself comfortably beside him. "She's nearly as boring as Charles the second version."

"Why don't you find someplace more exciting," Chuck's lip curled "far, far away."

"I'm sure I will," Georgina arched her eyebrow. She held out her lit cigarette, offering Chuck a drag. Chuck's lip curled further in disbelief. Georgina feigned surprise at his refusal and returned the cigarette to her lips. "Once I'm done playing with you."

Chuck stared her in the eye. "Good luck with that. You've been so successful so far," he mocked.

"I think I have been," Georgina countered, leaning closer to him. "Your eyes look a little red," she placed one hand on his shoulder. "Do you want to talk about it? I've always been a good listener."

"Don't touch me," Chuck shoved her hand away. Screw Nate!He wasn't going to sit with this psycho any longer. Chuck stood up, and walked away.

"Going to see Blair?" Georgina teased loudly within his first step. "Give her my love."

Chuck turned around, but did not slow his retreat. "Maybe I'll give her mine instead." Chuck smiled as Georgina's own smile froze.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair lay on her bed, bare legs intertwined with his. When she leaned across the bed to open a side table, Chuck felt a chill where her body had been, and grabbed at her, desperate to bring the heat back. Blair slapped his hand away, and continued to dig through her drawer. When she turned back, she held a leather notebook in her hand. Its front was embossed with a single gold leaf flower, and hanging from one corner was a matching string.

Chuck immediately sat up. "Is that what I think it is?"

"What do you think it is?"

"The infamous Blair Waldorf journal."

"Perhaps," Blair replied with a taunting smile. Chuck stretched out to grab it but she pulled it back. "I have a request."

"Another reading?" Chuck's smirked. "Do I get to select the passage?"

"No." Blair replied automatically, slight blush colouring her cheeks. "I was wondering," Blair opened the journal and pushed through a few pages. She slapped Chuck's hand away when he tried to grab it again, angling the book so he couldn't read. She pulled out a piece of paper, folded several times and hidden in the middle. "If you could rewrite this for me; inside the journal."

Chuck's smirk widened, showing his slightly crooked teeth. "You're going to give me your journal so I can copy my poem to it?"

"Don't remind me how bad a plan it is, but yes." Blair held the book out to him.

Chuck let it hang there a moment. It was a mythical book, for the simple reason that no one believed she still kept one. Not since that night in fifth grade; the night that Georgina had stolen it and then read the scandalous (or what would pass for scandalous at ten years old) passages aloud to their entire grade.

Georgina had always been a bitch.

But that journal would be far more salacious now.

Chuck licked his dried lips. He was curious, who wouldn't be? What had Blair thought of him? What did she think of him now? What did Blair think of Nate, or Serena? His drive to read it was overwhelming.

But he wouldn't. Because hanging from her fingers wasn't just a journal but an implication. She was offering him her deepest thoughts, trusting that he would leave them unread.

No one trusted Chuck. Even Chuck didn't trust himself.

But Blair did. She was showing him right when it was needed most; hours before she boarded a plane for Lyon.

Chuck took the journal. Writing slowly and carefully he copied the poem. Blair didn't hang off him, waiting to pounce if he turned to the wrong page but instead walked right out of the room while he did it. Chuck watched her robe-clad bottom disappear. His hands shook with the effort required to hold his curiosity in check. It was a battle but he was the victor, and once the poem was copied he shut the book and laid it on her pillow.

He would do everything in his power never to abuse her trust.

The memory faded before him and Chuck faced an empty room. He'd made his decision that afternoon, at the height of Georgina's taunting. He was going to tell Blair that he loved her. He tried to reason away his fears. It wasn't even that big of an admission. He'd written her a poem that professed as much. He'd loved her since the day he met her; first as a friend and now as a lover.

It had nothing to do with the fact that Georgina had the capability of fucking everything up. It had nothing to do with his insecurities. It was just logical.

He loved her.

She deserved to know it. Even if she'd never said it to him. Even if she didn't feel it. Chuck shut his eyes and tried to erase the last thought.

This was ridiculous. In two weeks they'd have been dating six months. She couldn't have endured that long if she didn't care for him. She wouldn't have been there for him last year if she felt nothing. She could touch him the way she did if she didn't love him.

"No, no, no!" Chuck yelled at himself.

Love was a gift to be given, not bartered for something in return. Even if she didn't love him, he loved her and that was enough. His throat constricted and he tried to ignore it. He stood before the mirror, and disregarded the panic in his eyes. He took a deep breath, pretended that his reflection was Blair. He opened his mouth to profess his feelings but was met with total silence. He couldn't say a word. His throat closed completely, and his breathing grew shallow.

This was absurd. He was Chuck Bass! Three little words couldn't be his undoing, shouldn't have him shaking in his overpriced Berluti's. It was preposterous. He faced the mirror again, puffed his chest out.

"I l…lo…love you."

Oh that was just great. Now he'd been reduced to a stuttering mess. He threw himself face first onto his bed. He needed a drink! No, no drinking. He could do this sober. He rolled over on the bed and stared at the ceiling. They were just three stupid, cheesy, abused, overused words. The problem was that they were neither stupid, nor cheesy or overused in Chuck's lexicon. He had never said them without meaning it and meaning them had never made a difference. Love wasn't like those cute storybooks they read in Kindergarten. It was a gift with a thousand strings attached to the giver. It was easier to live without the strings. That way when someone leapt from your life, you wouldn't be pulled right along with them.

No, that wasn't right. Chuck closed his eyes and focussed on the little compartments on his mind; the places where he hide himself. The locks were failing, everything threatening to burst forth in a tidal wave of emotion. Maybe it wouldn't be all bad. He tried to auction away the truth, but it wasn't saleable. He had to reinforce the locks, but it was so damn hard. It didn't have anything to do with being in love with Blair. It was Georgina. Why did she have to come now? He could have sorted this out. He could have professed himself and kept the other locks in place. Now everything was too raw, to close to the surface. He'd been avoiding Georgina nearly successfully for years. Why did she pick now to mess with him again? He wasn't going to let her succeed. He stood up again and returned to the mirror. This didn't have anything to do with the chestnut-haired psycho, the events of seven years past. This was about Blair, about their future.

"I lov..." Chuck gave his dresser a kick and tried another tactic. He closed his eyes. "I love your chestnut curls. I love your lithe figure wrapt around mine. I love your smooth legs pressed against my chest. I love the feel of your nails on my back. I love the way you purr my name. I love the control you have over me, and how you don't even realize half of it." Chuck opened his eyes and smiled at the reflection. "I love you," He finished, just barely suppressing the urge to fist pump.

"I love you too," Eric echoed sarcastically from the door, and Chuck spun around in surprise. He eyed his brother. His delivery had been sarcastic but the sentiment didn't appear so.

Oh well, Chuck thought, in for a penny, in for a pound. "I love you too man." Chuck surprised himself. It wasn't as hard as he'd thought.

"Well…okay," Eric mumbled in shock.

"Fuck!" Chuck turned back to the mirror. "I hope I get a better reply from Blair."

"I'm sorry. Did you want a hug or something?"

Chuck smiled at his brother through the mirror. "Nah, we're good."

"But Blair," Eric smiled. "That's big."

"Hardly! She has proof of my love in poetic form." Chuck reminded his brother.

"But writing it and saying it are two different things." Chuck winced in the mirror. He already knew that. "Not to mention you were wasted when you wrote that poem, and Blair was never meant to see it."

Chuck turned around to glare this time. "You're supposed to be building me up."

"The great Chuck Bass is nervous?" Eric teased.

"Build up or shut up!"

Eric turned serious. "Blair will be very happy. Just make it special and she'll be floored."

"So in the middle of sex is out?" Chuck asked with his trademark smirk.

"You wouldn't?"

"I'm not that stupid. I've got plans," Chuck explained, knowing smile in place.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Dan stood in his shower, the warm water easing his tense muscles and calming his racing thoughts. Tonight was his first formal date with Serena since everything had happened. His father had returned from tour the week prior, and Dan had been preoccupied with family ever since. Now he was ready to stop being a son for a night and return instead to doting boyfriend.

"Dan," his father voice rose over the din of pulsating water. "You should warn me before you invite someone over."

"Serena was supposed to meet me at 6th." Dan yelled back, shutting the water off.

"It's not Serena."

Dan stood dripping in the shower a moment, eyes furrowed in thought. "Who is it?"

"She said her name is Georgina Sparks," Rufus answered. "I made her a cup of tea but I'm late."

Dan grabbed a towel and began to furiously dry himself. "Don't leave until I'm out," he barked at his father.

"Dan?"

"I'll just be a minute." He had folded his clothes carefully on the counter before his shower, but now he grabbed them in one giant fistful. He pulled his pants on, hair still dripping in his eyes. The button-down Oxford shirt followed with the same haste. He ran a hand through his straight, brown mane. Tiny droplets fell, leaving wet circles on his pressed white shirt. He didn't notice. His fingers were fumbling clumsily with his tie. After several tries, it was tied in one uneven mess. He didn't care. Dan yanked the door open to find his father chatting politely to Georgina. She was smiling innocently over an enormous tea cup.

When she noticed him, Georgina smiled warmly and greeted him like an old friend. "Dan!"

"Well," Rufus smiled politely at the young girl. "It was nice to meet you Georgina, but," he glanced at his watch. "I really must go," Rufus grabbed his leather jacket off the counter and, with a final questioning glance at his son, left.

Dan moved hesitantly to the far side of the counter.

"Your dad is so nice!" Georgina put her cup on the counter, and glanced at the closing door. "And definitely doable," she turned back, eyebrow spiking suggestively.

Dan shuddered involuntarily at the thought. "What are you doing here?"

"I thought we should chat," Georgina casually picked up her tea.

"You came all the way to Brooklyn to talk to me?" Dan edged his words with scepticism.

"Don't flatter yourself." Georgina took a sip from the oversized cup. "I was already in the area."

"Fine," Dan stood taller not quite sure how to deal with the girl sitting across from him, but knowing if he showed any weakness she'd crush him. "Talk."

"Now is that anyway to greet a dear friend of Serena's?"

"Get to the point."

"Alright." Georgina put the cup down again, her smile taking on an evil glint. "I'll give it to you," Georgina eyed him up and down. "You must have something I can't see."

"Something like what?"

"Something to keep Serena's interest." Georgina rolled her eyes, "She's not known to have a long attention span."

"I guess I'm special," Dan put a hand on the counter.

"Not that special," Georgina touched his hand, giggling when he yanked it back. "Though I guess by Brooklyn standards you're Prince Charming."

"Maybe I am."

"Serena's used to better standards." Georgina reminded him. "I figured she'd have come running to me by now."

"She doesn't need you in her life anymore."

Georgina laughed so sharply that the sound cut Dan through. "Serena will always need me."

"Not as long as she has me!" Dan yelled and Georgina jumped on his agitation.

"And how long will she have you?" Georgina ran her fingertip along the rim of her cup. Her eyes were dangerous and yet compelling. Her dark eyeliner reflected against her eyes, making them appear black, making her darkness show through.

"I love Serena."

"Love isn't conditional," Georgina reminded him. "What are your conditions?"

"I don't have any," Dan lied.

Georgina laughed again, at him. "You don't know her, not the way that I do. Do you have any idea what she was like a couple years back?"

Dan met her eyes straight on. Did he? He'd heard bits and pieces and maybe he'd chosen not to ask about the rest. Maybe he didn't want to know. "She doesn't drink anymore."

"Except for last week?" Georgina contradicted, her smile widening with his discomfort. "Or the night of Chuck's birthday?"

"She wasn't out that night," Dan contradicted immediately. "She was with Blair."

Georgina laughed again, and he could feel his shoulders tense. "Is that what they told you?"

Dan's mouth formed into a thin line. He couldn't answer.

"Let me educate you," Georgina dipped a finger into her lukewarm tea. She twisted it in circles, creating a little whirlpool. She was stalling her response, testing how long Dan would wait.

"Yes," Dan cracked and Georgina smiled contented.

"They'll all protect Serena. Their allegiance will always be with her, and never with you. They'll lie, cheat, and steal to protect one another. They only care about you as it relates to Serena. As long as she wants you they'll make it happen. The moment she doesn't, they'll turn on you."

"You're wrong."

"You can tell yourself that if it brings you pleasure." Georgina leaned over the counter, wrapping her manicured nails around his tie. She inched him closer, pulling their faces close enough for him to smell her breath. It was tart and laced with alcohol. "But I know them better than anyone. I used to be a part of them."

Dan tried to pull back but he was held fast. She put one hand into his pocket, pulling out his cell phone. Once the mobile in her fingers, she let him go and he fell back against the refrigerator.

Georgina had the number punched through before he could get the phone back. She put it down on the counter as it rang. "It's Blair," she pointed at the phone. "Ask her if you don't believe me. And listen really carefully to her response." Georgina picked up her bag from the neighbouring bar stool, tossing it over her shoulder.

Dan could her Blair's voice calling out and grabbed the cell instinctively. He held it to his ear but he was couldn't bring himself to respond. Georgina rounded the counter and ran a finger up his arm. He was just about to push it away when Blair screamed "Cabbage Patch, I know it's you, I have call display."

"Sorry Blair, wrong number," Dan said hurriedly and cut the call.

Georgina shook her head from beside him, she inched her fingers to his shoulder. "I'm disappointed," she said pouting her lip out slightly.

"I think it's time for you to leave," Dan shoved her hand off.

"But I'm not done yet," Georgina took put a hand into her bag and pulled out an envelope. She tossed it onto the counter. "Now I am," she cupped his chin and shook her head at him in pity. "You really shouldn't worry that much about the drinking," she laughed and let him go.

Dan looked at the envelope. It was blank except for one heart, drawn in thick pink felt. When he looked at Georgina she was nearly out the door.

"Oh," She smiled back at him, hesitating at the threshold. "My phone number is in there. I might not be saintly, but I'm not afraid to tell the truth." The door clicked shut before he could reply.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric poked his head into Chuck's room. Chuck was attempting to tie his bowtie, fumbling through the task he'd memorized at seven years old. Eric watched until Chuck was successful and then coughed.

Chuck turned around immediately, nodding at his brother.

"I'm leaving now," Eric looked at the Calla lilies that sat on the bed. "Tonight is the big night huh?"

"Yes," Chuck lips pursed into a nervous grin.

"So did the seven days of practicing pay off?" Eric teased. "Can you say it without stuttering?"

"You know," Chuck eyed his brother with distaste. "You used to be kind."

"I used to be brotherless too," Eric raised an eyebrow.

"Out," Chuck commanded, moving towards his brother.

"No, not yet," Eric called as Chuck gave him a shove with his hand. "I want to know how excited Blair is. Has she called fifty times to confirm details? Has she giggled into the phone?" Eric teased and Chuck tried harder to push him aside.

"You're no longer a lightweight," Chuck noted, using another hand to push.

"Come on, something!" Eric tried.

"She has no idea," Chuck replied honestly. "She thinks we're going for a low-key dinner."

"You kept a secret like this from Blair?" Eric asked in disbelief. "Can you film her reaction?" he begged, "because I just have to see that."

"Out, out, out," Chuck gave his brother a final shove and closed the bedroom door.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Dan sat at the counter. He'd been frozen in the same spot for fifteen minutes and, eyeing his watch, realized that if he didn't leave soon he'd be late to meet Serena. Rather than grabbing his jacket he continued to play with the envelope, passing it from one hand to the other.

Should he open it? Did he really want to know?

Based on what he'd been told about Georgina, it's more than possible that the envelope held no truth, just badly distorted illusions of what could have been truth. He creased it between his fingers and marched to the garbage. He pushed the can open, held the packet over it, ready to drop it forever. In the last second he changed his mind. He slipped a finger inside and ripped the flap open, dumping the contents onto the kitchen counter. They were photographs. Dan pressed a finger to each, moving them across the counter until all twenty photographs were lined in perfect order.

Serena was the subject; Serena in all her drunken glory, tipping back shots and laughing hysterically at strangers. Dan rolled his eyes and took out the note.

Dan,

Boys on scholarship shouldn't be stupid.

G (222) 495-9379

Dan rolled his eyes and started to gather up the photos. This was ludicrous. They could have been taken at any time. He had four photos stuffed back into the envelope when he noticed something. His blood ran cold as he fingered Serena's neck. Dressing her collarbones was a simple gold chain from which hung one pearl and diamond. Whilst Serena was in Monaco with her family, Dan was at home working. That little token was the result of several hours of coffee brewing and chit chat. She'd screamed in delight when he gave it to her, and hadn't taken it off since. Not even when she was drunk and disorderly. Dan stuffed the rest of the photos with irate force. He threw the ripped envelope into the nearest drawer.

She'd lied to him. They'd all lied to him.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair stood in front of her full-length mirror. She examined herself from every inch, examined the black and purple print dress she'd bought the week before. It was floating, flirty and, until this evening, perfect. Now it was dull and overdone. Blair felt behind her for the zipper and gave it a frustrated yank. She let the dress fall to her feet, turning away from her reflection as her flesh was exposed.

She returned to her closet, pushing aside designer dresses with casual indifference. She kicked thousand dollar shoes and muttered to herself in frustration. She was searching for something unique, something flawless. With Chuck having been ill, this was the first dinner they'd had since his disastrous birthday. Chuck had said more than once that it was nothing special but Blair wanted to make it extra special. She wanted him to know that he was extra special to her. That she was sorry. That she lo... Her thoughts came to an abrupt halt. She couldn't voice it, not even in her thoughts. It was so strange.

With Nate the words had tripped easily from her lips but the mere thought of saying it to Chuck froze her mind. Blair leaned down, not only to grab a pair of Louboutins, but also to steal a deep breath. Her entire body shook with a twisted combination of dread and longing. It was always that way with Chuck. Nate had been simple because he was simple. Chuck was a complicated mess; passionate and fiery, completely closed off but trapped in a constant struggle to change. Blair appreciated the effort, but she was still scared. Nate had been her opposite; but Chuck was her mirror and sometimes she didn't like what the reflection. That's why she couldn't tell Chuck that she loved him. She needed to be in control. If she said those last few words than she would surrender everything to him. She was afraid he would take her heart and destroy it, but more than that, she was afraid she would ruin him.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena stared up and down 6th Avenue. Her boyfriend was so punctual that you could set a clock by his arrivals. Or at least he had been. She looked at her watch, realizing that he was now fifteen minutes later. She took out her phone, searching in vain for missed calls. There were none. Discomfort stretched through her, it was becoming a familiar feeling, a throw back to the days when distress and anxiety competed with pleasure and mischief.

Then her eyes caught his form, moving slowly from the subway station. She breathed deeply in relief and skipped towards him. "Dan!" she put her hands out, and then dropped them when she noted his expression. "Are you alright?"

"Just great,' Dan attempted a smile, but his eyes betrayed him. Serena stared into them until Dan turned his head. "Let's go order."

"Sure," Serena agreed, slipping a hand through his. He didn't turn it away.

Dan sat in the plush booth, shifting over to make room for his girlfriend. She pressed against him, moving into their familiar closeness. Dan didn't push her away, but the tenseness in his shoulders was evident. After a time Serena dropped her arm and inched away.

Their server, a petite Asian, greeted them with a perfectly formed smile. After passing the menus, she asked for their drink orders.

Before Serena could suggest something, Dan's voice overtook hers. "I'll have a beer," he announced loudly. Serena stared at his profile, her shock evident. "What do you want?" Dan turned to his girlfriend and dared her to contradict.

"I'll have..." Serena trailed off. It seemed like a test, and she always froze during exams. What could she say? What was the answer he was looking for?

"She'll have one of those blue martinis," He answered for her, remembering the drink she'd held in several of the photos.

"What are you doing?" Serena asked once the server had left.

"Trying to be more open-minded," Dan spoke between clenched teeth. "That is what you suggested to me the other day wasn't it."

"Yes," Serena remembered her words. She didn't actually expect Dan to act on them, and to do so without consulting her first.

The server returned, placing one drink in front of each.

"Are you sure about this?" Serena asked, fingering the stem of her glass anxiously.

"Of course," Dan decided taking a large swig of the imported beer. He nearly gagged but covered it with a cough.

Serena took a nervous sip of her martini, the familiar curl of vodka on her tongue. She tried to catch Dan's eye but he wouldn't even look her way. She took another small sip, and then returned her glass to the table. "Why?"

"Why drink?" Dan met her eyes at last. "Why not? I mean that was your logic wasn't it."

"That isn't fair."

"You're talking to me about what is just."

"Can you speak plainly," Serena put out a hand but he brushed it off.

"I know that you lied to me. That you got all your friends to lie too."

"What are you talking about?" Serena asked, attempting surprise at his question. She never was a good liar, and her eyes flitted from side to side undermining any attempt at secrecy.

"Tell me what you were doing the night of Chuck's party."

"I was with Blair."

"Why were you with Blair?"

"She was ill."

"So ill that the very next morning she was hanging off Chuck at your family suite." Dan was beginning to make the connections he'd ignored before.

"She had food poisoning," Serena tried to cover but it wasn't convincing. "She felt better the next day."

"You know what," Dan grabbed his side in mock pain. "I think I have a touch of the same food poisoning." He stood up and started gathering his things. "I'll better go home and sleep it off."

"Dan," Serena put a hand out. "Don't leave like this."

Dan spun around and eyed his girlfriend. She looked so hurt, hiding her brilliant blue eyes behind blonde curls. He was almost overcome; he nearly cracked under her unparalleled beauty. But he didn't. He opened his wallet and threw a few bills on the table. "You should have told me the truth," he spat out and walked right out on her.

Serena watched him go. She wanted to call out but wouldn't in the crowded restaurant. Or maybe that was the excuse, maybe she was a little afraid to.

She ran a finger over the edge of her martini glass, and then downed the drink in a single gulp.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric played with the controls of his camera, his attention absolutely to task. Damien was painting across from him; his clothes stained with vivid reds and his face decorated with one thin slash of blue. Eric stood up to stand by him, and putting camera to eye began to take his picture.

"What are you doing?" Damien stared at his boyfriend through the camera lens.

"I'm taking your picture," Eric laughed. "An artist should recognize a camera."

"I don't get them pointed at me all that often."

"You can pay the fee later."

"And what might that entail," Damien's smile took on a devilish tint that Eric captured forever.

"We'll negotiate," Eric teased. "Act natural, go back to painting."

"It's kind of hard to concentrate."

"Okay, I'll stop filming you," Eric let the camera drop and took a seat on the plain, navy couch. It was the only seating in the room. Eric pretended to pay no attention to Damien, silently digging through his camera bag for his photo printer. Once Damien refocused on his work, Eric picked up his camera again and began to capture the artist in a much more subtle way. He'd run off two rolls of film before Damien's focus shifted again to the couch.

"Eric!" He shook his head, but a slight blushing at each cheek showed he was far from disgusted.

"I'm all done," Eric dropped the camera into his lap and began shifting through cords.

"You don't have to be," Damien said casually, before flashing a lopsided smile.

Eric didn't have to be invited twice. He pulled his camera back up.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair smoothed down the edges of her black dress. The bodice was fitted in a mock corset style before it fell away in a simple flare. She'd bought it with Chuck in mind, knowing he'd be amused by the burlesque touches. She leaned back into the seat of her taxicab, shutting her eyes as it crawled through the Friday evening traffic.

They hadn't even made it a block when her cell rang. Blair opened one eye in mischief, and licking her lips, pulled the phone from her bag. The call display didn't show Chuck, it said Serena. "Hi S." Blair pressed the phone to her ear. The moment she heard Serena crying, she put her feet flat on the floor of the taxi, and tried to focus on what her friend was saying.

"Blair!"

"Serena! Are you alright?"

"It was so bad," Serena explained between sobs.

"Take a deep breath," Blair commanded her friend. "Tell me what happened." She could hear Serena attempt to calm herself, her deep breaths that broke in continued sobs.

"He was so angry!"

"Who was?" Blair asked. "Did someone hurt you?"

"No. Someone told Dan about Chuck's birthday and he's so angry."

"Who told him?"

"I don't know. He walked right out of the restaurant."

"What restaurant? Where are you?"

"I'm at Sixth on 6th. I'm sitting at the bar."

"You're sitting at the bar," Blair rolled her eyes into the empty taxi.

"Could you come talk to me? I don't want to be by myself."

"Serena," Blair eyed her watch. "I'm supposed to meet Chuck in a half hour."

"What are you guys doing?" The implication beneath Serena's words was clear. Was it anything important? Could she ditch him?

"It's just dinner," Blair admitted, waiting for the question to be asked.

"I really don't want to call Georgina," Serena begged. "But I'm afraid I might.'

"Alright," Blair was convinced at that. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck dropped the flowers unceremoniously on the coffee table and poured himself a drink. Slipping his feet from his expensive loafers, Chuck parked himself on the leather couch. He used a socked toe to push the lilies aside, not even caring if he damaged them. Once space had been made, Chuck rested his feet on the table and turned on the television.

He glared deeply into his glass before taking a long draught. He hadn't had anything to drink yet that day, planning to make his little declaration with a clear head. Of course he'd also planned on Blair showing up on time. He hadn't planned on her calling and asking him to push the reservation back two hours.

Maybe he should have expected it, or at least not been so pathetic as to agree. Was that what love did to people? Did it turn them into feeble yes man? Chuck took another mouthful and reconsidered his previous decisions.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

"Are you sure you don't want to go out?" Damien asked for the third time that evening. "My neighbour suggested this new Indian restaurant down the street."

"Is this the same neighbour that suggested the coffee house," Eric tried to tease away the implication beneath Damien's words.

"Perhaps," Damien confessed, slight smile tugging at his lips.

"And you trust his judgement?"

"Maybe you could suggest a place?" Damien tried again.

"Here is good," Eric decided, ignoring the irritated look that passed over his boyfriend's face. "Why don't we order in?"

"Yeah," Damien agreed without enthusiasm and disappeared behind canvas again.

Eric connected the camera to his printer. He focussed on editing the photos to print, and tried to ignore the discomfort that had crept into every silence. Damien would never admit to it but the boy was pissed off.

"Hey Eric," Damien stuck his head out again. He was trying too hard to keep his voice neutral. "There's a newspaper man coming tomorrow. He's supposed to be interviewing me for an article in the Post. Would you like to come by and help me to entertain him? You could build me up to be some artistic genius and I could sit there and pretend to be shy."

Eric just stared at him.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck was fiddling with his phone, watching the seconds tick by. He reasoned away her absence. He was early after all. Or an hour and fifty-five minutes late depending how you viewed the situation. He put the phone down before the urge to text overwhelmed his more rational side.

The server, a tall auburn-haired girl with blue eyes smiled at him and offered a drink menu. Chuck did a quick calculation of how just how many glasses he'd already consumed and then waved her away. He threaded the perfect white napkin between his fingers, coiling and uncoiling in perfect rhythm. His watch struck eight o'clock, and Chuck slipped his foot from one shoe, dangling it on the edge of his toe.

The neighbouring couple glanced over with what could have been sympathy. Chuck glared back at them until their eyes turned to their menus again.

Chuck knew he cut an impressive figure. His form had improved with sport and his clothes were cut to accentuate the difference. He'd never have the perfect proportions of Nate, his chiselled features or perfect symmetry but Chuck was a handsome man. He might have had a nose that was too wide and his teeth weren't straight; it might take him half bottle of gel to artfully craft his hair but he was unquestionably intriguing. There was a dark sensuality to him that started with dark hair that bordered on black and ended with brown eyes that viewed the entire world through a disinterested glare. Nate was the kind of boy that you stared out in adulation; Chuck was the kind of boy that you stared at, trying desperately to understand.

Once the clock hit five minutes after, Chuck flipped his phone open.

Where are you?

C

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair manoeuvred through the crowds of people at Sixth until she spotted a blonde at the bar. Serena was sitting in one corner, eyes downcast and finger tracing a still full martini glass.

Blair pulled her bag closer to her body and pushed through the throng of bodies, not even noticing the agitated grunts that followed her elbows. She made it to the bar just as Serena picked up the glass. Recovering it in a fluid movement, Blair put it down away from her friend. "I don't think so."

Serena looked at her friend. Her eyes were red from crying, and she'd taken little effort to fix her makeup. Blair was momentarily distracted by the fact that, even in this state, her friend was stunning. Putting her jealously aside, she grabbed the taller girls arm and wrenched her off the stool. "Bathroom," she commanded, using Serena as a battering ram through the crowd.

After Blair decided her friend was presentable again, she relaxed against one of the marble sinks. "Now we can talk," she decided.

And they did, an hour passed by in a blur as Serena let everything out. They'd started out at the bar, but Blair figured further drinks wouldn't help the situation and she'd convinced Serena to walk with her. Ignoring the pain that emanated with every step of her designer heels, Blair kept her attention on her friend. Serena talked about the past, she talked about Dan, about Nate, Georgina and even about Blair. She left no topic untouched and Blair listened without speaking. Blair couldn't reflect; the topics cut too close to her heart.

But she finally understood, and she hated that Dan didn't.

With one final hug, Blair watched her friend climb from the taxicab and totter broken into the Palace. Her shoulders were hunched and she looked defeated. The image angered Blair. What right did Dan Humphrey have to do this to her? Who was he? Why wouldn't he just try to understand?

"Where to?" The driver called from the front.

"Brooklyn," Blair answered, shutting her eyes and opening her phone. She felt for the number one and prayed that Chuck wouldn't be too angry.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck slammed his phone on the table. A few neighbouring guests glared at him but Chuck easily bettered their angry looks. The table mocked him: the perfect white lilies, the two place settings, the multitude of napkins, and the individual truffle that graced each plate. He reached across the table and ate Blair's truffle. It gave him some satisfaction to consume her favourite chocolate.

But it wasn't enough satisfaction!

How could she do this to him? How could she abandon him for a trip to Brooklyn? How could he love someone who would treat him with such indifference?

He opened his phone and started flipping through his contacts. There were hundreds. Nate used to joke that it was a modern version of notches in his bedpost. Chuck made all the girls put their numbers in, and when the mood suited, Chuck would flip through and reminisce. Or at least he had. That was before Blair. She had made him forget that other women existed. Okay, that was taking it a bit far. He still noticed other women, still studied their curves, still bantered and flirted but with no final objective in mind.

Blair was perfection and no one else interested him in the same way.

He was beginning to consider it a curse. Things were decidedly simpler when he existed in a world of one, when he didn't need to consider anyone else's feelings. When he could easily pretend he had none. Being in a world of two meant tying hope to another, and so far he'd been let down. Chuck clicked through his contacts reminiscing about his simpler life. He flipped page by page. There was Amber; she possessed the most stunning pair of breasts he'd ever touched. Unfortunately she also had fewer functioning brain cells than a half-dead armadillo. That wasn't a fair comparison to Blair so he clicked forward; through the empty headed collection. Then he stopped. Bridget! She had the most alluring green eyes and a curvaceous figure that made his blood boil. She was intelligent and witty and she adored him. The girl would die to sit across from him at a table such as this. She'd hang on his every word, eat up every compliment. Why couldn't he love her? She would have loved him by now.

Chuck's fingers hesitated over the call button. He rubbed it back and forth, trailing his fingertips across each edge. Then his fingers took a detour. He deleted Bridget, and once he started he didn't stop. He deleted name by name, temptation by temptation. He should have done it when he'd started dating Blair.

When he reached the E's another thought struck.

Chuck thumped a fist down the table; rattling silverware drew all eyes his way. "Hey waitress," Chuck called out over the din of the other patrons. The tall server scurried right over. "A scotch," he smirked dangerously at her, "and make it a triple."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Damien waited politely, even past the minute when the answer was obvious. "Eh, that's alright. No big deal," Damien decided in the younger boy's silence and disappeared again.

"I'll tell them when the time is right." Eric finally muttered.

"Yeah," Damien muttered distractedly from the canvas barrier.

"You don't understand," Eric tried.

"I think I do," Damien laughed.

Eric shook his head. He was going to tell his mom but you couldn't rush these sorts of things. A little voice reminded him that in months he'd accomplished no steps to that end, but he smothered it. He waited for Damien to let the topic drop. Since that morning in room 1812, the topic had been raised several times. Before that night he'd never mentioned it and Eric missed the easiness.

"I'm sorry," Damien smiled from behind his easel. "It's been so many years that sometimes I forget how hard it is. Just tell me that you'll think about it."

"I will," Eric agreed.

"Maybe you could walk down to the Indian restaurant," Damien suggested. "Because if you order another pizza I'm going to puke on sight."

Before Eric could agree his cell phone rang. Noting Chuck on the call display he smiled. "Did you change your mind?" Eric asked as he answered. "Letting me catch the show in real-time?"

"Blair never showed," came the perturbed voice of his brother.

"What?"

"Feel like a four course meal? Complete with unparalleled company?"

"Me?"

"It's either you or one of the hundreds of girls in my phone. I don't think Blair would rip your hair out. Well, maybe to restyle it, you really should reconsider those highlights." Chuck slurred through his rambles and Eric could tell he'd been overindulging.

"I'm in Brooklyn now, but I could be there in half an hour."

"I'll be waiting with flowers," Chuck laughed half-heartedly before ending the call.

Eric grabbed his jacket off the couch.

"Was that your brother?" Damien inquired.

"Yeah, apparently something went wrong."

"Is he angry?"

"I'm sure that's part of it. I'm sorry, but I've got to go."

Damien shook his head to show that it didn't bother him. Eric breathed a little easier. This was the boy who could take or leave anything. The other side (the one who wanted so badly to meet his family) seemed so far removed, so out of character from the casual type Damien almost always was.

Eric started to rearrange his camera gear but noticed his photos were still printing. "Do you mind if I leave this here?"

"No problem."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair instinctively pulled her purse closer to her body as she stepped from the cab. She knew she was overreacting; it was Brooklyn and not Queens but to her Upper East Side roots it was all the same. She eyed the grey street, the grey building and without even intending to, sneered in disgust. It wasn't her first trip to the loft, but it always seemed to be. The revulsion was instinctual.

She ran a manicured finger up and down the apartment list until it landed on Humphrey. She punched the number in and stamped her stiletto angrily on the cement, until finally a voice greeted her.

"I'm looking for Dan."

"This is Dan," the voice sounded detached through the crackling speaker but Blair recognized it.

"So push the stupid beeper," Blair gave her stiletto an extra hard slam against the pavement.

"Blair?" Dan asked hesitantly.

"It's not Santa Claus," Blair retorted into the speaker.

Dan didn't speak again but a loud beep offered her entrance. Blair pushed the door open, absently wiping her hand clean as the door clicked behind her. By the time she reached the Humphrey loft Dan was waiting in the doorway. As Blair strode closer, anger flashing in her brown eyes, Dan moved behind the door, cowering from her fury.

"To what do I owe this pleasure," He asked once she'd settled herself comfortably in his father's chair.

"It's no pleasure for me to be here."

"Apparently," Dan attempted a smile. "Would you like a cup of tea?"

"Are you proud of yourself?" Blair stared him down.

"Excuse me?"

"Making Serena cry."

A flicker of guilt trickled across his features before Dan could suppress it. "I don't like being lied to. I've tried to understand everything but Serena tells me nothing. I have to hear stories from Chuck, or Nate or you," he eyed her significantly.

"Have you never questioned why Serena doesn't tell you?" Dan turned away and walked to the kitchen. He pulled the kettle out of a cupboard, filled it and plugged it in. Blair wouldn't let him evade the question. She stood up and followed him. "Have you figured it out?"

"No," Dan admitted. "I've tried asking."

"Really?"

Dan grabbed two cups from the cupboard. He knew the truth. He hadn't really asked, he'd warned and scolded instead. "We've been going out for over a year. She should be able to tell me."

"Do you even realize what you're like?"

"I'm a pretty understanding guy."

Blair pressed a hand to her mouth, trying to hold back an unladylike chortle. "You're judgemental and narrow-minded,' she contradicted.

"No I'm not."

"Do you even love Serena?"

"Of course I do," Dan was insulted by the words.

"Then prove it."

"I have."

"I don't think so. I think your whole relationship is tied up with a twisted sense of your own virtuousness. I think your identity is feed off Serena's change, that you like to think you're responsible for it."

"That's absurd," Dan called out over the screeching kettle.

"Then prove me wrong."

"Fine!" Dan met her eyes straight on. "What can I do?"

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric and Chuck sat together, devouring one course after the other. The restaurant patrons were amused by the sight of the two boys throwing back snarky remarks over the elaborate feast.

"I hope you're not expecting to get to third," Eric mocked. "It takes more than a four course meal to get me to put out."

"Should I get them to put on some bad music and fake an English accent?" Chuck smirked.

"I'd like to see you try," Eric bettered his teasing tone.

"You're not worth it," Chuck threw back. "Too pasty for my taste."

There was a commotion to the side and Chuck laughed when he recognized what was happening. A violinist reached the table and began to play for their benefit. Chuck laughed even louder when Eric turned a brighter shade of red. Somewhere between his sixth and seventh drink Chuck had forgotten that part entirely. He waved the man away.

"A violinist?" Eric teased.

"Perhaps it was a bit much," Chuck admitted grabbing the nearly empty champagne bottle and refilling both their glasses.

"Blair would have loved it," Eric admitted as a server brought their chocolate mousse desserts.

Chuck slammed what should have been sipped and pretended to ignore Eric's words.

C. enjoying a romantic dinner for two, but why is his companion not only a blonde but a boy. Is there something little E. should be explaining? Or is this brotherly bonding taking a strange twist?

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair flipped through Gossip Girl's photos and cringed inside. She could feel the tears start and closed her phone before she started bawling in the back of a taxicab. It didn't do any good. Even with the phone closed she could see him. She could see the table and the flowers. She could see everything he had planned for her. She could see Chuck grow progressively more intoxicated. She could see Eric and Chuck joke right through a romantic meal meant for her.

She'd let him down again and for the same reason, for Serena.

Blair took several deep gasps until her breathing slowed. She dialled Chuck's number and waited.

Within two rings his voicemail picked up. The obnoxious message declaring "You weren't worth answering for; leave a voicemail so I can ignore that too."

Blair shut her phone; the tears were coming too fast for her to attempt speaking.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck leaned against the glass walls of the elevator; Eric stood to the other side. They reclined in comfortable silence, until his cell broke it.

Chuck stared at Blair's name, and then hit the tiny button to the side, the button that sent the caller straight to voicemail.

He didn't necessarily want to be cruel, but he couldn't speak to her at that moment. Part of him wanted to curse her out, but a growing second half wanted to confess everything. It wanted to tell her how let down he felt, how abandoning him for a second time had hurt.

There was no way he could risk saying something as pathetic as that.

"Who was it?" Eric asked when the elevator doors opened.

"No one important," he lied, following his brother from the hall into their suite.

Laughter greeted their arrival home, and both brothers moved automatically to the source. Lily and Bart were standing in the living room. It wasn't either of them that drew Chuck's eyes. It was the stunning blonde that stood between them.

"Ah Eric, Chuck," Bart waved the two forward. "These are our children," Bart introduced the two. Chuck should have been shocked at his father referring to Eric as his child, but he was too preoccupied. Chuck was eyeing the blonde's perfectly formed legs. They dangled from beneath the skirt of a scandalously short blue shift dress.

"Eric, Chuck," Lily took over the introductions. "This is Amelia Blackcot. She was able to join us two weeks early," Lily's perfect white teeth flashed in her excitement.

Amelia took a cursory glance at Eric but her gaze hung on Chuck. She slowed her eyes, studied his form in detail. Even his alcohol-befuddled brain could not misinterpret the open invitation that came when her eyes finally met his.

Chuck chose to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. He reasoned that God must be laughing at him, or considering his past allegiances, maybe it was the devil.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – I'm really sorry this took so long, life has been very hectic, I just started a summer job and then I was out of the country for a week. I promise to post more often now. I hope this 24 page post will help make up for things.

This deviates a little from the Eric-Chuck-Serena narration but I seriously have no time to keep trying to rewrite to keep it to that (or even to edit so I'm sure there's a lot of mistakes…but I figured I'd better post before it was forever between posts)

Tell me what you think of my direction. Any suggestions?

Zoe – You'll get a hint of G's jealousy of B and it isn't all about Chuck

Steepe – I kind of like just giving little clues at a time

rdx – thanks

Lauren – there will be more Serena-Nate as the story progresses, but a bit more Serena-Dan and Nate-Vanessa too!

Crimson-Kiss – there will be some N/S action but it's later on

puresimplicity – thanks for the awesome review. Chuck's mom is kind of like another protagonist in this story even though she's dead. This story will really delve into Chuck's feelings about his mom because Georgina knows more than she should. Serena is trying to consolidate her two sides into one but she's not sure how to.

delphin – thanks again. You're such a faithful reviewer :)

chairforever – Chuck's going to be fully manipulated by G as the story goes along

DanSerena – thanks for the review. There's a definite string of D/S throughout the story but things will really come to a head in chapter 7.

Up Next – Two double-dating disasters and history class takes an interesting detour.


Chapter 8: Chapter Seven


Chapter Seven

Do you hate me yet? You really shouldn't. The whole situation with Dan and Serena was so predictable. It was a waste of my impressive talents. But I'm through messing with them; they can screw up the rest on their own.

It's time to refocus on Charlie. What are my plans you ask? Trust me when I say this: I only have Charlie's best interests in mind (well, mostly). After all, it's not natural for him to go through life pretending that his mother never existed. I can understand the desire but I've never really liked mine. Charlie loved his; he hung on her every word and felt her every mood.

It's time for Charlie to remember that bond. Why? Because when he remembers that he'll remember what I did for him, and why he loves me.

Chuck was in that blissful state between waking and sleep; still dreaming but conscious enough to control the narration. Blair was fingering the calla lilies he'd hand-picked, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. She leaned forward, lips forming a perfectly contented smile. Her curls slipped down and caressed her cheeks as she spoke.

"Wake up Chuck," yelled the decidedly gruff voice, followed shortly by a smack across his cheek.

"What the hell!" Chuck cursed, grabbing his pillow and shielding himself from further attack.

"Get up!" Nate's voice was crystal clear this time.

Chuck peaked out from underneath his pillow. "It's 7 am," he scoffed in disgust.

"You're the one who wanted to move our run to this ungodly hour."

"Me!" Chuck snorted into the pillow. "Don't you know better than to listen to my drunken ramblings?"

"You were very insistent."

"Now I'm insisting you come back at ten," Chuck cuddled back into his blankets.

"Come on," Nate took the pillow from Chuck's hands and used it to hit him over the head. "You've been sleeping since half past eleven."

"I went to bed at 11:30pm?" Chuck was intrigued. He opened his eyes, squinting at the light of day.

"Yes," Nate folded his arms in disappointment. "You made me promise to meet you at 7am. It was your excuse for going to bed early. God Chuck! Don't you remember anything?"

"Give me a minute," Chuck muttered, using the pillow to prop himself up. "It is the middle of the night."

Nate dug through Chuck's dresser, tossing shirt and shorts on the bed. "I'll whip up something for your head."

Chuck grabbed the ever present glass of water from the side table and took a deep drink. He could feel the lukewarm fluid drip down his parched throat. Once he was fully orientated to day, the memories surfaced; flashes of emotion and sound that left him drained.

He relived his excitement in knowing that he was finally ready to admit his affections, his enthusiasm in planning the perfect evening, and his total agony in watching it slip away. Chuck stared unseeing at the distant wall. It was ironic wasn't it? It had taken him years to regain the simple innocence of butterflies and racing heartbeats, even longer to contemplate the expression of love, and when he was finally ready he didn't even get the chance.

In its place he'd been given another chance to revisit his old self. Chuck's head dropped as the rest of the evening fell piece by piece into his memory. Guilt stabbed as he remembered his craving for the simplistic existence, where happiness depended on nothing but how much he could drink and who he could screw. Chuck shut his eyes sharply and reminded himself that he'd never been all that happy then.

He remembered the aggressive blonde and her less than subtle suggestions. How he'd taken them all in stride, his drunken mind pushing her suggestive statements forward. Oh man, what had he done? He remembered how she'd slipped a hand up his thigh while Lily studied wallpaper samples. He'd remembered Eric's disgusted glare as the bimbo whispered an invitation into his ear, and his own shock at finding Eric's disgust reflected in his thoughts.

A relieved smile started to form and Chuck kicked off his covers.

He remembered how he'd not so kindly shoved her hand away. How he'd nearly ran to the bathroom, locking the door for good measure. He'd recalled the conversation to Nate, the way he'd returned do the company and excused himself. How he'd fallen into his bed and done so alone.

Chuck jumped onto the bed and thanked a God he didn't believe in.

"Chuck?" Nate stared bemused, vile green concoction in hand.

"I didn't sleep with her!" Chuck announced, jumping again for good measure.

"Should I be congratulating you?" Nate asked, trying not to laugh.

"You don't understand," Chuck jumped a third time and used his hands in explanation. "She was this blonde bombshell with legs up to her," Chuck gestured wildly. "She offered me carte blanche but I, Chuck Bass, did not sleep with her."

"Wow," Nate was stunned.

"Yes," Chuck dropped himself to a sitting position and grabbed the hangover cure.

"What did you do?"

Chuck's smile wavered for just a moment. "I locked myself in the bathroom."

"You locked yourself in a bathroom?"

"Not my smoothest exit I admit, but that's not the point," Chuck stared at his friend.

"I'm happy for Blair," Nate teased. The mention of Blair's name wiped the smile right off Chuck's face. "Have you talked to her yet?"

"Let's go for that run," Chuck decided, pulling at his pyjama top.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair paced her pale bedroom, listening to Chuck's abhorrent voicemail. She'd crossed the line from disturbed to outright obsessive by the tenth rung though. This was the moment, the instant that she had feared. Chuck was the only one other than her who could spin on a dime, change from affectionate to aloof. She didn't like to live the other half of her game, to be the one held hostage by a detached and unfriendly lover. "Chuck, pick up the damn phone," she screamed out her last figment of dignity. "I am so sorry."

There was no comforting click, no bedraggled voice. She threw the phone on her bed and stamped her feet. It was a juvenile gesture but she didn't care. She needed some release. She needed to talk to him. She stared into the mirror and decided she wasn't going to wait on his pleasure. She grabbed her purse and slipped on a pair of wedges. She was going to him.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck pushed himself though last hundred yards, cement banging beneath his feet and trees passing in a blur. When the Captain had fled the country, Chuck had taken his place as Nate's running partner. It had started out as favour to Nate and ended as something more. He was beginning to enjoy the shooting pains and the blurred vision. When it came to pain, physical was far preferred to the emotional variety. Physical pain was routine, predictable, and easily controlled. He could stop when overwhelmed and the feeling dissipated. He crossed seconds behind Nate; his friend was breathing easily, but Chuck was gasping, face darker red than his shorts.

"You're getting better," Nate teased. "I only had to slow through the last two bends."

"Thanks," Chuck muttered sarcastically before bending over to take a deep breath. "Why don't you go gorge on perogies or something?"

"Maybe I will," Nate rubbed his flat stomach thoughtfully. "Vanessa is cooking for me later."

"How charming," Chuck mocked, digging through his pocket for a pack of cigarettes. "Is she going to film it for a new Ikea commercial?"

"Come on man. You'd like her if you got to know her."

"Need I remind you what she did with my ten grand?" Chuck stared at his friend.

"If it was anyone else you'd be laughing."

"I think not," Chuck shot back, but a slight tugging of his lips gave him away.

"See," Nate's enthusiasm increased.

"Maybe the bitch knows how to play," Chuck admitted, familiar smirk hidden behind his cigarette.

"You'd be a better runner if you gave those up," Nate reminded him.

"I'll keep that in mind when I register for the Boston Marathon," Chuck threw back, taking an even deeper inhalation.

"What are you and Blair doing tonight?" Nate asked. Chuck said nothing but the glare explained how out of bounds he'd gone. "What exactly happened last night?" Nate tried.

"Serena happened," Chuck said on his exhale.

"Ah."

"Yep," Chuck rolled the smoke back and forth between his fingers and then dropped it beneath his seven hundred dollar runners.

"If the old Serena is back," Nate thought aloud "then you'd best get ready for disappearing Blair."

"I know," Chuck muttered "I was there too."

"But you have yet to live it," Nate reminded him. As her boyfriend was left unuttered but easily understood. "Listen, I'm going to a concert with Vanessa on Saturday, her sister is playing. Maybe you and Blair could come with?"

"Where?"

"Brooklyn."

Chuck rolled his eyes. "What type of music?"

"They're a lesbian punk band."

Chuck snorted. "Are you kidding me?"

"You'll have a good time," Nate promised.

"Only if punk is a new code word for orgy," Chuck decided aloud. "And audience participation is encouraged."

Nate didn't laugh, his expression was dead serious. "Listen Chuck, I've tried really hard to be okay with everything; I don't think it's much to ask you to make the same effort."

"Fine," Chuck was defeated. "Text me the details."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair beat incessantly at the door until a uniformed servant opened it to allow her entrance. She brushed past him, phone in hand and flounced into the dining room. Bart, Lily and Eric were chatting over croissants and coffee.

"Good morning Blair," Bart offered the family greeting and Blair nodded her head in turn. "Would you like some breakfast?"

Despite the rumbling in her stomach, Blair shook her head. "Is Chuck here?"

"I'm afraid he went out a couple hours ago," Bart consulted his watch.

Blair stopped in disbelief. "A couple of hours ago? It's only nine now." She waited for someone to contradict her and explain that Chuck was still fast asleep but none of them did.

Blair's smile turned thin. She had convinced herself that Chuck hadn't answered her calls because he was still passed out from the night prior. She wasn't sure she preferred the truth.

"Blair," Serena strolled into the room to join her family. Her hair fell messy and undone, and her slipper clad feet scuffed across the hardwood floors.

"Serena," Blair stared at the other girl until the blonde shook her shoulders in question. "A moment," Blair angled her head out of the room.

The friends walked out together, Blair leading the two to Serena's bedroom. Blair gave a hiss of frustration once the door was safely closed. "What is the matter?" Serena asked.

"Did you have any idea what Chuck had planned for last night?"

"What do you mean? He doesn't exactly confide in me." Blair punched a few buttons on her phone and showed Serena the photos from last night. "Wow, that was…"

"Amazing," Blair hissed. "Too bad I was in Brooklyn dealing with Dan."

"You went to Brooklyn?"

"Focus," Blair waved a hand in front of her friend's face. She grabbed the phone back. "Now he won't even answer my calls."

"He's probably still sleeping."

"He's been out since 7."

"Chuck has been up since 7." Serena snorted at the thought.

"My reaction exactly," Blair rolled her eyes. "What is he doing?"

"Like I said, he doesn't exactly confide in me. You should ask Eric."

"Go get him."

"Me?"

"I went to bloody Brooklyn for you. I think you can manage the hike to the dining room." Blair tried to calm her racing thoughts while Serena made the pilgrimage to get Eric. By the time they'd returned, Blair had paced the room five times.

"Where is Chuck?" Blair asked the moment Eric crossed the threshold.

"He's out running with Nate."

Blair let out the breath she'd been holding in. This was ridiculous; she was supposed to be calm, to be controlled. She wasn't supposed to be panicking because her boyfriend didn't answer his cell. Except her boyfriend was Chuck Bass and she knew firsthand how poisonous his temper could be, and how quickly he could turn on someone. "Was he angry?"

"He wasn't happy," Eric said noncommittally.

"He's not taking my phone calls," Blair explained.

"I don't blame him," Eric stared at the older girl, making it clear where his allegiance lay. Then he saw the lines around her eyes, the slight tremor in her chin and he felt sympathy. "You'll be fine. He just needs to calm down. Call him again; I'm sure the run with Nate did the trick."

Blair opened her phone and punched the number one. She put the phone to her ear, and listened to each ring. She listened until she realized something; there was an echo to each of her rings. She pushed Eric out of the way and walked into the hall, the echoes growing louder with each step.

She pushed open Chuck's door, the familiar stench of cigarettes and scotch assailing her senses. There perched perfectly in the centre of his pillow was his cell phone. Blair rolled her eyes and snapped hers shut. Eric gave a chuckle from behind and Blair turned around to glare at him.

"That's vintage Chuck Bass," Serena decided aloud.

Blair crossed the room and grabbed the phone. She sat down on Chuck's unmade bed and started punching buttons.

"What are you doing?" Serena asked.

"I'm going to delete my voicemails."

"Why?" Eric asked.

"Because I've sent seven since yesterday."

"Do you know his password?"

"It hasn't changed since junior high," Blair scoffed, listening to the verbal prompts.

"You know, I feel morally obligated to…" Eric started only to be dissuaded by a nasty glower from Blair.

Blair pushed a few buttons, waiting for the next prompt but it never came. She stared at the phone in confusion, and tried the same code again. She was no more successful the second time. "He's changed his password," she said aloud.

Eric couldn't contain his laughter. He laughed until he realized that both Serena and Blair were staring, fierce disapproval on their faces. Realizing he was outnumbered, Eric beat a hasty retreat.

"It's okay B," Serena placated. "He'll be home soon and you can talk to him."

Blair threw the platinum phone on the bed and stood up. "You're right. I'm got one thing to do first and then we'll talk." Blair walked out of the room before Serena could ask what it was.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

"Good morning Mr. Bass," The concierge pulled an envelope from beneath the counter. "This came while you were out." Chuck grabbed it on the way, stuffing it casually into his pocket and continuing into the elevator. When the doors were safely closed, Chuck pulled the envelope out, half hoping that Blair had demeaned herself enough to handwrite her apology.

No such luck. Chuck kicked the side of the elevator, eyes rolling back in annoyance. The name Charlie was encircled by a perfect pink heart. He didn't need to deal with that psycho right now. Of course, that didn't stop him from ripping into the package. A small jump drive fell into his palm. He picked up the keychain, a white and pink circle on which was written one simple command:

Watch me.

"Not likely," Chuck retorted aloud, closing the drive within his fist. When the doors opened again he walked purposely back into his family suite. Ignoring those gathered in the main room he marched right into his room and deposited Georgina's little present in the top drawer of his desk, closing it with a bang.

"Chuck," a hesitant voice called from the doorway. It was familiar and yet not so. Its perfect feminine intonation was recognizable but her hesitation and tentativeness was not.

"Blair," Chuck chanced a look. Even sadness could not diminish her beauty. Chuck looked away before his heart melted. He walked to the bed, aware that Blair's eyes followed his every movement. He picked up his cell phone and started flicking absently through his missed messages.

"I'm so sorry," Blair began.

"Just don't," Chuck spoke more to his phone than her. "I was more than forgiving the first time. I don't want to hear it again."

"I really didn't know."

"That was kind of the point," Chuck looked back up at her, glaring through narrowed eyes. He could see her eyes water, tears dancing on the edges. "Please don't cry," he softened his tone.

Blair pulled a bouquet of flowers from behind her back. There were calla lilies like the ones he'd picked for her but they competed with red roses and yellow daisies in an explosion of colour.

"You bought me flowers?" Chuck was bemused.

"Call it a peace offering."

Chuck smirked at her effort. The angry side of him screamed at him to hold back, to make her pay for treating him like he didn't matter. It wanted her out of his life entirely, it wanted to rule again. But anger held little authority anymore; its power had long since been drowned in a pair of doe eyes. He'd cupped her chin before his darker instincts had formulated their argument. "I would have preferred a bottle of scotch," he whispered before kissing her lightly. She wrapped her lithe arms around him, tension released as he deepened his kiss. After a moment he pulled away. "You didn't re-gift these from one of your many suitors," He teased.

"Are you kidding me? No one will come near me now that I've slept with you."

"All the better," he smirked, lips moving to her neck.

"Perhaps we should move this elsewhere."

"Perhaps," Chuck threaded his fingers through hers. Blair walked back a few steps, dragging him along. "So what were you doing in Brooklyn?"

"Arranging a double date," Blair cringed as she said it.

"Please say it was between cabbage patch dolls," Chuck griped.

"No," Blair cringed further. "We're going out with them Friday night."

Chuck grimaced at the thought. "Please say it's not to a poetry reading."

"No," Blair's discomfort dissipated. "Drinks and dancing."

"Drinks and dancing," Chuck repeated in shock.

"Dan's going to try to be open-minded."

Chuck snorted. "Is he going to wear shoes without socks? Or order caffeinated coffee?"

"You're awful Chuck," Blair laughed, drawing him closer.

"Don't you love me for it," Chuck said casually, than froze when he realized the word choice. Before Blair could respond one way or the other, Chuck rambled on. "Since you've arranged a double-date with ditzy and doormat then you have to forgive me for arranging another."

"You arranged a double date?"

"With Nate and Vanessa," Chuck explained, watching carefully for his girlfriend's response. She was the picture of control, her eyes did not waver nor did her shoulders droop. Chuck smiled at her, choosing to ignore the way her nails dug into his palm.

"Why?" Blair said.

"Nate guilt-tripped me."

"You mean that actually works?" Blair's disgust turned to mischief.

"Don't you even start," Chuck smirked and leaned down to kiss her neck again. He traced the line of her chin with his lips, pressing first hard and then softly until Blair moaned beneath him.

"Perhaps we could just lock the door."

Chuck didn't need to be asked twice; he leaned over her and turned the latch. Blair's soft curls tickled his cheek, and he curled them around his hand before pushing them aside. He pushed the strap of her dress aside, kissing her exposed shoulder.

"What are we doing with them?" Blair whispered.

"I'll tell you later," Chuck mumbled back, his lips advancing to her collarbone.

Blair was too occupied to notice the evasion.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric cranked up his music and buried his head beneath a pillow. It was hard to concentrate on conjugating verbs when they were conjugating something entirely different in the bedroom beside. He should have been smart like the rest, and forgone homework for a spa trip. At the time, the idea of getting his nails done beside Bart Bass had been frightening, but now, everything seemed sublime in comparison to the r rated soundtrack. Eric flipped the page roughly and tried to focus on his textbook irregulars (rather than then neighbouring irregulars). Before he'd completed the first column, there was a break between songs and Eric noticed his phone was ringing. Digging through his blankets he emerged triumphant.

"Eric," Damien's voice bled through the rest of the noise. Eric cut the stereo but he couldn't silence the rest. Damien stopped talking for a moment, and then hesitantly asked. "Are you watching porn?"

That was it. Eric threw his pillow against the wall and stood up. Within two steps he was at the wall kicking with all his might. "Jesus bloody Christ!" He cursed. "Damien can hear you through the phone!"

The moans turned to manic giggles. Once he heard a thud and Chuck and Blair cursing, Eric laughed himself. "Sorry about that," Eric said into the receiver.

"Is that what I think...?"

"Yep," Eric admitted.

"And they fell out...?"

"Yep," Eric laughed. "At least they were in a bed; the bed tends to be optional with those two."

Damien snorted into the phone. "It's an interesting family you've got there."

"You have no idea!"

"That's true, I don't" Damien admitted, but didn't dwell on the issue. "Anyway," He breathed in dramatically. "I have some news. You know I was meeting that magazine writer this morning."

"Yeah. How did that go?"

"Fine, you know, the usual questions. What's your influences, blah de blah blah."

"You should wait until your second magazine article to play the disinterested master," Eric teased.

"Point taken! But that wasn't my news," Damien explained. "The guy was just fannying about the place, trying to select paintings to print, when he noticed something else." Damien paused dramatically.

"Yes," Eric snickered at the other boy's enthusiasm.

"Your photographs."

"M...my photographs," Eric's eyes went wide.

"He thought they were great. He said they were better than the staff photographer's."

"Really?"

"Oh shut it. You know you're talented. Anyway, he wanted to take a few back and I figured you'd be okay with it. He might want to use one to accompany the article."

"Really?"

"Really!" Damien teased the boy's repetition. "He's going to get back to me in a couple weeks before they set the article to print. It's set to come out next month, right before my show."

"Really?"

"Someone save Eric, the boy's stuck on repeat. Listen, I have a meeting but I'll call you later."

"Really," Eric teased.

"Yes, Really! I'll really call you and then we'll really go out for drinks and we'll have a really, really, really rreeeaallllllyy fantabulous time. Bye for now."

He'd clicked off before Eric could repeat himself the fifth time. Eric sat down on his bed and contemplated. Surely there was some rule against publishing the work of a fifteen year old kid. But maybe there wasn't. To be published. And in the New York Arts Magazine. An innocent smile crept across Eric's face. This must have been what success felt like.

He contemplated for a whole ten minutes before reality struck. Being published might bring its own problems. The rushing of excitement cleared from his ears and he was alone in his room again. Well as alone as one can be with screaming from the next room. Reality sucked! Eric gave the bordering wall another kick in frustration.

"For the love of God, take it to 1812."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

It was Wednesday afternoon before Chuck could check his ledgers. With the end of the school term approaching, Chuck had been occupied with summative assignments and quarterly exams. A year ago, Chuck would have been free. His essays would have been paid and delivered, the concept of studying nearly as foreign as sobriety. Blair had changed him. He'd be loathed to admit it, would swear that their study dates was poorly disguised foreplay but Chuck was lying. Blair Waldorf had achieved what no teacher ever could; she'd got Chuck involved in school.

It did make life more difficult to fulfill ones obligations. When Bart Bass had originally invested in Victrola, Chuck had all the free time needed to devote to it. Now that time was sparse, and about to get sparser if Chuck had his way. He was pulled thin but strangely Chuck didn't mind. Maybe he was more like his father than he thought. Chuck instantly erased that thought his conscious memory. Chuck Bass was nothing like his father. Well, except for the fact that he was hunched over his bed, surveying paperwork, examining various proposals and researching expansion. Oh screw it! Chuck was like his dad. Except that he didn't need a desk, all good ideas came in bed. Chuck examined several articles of interest, tossing several quickly aside until he reached the information he sought.

The click of the door disturbed his reading, and when he saw the visitor he was further perturbed. It was the aggressive interior decorator from the weekend prior. She'd been sauntering around all week, clipboard and flirtatious banter in hand. At first he'd given back as good as she gave, but by the third day he'd grown bored. For such a famous designer, the woman was as dumb as rocks.

"What are you doing?" Chuck snapped.

"Just getting some ideas of what could be done in here."

Chuck rolled his eyes, and secretly wondered if he had ever been that obvious. He probably had been. He turned his attention back to the documents he'd been studying, flipping through them aimlessly until one caught his attention. He studied it in depth, excitement building in his chest. "Yes!" Chuck jumped from the bed.

The decorator smiled smugly at him, and Chuck guessed her thoughts.

"No," he pointed his finger at her. "Yes," he grabbed a paper off his bed. "If you'll excuse me." He turned back just before he crossed the threshold, "think all you want," he waved at the now empty room.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Bart sat perched on the edge of his chair, flipping through an information packet page by page. Chuck stood to his side, hand resting on his father's chair. Bart's eyes were fixated on the print, but a small smile played at his lips. "This is really excellent."

"Of course it is," Chuck countered, smug smile settling across his features. "I wrote it."

Bart's eyebrow spiked in response to his son's arrogance, but he didn't contradict him. In fact, he put a hand casually to his son's arm as Chuck reached forward. Chuck's smile turned genuine at the gesture, and he proceeded to explain the artist's rendering. Chuck knew the proposal was not perfect, and Bart was quick to point out the imperfections, but they were dismissed by the sheer brilliance of the idea.

Somewhere between the laughter, another idea sparked. Chuck stared down at his father and felt an unfamiliar confidence. He felt optimistic in this new role; not so much of father and son but business associates. Perhaps in this new role, they might form a bond to replace the fractious old.

It should be said that Bart did not always manage his son, and Chuck did not always resent him for it. The years following her death had been a tumultuous time. The circumstances of his mother's passing, and Bart's high-handed treatment of his son following it had cut a deep division between two personalities that, without his mother's mediation, had been permanent. In truth, Bart and Chuck were too much the same; strong, haughty and inflexible. His mother had been so different; she had an affectionate heart to counter Bart's formality and natural leniency to temper Chuck's irascible temperament. Together they were an ideal mix, without Misty to score their rigid edges; it had been for many years a clash of titans.

Bart offered his recommendations as to proceeding, and Chuck listened with more attention than he ever would to a lecture.

Perhaps it could truly happen. Perhaps they might meet as equals with a genuine affection.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena walked from one room to the other, searching for her red Jimmy Choo pumps. Without the multitude of servants, the Van der Bass penthouse seemed even more spacious than usual. Bart had given the entire staff the day off; a small token for Veteran's Day. However, considering Lily's cooking skills were limited to making sandwiches that no one dared eat, the family had made plans for the evening. Chuck and his father were to first arrange documents, and then the family was to meet for dinner.

Serena pulled the bed skirt up, pulling out her red pumps with a squeal of relief. The family was to have left fifteen minutes ago, and she was starting to feel the pressure. When he cell phone rang she hesitated before answering, knowing it would only make her later. Once she saw the caller, her choice was made.

"Dan," Serena answered, trying to keep the excitement from her voice.

"Hey Serena," Dan's deep voice mumbled through the line. "Sorry I've haven't called in the last few days. I was busy with my dad, new artist opening and all." It was an excuse and Serena recognized it but chose not to care. All that mattered was that he was calling her now. "Did Blair talk to you?" This question was as poor as the excuse. How likely as it that she hadn't talked to Blair over the last week?

"Yes she did."

"So you know we're going out with her and Chuck tomorrow?"

"Yeah, to 6th."

"So I guess I'll meet you at 8."

That was it? Serena's relief turned sour, but she wasn't going to allow that to be all. "I really appreciate your doing this."

"Serena," Lily called from the other room. "Hurry up or we're going to be late."

"Was that your mom?" Dan asked through the phone.

"Yeah, the family is headed out."

"Should I let you go?"

"Maybe," Serena bit her lip in frustration.

Dan cleared his throat. "Listen Serena, I love you and I want to understand this. Maybe tomorrow will help and maybe it won't, but you need to know that in my heart I want this to work."

"Serena, get a move on," Chuck's perturbed voice joined the melee.

"I really have to go," Serena admitted. "But I love you too and I know we're going to figure this out."

"Have a good evening Serena."

"You too Dan."

Serena shut her phone and pressed it to her chest. She felt lighter than she had all week, her optimism returning to its rightful reign.

"Come on Serena," Chuck stuck his head in the door. "I have a business meeting in twenty minutes."

Serena laughed at the thought. "My brother, the industrialist." She wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pushed him towards the door.

The family had made it two steps from the hotel when Chuck started digging madly through his paperwork.

"What's the matter Chuck?"

Chuck tried one more flip through, a slow blush forming in his cheeks. "I forgot my forms." Bart looked far from impressed, but the rest were amused. "Just one moment," Chuck tossed his bag to Eric and ran back into the Palace.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

"My veal was undercooked," Chuck muttered peevishly.

"Your veal is always undercooked," Serena rolled her eyes. "Why do you even order it?"

"Because the chicken salad isn't pretentious enough," Eric teased.

A smattering of chuckles greeted the thought. Chuck eyed his brother, and the rest of his family that were gathered on the elevator. "I don't know if I approve of your transformation into a wit," Chuck decided aloud. "I'm not sure if we should approve," he finished with a meaningful look at Lily.

"Nice try Charles," Lily smiled at her stepson, but then turned to Eric nonetheless. "Be nice to your brother Eric."

Chuck chuckled contented as the elevator doors opened. Once they did, the recycled air of the elevator was traded for the scent-infused air of the top floor. Except, not only should it have been scentless, but the scent should not have been familiar. Chuck hesitated as he stepped from the elevator, trailing behind his family as they reached the suite doors. He was already calculating probabilities, which considering the perfume increased with every step, logic took over from probability.

Lily opened the suite door. What had been a muted aroma before, transformed into an overwhelming odour. Chuck's pulse, which had jumped at the hall, now beat erratically. He exchanged a knowing with his father, mute understanding conveyed to the exclusion of the rest.

Lily stepped first into the suite, covering her face with a sleeve to hold back the strength of the scent. "What happened?"

"Someone broke a bottle of perfume," Eric rolled his eyes. "Or ten," he added once he'd entered the suite.

"Serena?" Lily asked.

"It wasn't me."

The family set out to discover the cause of the stench, but Chuck remained by the door. Considering it was his mother's perfume, he'd already guessed the likely source. His father stayed by his side, and Chuck was comforted to know that he was affected as well. Perhaps even more so, for Bart remained there only a moment before slipping his phone open, and stepping into the hall to speak to the front desk.

"Oh my God Chuck," Serena returned first. "It's coming from your room."

"And based on how bad it smells in there, I'm betting it was far more than one bottle," Eric finished the thought. Chuck didn't even flinch at the revelation. He'd suspected as much from the first hint of citrus. "Don't you want to," Eric pointed at the room, waiting for his brother to investigate. Chuck said nothing but kept vigil beside the door.

"It's really bad," Lily explained, gathering beside the other two. "Someone poured it all over the floor. We're probably going to have to replace the entire carpet."

Bart returned to the room, cell in hand. He stared at his son and then spoke.

"Obviously our home has been made uninhabitable. The staff has prepared a room for Lily and I in the lower level. Eric and Serena, you can stay together in 1812." Bart turned to his son, a muted annoyance in his features. "Charles will be joining us."

Chuck raised his eyebrows but said nothing.

"We will be discussing this," Bart spoke to the entire family but kept his eyes fixed on Chuck. Chuck stood straighter, eyes narrowing as he guessed his father's intent. "Lily," His eyes softened over his wife. "Could you pack my belongings? I'll see to the room downstairs."

"So brother," Eric put his arm around Chuck once Lily had departed upstairs. "Just who did you piss off?"

"The wrong person," Chuck muttered angrily and pushed his brother's arm off to pack. The scent was so strong in his room that it made one nauseous, or at least that was the reason Chuck provided himself. His stomach rolled and Chuck remained upright only by strength of will. His movements were swift and but far from methodical. Throwing a duffle bag onto the bed, Chuck began to throw clothes from his drawers into it. He paid no mind to the manner of their arrangement, caring only for the speed at which the task could be completed. He needed to get out of there. He felt faint-headed and that stupid pressure was building again, threatening to carry away his heart beat and close his throat. Once he'd filled the bag, Chuck stopped hurling clothes and began to pack them into the small space. He folded, creased and no doubt ripped his designer clothes without even pausing to consider it. He really needed to be free. As soon as the zipper could be pulled tight it was, and Chuck nearly fell over himself to be out.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Bart had his back turned when Chuck entered the bedroom. After depositing his belongings, Chuck had fled for a walk to clear his mind. By the time he's returned Lily was sitting comfortably on the rental couch. She's sent him to his father. "You are absolutely certain of that?" Bart spoke into his phone.

Chuck sat on the edge of the bed and waited for Bart to finish.

"Thank you," Bart finished in a solemn voice, and watched his son fiddle with the edge of the comforter.

"You summoned me," Chuck said once the call was cut.

"I wanted to speak with you before I spoke with the rest of the family."

Chuck said nothing, but waited for his father to proceed. He had an idea as to the context, and when his father exhaled angrily and narrowed his eyes in agitation, Chuck knew he'd guessed right.

"How could you pull a stunt like that?"

"You think I did that?"

Bart never said a word but didn't need to; his face gave away the suspicion.

Chuck's lips formed a thin line. He should have been shocked but he'd learned long ago that Bart always expected the worst of him. It was such a routine occurrence that it ought not to have hurt. It did. Chuck had grown so much in the last six months. Was it too much to expect his father's opinion to grow as well?

"What do you expect me to think," Bart's authoritative voice didn't even crack his thoughts. "You were the last one in the apartment, and you were the only one not surprised when we returned."

"I was the last of the family in the suite," Chuck countered in as firm a tone.

"Who do you think it was?"

"Georgina," Chuck answered without hesitation.

"Charles," Bart shook his head in disappointment. "The concierge is aware that she is not allowed into the penthouse."

"Like that matters."

"And just in case she did try, I have already spoken with the front desk. She has not been in the building at all, and there were no unusual visitors in our absence."

Chuck looked right through Bart's frozen expression. What was the point? His father had his mind made up before Chuck had even stepped into the room. "I suppose I did it then," Chuck spoke evenly.

"I would like for you to explain why."

Chuck shook his head in disgust.

"I realize that Christmas is approaching and things are very different from last year. It is a lot to grow accustom to, but I thought you were enjoying having family again."

Chuck rolled his eyes, not wishing to hear any more of his father's psycho-babble. "Am I free to leave?" He cut in abruptly.

Bart eyed his son, recognizing the arms crossed posture and piercing glare. Chuck would be saying nothing that evening. "Yes."

Chuck spun immediately and walked back to the other room. The rest of the Van der Basses stood awkwardly off to one side. Apparently Eric and Serena had settled happily into his suite. The siblings exchanged confused glances with their mother and Chuck's agitation increased. He grabbed his duffle bag off the hardwood floors and threw it over one shoulder. He'd made it halfway to the door before anyone spoke.

"Where are you going Charles?"

Chuck pushed open the suite door, before turning casually back. He managed to say, "Back upstairs," before the door shut between them.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck stared at the ceiling of his bedroom, having long since given up on even the concept of sleep. He might have won the battle of wills but at what cost? He should have swallowed his pride and remained in the rented suite.

He'd opened every possible window in an attempt to air out the scent, but had succeeded only in inviting in the winter air. He huddled deeper under his blanket, trying to smother the smell but it remained. It permeated every surface; from his two hundred dollar pillow to the cashmere blanket he had wrapt around his head. It was as if it had seeped into his pores. Chuck rubbed his skin absently at the thought, before rolling to his side.

If Georgina's intent was torture then she had succeeded. He could not shut his eyes, because that invited the past in. The scent was a popular one, perhaps not amongst their circle but Chuck had known it since. Still, there was something in the tart citrus undertones that would forever signal the last four years of his mother's life. How could he lay here and not remember the feeling of her arms or the warmth of her embrace? Chuck threw the blanket off in defeat. There was no point. He eyed the clock that lay beside his bed, and prepared himself for a very long night.

Thirty digital numbers had come and gone before he heard it: a shuffling of doors, the rustle of clothing, and light footsteps across the carpet. Chuck closed his eyes and pretended to sleep. He didn't need the lecture or the suggestion he leave. He already knew he'd been childish, but he was stuck. If one proposes the action than they must follow through. He wasn't going to be weak; he wasn't going to back down first.

The figure drew close and Chuck shut his eyes tighter until she spoke. He opened his eyes and spied Blair knelling beside the bed.

"Come home with me," She held her hand out invitingly.

"Your mother is home," Chuck mumbled.

"I don't care," Blair slipped a hand beneath his chin and forced him to face her. "Come with me."

Silence was needed to achieve entrance to the Waldorf penthouse, but it was kept for the whole journey. They didn't speak as she pulled a coat around his exhausted frame, quiet surround their taxi ride from his home to hers, and the noiselessness continued as she pulled him into bed beside her. They was mute understanding as she pressed her body backward to fit his, as she waited for his pulse to slow before she finally dared to speak. "Did you do it?"

"No," Chuck offered and was secretly enthralled when the truth was freely accepted. When Blair admitted that she never thought he had, Chuck could feel the tiny pinpricks of happiness crawl up and down his spine. He pulled Blair closer, encircling her small frame with his larger one. He tried to sleep but he could still smell it. He realized why the psycho had chosen his room. That the smell would invade everything he owned, including every article of clothing. "I can still smell her," he confessed to her ear.

Blair knew he wasn't talking in the metaphysical, that her boyfriend was Chuck Bass and he didn't offer such openings to deep conversation. If he said he could still smell his mother than he meant it literally. Blair turned to face him and guessed the likely source. She started to unbutton his shirt. Chuck made no effort to help. Blair was momentarily amused by the fact that she was undressing Chuck Bass and yet he was totally uninterested in her progress. Chuck moved only when needed and once she'd divested him of his pyjama set he lay there motionless. He looked so broken and her heart was touched by the sight. After kicking his clothes beneath the bed, Blair crawled beside him again. He shivered against the cold, and Blair wrapped her blankets snugly around him, leaving only a gap for her body to rest against his.

Chuck wrapt a strong arm around her and closed the remaining distance. He buried his face in her hair, willing the rose to drown out any remaining citrus. Blair felt for his hand, intertwining it with her own before the two drifted to sleep.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – This was definitely the Chuck chapter. Serena's chapter is next, but this will slowly turn into more of a Chuck Bass story (as Georgina has promised to shift her focus back to Chuck).

delphin4ik – Chuck's working the whole fidelity thing pretty well at the moment.

steepe – there will be at least one more Georgina – Dan scene in the story. I actually like their dynamic (just not in show)

Sky Samuelle – I just love your reviews. I literally did a squeal of joy when I realized that you're reading this story as well.

Jess – there will be more Nate as the story progresses

Chairforever – thanks

rdx – it will get more intense

puresimplicity – I kind of wish Blair would stop caring too but then she wouldn't be Blair. Now Blair's stuck propping up two different friends (well a friend and a lover)…I hope she doesn't let one drop.

Ali – yep, I love angsty drama

Dan/Serena – more Darena next chapter

wayhott4u – hopefully that was fast enough

Up Next – Dan and drinking and dancing…I smell a disaster brewing? Who is Vanessa dancing with?


Chapter 9: Chapter Eight


A/N – This story is now rated as mature. I've been trying since the beginning to keep things trimmed and in the T range but I give up :) The very first scene of this chapter puts it over for me (and I can't really trim anymore without changing the context). I'm changing this to M after posting (I'm not sure if it'll mess with people who are subscribing). Feel free to mention it if you disagree with the rating.

Chapter Eight

Do you hate me yet? You really shouldn't. I promise from the depth of my blackened heart that I wasn't the one to pour perfume on Charlie's carpet. Of course, I'm not above outsourcing to get a job done. The fight with his father was an added bonus; it saved me some work in dividing the two; not that it would have been difficult as Bart is one hard-hearted, nasty form of a father and their bond has always been paper thin. I was pleased to know that Serena had instantly sided with Bart. She and Chuck might play the part of sibling affection (and rivalry) but it's truly only guilt and remorse forcing their hand. Yes, it all went better than plan, except for one nasty modification. I knew Eric Van der Woodsen was a complication, but calling Blair in the middle of the night? The virtuous golden boy is really getting on my nerves. He's always ruining my fun; first with Serena and now with Charlie. I knew Eric was going to be trouble from the start.

Blair awoke wrapt in a blanket of warmth. She could feel a pressure down one side, and, as she turned, realized Chuck's arm was still resting along her leg. She held it between her own as she spun; silent and slowly so as not to wake him.

It was still dark outside, the only light provided by street lamps that burned through the night. The scant rays cut peculiar patterns into her boyfriend's face, emphasizing his high cheekbones and casting dark shadows beneath his eyes. This didn't distress Blair but the arrangement of his lips did. Chuck had not stirred from his deep slumber, but while his breathing was even, his lips were not. They were fixed in a prominent scowl that cut deep lines on either side. Blair touched his cheek softly, tracing a line reverently down each crevice. At the touch Chuck moved and his lips returned to a neutral expression. Blair sighed, wishing she could as easily erase the cause as the expression of his distress.

Chuck's sleep drugged face was beautiful. During the daylight hours his face was handsome; his personal oppression played off as indulgence twisted his features into a living enigma that drew the viewer in. At night there was no restraint; his face was open and vulnerable. He was beautiful in his boyish charm.

Blair ran a finger along his lips, and then kissed him lightly. The touch roused Chuck and he ran a hand lazily up her back without opening his eyes. Blair giggled as his hands found her curls, and then kissed him again, her intent more marked as she urged his mouth to open. His hands buried deeper in her hair, the fingers wrapping, pulling, and twisting until the pain surpassed pleasure. Blair tried to pull away but Chuck held her fast, covering her slim body with his much larger frame, and holding her pinned beneath him. "Chuck," Blair cried out against his lips. He snapped alert, throwing his head back with such force that he fell right from the bed. He scrambled to his feet, mind slowly acclimatizing to the room, the feminine touches and taste that denoted it as Blair's domain. He wasn't lost, he wasn't in his house but just maybe he was home.

The affectionate thought didn't calm his mind, which had run rampant through the night, and now played tricks against his sleepless self. Chuck looked for his overnight bag, the same one that had made the pilgrimage from rented suite, to Bass residence to Waldorf penthouse. The sky was dark and provided a small window of escape.

Except Blair didn't want him to escape. She stepped from the bed and wrapped her arms around him, inching her fingers down a stomach that had grown progressively flatter since the year prior.

"Now is not a good time," Chuck decided whilst removing her hands.

In the back of his head, another voice wondered why he cared. What good was a conscience when one had a willing and eager woman on their arm? When he chanced a look at Blair, he saw the thought reflected there. Blair said nothing but she couldn't suppress her shock at being rejected or the hurt that underlie it. It was enough. Chuck threw himself forward, kissing her with such force that it pushed their bodies several steps back. Blair put one hand behind her but could grab only air; the other she put to Chuck's waist, pulling his body flush with hers. Blair could feel her lips swell beneath his relentless assault. His entire body was tense with more than the rigid power of unfulfilled passion. He pushed her back harder, brutally until her back hit the far wall, her head striking as well.

"Blair," He breathed in shock, pulling his body back from hers. She wouldn't let him, she grabbed at his hair, forcing his mouth back to her. She wound her body tightly to his, guiding his hand beneath her butt, whispering wantonly for him to possess her.

The last thread of control was broke and he thrust her so roughly against the wall that the impact stole Blair's breath. He crushed her tiny frame, but she bore it all, encouraging him to push her further still. She climbed her small back up the wall and wrapt her legs around his waist. He kept his lips on hers, preventing her from crying out from either pain or pleasure.

Within moments it was over, but each second hung between the two. Chuck pressed his forehead into the wall, weariness overtaking adrenalin. He studied the small freckle on Blair's shoulder, the only freckle to grace her pristine pale skin. "I need a shower," He let her go and fled into the spacious ensuite.

Blair leaned back against the wall, her chest rising and falling in great heaves. She touched a hand to her swollen lips, realizing for the first time just how much Chuck had held back to please her, even in the most hurried of touches there had been softness.

There had been no softness in that touch.

Blair didn't know how to feel; her thoughts were trapped in a battle of opposites and before one could emerge the victor, a firm knock at her bedroom door brought them to a halt. To her side, Blair could hear the shower running and grimaced.

She shut the bathroom door firmly, and hoped that it was Dorota and not her mother. She didn't get her wish. Eleanor knocked only once more before marching straight into the room. She stood tall, and immediately crossed her arms. She looked almost matronly, but Blair knew better than to comment on it. "Where is Charles?"

"Right here," Chuck emerged from the bathroom, wet hair flopping into his eyes. There was a remnant of a smile on his face but when he saw just how dark Eleanor's expression was, all the playful feistiness died.

"I'm sure you know where the exit is," Eleanor said, clenching her teeth. "I suggest you use it."

Chuck nodded his head, and stopped only in front of Blair before leaving. "Thank you," he whispered into her ear. "I'll call you later."

Once the door was shut behind him, Eleanor turned to her daughter and let her full outrage show. "How dare you bring your sexual escapades into my house!"

"It's not what it looks like," Blair tried but was immediately silenced.

"If you're going to try to convince me that you're not sleeping with that Lothario then I would save the words."

"That Lothario is my boyfriend. I've been dating him for nearly six months."

"I'm aware of that," Eleanor shot back. "I'm sure all of the Upper East Side is aware of it. They all know what you get up to every time I am away." Eleanor moved to stand in front of her daughter.

"I thought you liked him."

"Like is a strong word," Eleanor countered. "I was happy to see you and Charles together. He might not be the most upstanding of young men, but he's amusing. You were dangerously close to becoming an angst-ridden, drama queen after Nathaniel."

"And?"

"Charles is a bit of fun," Eleanor said, unfolding her arms. "But fun isn't meant to last forever."

"I enjoy dating Chuck."

"Don't use that vulgar name," Eleanor corrected her daughter. "I'm glad you've been enjoying yourself, but don't you think you're taking it a bit far?"

"Far?"

"The Chucks of the world are the sort of men you have flings with; short, ardent affairs that prepares you for the longer, middling existence of a real relationship."

"You're wrong."

"You're idealistic."

"Hardly," Blair rolled her eyes at the thought.

"I only have your best interests in mind," Eleanor shook her head. "Don't fall for the romantic build up; face the reality."

"This is real."

"Oh Blair, you have so much to learn." Eleanor stared at her daughter, a tinge of pity at her downturned lips. "Just look at his father."

"What about him?"

"He married his high school sweetheart."

"And? You've said yourself they had the best marriage."

"The best and the worst my dear."

"Charles is not like his father."

"It's worse," Eleanor agreed. "He's like his mother."

Blair crossed her arms because, honestly, she couldn't disagree.

"We all know how that story ended," Eleanor put a hand to her daughter's shoulder. "Don't fall in love with the fiery type." Eleanor moved her hand up to cup her daughter's chin. "Trust me."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck rifled through his closet, waiting for an idea to spark. The spacious walk-in was sorted by colour, and with Chuck's preferences it was an explosion of brightness. He turned from side to side, pointing to random shirts and slacks, waiting for inspiration to strike. He had just progressed to the argyle sweaters when a voice broke his concentration. Chuck looked at the dressing mirror and saw his father staring back. The older man was standing straight as a rail with his arms crossed. Chuck should have been intimidated but, in contrast to the established pattern, he was not.

"I have to get ready," Chuck walked right past his father into the bathroom.

"I'm not going to go away."

Charles focussed on the counter, arranging bottles of product. Once that task was complete, he ran a comb through his still damp hair.

"You've been gone all day, were God knows where last night."

"I was with Blair," Chuck admitted, squeezing some wash into his palms.

"And you didn't think to inform me?" Bart crossed his arms. "We had an agreement."

"Yes, we agreed to terms when you gave me the suite," Chuck splashed cold water onto his face. "I guess it's time for a renegotiation."

"A renegotiation of what? I have a team of people cutting the carpet out of your god damn room."

"So we should be back in there tomorrow?"

Bart narrowed his eyes in frustration. "I haven't had a single explanation from you as to why you did it. Did you even think how it would affect me? Or was that part of your plan?" Chuck didn't bother to answer, but clicked on his blow dryer instead. He didn't usually dry his hair before styling, but it was an opportunity to drown out his father's rambles. Bart wasn't giving up that easily. He grabbed the dryer from his son and turned it off. "What the hell is the matter with you?" Bart yelled in frustration. "You haven't acted like this in years."

Chuck's kept his gaze on the mirror and grabbed a bottle of gel. "I'm an adult now," he reminded his father. "You can't keep controlling me with threats."

"Is it too much to expect an explanation for your actions?"

"Why don't you make one up," Chuck shot back as he artfully crafted his hair. "You're pretty good at it."

Alerted by the raised voices, Lily appeared behind her husband.

"Good evening Lily," Chuck didn't even attempt his usual charm. "Shall we invite all the Van der Basses into my bathroom?"

Bart was about to defend his wife when Lily put a hand to his arm and ushered him out. After speaking a few whispered words, she reappeared alone. "Charles," she tried with a deliberately calm voice. "Your father is very frustrated with what happened. We would like to know why so that we can help you."

"So you think I did it too?"

"You told your father…"

"Sometimes," Chuck interrupted, "it's easier to tell my father what he wants to hear."

Lily's shook her head in recognition but before she could question him further Serena appeared behind her mother.

"Where's Eric?" Chuck mumbled at the mirror in response to yet another intrusion.

"Sorry mom," she pushed past, "but I really need Chuck right now."

"Serena, I was speaking with Charles."

"Fashion emergency," Serena countered, "And unfortunately Chuck is the best I can do."

"I ought to be offended..." Chuck started but let Serena push him anyway, guiding him down the hallway until he was in her room.

"But I saved you a lecture," Serena shut the door behind them.

"No, it wasn't..."

"Honestly Chuck," Serena eyed her sometimes brother, expression softening in understanding. "I don't know why you did what you did but I can understand wanting attention and not knowing how to just ask. I'm not going to ask you to explain it to me, I probably don't want to know the reason, but I don't like it when your dad yells at you."

Chuck was stuck speechless, not only by Serena's words, but also her choice to intervene. He couldn't help but smile because even though Serena had got the facts entirely wrong, she was still right in some small way.

Serena looked at his genuine smile and cringed. "Please don't say something sappy, I don't think I could handle that from you. Besides," Serena's thoughts ran on, "I do need you to help me pick an outfit to captivate Dan."

"We should start with your underwear," Chuck opened the small drawer to his right.

"Chuck!" Serena slammed it shut.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

The club was dark, lights spun from the dance floor below and dance music pulsated from every corner. It was too loud to have a proper conversation, and too dark to fully distinguish your friends. The space was described for two purposes, to dance in a constant sway with the hundreds of other bodies caught in perpetual motion, or to drink to oblivion at the tables on the upper deck. Chuck, Blair, Serena and Dan had chosen the later, and parked themselves beside the upper railings. Dan tried to stomach his beer while Serena eyed the dancing with guilty pleasure. Blair studied the fashion for faux pas and Chuck studied her.

The strobe lights danced across Blair's face, adding a sparkle to her brown eyes, and illuminating her petite form. Chuck trailed his fingertips along the tie of her backless dress. He gave it a slight tug, carefully so as not to tear the rich blue fabric. Blair acquiesced and let herself be pulled to him. Chuck folded the fabric around his fingertips, teasing smirk playing at his lips. "At last, I have you leashed."

"Do you need a leash," Blair teased right back, full lips dancing provocatively close to his.

"Are you thinking of running away," He stared up, eyes piercing through her mischief.

"Running is beneath me," she countered. "I'd walk away."

"But then I could catch you," Chuck's smirk emerged fully.

"Precisely," Blair's lips inched closer.

Chuck said nothing, but met her lips with ardent affection.

"Oh god," Serena turned her face back to Dan. "That sight never gets better."

"I thought you enjoyed public displays of affection," Dan smiled from behind his still full beer.

"Not when they involve Chuck Bass," Serena countered. "Now when they involve a certain handsome Brooklynite," Serena's hair bounced as she leaned forward suggestively. She was one her fourth martini and the effects of the last three were showing clearly.

"I am irresistible," Dan teased, leaning unconsciously away from her vodka-infused breath. Serena's eyebrows narrowed, and her lips formed an exaggerated pout. She looked adorable, stunning even in her skinny blue jeans and dangerously low teal tank but Dan hardly noticed. He only noticed her amplified speech, sluggish movements and unfocused eyes. It was too far from his Serena. His Serena was natural, charming and beautiful. She wasn't gaudy, shrill and embellished.

"I want to dance," Serena announced, climbing from her chair. She threaded Dan's fingers through her own, "Come dance with me." Dan tried to slip his hand free but Serena held fast. "Come on Dan, no one will care that you can't dance here." Dan refused to move, and Serena bounced on her heels, frustration mounting. "You only have to move your hips to the beat."

"I'll dance with you," Blair suggested, whispering into Chuck's ear.

"Yes," Serena let go of Dan's hand abruptly. She linked her arm through her best friends.

"Go dazzle and mesmerize," Chuck whispered into Blair's ear, cupping her small behind, he gave her a slight shove forward. Chuck and Dan watched the two disappear from their position beside the upper railings. Serena and Blair descended the large staircase to their right and entered the overflowing dance floor.

Chuck watched the girls meander through the crowd, already aware of their final destination. Serena stepped first onto the stage, and after some urging Blair joined her on the elevated platform. He couldn't help but feel smug as he watched Blair's gaze fall repeatedly in his direction. She couldn't see him for the glare of the strobe lights, but she kept trying.

Serena was different; she kept her eyes locked to the audience, gifting strangers with flirtatious smiles, and Chuck could feel Dan shift repeatedly beside him. Chuck glanced at the boy through the corner of his eye and groaned. Dan's disgust was plainly shown. Chuck took another shot of his scotch; Blair's request etched into his mind. Please help Dan to understand. Chuck tried to plan an opening for discussion but before he could imagine a tactful form of 'stop being such a backward douche bag', Dan broke the silence.

"How can you be okay with this?" He asked as Serena touched the shoulder of a complete stranger.

"Why should it bother me?" Chuck countered, watching his girlfriend dissuade her two suitors with a single death glare.

"You don't care that Blair is putting herself on display?"

"It's sexy," Chuck decided aloud.

"It's sexy to see her ogled by random men?"

"They're not a threat. They catch a glimpse of her for an evening, but that's all they'll ever get. It's amazing to watch her enthral, hell ever arose others," Chuck smirked. "Knowing that at the night's end she'll be only mine to enjoy."

"You're not jealous?"

Chuck ran a finger along the edge of his glass and considered his words carefully. Chuck was a jealous creature, but on a full dance floor, where interest could only be conveyed through shouted greetings, a flirtation didn't even increase his pulse. "I'm jealous when I ought to be. I'm not jealous of absolute strangers."

Dan stared back down at the dancers and tried to understand how Chuck could not be jealous. The two were surrounded by a half-dozen men, half more attractive and the other richer (at least in Dan's case). Dan took a deep swig of his beer. He'd apparently missed the classes on smug confidence.

Chuck read the other boy's displeasure tried another tactic. "This is all part of being a woman," Chuck explained. "It's their biological imperative to attract and a man's urge to chase."

"That is sexist."

"It's evolutionary."

"You really don't care that she's half-naked shaking her assets for everyone else's benefit."

"Dan," Chuck had to suppress the urge to smack him upside the head. "Your girlfriend is beautiful and men are going to stare. You learn to accept it, or you dress her in a burka." Chuck studied Dan, trying to see if his words had any effect. Dan's mouth remained set in a firm line, and Chuck exhaled in frustration. The boy's views on human sexuality were positively archaic.

Chuck turned his eyes back to the dance floor, where Serena and Blair had invited a couple men onto the stage. Chuck laughed into his scotch; the taller man's attempts to entrance Blair were pathetic at best. The blonde didn't fare better with Serena, at least in Chuck's eyes but he could hear Dan curse into his second beer. Chuck stretched his legs and gave up. For Blair's benefit he had attempted. For his own benefit as well, because Chuck knew that Dan was a stabilizing force in Serena's life. Chuck sipped the last of his scotch, wishing that Serena had picked a more liberal man to love. Dan was everything that Serena had once hoped to be, but he was too far removed from who she had been, and who, Chuck had long since realized, she still was.

By the time Serena's silver stiletto hit the bottom of the stairs, Chuck had already guessed how the evening would end. He shook his head at Blair to indicate his mission had failed. The brunette hid disappointment for a time, but when Dan asked to speak to Serena outside, Chuck's girlfriend dragged a deep line across the back of his neck.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Dan stepped first into the frosty winter air. It cooled his body but not his agitation and anger. He knew his own limitations, and had finally realized Serena's. Serena followed Dan into the night, being careful not to slip on the icy sidewalks. They walked a few minutes in a complete silence until they'd moved far enough from the crowd to gain a window of quiet. When they did, Dan turned to Serena and began. "I tried to come into this with an open mind, but I also came with open eyes."

Serena just stood there, her mind moved too slow to race, and was too foggy to risk arguing.

"I wish I could understand; but I'm never going to comprehend why you enjoy trading your sexuality for attention?"

"Dan, please," Serena reached out, prepared to hold him until the insecurity passed but Dan would have none of it.

"No," Dan pushed her hand aside. "You're drunk."

"I'm not," Serena countered, but an ill-time waver to the right proved her protestation untrue.

"I need a break from this."

"What does that mean?"

"I need a break from you," Dan covered his eyes, unable to face his girlfriend.

"You don't mean that."

Dan stared first at the taxis that angled through the late night crowds, watching the yellow reflect of the evening frost. Did he really mean it? Could he really mean it? This wasn't some short fling; they'd dated over a year. The problem was, when he looked at her now, he didn't see the girl he loved. He saw a liar and a user. "Yes I do," Dan met her eyes, tears blurring his vision. "I love you Serena but I don't love this. And if this is who you are, I guess I don't love you."

Serena could feel her breath stop, could feel her eyes water to match Dan's. "So that's it?"

Dan took her hand and cradled it between his own. "I can't be a part of this life. You need to figure out what you really want. If you decide that it's me then we'll work things out from there, but I can't take that journey with you. I can't get pushed and pulled around by a confused girl."

"Dan…" Serena tried but the boy put a finger to her lips.

"I'm sorry but it has to be this way." Dan reached forward and removing his finger, he kissed her briefly, softly and then pulled back. He took one last, long look at her. He studied her perfect blonde ringlets, her almond shaped green eyes and perfect tall and slender figure. He studied her bloodshot eyes, her awkward footing and shaking hands. She was perfection and imperfection in equal measure. Dan put both hands to his face, his fingers folded as if in prayer but he had no words. "Goodnight Serena," he finished and walked away.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena awoke the next morning, if one can awake when they never fall fully to sleep, in a surreal state. The lights above her bed were the frosted glass but they not real, the blonde hair that pooled on her pillow was the same and yet different. Her entire body felt heavy, her mouth was parched and her head ached. It wasn't a hangover, it was the result of crying the night through.

Serena's fingers went to her neck. They inched left and right until they found their object, the small diamond and pearl necklace that Dan had given her. She had slept with it on, her hands were too uncoordinated and her heart to uneasy to remove it. She did so now, first tracing the line it had cut into her throat, and then the delicate golden chain. She found the catch and opened it, letting the necklace drop into her other hand.

She should have given it back to Dan. She had offered but he wouldn't take it. Maybe it was a sign, something to link them together. No, she couldn't think like that. She opened her side dresser and threw the necklace unceremoniously in. Sometime last night, as she sobbed on Blair's shoulder, Serena had realized the truth. Dan was right; it wasn't fair to drag him through her duality or her confusion.

So where did that leave her?

She was stuck as firmly between two worlds as the moment Georgina stepped off the plane. Except for one difference; it was no longer the past and the future. The future was undefined, an open canvas on which to create.

But what future did she want?

It seemed so strange to even debate the choice, but Serena couldn't help it. She liked to party, she liked to be carefree, she liked to have a life that read like a outrageous novel. Yet she didn't love it. She hated waking up feeling like death, she hated trying to piece together the events of the night before, and she really hated being used by others.

It should have been an easy choice. If this was some after-school special then Serena would have been deliriously happy. She had gained so much, the respect of others, a consistent and regular existence and a genuine love. The problem was it had brought with it understanding of her inadequacies which bred insecurity. Serena didn't enjoy walking through life trying to live up to a standard that was always two steps too far away. Everyone had told her she would revel in her new life, but Serena had waited months for the sentiment to be genuine, for her to be happy about the change. The problem was things didn't change. She didn't love either existence.

She was left with only guilt but guilt can't control forever, not when Blair and Nate had broken up regardless, when Blair was loved elsewhere. Dan had replaced it for a while, providing a new shame to regulate her behaviour. He was so much more than she had deserved, and for a while she had strived to live up to his standard. It had never felt real. They had been the happiest moments of Serena's life, but they never felt real. She had lived them on the edge, waiting for someone to tell her that everything was fake and everyone was lying to her. She didn't like living that way. She had never wanted to be Blair.

And that is why, when she grabbed the phone from the side table, her fingers cruised right though the B's and the D's to the one person who never expected her to measure up to anything.

"Serena," Georgina purred through the phone.

"Georgie,"

"Have you tired of your new life," Georgina referenced their last conversation.

Serena chewed her fingertip, already questioning what she had planned to say. "Maybe you were right."

Georgina laughed at the admission. "Serena darling, I'm always right."

"Regular place," Serena rubbed her hand nervously against her pants, "regular time."

"Regular stuff."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck sunk down in the seat of his limo, pulling his turtleneck firmly over his face. He pretended he was going to some high-end club, or a romantic dinner for two, or best or all up to his suite for a romp. Hell he'd settle for a bottle of scotch and reality television. Anything was better than a trip to Brooklyn; especially when Blair had again been detained by his irresponsible sister.

Chuck inched his turtleneck back down once the limo had moved across the East River into Brooklyn proper. Not that anything was proper about Brooklyn. Chuck powered the window downward, letting the cold, winter air calm him. The limo made several turns, and Chuck realized that their destination was familiar, not the club itself but the neighbourhood. Chuck groaned to himself. Was he actually becoming familiar with Brooklyn? The thought disgusted him so much that he shut the window tightly.

His car slowed to a stop shortly after and Chuck pulled his fur-lined winter coat around him as he stepped from it. Nate was standing outside when he emerged. "Where's Blair?" Nate asked when he appeared alone.

"She's going to meet us here," Chuck said with a final glance at his phone.

"Shall we go inside then?"

Chuck looked at the club; it was brick that had once been painted grey but now stood peeling and chipped to expose the original red beneath. There was a prominent billboard with letters in black and white. Chuck decided that the venue was worse than a dump, because his trash was so much better than this.

"Chuck?"

"How about we ditch Vanessa and grab some drinks at 151?"

"Stop kidding," Nate pushed his friend with a shoulder. "You're going to have a wonderful time."

"Wonderful isn't the first word to come to mind," Chuck muttered to himself, subconsciously patting to check that his wallet was still in place. He followed Nate into the club, nose stinging with the stench of beer and sweat.

"There's Vanessa," Nate pointed across the room, waving wildly until the curly brunette noticed them. Nate set off through the crowd, using his board shoulders to manoeuvre through the crush of bodies. Chuck followed a step behind, hugging his suede coat closer to him, least it be ruined by a polyester blend sweater or a random dousing of drug store cologne.

"Nate," The tall bohemian wrapped her arms around Nate's thick chest and planted a kiss on his cheek. As she stepped back, Nate intertwined her arm with his, holding her to his side. "Chuck," Vanessa eyed his friend, the pleasure draining from her expression.

"Brooklyness," Chuck countered, eyeing her floral printed halter dress with disappointment.

"I warrant a pet name already?" Vanessa teased through his bored indifference.

Chuck didn't even crack a smile at her effort. "Is there a place to sit in this dump?" He asked as a burly and obviously intoxicated man nearly bowled him over.

"I saved us a booth by the stage."

"Great," Chuck rolled his eyes. "I bet we'll really be able to hear the music there." Chuck glared at his friend. When he saw the booth, Chuck glared again, harder than before. It was an old style wooden bench, on which was piled a series of grey and black pillows. Chuck put a hand out experimentally, recoiling in disgust once he touched a pillow. They were filthy. "You could have cleaned it first."

Vanessa's smile didn't falter. "You're the one who carries wet wipes."

"Knowing I was meeting you, I should have carried AJAX."

"That's enough," Nate forced himself between the two, directing them to opposite sides of the table. "Let's order a couple" hundred "drinks," Nate suggested, omitting the single thought.

"I already have," Vanessa pointed to the three glasses on the table. "Scotch right?"

"You have your purposes," Chuck allowed in amusement. Nate rested a hand on his girlfriend's knee as they sat; his Corona held in the other. Once Chuck took a sip of the club's scotch he wasn't as impressed. The musty liquid was so disgusting that he spat it back in revulsion. "Did you poison this or does it naturally taste this bad."

"You're a long way from the Upper East Side," Vanessa countered, lifting her own Corona in toast.

"Apparently," Chuck eyed his drink, and with one last grunt of repulsion, he downed it.

"See, it wasn't that bad."

"Don't flatter yourself," Chuck waved a hand through the air to attract the waitress, but she rushed right past him.

"So where's Blair?" Vanessa asked as Chuck tried to wave the waitress on the way back with as little success.

"She's going to be late," Chuck said, trying his charms on another server. She rushed past as easily as the last.

"I guess it takes her a long time to dress," Vanessa suggested. "It's hard to match skirt to her nail polish."

"I guess," Chuck muttered, not even listening. When the first waitress moved to walk past him again, Chuck grabbed her arm. "Could you bring me some more of that piss water that passes for scotch? Or better yet, bring the whole bottle. That way I won't have to wait for your skinny, peroxide self to fanny back and forth with it every time." Chuck rolled his eyes as the girl scurried away frightened. When he turned back to the table, both Vanessa and Nate were staring at him in shock. "What?"

"Don't you think you're taking this whole entitled, arrogant, egoist act a bit far."

Chuck snorted into his empty glass. "Listen, I know you're Nathaniel's personal therapist, but if I ever need someone to analyze me then I'll hire some 500 an hour hack who will blame everything on my mo…father."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair watched her friend dance, a perfect painted marionette flanked by her psychotic puppeteer. She was tempted to leave Serena there, to let her feel the full consequences of her choices. She couldn't though, because in contrast to the green-eyed monster that held her friend's hand, Blair had a conscience. This was probably why she kept losing. Blair pushed through the crush of bodies, and pulled at her friend's arm. "Let's go Serena, I'm already late."

"For what?" Serena questioned for the third time that night. Her confusion offered an opening, and Blair used it to drag her from the dance floor

"To meet Chuck," Blair flipped her hair in frustration. "He's waiting with Nate and Vanessa."

"B, that sounds so boring. We're so much more fun, right Georgie?"

Georgina stared down at the smaller girl, perfect contentment etched into every feature. "I agree entirely," Georgina put a hand out to touch Blair but Blair wretched her hand away before she could make contact. "Stay with us. I'm sure the rest won't mind," Georgina had to suppress a smile through the last few words.

"Yes, let's dance," Serena slurred excitedly. She grabbed both of her friends' hands and tried to draw them forward.

"We just got off the dance floor," Blair reminded her friend. "You promised two dances and then I could take you home."

"But I don't want to go home," Serena pouted like a disappointed child. "Come on Blair. You don't want to go to Brooklyn."

Blair's face weakened for a moment. It was true; she didn't want to go to Brooklyn. Serena might have been intoxicated enough to not notice her shoulder strap fall half down her arm, but she was never drunk enough to not notice an opening and act accordingly.

"See, you don't want to hang out with your ex-boyfriend and his low-rent replacement."

Blair tightened her grip on Serena's arm. It was true. There were a hundred things Blair would rather do than act friendly with Vanessa Abrams; including having all her body hair removed with a pair of tweezers. But she hadn't made her promise to Vanessa or even to Nate. "Chuck is waiting."

"Chuck, Chuck…Chuck," Serena stamped heel to punctuate her agitation. "I am so sick of Chuck."

"Serena…"

"He's not that great!"

"I agree," Georgina announced flippantly. "How about I smirk a few times and down some scotch. You won't even notice the absence." Blair glared at the insult, but Serena thought it was hilarious, laughing so hard that it ended in a snort. "Let's dance some more," Georgina slipped a hand possessively around Serena's shoulders. She stared at Blair, daring her to intervene.

"We're leaving," Blair pulled at Serena's other arm.

"No," Serena pushed Blair's hand away. "Georgina's right, I want to dance."

"You don't have to join," Georgina reminded Blair, before moving her light-haired friend back to the dance floor. Georgina chanced just one look back as their heels hit the wooden planks.

Blair watched her triumphant smile disappear behind the sea of bodies.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck watched his best friend move through the dance floor with Vanessa on his arm. Chuck decided that they were cute in a textbook good looks jock meets kind of strange bohemian cutie. What the hell was that thought? Chuck shook his head absently. It was a pathetic joke; trust fund kid meets barista sort of joke. Except it was kind of cute, the way Nate laughed at her jokes (which Chuck was pretty sure he didn't understand), and the way Nate could hold Vanessa mesmerized (likely because she was staring at his profile rather than listening to his words). Chuck took another sip, and rolled his eyes. The only reason his eyes were following the two was because his own seat was empty. He was jealous because Nate could hold his girlfriend close while his was no where to be seen (again). The realization forced Chuck to down another glass. These pansy thoughts were getting ridiculous. He was becoming a weak romantic. He took another drink. If these wretched thoughts continued it was going to end in a full blown identity crisis.

His phone rang, allowing him a short reprieve from self-disgust. "For a smart girl you sure can't tell time," Chuck spat out downing the rest of his scotch in one single gulp.

"Chuck," Blair's voice was low through the phone and Chuck knew what was coming before she said it. "I'm so sorry but…"

Chuck didn't even let her finish the excuse but cut the call mid-sentence. He should have been angry but he could not bring forward a rage. His thoughts were different; softer and yet heavier but just as all encompassing. Chuck fiddled with the buttons of his phone, trying to block the saddened thoughts that threatened to overwhelm. He wasn't able and for a moment they showed, the hurt and disappointment filled his heart and cracked through his artful facade. Then someone called his name and he looked up. Vanessa was looking down at him, pity in her face.

God he hated pity! The mask of casual indifference was restored. "Blair isn't going to make it," Chuck said evenly, "Which is my cue to abandon this hole as well."

"You don't have to go," Nate put a hand out to stop his friend.

"Yeah," Vanessa agreed. "After all, you haven't finished your bottle yet."

Nate gave his girlfriend a little jab, and Chuck snickered at the sight of blaze Nate forced to action.

"Okay, I'm sorry," Vanessa breathed out. "Why don't you sit back down?"

"Come on," Nate urged. "I rarely get to see you now."

"Fine," Chuck agreed. "For you," he added to exclude Vanessa from the sentiment.

Nate stared at his girlfriend until she weakened. "Do you want to dance?" she tried.

"With you?"

"No, with Nate," Vanessa spoke before she could control her tongue. "Yes, with me," She tried softness to correct her rudeness.

"You don't need to be nice to me. You're Nate's girlfriend and so I must approve of you by association. All you need to do is sit there, look pretty and try not to piss me off too bad."

"Chuck!"

Chuck rolled his eyes at his friend, proving he wasn't as easy to manage as his Vanessa.

"No, Nate that's alright." Vanessa chuckled lightly. "I'm actually kind of flattered. I mean the great Chuck Bass considers me pretty."

Chuck couldn't help but smirk. "You're not as pretty as Nate. But I suppose it wouldn't be an affront to be seen dancing with you," He finished, taking her hand. It was rougher than it ought to be, and her nails were uneven. Chuck nearly laughed aloud, and as if she could sense his judgement she stole her hand back.

By the time they'd reached the dance floor, Chuck remembered why he rarely danced. He should have finished the bottle of scotch, because then he wouldn't mind looking ridiculous. Chuck was not the most coordinated of men, not that coordination mattered when the music was jagged and irregular and swaying passed for dancing. Nevertheless, he eyed the crowd suspiciously, waiting for a familiar face to spy his foolishness. He spotted one, and instantly gave Vanessa a shove to the left when she crossed his vantage point. It was Damien, and he had his arm around another man.

Chuck's eyes narrowed and he dragged Vanessa a few steps to the right to try to make out the other man. He could see nothing beyond a profile but it was enough it wasn't Eric. He could feel his anger grow as the two boys pushed through the crowd. Well, to be honest, Damien was pushing through the crowd while the other was pulled along.

"Damien," He called out loudly.

The young man turned, and when he met Chuck's eyes, visibly flinched. Chuck's suspicions would have grown, but he'd caught sight of the other man. He was a taller and thinner replica of the Brit. "Hey Charles," Damien dragged his relation nearer.

"Chuck, my name is Chuck."

"Oh, yeah, sorry, I forgot." His companion wavered precariously to the right, and Damien pulled him upright again,.

"This is Vanessa Abrams," Chuck didn't bother turning to his dancing partner, but was studying the other man curiously.

"This is my brother Tom." Damien countered as the man started to slip to one side. Chuck reached forward and helped to grab him.

"Perhaps he'd like to sit down," Vanessa suggested, pointing to the bench where Nate still sat.

"I'm taking him home," Damien tried to excuse himself but then his brother fell farther to the right and Damien nearly toppled over with him. "Perhaps a small break," he changed his mind. Vanessa waved her boyfriend over, and Tom was soon moved to the booth.

Chuck made the introductions, but Damien barely talked. He stared at his brother, a mixture of distress and embarrassment clouding the situation. "I need to make a call," He announced abruptly. "Could you take care of Tom for a moment?" The crowd agreed, but Damien was still unsure. He took two steps from the table and then rushed back. "Please don't let him out of your sight."

Chuck exchanged glances with Nate, watching Damien's retreat. Vanessa made an effort to speak to his brother, but the older man leaned against the pillows, oblivious to the loud music and fell asleep.

"What the hell is he on?" Nate spoke first. All three were uncomfortable with the situation, but Nate was the most unnerved.

"I'm going to," Chuck pointed towards the bathrooms, the same direction that Damien had gone. When his companions shook their head, he walked silently towards the alcove. Luckily for him, the club was quieter this far back. Damien stood around a corner, in the hallways that lead to the back bathrooms.

Chuck stood just a few feet away, listening intently to Damien's conversation.

"Why did you even let him sign out?"

"I realize he's already been in there six months, but apparently he needs six more."

"How can I say that? He's been in New York for a grand total of three hours and he's already tweaked."

"There are no such things as holidays from rehab, it's called dropping out."

"I have an art opening in less than a month; I can't spend my days babysitting my twenty-six year old brother."

"How can you even say that after everything I've done for him?"

"Change his return flight."

"I don't care if British Airways won't change his return flight to tomorrow. He needs to go back. I don't care. For the love of God, book him a direct flight with S..."

"Chuck!"

Chuck angrily waved away the girl that had disturbed his thoughts and his eavesdropping. It was too late. Damien turned the corner, cellular pressed against his sweater. When he saw who it was, he ended the call. "Is my brother alright?" He asked in concern.

"He's at the table with Nate and Vanessa."

Damien walked back, nervously fiddling with the buttons of his phone. After a few glasses of water, and some assistance, Damien left with his brother in a taxicab. Chuck watched the yellow cab disappear into the distance, and then took out his phone. His fingered hovered over the number two for a long time but he never called Eric. He returned the phone to his pocket instead.

You can't judge the worth of a man by the worth of his brother.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

"Blair," Serena's hand waved precariously over the edge of her martini glass and without thinking, Blair put a hand to the stem, prepared to stop it from being tipped over. Blair had long since lost count as to Serena's consumption. She had ordered her own somewhere between Serena's sixth and her call to Chuck. It was just a bit to take the edge off, but now three other glasses sat in front of her. Unlike Serena's tally, those three remained filled to the brim. "This is so much fun," Serena squeezed her friend's hand. "It's just like the old days!"

"Yes it is," Blair agreed, but there was no enthusiasm on her side.

"Oh my god, there's Kat and Is," Serena screeched at her unnatural pitch. "Let's say hi!"

Blair rolled her eyes, and would not let herself be pulled away. After three tugs of her arm, Serena gave up and skipped off on her own.

"It is just like the old days," Georgina's smile took on a dangerous tilt in the absence of her fair-haired accomplice. "You're back to number two on my speed dial."

"You have that few friends?"

"You saw to that," Georgina didn't even try to keep the malice from her voice. "But still, it's nice to recreate the past. Except there's been a few changes." Georgina smiled smugly at the shorter girl. "I wonder if Charlie is as understanding as Nate was."

"I don't know what you're hoping to prove."

"I'm not trying to prove anything," Georgina countered. "Serena is my friend, she's always been my friend and she'll always be my friend."

"When you chose to fly into her life and screw it all up. To screw up her family."

Georgina laughed loudly. "This really isn't about Serena."

Blair rolled her eyes and clutched her purse tighter, going through the list of reasons why she shouldn't hit the psycho across the head. It was getting progressively shorter.

"Or maybe it is, maybe it's about them both, one allegiance twisting with the other."

"I don't know why Serena can't see you for what you are."

"Because she's mine," Georgina twirled the stem of her decorative cherry. "How hard did you try to change that? How hard did you try to turn her against me?" Georgina leaned closer, bloodshot eyes studying the brunette slowly, memorizing her expression, the cut of her dress and the tilt of her shoulders. "It must kill you, to know that you can't control her, that you couldn't get her to drop me when the rest did. How does it feel to watch me snap my fingers," Georgina put her fingers in front of Blair's face and did just that, "and manage everyone you couldn't?"

"You think far too highly of yourself," Blair rolled her eyes, trying to downplay her own growing discomfort. "You're just Serena's drug mule."

Georgina laughed at the thought. "I'm so much more than that, to them both."

Blair rolled her eyes again, but started sipping her second martini.

"Do you really think that Charlie loves you?" Georgina taunted.

"Chuck does love me."

"Has he said it?" Georgina bit into the cherry.

"You're pathetic."

"You're evasive," Georgina leaned forward, laying her entire arm on the bar. "I knew he wouldn't say it to you. I mean how could Charlie be in love with you? You're just a boring overachiever. You'll never as pretty as her best friend, or as lovable."

Blair turned from her martini to Georgina. She stared the other girl straight in the eye. "You're just some pitiable psycho obsessed with some guy she managed to fuck once."

Georgina didn't even flinch. "You think it was just once?"

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – I feel really blessed to have so many awesome readers :) I wish I could write for GG, I could certainly use the money lol. Maybe I'll try to write something for publication.

annablake – Thanks for the awesome reviews. I'm glad you're reading this story as well (I remember you from TH).

steepe – Serena is going to eventually figure out just how wrong she's been, but she's got her own reasons for not trusting Chuck (can you really blame her).

puresimplicity – thanks for your incredible review though I'm kind of sorry I made you cry (especially since that definately wasn't the sadder scene I have planned).

beachbummyeah – Chair is just so cute in general. Though I think Chuck is getting an identity crisis from all the sweetness.

rdx – thanks

Bam it's Lissie – Misty is dead and I don't reincarnate (except metaphorically).

RL92Chick – thanks

candycorn – thanks for the wonderful comment. Your English is very good.

delphin – I agree, I felt so bad for Eric but I couldn't resist :)

DanSerena – go ahead, kill me for breaking them up (but is it forever?). Oh and I promise it isn't C & G's sex tape (I mean they were 11, even Georgie couldn't have been that evil at that age). You'll find out what it is next chapter :)

voodoochild – Thanks, Blair is trying madly to be there for both Serena and Chuck at the moment.

Shanynde - thanks

Up Next - Georgina's next trick sets of WWIII in the Van der Bass house. You know she'll be loving every minute.


Chapter 10: Chapter Nine


Chapter Nine

Do you hate me yet? For what? All I reminded Blair of was a truth she already knew. She'll puke a couple times before compartmentalizing it to the recesses of her mind, forgetting it as easily as she did back then. You see, Blair has always had a soft spot for the rampant egoist. Those feelings might not have been as light as her crush on the white knight, or as enduring as her friendship with the golden girl, but Blair liked to imagine herself Charlie's protector.

But she could never protect him from me; not when Charlie sought me out to the exclusion of the rest. It was logical that he would tire of Nate's pot-filled rambles, Serena's optimistic outlooks, and even Blair's blind sympathies. He had wanted something a little more real; someone who would admit that the world was one fucked up place where parents betray, perjure and even die.

So for a time I told the truth and so did he.

Blair lay on the floor, the cold ceramic tiles warming under her cheek, a small pool of water forming where her tears had fallen. She stared at the cabinet in front of her, her tears clouding the pure white to a muted grey. Pulling her black sweater over a hand, Blair rubbed angrily at her eyes, and questioned why she had fallen this low. She was stronger than this; stronger than some unbalanced whore who spouted lie after lie to ruin the lives of others.

Except Blair knew that they weren't lies.

She tried to remind herself that it was seven years in the past, and Chuck's history was hardly pristine to start. She had forgiven, or at least ignored, much worse. The problem was that this was different. She had become infatuated with the idea of being Chuck's first love; that they might trade opposite but equally momentous moments. It was so stupid and insignificant and she ought not to care. Chuck was with her now and that was all that mattered. Who cared if he had loved Georgina once? The bitch was probably lying anyway.

Except she wasn't and Blair couldn't ignore the logic that underlay every one of Georgina's statements.

She knew it then. Why else would Chuck have abandoned all his friends and clung exclusively to Georgina? Her mind screamed out excuses that started with drugs and ended with grief. She had repeated as much to Georgina, her composure never cracking even when her heart was. Not that it mattered. Georgina was like one of those police dogs, trained to sniff out any weakness and capitalize on it. Blair could hold her brow strong enough to convince her own mother, but it only took a single quiver to sink her with Georgina.

So where did that leave her?

The same place she started; in Chuck's heart. He loved her, and even if he hadn't said it, she knew he did. It was in every action, and each caring caress. He had changed, not that he'd be willing to admit it, or she willing to press the point. So why couldn't he say it? How could the words trip easily with Whorgina and stay locked away ever since. How could Georgina be more worthy of love than her? Blair sat up and bent over the toilet. Her last thought before she jammed her fingers down was that it was wrong to give Georgina this much control.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck crawled out from underneath the covers, wincing at the usual pounding greeting of day. He shouldn't have finished the second bottle, but there was something about the arch of Vanessa's brow, daring him to do the same. He knew better. There was a magic number that he couldn't name but he knew. A line between inebriated and outright smashed that he knew not to cross; except that line was growing progressively blurrier, and his mornings progressively harder. Chuck sat upright, light bleeding through his still-closed lids. His head ached, and his stomach was sour and upset. He grabbed for his ever-present glass of water and downed it in a single gulp. He could feel the damp liquid spread throughout his body, rejuvenating his abused system. Blair was going to be the death of him. No, scratch that thought. Serena already was the death of him. Chuck lay back down, and felt through the covers for his cell phone. He wasn't angry like he had been the first time Blair stood him up. He'd passed that after the second abandonment. Now he was jaded with just the slightest stab of sadness to finish him off. He flipped through the buttons until he reached his voicemail. There was a twisted pleasure in Blair's pleading apologies. It sounded like penance to hear the Queen B reduced to aimless ramblings and pitiable excuses. It kind of, almost, convinced him that she loved him too.

After all, she'd never apologized to Nate. She'd just twisted the simple boy's mind until he was convinced it was his own fault.

Chuck squeezed the pillow beneath his head, and prepared himself. Once the voice stated 'no new messages', Chuck's eyes shot open. He jammed a few buttons; sure there had been a mistake. There was no mistake. There were no messages. Chuck tossed the cell back under the covers, and tried to pretend that he couldn't feel a burning in his throat. That his chest wasn't constricting painfully. This was not happening.

Chuck grabbed the pack of cigarettes from the night table, fumbling to get one in his mouth. He had fallen over the line to fully pathetic. He tossed the cigarette aside before it was lit. Climbing out of bed, he threw a robe around himself and stumbled to the kitchen, feet growing steadier as his journey grew shorter. After a full bottle of water, Chuck was prepared to meet the day, or at least what was left of it.

What he wasn't prepared for was his sister. She tripped into the room, thick blonde hair dangling behind her as she chatted animatedly into the phone. When she saw him, she froze and cut the call. Searching through her purse, she tried to pretend her brother wasn't there scowling at her, but his eyes followed her every movement.

"I don't want to hear it," Serena said at last.

"You don't get that choice."

"Just let it go."

"So it's the official return of narcissist Serena," Chuck crossed his arms.

"You're one to talk," Serena shot back, pulling out her lipstick.

"I might be a narcissist," Chuck agreed, "but at least I don't pretend not to be."

"I'm not pretending anything."

Chuck snorted angrily, dragging his water bottle along the granite countertop.

"I'm going out," Serena threw her purse over her shoulder. "You can tell my mom I'll be back for dinner."

"Really?" Chuck countered sarcastically.

"I will be home for dinner."

"Dinner today or tomorrow? I mean, your credibility is a bit suspect."

"I know you're pissed, but I don't owe you anything."

"I never said you did but you do owe Blair. She has been a true friend to you. You have betrayed her time and time again and she hasn't turned her back on you. She has been there for you, is still there for you and she doesn't deserve this."

"I didn't ask Blair to take care of me," Serena reminded her brother.

"What did you think she would do?" Chuck shot back. "Do you think she would leave you to your own devises?"

"I didn.."

"Of course she wouldn't. She loves your stupid, trainwreck ass," Chuck shook his head. "She would ruin everything in her life to make sure you were safe."

"She didn't need to be there," Serena said. "I was with Georgina. Georgie would keep me safe."

Chuck laughed aloud at the thought. "Georgina can't even keep herself safe."

"You don't know what you're talking about."

"Do you even know why she ended up in rehab?" Chuck spat out.

"Her mother was worried ab..."

"She overdosed," Chuck glared at his sister. Serena's hard expression cracked for a moment. She hadn't known that. "Do you even understand how scared Blair is for you? Do you think it is fair to put her through that?"

"Nothing is going to happen."

"Forgive me for stating the obvious, but drugs, alcohol and psychotic bitches don't end well."

"You don't get to do this." Serena glared at her brother. "A girlfriend, a few months of good behaviour, and improved grades doesn't erase all your past sins."

"I never said they did."

"And yet you're standing here, pretending that Georgina was the one to fuck me up."

"Oh, I forgot, in the Serena Van der Woodsen fantasy world, Whorgina can do no wrong."

"She's not the one who introduced me to drugs," Serena glared harder.

Chuck shut his mouth firmly, some of his anger killed by guilt. "I haven't used that stuff for years; seeing you coked up ass killed the buzz."

"Except for last year," Serena shot back. "Trading your cell for coke; real classy." Chuck rang a hand down his smooth skin in agitation. "Nate told me. Thought it would help me feel better about what was happening."

"Or provide you with justification. Why don't you try taking responsibility for yourself?"

"What is going on here?" Lily breezed into the room.

"Nothing," Serena snapped immediately, pulling her purse closer to her body.

Lily crossed her arms. "Nothing doesn't involve yelling at 11am."

"It is nothing," Serena insisted. "I was just leaving to meet a friend. I'll be back for dinner."

"What friend," Chuck prompted for the benefit of his stepmother.

"What does that matter?" Serena tried a dismissive tone, but her voice rose regardless.

Lily's eyes moved between Chuck and Serena. "Is there something I should know?"

Serena and Chuck yelled simultaneously, the feminine 'No' drowned out by the deeper 'Yes'.

"Charles?"

Chuck eyed his wayward sister, her eyes threatening and pleading in equal measure. "You should be worried about Serena," He spoke evenly, watching as Serena's gaze changed to outright hostility.

"What exactly does that mean?" Lily asked.

"You should be as concerned about her as you were before she went to boarding school."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck was through his fifth column of numbers when a tentative knock broke his concentration. He'd already consigned this day to the worst in existence, decided that nothing could improve his mood, and so planned to finish his calculus homework. Chuck stared at the door, the small bud of hope that had taken root instantly crushed by the realization that Blair would never knock. "Enter," he called out.

When the blonde designer ducked from behind the door, Chuck rolled his eyes. She pranced across the room, her skirt even more obscenely short than the week before. This was getting ridiculous. He should have spoken to Lily, but the words I'm being harassed by a woman had no place in Chuck Bass' vocabulary. Besides, he was sure she'd be done soon though that was mostly wishful thinking. In the two weeks she'd been there, Amelia had done little more than fluff a few pillows, and insist on green feature walls. There had been no crew assembled or actual work, just lots of fannying around with fabric swatches and paint samples. Maybe Eric had been right all along.

Of course, there was also a lot of fannying around in short skirts with open invitations. The old Chuck Bas would have hit that weeks ago. No, not the old; There is no old and certainly no new. He was just Chuck Bass. He was maturing. Oh, hell no. The idea of maturing was even scarier. He was just settling...no way ...mellowing...not possible...developing? Oh, this was far too unsettling. Chuck shifted to his elbow, and tried focusing on his calculus again. There was a comfort in numbers, they didn't alter or change. They were simply black and white and consistent in calculation.

A pair of tan legs moved into Chuck's peripheral vision, and he tried to focus harder on those simplistic numbers. She inched closer, and Chuck chanced a quick look. The blonde's skirt was so short that the edge of her pink panties peaked out from underneath. "Did you forget it was winter," Chuck asked, sitting up so his eyes wouldn't wander further. "You wouldn't want to get frostbite," He let his eyes drop obviously low.

Amelia said nothing, but didn't attempt to adjust her clothing. "So what are you doing?" She asked, leaning over the bed on the pretence of reading his text.

"Studying," Chuck inched to the left.

"You're studying on the weekend? What are you? A Rhodes Scholar?"

Chuck glared at Amelia, considered a witty reply but then changed his mind. "Of course," he lied. "I already have pre-acceptance to Stanford, Harvard and Ya...ale," his mouth wouldn't cooperate over the last.

"Really?" the blonde leaned lower. "Because I've heard your talents lie elsewhere."

Chuck stared right at her lips, which glistened only inches from his own, perfectly applied lip gloss inviting him in. "You're right," Chuck agreed, "I really should exercise my talents." The blonde licked her lips, and Chuck played along. "The bar should be open by now," He finished, pushing Amelia backward so he could stand. "Better not waste available drinking hours. I'd invite you along," He taunted "but I'm sure you'll be busy rearranging closets."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair stood at the archway to the Palace Bar. The bar was filled with the happy hour crowd, but she could easily make out Chuck. He was in his usual seat, front bar, three seats to the left. She had already been up to the suite, only to be redirected downstairs by some blonde bimbo with legs as long as Texas. Blair took a deep breath and prepared herself for a drunken Chuck.

"Waldorf," Chuck watched her approach, his eyes moving appreciatively up and down her petite figure. "You're a little late for our Saturday date," He tried to read the time on his watch to confirm the point, but his wrist wavered too much.

Blair took a deeper breath as he inched dangerously close to the edge of his seat. Then, using all the enthusiasm she had felt prior to seeing his drunken self, she kissed him. "Bass!" She echoed in greeting, and took the seat beside him.

Chuck was confused. She should have been cussing him out for being this drunk. Instead she was sitting there prettily, staring at him. This was too strange. "Are you okay?"

"I'm perfect," Blair ignored the strange feeling at the pit of her stomach. She slammed a scotch bottle on the table. It was wrapt in black paper with a red bow. "I don't think you'll be needing this."

"You bought me another present," Chuck's smirk formed more down than up. "You didn't have to. You just need to stop standing me up."

Blair ran his fingers through his hair, it was matted and slick. "Chuck."

"Shhh. Don't bother." Chuck mumbled into his scotch. Blair snatched it from his fingers before it could reach her lips. "Blair," He moaned and tried to grab it back.

"You know you whine when you're drunk."

"I do not!"

"Just when you're very drunk."

"Am I very drunk?"

"You're not a little drunk," Blair admitted, running a finger down his nose.

"So I'm more than a little," Chuck spun around to meet her gaze, the fast movement nearly causing him to tumble.

"You're very."

"I'm very," Chuck gave an erratic nod to his head.

"We should get you upstairs," Blair grabbed his hand.

"Hmm, upstairs," Chuck stared invitingly at her through hooded lids.

"Yes, upstairs," Blair pulled him until he lurched from his barstool.

"And what are we going to do upstairs?" Chuck asked as fell onto Blair.

"I'm putting you to bed," Blair whispered into his ear. After slipping an arm around his waist, Blair directed him to the elevator. Chuck followed willingly, and the trio made it relatively unscathed. Once the doors closed behind the two, Chuck moved to punch the button for his floor, but missed it outright. Blair had to suppress her laughter, and then leaned around him. Her hair brushed against Chuck's cheek and a sleepy smile overtook his face.

"You look amazing."

"You look like you slept in your clothes," Blair shot back, smile never leaving her face "and you smell like a brewery."

"Do they brew scotch in a brewery?" Chuck asked with genuine confusion on his face.

"How would I know? You're the alcoholic."

"I should know that."

Blair laughed; what else could she do at this point? She couldn't be angry at drunken Chuck. There were these lines in his drinking: charm through the first drinks, smug arrogance through the next, but by this point he was childish and foolish.

"I love yo...our smile," Chuck admitted, and Blair's heart stopped, her smile dissolving in shock. "Oh no, smile again."

"What did you say?"

"Smile!"

"No, before that."

"I'm going to make you smile," Chuck admitted, putting his hands out.

"What are you doing?"

"Tickling you," He said, moving from the wall that had been his anchor. He managed to touch her side before he wavered dangerously to the right.

"Chuck!" She put a hand out as he started to fall. He grabbed onto it as his feet gave out, and pulled her down with him to the floor of the elevator.

"Whoops," Chuck smirked at her, lips inches away. "We could push the stop button." He suggested, moving his fingertips below the hem of her skirt.

Blair inched away from his drunken lechery. "I've had better offers."

"Nothing's better than me," Chuck smirked and threw his head back, wincing as it hit the tile floor.

"Are you okay?" Blair asked, putting a hand out to cup his head.

"Perfect!" Chuck admitted. "Now if I could just get up off the floor."

Blair laughed and considered leaving him there. She couldn't. She owed him one, or two, or three, or maybe just everything. She inched an arm under his, and dug her stilettos into the lush carpeting. It took some doing, but she managed to half-drag him to the suite, laying him down onto the kind-sized bed. "I met your interior decorator," Blair said with the pretence of making small talk. She removed his bowtie, threading the top buttons of his shirt.

"Ah, freakishly small head," Chuck muttered softly as he dropped back onto the bed. A small smile crossed Blair's lips at the insult. She gave up on undressing him and instead, pulled blankets around his still-clothed body.

"With that outfit, I didn't even notice her head."

"Are you jealous?" Chuck mumbled into the pillow.

Blair stared down at him, wondering how someone that drunk could still decipher the intent behind words. She considered not responding at all, guessing that he would forget he asked. But then again, he'd just as likely forget her answer. "Tall, blonde, gorgeous," Blair arched a perfectly plucked eyebrow "What's there to be jealous of?"

"I've always loved brunettes," Chuck's mumbled so softly that it could barely be heard.

Blair smiled but there was disbelieving arch to her lips. After all, before her, Chuck had no type; unless type could be defined as drunk and willing. Still, she appreciated the words and the sentiment that underlie them. Waiting until his breathing evened, and his face relaxed into a slumber, Blair curled beside him. She drew little circles into his hopelessly ruined silk shirt and then spoke the truth. "Drunk or sober, smart or stupid, happy or angry or somewhere in between; I've always loved Charles Bass."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck hung onto the railing for dear life as the bus swerved in and out of traffic. He closed his eyes and tried to pretend he was in a club and the crush of bodies were scantily clad beauties rather than half-washed blue collar workers. He hated every moment of it. In fact, there was only one thing he hated more at that moment and that was his dear sister Serena. The idea of being in close quarters with the two-faced whore had spurred his transfer to mass transportation.

Well if he was honest with himself, not that he ever was, then that was only one of the reasons. He's awoken this morning coiled in Blair's pale arms. He had disentangled himself, but not left the bed. He had watched her sleep for a time, studying the perfection that was his girlfriend, ideal curves encased in pink floral panties and bra. On any other girl they would have been childish. On her they were elegant and mature.

Chuck had pulled his legs beneath him, sitting cross-legged and waiting for her to awaken. She didn't. She curled her body tighter around the blankets, but her breathing remained slow and even. He waited for her to turn her doe eyes on him. The eyes that held him fast, made him act crazy, and restored forgiveness to his heart. In the end, he'd snuck away before they could work their magic. He wanted to be angry, if only for a day. The alternative was starting to wear at his sense of self. Anger was a familiar lover, sadness and disappointment had been abandoned years ago and he didn't know how to manage their reappearance. He had been trying so hard to pretend that everything was alright, but the unspoken words were growing to mammoth proportions, threatening to suffocate them both. Chuck eyed the passing street lights, the light reflecting off winter frost and painting the streets in a sheen blanket. What had it cost him already to live in a pretend world where everything and everyone was always fine? The problem was that Chuck didn't know how to break the pattern. The idea of expressing his fears, of arguing his disappointments in genuine terms was terrifying. He could yell them, complain like a perturbed child, but to actually speak like the adult he was. How could one express their feelings without leaving themselves entirely vulnerable? He couldn't trust anyone enough to stand before them defenceless, not anymore.

Chuck's thoughts came to an abrupt end as a set of nails dragged a pattern up his arm. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, as the source of his particular brand of psychosis pressed flush to him. Chuck didn't dare turn around, and she realized her victory then. She leaned in close; the familiar vanilla scent had him looking for an escape. Then her lips pushed close, and the voice spoke "Hello Charlie." Chuck elbowed her in one abrupt movement. She fell back, but some gentleman helped her right back up. "Aren't you going to apologize?" Georgina hissed into his ear.

"I'm sorry I didn't hit you harder," Chuck muttered whist watching the lights pass by.

"I wouldn't mind," Georgina lowered her voice, "I like it when you hit me hard."

Chuck had to suppress the instinctual smirk because she didn't deserve it. "What do you want?" He spat out, turning to face the psycho. He shouldn't have. She fixed her unflinching green eyes on him, and he couldn't suppress the nausea that filled his throat.

"Did you watch my little video?" Georgina asked, pressing her face forward until it was uncomfortably close.

"What do you think?" Chuck answered, inching back as far as he could.

"Charlie, Charlie, Charlie. You're too smart for your own good."

"One of us had to have brains."

"Too bad it was me," She countered easily.

"Are we done now?" Chuck turned back around as the bus reached their school.

"Never," Georgina whispered into his hair. "Have a good day at school Charlie," She finished, laughing as he launched himself past the other students.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck tossed his gym bag into the locker, and dug through the papers on top until he found his apple. Biting down on it, he left it clutched between his teeth as he searched the bottom for his soccer cleats. What kind of inhumane coach scheduled practice during lunch hour? Chuck grew frustrated as he waded through the clutter that had overtaken his life; he really needed to send a maid over to clear through the garbage can his locker had become.

"Chuck," Blair leaned against the locker bordering his own. She snickered as her boyfriend turned, dark blue sweats replacing his usual implosion of colours, and green apple clenched between his teeth. He looked like an entirely different person. "What happened to your usual attire?" Blair mocked.

"Mr. Pisor suggested I wear prescribed gym clothing." Chuck eyed the boring navy blue with distaste. "Something about my last ensemble blinding the goaltender." Blair snickered louder. She reached out and touched his hand, but he inched it to the side. Blair ignored the pang of distress the simple action caused. Chuck had caller her himself to assure her that his absence had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with Serena. Now, when she looked at his averted face, it was hard to believe him. "I'm going to be late," Chuck looked past Blair to the far door.

"And this bothers you?"

"Some of us like to be punctual," Chuck stared at her, brown eyes challenging brown.

She flinched first. "I deserve that," Blair admitted, and Chuck flinched second.

Before she could apologize, Chuck put a finger to her lips. "Mr. Pisor makes us run lines if we're late," his tone softened.

"He makes you run lines."

"Yeah, I hate lines."

"You do it? When he asks you to?"

"Yes," Chuck shrugged his shoulders.

Blair just stared at her boyfriend, realizing just how much he had changed. Each step had been gradual that the end result hadn't seemed as significant as it was.

"Blair!" Chuck broke her concentration.

Blair snapped back, and grabbed her boyfriend's hand. "This is more important!"

"It is," Chuck leaned against his locker and took another bite of his apple. "Did you manage to get the key to the janitor's storeroom?"

Blair gave him a playful shove; her perverse friend had returned. "Follow me," she pulled him along.

Chuck chuckled at her enthusiasm, allowing her to drag him to the front office. "On the head teacher's desk?" he whispered, allowing his free hand to inch down her back.

"Even you couldn't manage that."

"Was that a challenge?"

"No," Blair rolled her eyes. She pushed a few freshmen away from the bulletin board and pointed. "But this was."

Chuck just stared; too stunned to even speak. Blair's perfectly manicured fingers created a slight indentation as she underlined his name. Charles Bartholomew Bass. "They shouldn't have included my middle name," he offered up at last and Blair slugged him in the side.

"That's all you have to say?"

"What should I say?" Chuck teased; though the huge smirk that played at his lips proved his pleasure.

"Honour roll," Blair squealed. "And not only honour roll but Principal's list. You should be ecstatic."

Chuck's smirk stretched wider over his white teeth as he replayed the first term. He had lost sight of the improvement, forgotten when a rare 'A' turned into the typical grade. His memories of study dates centred more on their happy ending then their middling beginnings. He was also shocked, because he'd given up on the idea of being a good student in grade school. He had thought being an honour student meant being a Dan Humphrey, nose either up in the air or down in a book. It was supposed to be difficult, an all encompassing pursuit, but Chuck had barely given it a second thought. "Well you know, grades are more your thing," He tried to play his accomplishment off with nonchalance, but somewhere in between a throaty chuckle gave him away.

"I knew it," Blair wrapped herself around his arm. "You are ecstatic."

"I am not displeased," Chuck said softly, earning another slap from his girlfriend. He ducked quickly to the right, but Blair countered with a slap from the left. "You can't hurt me," he teased "Not now that I'm Principal's List worthy."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Mr. Fraser stood at the front of the room, blathering on about American involvement in WWII. Or at least that was the likely topic. Chuck had stopped listening last week. Instead he was playing with his phone, chancing another look at Gossip Girl's blog. The site was having a heyday with his promotion to scholastic achiever. Her latest topic included a poll listing the five possible ways Chuck had earned his grades.

His cheating skills improved

Blair does his homework

He slept with the headmistress

He paid off all his teachers

He might just be that smart after all

Of course, option #2 was winning by a large margin.

"Chuck," a whispered voice caught his attention, and he put the phone away.

"Nate," he whispered back in a mocking tone.

"So...honour roll," Nate's expression was more bewildered than the norm.

"What can I say," Chuck put both hands up.

"Boys!"

Nate and Chuck snapped to attention at their history teacher's scolding voice. Mr Fraser was describing the documentary they were about to be subjected to. Chuck flipped open his notebook and started to doodle. Who cared about Social Studies anyway? He'd only signed up for History 12 so he could have a class with Nate.

Mr Fraser walked to the television set, the classes signal to direct their attention from his monotone voice to whatever black and white movie was playing. Their professor pushed a couple buttons and then moved to the back of the room, reclining on an empty desk. Chuck didn't even bother to look up, or at least, not until history of a different sort started to play.

"Charlie! Come over here." Chuck's head shot up at the familiar voice. "Come look at this." His mother was hanging off a coral rock, purple starfish in hand. The camera zoomed in, his father unseen behind the buttons. He could see himself at the edge of the screen, short and frumpish and four years old. The entire class started to laugh, but Chuck didn't find any amusement in the situation. His eyes were fixed to the screen, to his mother's perfectly straight brown hair and slightly crooked smile, to the pale hands which stood in such contrast to the vivid starfish. She was captivating in all her ashen glory, and Chuck was captivated. He could hear his childish laugh, could see his podgy fingers poke at the slippery skin. He could hear his father's deep chuckle from behind the camera, an almost foreign sound in the last seven years.

Then the screen turned abruptly black.

"Very funny Charles." Mr Fraser's peeved tone cute right through the room. "You were a very cute preschooler but home movies don't fit the curriculum. The entire class laughed louder and Chuck tried to formulate a smirk but his facial muscles wouldn't cooperate.

"Hey Chuck," Nate's voice cut through. "Are you alright."

"Fine," Chuck snapped back, watching his teacher march to the front. Mr Fraser took the DVD from the player and waved him forward. Chuck left his books behind and crept silently to the front.

"Where is my DVD?" Mr. Fraser asked in that authoritative voice that all teachers saved for moments like this.

"I don't know," Chuck said honestly.

Mr Fraser shook his head in disappointment. "Gather your things and wait outside," he ordered, handing the disk to Chuck. Chuck put it in his pocket and quickly gathered his belongings. He didn't even chance a glance at Nate on the way by.

Shutting the door silently; he leaned heavily against the wall. His legs felt heavy and his chest was closed off but he forced himself to keep standing. After a moment, the worst of his reaction passed, leaving on a dull ache in his stomach and a strange tingling in his limbs. Chuck chanced a look left and right, breathing in further relief when he noticed the halls were empty.

Then he pulled the thin disk of metal from his pocket. It was entirely blank except for one perfectly sketched pink heart. He didn't need to see it; he knew Georgina was behind it. Pushing the disk against the wall, Chuck dug furiously thought his bag. When he found his pair of scissors, he opened them flat and pushing with all his strength, began to slice lines into the DVD.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck leaned against the cold, white walls of the office. He was sitting on the front bench, waiting for his execution. In the past he would have sat gleefully straight, bantering at the groups of students who passed, playing up his troublemaker image. Now he just wanted to get it over with. He was done; he knew it. There was no way the headmistress would side with him, or believe he wasn't behind the juvenile prank. It had his trademark all over it.

"Charles Bass," the secretary called at last.

It was ironic; his moment of highest achievement followed immediately by the moment of dismissal.

"Have a seat Charles," The headmistress slammed all three files on the desk, followed by the smaller click of a DVD.

Chuck dropped into the overstuffed leather chair, but he didn't relax as he had in times past. He perched right up to the front, and with a finger in the air attempted the truth. "I didn't do it."

The headmistress stared at him, waiting for him to flinch but he never did. She took her seat, and relaxed into it. "I'm inclined to believe you," she admitted.

Chuck jaw dropped in shock. "You are?"

"Normally I would expect if from you," the headmistress explained. "But based on your file, I don't think you would involve family in this way. Which begs the next question, who do..."

Chuck's initial shock at being believed passed in an instant when Chuck grasped the reason for that understanding. His eyes narrowed as he considered the head teacher's words. "Based on my file," Chuck interrupted, rubbing his lips distractedly.

"Yes," The headmistress answered, momentarily disturbed by the disturbance to her own questions.

"What exactly does it say?"

"Nothing significant."

"If you're conjecturing my possible motives then is says something."

"Charles," The school head softened her tone deliberately. "It is the usual practice to gather documents when a student has lived through a traumatic event. The papers in your file aren't that different from what…"

"No," Chuck waved his finger at the superior. "I asked what was in there."

"It's not the schools practice to…"

"Just tell me what documents you're referring to."

The headmistress tried another tactic. "Your father provided some paperwork about your mother's condition and her death."

"Did he," Chuck crossed his arms in distaste. It was offensive, but in his father's defence, commonly known.

"Your psychiatrist provided some documents."

Chuck's arms unfolded immediately and he leaned forward in shock. "Excuse me."

"Again, this is not out of the ordinary is situations such as these."

"So it wasn't enough that school made my father send me to one, there's a copy of the sessions in there?"

"No, that would violate privilege. It's simply a summary of the progress that was made. It really not that different from…"

"I want to see it." Chuck stated firmly.

"That is against school policy." The headmistress shuffled awkwardly in her seat and Chuck momentarily was amused that he had such an effect. She evidently had not meant to open the door, but he was planning on walking through it.

"No, you don't get to make that choice. Those are my files and you don't have the right to keep them from me."

"That is true," the headmistress admitted. "If you wanted to return with your father, then we could make these files available for you."

"But it was my father who provided the documents in the first place."

"Yes."

Chuck leaned to one side, putting a single arm over the back of the chair and the other against his lips. His mouth was set to stone and his eyes dangerously dark.

"Charles," the headmistress took a deep breath, and Charles fixed his gaze back on her. "I want you to know that we have an excellent psychologist on staff."

"You think I need another counsellor?" Chuck moved his hand away to shake his head in disgust.

The headmistress never answered the question directly, but instead held up the DVD. It was scratched beyond recognition. "Do you think you need one?"

Chuck eyed the folders on her desk, and decided that he was going to see them with or without his father's consent. "You might be right," Chuck feigned a grave expression. "Could you arrange that for me?"

"There is some paperwork to be filed out," The headmistress smiled in relief.

"Could you get it?"

"Of course," She pushed back her chair and walked into the main office behind the small gathering room.

'Stupid bitch' Chuck muttered under his breath, grabbing immediately for his folders. He found the one from elementary school and flipped it open. They made it too easy, everything was colour coded by grade, and it took him less than a minute to locate the documents he'd been searching for. He removed the entire stack and stuffed them into his shoulder bag. By the time the head of school returned, the folders were stacked neatly.

"We have a general consent form, and a questionnaire," The headmistress said, flipping through each. "Your father will need to sign both but you can get the process started.

"Sorry," Chuck glared at the older woman. "I've changed my mind. I think I should head home; bad hangovers always make me cranky," he smirked as the headmistress' expression turned icy. "I'll sign out on the way." Chuck held his bag protectively, and breezed past the matron.

"I'll have to call your father."

Chuck just waved his hand as he walked, demonstrating how little he cared.

A/N – Okay this chapter ended up taking so long because it was close to 13000 words. And yet you note, it's only 7,000. I ended up cutting it in half as I still had some work to do in the later half. But since most of the rest is written the next part will be up in a couple days rather than a week or so (yeah!).

Yeah, so this is turning into a bit of the Chuck Bass-Blair Waldorf show (which I kind of suspected it would once Serena made the 'wrong' choice). You will get more of all the characters, but CB is definitely taking centre stage. I really hope they're both not generally moving into OOC territory. Both B & C are doing way too much repression at the moment, and it's making them both act a bit out of it. It's like they're both afraid to make the wrong move, and Georgina is playing them both like fiddles because of it.

And thank you for everyone who stayed with me even though I changed over to M. There's not going to be a lot of 'mature' scenes in this story (I'm guessing two more), but the language and plot line has always been pretty strong anyway.

I have to go back and change a few lines in Try Honesty to make the timeline fit. I didn't consider doing a sequel until the last few chapters so there is one big thing that's off. The issue is this, Chuck's mother died when he was 11 and he slept with Georgina when he was 11 (bet everyone can connect the dots now).

pinkfanatic – I think Blair should dump Serena too, but she's scared. She has to figure out a way that she can step out of the situation and still keep Serena safe.

puresimplicity – Jenny has no purpose in my story (In GG in general lol). I've briefly considered making this a trilogy (TH second half of junior year, YCFYF first half of senior year, GRG (possibly) second half of senior year). We're more than half-way through this story and we're rapidly approaching the end chronologically (though the last few weeks have a lot of action). If I decide to graduate them (in another story) then I have a little role for Jenny to play, but generally I hate her.

Blood Red Kiss of Death – Lily is considering Chuck's words and maybe, just maybe she's doing some digging behind the scenes. She has her heart set on fixing Chuck & Bart's messed up relationship. Oh, wishful thinking :)

Beachbum – Damien could be bad or good, we don't know enough about him yet.

SkySamuelle – Georgina is the root of a few of Chuck's problems. He admits it himself in this chapter calling her "the source of his particular brand of psychosis"

RDX – Thanks :)

Tullulah – Thanks :)

DanSerena – BRKOD got it right with my opinion on Dan. He really only likes his version of Serena. That being said I can't blame him either. Dan comes from a healthy situation (yeah his parents are divorcing but his dad is a good, solid parental influence and I have a suspicion his mom might be too). I don't blame him for wanting nothing to do with Serena's messed up world.

Up Next – Chuck does some reading, and what he finds sets off the second half of the Van der Bass revolution (believe me, the little Serena-Chuck yelling match is nothing compared to what's coming). Queen B better play her cards right, or else be prepared to fold.


Chapter 11: Chapter Ten


Chapter Ten

Do you hate me yet? What? Over a home movie? It's just a video! Besides, I gave Charles the opportunity to watch it alone. If he had just followed my perfectly sketched instructions, then none of this would have happened. Though I'm happy he didn't; I would have missed the live show.

Hallways are never as empty as they seem.

Chuck turned his glass from side to side, watching as the amber liquid turned one way and then another. It was his third, and he guessed he'd need another before the papers in his bag would get pulled. He had almost thought the better of it. Somewhere between the doors of St. Judes and the bar stool at 151, Chuck had considered tossing the whole packet. After all, some things are better left buried. But when had common sense ever prevailed in Chuck Bass' world?

Chuck put a hand up, pulling the documents to the bar before the tender could rush to refill his glass. Using his index finger he lined them left and right until his eyes caught on Dr. Croft's letterhead. He pulled it to the front and piled the rest behind. Taking a deep breath, and another mouthful of scotch, he started:

This letter is a summation of the treatment of Charles Bartholomew Bass. Charles is an eleven year old boy who was recommended to treatment by his father following his mother's death this spring.

Chuck's head shot immediately up. His hand went to his mouth as his anger inched away from stable to unbalanced. So much for the school forcing his father; he should have known that no one could force Bart to do anything. Chuck sat up straighter, took a deep breath, ignored the 'liar' mantra that played at the edge of his consciousness and kept reading.

His father is concerned that his usually gregarious son is growing progressively withdraw, isolating himself entirely from his usual circle of friends, baring one who his father insists is a suspect influence. Despite his young age, there is a history of alcohol use but recent activities include the abuse of illicit drugs.

This was one messed up trip down memory lane.

In my dealings with Charles, I find him to be a child of above average intelligence who often attempts to talk his way out of any unpleasant situation. If he is unsuccessful he will more often lapse into silence than continue.

Chuck skipped a few paragraphs of psycho-drabble and obligatory compliments.

His mother had suffered with bipolar disorder for many years, only being diagnosed this past year.

Chuck's finger's trailed down five lines; there was no need to relive that particular detail.

Charles has serious issues with unresolved anger arising from his mother's suicide. He refuses to speak about his mother at all and can not speak about his father without growing increasingly agitated. Charles holds his father fully responsible for his mother's death, but will not explain his reasons.

Some things are better left unsaid, but it doesn't make them less true.

Despite his father's concerns in recommending treatment, I find that Charles has a healthy self-esteem. The boy has a strong sense of self and ego. His anger is rarely directed inward, but is instead expressed against those people he feels have wronged him. In my opinion, Charles posses no threat to himself, though I am concerned that he may become a threat to others.

You should adjust your records accordingly.

'Dr. Doom," Chuck shook his head and tried to pretend what he read wasn't the truth. He didn't have anger issues. Well except for the anger that was burning at the base of his throat and coiling his stomach to knots. He took a few more sips of his scotch and debated reading further. How much did he really want to know? Then his finger traced records. What records?

He flipped through several more papers; the matching confidential stamps passing in an unbroken sequence. Then he found the record referred to. He couldn't finish reading it. Total humiliation crossed his anger to outright rage; little white circles clouded his vision, and fingers fumbled to put the papers away.

This was the final straw.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Dan looked left and right, darting between two blonde sophomores as a staff member walked by. They giggled invitingly and Dan rolled his eyes; he'd been single for a grand total of two days. Why was he even here? He should be in class rather than skipping. He should be at St Judes instead of Constance Billiard. And he definitely should not be attempting to track down Blair Waldorf of all people.

Except that in a twisted way he owed her. Dan might have given Serena up in words but not yet in heart. He couldn't help but feel that it was a temporary blip, and that Serena was going to come to her senses. Until that moment, he knew Blair was keeping her safe. The least he could do was repay the favour.

"Dan?" Blair's aristocratic voice brought his journey to an end.

"Blair," He spun and grabbing her arm, dragged her to the nearest empty classroom.

"Have you taken leave of your senses?" Blair pulled her hand back, rubbing away any remnants of his oily touch.

"You haven't heard?"

"Of course I have; Nate texted me. Not that he needed to." It was all over the school within fifteen minutes went without saying. "You could have just texted me too."

"And miss out on the opportunity to feel awkward and out of place."

"And how is that different from your normal setting," Blair offered with a muted smile. "Why are you here?"

"Chuck got thrown out?"

"He's still with Mrs. Crueller," Blair contradicted.

"He's out?"

"No way."

"I watched him walk out myself. Why do you think I came to talk to you? For the improved scent?" Blair lapsed into silence, entirely missing the opportunity for a cutting comeback. She was uneasy, but Dan was intrigued. "Is there something that I should know?"

Blair's racing thoughts were temporarily slowed by the image of Dan Humphrey, standing before her, caring or at least curious about Chuck Bass. "This doesn't involve you."

Dan kept his lips straight. It was true.

Blair pulled her blazer tightly around herself, and started to leave. She was nearly at the classroom door when she turned. "Thank you," she could only whisper it, because, honestly, how could she be thanking Cabbage Patch?

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck opened the door to the family suite with deliberate silence. His mood hadn't improved on the long walk home. The fact that he'd chosen to walk at all was a testament to his state of mind. He had hoped the cold air would calm him. It's only succeeded in adding an unpleasant headache to his already unpleasant thoughts.

Chuck moved right to the entertainment centre and the large cupboards that sat on each side. He started rifling though, tossing movies to the left and right until he found what he was looking for. He grabbed the eleven unmarked DVD boxes and tossed them onto the table. He hesitated a moment, then started opening each, one by one, only to find them all empty. Chuck hastily gathered up the empty covers and threw them back into the bottom of the drawer, using handfuls of movies to cover them again.

The psycho had them all. Chuck kicked the cupboard so hard that it splintered beneath his foot.

"Charles is that you?" Lily called from the bedroom. Chuck didn't say anything, but listened to her footsteps grow closer. "The school called," Lily explained as she entered the room. "Your dad would like you to..." the thought abruptly died when she caught sight of her stepson, and the remnants of the bottom cupboard of her entertainment centre. "Are you..."

Chuck put a finger to his eyes, daring Lily to finish the thought. His eyes were dark, menacing in their agitation and Lily took a protective step back. Chuck walked right past her and up the stairs. He moved past the guest room, the music room and the multitude of other unneeded and extravagant wastes of space. He headed straight for the master suite. When he reached it Lily had fallen several steps behind.

Grabbing the chair that sat parked by the king bed; Chuck pushed it over to the closet and started at the top shelf. At first there was a respect in his shuffles, boxes were inched from side to side, reverently touched and then replaced. As his search yielded no fruit, his frustration grew and his movements became rougher, boxes were tossed from the shelf, falling to the floor below. He was searching for a single blue box, and even though Chuck knew it was unlikely to be found, he couldn't stop himself. After the shelf was emptied, he jumped down and started rifling through the rest of the closet.

"What are you looking for?" Lily asked, not daring to move from the door. "Can I help you?"

"A navy box," Chuck held out his hands, "this big."

Lily shook her head to show she did not know. "Should I call your father?"

Chuck just glared at her, before moving to his father's dresser. He yanked out the bottom drawer, emptying it in fistfuls before moving up. When he chanced a look at the door he saw that Lily was gone. He speeded his search, tossing clothes at random until he'd emptied the entire bureau. Chuck stood up, and punched the top in frustration.

Pain seared through his hand, providing a temporary relief from his building aggravation. He looked back and forth through the room, trying to figure his next step. A tiny voice reminded him that it likely didn't exist; after all, its owner had long since been replaced. He couldn't stop; he'd tear apart the entire room before he admitted defeat. Judging by the piles on the floor, he was halfway there already.

Chuck looked at Lily's dresser and considered attacking that next. It could be there, but Chuck knew it shouldn't be. Then he noticed something else, the formal three drawer side table that butted his father's side of the bed. Chuck stepped right onto the bed to reach the other side. Jumping down he pulled roughly at the first, second and then the third drawer.

It was there, lined perfectly between the vile novels his father always read and a set of small photo albums. Chuck smiled as he lifted it out, a side of him content in its continued existence. He flipped the lid open, digging through the corners, searching for a small piece of metal. Thinking he had grasped his mother's key, he pulled the small object out.

When he saw what it really was, his breath grew shallow. It was a ring, an insignificant bit of ruby, or diamond and gold that was his mother's wedding ring. Chuck held it between his thumb and forefinger, smiling at the memory. It was an insignificant piece, certainly nothing to the Vanderbilt diamond, or even to his stepmother's ring. His mother used to get teased about it, and Bart had suggested more than once that it ought to be traded for something flashier. After all, when they'd eloped as fervent teenagers a ruby ring with two small diamonds was what they could afford. A few years later, once Bart had made his first million, it no longer matched their new means. Misty wouldn't let it be replaced, not even when Bart's millions changed to billions. Some things are priceless.

Chuck overcame his first urge to pocket the trinket, and placed it delicately back into the box. He shuffled envelopes from side to side until he found his original target; a small silver key. Chuck replaced the box lid and dropped it back into the drawer. When he turned around, Lily had returned.

"Your father is coming home," She stated; not sure whether it would reassure or urge the action forward.

She should have guessed the later. Chuck walked right past her, and pushed marching back down the stairs pushed open the first door on the left. It was his father's study, and though he barely trespassed (except by dreaded invitation), he knew exactly where to go. He stood in front of a rich blue cabinet, encased in a thick box of glass. It was tasteful, colourful, modern and entirely out of place in the old-style wood room. Chuck turned the key and opened the top. He ignored the tickling sensation in his throat, and pushed quickly through the contents, until he found the file labelled 'Charles'. He grabbed it and threw it down on his father's desk. Pushing through early records and sketches until he found what he was looking for, Chuck grabbed the original trust document and returned the rest of the file to its rightful place.

The trust was over a hundred pages, but Chuck was looking for one specific section. He flipped back and forth until he found the section entitled "changes to trust."

Changes to the trust can only be made with the consent of both trustees (Misty and Bart Bass).

On the death of both trustees, the trust will stand as written. The appointed guardian (Kaitlyn Mary McFayden) may petition the court under extraordinary circumstance.

In the event of the death of a single trustee, the trust will stand as written. If Misty Bass is predeceased by her husband, then she may petition the court with the consent of Mark Andrew Bass to change the terms of the trust. If Bart Bass is predeceased by his wife, than he may petition the court with the consent of Kaitlyn Mary McFayden to change the terms of the trust.

Chuck closed the document with a slam. His father was an even bigger liar than he had imagined. Bart told him that he had changed the ages of maturation, but he now knew that was impossible. Aunt Katie would never have consented to any changes. She had travelled with him to India after the death of his mother, and after their less than acrimonious return, she was no longer on speaking terms with his father. She would have refused just to spite him.

Chuck's face twisted in dark amusement, and with a silent thank you to his mother, he left the house, taking the document with him.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric shuffled into his family suite, weighed down by the combined combination of a designer suitcase, matching shoulder bag and various gift bags. He had made one of the two annual pilgrimages to his father's estate; a useless exercise that deepened little more than guilt; Guilt on his father's part for never being around, and guilt on his son's for not caring whether he was or not. At least it was over, at least, until two weeks after Easter when his father would again feel the need to exercise parental rights. He'd never warranted a genuine holiday. It had bothered Eric the first few years after the split, now it didn't even raise his ire. He's stopped considering Benjamin his father years ago. He had no father, just a revolving door of applicants.

Or at least he hadn't. The strangest truth of all was that he was slowly starting to see Bart as his father; which was strange, because it was Serena who usually fell for the complete family fantasies. Eric was the cynical one. The one who stood back, arched an eyebrow and made bets with his friends on how long it would be before the newest applicant was turfed. So why was he changing his thinking now? For Bart Bass of all people?

"Bart, is that you?" Lily called from the top floor, nearly running down the stairs in her haste. Eric knew that on a good day Bart didn't get home until after seven o'clock. Why was his mother expecting him now? Then an idea of why she might be passed through his mind and he shuddered. That was not a good mental picture.

Lily rushed to the front entrance, all white and ruffles and distress. "Oh, Eric," His mother's face obviously fell and Eric was momentarily amused. Then he noticed something. His mother's expression was strained, and two lines of mascara lined the underside of each eye. Something was wrong. His mother was always poised, always calm, and always perfectly put together. "How was your father?" She asked after too long a pause.

"As dull and fake as ever," Eric said slowly, trying to make out the clues beyond his understanding.

"Umm," Lily muttered without commitment.

"He was pissed that Serena backed out," Eric said and then waited to exchange a smile with his mom because the only way his dad could get pissed was on too many rum and cokes. Lily just stood there. "He sent along a few extra presents," Eric waved his hand at the leaning tower on the side table "to encourage her participation next time." That was one thing his dad was good at, spending his millions without discretion or good thought. Well, that and perfect dimples and broad shoulders; Lily had selected chose the right husband to breed with. When his mother offered no witticisms at the latest opening, Eric grew downright curious. "How was the weekend here?" He asked, taking a look around as if he expected the rest of the home to be charred beyond recognition. It would take something of that strength to unnerve his mother.

"Fine," Lily offered with a contradictory delivery.

"How is Serena?"

"At school."

That didn't quite answer Eric's question. "Chuck?" He hit something there, the rest of his mother's poise evaporated away. "Did something happen to Chuck?"

Lily was saved from answering when the door opened behind them and Bart finally arrived. "Bart," Lily called out in relief.

"Where is he?"

"I don't know," Lily admitted. "He left before I got off the phone with you the second time." Eric took a step back to let them speak and to begin his own reconnaissance. Keeping an ear to his parent's conversation, Eric flipped through Gossip Girl's blog. He usually had no time for the attention seeking trouble-maker, but she did have her uses.

"Where..." Bart began and Lily pointed to the main room. With one eye to his phone, Eric trailed his mom and Bart into the main room. When he saw the smashed entertainment unit, his stomach repositioned itself somewhere below his lower intestine. Once he'd waded through Gossip Girl's entries, Eric realized that he had picked the wrong weekend to go away.

"What was he looking for? Bart asked as he inspected the damage.

"I'm not sure. He did that, and then he went upstairs and..." Lily took a deep breath. "And then he ripped our room apart."

"Our room?" Bart repeated in confusion. "Why?"

Lily shook her head until she remembered. "A box, he said something about a small, navy box."

All colour drained from Bart's face. "A navy box? Did he find it?" Lily touched her forehead, and tried to put aside her own shock to remember. Bart put a hand forward, encircling her arm and forcing her to focus her gaze on him. "This is very important. I need to know whether he found it."

After a moment's pause, Lily spoke, "I think he did because after he came down..."

Bart didn't wait for her to finish, he dropped her arm and took off running. Using his long legs, he took the stairs two at a time. Eric followed quickly behind. When they reached the room, Bart stepped over the piles of clothes without a second look. Eric wasn't so single-minded and he could only stare in shock. Bart went straight to the third drawer and removed the only item that had been carefully returned to its original place. He flipped through papers, removing an envelope from the bottom. "Lily," he called out as Eric's mother made her way into the room. "Did he read this?" He asked, waving the envelope in his wife's face. It was simple and blue, it held no stamp but a simple scrawled Bart and Charles.

Lily shrugged her shoulders.

"I need to know whether he read this."

"It was in the bottom of the box," Eric spoke up. Lily and Bart turned to him, having forgotten that he was even there. Still, the logic of his statement seemed to defuse Chuck's father. If Chuck had read it, it would have sat on top.

"What is it?" Lily asked but Eric had guessed the answer from first seeing the envelope.

"What did you say he did after?" Bart asked, evading the question and slipping the paper into his front pocket. He dumped the rest of the box's contents onto the bed. His features grew even more strained as he fingered each item. He had to forgo the history, and focus on the task. What was missing?

"He went into the study."

That jogged Bart's memory. "The key," He guessed aloud, giving one last shuffle through the contents to prove his theory. He now knew what Chuck had been after, and while it was better than what he had thought, it also made this entire situation more complicated. He stepped wordlessly past his wife and stepson.

To confirm the theory, Bart marched down the stairs he had fled up moments before. He entered his study and made only one detour. He opened up the family safe just long enough to slip the letter beneath the endless stack of documents. Then, taking out his own set of keys, Bart passed each through his fingers until he reached a small red one. He went straight to Misty's cabinet and opened it; flipping through each folder, knowing he wouldn't find the one he wanted to.

Bart pulled the tall chair from behind his desk and leaving the cabinet open, he fell into the inviting plush leather. Some juvenile phrase he'd no doubt learned in grammar school, or maybe even Sunday school, played at the back of his consciousness. What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair stepped from Fifth into the cold, frosty air. She'd been searching all possible locations for Chuck, which truthfully meant hitting all the bars on the Upper East Side. She'd nearly caught him at 151, but he's just left and the trail had run cold.

Her feet ached, and she was pretty sure that her Manilo Blahniks were hopelessly scratched, but she put a hand out to hail another cab. She had given up calling Chuck on his cell. Why did he even bother carrying it? He turned the thing off the moment someone actually wanted to find him.

Blair collapsed into the yellow cab, wincing as she pulled her delicate feet from their black torture chambers. She was exhausted, and a thin layer of unfeminine sweat had turned the ends of her hair damp. She shut her eyes, and tried to gain a moment of rest. Her ringing phone prevented that. She held it up to read the number. It was unfamiliar and she briefly considered ignoring it. She didn't. She flipped it open.

"Blair, can you head over to the Palace immediately?"

She had thought she was done with the family drama once she was done with Nate.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

There is an unwritten rule; everything lost will eventually be found, and Chuck Bass was no exception. Blair should have cooled her heels, and drank a glass of wine with the Van der Bass family. Not that it was a moment to celebrate, but after the day's events, everyone needed at least a glass. Lily had downed three.

Chuck stood in front of his family suite and debated his options. He didn't need to accompany the help, but the twisted side of him wanted to see the look on his father's face. In the preceding hours he'd abandoned his school uniform for a tan business suit with purple button up. His hair was perfectly coiffed; the overall presentation was one of unaffected cool. It's too bad it didn't extend beyond the clothes, but no one needed to know that. Chuck opened the door, but rather than walking into the room, he leaned casually against it.

The family moved en mass from the neighbouring room. "Chuck," Eric was the first to speak. Chuck said nothing in return, but tilted his head in greeting. The others spoke but he didn't acknowledge them. Instead, he put up his hands and clapped twice. Two maids stepped from behind the door, cardboard boxes in hand.

"Third room on the left," Chuck pointed in one sluggish movement before letting his hand drop again to the side.

"What is this Charles," Bart moved past the rest.

"I'm moving back upstairs," Chuck answered, folding his arms across his chest.

"I don't think so."

"Hurry up girls," Chuck smirked at the two, "I know you are more efficient than this."

"I did not agree to this," Bart's tone turned forceful.

Chuck didn't say a word. He didn't even flinch. He just kept staring straight ahead, ignoring his father who was growing progressively angrier at the side.

"Speak to me," Bart grabbed the side of his son's face and turned it.

Chuck grabbed at the hands, pushing his father back so forcibly that the other man hit the wall. "I have nothing to say to you," Chuck answered, attempting to keep his composed demeanour, but the last few words rose in pitch despite the effort.

"I'm your father," Bart reminded his son in as harsh a tone.

"That wasn't my choice," Chuck stood straighter, trying to force himself up the few inches that prevented him from staring his father in the eye.

"What the hell does that mean?"

"It means that I would have selected elsewhere," Chuck's smirk widened as his father flinched.

"Who do you think you are?"

"I know who you are. You're a lair and a cheat," Chuck's eyes narrowed dangerously.

"And what are you?" Bart asked, his face growing dangerously red.

"What am I?" Chuck taunted, knowing just the buttons to push.

"A manipulative alcoholic."

"Like mother, like son."

"Don't talk about Misty that way," Bart's face went a deeper shade of red.

"Your words," Chuck reminded him.

"Charles," Lily attempted to intervene but Chuck merely turned her glare to her.

"No offence," Chuck said, the edge of his words clearly implying that she ought to be offended. "But this has nothing to do with you." The rest of the family stepped back, giving the father and son a space to air their grievances.

"Don't speak to her like that," Bart commanded. "She is your mother now and deserves to be respected."

Chuck's breath did a little hitch. "Stepmother. It's an important distinction."

"Is that why you're doing this?" Bart asked. "Trashing rooms and playing home movies at school?"

Chuck froze entirely, realizing that his father again imagined him at fault. There was a moment of calm as Chuck processed the depth of his disgust, a fist forming at his side. Then summoning all the strength he possessed, Chuck hit his father as hard as he could, a sickening crack echoing through the room as fist connected with jaw.

To their side Lily screamed, but neither of the Bass men heard it. Bart had fallen back several steps, but he surged forward twice as fast. A small trickle of blood formed a trail down his chin, but Bart didn't stop to wipe it away. The years of angry words, and even angrier silences pushed him over the edge. He formed a fist as tight as his son and returned the punch. Chuck's punch had been as ineffectual as his upbringing on the Upper East Side guaranteed it would be, but Bart had been educated on the other side of the bridge, and his fist carried twice the strength. The force of it threw Chuck backward onto the carpet. The son was stunned a moment, but the instant quickly passed and he scrambled to his feet. His father stood immobile, shocked at his own actions. He put a hand out to assist Chuck, but the younger Bass slapped it angrily aside. The moment Chuck was on his feet he surged forward again, pushing his father into the entrance closet.

Eric was the first to recover his wits, and he rushed forward to pull Chuck back. A year ago he wouldn't have been able to manage his older brother, but Eric had grown four inches over the fall and now stood the taller of the two. He started by immobilizing the younger Bass' arms and then using all his strength, pulled him backward. Lily and Serena jumped to action, positioning themselves between the two combatants before one of Chuck's wild kicks could connect.

"Get your hands off me," Chuck yelled, pushing his brother aside. He brushed at his suit, rubbing out imagined wrinkles. His eye smarted, and had already begun to swell.

Lily put a hand out to touch her husband's lip, the older Bass wincing where the lip was ribbed in two. "Chuck," his step-mother eyed him sympathetically. "Perhaps you should..."

"I'm already gone," the younger Bass grabbed his bag from the side, and shuffled through it. Retrieving a stack of papers, Chuck flung them at his father's feet. Before the elder Bass could recover them, the door was shut and Chuck was gone.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

After a quick look at the papers Chuck had thrown his way, Bart disappeared immediately into the study. Eric and Serena had returned to the couch, and Lily taken to pacing beside her husband.

"What do you think those are?" Serena asked curiously but Eric stopped her with a look. He tried calling his brother again, but he didn't answer. He had half a mind to go after him, but he really didn't know what was going on. So he waited a few minutes, and kept an ear to the conversation taking place in the nearby study. It wasn't hard to overhear, Bart was yelling at the top of his lungs.

"It's against school policy," Bart mocked. "Well, something went wrong. I'm telling you that I'm holding it in my hand," Bart slammed the paperwork against the desk as if to punctuate the point. "Yes, I suggest you check the files." Bart waited a moment, shuffling from room to room, his ire rising with every circle. When the voice returned to the phone, Bart returned to his study. "You might have a problem?" Bart yelled into the phone. "You have a huge fucking problem! It's called unemployment." Bart slammed the cell phone three times on the desk, before picking it up and redialling.

"Charles, pick up your phone."

"You need to control yourself," Lily suggested, putting a hand to her husband's arm. "He's just angry. He'll get over it." Bart shrugged it off and redialled.

"Pick up your phone before I cancel it." Bart shut the phone and then redialled.

Eric and Serena exchanged glances. "You know," Eric spoke to his sister "I always thought Chuck had got his temper from his mom."

"It's not the only thing I can cancel you know," Bart yelled louder.

"Maybe you should let him calm down before you start issuing threats," Lily tried again.

"You don't understand." Bart tossed the phone on his desk in defeat.

"I understand that he's just a teenager. What is he going to do without your support? He's still in high school!"

"No, you really don't understand. He's eighteen years old."

"And?"

"The first tier of his trust matured on his birthday." Bart pressed a hand to his mouth in thought, the movement a perfect mirror of his son. "Eighteen, twenty-one, and twenty-four; those are the ages that Misty set. I tried to change them, but Misty designed the trust in such a way that I couldn't."

The gravity of the situation was made clear and Lily grew far more uncomfortable. "How much money are we talking about?"

"It's the smallest of the three." Lily relaxed until Bart said the rest. "One hundred million dollars."

The gasps reverberated through both rooms.

"Serena," Eric's voice broke through the stunned silence. "I think you'd better call Blair."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – I hope you can all follow this. I know it's kind of confusing to write the entire back story through the current events.

This is totally random squeelage but I just finished watching the Season finale rerun and I just realized that they featured music from my favourite band. I was ecstatic! (and strangely amused that I'd missed it the first time). Mind you I also missed FY's two songs in the swimming episode first go through.

Music is actually how I got into watching GG. I'm actually not a fan of television ... didn't have one for years (and I've never read the original series though I knew quite a bit about it). I'm a huge fan of the British Indie scene and so when I heard that the singer of FY was going to try his hand at acting, I thought I'd give it a watch. I'm surprised that I liked it as much as I did. I mean Ed is a cute kid and all, but the character he plays is such a beautifully crafted trainwreck.

Blood Red Kiss of Death – Well you got a chance to look at the first document anyway. What do you think? The one that tripped his anger right over to the rage side, well you'll get to read it next chapter.

DanSerena – Someone's going to take on Georgina next chapter…any guesses who?

puresimplicity – Someone's going to try next chapter. It might not be who you think. And GRG stands for Grand Romantic Gestures. If I decide to follow through that one will center a lot on Nate (since I haven't written him yet) and his loves, as well as Chuck and Blair because after all I am a big CB lover. Oh, and YCFYF still has many chapters left.

Sky Samuelle – Will the Chuck-Bart toe to toe mess of this chapter compensate for there being no CB fight yet.

So, who do you think called Blair cue Jeopardy music

Up Next – Blair plays her cards but someone should have told her to fold. She might have to let her pride fold to get another hand. And someone steps into the ring to take on Georgina. Let's hope they have what it takes, and not that much to lose in the sparring.


Chapter 12: Chapter Eleven


A/N – this chapter contains a mature scene.

Chapter Eleven

Do you hate me? Why? I'm not responsible for Bart Bass' bad parenting decisions, or for Chuck being too curious for his own good. They've both always been out of control trains. I just switched them to the same track.

It's all coming together now. A few more pushes here, pulls there and Charlie will be entirely alone.

Except for me.

Chuck stared at his perfectly coordinated room through an empty scotch glass. At his side Nate kept up a monologue. It was why Chuck had invited him up, the blonde excelled at providing background noise. It wasn't enough to distract Chuck from agrowing disgust that had starting with the realization that he was living in a Home and Garden magazine. Why had he ever agreed to his suite being redecorated? "I'm living in a girl's room," Chuck spat out.

Nate broke off his discussion of music to glance around. "It's not that..."

Chuck didn't let him finish. It was like a veil had been lifted from his eyes, and he could see just how much the room reeked of Serena Van der Woodsen. He walked over to the bed and with three pulls stripped the sheets from it. He collected them in one handful, and tossed them into the hall.

"What are you doing?"

"A little redecorating," Chuck turned his gaze from left to right, wishing he could strip the walls as easily as the floral sheets. He grabbed the yellow daises that cluttered his bar and tossed them in the nearest trash can. As he moved back towards the bed, he cleared a counter of nick-knacks with a single swipe. He stood and eyed his handiwork, a contented smirk twisting his features. Without all of Serena's feminine touches, the room almost looked like home again. He'd have to call housekeeping to replace the bedding. Perhaps black? He had a hankering for some black silk sheets

While Chuck stalked from one side of the room to the other, Nate struggled to keep his eyes moving in sync with the quick movements. Chuck walked over to the central wall and started pulling photographs from it. He had three balanced on one arm before he stopped. He looked at each of the remaining, and then put the first three back up.

It wasn't some breakthrough.

Eric really did have good taste.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair entered the Van der Bass suite to the eeriest silence she had ever experienced. She smiled at the butler who took her coat stiffly and with none of his usual graces. When she entered the main room she saw Eric and Serena perched on the main sofa. There was no music, no television and certainly no conversation. Serena was punching numbers into her phone, Eric studying every movement of his sister's fingers.

"Blair!" Serena jumped from her seat, the break in the quiet almost deafening. "Thank god you've come!"

"Bart called me."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

"So you're done?" Nate questioned his friend. "You're not going to move back in with your dad?"

"I might buy a townhouse or an apartment or something. A real home," Chuck passed the joint back to Nate. A little destruction had improved his mood, but not enough.

"You're that mad?"

"Do you even know how many times he's used that trust to control me? How many times he's threatened to change it, or cancel it outright?"

Nate nodded, because he did remember that. "Is that what this is about?"

Chuck did a double take. Since when had Nate been that perceptive? Chuck handed the joint back without taking a hit. Nate needed it more.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Bart had returned to his custom severity. He walked stiffly from one end of the room to the other, but his shoulders were too taut and when he took a seat across from her, his eyes told an entirely different story. They were haunted, strained with underlying anxiety. Blair put her purse on the rich wood desk, and crossed one damaged heel over the other. She kept her eyes on Bart's, lest they drop lower to study his split lip.

"Thank you for coming," Bart began in a businesslike tone. Blair could only nod her head; she was not exactly sure what she should be saying. "Things have deteriorated from when I called you earlier."

Blair let her eyes drop to the swollen lip. "Did he do that?"

"I did worse," Bart admitted. For all his pride, Bart's eyes dropped while admitting it. Blair fingered the strap of her clutch. She wanted to leave then, to find Chuck and to talk to him. But Bart had been so insistent, and Blair wasn't sure how welcome she would be when she found the son. Some information might be useful.

"So why am I here?"

Bart fixed her eyes on her again. "I need your help. I have some things to show you," Bart explained, "things that require an amount of delicacy and secrecy." When Blair offered no objection, he pushed several papers across the desk.

Blair uncrossed her legs and leaned forward. Her eyes caught on the confidential stamps immediately, and she turned back to Bart in confusion. "Why?"

"Because I trust you. Because since being with you my son has become the person he was before. And because what the two of you have, it's something I haven't seen in a very long time."

Blair shook her head softly, but she was still a bit concerned about invading Chuck's privacy. Normally Blair lived for gossip and innuendo. Then she looked at the first paper, and saw the psychiatrist's letterhead. This was far more than that, and Chuck was not the type to forgive such intrusions. But she was still a teenager, given an opportunity to finally understand the enigma that was her boyfriend. So she read.

The papers were surprising, shocking in parts but not wholly unexpected. After all, Misty had chosen to end her life in a very public way, and the notoriety that followed would live in infamy forever. The media had speculated, dug and hit upon many elements of truth, all in a revolting display of overexposure that had disgusted even the most hardened of societal hearts.

"He'll forgive this," Blair decided as she's read the last. "He'll need time but I don't think this will divide you forever."

"This might," Bart held a final paper in his hand. In contrast to the rest it was folded and creased. Blair waited patiently, and in the end, Bart slid it to meet the rest. She unfolded and began to read.

09 May, 2001

At the request of his father, Charles Bass is to be placed on suicide watch...

Blair gave an involuntary gasp, her stomach dropping somewhere beneath her knees. She didn't look up at Bart; she couldn't quite meet his eyes. She kept reading, through a full page of protocol, detailing what exactly a suicide watch entailed. When she finished she realized a couple things; St. Judes was very thorough and Chuck must not have had a moment of isolation in the last months of sixth grade.

It might not have been that bad if Chuck had just been told back then. Okay, honestly, that would have still been bad. But he had read this. He had read about everything from supervised lunch hours to bathroom... Oh man, that was so much worse. "Chuck's pride isn't going to let you recover this." Blair realized aloud.

"It has to."

"Pride is the most important thing to Chuck."

"I know that."

"Do realize that every member of the teaching and support staff has access to these files?" Blair asked, even though Bart was the parent and should know better than her.

Bart winced. "You have to understand why I did it. You remember what he was like."

"I realize that, but you really should have thought this through." Blair looked at Bart's split lip, and decided he was lucky there had been no further damage done.

"He didn't speak a word to me for weeks after he returned, and then when he did talk to me it was limited to screaming obscenities from across the room. He was high all the time, and then he and Georgina started up their twisted games. I really didn't know what else to do."

"He's not going to see it that way."

"I know." Bart pushed his head back into the leather chair. The tightness in his shoulders broke, cracking the entire facade with it. "I really need your help." He begged, eyes clouding over under the force of his fears. "I can't lose my son again. It took years to rebuild an amicable relationship. I'm not going to get that chance again. If Chuck walks out now he does it as an adult."

Bart cried in that strange way certain men did. Their bodies refused to quake or shake, their faces didn't curl and their lips couldn't quiver. The eyes told the story. The eyes that watered until little tears escaped in traitorous rebellion. Blair always thought it was the way that Chuck would cry. She didn't know; he never did.

"I've already lost half of my family; I can't lose the other half."

There was something about the formidable Bartholomew Bass reduced to tears that moved Blair's heart or maybe it was his words, which finally proved beyond any doubt that Bart Bass truly and fully loved his son. Blair touched the older man's hand, and smiled reassuringly. "I will try."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric had moved from the sofa to the overstuffed chair. He sat with his feet reclined, much in the same way as his brother usually would. Serena had asked a few questions but he'd ignored her after the first question which ran along the lines of, "why do you think he did it?" He wanted to believe that Serena had been referring to the fist fight or the ruined room. Hell, he'd even settle for the damaged cabinet. But she wasn't. She'd been talking about the little Bass family showing at school.

"What do you think they're talking about in there?" Serena whispered to him.

Eric turned to her, eyes as dark as death. It worked. She shut up.

Without Serena's monologue the room lapsed into a complete silence. Lily picked up a magazine, held it in her hands but never opened it. Serena played with the tassels on her bag. They could just hear hushed voices in the other room, but had no chance of making the details out. Eric's eyes ran in a circle around the room until a loud ringtone interrupted.

Here we are with art in our hands. They tear you down because they don't understand.

He waited for Serena to answer, but then he noticed something. It wasn't her musical taste.

You tried it once again

It was his. And those lyrics progressed...

to love me better, she tore...

Eric launched him across the coffee table, grabbing the phone before the line could finish. "Hello," Eric gasped into the side of the sofa. Maniacal laughter was the only response. "You can be a real asshole you know that." The room collectively gasped as Eric swore; well gasped and looked curiously on because asshole implied Chuck. "It's not Chuck," Eric explained with hand over phone. He walked into the hallway.

"I got bored," Damien explained. "You sleep an abnormally long time."

"Not all off us can subsist on three hours a night."

"I got a bad review."

"Which was entirely undeserved," Eric reassured his boyfriend. "As is this; I can't talk to you now."

"Are you mad?"

"No. Why would I be mad? It's just a ringtone."

"So Charles didn't tell you about Friday?"

"No," Eric furrowed his brow in thought. This was getting ridiculous. It's like everyone was talking a language he didn't understand and he'd only been away three days. "He's been too preoccupied to talk about anything. As am I."

"I get it," Damien said. "But if he does talk to you, just know that I was going to tell you first."

Eric's eyes narrowed further, and he could feel his heart skip a beat. He nearly put aside his concerns for Chuck, and interrogated his boyfriend. But Chuck was his brother, and he knew if it was bad Chuck that would have called him in California.

A commotion in the other room told Eric that Blair and his stepfather had finished their conference. "I'll call you later," Eric told Damien and then returned to the room, only to find Blair already gone.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck had returned to the bar, empty scotch glass in hand. Before he could refill it there was a knock at the door. Chuck looked over at Nate and considered asking him to play butler. Then he thought the better of it, Chuck wasn't some scared kid. He walked to the door, and put his eye to the keyhole. Blair was standing on the other side, still in her school uniform complete with red rights. A slow smirk made its way across his features; Blair always looked amazing in red. Chuck slid the lock, and called out "Enter" as he opened the door.

"Chuck." She entered his sanctuary. "I've been trying to call you."

"I know." He answered, and Blair could have been offended but she was distracted by his eye. It was swollen to twice its size, and the edges were already a dark black.

Blair put a hand up to touch it. Chuck winced and took a step backward. "Your dad did that?"

"Don't act so surprised," Chuck snapped and moved to the other side of the bar; thick glass and blue marble providing a temporary barrier. To her left Blair could hear Nate inch uncomfortably, leather creaking as he did. Blair glared at him. She was surprised, but apparently the only one. "Last time ended with a broken nose and this humble abode," Chuck waved his arm at the altered space. "It's too bad Eric was available to stop this go. I've grown a half-foot taller since fourteen."

"Oh my god Chuck..." Blair started but Chuck instantly silenced her.

"Don't go all melodramatic," He spat out, pouring himself another drink. "He's still 0 for 2 in hitting first."

"Can we talk," Blair looked at Nate, asking him to leave through her eyes.

Nathaniel rose quickly, but Chuck put a hand up to stop him. "Nate stays."

"Fine," Blair agreed, though her displeasure showed through.

"So talk," Chuck's glass dangled from his fingers as he sauntered back to the sofa. By the time Blair had chosen her words, Chuck was reclining beside Nate, feet propped on the expensive coffee table.

"Chuck," Blair tried to catch his eyes, but they wavered between her and his scotch glass. In frustration she reached out and took it from him. He didn't stop her. "I'm worried about you."

"I'm touched," Chuck spoke sarcastically.

"I've been to your family suite. I spoke to Bart."

"You've been talking to my dad?" Now it was Chuck's turn to be surprised.

"I'm worried about both of you."

"You're worried about my father?" Chuck shock was so acute that it turned his eyes to saucers.

Blair laid her hand to the arm of the couch, inches from his. When he didn't pull away, she moved it to cover his but he shifted before the connection could be made. "I think you both have a lot to say to the other, and living up here isn't going to help that."

"You're defending him," Chuck's mouth went firm.

"No I'm not," Blair said firmly, but she ruined it with further words. "It's just that..."

Chuck jumped from his seat, crossing the room in four easy strides. Before Blair could finish the sentence, he had opened the door. "Get out!"

"Excuse me," Blair stood rooted to the spot.

"I said get out." Chuck's glare was unflinching.

Nate inched down a bit in his seat, wishing that the order has been offered his way. Blair held her clutch higher, trying to figure out how to salvage things.

"Apparently you didn't hear me; I said get out of my home."

She heard him that time, but it was still hard to believe. She studied his face, looking for some weakness in his hard demeanour. There was none. His expression was rigid; jaw clenched, eyed unflinching in their anger. The pure hostility almost scared her. She could have begged to stay, and he would have cracked but now was not the time, and Nate was not the audience. She knew some of his anger belonged to her, but it wasn't all her share. She would wait and then try again. Blair left the room with her back straight and her head held high. Her demeanour cracked only with the slam of the suite door.

Chuck could feel his hand shake when the door did. Why couldn't she just support him? Wasn't that the role of a girlfriend? Why did she have to side with everyone but him? Chuck looked over at Nate, and rolled his eyes when he saw just how pale the other boy had become. He walked back across the room, dropping into the sofa again.

"Man, that was Blair Waldorf." Nate spoke with reverence, or perhaps just fear.

Chuck just lit another joint.

"Your girlfriend."

"No, she's the bitch who has everyone's back but mine." Chuck held the joint out, daring Nate to contradict him.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric watched Blair depart out of the door. She looked so fragile, and the sight of it burned an unfamiliar anger inside. Blair had spent the last two hours crying on his sister's shoulder. It was ironic, Serena had brought at least part of this misery, and yet her brunette friend didn't have anyone else left to cling to. Eric had sat and listened. He had listened to all the bad advice, the fake cheeriness and the false optimism. He hadn't said anything. That wasn't his role. He was to stand back, to observe and to intervene only when asked. Except it wasn't working anymore. No one confided in him, and he was sick of watching the people he cared for screw things up on their own.

It was time to make his voice heard.

And he was going to start with sister dearest.

"Serena," he called across the room. His voice was stronger than his fifteen years ought to have allowed it to be. It cut through the night, and his sister turned at the sound.

"Eric?" She questioned.

"Can you see it now?"

"See what?"

"The consequences of your actions."

"I'm not responsible for Chuck Bass." Serena rolled her eyes.

"You're responsible for their problems."

"Chuck has always operated on his own agenda." Serena stared at her younger brother. She wasn't sure she liked being chastised by him. "How am I responsible for it?"

"When you act like a drugged-up tramp you drag everyone else down with you." Serena sucked her breath in one gasp. To their side they could see a flash of blonde hair and both knew their mother was standing just outside the door. She didn't intervene, but instead walked away. The unspoken trust increased Eric's confidence, and pushed his words further. "When are you going to grow up and take responsibility for yourself?"

"You're hardly grown enough to tell me either way." Serena crossed her arms angrily over her chest. "Why are you taking his side? I'm your sister. We are us."

"Because you're in the wrong."

"Why? Because I went out a few times and had a few drinks. How does that compare what he's done?"

"Do you seriously think Chuck would put himself through this?"

"Your adoration of our new brother is cute, but it's so far from the truth. Chuck is more than capable of it."

"Does making him the villain make you feel better about yourself?" Eric spat out.

"I don't have to listen to this," Serena grabbed her purse from the side table, and slipped it over one shoulder.

"Yes you do."

"No I don't!" With one agitated glare back at her brother she wrenched the door open.

"Where are you going now?"

"Out," Serena yelled back at her brother, before slamming the door.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck couldn't sleep. He stared at the ceiling, at the clock, at the curtains that blew softly with the winter winds. His mind was racing, and the darkness of the night couldn't slow it, couldn't convince the mind to give rest to the body. Then he heard the click of his door, and his thoughts ran out of control. For a moment he was terrified, thinking that his worst nightmares had been realized and Georgina had found a way to trespass here. When he caught the sight of chestnut curls and the stark contrast of red tights, he knew it was Blair. She slipped into the room, closing the door softly behind her.

He could feel his breath stop as she moved across the room, curls bouncing with each step, and moonlight crafting artistic lines against her perfect face. Chuck couldn't make sense of it. Even at the height of his anger, he still needed her. She could twist his body in anger, but her body twisted to his relaxed it away again.

"Blair," He started, not sure whether he wanted to chastise or love. He never got the chance to decide. She said nothing at all, but climbed onto the bed, straddling him with her lean legs. His next words were lost as she crushed her lips to his. In an instant her hands were everywhere, in his hair, beneath his shirt, at his side and lower, lower still. Her kisses were hurried, abusive in their unrestrained pursuit. By the time she's freed his mouth, Chuck had lost the capacity of speech.

His thoughts clouded over as her lips moved lower, tracing the trail that her fingertips had blazed. A familiar pressure built within, and Chuck threw his shoulders roughly against the oak headboard. He's given up on controlling his thoughts, his dreams, or even his breathing. From somewhere within a deep groan escaped, bringing with it a sense of calm that all the scotch and pot couldn't provide. Blair stared up at him; her thick red lipstick was smeared half off, leaving her lips pink and bare. The realization of where she'd left the rest caused Chuck's toes to curl, and stole away any remaining tension.

Blair had finally figured out how to manipulate him.

The moment passed, his pulse slowed, and the blurriness left his gaze. Blair was staring up at him. There was a hesitation in her eyes, a vulnerability that she didn't bother to, or couldn't disguise. She was waiting for him to speak, to order her out or to tell her stay.

He didn't say anything; words seemed to get him into trouble. Instead he reached down and pulled her up to him. Slipping their entangled bodies down the bed, he pulled her back to his front and held her close. She lay there uncomfortably, too scared to even breathe. Then he kissed her shoulder, planting slow and reverent kisses down the length of her arm. She relaxed, and he rested, eyes shutting softly beneath her shoulder.

"He cried," Blair whispered after a time. There was no need to speak the name, both knew the context.

Chuck opened his eyes. He had expected something but not that. "I'll move back tomorrow," he promised.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena ran a finger along her martini glass, and cursed her brother aloud. "He doesn't even know what he's talking about. He has no right to talk to me that way. I'm his big sister."

"I totally agree," Georgina put a hand to her friend in sympathy. "Who is he to judge your behaviour?"

"Who exactly," Serena bobbed her head erratically. "My mom thinks he's so perfect just because he gets good grades in school. Well, excellent grades," Serena glared harder into the green liquid.

"Who cares about school?" Georgina placated.

"She doesn't even know anything about him."

"Parents usually don't."

"I mean she doesn't even know he's gay."

Georgina laughed. "I kind of thought she wouldn't. You should tell her."

Serena was confused for a moment. I mean, she was angry at her brother but not that angry. "No, I couldn't do that."

"I was just kidding," Georgina laughed lightly. "Though I bet it would change her opinion of the golden boy."

Serena looked at her friend as if she didn't quite believe her, but she was too far drunk to notice the nuances of speech. "It would. You should see his boyfriend, the guy has tattoos."

"Tattoos," Georgina spiked an eyebrow in amusement. "I didn't think little Eric had it in him. But I guess people change when they're getting other things in them."

Serena laughed so hard that she spilled her martini across the bar. The tender threw her a glare, and Georgina slipped the empty glass from her hand. Within a half-hour Serena would forget the conversation, and the secrets she had exposed. It was always like that and Georgina loved her more for it. She had enough information to forge a small revolution, and Serena was never the wiser.

"Why don't we change venues," Georgina suggested. "This place is boring me."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair lay beside her boyfriend, eyes still open, still fixed on his resting figure. Except he wasn't resting, just lying silently beside her, eyes firmly closed. She'd been watching him for hours, noting that he dosed in short shifts and then awoke. Blair was tired, but she couldn't make herself stop looking.

Chuck could feel her eyes study him and the feeling was not unpleasant. He could feel her shift delicately beside him, afraid to wake him though they both knew he wasn't really sleeping. It was so confusing, this thing between them. And maybe he had to forgive her for the other moments, because she was here with him when it counted.

Chuck opened his eyes to face their brown-eyed twins. He looked away, drew her close, and buried his face into Blair's silken dresses, the rich layers of brown a rose-scented blanket for his head. "Do you ever imagine you could just leave the Upper East Side? Find a place where people aren't fake and soulless?"

Blair shrugged against him. "It's the world I was born into."

"It doesn't have to be the place that you die," Chuck mumbled into her hair.

Blair closed her eyes softly and considered. "Do you want to leave?"

"My mother hated it here. She would be so happy every time we went away and so miserable when we returned. She said that society sucked the soul out of everything that was genuine. I'm starting to see that she was right."

Blair coiled her fingers through his and said nothing. She meditated on one fact, that by declaring the other soulless, her boyfriend might have finally acknowledged that he had one.

"I think that if we had moved away..."

"Shh," Blair turned his face until it met hers. "What ifs are very dangerous games to play." She would know. She had spent most of her life twisting life events, rearranging, changing in an attempt to find the perfect script.

Chuck nodded, and ran his thumb along hers. He pulled back and studied his brown eyed, brown haired lover. There was something perfect in that moment, in the way the morning light played off her chin, and her pale skin shimmered under the black silk sheets. Perhaps violins, flowers and romantic dinners were overrated. And this wasn't technically after sex. I mean she was naked under the sheets, but they hadn't had sex for at least, Chuck checked the clock, five hours or so. Not that he was against sealing the sentiment with a little morning romp. A familiar smirk settled across his features with the thought. "Blair, I have something I need to tell you."

"Yes."

His cell phone rang before he could complete the thought. "You've got to be kidding me," He cursed.

He was going to kill whoever was on the other end of the line.

"Are you going to answer that?" Blair asked curiously, grabbing his phone from the side table. When he made no attempt either way, Blair flipped it open. "Hello?" She reclined on one elbow. "It's Dan Humphrey," she whispered while covering the phone.

At least the victim wouldn't be missed.

Chuck grabbed the phone. "What the fuck do you want?"

"I was just looking for Serena."

"She has her own phone."

"I know, I tried calling her but she didn't pick up, my friends saw her out last night, and I thought I'd check with you to see if she got home okay. I called up her mom but she said Serena didn't come home so I thought I'd call you to see if she was there or maybe see if Blair knew something..."

The guy was a walking, breathing run on sentence.

"Maybe if you weren't such a judgemental, narrow-minded prick then she'd pick up the phone when you call."

"Chuck!" Blair called out and grabbed the phone back. "He's already really upset about everything." She whispered while she covered the mouthpiece. She stepped from the bed and started talking into his phone.

Chuck was left staring at her and wondering what exactly had happened. Who had snatched his wicked girlfriend and left this caring, considerate girl in her place. Not that he minded when the consideration was directed his way. But Brooklyn? It was hard to consider her compassion special when she offered it up on both sides of the East River. Blair made three turns of the room, and Chuck's agitation grew with each. This was ridiculous! Then she turned and faced him, and rolled her eyes in exasperation. That was much better! She walked back to the bed, and handed him the phone. "Humphrey doesn't understand why she feels the need to get drunk. I thought maybe you could explain why you drink."

Chuck took the phone from her manicured nails. He listened to a bit of the blithering then cut him off abruptly. "I drink because I'm an alcoholic," Chuck spat out disgusted and then hung up the phone.

"Chuck!" Blair gasped again, but this time her features were more amused than rebuking

"His rabid ramblings were giving me a headache."

Blair's smile emerged fully. "He is a bit of a pansy."

Chuck smirked in return, but then it wavered. He ought to tell Blair what Dan had told him, but he didn't want to. He didn't want to see her grab her purse, and sashay out of the room again. Except he knew he'd feel guilty if he didn't. This whole conscience thing was frustrating. "He told me that Serena didn't come home last night," Chuck admitted.

Blair raised an eyebrow. She took a look down at her discarded clothes and considered. When was this going to end? When was her role as nursemaid to her addicted friend going to end? Then she realized. It was never going to end. Serena would cling to her as long as she could, because that's what addicts did. It would only end when Blair chose to end it. And right now she had a greater sympathy for what Chuck was going through. "I get the shower first," Blair said moving to the bathroom.

Chuck watched her go, a slow smirk forming across his face. "Says who?"

"I don't want to be late for school," Blair shot him a look back across the room, and then rushed into the room, slamming the door behind her.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair sat with her back to the rest of the class. She worked in a perfectly controlled manner, moving from question to question in an unbroken sequence, writing answers in perfectly formed script. There was a delightful normalcy to it, a chance to remember that she was just a teenager. Then her cell vibrated and broke the calming thoughts. She watched for her teacher to shift to the other side of the room, and then glanced down at the text message.

B.

Please call me.

S.

Blair ignored it, and continued with her revision. She had filled another sheet before her eyes strayed to the empty seat beside her, and her cell vibrated again.

B.

Please. I don't know what to do.

S.

Blair steeled her courage, knowing that if she continued to direct Serena than the girl would never learn to direct herself. Besides, Blair had seen Georgina in school this morning. How much trouble could Serena get into without her psychotic puppeteer? The cell vibrated again.

B.

Please. I'm very scared.

S.

Blair put her pencil absently to her mouth, chewing on the end. It was a disgusting habit, and she would have been repelled had she noticed. Serena's pleas numbered five, before Blair put her hand up and asked to be excused.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck was again reclined on the birch bench outside the main office. It was twice in as many days. He was in danger of becoming a regular again. He checked his watch, and noted that his father was late (also like old times). He heard a set of heels clack along the deserted hallway, and chanced a look up. When he saw Georgina, his lips curled in instinctual disgust.

"I'm here," Georgina called in the general direction of the office secretary and then fell into the seat beside Chuck. "Good morning Charlie," She smiled fully as she studied his appearance. "How have you been?" She asked, exaggerated cheeriness mocking the whole situation.

Chuck's lip curled further.

"You're chipper this morning," She mocked further. "Black suits you," Georgina put a hand up to touch his darkened eye, but he slapped it away.

"Are you proud of yourself?"

Georgina laughed. "Are you actually trying to make me feel guilty?"

"Why are you even here?"

"Apparently they need to discuss my attendance."

"And where is your mother?" Charles taunted, knowing that her mother would never show.

"Where is your father?" Georgina taunted right back.

"He's coming," Chuck said, an amused smirk forming at last.

"I'm surprised he would bother; considering the stunt you pulled yesterday. Were you trying to hurt him with the little movie?"

"We both know I didn't have anything to do with it," Chuck's amusement past, a irate scowl replacing it.

"Don't get too angry." She deliberately dropped her voice. "I gave you a chance to watch it on your own."

"I didn't want to watch it at all."

"Why is that?" Georgina whispered, though she already knew the answer. "I did. It was really touching; you come from a really loving family."

"Shut up."

"I'm being complimentary."

Chuck snorted.

"You shouldn't be so scared," Georgina said putting a hand to his shoulder; he threw himself so far to the right than he nearly fell of the bench.

"I'm not scared of anything."

"Except admitting the truth and letting the past in."

"The past wasn't that great." Chuck spat out in triumph. Georgina didn't even hear it, she was distracted by a movement in the hallway.

Chuck followed her eyes and noticed his father's approach. Georgina stood abruptly up. "I thought the principal had to see you," Chuck said with one eyebrow raised. His father drew closer.

"Like you said, my mom's not coming." She said lightly, and then rushed off in the direction opposite to the elder Bass.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair leaned against the bathroom counter, careful to find a spot clear of water, makeup and soap. She punched in Serena's number and waited. The other girl picked up on the first ring.

"Blair," Serena cried out in a stifled gasp.

Blair could hear the fear in her voice, could tell she had been crying, and for an instant felt guilty. Then she reminded herself that it was Serena's own fault. "Are you alright?"

"No. Blair, I have no idea where I am," The blonde whispered.

"Is that why you're whispering. Is there someone else there?"

"No," Serena tried to make her voice louder. "I don't think so. I'm too scared to look."

"Where were you last night?"

"I just went out to have some fun," Serena drawled. Her voice was coming through stronger, but not necessarily clearer. Blair could tell that she was still intoxicated, or high, or maybe both.

"Serena," Blair pulled an offending thread from her skirt.

"Can you help me please? I'm very scared."

"I'll see what I can do," Blair agreed. "Just stay where you are, I'll call you back in a few minutes."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck fell into the leather chair that he had adopted in sixth grade. He reclined against the soft lining, relaxing each hand on the familiar arm rest. He and that chair had a long history, a saga that had started one spring morning seven years ago. Then his blood ran cold and a shiver ran up his spine. He remembered exactly what had prompted the first excursion. He stood abruptly up.

"Charles?" His father questioned from beside.

"Want to trade?" Chuck asked.

Bart looked curious, but wordlessly stepped from his own chair and traded with his son. Chuck took a seat in the neutral and far less comfortable suede chair. He drew little circles on the fabric as his father spoke to Ms. Queller, erasing each with a swipe of his thumb before starting again.

Chuck rarely listened at these meetings. He had at the beginning, wanting to be punished. But that was the thing. He never was. It didn't matter how blatantly he broke the rules, how evil his plots or destructive his schemes. Chuck Bass always got a second chance. He knew why that was. Everyone expected him to mess up, and they sympathized with him when he did. Even his father contained himself to empty threats most of the time.

Chuck hated sympathy so much that it physically hurt.

"What Charles did was a serious breach of security, and the school can not simply turn a blind eye."

"If anything," Bart spoke softly. "I am at fault."

Chuck broke off his seventh circle to stare at his father in surprise. Maybe it was because it wasn't delivered like one of those pat answers Bart always provided to get him out of trouble. His father sounded sincere.

"I should have discussed the content of that paperwork with him years ago," Bart admitted with eyes on Ms. Queller, but with sentiment aimed to the side. "Had I done so, then yesterdays events would never have happened."

The headmistress apparently believed Bart's words genuine as well. Or maybe it was just because if he wanted to, Bart Bass could make sure the headmistress was fired. After all, she was the one that had let confidential paperwork out of the office in the first place. Whatever the motivation, the meeting ended as they always did; with a curt shake of the hands, a promise to do better, and a week's detention. Chuck could do that standing on his head.

Chuck followed his father from the office, deliberately keeping several steps back. When they reached the hallway, Bart stopped and waited for him to catch up.

"Charles," Bart's tone remained as soft as before. "Can we expect you for dinner?"

Chuck just looked up at his dad. It was something in the way he said it. There was no command and no expected acceptance. It was an invitation. "It's possible," He said simply, knowing that he was already bound by promise to be there.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena bounced from one foot to the other. She took another look around the unfamiliar bedroom, not daring beyond it. The greying mattress, the stank odour of cigarettes and the tartan decorations told her she was far from Upper East Side. She chanced another glance out the window; eyeing the flashing neon.

She stared at her cell, willing it to ring. Within a minute it did, but the caller wasn't Blair. Serena opened it anyway.

"Georgina," Serena wanted to screech, but was still too afraid that someone else might be beyond the door.

"Good morning lovely. Did you sleep well?"

"How could I? I woke up in this really strange place. Where are you? What happened? I'm really freaked out."

"Serena, Serena, Serena," Georgina twittered in amusement. "I would never put you in a dangerous place. I figured you didn't want to go home in the state you were in, and my mother was home so I found a safe place for you to go."

Serena eyed the old paintwork and decided that it didn't feel safe.

"It's the apartment of a friend."

"Really?" Serena asked. "I was so scared. I called Blair and..."

"You called Blair?" Georgina asked. "You should have called me."

"I guess."

"You should have called me silly." Georgina laughed and Serena couldn't help but fell a bit foolish when faced with her friend's flippancy. "I'll come there now."

"Don't you have a meeting with the principal today?"

"I took care of what I needed to. I'll be there in forty." Serena could hear a door slam, and knew that her friend was getting behind the wheel. "Just call Blair back and tell her she isn't needed."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Despite the fact that the maids had transferred only three boxes, Chuck spent an hour repacking. He wasn't ready to go home but a promise is a promise and so, duffle in hand, Chuck presented himself in the family suite at 5:32pm.

The moment he entered, Chuck could see his father approach from the side. There was relief etched into the other man's features and Chuck didn't want Bart to feel that or to think that his presence was because of his father's interventions that morning. So he put a hand up before his father could speak. "I'm here because Blair asked me to be," He said simply and walked straight to his room, shutting the door firmly behind him.

He trapped himself inside those four walls, making it his sanctuary. He didn't want to go into the other room and acknowledge his father. There was something terrifying about his dad, about the way he'd been acting. Chuck had grown accustomed to the stern disciplinarian, the melting point of disappointment and unreal expectations. He'd learned to accept the closed off and stoic posturing as normal. He'd accepted a lot with the realization that one day they might make great business partners.

Why did Bart have to cry? It ruined the unspoken agreement, the warped bond the two had formed the last time his father had cried. It hadn't been over his mother; Bart had cried at the realization that his son was immoral, malicious and maybe only two steps shy of a total monster. Bart was supposed to have stopped caring about him then. He wasn't supposed to be crying over him now. What's past is past.

Why did Georgina have to be right? And why did it bother him so much that she was? No! Whorgina could never be right. He would prove her wrong. It was just the past, and what's past is past. He walked over to his desk and pushed supplies back and forth until he found the jump drive. He twisted it until it was open and grabbed his laptop from the desk. Tossing both on his pillow, Chuck joined them. Crossing his legs, he opened the laptop and pushed the jump drive in. He told himself that he wasn't afraid. It was just the past and the past couldn't hurt him. He clicked his mouse a few times until his mother's face filed the screen. He had to look away, at the pale walls of his bedroom, the rich wood of his dresser, even the deep blue of the carpets. He had to look anywhere but the screen. Then, realizing he was proving the psycho right, he forced his eyes back.

Misty truly was stunning, not in a conventional way like Lily or her daughter. She had another kind of beauty. She had a grace, a strange mix of elegance and playfulness that wouldn't have suited anyone else. At times she had this radiating joy, a perverse delight for things that bordered on the absurd. She was almost masculine in her rowdy enjoyment of life and all the pleasures it could bring. At others she was delicate, bringing with her a feminine fragility that threatened to break at the first sight of trouble.

He had loved both sides.

His father had too.

The life events passed in a blur: birthdays, holidays and holidays blending one into the other. The only thing that changed was Chuck's height and the length of his mother's hair. Other things stayed constant: his mother's laughter, Chuck's sullen mischievousness, and the pure adoration that lit his father's face every time he locked eyes with Misty. Chuck had to admit the truth now and maybe that was the scariest thing. He had spent the last seven years rewriting history so that it made sense. He tried to make his mother a manipulative shrew and his father a monster, and in many ways they both were, but he couldn't convince himself that his parents hadn't loved each other.

It was just so fucking unfair. He had had a happy family. They weren't perfect: his father had worked too hard and had too exacting standards, his mother had self-medicated and slept whole days away but the other side was bliss. His mother had loved her son with a depth unseen in the rigid constraints of society and his father had worshipped her in a way he'd never seen reflected in any marriage on the Upper East Side. There was a root there that was deeper, truer, and more real than anything he could ever hope to experience again. When the root died, the whole tree succumbed and Chuck was stick of sitting under its barren branches. It was just so fucking unfair to live in everlasting winter with the vivid memory of summers past.

He should have been sad but that wasn't the emotion twisting through him. That's when he realized he truly was a head case because only the disturbed fail to feel the right thing at the right time. He watched Bart throw his mother from the side of a Caribbean sailboat, watched her surface with giggles and vengeful splashing. Bart taunted her until his white shirt was soaked through, and then he dove in beside her. The two surfaced with arms intertwined and Chuck knew that he should be sad. He wasn't. He wanted to rage and destroy anything in sight. Every vein was alive with adrenalin, and he wanted to run but he couldn't move. He couldn't turn his eyes away.

"I forgot how beautiful she was."

Chuck closed the laptop with a snap and turned to face his girlfriend. He didn't trust himself to make a flippant comeback. He stayed silent.

"Are you alright?"

"Of course."

Blair didn't look convinced.

"I was just curious," Chuck lied, ignoring Blair's eyes to keep it such.

"You were curious?" Blair repeated in a disbelieving tone.

"I need a shower," Chuck announced abruptly. He stepped from the bed and pulled his polo over his head. "Want to join me?" He asked with a licentious look up and down her figure.

"No," Blair shook her head. She wasn't going to let him change topics. "Chuck."

"Maybe I could change your mind." Chuck swaggered towards her. "I've always been good at that," He admitted, closing a hand around her arm.

"Chuck! Stop!" Blair tried to pull her arm away but he closed his hand tighter and trapped her there. "You're not going to pretend that you're fine."

He wasn't okay. He was wound tighter than a child's toy, but he wasn't going to admit it to her. Even if it was already clear from the darkness of his expression, and by how firmly he squeezed her arm. "No you stop," Chuck shot back. "Stop trying to pretend I have depth. I don't. I'm shallow and empty and predictable. It's my charm,' he finished the last lips facing hers.

"Stop Chuck, You're scaring me."

She wasn't lying. He could see it in her eyes. She was positively petrified. He let her arm go abruptly, and took two steps back. "You should leave."

"Chuck," Blair tried again but he'd already turned and she could only watch him disappear into the bathroom.

Chuck stood just inside the bathroom door, listening for her heels to either draw closer or away. It took some time, but eventually they started the pilgrimage to the bedroom door, the destination confirmed with the slight click of exit and then silence.

Chuck knew she had made the right choice.

He kicked one loafer off with such forced that it sailed across the room, hitting the wall with a bang. He bettered his arc with the second.

He snaked a hand inside the shower, turning the water to its hottest setting. His pale skin rebelled at being scorched but Chuck waited. The water poured down on him, but didn't work its magic. His shoulders were still tight, his thoughts still raced faster than could be managed. It wasn't working, and the realization doubled his already dangerously high level of frustration.

So he hit the wall, just once, with a closed fist. The impact sent a shock wave from his hand all the way up his arm and beyond. He was momentarily distracted from his own thoughts. It had worked. So he hit again with the left fist and then again with the right; again and again until his hands ached. He hit until little droplets of blood marred the white tile, until his legs gave out and he collapsed into the bath itself. He sat and let the water rush onto his face. It was water that could have washed away his tears, but he never cried. He could have then, could have cried and pretended it was just the trickle of the shower water. But he didn't. He gave one last punch and then rested his head against the cold metal.

His thoughts were finally, blissfully silent.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

The family had assembled together for dinner. Eric moved his eyes across the table and grimaced. Everything was too perfect: silverware buffed to a perfect sheen, plates arranged at exacting dimensions, flowers too colourful and too bold. It just emphasized how imperfect those gathered were. Bart stared absently at his son, unusually quiet. Lily touched her husband's hand and he looked at her. Bart ought to have smiled, but he didn't.

Eric turned his eyes away from the scene, but then they came to rest on the seat across. It was empty. His sister had not returned, but just like the past her place was set on the unlikely chance she would show up. She never did back then and Eric didn't expect her to now.

Eric moved his eyes to the last seat. He studied his brother. Chuck looked so drawn, even the effort of keeping up a facade forgotten. He sat slouched over his plate, pushing his food from one side to the other. He didn't dare look up and Eric knew it was because his eyes would tell the rest of the story.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck kept pushing asparagus from one side the other. The green stalks didn't tempt. Around him the rest tried to keep up a conversation, but it was stilted at best. Serena's seat was as empty as her bed had been. He didn't look at it. He should have known. When he told Lily about Serena's misdeeds, he had thought the mother would put an end to them. He should have realized it would simply remove the last barrier keeping Serena from her former self. There was no longer a secret to be maintained. She'd be gone for days now, existing on a steady diet of drugs and alcohol. It's how she partied. She drank until she passed out in a corner, and then if Blair had not thwarted her self-destruction, Serena would drink as soon as she came to; fuelling a few days of outright devastation followed by a couple weeks of normalcy.

That wasn't his choice or his fault. But Blair's fear had been. His fork made a scrapping noise against the fine china. It hurt. Not just to see the horrified tilt of Blair's proud chin, but to know that he was the cause of it. Chuck threw his fork on still full plate. It clattered noisily, drawing all eyes his way. He didn't meet anyone's look but stood up and started for the door.

"Where are you going?" Lily asked.

"I'm not hungry," Chuck mumbled as he left the room.

Chuck walked back to his room, but didn't linger there. He dug through his desk drawer until he found what he was looking for. Then, he pulled his phone from his pocket and opened it, fingers scrolling through his long list of contacts. He stopped when it highlighted Georgina's name. He shut his eyes in agitation, damning himself already for his future action, and then he hit send.

"Corner of Drake and 5th, thirty minutes," Chuck snapped out before she could speak and shut the phone before she could answer. He knew she'd show. Grabbing his jacket from a nearby chair, he made for the door.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – Okay, so the characters decided to get a little rebellious this chapter. Eric was the one who was supposed to take Georgina on and he's still planning on it. But he decided that if he got to be more outspoken then he was going to start with Serena because she was really pissing him off. And then Chuck decided to scheme a bit on his own. (And I'm not crazy… my characters don't literally talk to me).

Daae – I changed it up, thanks

Silvermantella – My head just increased in size from your effusive praise :) It is an interesting dynamic though, as their strengths and weaknesses do seem to play off one another.

Puresimplicity – I actually wrote some scenes for a sequel to this so it's getting to be more of a reality. I still have to finish this of, though and while there's very little left in terms of actual time I noticed from TH that the ending tends to slow down and take more writing.

BRKOD – I don't blame Bart for lying about the trust. I wouldn't want to give an 18 year Chuck 100 million dollars either. Oh, and that ring definitely needs to get put on Blair's finger.

Cocomango – there's a lot of rollercoaster emotions in this one. But I like angst so it's not surprising. This chapter was pretty angsty too.

Delphin – I hope Chuck uses the money wisely.

Sky Samuelle – Misty's suicide was pretty public, but it is going to cause Eric to do some reflection and its part of the reason why he decides to take G on.

rdx – thanks, it gets even more intricate now

DanSerenaXOXO – You hate G more now? Believe me by the end you'll be brainstorming ways to torture and kill her.

Anyone up for a GAME? In this chapter of YCFYF Eric leaps across the room to try to stop his ring tone before the lyrics progress. I picked a lesser known song off the first album of my favourite band (who I mentioned in my comments last chapter…though not by name on purpose). If someone can tell me the next line of the song (in their comments) then I'll write a one-shot for them. The one-shot can be any situation, AU or canon, any pairing or rating but it is limited to one scene only. I'll write it for the first one to name lyrics, title and band.

Up Next: Chuck makes Georgina an offer she can't refuse, or can she? Can Eric take a bite out of the psychotic puppeteer, or will she end up biting him back? Blair & Chuck, Dan & Serena, Eric & Damien on a group date? What could possible go wrong?


Chapter 13: Chapter Twelve


A/N - prepare yourself, first scene is a shocker.

Chapter Twelve

Do you hate me yet? You shouldn't. Charlie really did have a loving family and he should remember that. My family was filled with misery and that I can never forget.

Life all comes down to chance: wealth or poverty, happiness or misery, love or hate, they all exist on an equilibrium that is just beyond our control. All we can do is chose to live by those odds, or try to manipulate them.

You can guess which path I've chosen.

Eric watched his brother leave from the corner of his eye, and in that moment something snapped. He dropped his own fork and followed him into the hall. "Chuck, wait," He called.

Chuck turned but didn't stop walking. "I can't."

"Wait," Eric called in a firmer voice. Chuck halted. "We need to talk."

"I don't have time."

"Then make it."

Chuck looked at his watch, at the elevator and then back to his brother. Eric looked so desperate, and Chuck owed him so much. "You have twenty minutes."

The two congregated at 1812; Chuck because he thought the conversation concerned Damien and Eric because he knew Chuck wouldn't tell him what he needed to know if his father was in hearing distance. Chuck made a direct line to the liquor cabinet.

"So Damien's brother is a drug addict," Chuck said flippantly, pouring a scotch.

"What?" Eric shot out, momentarily surprised. He pushed the questions to the background, and focussed on his the present situation. "That's not what I need to discuss with you."

"No?"

"I want to know where your head it at."

Chuck stopped before the scotch could touch his tongue. "My head is on top of my body."

"That is not what I meant and you know it. I'm through with the unspoken agreement."

"What agreem..."

"The one where I don't ask questions."

Chuck inched the scotch glass back to the table, his hand never let it go but clutched it tighter.

"You need to talk to me."

"There's nothing to talk about."

Eric grabbed the small mirror from a nearby wall and slammed it on the bar in front of his brother. "Look at yourself."

Chuck didn't.

"Look at yourself and tell me that there is nothing to talk about."

Chuck glanced down, hardly recognizing himself. His tie was askew, and his bangs had grown too long but all that could be correctly easily. What he couldn't correct was the tormented glare of his eyes, the mocking hint of humanity.

"Talk to me," Eric begged.

"You don't understand."

"No one is telling me the details." Eric threw his hands up in exasperation. "I was nine years old," Eric reminded him. "And I didn't exactly care at the time."

"I could tell you everything and you still wouldn't understand," Chuck said, scraping his glass along the marble bar.

"Try me," Eric begged. "If anyone could, it might just be me."

Chuck turned his eyes away; he studied the water feature that hung on one wall. The trickling water was supposed to create a calming effect. Chuck rolled his eyes, and scrapped the glass a little more.

"Just tell me something, anything. I want to help you."

Chuck could feel that pressure building again, that dull ache in his chest, the kind that built up and stripped away his breath. Why wouldn't Eric just leave him alone? Why did he want him to go back there? He didn't want to go. Couldn't they all just leave him alone? "I have to go."

"Just tell me something," Eric begged again.

"What the fuck do you want to know?" Chuck clutched the glass so hard that his fingers turned white.

"I don't know," Eric said impulsively. What did he want to know? Just something; some bit of knowledge that would help him to understand his brother, and to understand what was happening to him. Chuck looked like he was going to shut down again, and so Eric threw out the first question he could think of. "Why Georgina? Why did you turn to her?"

"Because she knew."

"And the rest didn't?"

Chuck laughed then, the sound as hollow as he felt. "They were all living the fairytales. Harold was still stationed firmly in the closet; The Captain was drug free and living in perfect matrimonial bliss. Even Serena," Chuck shook his head. "Your mom had just remarried for the first time, and Serena was convinced it was true love. I couldn't shatter all their fantasies."

"So you turned to Georgina."

"She didn't have any fantasies."

"I understand," Eric said slowly.

"No you don't," Chuck spat out in contradiction. "I was supposed to have the happiest family. Me. They all pitied me, but that wasn't it. They were all scared. I knew what they were thinking; if Misty Bass could do that then what about their families, their parents."

"I get it."

"Stop saying you understand."

"Chuck, I, I know better than anyone..."

"No, stop it, stop saying you know. You have no fucking clue what it's like. You never lived my side of it. You don't know what it's like to have parents that were blissfully happy. To have a mother that loved you, and doted on you. Do you know what it's like to be the centre of someone's world, and in the end to realize that it didn't mean shit. Because your mother still leaves you alone. Without any warning, without any reason, she just leaps out of your life and leaves you to pick up the pieces.

Do you know what it's like to spend hours, weeks, and months trying to figure out why the fuck she did it, because everything was perfect. Your family was fucking perfect. You never get the chance to figure it out. The news hit and you end up ushered silently away to a tiny office and forced to sit in a stupid leather chair. They confiscate your cell phone without even saying why. Do you know what it's like to sit while everyone else finds out before you? To sit in the dark until your father appears. But he doesn't say a word. To be terrified because they pull you through school and everyone else is staring because they know the answer to the question you don't know to ask. But then you try. And your father just sits there and says nothing. And that just scares you more. Do you know what it's like to be ushered to the care of your aunt, to be rushed off to a private plane, to be at 30,000 ft before the truth comes out? Then you're encamped in a foreign country without even your father for comfort. You're not allowed back for the funeral because the press is so ruthless. You don't even get to say goodbye.

So you sit and try to figure out why. For two months you ask yourself why the hell did she do it? Did she hate her life that much? Did she hate you that much?

Then you get to go home, except you don't have a home to go to anymore, because your father sold it. He's busy auctioning off memories and you're living in a fucking hotel. But it's okay because you're going to see your dad. And maybe he has the answers to all those questions you've spent the last two months phrasing. Its early morning and you drop your suitcases and creep into your father's room. You expect him to be overjoyed to see you. Maybe he would have been, but he's not alone. He's got some naked twenty year old whore wrapped around him. Right there, in front of you, in your mother's bed. But you try to forget it and love your father anyway, but you know, you just fucking know that your mother did it because your father was screwing some tramp.

That's when you realize that the people are conniving pieces of shit, and love is some fairytale concept that doesn't exist in real life. That's the moment you realize that nobody loves you, not even God, because if they had then they would never have done that to you.

So you stand there and tell me that you understand."

Chuck took the glass and threw it as hard as he could at the nearest wall. Before it had even hit, Chuck grabbed the bottle and threw it as well. Eric ducked and covered his head before one of the flying shards of glass could hit him. By the time he chanced a look up, his stepbrother was out the door.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck hid beneath his hood, the winter rains ruining both his designer coat and boots. He didn't care. He had walked. No one else needed to know about this little meeting. When he turned the last corner he saw her. She was leaning casually against a wall with a cigarette in hand. Her hair was already drenched through and hung in strings around her face. She must have been cold, freezing even, but no discomfort showed. She almost looked happy.

Chuck joined her under the store awning. "You're late," She hissed, clutching her cigarette between two pale fingers.

"I was detained."

"I forgive you," Georgina dropped her cigarette to the pavement, rubbing it out under her heel. "I'm in a charitable mood."

"So am I."

Georgina raised an eyebrow at his bravado. "I was pleased to get your call, pleased but not surprised."

"This meeting is business" Chuck said firmly.

"We were always good at mixing both."

Chuck rolled his eyes and slipped a thick black book from his pocket. He flipped it open and took a pen from his pocket. "Name your price," He said with pen poised over cheque. "How much will it take to get you to walk out of our lives?"

Georgina laughed at the attempt. "You grow more like your father everyday."

Chuck's eyes turned dangerously cold. "I am nothing like my father."

"All those years back, he came to see me check book in hand, prepared to pay any sum to get me out of your life."

"It worked didn't it?"

"That was back then," Georgina raised an eyebrow. "I needed money back then."

"Everyone has a price. Just think," Chuck glared at her, "you won't have to sell any more prize horses for cocaine."

"She was a lead footed filly; I got the better of the deal."

"How much?"

"I'm not interested in your money."

"Any sum," He reminded her. "Any amount to keep you from our lives forever."

"I don't need it. I already have enough money to keep myself in your life forever." Georgina threw a cord of rain-dampened hair over her shoulder. She met his stare, and then weakened. "There might be another way we can settle this," Georgina decided, slow smile spreading across her face.

"No way," Chuck said, guessing her thoughts.

"Not that," She rolled her eyes. "Though for the record I'm not opposed."

"Good to know for when I lose all sense of reality and decide fucking you is a good idea."

"Oh Charlie, there was a time..."

"What do you want?" He cut her off before she could reminisce.

"I will leave you alone if you admit to Blair that I was your first love."

"No way," Chuck crossed his arms.

"What's the matter Charlie? Are you afraid that Blair's fallen for the fairy tale? The one in which she tamed the wild child and taught him to love? It is a cute story, too bad it isn't the truth."

"You're crazy."

"I'm not crazy Chuck; twisted maybe, a little wicked sure, probably even a bit jaded but I'm perfectly sane. You of all people shouldn't use that word so flippantly."

"Shut up."

"Does that bother you?"

"Shut up!"

"I remember something you said to me once. Now what was it," She raised an eyebrow. "Ah yes, I remember. Sometimes I think that..." Chuck shoved her against the brick wall. She didn't bother to finish the sentence. Instead she reached out, and played with the zipper of his coat.

"Get your God damned hands off me!" Chuck grabbed at them, trying to push her off him but she used her long nails to grip his hands tighter, so tightly that she left little indentations in his skin. She leaned forward, and then softly said. "Tick, tock, tick, tock...how long before Charlie blows his top."

Chuck dug his heels in and threw her body against the brick. The pain of the impact forced her to let go, but didn't stop her laughter. She laughed louder, more completely.

"Do your worst." Chuck yelled at her, sneering in disgust.

"Do you really mean that?" Georgina almost pitied him.

Chuck tried to stare her into the ground, but he couldn't help the unease that showed through. The last time the two had devolved to open warfare; it had ended with Chuck fleeing the country.

"You don't look sure of that," Georgina pursed her lips in delight. "It's kind of too bad. I am quite enamoured of the cocky, arrogant Chuck Bass. Of course I adore the other Charlie too; the needy, lost and broken boy. The one who wanted me, who needed me to kiss away his tears," She inched closer to Chuck, face nearly level with his.

Chuck pushed her back again. "I hope you have a strong memory because that boy is dead."

Georgina pressed her back catlike into the wall, lazily stretching each inch. She wasn't bothered in the slightest. "I don't think so. You'll be there again, so messed up and all alone. Your fingers are going to trip down memory lane until they hit my name, until they invite me to make everything better."

"Not likely."

Georgina's face took a dark tint at his denial. "Then I'll make sure it happens," she promised. Chuck's lip curled in disgust, but Georgina didn't seem to notice. Her smile returned and she touched his chin as she left. "So nice to see you," she announced cheerfully as she took her leave. Chuck watched her walk away, rubbing every inch of skin that she had touched, lest he be contaminated forever.

He leaned against the wall, watching the rain splash against the black pavement. For a moment he almost considered telling Blair what Georgina had asked him to. Then common sense returned to him. It was just that Chuck had played his hand and Georgina knew it. There was no way to defeat someone who cared nothing for her reputation, her future or even for her life.

His cell rang and he pulled it out. It was an update from Gossip Girl. He nearly deleted without looking, he hadn't had time for the gossip shrew in weeks. Then he noted the heading, and opened the message.

Spotted: King C and G reliving a little history? What would Queen B think? Better watch out for the sparks on this one.

He opened the accompanying picture. Georgina's face was inches from his, and while he looked far from pleased, their hands were intertwined. Chuck threw his head back against the wall. He clasped his hands together, bringing them to his mouth in an absent gesture.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric picked up the shards of glass by hand. He didn't need to. He could have called down to housekeeping, it was their job. But he needed some active engagement, something to occupy his mind so that he didn't have time to think. The problem was that glass didn't exactly help. He looked down and all he could see were the sharp edges.

He threw them back on the floor, backing up until his legs hit the unmade bed.

Chuck was right. He had no idea what it was like to be on the other side. Not that the Ostroff Centre hadn't tried. They'd lined up his mother and sister and prompted them to explain. In theory it worked. In practice, his mother just stayed silent and his sister had smiled through the entire discussion of her "feelings." It didn't exactly convey the depth of the pain he could have caused them.

But the look on Chuck's face had.

If he had done it. If he had been successful. Would he have done to his family what Misty had done to hers? They'd tried to explain that suicide is not a solitary act though it is done by one. It affects everyone around the individual. He hadn't understood it then. He had held fast to the belief that it was his problem and his solution.

He understood it now.

And it hurt. To know what he could have done. What he almost did do. The force of his guilt caused jabs of pain to dance up and down his side. His breathing grew shallow, and tears began to cloud over his eyes. He was so sorry. Not just for his mother and his sister. He was sorry for his brother.

And his anger at Chuck's tormentor increased. His disgust at her game, at the pure perverse enjoyment she derived from bringing up issues that ought to remain buried.

Eric slipped the phone from his pocket.

He might not be able to erase the past, but he could sure as hell play a role in the future. "Directory assistance please," He spoke calmly. "I need an address for Emma Sparks."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena sat on the edge of an enormous queen bed. She tried to smile at the man beside her, but couldn't will her mouth to cooperate. He was handsome, the suite was first class, and it was like old times. It was like a hundred other times, the sort that she had laughed about with Blair the following morning. Except she only laughed about the times she couldn't remember, and never spoke about the nights she did.

Serena tried hard to remember his name, but it was too hard. The room was spinning, and she could barely focus on his blue eyes never mind recall names exchanged hours before. She almost asks him, but is too afraid of looking stupid. Who cares about looking stupid when they are acting it?

"Oh Baby," The man mumbles into her hair and suddenly she can't wait to wash it. "You're so tense, you need to relax." He puts a hand to her shoulder, tries to erase her stress but it only increases the strain.

He puts his lips to where his hands had been, and she really tries to live in the moment but she doesn't like this moment. She doesn't like the way he looks at her stomach, at her breasts and thighs but never at her eyes. Or the way that he paws her generally, relying on the spots that all women must love, because he doesn't know anything about hers.

Then he pushes her back on the bed. She lets him. That's what she doesn't understand. She just lets him touch her, and kiss her. Even though she doesn't want him to, she just stays absolutely silent. She makes a study of the ceiling, and after a moment he doesn't care. He doesn't try to coddle or caress her because she's willing and that is enough.

He doesn't even mind when she starts crying because at least she's not being loud about it. She cries silently, without a single sob or a wrack. She cries because she realizes it then.

Her brother was right.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric stared at the address the operator had provided, and then up at the brownstone. He was overcome by the sense of déjà vu. There was something familiar about the rose boxes, about the tall stone arches and metal grates. Something he couldn't quite place. He looked to the left and right, trying to place the memory. Then he realized what it was. Nate lived three doors to the left.

He knocked at the door, bouncing from heel to heel until a servant opened it. Eric asked for Georgina and was shown into the main room. The servant disappeared to announce him, and he took the chance to study the room. It was a mass of paintings, of pottery and sculpture. The Sparks home held as much art as a wing of the Museum of Modern Art, at a price nearly as expensive. Eric tried to focus on his original mission, but he was distracted by his artistic fascinations. He managed to study three of Ewan Sparks' paintings before the servant returned and invited him forward.

Eric followed the portly man to the second floor, and a large solarium that stretched nearly the whole floor. When he reached the door he saw Georgina. She sat on a long white wicker seat, cup of tea clutched in her slender hands. Her hair had dried in the preceding hours and she was watching the rain bounce again the curved glass from the warmer side. She turned her eyes slowly once Eric entered, waiting until he drew close to speak. "My, my" Georgina's eyes grazed up and down Eric's figure appreciatively. "How you've grown."

"Can the small talk bitch."

"Grown in confidence too I see." Georgina stood up and traced a finger down his cashmere vest. "That is even sexier."

"Get your hands off me," Eric shoved her away. "You know why I'm here."

"Oh course," Georgina sat huffily back down on her white chair.

"Where is my sister?"

"How would I know?" Georgina took a calm sip of her tea. "I'm not the only one she drinks with."

"Where is she?"

"I told you I don't know." Georgina rolled her eyes at the younger boy's persistence. "Though I'm sure she'll call me later. She always needs little Georgie to get over that hump between day two and three." Georgina put the cup down again. "Do you have a message?"

"Only for you," Eric stood over her. "Leave my family alone or I will ruin you."

Georgina laughed in a riotous, mocking tone. "Listen, I really appreciate the sentiment behind your appearance. I'm almost touched, but what could you possibly do to me."

"You don't scare me."

"I should," Georgina glared into the younger boys eyes. "I could destroy someone like you without even breaking a sweat."

Eric glared right back at her. "I'd like to see you try."

Georgina laughed at the boy's naiveté. She waited for him to flinch, but he didn't. "I'm really impressed little E. You've definitely been taking lessons from your big brother. You've got that whole smug, confident persona working for you. I mean, the wrists have healed; you've grown a few inches. Life must be looking up."

Eric still didn't flinch. "Is that the best you can do? You're more pathetic than I thought. Did you want to see the scars?" Eric grabbed at both sleeves, exposing the skin that had long since healed but still bore two perfectly straight white lines. "So what's next, more pitiable flirting in a mad attempt to unnerve me?"

"It wouldn't, would it," Georgina arched her back. "After all, how could I interest you?"

"You don't."

"I'll try not to take it personally," Georgina crossed one long leg over the other. "After all, from what I've heard, it's a general rather than a specific disinterest."

"You're sources are amazing," Eric taunted in return. "Only half of society already knows that I'm gay."

"That's not the half I'm interested in." Georgina smiled as she reached out to grab the tea pot. "How about you?"

"You honestly think that Lily would believe anything you say?"

"You're right," She smiled and poured herself another cup. "So I'll make sure it doesn't come from me." Eric's expression faltered only momentarily, but it was enough. "Are you sure I couldn't tempt you to have some tea?"

"So that's the worst you can do?" Eric's confidence was returned. "Out me to my mom?"

"Did you want more?"

"It's going to take more."

"How about the skinny Brit boyfriend?"

"What about him?"

"I'm proud of you," Georgina removed her feet from the wicker ottoman. "I figured you'd deny him outright. But I guess love does crazy things to people, stupid things too."

Eric just crossed his arms.

"I think you should leave now," Georgina grabbed her silver bell.

"I can leave now; it doesn't mean this is over. I will destroy you!"

"Oh Eric." Georgina shook her hand, a little jingle drifted softly through the air. A servant appeared at the archway and she instructed him that Eric was to be shown out. Before it could be done, Georgina stood up and walked very slowly to her younger combatant. "You are not ready to play in my league."

"You don't scare me."

"I really should," She leaned in until her breath tickled his ear. "I always cover all my bases." She touched his shoulder one last time and then floated softly into her home.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck ran a hand through his damp locks. Somewhere between his meeting with Georgina, the flower shop and the Waldorf Penthouse, his hood had fallen back. He hadn't bothered to replace it, as the tiny trickles of water reminded him.

He was tense in the elevator, unsure of his greeting. He didn't think Blair would be defeated by idle gossip, and he couldn't imagine her thinking Georgina a threat, but Blair Waldorf's mind did not always work in linear ways. Besides, after his second dismissal, his girlfriend's mind might not be kind.

He tried to recline on the wood panelling, but every time he was almost comfortable, nervous energy surged and forced him upright. He looked at the flowers, the familiar arrangement and couldn't decide if he was half-genius or half-fool. When the elevators rang, he stuck them behind his back. Dorota met him at the doors, and he could tell where he stood by the strain in her greeting. The maid had always been like a mother hen, protecting her young.

Blair entered from the stairs, a perfect vision of reigning royalty. She looked too perfect, like she used to look. That made him even more afraid. He wouldn't show it though. So he smirked up at her, and waited for her to talk.

"Good Evening Chuck,' Blair clipped formally, studying his rain bedraggled appearance.

He didn't bother to return the formal tone, or even the greeting. "It's my turn to apologize," he said instead. He pulled the large bouquet of flowers from his back. There were calla lilies, red roses and yellow daisies, an explosion of colours and a perfect match for the one that had been given to him.

Blair smiled at him, a twisted kind of smile for their twisted game. "Now I can't be mad at you,' she said in an almost petulant voice.

Chuck didn't let the tone bother him. He had come with one intent mission. He took the steps two at a time until stood just below her. There was something she needed to know. "I didn't ask you to leave because I wanted you to. I asked you to..."

"For my own good," Blair finished the thought as he reached her. "And the photo?" She prompted.

"I tried to pay her off," Chuck admitted, "to get her to leave Serena alone." And him. Chuck didn't need to finish the thought. He wasn't that altruistic.

"It didn't work?"

"She didn't want money."

A flicker of revulsion crossed over Blair's face as she guessed what payment Georgina had suggested. She was wrong but Chuck didn't correct her. Chuck offered his hand and she took it, twisting her fingers through his. She looked up and held his gaze. There was deepness in her looks, an intrigue. She had stared at him that way before; every single time he had let her get a bit closer. He could feel it. His face was open and inviting to questions, and he hated that it was. He had already cracked today, fully, humiliatingly, completely. He couldn't do it again but he looked at her brown eyes and knew he might. "Let's watch a movie," Chuck said abruptly.

"You want to watch a movie?"

"Take the chance while you have it," Chuck's open expression died with the return of his usual smirk. "You can put on something overly sentimental and I won't even make you repay me."

Blair's eyes flickered in interest.

"Unless you'd like to," His smirk grew.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric stood in front of the door: A few inches of wood that stood between him and, literally, his mother, but metaphorically the alteration of their entire relationship. Perhaps it was Serena's fault. If she hadn't been such a wild child, then he could have been rebellious. Instead, he had to form his identity as his mother's favourite: polite, kind and predictable.

And that was so going to change now, because this was so far from predictable. It's not that he was ashamed of being gay, he wasn't. It's just what he was. He just wished he could have been born with it tattooed on his forehead, well, not his forehead, maybe tattooed on some not easily distinguishable, easily covered with clothing sort of place. Then his mother wouldn't have developed all those cute family fantasies growing up. You know the sort; cute, heterosexual family fantasies, where Eric was destined to have a beautiful socialite wife and two point five children. Maybe it'd be okay. Lily just had to substitute the children for dogs and the beautiful blonde, for an art making, chain-smoking... Oh God, this conversation was already going to shit and so far it only existed in his head.

He nearly turned around then, but then he remembered Georgina's smiling face. He wouldn't give that bitch the satisfaction of doing what he ought to have done months ago. So he knocked. When he entered he saw both Lily and his stepfather. They sat together at the larger desk with several papers laid out in front of them. "Hi mom," Eric hated how his voice squeaked.

"Eric." Lily smiled up at him and then pointed out a column with Bart. "Bart and I are just going over the household accounts. Is there something I can do for you?"

How about loving me unconditionally and not freaking out to bad? "Yes there is. I need to speak to my mother privately," He said with a nod in Bart's direction. The elder man accepted and withdrew.

"What is it darling?" Lily stepped from behind the desk.

"I have something to tell you and you have to promise to withhold judgement until the end."

Lily dropped the casual air and moved closer. "Is it about Serena or Chuck?"

Of course she wouldn't think it was him. "It's about me."

Lily gave a little shake of her head, and Eric could hear the exasperation before she spoke. "Please say you're not in trouble, between Chuck and your sister..." She trailed off.

Okay, that so didn't help. Maybe now was a bad time. I mean his sister was off somewhere drunk and disorderly. Chuck was...well... Stop! He was such a bloody coward!

"Eric?" Lily prompted after a few moments of silence.

"No, it's nothing like that." That was true, he wasn't in trouble.

"What is it like?"

"I think you'd better sit down," Eric decided as his mother inched from side to side. He really didn't want to end the evening with a call to medical services. "I have something important to say to you."

"Okay," Lily agreed, that frown line reappearing in her forehead. Eric decided that now wasn't the time to point it out.

Once Lily was comfortably ensconced in leather, Eric cleared his throat. His mind was racing a thousand miles an hour and he tried to choose his words through the clutter. I'm gay Too stereotypical. I like men...er boys...not THAT way... only because I am a boy. Okay that was definitely not the way to go. Girls are about as interesting as Calculus. Possible comeback, you just need to try harder. That's out, and yet he still wasn't. I'm a homosexual. He couldn't even say the word with a straight face...too many memories of grade 6 sex education. Would you like to meet my hot British boyfriend? Noooo! One thing at a time.

"Eric?" Lily tried again. He looked at her and decided he needed to sit down too. He threw himself into the room's other chair and stared at his mother across the desk. That frown line was growing before his very eyes.

Screw originality. "I'm, I'm..." He could feel the word choke in his throat. He hadn't stuttered in years. This was moderately pathetic. "I am..." There is was, the way her eyebrows rose and her cheeks looked all hollowed out. "I might be published." Fuuuuuuuuck!

"Published?" Lily asked in surprise.

"A couple of my photos," Eric shut his eyes and put a hand to cover them. He was such a wimp!

"You don't seem happy."

He took a deep breath; there was no chance of recovery now so he had to proceed. "I am," Eric assured her. "It's very tentative though so I'm trying not to get my hopes up."

"That's incredible Eric," Lily's doubt turned to excitement. She covered her son's hand. Eric looked up. The frown line had disappeared.

"Yeah, it kind of is."

"Can I see the photos?"

Could she? After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. "You know, the man at the magazine has them right now." It was not that he didn't have copies, or a hundred more on his phone, on his laptop and everywhere else but here. He was almost tempted to leave his computer open one day. There were a few near the end that would make explanation unnecessary. Then again, he didn't want to owe him mom Botox for life.

"I understand," Lily squeezed his hand harder, and he plastered the largest and coincidentally faked smile he'd ever worn. "I used to be very protective of my work.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck drew little patterns on his girlfriend's shoulder, snaking two fingers below her capped shoulders and then drawing them back. Blair didn't even notice. Her eyes were fixed to the screen, to Breakfast at Tiffany's. Chuck didn't need to watch. He'd long since memorized the dialogue. So he contented himself with memorizing her. The way her profile narrowed with fixed concentration, or how she sat perfectly straight even though there was no chair, and she only had his back for support.

Chuck bent down and placed a kiss where his fingers had been. Blair turned her profile to study him, and Chuck was momentarily impressed that he could draw her attention from Audrey. The moment was short-lived however, because before their lips could meet, Blair's phone rang. Chuck could see Serena's name on the display.

Blair stared at the phone, and Chuck could see the struggle play across her face. He said nothing, just counted the rings and waited for the final decision. Blair grabbed it after six rings, and Chuck felt the urge to unwind himself but disavowed it.

"Serena," Blair said neutrally, running a finger along her boyfriend's leg.

Chuck could hear the sobs from where he sat. Serena was upset to a degree he didn't recognize. He felt some sympathy, but it was outdone by his distaste and disgust. He was glad that Blair sat with her back to his face because he couldn't quite control his expression.

"Are you alright?" Blair asked though the answer was obvious. Serena tried to explain through her sobs but the words were too fractured to be made sense of. Blair asked again, and Chuck knew he had already lost. Maybe it was stupid to compete in this way, but Serena was still the victor.

He knew how this was going to play out. This was what had happened on his birthday, at their dinner, and even on the Brooklyn trip. But it was also different. At least then he had been ignorant of actual second that Blair's mind shifted. He didn't want to watch himself be passed over.

So he tapped Blair on the shoulder and mumbled something about leaving. She turned to him, but he didn't look back. He shifted from the bed, and grabbed his jacket from the side table. He didn't look back.

He didn't want to see her make the choice, so he made it for her.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric shut the study door silently behind him. He leaned on the heavy wood and shut his eyes in dismay. He had just endured a fifteen minute discussion of his work that was three parts evasive and one part honest.

What was wrong with him? Why couldn't he just force the words out? He wasn't usually this cowardly. Except when you tried to kill yourself the little voice reminded him. He silenced it by grabbing his phone. If his mouth wouldn't cooperate then he'd find another way to get the truth out. Because, above all, he wasn't going to let his failure be Georgina's triumph.

He pushed off the door and walked to the kitchen, ducking quickly to the left to evade a wandering paintbrush. He leaned against the stainless steel fridge and dialled.

"Hey," Intoned the rumpled voice from the other end.

"Hey Damien."

"Eric."

"Listen, I'm sorry about being so abrupt with you earlier."

"Don't worry about it. Did you get everything sorted?"

"Some things. Not everything."

"So you'll be busy a bit longer?"

"Yes and no." Eric moved to stand beside the kitchen counter, ducking to avoid the painters that were passing through on their way to the adjoining hall. "Do you want to go to dinner tomorrow night?"

"You want to go out to dinner?"

"I was thinking we could double with my brother and his girlfriend."

"Okay, sure. Where and when?"

"The Palace at 7pm?"

"The Palace? As in where you live Palace?"

"That would be the one. So what do you say?"

"I wouldn't miss it for the world."

"Oh, and dress well," Eric added.

"I clean up real nice." Damien assured him.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair weaved her way through the halls of the Mercer, a five star hotel as prestigious as the Palace. She checked the hastily scribbled room number, and then counted. Once she reached room 745 she knocked lightly. When Serena didn't answer, she knocked louder. When there was still no answer she tried the door. It was open and she walked inside.

Serena sat on the side the room's queen bed. The sheets were rumpled around her, and Serena wore nothing beyond a bra and panties. She had stopped crying a short time ago, but her eyes were still red and blotchy. When she saw Blair, her eyes started to water again. She looked away, too humiliated to meet her friend's eyes.

"Serena," Blair pushed aside the unmade sheets to sit near her friend. "What happened?"

Serena tried to answer her but the tears returned first. "Everything," she admitted betweens sobs.

"Are you alright?"

"Blair, I didn't even want to."

"Did he?" Blair's eyes grew.

"No," Serena answered, and buried her face into her friend's hair. That was the worst part. Why hadn't she stopped him? The taller clung to the smaller, and Blair understood.

"It's okay," Blair whispered into the mass of blonde ringlets.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck unlocked the door to his family suite and walked in. The moment he heard Eric talking in the kitchen, he started to tip toe, trying to preserve the silence until he could fall into his bed. He didn't want to face Eric or his questions right now.

He remembered the night last year, when he had told Eric he was in love with Blair. He had had too many drinks and Eric too few. Eric had looked him straight in the eye and said, "Sometimes life just sucks like that." That's when he knew he was going to like having a brother. And he did. Nate had been his best friend since Kindergarten and Chuck had always valued that bond. But this bond was different. With Nate there was no purpose in openness. His answers were always vague and conflicting because Nate was vague and conflicting. Eric's were usually much more concrete, and far more judgemental. Not necessarily in a negative or overly critical way but simply in their succinct truths. Eric didn't wander around confused; he knew what he wanted pretty much all of the time. He didn't always choose right (as proved by his suicide attempt) but he chose courses of action and followed through. In many ways, the one was the foil to the other. Nate was the companion that you partied with, smoked with, and lost yourself with. Eric was the one you spoke to, debated with, got cursed out by, and found yourself again.

Except Chuck had ruined that by opening up his big, fat mouth again. At least this time his confident wasn't a chestnut haired psycho who would hold the information over him forever. Then Eric stuck his head around the corner, and Chuck decided it was nearly as bad. It was the way his brother was staring at him; sympathy in his large eyes. Eric would never cuss him out again, because now he knew the "motivating factors!"

Dammit! Chuck hated pity with a deep, burning detestation.

"Chuck," his brother's pronounced and the sweet, softness of his intonation made Chuck's skin crawl.

God he needed a drink.

He turned around and walked right out.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

"Chuck, open the door,' Eric yelled through the panel of wood.

"Fuck off!" was Chuck's only retort.

Eric kicked the wall in frustration. After Chuck had walked from the family suite, Eric had decided to give him time. An hour later, the younger one decided it was enough and had gone in search. That was nearly another hour before. He'd spent much of the past standing in front of 1812, pleading with his brother to let him in. It was an exercise in futility and Eric ought to have given up, but he was stuck in the game of it now, and not ready to admit defeat. That being said, he needed reinforcement. Eric flipped through his phone until he highlighted Nate's name. He hit send and waited.

"Hey," Nate's lazy voice echoed through.

"Nate, it's Eric."

"I know. What's up?"

Eric dug his foot into the carpet as another glass made contact with the door.

"What was that?"

"Do you have any tips for dealing with an irate Chuck?"

"Define irate."

"He's locked himself in 1812 and refuses to come out."

The line was silent for a time. "We're just down the street. I'll come up."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

When she saw how Serena could not touch the bed's sheets, Blair gathered a large blanket from the closet and covered her friend with it. The taller blonde pulled it tightly around herself, arms crossing in front.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Blair asked.

"I don't even know why I did it,' Serena admitted.

"I can guess," Blair looked at her friend. "To put the end stamp on your relationship with Dan?"

Serena nodded. It had been Georgina's crass suggestion, and as per typical, drunken Serena found every suggestion of Georgina's brilliant. "I don't even know why I wanted to."

"Because living in a crappy known is better than living in a frightening unknown," Blair supplied.

"Yes," Serena eyed her friend in shock. "You are way too good at this stuff."

"My mom paid enough for therapists. I ought to have learned something," Blair replied with a flip of her hair.

Serena laughed softly, the sound dissolving the moment it aired. "I had this conversation with Dan," Her eyes clouded over at the memory. "We were going to have sex for the first time."

"Okay, this story so better be worth the trauma of the mental pictures,' Blair gave a shake of her head.

"But I couldn't go through with it."

"I can't blame you."

"Blair, please," Serena put a hand out. "This is important."

"Okay."

"Because it was too different with Dan."

Blair had to work hard to suppress the instinctual comebacks.

"It was the way that he looked at me. I felt so valuable under his gaze. He would stare in my eyes and I knew that he truly wanted me. It wasn't just physical, it was..."

"Spiritual," Blair finished with a knowing look.

"Oh my God Blair," Serena began to cry again. "What have I done?"

Blair cupped her friend's larger hand in her own.

"I've ruined everything," Serena choked out. "And for what? For nothing?"

"Your life isn't ruined yet," Blair tried to assure her.

"I just screwed a man who never looked beyond my breasts."

"From what you told me, I wouldn't say you screwed anyone." Blair put a hand to Serena's chin and lifted it up to face her own. "Nothing is ruined. There is nothing done that can't be undone."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Nate stepped from the elevator. His girlfriend kept two steps behind, though their fingers remained firmly locked. He didn't speak until he reached Eric's side. "He still hasn't let you in?"

"He's rather opposed to the idea," Eric explained.

Nate let go of Vanessa's hand to dig through his pockets. He took his copy of the door key and started to put it into the lock.

I don't recommend doing that," Eric said with an arched eyebrow and a look across the hall. On the far wall sat a small mirror, three wine glasses and a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild Pauillac, all smashed to pieces. "Though it's quite likely that his aim has deteriorated in the last hour."

Nate slipped the key firmly back into his pocket. He knocked. "Chuck. It's Nate. Open the door." When his friend didn't reply, Nate tried again. "I know you're in there, open the door." Something large smacked against the door and Nate exchanged glances with the rest. "Come on Chuck, open the door."

"Go home," Chuck yelled from the other side of the door.

"This is ridiculous," Vanessa decided aloud. "He's acting like a two year old." She stepped to the door and knocked firmly. "Chuck, open the door now!" Vanessa barked.

"Who the hell is that?"

Nate and Eric shook their heads madly, silently begging the bohemian to shut up, but she still answered. "Vanessa."

Everything went silent for about thirty seconds. Then a crash wracked the door with such force that it shook and Vanessa jumped back a few feet. She stared at the others in shock.

"That must have been the Swarovski Crystal," Eric guessed.

"Serena's favourite," Nate confirmed.

"What the hell is wrong with him?" Vanessa asked, "Aside from the obvious."

"I'm waiting for Eric to tell me,' Nate said with an arched look.

"I can't say."

"Eric," Nate looked longer.

"He told me some stuff a few hours ago; stuff I don't think he was ready to share."

Nate waited for an explanation, but Eric didn't provide one. "Like?" He finally asked.

"It was pretty deep," Eric answered evasively.

"Oh," Nate's mouth twisted a bit to one side. "How did you respond?"

"I didn't get the chance to."

"Not at all?"

"I got to say one word," Eric shot back. "Unless there's some deep physiological meaning to Chuck then you're barking up the wrong tree".

"How did you say it?" Nate questioned further.

Eric hissed of frustration. "Well you see, it's a one syllable word so I started with the Ch sound and then... Why the hell does that matter?"

"Chuck has really issues with pity." Nate confessed. "I once saw him punch a guy," Here Nate paused and then spoke with more honesty. "Well, he once waved his fist at some guy who tried to commiserate with him."

Eric let the thought trickle over. "Good to know," he shook his head. "Now do you have any suggestions for the current predicament?"

"No," Nate admitted. "You have to let him be. He'll work through it on his own. But check on him later and make sure he's sleeping face down."

Eric shook his head in confusion.

"He's going to drink himself into a stupor," Nate explained, slipping a hand into his girlfriend's.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

The next morning, Eric made better use of his key. He slid the door open to 1812, kicking aside broken glass bits with his shoe. He eyed his brother. Chuck lay in the same position Eric had shifted him to. His head was buried between two large pillows, and his legs dangled from the edge. "Good morning Chuck," Eric yelled.

Chuck moaned and pulled one of the pillows tighter around his head.

"You need to get up for school," Eric yelled again.

"Are you my father?" Chuck mumbled from beneath the pillow. "I'm not going anywhere."

"Yes you are."

"Fuck off."

"You say that so often it isn't even shocking." Eric moved to stand over the older boy.

"Go away please," Chuck tried.

"You using manners is more shocking, but still not going to make me go away."

Chuck decided to pretend he was asleep. Eric started pulling at his sheets.

"What the hell!" Chuck cursed and began to kick back. It didn't faze his stepbrother. Eric just pulled harder, but the sheets were too coiled around his brother and couldn't be freed. So he went for the pillow. Eric struggled to pull it away, but he managed. Chuck turned to face him, and then growled, "Someone has been eating their Wheaties!"

"Apparently," Eric agreed. "Get up." Chuck winced against the light of day, and when Eric finally got a look at his brother and his lost, wandering gaze, Eric hit him with the pillow. "Sack up!" He commanded.

Chuck muttered angrily and grabbed the pillow back. Before Eric could wrestle it away again, Chuck had it firmly pressed over his head and was lying down again.

"You need to go to school."

"I don't need to do anything." Chuck rolled over, "Except stay in bed."

"If you stay here then Georgina wins. She will realize just how much she is hurting you."

There was a moment's pause and then Chuck stuck one hand out. "Hand me my pants."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Dan took a look at the clock as he stepped out of the shower. It was half past seven and he should have been ready fifteen minutes ago. He dried quickly, and made a dash for his bedroom, clad only in his robe. His father and sister were sitting at the breakfast nook and he shouted out a greeting as he past. The he noticed someone else, and his surprise was so great that he tripped over a nearby hall runner. He went flying in a perfect arc, and landed with a thud into the side wall. Only a well-time grab kept him from exposing more than his knees.

"Hello Cabbage Patch," Blair smiled sweetly, eyeing his misfortune with a ridiculing eye.

"What are you doing here?" Dan snapped. He looked at his father, who looked far from impressed, and his sister who, despite what had happened, might have been just a little.

"I'm having pancakes," Blair smiled, stuffing another syrup laced bite into her mouth.

"And," Dan prompted.

"I needed to talk to you," Blair put her fork down. "I'm up early, so why not extend the charity, and offer a ride to the less fortunate?"

Dan exchanged a look with his father, and walked off to change. He used the time to decide whether it was in his best interests to travel anywhere with the Queen B. They were half way to school before he'd really made up his mind.

"So how have you been?" Blair asked with a fake smile. Dan stared at her, not sure exactly how he should answer that. He didn't need to think, because Blair tired of small talk as soon as she had begun it. "Serena's been really miserable."

Dan rolled his eyes, and cracked the window of the limo. "She doesn't look it."

"She really loves you," Blair said. "She's just been a bit confused."

"Really?" Dan stared out at the lightly falling rain. "She seems to know what she wants well enough."

"What do you want?"

"To move on."

Blair laughed. "You might as well be honest. You wouldn't be calling me in great concern for her well-being if you were happy with the current state of affairs."

"Of course I care about her."

"How much?"

Dan stared the brunette, not willing to say.

"I can happily report that Serena has achieved some clarity, and in that clarity wants you."

Dan furrowed his brow, not sure he should believe anything that came from such brightly painted lips.

"Are you going to talk?" Blair asked. "I thought I could at least count on you for that."

"If that is what she's decided then Serena should be the one telling me."

"She's afraid of what you'll think," Blair said. "She's afraid of being rejected." Blair waited for him to say something, and when he didn't, prompted him further. "Would you reject her?"

"I don't know."

"I don't know is a start,' Blair decided to take what she could get. "How about dinner tonight? You and Serena, Chuck and I."

Dan stared at her in disbelief. He could think of a few hundred people he'd rather spend the evening with, but he would endure a meal with the devil himself if it meant what Blair was offering. He was going to endure a meal with the devil itself, and his red head banded sidekick.

"You don't have to make any promises. Just make the dinner, and see where things go," Blair suggested.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck stood at his vanity. He had taken an absurdly long shower and the mirrors were still steamed over. He wiped them in a single motion and grabbed his uniform from where it hung. He was nearly dressed when he heard a knock at the door. "Enter," he called out and grabbed his tie. He tossed it around his neck and pulled it tight. He didn't look in the mirror, and he didn't look at the door. The first thing he noticed was that it was taking him far too long. He'd mastered tie tying at four years old, but his fingers were too shaky and too tense to cooperate with the mind's task. Serena watched him from the door. He knew she was there but he didn't acknowledge her. After a moment she walked to him and pushed his hands away. She didn't say anything but started to tie his tie for him. "You've decided to bless us with your presence," Chuck muttered as she pulled the patchwork silk through.

"When you look like this I don't know what to believe."

"That says more about you than I."

"I know what Georgina and you did," Serena looked him straight in the eye. He winced then. "I never told any of the others, but I know what you two did to Bart."

"Do you?" Chuck blinked slowly against the accusation.

"I know just what you are capable of." Serena eyes him closely, trying to find a weakness in his portrayal. "But then you look like this and I really don't know what to think. You're not exactly the trustworthy type so why should I believe you?"

"You'll have to figure that out for yourself," Chuck decided, removing the pink-painted fingers from his coat. "I think I can do the rest," he pushed past her and grabbed a bottle of gel from the counter.

Serena wanted to question him further, but her phone chimed. The name on the call display shocked her to such a degree that she dropped it on the floor.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric paced back and forth across the cream carpeting. "Hurry up," He yelled at his brother through the door. "I'm not leaving until you're ready so you might as well stop dawdling.

"I wasn't dawdling," Chuck said as he opened the door. "I was preparing myself."

When he stepped forward it was as a resurrected urban dandy. He had redressed to cut his uniform with a red collar, and his tie was recreated with a more usual flourish. His hair was combed straight and then artfully styled. Even his cologne was applied with perfect diligence. He looked like his old self, and by looking the part he started to feel it.

"Good," Eric said with a look over. "Now you won't embarrass Damien and me at dinner."

"Or Dan and I," Serena appeared from her own room, a strange mixture of exhilaration and dread on her face.

The three exchanged glances, and then with a general shrug of shoulders headed towards the limo.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

All the preparations proved unnecessary as Georgina was not in attendance. In fact, her rates of attendance had fallen to one day every three. Her mother must have been paying kindly to keep her on roll call. Without the psycho to make trouble, with all the fights and distances breeched for the time being, it almost felt like the beginning of the year.

This nostalgic optimism spilled over into the evening hours, though mad touches, well thought fashion advice, and untamed enthusiasm. By the time the siblings reached the Palace dining hall, a temporary peace had been restored. Serena entered first, her longing to see Dan pushing her feet faster than the rest.

He was there, looking as casually put together, and understatedly handsome as ever. He stood as Serena approached, the chivalrous action ingrained in him. There was nervousness to his greeting, a fraying at the edges that showed itself in a slight straining of his lips. He was not alone in feeling it. Serena was as unsure as him. The events of the night before weighed heavily on her, and she tried to take comfort in Blair's assurance that sometimes we have to tread far away before we can realize what we truly desire. She looked back at her best friend and brother. They walked hand in hand, the romantic gesture which seemed so out of place months ago, now suited the two as naturally as their designer clothes. Hadn't Blair run that course? Serena sat down and allowed Dan to slide her chair forward. He rested a hand on her shoulder after, just for a moment, but the charge she felt at the touch reminded her of what they had. Dan greeted Blair and Chuck with warmth that she knew he couldn't feel and for some reason it settled her stomach, and slowed her heart rate.

Eric was the last of the siblings to arrive, and take his seat. He had lingered to tidy a few things, both in his bathroom and mind. He wasn't the last of the table to arrive; however, as his boyfriend's chair remained empty. Eric wasn't surprised. The Brit was habitually late. Dan was surprised, but not displeased at the younger brother's presence. "I didn't know you would be coming," He said to Eric. Then he caught sight of another familiar figure and extended the comment, "Or your mother."

Aside from Dan, who existed in a blissful state of ignorance, the rest of the table froze on the thought. Blair looked first, her red painted lips shone darker as her face went pale. Chuck was next, and when he saw his stepmother he put a hand out for his glass, only to find it still empty. Serena gave a little gasp, and instinctively clutched Dan's hand. He was pleased, being unaware of the context.

Eric couldn't even turn around. He took a deep breath, and waited until he smelt the familiar scent of jasmine. "I got your message," Lily bent down and kissed her youngest on the cheek.

"My message?" Eric squeaked out.

"Asking me to join my children for dinner," She smiled, resting her clutch on the empty chair beside Eric. She greeted the rest of table, but didn't sit down. "I hope I'm not late."

"We haven't ordered yet," Dan said when the rest of the table stayed strangely silent.

"Then I'll get us some drinks," Lily offered. "Coke for everyone," she suggested with a pointed look at Chuck. When no one offered any objection she disappeared up to the bar.

Eric turned his head slowly, watching her mother's black dress shimmer through the restaurant's lights. He tried to think. Maybe it wouldn't be that bad, Eric reasoned. It's not like he hadn't planned on the Palace in order to be found out. Granted, he wasn't planning on his mother actually being there. But it could just work out. Oh, who was he kidding? Visions of just how large a scene his mother might cause drifted through his consciousness. He grabbed his phone and began typing furtively. He pushed send and then looked up. The looks his siblings faces told him he was too late.

"I'm sorry I'm late,' Damien lounged a hand on the back of Eric's chair. "I forgot how long it took to make oneself presentable."

Eric chanced a look behind him. His breath caught. His boyfriend looked far more than presentable. In his usually sloppiness it was easy to forget that Damien's upbringing had been nearly as wealthy as Eric's own; In a black Armani suit with cheeks freshly shaved, cologne in place and hair gelled just so it impossible to miss.

"Here," Lily returned with a full hand. She passed one glass to each of the table's occupants, stepping easily around the handsome stranger.

Damien took one look at the older blonde woman, and then smiled at Eric. The family resemblance was obvious. Once Eric saw just how happy his boyfriend looked, guilt was added to the pre-existing distress. Lily turned and went to move around Damien, but the young man stopped her. "You're Lily," Damien was very nearly giddy. "Lily Van der Woodsen. I've heard so much about you. It's so nice to finally meet you," He put a hand out.

"And who are you?" Lily asked, eyeing the young man up and down.

Damien's smile dropped along with his arm. Eric took a deep breath and started to count to three. He could do this, he could, he could.

In the end he didn't get the chance to.

"He's my date," Serena offered up with a wince.

"Your date?" Dan and Lily asked in unison. They looked at each other, and then both waited for the blonde to confirm the detail.

"Yes, he's my date." Serena offered the confirmation in a stronger voice.

"Then I guess this is your seat," Dan spat out, standing abruptly up.

"Dan!" Serena put a hand up to touch her exes arm, but he had already started for the door.

"I'll go," Blair told her friend and followed Humphrey.

"So you're Serena's date," Lily repeated in surprise.

"Apparently," Damien said between thinned lips. He put his hand back out, "Damien Allenby."

"Have you been dating long?" Lily asked as she shook.

"First date," Damien shot a glare at Eric.

Chuck leaned back in the chair, watching the disaster unfurl. He put his hand up and waved a waitress over. "I think I'm going to need a scotch."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – wow that was a long chapter, and very Eric-centred (not that I minded). I have some sad news to report though. I just started a very demanding job that requires a lot of hours out of work prepping so I'm going to be very busy. That means that my story might take longer between updates. There's about 3-4 chapters left now.

PS: Remember that we only have Chuck's POV about Bart.

XOXODanSerena – thanks :)

Chairforever – thanks :)

LaMiss – Chuck just wanted to put his newfound wealth to good use.

Puresimplicity – Thanks for the wonderful review. I'm not sure that Serena is going to redeem herself (or even if she can), but hopefully she took a couple steps away from being the monster in this chapter.

Midnight Sky – I absolutely love Eric. I really hope they amp up the friendship between Chuck & him in S2 because those two have such (platonic) potential.

Sky Samuelle – Eric finally confronted him this chapter. I hope it was believable and okay.

BRKOD – I like Nate too, but not as a center (though I'm going to attempt it for the sequel). It should be a nice challenge.

Up Next – The rest of the messed up date, the most messed up present of all time, and Chuck decides to put Blair to a test. Will she pass or will she fail?


Chapter 14: Chapter Thirteen


Chapter Thirteen

Do you hate me yet? You really shouldn't. I didn't convince Serena to do anything she hadn't done a hundred times before. Besides, she was so close to breaking, so close to begging that little Brooklyn charity case for a second chance. I knew that any second chance with him would be my last chance and I couldn't let it happen.

I need Serena, and not just for my plans though she's an impressive, if ignorant, accomplice. I need her because she's mine and I'm not going to let her defect to her newly purified life or her Upper East Side princess of a best friend.

That bitch has stolen enough from me.

Dan was a fast walker, and Blair had to run to catch up. Her three inch heels pained her with every step but she ignored it. "Cabbage Patch," she yelled out, then gave herself a mental slap. "Dan, Daniel, please."

Dan turned around but when he saw who it was, kept walking.

Blair ran faster, even though her toes had gone numb, and her heels were likely beyond repair. "Will you wait up," She screamed out as she reached his arm, pulling it and forcing him to look at her.

"Did you think that was funny?" Dan accused, wrenching himself free.

"What?"

"You and Serena. Did you cook this up to have a laugh?"

"No, Dan, you've got it all wrong."

"The only thing I got wrong was believing anything you said. I should have known a conniving bitch like you never tells the truth."

Blair stopped in her tracks, hands immediately finding their way to her sides. She arched one eyebrow, but forced herself to let the insult wash right off. "Damien was not her date."

"And yet that was exactly what Serena said." Dan countered with a flip of his hands.

"It's Eric's boyfriend," Blair explained, waiting for the information to make it to Humphrey's irate mind. When it did, the boy's hands dropped to the ground and he just stood. "Serena was trying to protect him."

"I don't understand," Dan said at last. "When did Eric get a boyfriend?"

"He started dating him a few months back."

"A few months?" Dan repeated in surprise. He had still been dating Serena a few months back, and she had never mentioned it. He shook his head once the insult was realized. Maybe he shouldn't have been mad. After all, what Eric did in his private life wasn't any of his business. It just proved one thing, apparently Serena and he hadn't been as close as he'd imagined. "I guess it wasn't worth mentioning."

"It wasn't her place," Blair reminded him. Dan didn't say anything in return. She could tell how fast his thoughts were running because the emotions played out over his face. "Dan," She spoke his name softly. "You once gave me good advice. Let me do the same for you."

Dan didn't say anything but he didn't turn away.

"Sometimes people have to run away from what they need to realize that it's also what they want."

"I see," Dan said, pursing his lips slightly.

"Does it change anything?"

Dan started to shake his head no but stopped. "I really don't know." Blair didn't know what to say. They were right back to where they had started that morning. "Good night Blair," Dan stared at her a minute and then left.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Damien moved awkwardly to the far side of the table. Serena smiled up at him, half in acting and half in sympathy. "Good evening," She tried. Damien bent down and, for the benefit of the table, gave her a chaste kiss on one cheek before taking his seat.

Eric tried to study his menu, but his eyes kept drifting upward. His boyfriend sat directly opposite, but he couldn't catch his eye. Damien was making small talk with Blair and Serena. His crasser tongue rife with colloquiums was traded for more refined mannerisms but the young man's cleverness remained. Eric needn't have worried about the impression Damien could make, he could play the part of an English gentleman to perfection. By the time the waitress came to take their dinner orders, even his mother was enamoured of the boy's dry wit.

"What would you like sir?" The waitress asked Damien first.

"I don't know," Damien looked down at the menu. "There are so many choices." The waitress waited politely as he flipped the pages back and forth. "I seem to have this strange affinity for chicken." He said with a straight face. "Perhaps you could tell me more about the chicken." The waitress described each of the different options while Damien paid rapt attention. "Which one simmers for the shortest period of time?" He prodded further.

Eric stopped trying to catch Damien's eye. Instead, he ran a finger up and down his own menu, hardly reading what was written. He really needed to put an end to the farce, but as the minutes ticked slowly away his window of opportunity shrunk. When the waitress turned to him, Eric had been staring at the menu for a good ten minutes, and still didn't know a single item. "And what would you like sir?" Eric put a hand to his head, and tried to remember what he usually ordered. He couldn't. He was drawing a blank on everything but his boyfriend's angry face.

"I'll have the special," he said, pushing the menu up at her.

When the waitress had slinked away, Chuck leaned over to whisper. "Why did you order the special?"

"Why not?" Eric responded, rubbing a hand against his eyes in frustration.

"Liver grilled in cod oil?"

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Dan stared across the table at his best friend. When he'd recrossed the River without even his hunger satisfied, he'd called Vanessa for a late meal and her usual brand of honest discussion. He was surprised to find her available. Since Nate's father fled the country, she'd clocked more hours with her boyfriend than anyone else. Dan had been so wrapt up in his own drama, that he hadn't realized how much he'd missed their chatter.

But now, with her sitting across from him, it was hard to forget. Vanessa balanced a slice of cheese pizza on her navy painted nails and Dan couldn't help but smile because she was so different from the Constance cliques. She didn't look like she stepped from a magazine, pristine and overdressed. You couldn't capture her in a magazine, in a photo or even in the movies she was so intent on making, because she had a vitality that you had to see to fully believe.

He'd loved it once, when he was younger, when life was simpler, when all the guys fell for the girl next door. It wasn't just a passing fancy though, because it wasn't based on raging hormones and spin the bottle. He had given his affection wholeheartedly because she was everything he aspired to be: intelligent, forceful, witty and charming.

And maybe he had attained some of those attributes, but never with the ease that they came to her. Vanessa was pushy without being rude, forceful while appearing polite. She walked the perfect balance and that fascinated him.

"Coming out isn't an easy thing," Vanessa explained. "And I don't think blurting it out over dinner would have been appropriate."

"True enough."

"My sister had a hard time with it, and my parents are so much more understanding than any of those snobbish ones."

"I just thought Serena would have told me."

"You could ask her why she didn't," Vanessa suggested.

Dan shrugged his shoulders.

"Listen Dan, either you want to be with her or not. If you want to try then you have to talk with her. I can't tell you her mind; even Blair can't tell you her mind."

"I know," Dan said, stealing the last slice of pizza. "I'm just not sure it I want to."

Vanessa could only sit at those words, realizing that he didn't need advice, just time to decide. Dan ate the last few bites through the silence, and then each tossed a few bills on the table and rose to leave.

Dan trailed his first love and wondered when life had become so complicated. Somehow even unrequited love seemed simplistic in comparison to requited love that came with a hundred strings attached. Or maybe it was just that world. "Don't you just wish things were simpler?"

"More than you'll even know." Vanessa said with a sigh.

"I just wish things weren't so difficult."

"Life isn't difficult," Vanessa contradicted, opening the front door. "People make it difficult. They debate, rethink, rationalize and twist their choices when it's unneeded. The first instinct is usually the true course."

"I think you're right," Dan said. He reached out and brushed a black curl from his best friend's face. She truly was stunning, not in a classical way like Serena, but she was dazzling all the same. Not that her looks had ever mattered that much to him. But she always had.

He leaned in, deciding to follow his first instinct.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric playing with his glass, pushing it from one hand to the other. His hands were damp, and he pretended it was due to the glass's precipitation. He had barely said a word since dinner began, though his mother had not noticed. She had been too busy sizing up his daughter's latest friend.

Oh, if she only knew.

"And where did you meet Serena?" Lily continued her interrogation.

"On the subway," Damien replied. "She was going to an art show with her brother."

"The war one," Serena reminded between sips of her coke.

"Wasn't that show in September?"

"Sometimes these things take time to develop." Damien explained with a wry smile.

Eric threaded his napkin and stuffed another bite of liver in. The need to suppress his gag reflex offered a bit of a respite. He couldn't focus on anything else when he needed to focus on not puking up his special.

"You've been in a city for a time?" Lily prompted further.

"Since the fall."

"And you are in high school?"

"I graduated last year."

"From?"

"Eaton," Damien admitted between bites of his salad.

"You went to Eaton?" Blair asked in shock.

"Yes. Considering how often my father moved homes, he thought boarding school preferable for my final years."

"And what does your father do?" Lily asked.

"He was a politician, now he is a bureaucrat working for the European Union.

"Ah," Lily said. "And are you in New York for university?"

"No ma'am."

Lily's eyebrows dipped a little in disappointment. "You are not in school at all?"

"I will be attending the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art."

"The Ruskin?" Lily's lips thinned.

"Oxford," Damien explained further. He turned his head before rolling his eyes at Lily's rapidly shifting opinions.

"And when are you starting?"

"I was to have begun there this fall, but needed to defer a year. I am in New York for work

"And what do you do?"

"I'm an artist."

Lily's good opinion dropped right off. "So you've come to New York hoping to meet the right people?" She glared at her daughter.

"No, I have a showing in a couple of weeks."

"You have a showing?" Lily asked in surprise. "Where?"

"The Grant Gallery?"

"You have an independent showing at the Grant Gallery." Damien nodded that he had. "How did you manage that?"

"Luck," Damien forced a smile. "I had a couple pieces featured at a gallery in London and caught the right eye."

"Apparently," Lily agreed. "So you have a patron?"

"You could call it that," Damien agreed. "The Grant is trying to reinvent their image; trying to prove they're on the cutting edge, and how better to do that then to showcase a young and ga...foreign artist?"

"Why would they care about showing a foreigner?" Lily asked.

"Well I'm really foreign," Damien arched an eyebrow. "I'm way over on the other side...of the earth."

"So are most of the pieces they house," Lily contradicted.

"That is true," Damien agreed, throwing his napkin on the table. He stood up. "If you'll excuse me, I need some fresh air."

Before the young man could make it more than a few steps, Blair put a hand on her boyfriend's leg. She suggested his movement with a single, sharp press of her manicured nails.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

The moment felt perfect; even with car horns honking in the background and a fine mist of rain covering everything. It was perfect; A perfect November day in New York. Dan leaned closer, touching his best friend's lips with feather lightness.

It was just a second before Vanessa put a hand up and very firmly pushed him away. "I'm with Nate," She reminded him.

"And you're not the cheating type," Dan reminded himself.

"No," Vanessa said, not to deny that she was the faithful type but to explain that it wasn't the reason for her refusal. "I love Nate."

"You love Nate?" Dan repeated in shock.

"I have been dating him for over six months." Vanessa rolled her eyes.

"Well, yeah, but." Dan put a hand to his lips in surprise. "You love Nathaniel Archibald?"

"Yes," Vanessa hissed in exasperation.

"Perpetually brooding," Dan had to wrap his mind around this. "Perpetually high Nate Archibald."

"Yes," Vanessa yelled. "God, why do I have to explain this to everyone?" Throwing her bag over a shoulder, she started to march down the street. Dan followed quickly, trying hard not to laugh. It wouldn't have been advisable. She was using the large bag tonight.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck emerged from the heated building into the rain-streaked street. He pulled his suit tightly around him, wishing he'd had the foresight to grab his own coat. His eyes scanned left and right until Chuck caught sight of Damien. The other boy was leaning against a brick wall, cigarette dangling between his lips. When Damien saw Chuck he smiled but it was with disappointment. Chuck walked over to him, matching his lean, and the position of his feet.

Damien held out his pack of smokes. "Do you fancy a fag?"

"Pardon?" Chuck asked in shock. Damien waved his pack of cigarettes. Chuck took a Richmond. "I take it you're not enjoying yourself."

"Are you kidding me? I love spending an evening playing straight."

"Don't be too hard on Eric. He's in a hard place. His mother isn't all that fond of surprises."

Damien rolled his eyes. "If I could come out with a politician father than he can come out with a socialite mother."

Chuck couldn't disagree.

Damien flicked his half-burned cigarette. It made a perfect arc before landing on the street a few feet away. "Listen, I'm going to bugger off. Tell Eric to call me later, if he thinks he can handle it."

Chuck could have tried to change his mind, but wasn't sure he should. Instead, he finished the cigarette, and watched the boy walk away through the swirling smoke.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair treaded softly across the hardwood floors, stopping only when she reached the wine cooler. She opened it and withdrew a bottle of champagne. After tonight's dinner she needed a little something to take the edge off. She grabbed two glasses and smiled at her boyfriend. She didn't ask Chuck if he wanted any, it was a foregone conclusion. "Well that was interesting," Blair said with an arched eyebrow.

"I told Eric he should have told his mom." Chuck rested a socked foot on the coffee table. "I actually feel sorry for his little boy toy."

"Excuse me," Blair froze in shock, champagne bottle dangling precariously in the air. "You feel sorry for someone?"

Chuck shrugged his shoulders. "No one wants to be a secret."

Blair shook her head, understanding what his words referred to. She finished pouring the champagne and then returned the bottle to the fridge. "Well," Blair sashayed across the room to her boyfriend, filled glass in hand. Once she reached Chuck, Blair sat across his legs, and held the glass to his lips. "You'll never be a secret again."

Once Chuck had taken a sip of the champagne he refocused on her. She was staring at him with those soft, delicate eyes; the eyes that always followed his little glimpses of humanity. He couldn't even control his tongue anymore. Everything seemed to come so easily, and he didn't like it one bit. So he kissed her: roughly and urgently. He kissed her until her eyes were tinted with a different affection entirely. She wrapped her fingers in his hair, but his own hands slipped further south. They ran along the line of her pantyhose until she slapped them away.

"Blair?" He murmured into her ear.

She stood up, and his murmur turned to a moan. "I have something for you," She admitted, and his moan turned to a more pleasant sound. "I'll be right back," She promised and then disappeared into the bathroom.

Chuck inched himself back until his shoulders hit the ornate wood headboard. He slipped a pillow behind his head and waited. Then he noticed Blair's phone on the bedside table beside his own. He stared at the red blackberry, the good and bad sides doing battle. Then, he grabbed it and pressed the small black button on top. He held it until the screen went black, and the replaced the phone. There was a moment of guilt, but it vanished with Blair's return.

She was wearing a stunning piece of black negligee; a jewelled bra and panty set that was overlay in a clear, gauzy fabric. Chuck stared at her, and his thoughts strayed from their typical path. There was something about her that he couldn't quite place. She looked different and yet the same. Then she did a spin and his first thought was replaced with a thousand far less moral ones.

"It's perfect isn't it?" Blair said. Blair walked over to the bed, and held the wispy fabric out. He noticed them then. On the sheer flaps were hundreds of tiny beaded butterflies. "I was going to wear it in a couple weeks, but I couldn't resist."

"Some things can't be resisted," Chuck said, smirk overtaking. He interlaced her fingers between his, drawing her closer. Once she was in front of him, he brought the hand to his lips, kissing each finger in turn. Then he turned it, and pressed his lips to her wrist, not withdrawing until he could feel the pulse beneath.

It was late in the night before Blair noticed her phone had been tampered with. She glared at Chuck through the midnight light but then she noticed something. He was sleeping softly, his face serene and calm. It was a way he hadn't slept in weeks. Blair never turned the phone back on; instead she returned it to the side table and wiggled underneath the covers. Burying her head between Chuck's shoulder blades, she wrapped her arms around him and fell asleep.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Across town, Eric stood impatiently at Damien's front door, not nearly as assured of his welcome as Blair could always be. He shifted a bundle of flowers to his left hand, and knocked firmly. Damien opened the door a few moments later, stale cigarette smoke and paint fumes greeting him. He leaned against the door and eyed the buds in disgust. "You bought me flowers?" He spat out.

"It was my brother's suggestion," Eric said simply, tossing them in the general direction of the kitchen counter. "This was mine." He tossed a few CDs to his boyfriend. Damien put his hands out just in time to catch them. He flipped from one to the next, head shaking in what could have been appreciation. "So am I forgiven?"

"Give me a minute," Damien replied flipping through the last few. A smile appeared when he turned the last. "Only if you stay while I play this one." He said, holding it up.

"I'm all yours," Eric promised.

"If only that were true," Damien contradicted. Before Eric could offer an apology, the other boy waved it off. "I had a good time."

"Was it the conversation or the date?" Eric asked.

"The look on your face," Damien explained with a mischievous smirk.

"My mom advised Serena to ignore your phone calls in future." Eric smirked right back.

"Really?" Damien mocked. "And I thought our first date was going so well."

"Until you ran away and skipped out on the bill."

"Is it the New York custom to actually pay ones bill then?"

"Is the London custom not to?"

"Perhaps," Damien turned from the CD player to raise an eyebrow. "Though in London it is not the custom to play musical dates."

"I am sorry."

"Don't be sorry," Damien said, pressing play. "Just tell the truth."

"I'm trying." Eric promised to an incoming guitar riff.

"You're running out of time." Damien countered without a shred of his usual playfulness. He was dead serious.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

It was the two days later before Serena caught sight of Dan again. She watched him walk across the school courtyard. He ambled with short, quick strides that bumped his bag across his knee with each step. She'd been studying him since the day she let him go. It was her way of keeping him close. At times she had caught him looking across at her, watched him watch her and wondered if he looked for the same reason. Outright ignoring had been passed over for glances that were at time cold, and at others lingering. She wasn't sure she preferred the lack of definition. There was comfort in the consistency of callousness. Serena had attempted to call but he never answered, had attempted to talk but he was always in a rush to escape her. Yet she would catch his eye, across the courtyard, at the front after school and he wouldn't turn away. She promised herself that she would try harder, speak more frankly but she'd never had to work at anything. Everything had always come to her, and she had never worried about nor craved that which did not. Now she did.

She didn't even know how to start, how to try. And based on everything she had done, she wasn't sure she had the right to. But the other side of her knew she would never forgive herself if she let the opportunity pass. Serena picked up her pace, nearly skipping across the cobblestone. She darted past several younger students, not slowing her pace until she was beside Dan.

Dan turned instinctively but when he saw her flowing blonde locks he turned away again. She stood and waited for him to walk away. He didn't, so she studied his profile; his cheek bones and sharp nose. "I'm done with all of it." She promised to his side.

"With me?" Dan turned at last.

"With everything else."

He didn't say anything. He'd heard it before, from Blair's lips and it didn't seem any truer this time around.

"I don't want to be done with you," Serena admitted, eyes dropping down. "But I will be if that is what you want."

"How can I trust you?" Dan asked.

Serena stared into his brown eyes and wondered how he could. "That life no longer attracts me."

"Until it does again," Dan snorted out in disbelief.

"It doesn't attract at all,' Serena said stronger.

Dan put a hand through his hair in agitation. "I need time." Serena nodded; she had no cause to push or to expect. He nodded absently in return, touched her hand briefly and then walked away.

As she watched him leave, Serena could feel little pin pricks up and down her spine. At first she thought it was her fears, but then she realized it was a set of eyes boring into her back. When she turned saw something that turned her blood cold. Georgina was standing a few feet away, and from the look on her face had heard every word. Her blackened lids stared straight through her, empty and callous. For the first time she saw what everyone else had always known and the sight scared her through.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck gave his locker a kick, and tried the combination again. He needed to replace the lock; it always got stuck on the last number. It was just another thing to slip his mind.

"So I heard Serena had a date last night," Nate said casually, opening his own locker with ease. He tossed his notebook to the growing pile on the floor, and dug around until he found his lacrosse stick.

"Yes indeed," Chuck said with another kick. "Someone you meet before."

"Oh?" Nate closed his locker but stayed beside it. "I bet it is that guy from Unity."

"Try again," Chuck smirked, almost cheering in success as his locker opened. "Does the name Damien ring a bell?"

"Damien!" Nate laughed aloud as something dropped from Chuck's locker. Nate bent down to pick it up for his friend, but Chuck moved faster. Chuck chanced one look at the writing, and then quickly stuffed it into his pocket. "So how does Eric feel about sharing?" Nate asked as Chuck retrieved the cleats from his own locker.

"He'll share almost anything," Chuck admitted. "Just don't touch his camera."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

It was after dinner by the time Chuck returned home. He'd spent hours at the library after practice. It was under the pretence of studying, but in truth it was to avoid the temptation that going home would have offered. But the temptation could not be avoided now. He lay on his bed, cradling the small jump drive between his fingers. He passed it from finger to finger, studying the printed sentence, and all the possibilities it opened.

C.

Now that you know the story, it's time to remember the ending.

G.

Chuck weighed him options, attempted to decide on a course. He ought to have thrown it away the moment he received it. Even sitting there now, he didn't even know the basis of the debate, or why he was opening his laptop rather than crushing the metal between his fists. Only one idea reverberated as he slipped the jump drive in; he needed Georgina to not be that crazy.

He didn't get his wish. Georgina was utterly and fully psychotic and Chuck knew it from the first frame. Even though the focus of the photographer was a small oriental couple in front, Chuck could easily pick his mother out from the crowd. He recognized the pink floral print dress that floated around Misty's ankles. He didn't know why he remembered such an insignificant detail, but he did. He remembered a lot of insignificant details from that day. He remembered how tightly she had hugged him even though he was eleven years old and found the whole situation embarrassing. He remembered how she'd fussed over him even though he was old enough to fuss over himself. How she'd made sure he wore his scarf, even though spring had sprung and the days were growing warmer. How she'd told him that she loved him right in front of Nate, even after they'd talked about that a hundred times.

He really should have known.

He waited until Misty climbed the first metal rung, until his breathing grew so shallow that it stopped entirely. He slammed the computer shut, pulling the jump out with such force that it sailed across the room. He waited for the rush of adrenalin to pass, his heart to stop racing, for his chest to expand, for his breathing to return.

It didn't.

He couldn't breathe at all. It felt like he was being smothered. He tried to breathe harder, deeper but the room started to spin. He tried to stand up, but he couldn't walk, and instead collapsed at the foot of the bed.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – I'm sorry that this is shorter and later than normal (only got through half of the plan). I'm also sorry to say that I'm not going to be able to update probably until the end of the month. I am very busy right now and I don't have the time to dedicate to writing extracurricularily (in fact this chapter is rather weak but I wanted to post something). I promise to finish when I have the time and I promise to write a sequel when I have the time.

For those of you that were interested in a sequel spoiler, I can't write much now as it will spoil the rest of this story, but I will say this: It concerns the last half of their senior year and it will focus heavily on Nate, Blair, Chuck, Dan, Serena and Vanessa. It starts with only one couple (who will remain unnamed until the epilogue), but any pairing between those six will be fair game. (Greatest emphasis from a narrative point of view on Nate, Blair and Chuck). It will include such things as a road trip, prom, a retake on the lost weekend, a short but significant film, a ring, a letter, some rekindled romances and an overdose and bout of alcohol poisoning just to stir things up :) Oh, and a blink and you'll miss it cameo from Jenny.

puresimplicity – thanks for the incredible review. "has this been mentioned? or are you just alluding to something further down the track?" This will come out in the sequel. Most of C's storyline in the sequel concerns the Basses. And yes, Georgina arranged for Lily to attend dinner. How did she do it though? That you'll have to guess on your own.

Blood Red Kiss of Death – I'm glad you like Eric. I do too, he's such a kind character. I just wish he got more to work with on the actual show.

XOXODanSerena – Serena loves her little brother. That's why she did it, but she probably should have thought it through more.

Se1ge – There are tons of plays on the idea of first in this story. You can also add first family for Chuck because that's a big first he can't forget no matter how much he wishes he could. I agree that you should be concerned about Blair. Once this is all over she will be very drained and lost. Right now she's kind of in the background (from a narrative point of view) and we don't see it, but in the sequel she'll be back in the spotlight. Don't ever worry about blathering. I actually print out comments to read obsessively. It helps me get motivated to work through writer's block.

CBforlife – Lily should know. It's kind of the one thing you have to suspend your disbelief and accept.

delphin – I love Eric. If any of the GG writer's are listening, just give me more Eric (sans Jenny, she irritates me).

Cimriel – Thanks so much for reviewing. I hope you liked the bit of an up B&C had here.

candyapples – there will be some more NS, but right now there's the issue of Nate still dating Vanessa (and she loves him).

Sky Samuelle – thank you for the incredible review. I have your two chapters saved to disk to edit over the next few days. I'm trying to get all my stuff done but I'm swamped and working 14 hour days right now at work. So 14 hour work days + cooking, cleaning almost no time for myself. But your new chapters are awesome :)

PS: There will be more VC interaction in GRG – it seems that only you and I get the beautiful snarkiness that those two possess.

anablake – thanks for the wonderful reviews. If the home video is creepy, then what does this video earn?

Erica – I'm sorry you don't like my interpretation of Serena. I don't dislike her at all, but I'm not as sympathetic with her as others might be. I think that she needs to learn from her mistakes. It's not about having been a drunk (though I don't like drunks or drug addicts and wouldn't want to romanticise that or make it out to not be a big deal), it's about the way she hasn't really had to stand up or make reparations for her mistakes. She is a selfish character to me, though I don't think she willingly is like Chuck. I think she's a nice girl who is used to being the center of the world, who is used to getting everything she wants, and without even truly realizing it she just expects to be the first, to have the best. I don't think she's bad because I don't think she's wilful in the mistakes she's made. And that will come clearer through a couple genuine conversations she will have towards the end. Are these negative traits exaggerated here? Of course, they need to be to make the story progress but I would never go so far as to say I didn't like Serena. If I didn't like her I wouldn't take her on a journey, I'd just send her off somewhere like I do Jenny (who I genuinely don't like). I would say that if it bothers you a lot then this is not the story for you because Serena isn't going to redeem herself in the second part. She will take steps towards it, but it's really only through the next book that she gets where I think she needs to go. I'll happily defend my take on Serena if you'd wish. Just ask me.

Up Next – Smack down at Constance, Chuck buys a ticket…where you going? One way or return? Blair or no Blair?


Chapter 15: Chapter Fourteen


Chapter Fourteen

Do you hate me yet? You should be congratulating me. Do you have any idea how hard it was to attain that little slice of history? Besides, Chuck told me to do my worst. What was he expecting? Red roses and a dozen chocolates?

But it wasn't my worst! It wasn't even close.

Chuck laid his legs out straight, leaning against the rumpled navy bed skirt. Through the fog of the rapidly darkening room, Chuck could see a pair of loafers coming closer and could hear a familiar voice calling his name.

"Are you alright?" Eric asked though the answer was obvious.

"I can't breathe," Chuck said, momentarily surprised that he could still speak. Eric ran to the kitchen and slammed through cupboards until he found a paper bag. Rushing back to Chuck he handed it to his brother, and ordered him to breath into it. Chuck fumbled through the task but followed his brother's instructions. After a time, his pulse slowed, and the room stopped swaying. Chuck looked up at his brother, giving him a nod in thanks. "How did you know what to do?"

"Patty," Eric explained with a satirical grin. "Room 62." Chuck shook his head to show that he didn't follow. "Patty Panic Attack," Eric said with a smile, "The Ostroff Centre."

Chuck closed his eyes and slammed his head into the mattress. "Fucking great," He mumbled "I belong in Ostroff."

"You could have my old room," Eric suggested. Chuck didn't open his eyes, but simply lifted one arm and offered his brother the universal salute. Eric dropped to the carpet beside him, drawing his feet beneath him to sit cross-legged. "Are you going to tell me?"

"There's nothing to tell", Chuck insisted, but the effort was feeble.

"This is serious," Eric said with all humour abandoned. Chuck opened his eyes and faced his younger brother. He shrugged his shoulders and then with a lazy finger pointed to the corner of the room. The jump drive sat on the plush rug. When Eric stood up, Chuck put his head back against the bed. He felt exhausted. Maybe that's why he let Eric leave the room, knowing he would see what even Chuck hadn't dared to. He buried his head deeper, turning it to the side until the cold sheets turned hot underneath his cheek.

Eric came back a few minutes later. By then Chuck had to force his eyes open. The younger brother was pale-face and Chuck guessed that his brother had watched the video to its conclusion. "I always knew video existed," Chuck admitted "but…"

"You need to show this to Bart."

"Are you crazy?"

"Okay, maybe not Bart. Lily or Serena?"

"No way."

"Chuck, the girl is nuts. You need a restraining order or something."

"No, this is going to stay between us."

"Chuck…"

"You don't understand," Chuck eyed his brother. The last flutters of dreariness were abandoned. His features were set to a firm line and his words uncompromising. "The pity that everyone shows, the endless whisperings of "poor Charles, did you hear what happened to his mother". It's like being smothered alive. Everyone side-steps, everyone sympathizes, no one really cares. I can't go through that again."

Eric's own resolve weakened because the truth was he knew exactly what Chuck was describing. He remembered how everyone had treated him with kid gloves, fearing and pitying in equal measure. It's why he'd been drawn to Chuck, because he was one of the few people who remembered that Eric was still a person, and not some hollow, empty shell that would break with a single harsh word. "Fine." Eric agreed.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena clicked her heel nervously against the floor of the family limo. Chuck sat across from her but Eric was absent, taking with him his well honed intermediary skills. Her brother had begged off this morning, claiming he had work to perform at home and a morning spare to allow it.

"Stop," Serena yelled out, digging madly through her book bag.

"What is it?"

"I've forgotten my math text," Serena muttered and yanked the door open. She hurried through the lobby, knowing how agitated Chuck would grow in her absence. This fact only heightened her frustration as she dug idly through her room, throwing notebooks and shoes aside in an ineffective search.

Once her room was in a suitable state of disarray, and she had still not found her text, she walked over to Eric's only to find his room empty as well. She stopped curiously, staring at the perfectly organized space with a grunt of disapproval. It was yet another trait that Eric had inherited from Lily, and Serena had not. Lily Serena thought. If anyone knew where everything was it was her mother.

She searched through the kitchen, the study and even the dining room before climbing the stairs to the second level. She was about to walk into her mother's bedroom when she heard voices. Eric and Lily were talking, and the content of that conversation halted her original mission.

"Chuck doesn't want Bart to know what's going on, but this is so far beyond what I can help him with."

"I can see that. When you say he had a panic attack, do you mean he got very scared or he..."

Serena gasped and then put a hand over her mouth, hoping they wouldn't hear.

"I know what I'm talking about. He very nearly hyperventilated before I could get him to breathe into a paper bag. He needs to see a doctor."

"I have to tell Bart this."

"You can't," Eric insisted, his voice strong through the door. "He will never forgive me for violating his confidence."

"Can you tell me what happened?"

"I can show you. I just have to get my computer."

Serena darted quickly to the right as she heard her brother move towards the door. She hid in the music room as her brother passed, realizing that it would be too risky to stay for his return. Instead, she rushed down the back stairs and out of the suite.

Chuck had an earful for her when she skipped back in fifteen minutes later and still without her math text. He berated her for a time, but then grew bored when she failed to rise to the challenge. She couldn't. She couldn't stop staring at him.

She just might have been wrong all along.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

It was lunch before Georgina graced Constance Billiards with her presence. Not that her intent was to attend classes. No, a trip around the courtyard would be sufficient to realize her goals. Georgina wore a garish silk scarf around the collar of her uniform. The bright floral print classes horribly with the tartan Constance colours but her statement didn't concern fashion. It wasn't an exact match but the design was close enough to spark the memory. Chuck stared at it and at her. She was smiling fully, perfect contentment oozing from every single one of her pores.

"Chuck?" Eric gave him a slight nudge from the side, and when he didn't respond followed his eyes. Eric recognized it too, and put a hand out to comfort his brother but the older boy had already started across the courtyard. Eric ran after him, but Chuck had too quick a start and was in Georgina's face before intervention could be attempted.

"You stupid bitch."

Georgina turned her head to face her combatant, her smile stretching further at his insult. "Is that any way to talk to your peer?"

"You're fucking crazy."

"Really?" Georgina arched an eyebrow. "Because right now, you're the only one acting crazy."

Chuck gave her a shove, not paying mind to the group of students gathering. Eric tried to pull him back, but Chuck just pushed him off. He closed his hand to a fist, and then forced it open again.

"Maybe you are crazy," Georgina heckled him further. "Like mother, like son."

Chuck hit her as hard as he could, a sickening crack followed immediately by deafening silence. Only a split-second decision had turned a fist to an open hand, and a punch to a backhanded slap. The change didn't lessen the force, and the strength of his assault sent her flying backwards.

Georgina looked up at him from the courtyard tiles. Her lip was cracked and bleeding but that didn't startle Chuck from the moment. It was her fear, and her shock; neither was feigned, and both were considerable. Chuck looked from right to left, and saw the crowd of faces, all staring at him like he had just lost it completely.

He probably had.

Then he saw a more sympathetic face through the crowd and focussed on it. Blair was pushing through the throng of students, Serena in tow. Chuck couldn't move towards her, he was frozen on the spot. So he just stared.

"Charles Bass," A booming voice broke his concentration and realized his fears. Chuck turned from Blair to face an irate and undeterred Mr. Fraser. "Come with me," He ordered and Chuck chanced one glance back at Blair before he unglued his feet.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair moved to follow her boyfriend, but Eric put a hand out before she had taken a step. He knew that if Blair charged into the office, it would only upset the headmistress further. He said as much and the shorter girl acquiesced. Her anger was far from dissipated however, and when she moved to step by him Eric didn't intervene.

Serena put a hand out to help Georgina up and the older girl took it, heaving herself up with feigned difficulty. Once she was on her feet, Georgina opened her compact to study her bloodied lip. She didn't get the chance before Blair snapped at her. "What did you do?"

The crowed turned closer again, expecting the show to continue.

"Nothing," Georgina said clearly, not even looking up from the small mirror.

"What did you say?" Blair said, using a hand to slap the compact from Georgina's hand. It hit the ground with a crack, and skidded several feet away.

"I have no clue," Georgina said. She stood up straighter, trying to use the height advantage to intimidate the smaller girl.

Eric doubted that Blair could be intimidated, but he wasn't about to take the chance. He snorted at their side. "I do."

Georgina turned to the boy, her eyes dark with pure hatred.

Eric met her gaze, eyes as dark and unflinching. Georgina had to force her face to relax into a casual glare. "Maybe you could enlighten me," She suggested.

Serena spoke for the first time. "I'd like to hear this too."

Georgina smiled, assuming that Serena had once again taken her side. That was until she truly looked at the blonde and realized her friend didn't look all that friendly.

Eric looked to Serena, to Blair and last to Georgina. He could have explained it, but not without the information he'd sworn to keep private. The same information he had already leaked once that day. Still, there was a significant difference between confiding in his mother, and blabbing to a courtyard of interested observers. His shoulders slumped as he realized he couldn't explain things and still maintain Chuck's trust. "She's crazy." He said weakly.

"I've heard that already," Georgina reminded the younger boy.

Eric saw Serena turn away in disgust and he assumed that he had lost her again. He threw his hands up in defeat and stalked angrily away. Serena turned to her green eyed friend but Blair was not as easily persuaded. She followed the younger boy.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck stared across the familiar oak desk, his foot jumping idly against the lush carpeting. The headmistress had been making notes in his file for several minutes, and Chuck knew it was serious. He had never seen Mrs. Queller make notations in his file. The heads of school usually reserved that for after the conference, when they had full attention to devote to the task.

"Is there anything you'd like to say in your defence?" Mrs. Queller asked as she set her pen down.

Chuck shook his head, eyes dark and chin jutted.

"Then I have no choice but to suspend you pending further investigation of the incident. You can gather your things now..."

Chuck listened with only half an ear while the headmistress noted the rules of suspension. He nodded his head when duty required it, but said nothing until the moment he rose to leave. Then he put a hand on the headmistress's desk, his entire explanation limited to one sentence. "That girl is psycho."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric used his larger frame to weave easily through the group of students that continued to loiter after the show's end. He was fully through when he heard Blair call him. He wasn't surprised. He'd expected it. He waited a few moments after he first heard his name and then turned.

Blair smiled at him, but there was no beauty to it; it was a serious, grave sort of expression. "Now you're going to tell me what you know." Blair ordered. Eric stuck his hands firmly into his pocket and shook his head. Blair wasn't impressed by the refusal. "I know she did something, I just need to know what."

Eric played absently with the cell in his pocket. "I've been sworn to secrecy."

"Surely that doesn't extend to me."

Eric shrugged. "Ask him."

Blair stared harder at him, waiting for him to flinch but he didn't. "I deserve to know."

"You do, but I can't be the one to tell you."

"Nothing?"

Eric withdrew his hand and pressed it to Blair's arm. He drew in close and whispered, "Ask him. I know he'll tell you."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Once Blair left, Georgina moved to retrieve her compact. She studied the broken shards with a huff of frustration and was about to throw the remnants into the garbage when Serena grabbed her around the arm. "We need to talk," She ordered. Georgina turned in surprise but Serena never let her arm go. Instead, she used it to manoeuvre the girl through the courtyard and into the junior side of the building. "What did you say to him?" Serena asked sharply when the two were alone.

"Nothing," Georgina said dismissively. "I have no idea why he decided to play ping-pong with my face."

"You're lying," Serena said firmly.

"Please," Georgina rolled her eyes "He's Chuck Bass."

"My brother might have his faults," Serena admitted. "But I've never known him to hit a girl; even when they hit first."

Georgina's eyes narrowed. She had noticed the use of brother even if Serena had not. "There's a first time for everything," Georgina said firmly. Georgina waited for her friend to accept her words, for the topic to drop the way anything serious did between them but it didn't. Georgina pulled her cavernous purse tighter around her waist. Speaking with as flippant a tone as she could muster, Georgina promised that they could discuss it later.

Serena watched the other girl walk easily away and wondered. Chuck wasn't the trustworthy type but neither was Georgina. It was like trying to dig through two respective lies to formulate a reasonable truth.

But she was starting to figure it out, just like Chuck had suggested she would.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck walked idly through Central Park, the late November frost crunching comfortingly beneath his loafers. He concentrated on the swirling of his frosty breath, and the slow waving of empty tree branches. He turned his entire attention to anything that would allow him to avoid focussing on his own thoughts, or the cell that vibrated incessantly in his pocket. After a time the frigid air preformed its miracle, his head stopped throbbing and his thoughts came to their proper order. He could have gone home then, but he wasn't ready. He missed school already, the traitorous thought so humorous that he couldn't help but snort in disgust. How many years had he planned his perfect exit strategy, only to discover he didn't want to leave?

Pulling the blackberry from his pocket, Chuck scrolled idly through the messages. He passed along a few assurances of his health covered as snarky remarks on the headmistress. Then he reached Blair's first message and all humour died.

C

I'm here if you want to talk.

B

There was such an invitation within those words. Chuck wanted to tell her everything, wanted to trust her. It was no doubt a symptom of butterflies and the flurries of love-coloured thoughts that encircled him every time she was near. He couldn't do it. He couldn't trust her enough. The trust issue was not specific to her, he couldn't quite trust anyone. It was a foreign, unattainable concept but it hadn't always been that way. He once trusted more than he ought. It survived the first violation, even hanging on from the second, but the third destroyed it completely. Trust was intertwined with vulnerability, and Chuck Bass couldn't stomach the lack of control that vulnerability wrought.

Though, if he was honest, it was more than just his general aberration to trust. He truly couldn't trust Blair because every time he had tried she had betrayed him. He had to forgive her because their betrayals remained a matching pair, but he couldn't quite forget. How he'd made one admission on a balcony, and she had flung it back on another dance floor. And then it had been so much less than what it was now. Then it had been a flurry of butterflies, but now it was terrifying, fully bloomed love, the sort that he had not felt in years. That he had not allowed himself to feel in years. If Blair could sink him as far as she had last year, then how far could he fall now?

It always came back to Georgina, and the psycho bitch knew it. Georgina's power was based on his own weakness. As long as he kept the past within, she could continue to hold the sole key to it; a key that she would turn and twist to turn and twist him. He should know better than anyone the destructive power of secrets. Chuck ran his finger up and down the number pad. He needed something, he didn't even know what. He needed some guarantee that Blair could help, that she wouldn't turn on him. He wanted just a brief glimpse into the future, some assurance that if he opened this door that she would help him to walk through it.

The phone rang in his hand, and halted his thoughts. "Mr. Bass," The familiar voice spoke through the phone. Chuck smiled even before the bank manager said the rest. "We have finished the money transfer."

"Thank you," Chuck said. He shut the phone, holding it to his lips. His instinctual smirk formed behind it. Chuck reopened Blair's message and hit reply. He typed only two words.

Maybe later

There was no 'maybe' in the equation. He fully intended to tell her everything if she could prove herself. He'd offer her a small test, a small measure of her devotion and concern for him. If she passed it then she could have everything. If she didn't, well, he didn't want to focus on that. He dialled the Waldorf Penthouse knowing Blair would still be at school. He tapped a foot until the maid answered.

"Dorota," He oozed every charm he possessed through the phone. "I need a favour."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

The late November days brought chill and early darkness. The last embers of light were dancing across the sky when Nate finally made it back to his locker. He balanced his lacrosse stick in one hand, and spun his lock with the other. He shot a quick glance at Chuck's locker as his own opened; a thoughtful glint passing over his eyes. His friend attracted more drama then a poorly crafted soap opera. In truth, they all did, but Nate had managed to escape unscathed for the better part of six months.

He laid the credit for that firmly at his girlfriend's door. Vanessa was such a stable, clear-headed individual that anyone who surrounded themselves with her was apt to make good decisions. She was not the most beautiful woman he had been with, but she was the sharpest, most creative, most trustworthy and most considerate.

And that counted for so much more.

His cell vibrated, and Nate leaned for a moment against his friend's locker. He hoped it was Chuck but doubted it. Chuck always played the disappearing card when he had troubles. It was Gossip Girl, and the message was directed specifically to him.

Spotted: Lonely Boy looking far from lonely, though someone should have warned D that V's bf is handy with a stick.

Nate didn't need to look at the photographs; he'd imagined the scene a hundred times. It was his worst fears come to realization and he had to lean more heavily against the locker. The rest of his teammates past by, casting him significant looks as they moved.

Nate threw the stick into his locker and made his way to the exit.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

There was a novelty to sitting in a travel agency. Chuck never had before. Why would he? His father owned his own private jet. Chuck hadn't flown commercial since he was twelve years old but circumstances made it the most appropriate choice. He stared at the artfully crafted posters that advertized exotic destinations and rolled his eyes. He'd been to them all.

He'd planned his escape for years, a thousand carefully sculpted exit strategies that he never implemented. He could now if he wished it. His funds were transferred and at his disposal. He had dreamed of being autonomous for years, in control of his destiny and able to abuse all his vices. Of course, when that moment came, he never thought he'd have anything to leave behind. Chuck stared at his hand as the agent checked availability, absently covering one nail with the other. He had Bart's hands; they were short and stubby rather than long and angular like his mother's.

Chuck would never fully understand his father, but he knew why the man had lied about his trust. Chuck might never forgive him for using it as a tool of manipulation, but he could understand why Bart didn't want him to have it now. Bart didn't trust him, and honestly, he hadn't really given his father reason to. Half of the time Chuck didn't even trust himself; he let his temper get the best of him, his darker urges control him, and usually pushed his life forward in a strange meander of rash and poorly thought out decisions. Why would his father want to provide another hundred million ways for his son to mess up?

Chuck had a choice. He could either fulfill everyone's expectations, and backed by nearly limitless wealth, amp up the casualty list in the running train wreck that his life sometimes resembled, or he could take a different approach. It was a choice he had debated all afternoon. He couldn't lie and say the idea of limitless travel, drinking and mischief didn't tempt. He was an anarchist through and through but he'd had a taste of the other life and it tempted too.

"Your travelling companion?" The blonde agent asked; acrylic nails working against the grey keys.

"Blair Cornelia Waldorf."

Maybe that was why instead of booking a solo trip, Chuck was booking for two and instead of booking a sunny distant destination he was guaranteeing rain in places closer to home. The reason behind it all was very simple. He no longer needed to escape, to hide from life, from love and from responsibility. This trip wasn't about any of those things. This trip was about a new beginnings and a new course. He was ready to start again, and what better way to do that then to surround himself with the people who had loved him all along.

The clack of plastic was replaced by the whirl of the printer and the blonde sprung to life. She manoeuvred her heft around the office equipment and within a minute held two small packets to her young customer.

"Your flight departs at 8:30pm Mr. Bass."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena could feel the tears well in her eyes but she forced them back. She considered staying in the cab; of telling the driver to turn around and return her home. She had to force herself to wretch the door open, phone still held in one hand, Gossip Girl still open to the damaging photos. She took three steps, and then snapped the phone shut. She had spent so many nights embroiled in her own conflicts that she had missed everything else that was happening around her.

She pushed the door open, eyes scanning the room for Georgina. She saw her at the bar. The girl was dressed entirely in white, the pale fabric offsetting her even paler skin and thick hair. A multitude of golden bracelets jingled as she leaned over to whisper into someone's ear. She pulled back, mouth rising into an uneven smile, eyebrows knitting together.

Serena's five inch heels cracked across the blue tile floor. The noise from the dance floor was deafening, but Serena's ears had long since grown accustomed to such environments. Georgina's had as well, but the other girl didn't turn when Serena called out. Serena knew Georgina was watching her approach from her peripheral vision but didn't face her until Serena was before her. One side of Georgina's lips had doubled in size, resembling a Botox experiment gone wrong.

"Georgina," Serena said evenly.

"S" Georgina's collection of necklaces glinted under the strobe lights. "How are you doing?" Georgina asked, false sympathy undermined by more evident triumph. "I ordered you a drink," She waved at the apple martini beside her. "I thought you might need it."

Serena took the seat beside her once friend. Her original mission and her confidence were replaced by a startling realization. "You sent that photo?"

"Of course." Georgina's smile widened at the admission.

"How could you do that?" Serena asked.

"I did it for you. Don't you get it? I would do anything for you, for your best interests," Georgina said. "Before you plan your white picket fenced future you should know what you're really in for."

Serena looked at her friend's green eyes, a slow nausea building in the base of her stomach. Georgina's words weren't comforting, they were unnerving; the way that her eyes stared without daring to flinch, a slow dance between oversized pupils and sluggish movements. Serena took a deeper drink, and tried to pretend the shift existed only in her imagination. "Vanessa has a boyfriend," Serena said.

Georgina didn't even cringe, but Serena did. "Guess she shouldn't be locking lips with her friend then." Serena couldn't even say anything; she just stared into her drink. "Come on; don't tell me you feel sorry for that Wal-Mart reject."

"I feel sorry for Nate," Serena took another gulp of her drink, not even wanting to look up at her companion. "And Vanessa is a nice girl."

"I'm sure she'll make a nice girlfriend for Dan," Georgina ran a finger slowly along the rim of her own glass. "It fits," She laughed, "water always finds its own level."

"No!" Serena yelled out, startling a few other patrons.

"Oh please! Are you still hung up on him?" Georgina shook her head is disgust. "You have to be stronger than that. You can't let some wannabe poet and his castoff wearing sidekick break you. Serena clenched her fist around the stem of her glass. Tears began to pool in her blue eyes. "Drink up," Georgina commanded, but it only made Serena push her glass away. "God, now you're being melodramatic. Drink up and we'll go find a party," Georgina tried again.

"No!" Serena said firmly, tears coming at full force.

"You're totally ruining your mascara," Georgina shook her head in repulsion.

The nausea reached further up her throat, and Serena knew it was because she was facing Georgina, seeing the girl's disgust at her genuine emotions. It was the total lack of sympathy she showed. Georgina's eyes were hazy, silently scanning the room, barely even meeting Serna's own. Then, if the thought wasn't bad enough, Georgina put words to it. "I'm not going to be your little counsellor. I don't do that. If you want to forget though," She raised an eye and touched her purse, "I'm good for that."

"I'm not interested," Serena grabbed her clutch. She stood up, wavering only slightly to the side. Georgina didn't bother to put a hand out.

"Don't you get it?" Georgina asked before Serena could slink away. "You're just like me."

"I am not."

"You love to play the Jekyll to my Hyde, but you're not any better than me," Georgina insisted. In fact, you're worse."

"How could I be worse than you?" Serena scoffed.

"I chose to do wrong but you can't avoid it. You bleed everyone who touches you dry and you don't even realize it. It's just what you are."

"That's not true," Serena snapped back.

"Did you tell Dan what you did the other night?"

Serena didn't admit either way.

"I thought you were all about love, truth and honesty. I guess it's only when it suits you."

"I am nothing like you."

Georgina rolled her eyes. "Tell yourself that, if it brings you comfort. But the truth always comes out in the end."

Serena stared into Georgina's green eyes. There was something in them, something in the way they arched, her smile twisted. Georgina shouldn't have been smiling, but the girl was smiling so fully that her white teeth gleamed in the strobe lights.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

"Mr. Bass," A silky voice greeted him home and he had to fight the urge to roll his eyes. It was an attempt at civility. His father had ordered him to use cultivated manners around the hired help. It wasn't even his fault that he'd barked at Amelia yesterday; she was the one who slide her hand up his thigh during the third course.

"Have you seen my stepmother?"

"She's in the study," Amelia answered, the edges of her lips spiking in an inviting smile. "Would you like an escort?"

Chuck had to suppress his laughter. He eyed the green living room and decided that being an escort was a career for which Lily's interior decorator was better suited. "I'm a big boy, Chuck dismissed her.

"So I've heard."

Chuck could only shake his head. He turned quickly before his entertained smirk gave the blonde any ideas. He knocked once at the heavy door and entered. Lily was at the desk, calculating sums.

"Chuck," she said, instantly rising from her task. "The school called."

Chuck froze by the door. He'd almost forgotten about that; it was going to make his little task harder. He waited for the obligatory screech of what were you thinking? Except Lily wasn't one to screech.

"Are you alright?"

Chuck's brows knit together in curiosity; he hadn't expected that question. "I'm fine."

"Really?" Lily asked.

Chuck sat himself in a nearby chair. He looked across the table at his stepmother and those familiar pricks of disgust danced on his spine. She looked so concerned. It was unnerving. "I have a favour to ask," He said, purposely ignoring her question.

Lily retook her seat, and kept studying him with those eyes. The pupils were trying to dig beyond his surface, and Chuck pulled his coat instinctively tighter around him, pretending rather than believing it could offer protection. "What can I help you with?"

"I need my passport."

Lily's face turned far less sympathetic. "Your passport was put in the safe for a reason."

"I realize that," Chuck admitted. After his little escapade last year, Lily had convinced his father to lock up all his travel documents. "And I'm sure that you realize I could easily apply for another."

"I know that." Lily laid her pale arm against the desk, her four carat diamond glinting under the skylight. "Chuck," She stared him straight in the eye. "You can't run away from your problems."

"That's not what this is about," Chuck countered. He took the packet of tickets and threw it on the desk in front of his stepmother. Lily opened them and looked up at her stepson. She nodded her head in understanding. "It's about wanting to be with family for Thanksgiving." Maybe he could have phrased it differently because he didn't mean the insult that his word choice implied.

"I'll have to speak to your father."

"I'd rather you didn't," Chuck countered.

"How can I trust that you don't have another flight booked? That you won't disappear entirely?"

"You can't," Chuck spoke. "I know it's a lot to believe, but I have never lied to you and that must stand for something."

Lily stared at him one more time, long and hard. She tried to sort him out, tried to figure his motivations but Chuck's face was too hard to betray any secrets. After a time, she stood up and retrieved his documents from the safe.

The leather jacket hit the desk with a thud. "I'm trusting you," She reminded Chuck as he took it between his fingers.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena could feel the chilly November air creep under her Dolce skirt. She should have worn the thicker tights. Putting a hand up, she waved at the sea of yellow taxis until she heard a voice yell out her name. When she turned and saw the familiar mop of brown hair, her hand dropped back to her side. "Dan?" She said curiously, not fully believing what she saw.

"I've been looking for you. I wanted to explain."

"It's okay Dan. I understand. We're not together; you don't owe me any explanations."

"But I do," Dan put a hand around her arm and forced her to stop. She could feel the butterflies at his touch, the warm of his fingers through her thick wool jacket. "Can we walk?"

Serena nodded her head and the two started down the sidewalk. After they'd gone a few hundred yards they stopped a small public garden.

"It didn't mean anything," Dan said. "I don't even know why I did it. I was so wrong, and not just about that." Serena shivered under the light dusting of rain. Dan immediately took off his thick wool scarf. He wrapped it around her slender neck, rubbing his thumb down her cheek as he did. "What you did for your brother was so selfless and so caring."

Serena could feel her heart jump as she watched her ex's brown eyes studying her.

"That's who you are. I've been so stupid. I've focussed so much attention on Georgina and drinking that I forgot it doesn't change who you are. You are loving and so considerate."

Serena bit her lip firmly. She wasn't so sure.

"Maybe I had to do something stupid to finally realize what I wanted." Dan put his hand to her cheek, smiling fully. "I want to be with you."

Serena had finally gotten her hearts desire but the declaration didn't make her smile. Georgina had been right. "Maybe I don't want to be with you," Serena admitted, not even understanding the words until they were out of her mouth. "It's too exhausting. You have such exacting standards for yourself and everyone else. Everyone has to be perfect but I'm not perfect and I don't want to be.

"We can work on it."

"I don't want to. I kept asking myself what made me do it. Why did I turn away from the person that I love? It's because I can't be who you want me to be."

"Serena," Dan shook his head. "I don't understand."

"Tell me you have no doubts," Serena said. "Tell me there is no part of you who isn't screaming that this is a bad idea."

Dan couldn't say anything because, honestly, there was a whole side of him that was screaming to run away.

"That is why we will never work," Serena said. They stood side by side for a time while realization took hold and finality crept.

"I..." Dan tried after a moment but Serena just put a finger to cover his lips.

"I know," She admitted and Dan covered her hand with his. He turned it lightly, kissing her wrist with reverence.

"Good night Dan," Serena pulled her hand free and moved to remove his scarf.

"Keep it." Dan said impulsively, tears already clouding his eyes.

Serena ran a finger along the wool. She should have taken it off, but it was warm and it smelled of him so she wrapped it tighter instead. As he turned to walk away she pressed her face into the thick plaid.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

It was an hour before Serena broke down and called Blair. By then she had drunk more than was sensible and was wavering between depression and collapsing on the floor.

"All I could think was that Georgina was right. I was so close to getting what I wanted, and in that moment I didn't care to tell the truth. I was more worried about losing my chance with Dan then hurting him in the long run."

"But you didn't," Blair reminded her. "You told him the truth.

"And I'm already regretting it," Serena drowned her sorrows with another shot. "Georgie was right; I don't have an altruistic bone in my body."

"Serena," Blair shook her head. "None of us do. We weren't raised that way. Altruism is for the poor and idealistic."

"I don't believe that. You've spent half my life helping me, helping Nate, even Chuck."

"Of course, you're my friends," Blair reminded Serena.

"It's not just your friends though. Chuck told me you've spent hours counselling Dan by phone."

"His neurosis is entertaining," Blair suggested with a roll of her eyes.

"Really?"

"I was trying to help you, not Dan. Lot of good that did me."

"You think I shouldn't have told him."

Blair arched a brow and considered. "I think you should have started your selfless pursuit on a less damaging point."

"Oh God, I'm so stupid," Serena moaned. She dropped her head right onto the wood bar, ignorant of the pain such an action caused.

Blair put a comforting hand to her best friend's blonde curls. She rubbed the girl's skull with extra care, fighting off gawking revellers with her particularly nasty glare. She truly felt for Serena, and didn't even blame her for indulging to her current state. At least now it was over. It wasn't an uneven teeter-totter forcing the blonde to extraordinary highs and lows. Blair tried to devise a way to drag her friend back up but before she could draft a plan her cell beeped.

Blair pulled it from her pocket and read the message from Chuck.

I'm ready to talk. Meet me at the Van der Bass suite.

"Let me take you home," Blair suggested. "I need to meet with Chuck."

"I don't want to go home," Serena mumbled from the table. She really couldn't face her brother knowing she'd failed so miserably in her original mission. She'd met Georgina to warn her off Chuck. Instead she'd gotten ravelled further in her own dramas. Georgina was right! She couldn't consider the feelings of another for more than five minutes.

"I'm not going to leave you here!"

"I'll be fine," Serena countered.

Blair blew the bangs from her eyes with a hiss of frustration. Sometimes her friend lacked common sense. She was face down on a filthy copper bar and Blair was supposed to leave her there? There's no telling what would happen if she did. "Let me take you home."

"I don't want to see Eric, or my mom or Chuck," Serena said, lifting her head just far enough to meet Blair's eyes.

Blair knew there was no arguing with Serena when she was in this state. She looked at Chuck's latest text message and typed a reply.

Can you wait a couple hours?

She'd barely pressed send when the reply came back.

It's a limited time offer.

Blair furrowed her brows in confusion. Blair eyed Serena and weighed her options. "I'm going to walk over there." She pointed to a quiet area by the bathrooms, "but I'm coming back."

Serena waved at her, and Blair started scrolling through her contacts before she'd left the crowd. She took a deep breath when she reached his name and then pushed send. "Nate," Blair grimaced into the phone.

"Blair?" The brunette could hear the question in his voice. They'd rediscovered a friendship after the events of the year before, but that friendship didn't extend to late evening calls. It was the tagalong sort, where both had new centres that occasionally brought them into orbit.

"I need your help," She said.

"Now is really not a good time."

"If I had anyone else to call I would have." Blair admitted.

She could hear him shift in the background, a soft feminine voice echoing across the airways. She waited patiently and was rewarded in the end. "It's going to take awhile, I'm in Brooklyn."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck smile when a purposeful knock cracked against his door. He didn't think she'd manage that quick a journey. "Enter," He said, not even trying to keep the smile from his face. Eric appeared from behind the door, clad in a black and grey chequered wool trench. Chuck nodded at his brother, smile disappearing.

"I was just about to go out but I thought I'd see how you were."

"I'm fine."

"Where are you going?" Eric asked when he saw his brother packing his duffle.

"On a little trip," Chuck answered with deliberate vagueness.

"With Blair?" Eric asked when he saw the red bags nestled beside his brother chequered Louis Vuitton.

"We'll see," Chuck said holding two pink sweaters up for inspection. He decided on the cardigan and it joined the growing stack.

"You don't have to run away," Eric advised. "I'm here to help you."

"I'm not running away," Chuck rolled his eyes at the phrase of the day.

"I want to help take Georgina down," Eric said. "But I need your help."

Chuck snorted. "You don't think I've been trying? I've spent a small fortune on private investigators."

"You have?"

Chuck spun around, his face disbelieving. "What did you think? That I've been happily letting her screw my life over. I want her gone, but you can't get rid of someone like that."

"There must be something." Eric insisted. "Something so bad, or so humiliating, or so illegal that it would make her flee in disgrace."

Chuck paused, just long enough to prove to Eric that his brother did know something. The phrasing of his denial just awkward enough to prove that he was lying. Or at least it seemed that way, but for what possible reason would Chuck protect Georgina Sparks?

"What about her family?" Eric tried.

"Her father is dead and her mother doesn't care."

"That can't be true."

"Emma Sparks only sent her daughter to rehab because she nearly died. She cut her to the wolves years ago."

"There must be some weak link."

"You're not getting it," Chuck insisted. "You can't hurt someone who cares nothing for their reputation, for their family or friends, hell, even for their own life. The best you can do is hide and hope that they don't pick you to torture."

Eric could feel a little panic rise at the truth but he ignored it. "I'm not going to give up."

"Then you'd better hire a hit man because that's the only way to rid yourself of her."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair danced on her heels, eying the group of passing taxis in desperation. She checked her watch obsessively, wondering how many minutes she could leave Serena before the girl got into trouble. Then she caught site of Nate and waved a perfectly manicured hand in the air. The display was low class but she'd abandoned her pretensions days ago.

"Is she inside?" Nate asked when he reached her side.

"Yes, by the dance floor."

Nate went to move past her but Blair put a hand on his side. Her ex turned back and Blair took a deep breath. "Thank you."

Nate smiled. "You never ask for help," he admitted. "So when you do, I know how important it is."

"So if I were to ask for more help?" Blair asked with a slight nervousness betraying.

"What kind of help?" Nate slipped a hand into his Dockers.

"I need your help to support Serena," Blair admitted. "I can't be her rock anymore."

"Why?" Nate asked, though he could well guess the answer.

"Because it's ruining my relationship with Chuck. I can't keep trying to fix Serena's mistakes. It's the same mistakes over and over and over again. I need to be with Chuck."

"Why?" Nate asked again, still searching for the answer he needed to hear.

"Because I love him."

Nate felt like he'd been kicked in the stomach. He didn't totally understand why, since he was pretty sure he was in love with Vanessa. Maybe it was just the past. The decade that they had shared together couldn't be erased, and there was bound to be lingering feelings. But what were his feelings? It was all just a little too twisted; there were too many shades of love and jealousy competing to fix on one particular emotion.

Or maybe it was because it reopened a particular wound. When Nate had first read that Blair had slept with someone else he had been hurt, but had understood. He was not so judgemental as to consider it cheating, nor as dim as to not understand the reasons why. Maybe it was reasonable for her to give her virginity to someone else when he had been as careless with his. But then Jenny had told him who it was, and the hurt was swiftly replaced by an all consuming rage. It wasn't just about the betrayal, about the fact that Chuck had violated their friendship or that Blair had turned away from who she had pretended to be. It was the two of them together.

In a way, the two had always been together. A thousand affections taking root behind a cleverly scripted insults and devious scheme. It appeared to be just friendship but Nate had always wondered. Where did friendship end and love begin? "I just need to know." Nate asked, preparing to rewrite history. "Was it always Chuck?"

Blair slipped her hand into his, feeling the familiar comfort in his rougher, stronger grasp. "I've always loved Chuck," She admitted, "But not in the way that I love him now."

Nate didn't figure out if he was relieved or disappointed. The impulsive hug Blair bestowed when Nate agreed to help didn't help to clarify.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck sat on his bed, watching the minutes tick silently away. He had given Blair sixty minutes to prove herself. The bar that she and Serena were at was less than ten minutes by cab. She could have made it six times over, he realized, easily doing the calculation in his head. He kept calculating sums, fractions of the hour, number of minutes or seconds. It gave his mind an occupation, and stopped him from becoming either jaded or sentimental as the deadline drew closer.

He might have been inclined to tarry, to ignore his original limit and simple let the minutes pass. He wanted to give Blair every single opportunity to prove herself, but then his phone flashed the last photo he wanted to see. It was a photo of his girlfriend enveloped in Nate's arms, and while he knew the explanation had to be innocent, it cracked the last ounce of his patience. He grabbed Blair's ticket off the bedside table and stalked to the bathroom. Leaving the phone open on the bathroom counter, Chuck took Blair's ticket between his fingers.

He twisted it side to side, studying the insignificant slip of paper; except it had much more significance than paper and ink. Then, he took the lighter from his pocket and he pushed it open, flicking a small flame with his thumb. He turned it on the corner of the blue packet, the small flame quickly enveloped by a larger one as the ticket slowly turned to ash in his fingers. He waited until the flames tickled his fingers, and then tossed the burnt remains into the sink.

He grabbed his designer bag and duffle from the bed, ignoring the other two. Tossing the smallest bag over one shoulder, he kicked his bedroom door open and left.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena handed the bottle of vodka back to Nate. It was all a little uncouth but neither blonde had pretentions of grandeur. The two were reclined on the Archibald family car, the driver having long since been sent away, a few hundreds to soften the journey. They were parked at beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. It was two o'clock in the morning, but that didn't stop the constant row of lighted dots across the bridge.

Perhaps it was a strange place to come, maybe even wrong but it suited their mood perfectly. Across that bridge lay the key to both their hearts, and on this side both of their identities.

"She said that Dan kissed her but it didn't mean anything."

"Sounds like it," Serena tried her best to be upbeat. It was too difficult after the day she'd had.

Nate just snorted.

"I'm sure she loves you."

"I'm sure she does," Nate took an extra long gulp of the acidic liquid. Silence prevailed through the air, if not in either of their thoughts. "Except she moved back here to be with him."

"But that was over a year ago. Everything is different now."

"She left her parents and started homeschooling," Nate explained further. "Who does that?"

"I don't know," Serena admitted over the bottle's edge.

"You can't just turn something like that off."

Serena wanted to disagree but she couldn't. She knew how much Vanessa had wanted Dan at first. Who knew what was in the girl's heart now.

"I just want to be with someone who doesn't have male friends. Or if they do then they'd better be five foot one and butt ugly."

Serena laughed so hard at the thought that she spewed vodka into the night air. "Are you actually worried about being the less handsome one?" She teased.

Nate couldn't help but smile at that thought. "Why did you do it?" Nate asked, handing the flask back. "I thought you loved Dan."

"I did" Serena admitted. "I do, but it's not enough. I felt like I spent our entire time together wavering precariously on the edge of the gap between who Dan wanted me to be and who I really am. I decided to jump in before I fell."

Nate shook his head in understanding.

"You think I'm stupid?" Serena bit her lip thoughtfully.

"I think you're brave."

"I don't feel brave," Serena gave a hiss of frustration. "I don't even know what I feel, or what I want or who am I."

"Welcome to my world," Nate teased, taking the flask back. "But seriously. You have no idea?" He asked in a disbelieving tone.

"I just want someone who loves me for me, not who they think I am or who they want me to be."

"You deserve that," Nate admitted through hooded lids. "Because you are pretty amazing just the way you are."

"Thanks," Serena said, smiling so wide that blonde hair fell into her eyes. Nate pushed them away. "You're pretty incredible too. I mean what other guy would spend an evening playing at a pity party."

"It's not like my evening wasn't headed that way anyway. Besides," Nate inched closer to her on the car. "You've always been important to me."

"You too," Serena admitted. Nate pulled her close and held her there. The two relaxed into each other and then Nate dropped a perfectly friendly kiss onto the top of her head. She smiled up at him thoughtfully, and Nate's lips trailed lower, kissing her nose with feather lightness. When she didn't pull away, they dropped lower still, planting a delicate kiss to her lips.

Her back arched into his, mouth opening beneath him. His arms wrapt tighter, inviting her to drown herself in his signature mix of polo cologne and marijuana. They should have stopped there, but then a bronzed leg drifted over his, and the rest was a matter of history.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – Thanks in advance to everyone who stuck with me through my sabbatical. It's looking like I'll be posting every two weeks. I can't do more than this because I'm busy all the time now. But we're slowly winding down the second story :)

puresimplicityXO – thank you for the wonderful review. I agree with your assessment of Georgina. She has no good qualities. She has no softness to her whatsoever, and while it might not all be her fault, she told Serena herself in this chapter that she chooses to be the way she is.

midnightsky – I hope that you forgive Serena a bit in this chapter, or you hate her even more for messing up NV (depends where your ships are, or if you hate cheaters like me…though that's more on Nate than S)

Wow, I can't believe you spent the whole night reading my stories. I think my ego just grew larger.

BRKD – so VN or NS? Which one shall it be? Perhaps the better question. Will any of the couples survive YCFYF? PS: Eric is in the sequel for sure! His storyline…you'll have to wait for that.

XOXODanSerena – I'm sorry in advance :) DS are done for this book. Forever? We'll have to see.

beachbumyeahh – I heard that Eric is getting more a story this season. I hope so! I want more Vanessa & Eric and less Jenny :)

Bassdorf – It would be entertaining to have G back. I always thought they'd missed the boat by not having her involved with C at all.

flipped – Wanna be Eric's hitwoman?

sailorcyanide – I love cliffies :)

Up Next – Where did Chuck go? And is he coming back? And is this the beginning of NS or just the death of NV? And what about Eric? He might just have had the key to unravelling G all along; he just didn't know it.


Chapter 16: Chapter Fifteen


A/N – this is not work safe (yes BYKoD, that warning is for you)

Chapter Fifteen

Do you hate me yet? If you do then you'd better reassign the blame. I'm not responsible for Blair being late, and I'm certainly not responsible for Chuck's absurd flights of fancy. Well, at least not fully responsible.

Blair stepped lightly into the Van der Bass suite, feet moving easily across the plush carpeting. It wasn't until she had crossed the living room that her momentary elation was replaced by tingling pricks of unease. The house was quiet and darker than it ought to be. Blair flipped her phone out, reading Chuck's texts as she walked; making sure that he had written the family rather than the other suite.

When she reached the kitchen she spotted a small crew of men working in the bordering hall. They were hanging paintings on the newly painted green walls. Amelia Blackcot meandered between the two, giving a few instructions but mostly standing back to admire the portraiture.

"Where is Charles?" Blair asked the blonde.

"He left," The decorator replied with a saccharine smile. "About half an hour ago."

"He left?" Blair asked the unease multiplying in little spasms across her spine. "Where did he go?"

"He had a couple suitcases with him," Amelia explained further. When the decorator turned, Blair was sure her blue dress floated on pure amusement.

Blair stood there for a few minutes, and tried to control her breathing. She opened her phone, and started typing as she walked the last few steps to Chuck's bedroom. She pushed the door open as her fingers wavered over the send button. When she saw the suitcases on the bed, she clicked her phone shut. She stood there a moment, studying the red lines of her travel bags, and noting the wrinkled sheets beside, where his must have laid.

The bile crept up her throat as the puzzle slowly solved in her mind. When the last piece locked the bile crossed the threshold into the back of her throat, and she ran. She ran for the bathroom, not stopping until she was before the toilet. She hadn't even purged. The response had been instantaneous, automatic and overwhelming. And she didn't want to do it again but she couldn't stop. Therein was the irony. She really couldn't stop.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena stepped into the moonlit suite, moving franticly across the pristine carpeting. She kicked her shoes off as she walked and tossed her purse on a nearby table. As Bart and Lily had taken the chopper to Toronto for the evening; there were no tidiness rules to placate. Serena threw her jacket on another table, a temporary coldness invading her senses. She knew it wasn't due to the weather, but her own thoughts. She had run from Nate again, already considering ways to prevent the fallout. How could she have done it again?

Serena considered waking her brother, even going so far as to tiptoe into his room. She looked for his lanky figure, but the sheets lay flat on the bed. Eric had taken advantage of his mother's absence to spend an evening across the bridge. He was the last of their circle with that privilege.

Serena pulled his door shut again and walked further down the hall towards her room. She could see the light on in Chuck's room and rolled her eyes, but then stopped. She really needed to confide in someone, and Chuck had grown considerably in the last year. Maybe he could offer her some snidely-worded advice. She pressed her ear to the door, because he was still Chuck Bass and one didn't walk unannounced into Chuck's bedroom. She heard it then; little, jagged sobs. Now that was a foreign sound for Chuck's bedroom. Not to mention the crier was clearly feminine. Serena pushed the door open, already guessing what she would find.

Blair was sitting cross legged in one corner, phone open and primed for redial. Her posture was strained, though her breathing was far better controlled then it had been a couple hours earlier. It would break in times, but was generally strong. She'd bypassed the earlier shock, and was now at a state of general grief.

"Blair," Serena crossed the floor immediately. "What happened?"

"He just left?"

"Did you guys fight?"

"No," Blair pointed at the bags. "He left on a trip, but he didn't take me with him."

"Then why are your suitcases here?"

"I think I was supposed to go."

"This is making no sense," Serena said with a flip of her locks.

"Eric told me that Chuck was going to take me with him, and Chuck kept texting me these messages asking me to meet him. That he had some stuff to discuss with me and that he really wanted to see me."

"Well that's great," Serena said, entirely missing the point.

"No it's not."

"I don't..."

"I was supposed to meet him but I was too busy with you," Blair shot out at last. She tried to keep the anger from her voice because she was the one who had chosen to comfort Serena. It didn't work.

Serena didn't run away, or cower, or try to explain her actions. She just stood stone eyed and admitted her wrong. "I'm sorry Blair."

"He won't answer."

"Do you want me to try?" Serena asked as she kneeled beside her friend.

Blair stared up at her friend in disbelief. Serena must have been drunk to even suggest it.

"Okay, bad idea," Serena said, shifting to sit cross legged.

Blair brushed the long brown hair from her eyes, and tilted her head back. "I'll try again later."

"Just let him be," Serena put a hand on her friend's arm. "You know that."

"I can't do it."

"Yes you can. You're Blair Waldorf," Serena reminded her. "You can do anything you want. Get anything you want."

Blair just shook her head. When had that ever been true? It was a while later when Serena tossed the designer bags from the bed and ordered her friend to get in. A few litanies of Mother Chucker later, and Blair agreed to surrender her phone. Serena watched her chocolate-curled friend drift into an uneasy sleep and contemplated.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Damien leaned against the breakfast bar, jeans rolled up to expose a set of leather sandals. They were the height of designer fashion only that spring, but had been relegated to glorified painting shoes, their rich black hue splattered over with every shade of the rainbow. Damien held two bottles of beer in his hand, and using the edge of the countertop, he opened each. He handed the first to Eric, and then sipped on his own. Eric passed the bottle from hand to hand, too distracted to even begin to drink. "Is she going to be okay?" Damien asked after a time, taking his seat on the covered couch.

"Who?" Eric asked blankly at first then supplied his own answer. "Blair? Yeah, she'll be fine. She's the strongest girl I've ever know." After another pass of the bottle, Eric took a sip of the sour liquid and then finished the thought. "I can't believe Chuck did that to her. I can't believe he ran away."

"Isn't he a bit old for that?"

"One would think, but Chuck Bass doesn't exactly excel in the maturity department. None of my family does."

"Even you?"

"Well," Eric spiked an eyebrow in amusement. "I like to believe I'm ahead of the curve."

"I'll drink to that," Damien agreed. "I must say that Chuck and Blair seemed pretty stable." Eric had to raise his eyebrows at that thought. "I mean, not in superficials but in deeper stuff."

Eric let the thought fester for a moment recognizing that he had to agree. Chuck and Blair had a definite connection that was lacking elsewhere. "It's not even about them. It's everything else that's happening around them. Long story..." Eric rolled his eyes.

"I've got nothing but time."

Eric stared at his boyfriend, watching in bemusement as the older boy settled himself on the couch, stretching his legs comfortably and finding a rest for his arms. He was prepping for a long chat and Eric was in the mood to start one. "It's my sister."

"Serena?"

"Yeah, on the surface she's such a fun, slightly flighty but she's got her own problems. She does drugs and drinks way too much, and Blair's always there to pick up the pieces." Damien shook his head, without judgement but with a genuine understanding. Then Eric remembered. "Your brother."

Damien nodded again. "Chuck told you."

"In passing. I had totally forgotten."

"I hope your sister stops now because it doesn't get any better."

"Is your brother really bad?" Damien just shook his head in the affirmative. Eric waited for his boyfriend to put the thought into words, but the older boy remained stubbornly silent. The moment passed into an uncomfortable pause and Eric shifted awkwardly.

"Even known a person who is dead but still alive?" Damien deadpanned. Eric couldn't respond to that. "That's what it's like. Once you see a paramedic stab your brother in the chest with adrenalin then you know what a total lack of hope is. Then you learn to distance yourself, because his heart might have started again but his soul never came back."

"I..." Eric let the thought die on his lips and took his boyfriend's hand instead. There were a few things he wanted to say, but everything sounded so insincere.

Damien laughed off his morose thoughts, a playful smirk returning to his features. "At least things would be simpler if I couldn't hope but it's that god damned human nature to hope and pray and wish. Tom is in rehab now; has been for well over a year now."

"That's good."

"We'll see," Damien shook his head. "We'll see if he can really change his ways."

"It must be hard?"

Damien took a cigarette from his pocket and ran it between his stained fingers. "Yeah it is. But he's still my brother, just like Serena is still your sister. In the end they're your blood and there's nothing you wouldn't do for them."

"Yeah."

Damien started at his unlit cigarette. "If you'll excuse me, I should smoke this on the balcony."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena was still firmly encamped in the covers when a servant woke her softly by announcing Nate's arrival. Serena's sole response was to pull the pillow tighter around herself in a childish effort to disappear. She knew the moment would come, she just wished it hadn't come that fast. She avoided it last time; had let her guilt push her to journey half way across the country to take up residence in boarding school. But last year wasn't this year and while she liked Vanessa, she never had been, and now, would never be a close friend. So Serena stepped softly from the bed, grabbing her bathrobe from where she had flung it the night before. She pulled it tightly around herself, and pushed the mop of blonde hair from her eyes. When she reached the end of the hallway she saw him. In contrast to her own appearance, he was brushed and freshly shaved. He wore a navy button-down shirt and khaki pants that suited him to rumpled perfection. In his hands he held a bouquet of daisies and Serena couldn't help but smile. For about thirty seconds she weakened because what girl didn't want a Prince Charming, and who was better suited to play the role then that tall, physically perfect blonde? Then she remembered that he was far from princely or perfect and while she was probably even further down the moral hierarchy, she didn't need to throw away the last few remnants of her ideals. "You shouldn't be here." She eyed the daisies a moment, "And you really shouldn't have brought flowers."

Nate looked at the flowers guiltily and then tossed them onto the nearest table. "I wanted to talk."

"I think it's better if we don't."

"So that's it?"

Serena shook her head.

"You can't tell me that last night meant nothing."

Serena took a deep breath and stared at her blond-headed twin. "That's exactly what I'm saying."

"There had to be a reason that this keeps happening."

"I act like a floozy when I'm drunk and you're not strong enough to say no."

"It has to be more than that."

"How's Vanessa?" Serena asked, willing to deflect the conversation to argue her side.

"Vanessa is doing well," Nate countered, his voice hitching a little over his girlfriend's name.

"Do you think it would stay that way?"

"I'm going to tell her."

"Why?"

"She deserves to know."

"Aren't you afraid of losing her?"

A familiar confusion flashed through Nate's eyes and he considered the thought. He was afraid of losing Vanessa, but he was also afraid of losing another chance with Serena. It was all a twisted knot that he couldn't make sense of.

"See."

"I just think that if we..."

"There is no we!" Serena insisted. "I will not be responsible for breaking yet another heart; or destroying yet another Nathaniel Archibald relationship."

Nate was going to argue, but then a movement to the left caught his eye. Blair stood at the bedroom door, arms crossed and eyes straight on her ex-boyfriend. Serena hadn't confided in her, but she hadn't needed to. The context of the conversation was its own conclusion. Blair just shook her head, and if Serena's bobble-headed protestations had done nothing to curb Nate's amour than Blair's peeved expression had, the disgust and the disappointment feuding for dominance. It might have happened once but did it really need to happen again? There was something else there too. Blair couldn't help but feel a twisted satisfaction in knowing she wasn't the only one. She hadn't been boring, or hideous, or just plain common. She hadn't been the problem after all. The realization that Nate was just too weak carved into her rage, tempering it with a bemused pity. It was those eyes that met her ex straight on: a mixture of rage and pity that froze the tall blonde. Nate winced when he caught her full expression, and any further enticements he meant to throw to the blonde died under the other girl's presence.

Serena followed Nate's eyes to find her best friend leaning casually against Chuck's door. "Blair,' she squeaked out.

To her credit, Blair did try to turn away silently. It really didn't concern her anymore, except even without the layers of history, everything that happened in the Upper East Side was her concern. Everything was worth a comment. So it wasn't surprising when the words still tripped despite her good intentions. "When I asked you to help Serena, I didn't mean out of her clothes."

"Blair," Nate tried conciliatory actions but Blair had long since returned to Chuck's bedroom. Her rule could wait; she just wanted to crawl back into bed. Nate turned to continue his conversation but Serena just shook her head, stopping the words before they could start. He waited an additional moment, bouncing awkwardly in his dress shoes and then retreated in defeat.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck lay back against the bow of the small canoe, watching the sun-streaked sky move in time to the boat's wavers. He shifted his bowler hat to stare at his chestnut-haired companion. She was nearly as tall as him, with legs that stretched a mile long and dark eyes that could rival his. "Are we there yet?"

"You could get off your lazy ass and row," Kathy spat, pushing angrily with her paddle.

"Menial labour is beneath me." Chuck countered, settling deeper into the bow of the canoe.

Kathy gave another angry push of the paddle, making sure to splash a few droplets on Chuck with the upward movement.

"That's cold,' he complained.

"What do you expect? It's November."

"I expect you to move your oar with better precision."

Kathy rolled her eyes. "Maybe I should use my hand," she suggested, dropping her oar beside Chuck's unused one.

"You never were that bright," Chuck said and closed his eyes again.

Kathy cupped her right hand and held it under the water. Once Chuck was suitably comfortable she brought it back up, flinging the salt water into his face.

"What the hell!" Chuck yelled, bolting straight up again. He brushed at his designer suit angrily. "You're going to ruin my clothing."

"Whoops," Kathy smiled evilly. I bet your reconsidering your wardrobe choice."

"Whatever."

"I mean, who wears Gucci to go canoeing?"

"I was too lazy to change."

"Bet you're reconsidering that decision now."

"Whatever," Chuck rolled his eyes, and settled back into the bow, pulling his bowler hat down over his eyes. Even with the sun shining brightly, it was cold as hell.

"I mean, you never know when a wave might hit."

"We're in two feet of water," Chuck reminded his female companion, not even bothering to open his eyes.

Kathy looked over the edge of the boat. "I think it's four at least."

"You would argue."

"So would you," Kathy retorted with an arched brow.

"It's two feet," Chuck said just because it was expected.

"Let's check," Kathy said, standing up.

Chuck's eyes shot open when the canoe started to rock. "What are you doing?"

"Getting a better vantage."

"Sit down."

"Don't worry," Kathy smirked. "Don't you remember all those dance lessons that Misty convinced my mom were great ideas? I have perfect balance." As if to punctuate the point Kathy climbed onto the narrow wood planks that served as seats.

"Just sit down," Chuck insisted, grabbing the wood seats in a desperate attempt to balance himself.

"Oh, Charlie, are you begging?"

"Kathy!"

"It's too bad I was never a great dancer," She decided and jumped onto one side of the boat, sending the canoe and its inhabitants overboard.

Chuck bobbed first out of the water; salt water running from his nose and mouth. He coughed a few times to clear his lungs. Kathy surfaced a couple moments later, swimming easily through the icy waters. "You bitch!" Chuck hissed.

"Oh, did I ruin your suit?" Kathy taunted.

"Katherine," her mother yelled from the shoreline. "Be nice to your cousin."

Chuck smiled smugly at the interference.

"Shut up!" Kathy retorted.

"I'm not talking," Chuck reminded her.

"And that's a good thing."

Chuck glared at her through his sodden bangs and then crafted his plan. He dove down into the water, quickly closing the gap between the two and grabbing his cousin around the knees. He lifted her straight up into the air and held her there.

"Let me down!" She ordered but Chuck just swung her from side to side over the water's edge. "Let me down," She ordered again.

"Are you sure?" Chuck asked first but before she could reply he threw her a couple yards, watching with a contented smirk as she landed face first into the water.

Kathy spluttered like a fish for a moment or two before she found her footing. "God dammit Charlie!" She screeched when she reached the surface.

"It's Chuck."

"Charlie," Kathy mocked in singsong.

"Chuck."

"Chaaaaaarlie."

"Do you want to go for another flip?"

"I'd like to see you try."

Chuck darted towards her again, but before he could catch her his aunt called out from the seashore. "It's time to get ready for dinner children."

"Yes Aunt Katie," Chuck called back, but he couldn't stop himself from giving his cousin another flip first.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair smoothed out the imagined wrinkles in her patchwork dress. She took her place at the Van der Bass table. Despite Chuck's abrupt departure the night before, Blair was still the invited guest of Bart and Lily. After the disaster of the year prior, her own mother had abandoned their Thanksgiving festivities. It seems that caterers and battling families didn't set the mood the way their complete family once had. Instead her mother had jetted off to the Caribbean. Eleanor claimed she needed to sun and surf but Blair knew better. She didn't press the issue. Instead she took her place amongst the candles, the piles of napkins, and the small seasonal vegetable display. Lily had outdone herself, but she had an even graver Thanksgiving to put behind her.

"Where is Charles?" Bart asked once all the other seats were filled.

Blair exchanged a glance with the rest. It was fitting; Bart didn't even notice his son's absence until a day later.

"He went on a trip," Lily replied as the others scooped their stuffing.

"Where?" Bart asked.

"He's with family," Lily said, then thumped the cranberry sauce onto the table. Maybe she was hoping the sound of one would cover the admission of the other. It didn't work.

"What family?" Bart asked, his eyebrows knitting together.

"The McFayden's."

Bart's expression darkened considerably, his fork immediately abandoned and his full plate pushed aside. "And how did he manage that without a passport?"

"I returned it," Lily admitted trying to hide behind her own meagre offering.

Blair and Serena exchanged a glance as Bart stood up. He didn't even look at his wife before leaving the room. Lily was left to stare at his proud posture as he walked, eyes trailing along the Thanksgiving feast. When the door closed and she turned back to the table, all other eyes were on her, accusation in their expression. "What?"

"Not a good choice." Serena offered.

"Why not?"

"When he was fifteen Chuck left New York." Serena explained. "To live with his Aunt Kaitlyn."

"But he didn't stay." Lily deduced.

"It was three months before I could convince him to return," Blair admitted, her expression growing progressively paler at each passing moment.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck lay on his aunt's suede couch, one hand reclined behind his head and the other hanging lazily from the side. His blackberry sat perched on his flat stomach. It rang incessantly, proving a soundtrack to the papers that Chuck was reading. At each ring, Chuck would shift the papers and flip the phone to face him. He would read the number and then let it drop back.

The other three in the room were far from amused. At the twelfth ring his cousin yelled. "Answer it or silence it."

Chuck moved to glare at her in return, but then he noticed his aunt and uncle's expressions. He was outnumbered. Besides, he'd always intended to answer it. "Hello Blair," Chuck chipped when the phone rang for the thirteenth time.

"About fucking time," Kathy yelled out.

Chuck glared at his cousin, waiting for Blair's response. It was slow in coming.

"Who was that?" Blair asked

"Does it matter?" Chuck rose from the couch, walking to a neighbouring office.

"Yes Chuck, it does!"

"It's my cousin Kathy."

"Oh, so you're..."

"With family." Chuck answered, standing up from the couch. He walked from the room, seeking a private corner to continue his conversation.

"Are you coming back?" Blair asked in almost a whisper.

"Is there anything to come back for?"

"Of course," Blair said. "How can you even ask that?"

"Then I'll be back."

"Chuck, I don't understand..."

Chuck shushed her before she could finish the thought and then took a deep breath to calm his nerves. "I just need time. A break to clear my mind..."

"From me?"

"From that life. Just give me some time and I'll be back. I'll always come back for you."

"What can I do?"

"Be there for me."

"I was trying."

"I gave you a chance."

"What does that mean?"

"I gave you an hour to meet me but you couldn't manage it. You were too busy with Serena and Nate."

"How could you give me a test that I didn't even know the rules to?"

Chuck couldn't answer that. He knew it was wrong, had known it was wrong in the moment but he had needed something.

"Are you coming back?" she asked weakly.

"I'll be back on Saturday; just in time for dinner."

"What does that mean?" Blair asked.

"That I haven't forgotten."

Blair let out the breath she'd been holding. It was going to be okay.

"But..." Chuck hesitated. "I don't want this to be some commemoration of the last six months. I want a fresh start, a new beginning..."

"Okay."

"And Blair."

"Yes?"

"You need to choose." He didn't need to mention names, the implication was obvious. Blair had to pick her best friend or her boyfriend, she couldn't dangle precariously between the two hoping to put them both right. Before Blair could respond Chuck hung up.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Bart paced angrily around his desk; having redialled Chuck's number five times before he threw the phone down in defeat. Lily slinked into the room,

"How could you do that to me?"

"The boy deserves to see his family."

"Do you have any idea how much his Aunt hates me?"

Lily shook her head. "Even if she does and even if you wouldn't want him going. Charles can easily apply for another passport. He's an adult now."

"It would have taken time," Bart replied. "I could have used the time."

"For what? You're barely speaking now."

"Don't you think I realize that?" Bart said, slamming his rolodex open. He flipped through until he reached the M's and then pulled the needed card. "Charles and my relationship is complicated."

"I've realized that."

"And bringing Kaitlyn fucking McFayden into it just makes it a hell of a lot more complicated."

"And why is that?"

"Stay for the live show," Bart pointed to the chair opposite his. He tossed his cell on the table and punched speaker on the home line. He punched the eleven digit number and waited. "Hello Kaitlyn."

"Hi Bart." Kaitlyn countered, twisting his name to a curse. "How are you?"

"I would like to speak to my son."

"The boy has a cell phone."

"He's not answering it."

"Then you should take the hint."

"He is my son Kaitlyn and I deserve to speak with him."

"You don't deserve anything," Misty's sister countered, slamming the phone down.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair put the purse into her bag and stood up, chestnut curls cascading down her back. When she looked to the door, Serena was bordered in blue. "Did you get a hold of him?" Serena asked.

"Yes."

"And?"

"It was okay," Blair admitted. "He's coming back."

"That's great."

"He sounds miserable. He said he doesn't want to be here."

"That's not your fault."

"It's Georgina's," Blair cursed, tossing her purse on the bed. "I need to get rid of her." Serena hesitated at the door and Blair hated her for it. "I guess you're not going to help," she deduced.

"I just don't know. I mean, how do you know he and Georgina didn't plan this?"

"Don't be absurd!" Serena bit her lip and dug her stiletto into the carpet. Her uncertainty was clear for all to see, and after a couple moments Blair grew tired. "What is it?"

"When Chuck came back from India, he and Georgina did some nasty stuff to his dad." Serena took a deep breath, "they pretended..."

"I already know," Blair cut the blonde off.

Serena was shocked. "When?"

"He told me in Seattle; the first time he tried to move in with his aunt."

"Then how can you be sure."

"Because I know him better than anyone else." Blair turned her cheek and stared into Serena's eyes. She had always known Chuck better then anyone. It ought to have been Nate, but the boy could barely see beyond his own nose. Serena had never cared enough. Eric was slowly gaining on her, but he didn't have the benefit of a whole history. That being said, no one could ever truly know Chuck Bass. He kept everything to tightly guard to ever be fully comprehensible, but of everyone she understood the most.

"I don't," Serena admitted. "I need some proof."

Blair rolled her eyes in anger. Snatching her purse off the bed, Blair stalked out angrily.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Bart slammed the phone back into its cradle and stared at his wife. She understood now, truly and fully. "I'm sorry," She admitted "I didn't know."

"The woman hates me."

"And why is that?" Lily asked with a raised brow.

Bart turned to her, ran a hand through his hair and then turned back away.

"Did you cheat on Misty? Is that why she..."

"What? No, I would never." Lily let out a breath she didn't realize she was holding, only to gasp against when Bart kept speaking. "But I know Chuck thinks I did. Misty's sister does as well."

"Why would they think that?"

Bart shifted uncomfortably in his chair, his expression kept neutral with greater force. "Let's just say that I don't blame him for thinking it." Bart played absently with his cuff link a moment. "I didn't exactly take Misty's death well."

"So why don't you just tell them the truth."

"I can't do that."

"Why not?"

"Because I can't explain the truth without revealing some personal details that Chuck shouldn't know."

"Can you speak plainly? Did you cheat on Misty or not?"

"I didn't. Misty is the one who had the affair."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

The McFayden dinner table was a more relaxed one. The house was still a mansion, and the offerings still beyond the means of most, but the atmosphere was casual with a total absence of trained staff. Chuck ran a finger along the edge of his scotch glass, realizing that as pleasant as it was to be away, he also miss the pretention and stuffiness of his own home. Still, as he eyed the amber liquid it was with no desire to drink it. That spoke of a different satisfaction. The kind he hadn't felt in years.

"Charles," His aunt floated into the room. "Call your father; I'm sure he's twitching with dread by now."

"Funny," Kathy smiled between mouthfuls of salad. "I didn't take uncle Basstard to be a twitcher.

"Kathy," Uncle Jack clipped from over the newspaper. "Don't address your uncle in that manner."

Kathy leaned over the table and whispered into Chuck's ear. "That's for your benefit; you should hear what my mom calls him when you're not around."

"So Charles, did you want to head into the city tomorrow? Maybe catch a game of racquetball?"

"Or tour the University of Washington campus." His aunt pressed, and when Chuck turned he could see her interested smile. He'd nearly lived with them once, and he knew Kaitlyn would welcome a second opportunity.

"Like Chuck has any chance to get into university." Kathy stated.

"And what school are you currently attending?" Chuck interjected with a sarcastic smile.

"I'm too busy modelling. I just got back from Milan last week," Kathy countered.

"As if that were the reason," Chuck retorted before stuffing himself with a slab of gravy-soaked white meat.

"And you're suddenly a Rhodes Scholar?" Kathy countered.

"Fourth in my class," Chuck smiled contentedly. The simple truth stunned the rest of the table into silence, and Chuck took another bite of his turkey. He didn't both to relate the details of his suspension. Some things weren't worth saying. Chuck didn't wait for them to recover but turned the conversation. "I have some business to attend to tomorrow," Chuck caught his uncle's eye and held it.

"Business?"

"Something that could use a more experienced eye."

"Charles..." His uncle started in a disapproving tone. "You father paid me an excellent severance package and I have a thriving private practice."

"In property law."

Uncle Jack speared another yam.

"Tell me that you're happy playing mediator. That you enjoy referring fights over Mama Dearest's diamond set and I'll leave you be." Chuck watched and waited. He had bet a lot on garnering his uncle's cooperation.

"Bart will be furious." Jack debated aloud.

"And that's why you should do it," Kaitlyn insisted, sharing a conspiratorial glance with her nephew.

Jack shared a look with his wife, a slight smile tugging his lips. "Tell me your plan," he tried to stay neutral.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Lily pursed her lips in disagreement, but Bart's posture remained as firm as ever. "Chuck deserves to know the truth." Lily argued.

"I don't agree."

"So you're happy with having him hate you for something you never did."

"If it's between that and destroying Chuck's faith in his mother, then yes."

"Bart," Lily shook her head. "Misty is dead."

"You don't think I know that." Bart shot back too quickly to be calm.

"This is crazy."

"You don't know how much Chuck loved his mother. If you did, then you would understand."

"I don't. What I see is a man desperate to have a relationship with his son. But you're holding back the truth that would make it possible." Bart shook his head again, unmoved by his wife's logic. "He needs to know that you're not responsible..."

"And what if I am? If I could have just handled things better."

"Bart..."

"I'm done talking about this," Bart spoke abruptly; stony expression retaining control.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric had walked out of the Van der Bass suite the moment the drama started. He didn't feel like intervening and he certainly didn't feel like being dragged through anymore problems. Instead, he fled to the one thing he had become very thankful for. Damien ran his fingertips up and down his boyfriend's arm. The evening was uncommonly warm, and Eric wore a short-sleeved button-down navy shirt. He'd stopped trying to cover his scars the moment he'd shoved them in Georgina's face, but he still wasn't fully comfortable. His body stiffened against his boyfriend's as Damien passed over the slight ridges which had now faded to a muted white. Eric held his breath, waiting for the Brit to move his thumb back up the arm, but Damien didn't. The artist stayed there, running his fingers back and forth against the proof of Eric's foolishness. After a moment Eric tried to pull his arm back, but Damien wouldn't let it go. Eric knew the question was coming before it was said. "When?"

"Last year."

Damien was the one to stiffen at that. "Really?"

Eric shook his head.

"But you seem so confident and put together."

"Decisiveness has its own negative side."

This time Damien's breath stopped, and Eric silently cursed himself. He should have lied, pushed it further into the back or made up some tragic tale to justify the act. Except Eric never lied, and those scars were his to bear.

"Would you ever...?" Damien started.

"No."

"What if things got really bad?"

"Never again."

"How can you be sure?"

Eric turned to face his boyfriend, meeting his eyes straight on. "Because now I understand what I didn't before."

Damien pulled his hand closer and asked. "What?"

"That suicide isn't a solitary act."

Damien shook his head in thought, and then impulsively brought Eric's wrists to his lips; kissing each scar with reverence.

"Don't do shit like that," Eric grabbed the couch throw pillow and used it to hit his boyfriend across the face.

"What?" Damien asked in genuine cluelessness.

"Sentimental shit. You're making me love you." All the blood drained from Damien's face, and the Brit couldn't make himself speak even if God himself willed it. "That's better," Eric laughed at his boyfriend's tongue-tied expression, and stole the remote before the older boy could reanimate.

In the end Damien never did say it but he did do the next best thing. He pulled Eric back to him, and placed a gentle kiss on the younger boy's head. "You need to crush her."

"Who? Blair?"

"No. This Georgina character."

"I'm trying but Chuck isn't helping. He's more interested in ignoring it."

"Sometimes when people act stupid you have to be the smart one."

Eric thought about it for a moment and then jumped from the couch. "Thank you," He shouted, grabbing his coat from the nearby table.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric's fingers jumped wildly against the suede couch as the principal flipped through her files, clutching a pink jump drive between her fingers. He'd arrived at school on Monday with one purpose, to seek and destroy. He was going to bring Georgina to her knees using any maens at his disposal. Not just for Chuck, or Blair or Serena but because that kind of evil needed to be routed out of polite society.

"I want to thank you for bringing this matter to the attention of administration," Ms. Queller stood formally and offered her hand across the desk. Eric shook it as she finished the speech. "We will investigate the allegations, and decide a course of action from that." Eric smiled at the older woman, praying that he would be believed and that Chuck wouldn't be that mad.

It was a start, but Eric needed more.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

It was three days later before Eric was able to further his cause. Mrs. Queller had yet to act on the information, but Eric had found another accomplice. He waited across the street from the Spark's townhouse. He bounced up and down on his toes, his lanky frame not offering any protection from the biting frost. He pulled his wool trench tighter and studied the passing cars. It was another twenty minutes before Blair arrived, adorned in black from head to toe and totting a set of binoculars.

"When I said dress the part I was talking about the weather."

Blair just arched her brow. "Ready for some psycho hunting?" Eric nodded that he was and Blair looked up and down the familiar street. "Which house is hers?"

Eric pointed at the brownstone across the street, and Blair nearly tripped over her own feet.

"That one?" She asked in surprise.

'Yes," Eric said, preparing to cross the street. Blair dragged him back before he could put a foot to pavement.

"You're sure she lives here?"

"Yes."

Blair flipped her phone open and started dialling, a small smile starting to play at her red lips.

"What are you doing?" Eric asked.

"Gaining us another ally."

"Who?"

Blair waved him off. "Serena," She breathed into the phone. "I need you to meet Eric and I. Three houses to the right of Nate's. Yes, there. See you in fifteen."

"What are you doing?" Eric asked.

"You don't remember this house do you? Why it's important."

"Nate lives a few doors down," Eric pointed to the left.

"That's true. It's why he and Chuck became such close friends," Blair said, breathing in the rose boxes and pale walls.

"So this is..."

"The house that Chuck grew up in. Georgina may be brilliant but she's also so stupid." And in her stupidity she had finally offered up the proof that Blair needed.

Eric stared up at the house, remembering what he had first felt in entering the space; the déjà vu that was now entirely explained. His eyes caught on the number box, 812. He should have guessed.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena arrived thirty minutes later, and the instant she heard the facts, set out across the street. She stormed through the painted door so quickly that Eric and Blair had to rush to match her pace. When the blonde burst into the pale living room, she caught sight of Georgina. Clad in white, Georgina blended seamlessly into the white sofa. Only her chestnut hair stood in start contrast and drew all the guest's eyes. Serena cracked her heels against the wood floors, always two steps ahead of the servants.

Georgina had a pair of thick sunglasses covered her eyes, but when she saw Serena, she pushed them lightly down her thin nose. "Good evening Serena. If I'd known you were coming I would have whipped up a little something." She smiled.

"Like an excuse?" Serena shouted, and that's when Georgina noticed that her blonde friend was no alone.

"What excuse?" Georgina gave her hair a flip, and sat up proper. She took quick uneasy looks at Blair and Eric.

"How did you end up living here?"

"My mom bought it."

"Why?"

"You would have to ask her," Georgina said with a casual shrug of her shoulders. To an outsider she looked relaxed; her shoulders were straight and her posture casual. Blair noticed the slight narrowing of her eyes and the way she licked her lips.

"I don't believe you."

"You think I could tell my mother what house to buy."

"I think you could get anyone to do anything you wanted."

"Wow, you think highly of me."

"All that stuff you told me. You were lying about everything. I don't know why I believed you."

"I wasn't lying." Georgina insisted.

"I don't believe you."

"Don't overreact. It's just a house."

"No it's not. You of all people know how devastated Chuck was when his father sold the house."

"You're right. I did." Georgina stood up then, running a hand distractedly through her own hair.

"Just tell the truth."

Georgina's posture broke for the first time then, her hands weaving patterns on the plush sofa cushions. "It was on the market. I thought it would be funny..."

Blair inhaled sharply. Georgina had finally got twisted up in one of her own lies and from the look on Serena's face; it wasn't going to be swept away. "You are sick." The blonde shook her head.

"What are you saying?" Georgina asked, closing her hand around Serena's arm.

"I want nothing more to do with you."

"You can't be serious," Georgina shook the blonde hard enough to try to force out the truth. "Come on Serena, you're nothing without me."

"No Georgie, I'm nothing with you!" Serena spun on that and rushed out of the townhouse. Blair and Eric lingered for a couple moments, watching with evident amusement as Georgina's face lost all colour. Blair smiled fuller, recognizing what Serena's departure really meant to the chestnut-haired psycho. Eric might guess but Blair knew: Serena had been Georgina's only real friend.

But she didn't pity her. The psycho deserved it. In fact, she deserved so much worse.

After a moment the vulnerability passed and the cool, sharp Georgina returned. She stared at the two uninvited guests, open hostility burning through. "What the hell are you two still doing here? You're not invited." With a final, angry flounce Georgina fled up the ornate stairwell.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck made sure not to look down, to ignore the disorientated feeling that came from being up twenty-five stories with little more than steel beams beneath his toes. Steel beams that had the potential to be so much more. If the math calculated through, the cost-benefit ration tipped to the winning side, and the stars smiled in his favour, it would be the beginning of a business empire. That thought gave him pause to think, and he did. Letting the tour guide progress several steps ahead, Chuck paused and stared out at the skyline. From where he stood you could see the whole horizon: ships dotting in and out of English Bay, the lights of downtown and the North Shore Mountains. It was a stunning vantage, and Chuck briefly considered reserving an apartment for himself.

"Are you alright?" His tour guide asked, and Chuck could sense the slightest bit of condescension in his delivery.

Chuck tilted his hard hat and trained his eyes on the older man, expression a particular blend of disgust and indifference. "What are the height restrictions on those buildings," Chuck asked, pointing to a circle of three new developments to the West, East and North. The older man coughed, and Chuck knew he was scrambling for an answer. Chuck turned his attention back to the horizon. He could have chosen more; the Vancouver skyline was bustling with construction, cranes littering the worldview. The North American housing slowdown had not wrought its mischief here, the 2010 Olympics promising rich rewards for continued development.

Chuck couldn't show his weakness, it was what they all expected. They expected the little high school kid to get sick, or make nonsensical comments, or just not understand. So he had to be stronger, smarter and wittier then the rest. And in the end he was. At first they were sceptical; doubtful that Bart Bass would let a teenager direct a course, even if that teenager was his son. Uncle Jack and Kaitlyn had bridged that gap, providing the experience and the stature needed to push the deal through. It was more than that though. Uncle Jack had once been Vice President of Bass Industries, before Misty died and her sister could no longer stomach sharing space with the Basstard. His father had bought Uncle Jack out, but not without regret on both sides.

All afternoon Chuck had watched Jack McFayden work, watched him craft his way through figures, small talk and hard talk. He might have been six years rusty, but the man could still possess a room. But then again, so could Chuck. That is why when the day ended and Uncle Jack slammed the door of his Cadillac he couldn't help but smile at his nephew. "You're just like Bart was," the older man assured him and for the once the comparison didn't slow Chuck's blood or quicken his temper. Instead the younger Bass gave a single, deliberate shake of his head and let the thought rest somewhere inside.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair sat on the front steps of the school, designer shoes stamping softly against the concrete. She opened and closed the clasp of her purse absently, waiting with as little patience as she possessed. Georgina's mother had appeared for the first time that afternoon, immediately ushered into Ms. Queller's office, the door shut firmly behind her. Eric had done well.

That was an hour ago, and based on word of mouth the meeting was soon to close. Blair remained at the front, coveting the best seats for what was sure to be a show. She didn't have to wait long. Emma Sparks marched from the front door, her daughter trailing close behind. Emma was taller than even Serena, with hair that was dyed white and cut into an asymmetrical bob. The cut only served to emphasize her thick cheekbones that were now etched even deeper with her agitated glare. Her four inch heels made it halfway across the courtyard before she turned to yell at her daughter. "You couldn't even do one simple thing."

"Come on. You're overreacting."

"Do you have any idea how much money I paid to get you in here? Is it that hard to just show up and study?"

"I showed up most of the time."

"Was that when you were high or when you were plotting against other students? I should have known better."

"Excuse me."

"I should have realized it," Emma stared down at her daughter. "You'll never be anything but a drugged up tramp."

Blair could feel Serena move beside her; her softer heart moved by the display. Blair wrapped a hand around her taller friend, shaking her head at the blonde girl. Serena stopped moving and relaxed beside her.

"Can we talk about this at home?" Georgina suggested as the crowd around them started to deepen.

"You're not welcome in my home."

"Are you serious?"

"You heard me," Emma Spark's voice rose. "You can get your stuff and get out."

Georgina's eyes moved from right to left, checking the gathering crowd. She deliberately lowered her voice before continuing. "Where am I supposed to go?"

"Try calling your dealer," Emma finished. She threw the white cashmere throw over his shoulder and without a single look backward, left.

Georgina stood there a moment, rooted to the spot. The swirl of students resumed around her, but she could only stand. Her eyes filtered from left to right; an embarrassment twisting her body smaller as the groups of students whispered. After a moment it was done, she stood herself even straighter and glared until the closest students backed away.

Blair snapped her latch for the last time and stood up. Brushing the dirt from her skirt she met Eric's eyes across the courtyard and exchanged a contented smile.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck lay in his Aunt's hammock, his body still except for the early morning breeze that pushed him softly from side to side. It was an extremely cold Seattle day, with rain that pattered incessantly against the alcoves small metal roof. Chuck had lowered himself to dressing in fleece. His uncle's large sweater was bundled around his frame, and above that he had piled another three blankets. He stared out at the Pacific Ocean, the rising sun painting the empty space in shades of orange and yellow. It was spectacular. It's not like Chuck hadn't seen the sun rise before, but it was different to see it with a set of sober eyes rather than cursing the morning light while half smashed.

He felt at peace, a feeling that had evaded him for months. His mind had been running steadily the last few months, reliving the past, considering the present and debating the future. In truth, peace was a feeling that evaded him for most of his life. His body had a higher tolerance for distress, for pain and a twisted pleasure for the things that wrought it. Except the pleasure was being exchanged for disgust, and he was starting to crave normalcy. That was the sign that he was growing up and that truth no longer scared him.

Maybe he needed Georgina as much now as he did then, though the reasons for each were so wildly different. Then he had needed the trial by fire, the drama she wrought, the ecstatic highs and debilitating lows that tore from him the need to focus on anything else. She had crafted him with her sharp nails, carved away his vulnerability and made him stronger and meaner. In her own twisted way, she had helped him survive by breaking him down and forcing him to rebuild.

Now he needed Georgina to prove how much he'd changed. She could wreak havoc within him, dredge up every emotion he had hid and buried, but she couldn't get from him what she wanted. Now, no matter how hard she twisted she couldn't make him love her. Then, it didn't matter how hard she twisted him, he wouldn't stop loving her. The thought made the little bugs crawl through his stomach. Not the butterflies he felt every time Blair was near, but the tiny rivers of fear and self-disgust. That's why he couldn't admit he had loved Georgina. He couldn't admit the feeble, ineffectual boy she had once reduced him to because surely there was something wrong with him, some crack in the foundation, which had allowed her to control him that fully and had reduced him to a shivering, lost mess.

All in the name of love.

That was the problem with love. It had never brought him happiness. He had loved his mother and it hadn't mattered. He thought she had loved him too, but if she had, then why did she ever leave him? He thought he had found sanctuary in Georgina, only to find that he had handed his half-broken heart to the worst possible source.

Now he didn't have much left to give. There was so little of the romantic left; pessimism had overtaken light. Only with Blair did he feel alive, did he feel little rays of happiness that tore at the walls he'd constructed, and made him believe in the concept of love. And he did love her, but then he always had. She had always been his protector, his confidant and his muse. He wanted to return everything she had given him, but he wasn't sure he could. He had so much darkness within.

And if he was truthful, her darkness scared him. She had a capacity for cruelness that could equal his. It was terrifying. She was a mix of kindness and viciousness. She had the capacity to offer him sanctuary or throw him to the wolves. He needed the sanctuary. He needed her to protect him now more than any other time in his life. Yet he was so afraid to ask because it meant showing her everything. If she truly saw him then he just knew that his darkness, anger and pain would break her.

Chuck rubbed at his face with the blankets. The wind had picked up and splattered tiny droplets across his eyes and down his cheeks. He kept rubbing but the water kept running. Then he noticed something. The droplets were so warm that they burned his cheeks. He could taste the salt without licking his lips. The response was instinctual. He closed his eyes tight, counted absently and tried to control his breathing. He needed to make the tears stop. He couldn't be that weak. Then he realized something else. No one cared here. There were no photographers, no reputation to uphold, and no person to pretend to be. So he cried, shutting his eyes while his salty tears mixed with the rich rain drops. He cried until his side ached, his head burned, and he felt renewed.

"You should get some rest before your flight," His aunt's face appeared before him an hour later.

"I know," Chuck mumbled into the horizon, rubbing self-consciously at his damp cheeks.

"You don't have to leave." His aunt offered, and Chuck could see the concern without turning his head.

"I know that too."

"But you're still going to."

"I have unfinished business to attend to."

"You always do," Kaitlyn agreed as she hovered over him. Then she bent down and kissed him on the forehead.

Chuck instinctively inched away from the touch. It'd been years since he'd been platonically kissed, and the unfamiliarity brought with it embarrassment and discomfort.

"You're going to be okay."

"I'm always okay."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A jukebox played classics from the corner, and Nate drummed absently on the table. He watched Vanessa sashay from table to table, studying her slim legs as they moved in little erratic circles. Every few minutes she would glance across the room, bestowing a smile meant only for him. Nate didn't know whether to smile back or to slink silently from the side. He'd been avoiding his girlfriend all week. He didn't know what to say to her, how to say it or even whether he wanted to. He thought back to a year ago, when Nate had raised his glass and toasted Chuck. They had toasted on one simple idea: Chuck was doomed to love no one and Nate Archibald was destined to love everyone. It was a brilliant conundrum that had taken mere months to be cracked apart. Chuck had moved beyond his unloved and unloving persona. He had committed himself to one girl (the same girl that Nate never could) but Nate was still stuck where he had been all along. His concentration varying with his mood.

Vanessa appeared before him in a flurry of purple and black. She tossed her apron on the table, the sign that her shift was done, and took a seat beside him. He caught the scent of jasmine and smiled. He watched her slim jaw as she dug through her purse and wondered. If he could love any girl to the exclusion of all others then it ought to be Vanessa. She was a perfect blend of the other two girls he had loved for most his life. She had vitality as endearing as Serena's but a wit and darkness that mirrored Blair. Maybe Serena had been right. Maybe he had confused momentary passion for something more. He had thought that if Serena could tempt him away from the others then she must be the one he was meant to be with. Maybe it wasn't that simple. Maybe fidelity wasn't found in finding the perfect partner; perhaps it was an exercise of the mind, a conscious choice and the drive to follow it through.

Vanessa smiled up at him, her grey-blue eyes dancing in the candlelight. She was talking with an animation that spread from her eyes through her hands and even to her feet that drummed incessantly against the linoleum floors.

Nate decided then that Vanessa was a choice worth making.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena sat on the edge of Blair's bed, watching as he best friend spun through an endless parade of outfits. Chuck was to return that night, and Blair wanted everything to be perfect for their anniversary dinner.

"What do you think?" Blair said. She wore a dress of rich blue silk that clung to her shoulders before dipping aggressively.

"You look beautiful." Serena sighed.

Blair took a cursory look into the mirror, her muted smile turning downward. "It's not enough," She decided, slipping a hand behind.

"Blair," Serena shook her head to demonstrate that her friend was overacting. "What do you want?"

"Perfection," Blair said with a wry grin.

"I know," Serena raised an eyebrow. "How about a quick trip to Saks? You have six hours before you're supposed to meet Chuck."

Blair's phone rang before she could respond. She grabbed it and quickly read the text, her brown eyes instantly furrowing in thought. "I'd love to but I have something to do."

"Anything special?" Serena asked.

"Nothing," Blair said, quickly slipping the phone back into her pocket. "Shouldn't take long. I'll call you if I have time after."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair entered the nondescript building in Brooklyn. It was on the lower side, the meaner side far from where Dan and Eric's boyfriend lived. She pulled her Prada clutch closer and climbed the stairs to the apartment that Georgina had listed. Despite the early hour, Blair was seriously questioning her decision to come alone. Just to calm her own mind, and not because she was terrified, Blair took her phone out. She opened it and held her finger over the speed dial. Blair knocked on the red door, eyes casting glances up and down the hall. The lock clicked and Blair decided she ought to have brought mace instead.

Georgina answered the door, hair in disarray and eyes red from crying. The odour of stale liquor assailed Blair's senses and she could see rows of emptied vodka bottles lying on the room's small kitchen. Georgina arched an eyebrow, but it looked far from menacing in her undone state. "Come in," she muttered in a defeated tone.

Blair slipped the phone shut and back into her pocket. Even if she had wanted to, she couldn't have prevented the triumphant smile from crossing her face. "Why did you call me?"

"I just wanted to congratulate you in person," Georgina spat. "I'm leaving," she explained, pointing to the three fashionable Louis Vuitton suitcases that lay on the bed. They looked so out of place in the run down room.

"Just like that?"

"You've won," Georgina's face was hard. "You've taken everything from me, even Serena."

"Sweetheart," Blair said, contented smile taking over her features. "You did that to yourself."

"Princely Eric got me thrown out of school which led to my mother throwing me out of our home. Serena thinks she's too good for me, and Chuck, well it's obvious just how much he loves you."

Blair wasn't so certain of that fact, but she'd be damned if she let her insecurities show now. She smiled larger instead, pressing her four inch heels deeply into the carpet and turning her chin up.

"So congratulations," Georgina stared straight at the other girl, chin bobbing unsteadily. "It's not often that someone gets the better of me."

"Is that it?" Blair mocked the other girl's misery and tapped her foot impatiently.

Georgina walked over to the small fridge and withdrew a bottle of champagne. "I couldn't leave without toasting your victor." Georgina cleared bar with a sweep of her arm. "The world holds so few worthy combatants. Will you toast with me?"

Blair tipped her glass back, letting the sharp liquid burn its way down her parched throat. She never broke eyes with the psycho; she didn't trust her enough to give her a moment's advantage. "We'll it's been unpleasant knowing you. Have a nice trip," Blair said, grabbing her clutch from the counter. She slipped off the bar stool, misjudging the distance to the carpet by a fraction of an inch. She stumbled on one heel to Georgina's unmuffled snort. Blair bit back the automatic nasty retort; might as well give Whorgina one victory on the day.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck tied and retied his bow tie, performing the ritualized action until his hands calmed themselves. He eyed the clock. He had arrived back in New York only an hour prior, but the evening was upon him. Blair would be arriving in less than fifteen minutes. Perhaps he should have picked her up, limo and roses in hand but he didn't want the evening to be some trumped up prom date.

He wanted it to be so much more. His fingers slipped over the knot as he considered. He was ready not just for a declaration of love, but he was ready to ask her for help. The knot by his throat migrated to his stomach and he threw himself onto the bed. His white suit contrasted with the black sheets as he rolled over. He eyed the lilies on the bedside table and smiled, pulling a pillow beneath his head. He stared at the clock, ticking the minutes away to something new.

His loafers kicked at the comforter as the last few seconds dissolved into nothingness. She was late. It was fitting. She was, no doubt, tying up some designer gown.

It didn't mean he was going to sit patiently. He grabbed his phone and held down the first number. It rang three times before he got her voicemail. That was weird. He pushed the button again, waiting for her rich voice to fill the line. It rang twice before her artificially cheery greeting filed his ears.

She must be on the phone, he reasoned and tried again. This time it rang only once and his anticipation turned to dread.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair was halfway to the door when the strangest thought came to mind. Had Georgina used Chuck? She never called him Chuck.

"Oh Blair," Georgina called from across the room.

Blair spun quickly around, too quickly, so quickly that the room didn't stop when she did. She wavered to one side and decided she really needed to eat something tonight. Then she noticed Georgina's face. All the feigned distress had been replaced with one wide smile. Blair tried to sort out why the other girl was smiling, but her mind just wasn't cooperating.

"Chuck loves you," Georgina said with no hint of suffering.

The lights in the room turned suddenly, blindingly bright and Blair put a hand up to cover her eyes. She felt like she'd downed the entire bottle of champagne instead of a single glass. Except it wasn't that either. She tried to mentally review risks factors that had long since been repressed. How about would it be to have an episode in front of Georgina of all people? Blair took a deep breath and started to stumble forward. She dug her imported heels into the stained carpet. The lights were gone, everything had turned a muted grey and she couldn't quite focus.

"But Charlie will always love me," The voice seemed so distant in comparison to the carpet that rushed forward to meet her.

Georgina stepped over the slight brunette, grabbing her clutch from where it had fallen.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck hit redial, just to be sure beyond any doubt. There was any, Blair was sending him to voicemail. She wasn't on the phone, the phone wasn't off. Blair was clicking the little button to the right. Chuck pushed redial again and again before it finally sunk in. It rang twice and then was sent to voicemail again.

Chuck had that creepy feeling again, the one that crawled up his throat and knotted his insides. It was obvious wasn't it? He'd given her a choice and she'd chosen elsewhere. What did he expect? What was he worth? No, that wasn't right. He had expected her to choose him. Every touch and smile flashed behind his eyes in a slow picture show mocking Blair's final decision. Chuck sat down on the bed before his legs gave out beneath him.

He had been so sure. He tried to pretend that's why he was so disorientated. It wasn't the devastation of his heart; it was the destruction of his plan. He had spilled so much in that conversation; admitted his own weakness and his need. He did everything right.

What did he really expect? When did anyone ever pick him?

He could feel his eyes begin to water, tears threatening at each edge. He sucked all his breath in, shut his eyes harsher then ever before, and waited for the sensation to pass. He plotted against his own weakness, all thoughts of something better dissolving in his disappointment. He'd be damned if he'd cry again. He'd be damned before he'd be weak again.

"Is your girlfriend late?" The silky voice interrupted his thoughts and gave him another point to focus on.

"You could say that," Chuck opened his eyes slowly.

"It's a pity," The blonde designer leaned against the door frame. "I would never stand you up."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Georgina sat across from her paler nemesis, playing absently with the younger girl's blackberry. Blair looked so fragile propped against the side of an old leather chair. Georgina had considered leaving her in a pile on the floor, but decided against it. The leather chair was in a disgraceful state of disrepair, and Blair would have been disgusted had her eyes fluttered open to view the space. Georgina had taken extra pleasure in choosing such a poorly maintained building. Without consciousness Blair looked so weak. She could not rise to her proper height, nor hold her body to a powerful angle. You could see just how weak she was, how light she was. Georgina hadn't even needed help to shift her from the floor.

After a few minutes Georgina grew bored and tossed the purple phone on a nearby table. She pressed her designer pump into the room's decaying coffee table and laughed. She stood up and walked in circles around her unconscious adversary. She put a hand out and found her fingers through the other girl's curls. She twisted and pulled all the uniformity out of the design.

"Much better," Georgina told the unconscious girl. She ran her thumb along Blair's lips, deliberately smudging her lipstick at each corner. "You should have stuck with Nate," Georgina knelt down beside Blair, shaking her head like a scolding parent. "Then I wouldn't have had to do this." Georgina brushed a few dark curls back from the pale girl's face. "But don't worry. I'm not going to hurt you," She smiled. "Too bad."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck rang a finger down the blonde's collarbone, tracing a line to follow with his lips. She purred against his hair, fingers urging his journey forward. He shut his eyes tighter and moved his lips downward.

Wasn't he supposed to feel some sick satisfaction? Some twisted feeling of revenge that would blot out his anger and replace it with a warped triumph. Instead he felt nothing, a total vacant sense of revenge. He couldn't say he wasn't aroused, or that the girl wasn't beautiful but every touch was instinctual and forced. He felt so empty and even the blondes whispered intimacies couldn't fill his holes. It was wrong. He was Chuck Bass and he wasn't supposed to wax sentimental or get caught up in feelings.

So he kissed the bitch harder, pushing her back onto the bed. Who cared if she tasted wrong, if her skin wasn't soft enough and her hair was too thick with product. He pulled at her shirt, ripping it in his eagerness. He was desperate to reach the point of release, hoping that the tide of ecstasy would wash away not only the fire building in his stomach but every feeling he ought never to have had.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – I'm sorry it took so long to update but life has been busy…as well as exciting (and I went away to see The Kooks in concert.) And of course I had to send C to the Pacific Northwest. I'm going to change this to the TV board next post, don't have time now. I will give no estimated time for next chapter but just know I'm working on it.

Blacklace – thanks for the review, sorry it took so long to update

astondene – SN are an interesting duo, and they will get their time to shine in this story. Do I ship them forever or for the moment? I'm not sure. I definitely ship CB despite what I did to them here.

Cinnamon Cigarettes – I can't despite G because she's too much fun to write

brucusbrathan - thanks

annablake – thanks for all the great reviews. I remember you from TH and I'm glad you're enjoying this one as well.

Aledda – Well they haven't broken up…yet ;)

BRKoD – I hope I didn't make you cry any more this time.

Sky Samuelle – I'm sorry I've been so busy and I really loved the bits you sent me and have just had no time to do anything with them.

Crimson-Kiss – thanks for the great review

Chairforever – CB definitely need to talk, hopefully it won't be too late

Midnightsky – I love Eric too, and he got to be happy in this chapter at least.

delphin4K – Yes, Chuck has a tendency to make split-second bad decisions (as judged by this chapter)

Thanks for the great review. Hopefully you won't kill me too much for this chapter.

pursimplicity – The family that Chuck was with was obviously his Aunt Kaitlyn (mother's sister who he went to India with when his mom died vis-à-vis TH canon). You'll get to see Katie and Bart go head to head in the sequel. I figured Chuck needed a place to escape and some people to love him unconditionally.

Up Next: And then it all came crumbling down… or did it?


Chapter 17: Chapter Sixteen Part One


Chapter Sixteen

Do you hate me yet? You shouldn't. It's not like I poisoned the queen, just knocked her out for a bit. She should have seen it coming, but she's always fallen for her own hype, believing herself untouchable. Anyway, there was no permanent damage. I'm saving that for later.

Besides, I was telling the truth. The bags were packed and I was prepared to leave. I just had to make one more play first.

Amelia's fingers moved lower, tracing a crisscross path across each stomach muscle. The year of soccer, coupled with his weekly runs with Nate had crafted his stomach into peaks and valleys that the blonde took her time to explore. She stared up at him, lust competing with triumph to gain dominance. Chuck had to look away from the blue eyes. If the decorator sensed his hesitation it didn't slow her pursuit. Her lips continued down the trail her fingers had blazed. Chuck could feel the breath catch in his throat and convinced himself that the cause was passion rather then loathing or disgust. Still, went her pursuit grew too adventurous he put his hands to her hair. Closing the blonde strands in a fist, he dragged Amelia back to face him.

He kissed her harder, eyes shut hard against the light. He wrapped his fingers deeper through her thin hair, pushed his tongue into her mouth and tried in desperation to make something non-anatomical rise; some feeling, bright or dark to replace the numbing emptiness that was choking out all life. A year ago he wouldn't have cared, he would have been entertained by the breeching of absence for a night, by the feigned closeness and comforted by the knowledge it wouldn't last. A year ago he couldn't have handled genuine affection, or intimacy. Now he couldn't handle the other, and the stark realization changed him, destroyed him more than comforted.

Amelia's fingers inched below the waistband, touching the sensitive skin below. Her nails wrapped around his belt buckle and Chuck pulled back on instinct, breaking contact with her lips. He took a ragged breath, his body not evening registering the cold air. She smiled up in coquettish delight, and Chuck hated himself more. The blonde returned her fingers to his belt, and he didn't fight as she used it as an anchor to inch him closer. He closed his eyes again and let his own lips waver inches from her neck. She mumbled something enticing into his ear, but Chuck didn't hear it. His thoughts were stuck on one simple word: coward.

Amelia pressed her small frame to his, wrapping her slender arms around his waist and urging him forward. Chuck hesitated just long enough to make his uncertainty clear. The blonde wasn't offended; she twisted closer and kissed him again. Chuck turned his mouth away and shoved the blonde onto the bed. She landed in a flash of colour, and stared up invitingly, her long legs splayed across the dark fabric.

Chuck was disgusted at himself. What the hell was the matter with him? He was going to fuck some chicken legged whore because his girlfriend didn't call him back. It wasn't revenge and it certainly wasn't triumphant. It was the last pathetic ploy of a boy too afraid of being hurt. He didn't even recognize himself. Chuck Bass was a lot of things, but never a coward.

He stepped away from the bed, turning his back from the half-nude decorator. "Get out."

"Excuse me!"

"You heard me," Chuck said firmly. He started to button his shirt in haste.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" The blonde screamed out in frustration, pulling her straps back up with vengeance.

He turned at that, dark smile filling his features. "I'm Chuck Bass, pleased to meet you." He waved his hand. "Now get the fuck out." He eyed the blonde up and down, waiting for her to climb from the bed and take her walk of shame. She remained stubbornly wrapt in his sheets. "Never mind," He rolled his eyes and grabbed his wallet from the side table. "I'll leave; you can stay and fluff pillows."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Georgina reclined languidly on the chair. Her boredom was growing with each passing moment. She was seriously reconsidering pouring all that vodka on the floor; she needed a glass or three now.

The fantasies didn't quite compare to the real thing. Of course, in her fantasies, she could perform any evil. In life she risked losing the final prize if she touched a single hair on the queen's head and so she could do nothing further than wait. She'd grown tired of berating the unconscious an hour or so back, and now could do nothing further then stare at Blair's even breathing. Then she received a video message and her boredom was replaced by triumph. She replayed the clip several times just to be sure and then smiled across the room at her nemesis, standing up to erase the distance.

"You're not going to remember this tomorrow," Georgina said, turning the girl's chin to face her. "Unfortunately Chuck won't be so lucky." Georgina dug through Blair's clutch until she found a small comb. She combed the other girl's curls methodically, taking care to remove every tangle she had created. When she'd completed this, she took a small bottle from her overnight bag and used it to clear Blair's smudged lipstick. Georgina redrew the lip line with as much precision as Blair herself would have used, meticulously using the girl's red shade to fill.

"There," Georgina whispered aloud, turning the girl's face slowly from side to side. "Nearly as perfect as you pretend to be." Georgina turned back to the opposite table and grabbed Blair's pink blackberry. After typing a short message, Georgina returned the device to Blair's limp hand. She knelt down and took the time to smooth the wrinkles in Blair's white silk shirt, and to push the curly locks behind one ear. "Sleep tight Snow White," Georgina urged her. "You're going to need your strength."

And with that Georgina leaned in and kissed her; delicately enough not to mar her lipstick. "The game just got interesting." Then she stood and walked away, laughing softly into the distance.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck couldn't breathe easily again until he'd left the suite and put some distance between himself and his foolishness. He pushed the button on the Palace elevator, standing back as the doors closed and the box began its slow ascent. Chuck reclined against the mirrored walls and rubbed brushed guiltily at his clothing, trying to erase what he had almost done. He needed a shower and to change his clothes. He needed to find Blair and to face whatever words she had for him. He put his head back, closing his eyes and searching for the strength he'd had in abundance only moments before. He pulled out his phone and debated his options. His fingers wavered over Serena's number, half afraid of the truth his blonde sister might have. Then, as if the world had finally succumbed to his will, Blair texted him.

#301 - 8734 Chatam St, Brooklyn

Chuck furrowed his brow in thought, then texted back.

What is that for?

He waited for Blair to respond but she did not. He tried calling again only to have the call turned away.

Why won't you take my calls?

He waited again without fruition. By the fifth text his mixed feelings had changed to apprehension, and his fingers punched for the lobby. He held the number two until it connected him to his brother. "Eric, are you in Brooklyn?"

"Yeah."

"If I text you a Brooklyn address can you meet me there?"

"What? Now? What about your dinner with Blair?"

"She never showed up."

"Not possible. She spent half the afternoon preening with Serena."

Chuck's breath caught in his throat, and a thousand possibilities flew through his mind. "She's the one who texted me this address."

"Then she's probably waiting with bells or at least garters on."

"No, you don't understand. She won't take any of my calls and hasn't sent anything but this street number."

Realization dawned then, and Eric's voice grew clearer and serious. "What is the address?"

"I'm forwarding it now," Chuck said. "Just meet me there."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck climbed the stairs, Eric's shaky proclamation in his mind. When he reached the door he didn't stop but walked right through. Blair was exactly as Eric had described: poised, primped and unconscious. Damien, for all his puffed up bravado, was the palest of the group. He kept insisting they call the police but Chuck shushed him with a single wave of his hand.

Chuck knelt at the feet of his girlfriend. He should have guessed, though of course it was unreasonable to do so. He could have levelled the same charge at Blair but neither of them could have predicted that Georgina's psychosis would fall to this extreme.

"We need to get a doctor," Damien spoke the obvious.

"If you do that, then we unleash media hell," Eric spoke knowingly.

The debate swirled around Chuck, but he only half heard their words. He couldn't stop staring at Blair, at the placid stillness of her eyes, and the delicate framing of her neck. He should have known; he should have protected her. He should have done anything but what he had. He turned his eyes slowly from her closed ones to her hand. He touched her soft, delicate skin with his own and then leaned in to kiss her cheek. That's when he noticed it, the scent of vanilla that clung to her brown curls and was woven purposely through the threads of her jacket. Chuck's chin went firm and his thoughts progressively darker. That fucking whore! Chuck closed his eyes. He was going to cry again, he could feel the welling behind his closed lids.

"Chuck, are you alright?" Eric put a hand to his shoulder and Chuck knew that he knew too. The thought wasn't comforting.

Chuck leapt to his feet. "I'll call the family doctor," he fumbled for his phone and fled into the small bathroom to the side.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck couldn't sleep even if he had wanted to. He sat straight up against the headboard, Blair's head cradled delicately in his lap. He watched her breathe, the slow movement of her body and its guarantee that she was going to be alright. The doctor had left two hours ago, Damien and Eric departing silently with him. The younger might have lingered but he knew enough about his brother not to tempt fate.

He's waited until the other two had departed before stripping Blair. He'd half a mind to keep her in the same clothes, knowing the apprehension she may feel upon awaking, but then he eyed the cinched waist and knew he wanted her to be comfortable. She was so light in his arms, and as he peeled the layers away he realized the devastation the last couple months had wrecked on her. She was thin, painfully so and Chuck was startled at his own ignorance. The stress of Georgina's return played out in his mind, but through Blair's body. Blair had spent the last three months running from one disaster to another, the bastion of strength and keeper of peace. He should have loved her more for it, not engaged in a juvenile game of one-upmanship with Serena. "I'm sorry," he mumbled into her shoulder, kissing the carved out collarbone. He redressed her; wishing he could cover his own stress with a pair of silk pyjamas.

Chuck was left alone, an unaware beauty in his arms and a thousand thoughts in his mind. His concerns for her safety had fled with the doctor's assurances that she would be fine, that she had been drugged but that the effects would wear off within a few hours. Chuck almost missed the uncertainty; the stark fear and need to protect that had momentarily put a purpose to his thoughts. Now he could only wait. He could only stare into the darkened room and consider his own actions. His skin crawled at the thought, and he wanted to run away and hide but he couldn't. Then he'd look down at Blair and his guilt would be replaced by the need to protect, to comfort and to touch. It was one fucked up dichotomy. To want to protect the one you'd already hurt.

Chuck Bass couldn't have slept even if he had wanted to.

The lithe body began to move beside him, and Chuck pressed another kiss to her vanilla contaminated hair. Blair's eyes began to open and he stared down at her, watching them turn from drug-induced haze to a clearer, sharper vision. "Chuck?" She mumbled through dried lips.

"It's me," He said, drawing comforting circles down her arm.

"What happened?"

"We'll talk about it in the morning," Chuck promised, and no matter how many questions Blair had, her eyes were already starting to droop. "Get some sleep."

"Will you stay with me?"

"I'll be here when you wake up," He promised, watching as her body calmed again and her head dropped into his shoulder. He let it rest there for a time and then moved it delicately to a pillow. He crawled from the bed and without looking back walked to the bathroom. Chuck stripped from his suit, crumpling it into a ball and tossing it into the vanity garbage. He pulled himself onto the countertop and contemplated. He could feel the tears well again and forced them back even harder. He couldn't cry here. Chuck flipped through the boxes on the counter until he found his pack of cigarettes. Taking one, he lit it, letting a swirl of haze fill the room and giving his fingers purpose.

He didn't know what to do and that realization scared him. He was Chuck Bass; even his chaos was carefully orchestrated. He jammed the cigarette on the marble counter and kicked angrily at the shower door. He was so fucking stupid! He turned the water until it was scalding to the touch. He needed to burn away his own foolishness, to cleanse not only his skin of the blonde's touch but his mind of the weakness that had nearly let it happen in the first place.

Chuck dried his hair though before walking silently back to the bed. He'd made his mind up before he inched back in, before Blair's arms had drowsily sought him out. Before the vanilla scent assailed his senses and brought back his anger. He pulled Blair closer to himself, linking his legs through hers. He wasn't going to tell her what he had done; he didn't want Blair to know. Georgina couldn't win their twisted game.

The decision didn't stop the dread he felt from every pore, or the gnawing fear that he had lost already. He pulled Blair even closer, too afraid to let her go.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric pulled at his jeans, throwing on a cashmere sweater to match. He could hear Bart speaking with police officers in the other room. He was surprised that Chuck had told his father, but maybe it was for the best. Maybe they could finally remove Georgina from their lives.

When he entered the living room he saw a group of servants searching the family cabinets, his stepfather looking on with a grave expression. Lily was standing with one of the officers answering each of his questions. Eric's expression turned thoughtful, and he met his sister's gaze across the room. He mouthed "What?"

Before his sister could answer Bart spoke to him. "Eric, I've been informed that Charles had returned."

"He has," Eric admitted.

"Is he here?"

"Upstairs."

"Get him for me," Bart barked and crossed his arms. "The family is going to meet in the dining hall."

Eric stared at his sister, realizing that this had nothing to do with Blair. He mouthed "what" again but before she could enlighten him, Bart told him to hurry

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair buried her face deeper into her boyfriend's shoulder, letting his warmth calm her. She could feel the soft silk pyjamas caress her with each movement and felt comforted despite her disorientation. Her head ached and her throat burned for liquid but she didn't want to move. She didn't want to break the moment, the feel of him against her.

Then the habitual became mysterious, and her thoughts ran. She shot upright. Despite the familiarity of this moment, of waking up in Chuck's arms everything seemed strange. She couldn't remember a passion filed night; she couldn't remember the night at all. She put a hand to her head and tried to focus through the fog. Chuck shifted beside her, and she stared down at him. He was looking up with an unreadable expression and her distress deepened. "What happened?" She asked in a startlingly clear voice. Chuck turned his eyes to the sheets and her panic increased. "Did I drink?" She asked, not even needing an answer. When did she ever drink that much?

"What do you remember?" Chuck turned his eyes back.

"Trying on dresses with Serena," Blair admitted.

"That's all?"

"No, then I got this weird text from..." The words died with the thought; Blair's face going ghastly pale.

"It's going to be okay," Chuck put a hand to her cheek which had gone pale.

"What did she do?"

Chuck bit his lip, unsure how to proceed. "You were drugged."

All remaining colour fled, a strangled gasp muffled by her hand. "The champagne," Blair muttered, disappointed in her own naiveté.

"You're going to be fine," Chuck rubbed his thumb along her jaw line. "The doctor promised."

"You called a doctor," Blair wasn't impressed.

"We had to,' Chuck assured her. "You were completely unresponsive."

"We?"

"Eric and his boyfriend," Chuck whispered. "They could get to where you were faster."

"How did you know?" Blair stared up at him. "Where I was?"

"Georgina texted me," Chuck admitted. "From your phone."

Blair gave out a shiver at the thought, wrapping her arms tightly around herself. She looked down at the silk pyjamas and shut her eyes for the next question. "Was I? What was I..." She couldn't even finish the thought.

"You were you," Chuck assured her. "I don't think she touched you." He started and then rephrased with a stronger assertion. "She didn't touch you." Blair sobbed at that, her shock and fear expressed through a silent river of tears. "You're fine," Chuck whispered pulling her close. She buried his tear streaked face into his chest and continued to sob.

"What if you're wrong?" Blair asked once she could control herself.

"I'm not," Chuck spoke through a hardened chin.

"But what if..."

"I don't care," Chuck whispered. "We'll face it together." Blair stared up at him in surprise. "Did you expect anything else?" He asked and she considered.

She didn't.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric rapped his knuckles on the thick door to 1812, waiting for some movement from behind the door. He'd almost abandoned the mission, almost stood up to Bart but he couldn't have done that without explaining the reasoning for it. Besides, he had his own vested interest in seeing Blair recovered.

His brother Chuck opened the door, thick robe almost covering his striped pyjamas. "Eric," He waved him in.

"How is Blair doing?" Eric asked, taking a cursory glance around the room for the brunette.

"She's doing well. She's in the shower now."

"Does she remember anything?"

"Not much. It was Georgina..."

"But you already knew that."

Chuck nodded that he had. "Did you want to wait until she's out? I told her you found her last night."

"Actually I've come with a summons from your father."

Chuck rolled his eyes in frustration. The last thing he wanted to do was deal with Bart Bass that morning. "You can tell him I went out."

"I think you should come. There are police officers all over the suite."

Chuck startled at that. "Did you tell him about Blair?"

"No, I don't think it's about that."

Before Chuck could question him, the bathroom opened to show freshly scrubbed Blair. She'd traded her silk pyjamas for a highwaisted pinstripe skirt with white blouse. She leaned against the door, fluffing her curls absently as her eyes searched the room. When she caught sight of Eric, she nodded silently in greeting.

"Would you still like me to make excuses?" Eric said.

"For what?" Blair asked while Chuck put a hand to his mouth.

"Finish your hair," Chuck said softly to his girlfriend, tossing his robe on the unmade bed. "We have a breakfast to attend."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck and Blair made it downstairs within a half hour. Chuck held his hand protectively to her thin waist at every step, fingers aching for her warmth when she finally stepped from him into her dining seat. She pulled the chair beside her, as unwilling to be set free. He slipped into it, hand moving automatically to rest on her thigh. If the rest noticed their closeness none commented. Bart was as stiff as ever, and it caused Chuck enough discomfort to drag his own nails against Blair's silken pantyhose.

"Lily and I have called you here under the most unpleasant of circumstances." Chuck's eyes went to his stepmother who matched her husband's gravity. "A fraud has been instigated against our family."

"What sort of fraud?" Chuck asked.

Bart exchanged a glance with his wife, willing her to explain the situation which she did. "I received a call from the London offices of Amelia Blackcot. They were interesting in forwarding paperwork prior to Miss Blackcot entering the country to work on our home." A glimmer of understanding passed through the siblings as Lily continued. "They were very surprised to hear that Miss Blackcot had been working in our home for some time." Lily put a hand to her mouth and shook her head in disgust. "I really should have known. What artist arrives early?" Bart covered his wife's hand and whispered something in her ear. "As of yet we don't know who the blonde was and what she was doing here. We've inventoried the valuables and so far nothing is missing. We need each one of you to do the same."

"You think the motive was theft?" Eric asked.

"What else would it be?"

"I knew she wasn't a decorator," Serena decided aloud. "Who would paint a house in five different shades of green?"

"There's nothing wrong with green," Bart decided aloud and despite the seriousness of the situation, Chuck had to smile. Green had been his mother's favourite colour; something about spring and rebirth that he'd long forgot. There had been a familiarity in Amelia's palate: his childhood home had been painted in nearly the same shades. Chuck's smile dropped abruptly.

"Are you alright?" Blair whispered in his ear.

"Just surprised," He mumbled as his phone rang. He punched the video message as Blair said something to his sister. The accompanying text said only one word: GAME. Chuck raised one eyebrow at the message and waited the second delay it took the film to load. When it did Chuck's confusion turned to outright shock. There on the tiny blackberry screen was he and the sham Amelia, locked in an embrace that even the most licentious of men would consider passionate. He shut the phone with a snap before the tape could proceed, before some sound or movement could make his guilt generally know.

"Are you alright?" Blair asked again as he sat still; his frozen state hiding a hammering heart and a running mind.

"Excuse me," Chuck stood abruptly up.

Chuck fled all the way to his ensuite, locking the door behind him. He laid his phone on the vanity and opened the let the message play through, that dread he'd felt all day blossoming into full blown gloom. He could have almost put aside the events of last night, justified that he hadn't taken the final step, and let it fade into the past. It was hard to do that with the evidence playing on repeat. Dismissal was impossible when he could watch his own movements, rough caresses and wild pursuit. Even though he lived it, he hadn't realized just how close he had come to breaching his commitments. Most would have considered the line crossed already, Blair included.

He knew Georgina had sent it, he knew the purpose of Amelia and of Georgina's attack on Blair. He's figured it all out one day too late. He always figured it out too late. The phone rang shortly after, and Chuck's fingers wavered over the screen. The psycho had expected him to call by now, but he was too busy grasping for straws, trying to alter the mess he had crafted. He gave the phone one hard knock against the counter and then answered. He was all out of options.

"Hello," Georgina's voice melted through the airwaves and Chuck snarled instinctively.

"What do you want?"

"I take it you got my little message."

"What about it?"

"I ought to kill you for what you did to Blair."

Georgina just laughed. "Please, I didn't touch a chestnut curl. And I don't think you should be issuing threats in your current predicament."

"You think I care?"

"I think you answered the phone."

"So I kissed the blonde tramp, Blair will understand. She won't leave me for that." Chuck bluffed.

"She'd leave you for a striptease and a line of coke."

. "I didn't even sleep with her." Chuck snapped.

"You think Blair is going to worry about technicalities once she sees the streaming video?"

Chuck couldn't say anything to that, and the fact burned him. "What do you want?"

"I want a great many things."

"I'll tell Blair about us, about the past."

"That's not enough."

"It's what you wanted."

"Wanted" Georgina reminded him. "The rules have changed."

"No, you can't do this to me."

"Haven't you figured it out yet? I can do anything I want." Georgina's voice kept that sweetness, the false intonations that underlay true psychosis. "If you play along nicely enough then maybe I won't ask that much."

Chuck shut his eyes in agony, cursing silently into the empty space. "What do you want me to do?" He whispered softly, trying to quiet his own defeat.

He had finally bartered the return of his soul, only to hand it back to the devil on a silver platter.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – I'm thinking of posting in half-chapter chunks like this so the readers can get more frequent updates. Do you prefer it? Or would you rather wait longer for the full chapter. I'm really sorry about the last one taking so long but life is hectic. Alas, we begin to see Georgina's master plan.

lokiyan – thanks :)

Jessickuh – He needed the passport to travel to Vancouver. His aunt lives in Seattle but the building he was visiting was actually in Canada. Couldn't resist bringing him to my hometown :)

puresimplicity – thanks for the incredible reviews. As for Misty/Bart. I kind of like Bart, and wanted him to be redeemable. Though if they want to redeem him in the show now they'd have a long way to go

BRKOD –Chuck is looking at using his trust to purchase real estate in his own right. It'll be interesting when his dad finds out, particularly that he's been using the old VP of Bass industries (his uncle) as a helper. Daddy Bass isn't going to be impressed.

Jazzybum – thanks for the wonderful review. Hopefully you enjoyed this half-chapter.

Viennagirl – Well Chuck didn't technically cheat, but he's screwed all the same :)

Up Next – Georgina makes some rather interesting demands. What's Chuck going to do? Face the past or face Blair?


Chapter 18: Chapter Sixteen Part Two


Chapter Sixteen - Part Two

Chuck pushed his eggs from one side of the plate to the other. Blair put a hand to his knee, but he inched away on impulse. She wouldn't let him escape so easily, and grabbed at his free hand, lacing the fingers through her own. She leaned in close, brunette curls tickling the base of his throat. At any other time he would have given over to the sensation, let his mind drift on a cloud of roses.

"It's going to be so much better," Blair promised.

Chuck shut his eyes at the thought, not even daring a look in her direction. He closed his fingers tighter around hers. They would be better. He just had one thing to do first.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

The afternoon found him in front of a building. It was simply a building, a mass of brick and mortar that had held no power except what Chuck, himself, bestowed on it. So he willed it to have none. He made it a museum, a school, some structure without power and devoid of meaning. It didn't work. His hand still shook as he held the knocker. In that moment he understood why his father had cast them from their home, for if the man felt even one half of the emotions coursing through Chuck as he stood on the threshold, then Chuck could not blame the older man for fleeing from it.

Chuck pulled the grey chequered sweater tighter to his form, chiselled features hiding behind the voluminous hood. He'd stolen it from Eric's closet because he would be damned before he let anyone recognize this, his homecoming. The servant opened the door as if Chuck was expected, and Chuck supposed he had been. He followed the man through the narrow entrance hall, nearly turning before they were halfway through. It was worse then he imagined it could have been. Every inch held a memory that called to him, wrapping his mind in layers of the past and turning his anxiety to unmanageable levels. For one unbearable moment he thought it was going to happen again, that explosion of stress that would steal away his breath. Then he passed into the main parlour and it subsided. His mother's voice and his father's laughter fell back into distant memories as he faced a room so radically different from what it had been. The servant disappeared up the long staircase that had once been his and Nate's impromptu slide, but Chuck did not follow. He stayed in the main room where everything was far more manageable.

Downstairs he could close his eyes and forget that this had once been the centre of something special, the home of a happy family. The startling green walls had been painted over in mute beiges; the abundance of greenery traded for canvas and pottery. If he closed his eyes he could almost pretend he was somewhere else, but there was still something there; something lingering in the high archways, and floor to ceiling windows that he loved still. So he ignored it and eyed the art that littered every inch, proof of Emma Spark's obsession for her twice husband. It was further proof though; proof that this house was no longer a home but a dwelling of two passing acquaintances. The warmth of feeling between the two matched by the four painted stone statues that flanked each corner of the room. Chuck wandered to the exterior, studying the height of Georgina's father's artistic genius. They were four dissimilar representations of the same theme. Given the same name Aphrodite, they held only one commonality; startling green eyes. Chuck smiled a devilish smile that carved his angular face into sharp corners. This house could no longer be his sanctuary, but it must be Georgina's prison.

Chuck barely noticed the servant's return until the old man's voice cut through the silence. "Miss Sparks requests your presence in the solarium."

Chuck's smile dropped abruptly at the thought; a hardness and inflexibility returning to his chin. For the next couple hours it would be his prison as well.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

The solarium had been the creation of Misty Bass; an enormous structure of glass and metal that curved upward to cover nearly all of the top floor. Despite Misty's Brooklyn roots, the woman had a love of nature that surpassed all else. Once she realized she could not convince her husband to migrate to a greener environment, she contented herself with bringing nature to New York. In a city where real estate was at a premium, the solarium was an extravagance but not one ever regretted.

Georgina lay across the white chaise lounge, white skinny jeans contrasting purposely with her black patchwork stilettos. Her white silk shirt blended in with the upholstery, and crushed gently beneath the multitude of beads and bracelets that adored her slender wrists and neck. Her skin was flawless, her hair smoothed through and her eyes even darker than the norm. She was a painting crafted from her father's hand. She didn't even acknowledge him, though Chuck knew that she had seen him. No matter how valiantly she fought, a slight tugging of her lips gave her away. She didn't speak.

Chuck wouldn't give her the pleasure of speaking first. He entered the familiar room

Every square inch of the arbour was wrapt with lush flowers in every shade of white. Chuck breathed a sigh of relief. At least Georgina had not recreated his mother's space or greenery. The room was Georgina personified, white strokes covering a hidden darkness. Chuck knew why Georgina needed everything white, she needed the pretence of innocence, the facade of purity. He knew so much about her, promises whispered with secrets that couldn't be erased. He knew why she always wore so many bracelets. She had lay on her bed one night and confessed that she needed them as evidence of her presence. She needed the sound to prove to herself that she was there, that she was real.

"Predictable," Chuck dismissed the whole set up. "Though this isn't predictable," Chuck stood in front of a painting. It was only half finished, more charcoal then paint, but definitely a Sparks.

"It's worth more than the whole house," Georgina stated nonchalantly. "It's my father's last painting."

"Hmm," Chuck dismissed her explanation.

"He was working on it when he died," Georgina admitted, a certain purr matching her twisted smile. "Heart attack," She finished in contentment.

That was more believable. "Hmm," Chuck repeated again, unwilling to give her the pleasure of acknowledgement.

"That's the best you can do?" Georgina cracked.

"I'm surprised you managed to worm your way back into the maternal home."

"I have ways of managing my mother," Georgina countered.

"Why do I get the feeling that it doesn't involve hugs and whispered I love yous?"

"How is Bart?" Georgina would not offer victory so easily.

"Much as he always is," Chuck replied in as flat a tone.

"Did you want to talk about it?" Georgina asked. "I used to be a good listener."

Chuck just snorted.

"Once upon a time..."

"Is the stuff of fairytales," Chuck countered in the flat voice. "Is that your master plan then? Invite me up here and try to get me to cry on your shoulder again? I'm not a preteen."

"What makes you think I have a plan?"

"Because you're always scheming."

"Maybe I just wanted to share a cup of tea with an old friend."

Chuck's chin went firmer.

"Is there anything wrong with that?" Georgina asked sweetly, batting her eyelashes for good measure.

"There's everything wrong with it," Chuck spat out. "That's why you suggested it."

"Now, now," Georgina continued in her patronizingly sweet tone. "When do I ever suggest anything?" She finished with a flourish and took her seat.

He tried to dismiss it with a roll of eyes, but he couldn't. It was in the vision she created, purposely and with malice. Even if everything in the room was different Georgina would pick something to mirror the past; the tiffany pot, the pink nails (a wild diversion from her usual black), the oversized mug and the way she threaded her hands backward through it.

He could have almost respected her for the game, if it wasn't his life she was fucking with.

"So did you want to talk yet?" Georgina asked.

"I'll take my tea now," Chuck bit back to remind her of the arrangement. He had agreed to take tea and nothing further. In contrast to the variety of twisted arrangements Georgina's mind could have crafted, it was relatively harmless. Except...

He hardly noticed the cup pressed into his hand until it wavered to one side, splashing its hot liquid onto his wrist. He suppressed the instinctual curse and sat down on the nearest chaise. There was a geranium bush opposite and he fixated on the tiny white blooms, flourishing while the winter winds beat against the glass. He held the cup like the hand of a dainty woman, the manners of the elite bred in him from birth.

"Are you alright?" Georgina asked, and if Chuck hadn't known the other, he would have assumed the concern genuine.

"I'm fine," He answered, keeping his eyes fixated on the tiny white flowers. His hands betrayed him; the cup rattling against its saucer.

"Silence it is,' Georgina purred and Chuck cursed his own stupidity. He could have traded insults for the hour, a diversion for his mind. Things grew through the silence, ugly truths and memories that could have been bantered away.

He chanced a look at his enemy. It was a mistake. It was those hands; they were impossibly slender like his mother's had been. She was as impossibly slender as Misty had been. It was one of many similarities between the two women. Chuck was almost shocked Georgina hadn't returned her hair to its natural shade, just for the torture. Her hair had been long, rich brown, and straight. Georgina had declared it too commonplace and cut it one day, dyeing it the next. God he'd loved that hair.

Georgina remembered every detail. No matter how many drugs dulled her senses she could never forget. It was a curse, one that Chuck shared. He'd tried drugs, soured his system with drink but he always remembered every damn moment of his life. So he'd traded up for the high of denial, and had kept enough alcohol in his system to dull the nagging voices that countered his rewritten history.

He needed a drink because how were those voices not supposed to overwhelm him now. How was he supposed to not remember when he was sitting in her favourite haunt? He'd never hated Georgina more. Misty had adored Georgina. Chuck shook his head in disgust. His mother's tastes were suspect; she had loved his father after all.

He'd catch them in her from time to time; wrapt up in one another's embrace, whispering like lovesick teenagers. Their laugher would mingle with the lemon trees, the unique mix that signalled home. Chuck sucked back his tears before they could even form and tried to find another focus.

His mother was alone, wrapt up in grey cashmere throw from which emerged little more than her slender hands and feet. She was always cold, and more often than not alone. Bart had an empire to build, and while his mother had pushed her husband half the way up, she'd lost her enthusiasm by the first peak. The reality of success was weeks apart, missed birthdays and forgotten anniversaries. Success meant wealth and wealth brought as many problems as poverty, just better wrapt. She had made friends, had won society over with her beauty, her grace and perhaps most importantly her intellect. She was her own success but it didn't make her happy. So he'd catch her alone in here, staring out of rain splattered windows, cradling a cup of tea in her always cold hands. It was her own taste of freedom, even if that freedom meant nothing beyond holding a tea cup with both hands, stealing the warmth it held, and pretending for a moment that she was nothing more than what she had been.

Then she'd catch sight of him, and her lost look would be replaced by something brighter. She'd insist he sit, would pour him a cup of fruit tea and insist he hold it as a gentleman ought. So he'd sit while she relined, he'd sip while she gulped and neither would admit the breech that was building. They didn't need to. Chuck was enough. Misty loved her son more than anything in the world. His presence was enough to turn her dismay to happiness.

Until it wasn't.

Chuck caught a movement from the corner of his eyes, the distraction banishing the rest of his memories to the proper place at the edge of his consciousness. Chuck had forgotten his companion, but Georgina's smile brought his thoughts back. He glared at her waiting for her smile to die, but it stretched larger instead. It was then that he noticed it, amid the cluttering bangles. Her cell phone was directed his way, and he just knew.

Chuck jumped to his feet, tea cup smashing on the wood floors. "What did you do?"

Georgina just laughed. "I'm sure you'll hear soon enough."

Chuck grabbed the phone from her hands, pushed her aside as he did. When he saw the photo she had sent to Gossip Girl he gave an involuntary growl. "Why?"

"It's a momentous moment," Georgina arched an eyebrow. "Chuck Bass' homecoming. I thought the whole world ought to know."

"You bitch," Chuck shoved her backwards until they hit the wall.

"Please," Georgina wasn't even fazed. "I could have sent worse footage."

Chuck put both his hands against her shoulders and pressed her against the wall. "I could kill you."

"But you won't." Georgina reminded him, warm breath tickling his cheek.

"You disgust me," Chuck spat out at her and then stalked out of the room, grabbing his jacket as he left.

"If only that were the sole emotion," Georgina called after him.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck ambled aimlessly through Central Park, opening and closing his phone in time with the ring tones. Gossip Girl had blogged about his side trip to Georgina's already, and everyone in his circle of friends had called to ask him why. The problem was he couldn't think of anything. He was Chuck Bass, the master of deception, and yet he couldn't think up a possible excuse. So he opened and closed his phone in an unbroken sequence, letting the names of his friends and family flash by.

What was wrong with him? Had he lost all his senses? All his craftiness? His wit? He didn't even care. He just wanted some excuse, some way of delivering a lie that Blair couldn't see through. She could read every arch of his brow, and twitch of his smirk. She would know. "God fucking dammit," Chuck screamed out, drawing censure from more than one offended passerby. He was royally screwed. He couldn't make craft an escape from his own circling thoughts. He couldn't think about anything except where he had spent the last hour and every reason why he should have just said no.

Chuck sat on a nearby bench, drawing his elbows to his knees. He decided he wasn't going to face his own firing squad without preparation. So, this time, when the phone rang he let it ring through.

"Chuck," Nate's ragged voice came from the other end. "Are you alright?"

"Come to the park," Chuck mumbled into the phone. "And don't come empty handed."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Nate found him twenty minutes later, no more then fifty steps from where he had called, his feet moving in a constant circular motion.

"Are you okay?" Nate asked.

Chuck stopped his pacing to stare at his best friend in disbelief. "Do I look okay to you?"

"It must have been weird..."

"It was glorious," Chuck spat out, holding his hand expectantly.

Nate put a hand to his pocket but then stopped. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Are you kidding me?" Chuck deadpanned, waiting for Nate to laugh it off. When the other boy didn't, Chuck's expression turned sombre. "Please be kidding me."

"I just thought..." Nate passed the bag to his friend, his steely determination cracked by Chuck's incredulity. He waited until the brunette had lit up to try again. "We've been friends practically since birth. I thought I was the one you talked to about these sorts of things."

Chuck glared at the blonde through a haze of smoke. Who had plucked him from his mental hell only to toss him into a badly crafted hallmark moment? Was Chuck really supposed to holding other people's hands when his own was shaking like a leaf? And who was rewriting history? It was true that Nate had been his best friend for life, but when had that friendship included deep conversations. Their conversations usually included half-grunted responses interlaced between games of Xbox and puffs of pot.

And that suited Chuck just fine thank you very much!

"You might as well spit out the whole truth," Chuck decided aloud. "You've traded enough of your manhood in."

Nate stood taller, pitting a glare to match his best friend's. "I just want to help."

"You are," Chuck handed the blunt over only to have Nate turn it back. Chuck shrugged his shoulders, and dragged in as deeply as he could.

"Yeah...right," Nate threw himself onto the metal bench.

Chuck stared at his friend, eyebrows rising in disbelief. "Forget to take your Midol this morning?"

"I'm just trying to get you to talk."

"If I wanted to spill my guts then I would have called Er..."

"Eric," Nate glowered from the bench and Chuck finally figured the source of their discord. Nate was jealous! Chuck snorted aloud at the realization, drawing another irksome glare from his friend.

"Eric is my brother," Chuck reminded him. "It's different."

"For how long?" Nate rolled his eyes. "Your stepmother is Lily Van der Woodsen."

"My father has a stronger record," Chuck countered. "Besides it's not like that. Eric and I are like real brothers. We have nothing in common but we get along despite it. I tolerate his strange artistic propensities." Chuck began, furrowing his bedraggled thoughts, "and he tolerates my drunken debauchery. As long as it's not on a school night," Chuck winked from behind his wavering hand.

"How touching."

"Even if things go to hell, Eric will always be my brother but you will always be my best friend."

Nate couldn't help but smile at that. "I just want to know how to help you."

"You already do," Chuck arched a brow. "And I've never had to tell you a thing. Like now..."

"You need to get drunk."

"See," Chuck offered the blunt again, arched brow changing to a smirk.

Nate took it and let the other boy lead him from the park.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Two hours later Nate and Chuck had traded the booths of elite clubs for a familiar white couch and world news. At least it seemed to be world news. The boys couldn't focus enough to make any sense of it. The room swirled in a comforting clockwise motion, and neither dared stir from their leather anchor.

In the end, they didn't need to. Neither Nate nor Chuck heard the incessant pounding on the door, the movement of stilettos across the wood flooring, or the slamming of a coach purse on the side table. What they didn't miss was the angry arching of the brunette's eyes, and the slant of her firm set jaw. They'd have to be dead to be that oblivious.

Then again, she might be their ticket to the nether world.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – this is part two, there's one part left to chapter 16. I'm sorry that the updates are so sporadic but my life is very hectic. It's the end of term, I just had my workplace evaluation and I've been busy with my own family (I'm a mommy). Alas, with a few of these things passing and smaller postings I should be back to updating biweekly at the very least.

Princess Persephone – thanks for the reviews not only of YCFYF but also TH. I was delighted to read them all.

Astondene – Well if Chuck played his cards right then Blair might never see it (who am I kidding?)

Blood Red Kiss of Death – I figured you might guess (that Georgie and Amelia were in it together).

NaleyisLove – thanks

Chairforever – Chuck really needs to trust Blair enough to tell her.

MidnightSky – Someone needs to stop her. They've got the ball rolling but will it be enough?

Delphin – you might want to detour away if you're not a lover of angst. Because the next couple chapters are full of it.

Jessickuh – thanks, hopefully I'll be able to update faster now.

Puresimplicity – you are such an awesome reviewer. And I agree with you, Georgina has a purpose beyond just causing strife between Chuck and Blair. In Chuck's own words "she's the source of his particular brand of psychosis" and so she must also form some of the solution to it.

Up Next: Did you really think that Georgina would be content with tea? And what will Blair be content with?


Chapter 19: Chapter Sixteen Part Three


Blair's senses wavered under an assault of intoxicants. She faced the two men who had held her heart, one in the past and one in the present but the only emotion fluttering through her was disgust. They were a pathetic matching pair, red-rimmed eyes and sluggish movements. Her eyebrow slanted further in the moment it took for each to focus on her enraged face.

"Hi Blaaair," Nate tried a posh greeting, but it ended in a squeaky grunt.

"Nate," Blair clipped with such force that the blonde winced.

Chuck didn't say a thing; he just let his eyes roam freely down her form. On another day the look would have been enticing, in that moment it was repulsive. She marched to the bar and grabbed the half empty scotch bottle from the countertop. She down a huge mouthful, slamming it back down on the countertop. She was going to need it. When she turned back Nate was staring in shock, but a muted smirk played at her boyfriend's features.

"You're a lot more fun since you started dating Chuck," Nate decided aloud.

"Get out," Blair commanded without breaking stride.

Nate just sat there until Blair gave him a kick in the shin to refocus the blonde's thinking. "Or not," Nate said, grabbing his shin in pain. With one last look at Chuck, and an unnerving waver to the left, Nate stood up. He managed two steps before the resulting waver to the, and countering trip to the right left him sprawled on the floor.

Blair marched back to the bar and took another swig of Chuck's favourite brew. Nate rolled onto his side and began to laugh maniacally. Chuck joined in shortly after, and even Blair, despite her increasing anger, had to crack a smile. It didn't last long. "Nate," She clipped even more darkly then before, "Couch."

Then she turned to her boyfriend. "Chuck," She ordered. "Bedroom."

"Couldn't you make yourself comfortable here," He rubbed the spot adjacent to his in what he hoped was an alluring way.

"Bedroom," Blair repeated without amusement. She took two steps forward and looked over her shoulder to see her boyfriend still planted firmly in his leather couch. She raised both eyebrows and waited.

"I seem to have lost the use of my legs," Chuck admitted with a drunken smile. Nate rolled to the other side and continued his soundtrack of laughter.

Blair rolled her eyes and then kicked her shoes off aggressively. She stood in front of Chuck and waited for him to hold a hand out. When he did she pulled him to his feet. He stumbled forward, nearly taking Blair with him to the floor but she held fast. Instead, they ended face to face. He smiled and despite the hooded look to his eyes, Blair couldn't help but feel the butterflies jump. Even Nate grew silent at her side.

"So," Chuck drawled with a suggestive lift to one lip, "the bedroom."

The moment passed and Blair remembered the source of her anger. She grabbed him roughly around the arm, and dragged him to the side room, pinching his pale skin as she walked. When they reached the side room, she hurled him across the smaller space until he fell facedown onto the thick comforter. Chuck rolled to his back, legs dangling from the bed. He tried to unbutton his shirt but his fingers wouldn't cooperate. "I might need some assistance here," He smirked through hooded eyes.

"If you think I'm going to sleep with your drunken ass then you're sadly mistaken."

"How about that night in Cancun?"

"Are you actually reminding me of the night you passed out on top of me?" Blair asked in disgust.

"I made it up to you the next morning," Chuck reminded her with a lecherous grin.

"You're disgusting," Blair spat out.

Chuck didn't even try to deny it; he simply wrapped his hands around the tie of her winter coat and pulled her forward. She let herself be directed, telling herself she didn't want him to rip her new coat. It wasn't because, even at this stage of inebriation, with a voice that very nearly whined; he was still as sexy as hell. "Have sex with me,' He rasped into her ear and she had to ignore the flush of heat that coursed through her at his words. "Come on Blair," he ran a fingertip down her shoulder, and she felt every inch beneath the thick wool.

"You're heinous," Blair snapped. Pulling back, she kicked him hard against the shin.

Chuck fell back onto the bed, letting out a string of expletives as he grabbed his leg. "What the hell is wrong with you?"

"What is wrong with me?" Blair asked in disbelief. "What the hell is wrong with you? You spent the afternoon with Whoregina, you refused to take my phone calls and went out and got wasted. Then you expect me to what? Jump you without complaint? I'm not one of your whores! I won't take you no questions asked."

Chuck struggled to sit; suddenly feeling more sober then he had the entire night.

"Why did you go there?"

"I needed to," Chuck responded, eyes already closing against the lighted room.

"Why?"

"You know, it looks totally different." Chuck detoured from her line of questioning.

"I know that," Blair responded, tossing the winter coat on the bed beside her boyfriend.

"How."

"I went there with Eric and Serena." Chuck waited politely for her to continue and when she did he winced. "Serena cursed her out and broke all ties."

"So..."

"She's already out of our lives." Chuck slammed his head back against the bed, using a pillow to cover. Even with his eyes firmly closed, the room still felt as if it were alive, spinning and jumping against his closed lids. It wasn't just the inebriation. "Why did you go?"

Chuck didn't answer. Blair would try again to ask, she would twist her words, probe and demand but he didn't say another word. Eventually she gave up, fingered her winter coat that lay against the dark sheets, and considered leaving. Chuck just lay there, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling. She could see his mind race, but he didn't say a word. Blair would have thought he was dead except for the breathing. She didn't know whether to respect him for his strength or curse him for it.

As the hours crept into early morning, Chuck put out a hand and wrapped it against her waist. She didn't complain when he pulled her close, didn't move to hang her now rumbled coat or remove her designer clothes. She just let him snuggle close.

"Blair," he mumbled against her shoulder. "You know what?"

"What,' Blair whispered in return.

"I miss my mom," He slurred the words uneasily. "But I miss my dad more."

Blair could feel her breath stop. She wanted to spin around and ask him what he'd meant. She couldn't. She could feel his even breathing on her shoulder and knew he had already fallen into a drunken sleep.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

By the time the morning light crept into the dark room, Chuck was sitting against the wood headboard, ever present water in hand. He stared down at his girlfriend, perfection traded for a rumpled state of dress. Smiling down at her, he used his free hand to brush an errant curl from her mouth. She shifted to her side and Chuck used his eyes to trace the dips and mountains of her feminine form.

"Can you explain to me what you said last night?" Blair whispered into the morning sun.

"What did I say?"

"Something about your mom and dad."

"I don't remember," Chuck said. There was a controlled evenness to the response and Blair knew he was lying. Chuck Bass always remembered, regardless of inebriation. He was waiting with feigned cluelessness and Blair could feel her throat tickle in disgust. He was staring her right in the eye and lying.

"It must not have been important,' Blair responded, knowing truth was contrary.

"Yeah," Chuck accepted her explanation and deepened their uneasy truce.

"I just..." Blair cracked and Chuck kissed her. He pulled her body flush with his, traced a line up the length of her pantyhose until his fingers searched beneath her rumpled skirt. It was a familiar touch, but one she knew she'd never tire of. His touch was slow but deliberate. She knew him; she knew this was his way of silencing her. A decision lay before her, she could let his kisses render her senseless or she could stop and fight. She had run all the prior evening, adrenalin pushing her pursuit of answers. Now she was spent, almost happy she didn't find him. Perhaps she didn't want to know the truth. She hooked her fingertips until his, pulling roughly at his shirt. Maybe this was their way of silencing one another.

"Look at me," His voice was rough against her ear and Blair forced her eyes open again. She forced herself to stare, to keep her eyes locked with his even when the passion building within tried to pull her away.

"You make me want to be that man." He promised, his own eyes straying at the truth. She repeated his actions, using one manicured finger to pull his chin back to hers. She stared into his eyes, seeing only sincerity. Blair didn't know whether to smile or to cry at the statement, knowing that with the profession was an implication that he couldn't. So she let the pressure within carry her away, dull her senses and muddle her senses. She let the haze overwhelm her until the room fell into darkness and she cried out his name. Until she lay spent in his arms, safe but scared.

They lay like that the entire day, ignoring the reality of the last few days, exchanging what would have been 'I love yous' differently expressed, making love until the hours blended seamlessly into each other, touch healing what their words weren't able to.

She watched him sleep that night and was stuck again but how youthful he looked. It was easy to forget in the daylight hours, but when his arms reached out for her at night he looked so vulnerable. She knew it then. He would crack to pieces one day, and she would be there to help him rebuild.

Then his phone rang, vibrating a little path against the nightstand. She grabbed it and read the message.

Pepperoni pizza at 2am. You'll know where and why.

G.

Blair stared at the sleeping boy beside her and considered waking him. She considered erasing the message. In the end she didn't do either. She simply laid the phone back on the table.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck stared at the flashing neon sign and curled his lip instinctively. The rain beat as incessantly as it had that night, and Chuck's feet were already wet through. There were strange little similarities that went beyond even what Georgina could plan. The traffic was light, even for a Monday night and Chuck could dart across the street without stopping. He took a deep breath and then opened the parlour door, the rich scent of melted cheese and tomato sauce assailing his senses. His stomach curled in disgust but he went inside.

He wasn't even sure why he'd agreed, he knew better. Georgina would never stop now that she had him in her clutches. Maybe that was why. Maybe he needed the time to plot against her, to destroy her.

He needed something from her.

He caught sight of Georgina across the narrow aisle. Her pale back peaked out from beneath a loose tank and her copper-coloured hair tucked back in a ponytail. When she turned to face him, Chuck could tell that she had washed her face clean. Without the thick eyeliner, the pale shadows and the thick lipstick she looked like someone else. She looked younger, frailer, and perhaps even gentler. She looked like the girl who had soothed him all those years ago. It might have been comforting, had not the entire display been carefully planned and presented.

"Georgina," Chuck took his seat.

"Charlie," Georgina smiled genuinely in greeting. "I ordered for you," She waved at the pepperoni pizza and smiled. "Though I thought I'd upgrade to something stronger this time around."

Chuck took his seat, fingers instinctively reaching for the flask of scotch. He drank it without worry, knowing that she would never do to him what she had to Blair. "So I just have to eat this and I can leave?"

Georgina's expression soured. "Why are you in such a hurry? There was a time when I couldn't force you to leave," She reminded him with an arched eyebrow. Without the thick lines of black, she looked more playful.

"So are you going to tell me?" Georgina dangled a slice of pepperoni on her preteen fingertips. She had no nails to speak off. Blair and Serena had experimented with growing theirs' out, decorating them in childlike shades of orange and pink. Georgina kept hers cut right off.

"Tell you what?"

"Charlie," Georgina arched one eyebrow playfully. "You call me your first day back in New York? You sneak out of your house at 2am, to meet me."

"Maybe it was something."

"So spill," Georgina shook her thick brown hair.

Chuck traced a finger along the rim of his coke glass. "My dad was having an affair."

There was silence for a moment, and Chuck winced against it. He was hoping she wouldn't commiserate. It was why he'd called her. The others would have talked about it, would have felt the betrayal with him. Georgina wasn't sentimental. "She should have taken him for everything he was worth," Georgina raised her eyebrows higher and took a bigger bite of her pizza.

"I just expected more."

Georgina put her slice down and wiped her hands clean. Then she took of Chuck's hands within her own and smiled. "I'll let you in on a little secret. Our parents are just as pathetic as us. They just hide it better," She took a sip of her pop with a free hand and then finished the thought. "Most of the time." Chuck couldn't help but laugh at her frankness, or smile at the feel of her soft skin around his. Georgina drew a couple circles on his pale skin and then pulled her own hand abruptly back. "Let's get out of here and have some real fun."

"So are you ready to get out of here and have some real fun?" Georgina's voice pulled his thoughts to the present.

Chuck stared up at her and narrowed his eyes. She had brought him happiness then, pleasure that started with drugs and ended with whispered lies. Georgina had been so quick to turn it, to destroy all joy and twist their encounters into something unrecognizable. He knew why. She couldn't handle genuine affection so she had needed to destroy its source. She had needed to ruin him. That's why she could take him back to the beginning but it didn't matter. Chuck wasn't some innocent little kid, he already knew how the story ended.

Even now, despite the natural flush of her cheeks and unmarked lips she was far from innocent. Her fingers were dancing unnaturally on the side of her glass, her feet keeping a similar erratic beat below. She was high. Chuck could recognize the signs. "Not with you," Chuck delivered with a smirk, slamming the empty glass on the table.

"How long are you going to keep up this charade?" Georgina asked.

Chuck grabbed the wool coat from the back of his chair. He moved to stand up.

"Tell me you don't think of me."

Chuck stared right at her, and then slipped his coat on. He walked out without answering her.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Despite his sobriety Chuck fumbled with the key to his suite. He needed a drink. He needed ten. He needed to fall into his bed and sleep. The door clicked comfortably and he pushed it open only to find his haven occupied. Blair sat on the room's sofa, legs primly crossed. Once she caught sight of him, she uncrossed her legs and stood. Chuck smirked at her displayed legs and moved to kiss her. She put a hand up before their lips could meet. "I just needed to know."

"Know what?" Chuck tossed his coat on the coffee table.

"If you would go and meet her."

"Meet who?" Chuck feigned ignorance even though he knew it was a lost cause.

"Georgina."

"I don't..."

"I know you met her tonight."

Chuck backed away and moved to the bar. "And?"

"Why?"

"It doesn't matter."

"Yes Chuck, it does."

"You honestly think that Georgina matters to me?" Chuck shrugged his shoulders dismissively.

"I don't know what the hell to think," Blair's voice rose an octave higher. "I don't know what happened back then and I don't know what is happening now."

"It doesn't matter," Chuck poured himself a drink and took a seat on the sofa."

"Just tell me something."

"It was nothing." Chuck dismissed her concerns.

"Was it nothing then?"

"I got high and had sex with her," Chuck eyed his girlfriend. "You knew that."

"That wasn't all."

Chuck snorted. "It was enough."

"Georgina told me more." Chuck's eyes went fully dark over the scotch glass. He should have guessed Whoregina would have told their whole history, and probably more artfully crafted some more. "I'd like to know."

"There's nothing to tell," Chuck swore as his girlfriend took the seat beside him.

"I thought you slept with her because of what happened with you mom."

"I did."

"But I don't understand why," Blair touched a hand to his knee. "It seemed like you

were doing well when we talked on the phone. You sounded almost happy the day you flew back."

"I was," Chuck admitted staring at her hand. He pushed it off his knee. "I'm not going to talk about this."

"You need to..."

"I don't need to do anything," Chuck snapped. "Fucking me doesn't give you some golden key into my life." Blair reeled back like she'd slapped. He had slapped her but with words instead of a fist. It was all lies. She had always known more about him then anyone, even when the mere thought of touching him repulsed her. "You either trust me or you don't," Chuck spat out at last, his voice cold and unflinching.

Blair's eyes narrowed and he waited for her comeback, her insult or screaming fit. It never came. She just grabbed her clutch from the table and stomped out. He watched her go, waiting for the door to click before he stood up himself. He wanted to follow her, he nearly did. He just couldn't give her what she wanted.

So he walked to his bar instead, pouring a triple.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – We're approaching the end of our journey. There are about 2-4 chapters left (it depends how long the last couple weeks take to write). This chapter was very BC but expect some Eric and SNV over the next few. This story ends shortly before Christmas, and the sequel starts immediately after.

LittleDancer – Yes, Amelia is the one who smashed the perfume bottle. She's also the one who stole the home movies.

Midnight Sky – I adore the friendship between Nate & Chuck. I could never kill it off :)

Delphin – I'm glad you're not going to detour. There are only a few chapters left in this story for you to get through, and then the sequel starts immediately after.

:D – thanks

Puresimplicity – I actually love Georgina as a character. I am tempted at moments to redeem her but she's just too far gone I think. There are only a few chapters left and the sequel will all be about Chuck's relationships with others (along with other storylines of course).

BRKOD – Thanks for the great review. Georgina has nearly run her course. She has a few more tricks up her sleeve (just two actually). We'll have to see if Chuck can get through the last couple.

Up Next – Up on the roof of the Palace, a confession, and an exploding car?


Chapter 20: Chapter Seventeen Part One


Chapter Seventeen

Do you hate me yet? Good! That means I'm close to victory, so close to the final prize that I can taste him on my lips. What? You doubt me? I never thought it was going to be an easy task, to rethread the strings that I purposely broke. Then again, the only things worth having are worth fighting for.

Chuck ran a hand through his matted hair. He had a thirst that lukewarm water by the bedside could never quench. He hadn't stopped drinking until the drunkenness had erased his words to Blair. They had been cruel, artfully crafted and purposely said. He needed her to go away, for her questions to stop. She was asking too much. Couldn't she understand that it was his past and his business? Chuck rubbed at his still tired eyes and meandered on unsteady legs to the bar. She didn't need to know. The truth would crush her. Chuck poured another glass of scotch, comforted as much by the sight of the amber liquid swirling in the glass as the burning sensation at first taste.

"Breakfast of champions?" The teasing voice cut through the morning stillness.

Chuck turned to see his brother standing idly at the suite door. That boy was too quiet. He needed to wear a bell of something. Chuck just glared at him, and turned the glass in his hand.

"That bad?"

Chuck glared harder but then he noticed something. There were lines under Eric's eyes as well, his morning perkiness forced rather than natural.

"Pour me a glass," Eric took his place at the bar. Chuck relented with an arched brow, watching across the slate as the younger boy sipped in matching form. "If it makes you feel any better Damien won't take my calls."

Chuck looked up in surprise. "Why?" Eric shrugged his shoulders to show that he didn't know. "Have you tried going over?"

"I'd rather preserve my last shred of manhood."

"You're too young to have manhood," Chuck smirked into his glass.

"Thanks."

"Anytime."

"Blair flew through the apartment in a flurry of anger this morning." Eric admitted and Chuck stared harder at the amber liquid. "What the hell is happening with you? Georgina... Chuck! Really!"

Chuck ripped roughly at his unwashed hair.

"You're going to lose Blair."

Chuck took a deep breath and when he faced the younger boy, Eric understood that Chuck had already known that. "I've already lost her."

"I don't follow." Eric admitted. Chuck hesitated just a moment before withdrawing the blackberry from his pocket, pushing a few buttons, and slamming it on the table. The small video played, displaying Chuck in all his adulterous glory. Eric was suitably shocked, "I don't understand."

"She's blackmailing me."

"I figured that out,' Eric drawled. He wasn't that simple. "I don't understand why you provided the material."

"Does it matter?"

"I thought you loved Blair," Eric stared his brother straight in the eye. "I mean that doesn't mean that you couldn't..." Eric was losing track of his thoughts faster than Nate under the influence.

"Don't insult me." Chuck spat out. He wasn't a cheater like his father. "That night Blair was drugged. I thought she had stood me up, I thought she had..." Chuck rolled his eyes unable to even finish the thought.

Eric's confusion lifted. "I understand," he put a hand to his brother's arm only to have the old boy wrench his whole body away before contact. "You need to show it to Blair."

Chuck's laugher filled the air, an acidic and hollow sound that dug somewhere deep.

"You really think that Georgina is going to stop?"

Chuck already knew she wouldn't. "I just need to buy some more time. I need to figure out a way to extract myself..." Chuck thought aloud. He knew he wasn't just talking about the blackmail; he needed a way to extract her nails from him once and for all.

Eric was going to try to convince Chuck otherwise when his phone beeped.

I'm downstairs. Can you meet me?

Damien

Chuck read it over his shoulder and smirked. "At least one of us is going to get some today," He drawled, and then, grabbing the scotch bottle, swaggered straight back to his bedroom. Eric watched him go and considered following, but decided on the path more likely to end in victory.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Damien was standing outside the doors of the Palace. The rain thrashed so angrily from the skies that it bounced upward, soaking Damien's pants through. The boy hadn't thought to wear anything beyond a thick sweater, hood half covering his dark hair. He looked like he had drowned standing up, and it couldn't help but soften Eric's heart. Damien looked like he had been cast aside and in a way he had been. There was a reason why the Brit hadn't met Eric in the family loft.

Eric stepped outside, pulling his warmer jacket around him. "Damien?"

"Eric?"

"I..."

"Can we walk?" Damien interrupted. Eric shook his head, but the little pricks started in his stomach. They were a couple blocks over before Damien started. "Listen, I'm sorry I haven't called you back."

"Are you?" Eric reflected noncommittally.

"I just didn't know what to think."

"About what?"

"What happened to your brother's girlfriend."

"That's Chuck and Blair's issue."

"You really think that? Don't you get worried that she might target his family?"

"We're not really related," Eric dismissed the concern. "He's my stepbrother."

"You're closer then that. Don't you think this Georgina girl could target you?"

"Don't be absurd."

"Okay," Damien shook his head and abruptly let the topic drop. He pulled a thick manila envelope from his bag. "I have something for you." Eric arched a brow and took the offered slip. "The magazine has decided to publish two of your photos. This is the contract." Eric eyed the paper in surprise, and then slid it behind his jacket to keep dry. "I picked the photos myself. Your mother must sign that." Eric's face fell at that declaration. "It might be a good opening to discuss things."

"Damien, you can't..."

"I know. Just think about it. My art opening is in a week."

"And..." Eric paused, his unease multiplying in little spasms along his spine.

"I want you to be there. But if you are not ready to tell your mother then it would be better if you do not come." Eric was stunned into silence and before he could think to say anything, Damien was half way down the street.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck ran his finger along the blackberry screen, buffing the already shining screen. He wanted to call Blair but he didn't have anything to say. He couldn't discuss what she wanted to. There was no distance at present, no blurry greyness to hide the past. It was all too close at present, too real to wax eloquently on.

He was a fucking mess. He hadn't even changed from the night before, rumpled dress shirt hanging half out of dark pants. Sometime that morning school had begun, and even though Eric had manoeuvred his re-entrance, Chuck could even muster enough energy for a bath, never mind a day of education.

Chuck leaned against the edge of his bed, rubbing the frosted glass distractedly against his forehead. When the name Georgina flashed across the screen it felt it acutely. He pressed a hand to his forehead, and ignored that tears that welled in his eyes. Biting them back with a raspy curse, Chuck flipped the platinum screen open. He didn't even bother to intone a greeting.

"Friday night," The feminine voice softly intoned. "Nine O'clock, roof of the Palace."

"You're not permitted here," Chuck countered though he knew the excuse fruitless.

"You have ways of circumventing your father's wishes," Georgina reminded him and ended the call.

He was shocked the psycho had the fortitude to wait three days, but it was likely another tool to pry away at his defences. How was he supposed to put anything right when such a test remained?

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric studied each of the photos. Damien had selected each personally and Eric immediately knew why. There was an intimacy to the photos that couldn't be explained away. In the first, Damien was perched forward, his shark tooth necklace dangling in midair. His body was turned to the canvas but his eyes were turned away. They were focussed entirely on the camera; openly, staring in fixation. The other was more guarded, but the familiarity showed through. Eric put the photos down. He started to flip through the contract, studying terms he didn't understand to seek out what he wished to. He needed to know what to do. He didn't want to be ashamed of who he was. He wasn't ashamed of who he was.

But he lived his life too quietly to be proud. So maybe it was time to make a little noise.

He knew that if these photos passed his mother's desk, and through that his stepfather's that they would never make it beyond. They'd be refused for an entirely different reason. Not because Eric was gay but because his family might not be prepared to let everyone know it. So he made a choice. He took the two photos and slipped them into his desk drawer, resealing the envelope.

His mother would learn along with the rest of their world.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck rolled to the side of his bed and punched at his blackberry, trying to make it turn silent. The light poured through his floor to ceiling windows and he winced against it. What time was it? How many hours had he lain there? He checked his wrist only to find his watch gone. He had thrown it somewhere days earlier in some vain attempt to make time stop.

"Chuck." He heard the voice from across the room and turned his face to it. Blair stood staring at him. At first he thought it a figment of his imagination but then Blair's expression turned murderous and Chuck knew he had better sense than to pretend that.

Blair crossed the room to stand before him. He tried to keep his eyes on hers but the room kept spinning. He tried to say something but words escaped him. "Chuck," Blair insisted, pushing his drunken face from side to side. The quick movements did little to help his vertigo. Why was she there? He just knew that she shouldn't be. She was going to leave him too.

"Just tell me what is wrong." Chuck tried to turn his face away, to avert his eyes from hers but she held fast. She dug her nails into the stubble of his chin, and forced him to look at her. "Talk to me."

Chuck brought his arm up and slapped her hand as hard as he could. Their contact broke and Chuck stood to tower over her, stumbling slightly in his attempt to stand upright. "Don't you get it? I have nothing to say!" He took a menacing step towards her and for the first time, despite his years of drunken debauchery and his untamed reputation, Blair Waldorf feared Chuck Bass. "Get out," Chuck spat, and if she had been inclined to tarry, then the pure venom in his voice would have changed her mind.

The moment the door shut, Chuck grabbed his half-empty glass from the table. Throwing the last sips down his throat, Chuck squeezed the tumbler between his fingers. He squeezed out all his anger, his hurt, his frustration until the glass shattered in his hand. He could feel the shards of glass cut but not the pain that followed. Throwing the bloody bits to the table he grabbed a towel from the bar. He wrapped it halfhazardly around his hand. He didn't stop to clean the wound; he simply poured himself another glass and lay on his bed. The room was spinning and Chuck closed his eyes. He laid the glass to his side and stretched his injured hand beside him. He just needed sleep. He needed everything to just go away for a minute. He needed his life back. He needed Blair back.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric speared a strip of bacon with his fork, barely listening to the chatter around the table. Serena and his mother were talking on insignificant subjects; Bart was hiding behind his newspaper. They were ignoring the empty seat and the perpetually absent brother and son. Chuck hadn't left his suite in days and even Eric, knowing more than any other, couldn't make full sense of it. The others weren't even inclined to try.

Or so he thought.

"Where is Chuck?" Bart threw his newspaper to the side.

Was the question rhetorical? Even Bart Bass knew where his son was. The other three exchanged glances until Serena spoke up. "He's still upstairs."

Bart checked his watch. "You're all due at school in half an hour."

Another round of confused glances passed before Eric tried his hand. "Would you like me to get him?"

Bart put a hand to his rumpled newspaper and considered. Then he pushed it further aside and stood. "I'll take care of it."

Eric shared a look with his sister but before a discussion could ensue, Lily interrupted them. "I mailed the contract," Lily explained and Eric's throat went suddenly tight.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck rolled to his side, a constant pounding racing through his mind. He pulled the blankets tighter to his side, ignoring the dampness that pervaded through. He pushed the empty and tipped scotch glass to the floor and cursed at the morning light. Snaking himself deeper beneath his pillow he begged the pounding to stop. It did. But only for an instant. Then it was replaced by a loud voice, a familiar voice, his father's voice. He closed his eyes even harder.

"Chuck, where are you? It's time to get ready for school."

Chuck scoffed beneath his covers. Was the man joking?

"Chuck," the voice grew stronger and his sheets were pulled from him. "Get up."

"Go away."

He could hear the hiss as his father inhaled. Bart wasn't used to being addressed in such a manner. "It is time for you to return to St. Judes."

"Not today," Chuck scowled and Bart grabbed his shoulders.

"You will do as I say."

Chuck rolled over and stared up at his father. "I don't think so."

"This is how you're going to live? Locked in a room, filling yourself with alcohol?"

"I didn't say that," Chuck countered, eyes turning dark.

"What a waste," Bart shook his head in disgust.

Chuck sat straight at the insult, the twisted but familiar blend of guilt and disappointment warming his belly to indignation. "I am your son after all," Chuck reminded him with a wave towards the door. The towel dropped with his movement, and left for his father's perusal a pale hand with five sharp cuts.

Bart was startled for a moment and Chuck soon learned his mistake. "Let me look at your hand," Bart asked, trying to grab at it.

Chuck wrenched his hand away before his father could touch him. "Call someone else to do it," He barked.

"I'm right here."

"It's too late."

Bart put a hand to his mouth and considered. While normally not a man to lose, he did follow the philosophy of tactical retreat. "Fine," he muttered and backed towards the door. Chuck's dark expression followed the older man out. In the last instant, before he crossed beyond the bedroom door, Bart turned back. "If you would just open your eyes then you would see how many people want to help; how many people love and care about you."

"Get out," Chuck ordered.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

What had happened to him? He had transformed into some ineffectual softie, intent on some hazy and optimistic future. He had become some estranged poet trapped in a horrid present and dreaming of something better. He had stopped living, stopped trying to control that which was controlling him. He knew why it was. Chuck had never had anything to lose. He'd lived the last seven years in abandonment of emotional strings. Now he was tied by them. He was a marionette and Georgina was the puppeteer. He was letting it happen. He was the one who was letting the world swirl into craziness. He knew why. Chuck Bass loved Blair Waldorf and that meant he was doomed to lose her because Chuck never got to keep anything or anyone he loved.

Chuck staggered back into the living space. He dug through the rapidly emptying liquor cabinet to find something to quench his emotional thirst. He dropped a few ice cubes into his glass, but before he could find something to tempt he felt a rush of warm breath against his neck.

"Blair?" Chuck could smell the rose before he turned.

Blair was in his arms instantly, thin index finger brushing against his lips. "Don't speak," She very nearly begged. Brown eyes met brown eyes and he was memorized. Then she drew her finger down and replaced it with her own lips. There was gentleness at first, a timidity that bordered almost on hesitation. Except that Blair would never be timid or gentle, except with him.

Neither rushed the moment. Perhaps it was kindness or perhaps it was genuine fear. They moved slowly through their movements, their kisses temperate and soft when they couldn't be. He would have carried her to the bedroom but he'd already drunk too much. She would have let him, but she wanted to be the instigator. She stepped first to the side room, unzipping her green dress as she walked. He followed the curve of her back as it appeared and then disappeared beyond the doorway. By the time he'd crossed the threshold she was twisted in his silk sheets.

She lay before him in all her glory, thick chestnut curls decorating her slender arms and gathering around the hollow of her stomach. She smiled up at him, her red lips parting invitingly. Despite everything that had happened, everything he had said, she still desired him. He had never wanted her as much as he did in that moment.

He crawled on top of her, covering his lithe body with his larger frame, dominating her in the only way he ever could. Her lips were on his before he could speak, had he wanted to. She snaked a hand beneath his rumpled dress shirt. Within a moment it was on the floor and her fingertips were teasing the skin of his chest, grazing the pale skin of his stomach and tickling the gentle skin below. "Make love to me," She whispered in his ear and he was momentarily dazed. In all the times they had touched, in all their movements she'd never asked that of him.

He'd be damned sure to try.

He adored her, worshiped her with his hands and his mouth. He delayed, teased, taunted and tantalized until she lifted her hips to meet him, until she forced herself onto him with a matching groan. He moved slowly, agonizingly so but he wanted to preserve the moment, the feel of her skin on his, of her soft breath tickling his ear.

"I love you," Blair whispered through the fog in his head.

His blood ran suddenly very, very cold and he froze. "Chuck?" She asked, putting a hand to his cheek. He stared down at her confusion and then averted his gaze. "What is wrong?" She asked putting both hands to cover her face. He couldn't stand the touch. He leapt from the bed, turning to face away. His breath was growing dangerously irregular and he had to focus on it, on the breathing exercises that Eric had taught him. He couldn't focus on the shuffling of bed sheets behind him, Blair's movement across the carpet. Chuck grabbed his robe from where it hung and threw it around himself. He needed some kind of barrier. "Chuck," she ran a soft hand against his covered arm and Chuck could barely breathe. Blair darted around his side, forced him to look at her. He ought to have been calmed by her doe eyes, but her words still burned him. "Chuck what is the matter? Are you going to be okay?" She tried to touch him further but he jumped to the side.

He walked purposefully to the bathroom and shut the door between them. What the hell was wrong with him? It's the words he'd wanted to hear for so long. He should have been rejoicing, been ravishing. Instead, he had his back to a locked door with no mind to breach the barrier. He could hear her on the other side, moving around the room. He knew she was gathering her discarded clothes and his eyes started to water. The wracking sobs came next; her sobs that echoed through the large room and wrenched Chuck's chest. He shut his eyes fiercely. It didn't help, his tears still came.

He cried soundlessly, too afraid that someone would notice, that someone would realize how close to broken he was. He waited until Blair left the room and then fell to the ground, sitting against the thick wood door. He buried his face in his hands and tried to make sense. There were no answers.

But there was one pressing question. Chuck grabbed the phone from where he had tossed it nights before. "Eric," Chuck mumbled through the phone. He held his breath as he spoke, not wanting the younger boy to realize he'd been crying.

"Are you alright?"

"You need to get Serena."

"Why?"

"Blair needs her."

"Did you tell her?"

"It's so much worse than that," Chuck admitted and shut his phone.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – So the characters just totally went AWOL! My little Blair insisted on telling Chuck she loved him. She needs to pick better timing (just like in the last episode which I absolutely freaking adored. I'm so excited for 2X14 too). The end of this chapter is Georgina's last test, though she has been planning one other way to mess with him all along :)

Astondene – Yeah, his line was pretty sad but it's kind of hopeful too. His can accept his mother's death, but what he's having the worst time with is his father's transformation.

Sky – You'll get more CB and more CG. Who's Chuck going to end up with? B? G? Neither? Vanessa (sorry, had to throw that in there)

LittleDancer – yeah, I feel for Blair too. She doesn't deserve anything that's happened to her in this fic (well, I guess she could'a ditched Serena earlier, but being a good friend is being a good friend)

BRKOF – There's only one more flashback I think. It's at the end of this chapter and it's a biggie :) Don't quote me on it. I had to kind of show what Chuck's family was like and why Georgina could have meant something to Chuck. I do love the Misty-Bart-Chuck dynamic. It was fun to write.

Puresimplicity – I think Chuck is a masochist and I also think he believes that Georgina had some sort of answer for him (and maybe she does)

Lilac – thanks

Eek – I wrote a few chapters back about what the sequel was on. I'll post a full summary and a couple sneak peaks in the epilogue here.

:d - thanks

Up Next –Up on the Palace, a different kind of confession, GG and an exploding car?


Chapter 21: Chapter Seventeen Part Two


Serena knocked hesitantly at the door. She wasn't sure why. The pale blue door was familiar and Serena knew what happened behind it. Serena had dropped her friends at Socialista, had abandoned all Friday night entertainments at Eric's call. The blonde put her ear to the door and listened. She could hear Blair crying through the oak, small unregulated sobs that barely broke through. "Blair," Serena poured as much concern as she could into that single syllable.

"Go away," Blair called back.

"You and I both know I'm not going to," Serena replied, opening the door softly.

Blair looked at her sceptically for a moment. Serena had her moments, but Blair was the one who supported. Serena was the wild child who burned until she lit herself aflame. Blair was the one who doused the flames and knitted the scars. Blair could have laughed at her friend's sincerity but the entire scene was too familiar: Blair sitting helplessly on her bathroom floor, Serena standing over. Blair was supposed to be the saviour but Serena had saved her twice in as many years.

Beggars never could be choosers. Blair put out her hand and let her taller friend pull her up. Serena finally noticed it then; how sunken her friend's cheeks had become and how every ounce of strain slowed clearly against her thin shoulders. Everything on display: no one to see it.

"You need to get help," Serena said simply.

"I know," Blair agreed the same way she did a year prior.

But what she needed right now was the help of a good friend. Perhaps Serena knew that too, because within thirty minutes they were buried deep in thick cashmere blankets, eyes glued to the flat screen in Blair's room. Serena didn't pry. They weren't the same. Serena would talk endlessly; Blair kept things close to her heart. Serena gave her the time and the space, and by halfway through the movie she was rewarded.

"I told Chuck that I loved him," Blair let out at a momentary pause.

Serena turned in shock, and Blair could feel her eyes roll automatically. "You mean you hadn't before?" Blair couldn't help but crack a smile at Serena's response. "I mean don't get me wrong," Serena backtracked. "It just seemed pretty obvious." Blair turned strangely silent at that. "I'm guessing it didn't go well?" Serena prompted. The tears started to well in Blair's eyes, and if the discovery in the bathroom hadn't been enough, then the silently falling tears would have explained just how poorly it had gone. "What happened?"

"I thought that if I could say it, then he would finally trust me. I could help him," Blair shook her head pathetically.

"I don't think anyone can help Chuck Bass," Serena replied with an arched brow.

The smile reappeared at that, and Blair hid it behind a pillow that Serena soon grabbed away. Perhaps Serena shouldn't have because when the air against hit the brunette's face, her smile had already disappeared. "What happened?" Serena asked more seriously

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

"What happened?" Eric stood beside the bar, the picture of calm collection. Chuck threw him a distracted look and pushed papers back and forth, looking for the familiar flash of platinum.

"I don't have time for this," Chuck grabbed at his cell.

"You don't have time to avoid it either." Eric used his newly found force and the older brother paused.

Chuck raked a hand through his hair. "Blair told me she loved me." He admitted, a crease of his forehead replaying his own discomfort.

A moment of pleased surprise overtook Eric's features before Chuck's sombre silence retracted Eric's joy. "It didn't go well?" Eric questioned when his brother offered no reply. Chuck snorted at the understatement. "You couldn't say it back?" Eric guessed.

Chuck rolled his eyes and made a show of digging through his jacket pockets. "If only it were that little."

Eric's eyes widened at that. "What did happen?"

"I ran out on her," Chuck admitted. "Correction," he rephrased, his eyes already glistening. "I locked myself in the ensuite."

Eric stood dumbfounded, not only by Chuck's words but by the slow glazing over of his eyes. "Chuck...you're," he began but before he could put the thoughts to words Chuck bit back with a thick curse.

"No I'm not," Chuck insisted, and within a moment Chuck's glare had dried his eyes.

"I thought that..."

"It was what I wanted more than anything," Chuck stopped moving and stared straight at his brother. "It was."

Eric struggled for words, the play of his face a mirror of his brother's thoughts.

"If I could explain it then I would." Chuck said aloud but in silence he knew a greater truth. He'd realized it when his head was tipped back against the cool wood of the bathroom door. Who had ever loved Chuck Bass? Perhaps that wasn't the question. Who had ever loved Chuck Bass and stayed? His mother had sworn them in the last hug she gave him. It didn't stop her from stepping into oblivion. His father had uttered them as his Aunt Kaitlyn ushered him away. It didn't stop him from morphing into an unknown.

Love wasn't enough to keep anything as it ought to be.

"You need to talk to Blair," Eric repeated his advice from days before. "She will understand."

"I will," Chuck promised sincerely. "I just have one more thing to do," He checked his watch and grabbed his heavy coat from the sideboard.

"What could be more important than that?"

Chuck didn't say a word as he slipped the thick wool around his frame.

"You can't be serious," Eric shook his head once he understood.

"I don't have a choice."

"Yes you do."

"It'll be over after tonight," Chuck promised.

"How can you be sure?" Eric asked.

Chuck almost didn't answer him but the last moment before he stepped through the open door he turned. "Georgina can't do any worse than this."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair entered the small coffee shop. She's stayed with Serena until the girl's optimistic cheeriness had created a new pain. She wanted to be alone with her thoughts, or at least able to avoid them in private. Except she also didn't trust herself to be alone, so she struck a familiar compromise walking three blocks down to her favourite cafe. It was a quiet spot away from the demands of societal life. It served the university set, all too old to care about the trials and tribulations of high school.

Sometimes she'd sit there and pretend she was one of them, at home from Yale on sessional break. Sometimes she'd pretend her life had no greater problem than the danger of failing economics 101.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck stood at the edge of the Palace rooftop. A thousand people walked below, like ants scurrying from one unimportant task to another, a never ending pursuit of nothingness. It was beautiful, he supposed, the way Christmas lights blinked endlessly, reflecting against the rain soaked streets. He didn't turn back to the doorway, didn't study the small garden that had once been pavement and wicker furniture. He didn't need to, he remembered all the same. The memory was imprinted into his mind: the footprint of another time.

"He sold it," Chuck tried to light his cigarette but the fingers shook too hard to fire the wick. Chuck slammed it down on the glass tabletop, wincing at the large crack it made. "He fucking sold our house."

"You knew he was trying to," Georgina reminded him. She took the lighter from where it lay and it her own cigarette, pressing its end to Chuck's.

"To some fucking Hong Kong family," Chuck snarled, taking a deep drag. "Some asshole businessman and his 2.5 kids: probably a bunch of pretentious overachievers."

"Now Charlie," Georgina teased lightly and climbed beside him on the wicker lounging chair. "Let's not deal in stereotypes."

Despite his increasing anger, Chuck couldn't help but crack a smile. It was only momentary and Chuck regretted it, because it just brought more confusion to his thoughts. He needed the anger; he needed to dwell in it. It was easier then facing the dull ache that rolled in at its recession. "I just want my life back."Chuck said, tears starting to cloud his dark eyes.

Georgina put a hand to his cheek, rubbing each of his tears away before they fell. As she did, she lifted a leg over his, pulling herself upright against him. She brought a flask of vodka to his lips and the boy drank gratefully.

"I just want it to all go away," Chuck admitted, his tears coming too fast to be chased away.

"Shhh," Georgina leaned forward and pressed her lips to his cheeks. She could feel the salt linger at the edges of her mouth and she moved her lips upward until they covered his closed lids. She could feel the heat beneath them and she whispered. "There is something."

"Anything," Chuck said blindly. He was prepared to take any pill, to find any release she suggested. He'd been following her down the rabbit hole for weeks already.

Her lips moved lower, touching his without hesitation. He mirrored her movements. This was not the first time they had kissed during his drunken nights of healing. He didn't even pause as her tongue darted into his mouth. She tasted like coke and cherry chapstick. She covered his hands and moved them to her own shirt. He fumbled on each button, her smile growing in wickedness at his own uneasiness. It was nothing new. He had traced the lines of her ribs with his fingertips, touched her barely formed chest. Then her fingers dropped to his belt buckle and things became startling different. His first instinct was to stop her but he did not. He smiled instead and kissed her as the rain drops dampened his exposed flesh. He trusted her implicitly because she had reformed him. She had taken his broken self and rebuilt.

"I love you," Chuck whispered against her collarbone. She never said it back but he had never expected her to. Instead her fingers dipped below his shirt, pulling it free from his shoulders. She replaced the cloth with her own skin, their bodies mixing with the rainwater. It might have been romantic had they not been eleven year old children, drunkenly fumbling their way towards a division not meant to be crossed. Georgina led him in every movement, the reason for her own knowledge never to be discussed.

They didn't linger when it was over, the heat of their bodies soon chilled by the angry skies. She didn't hold his hand on the elevator ride down; he didn't try to hold anything. His body was still shaking, but it wasn't with the force of unshed tears or even the force of tears that had plagued him these last seven weeks. It was something softer, something ecstatic that he didn't want to end.

He stared at her chocolate shaded hair. Despite the rainwater, which had turned it to a frizzy mess, it remained thick and straight. It fell just below her shoulders and as she moved under the elevator lights it shimmered for his eyes alone. He loved that hair. It was just like his mothers.

"You remind me of her," Chuck decided and Georgina smiled. It wasn't just the hair.

Chuck shook his head and stared down. It was sobering being that high, being two steps from peril and yet strangely safe. For a perverse moment he wondered what his mother had thought. But then there had been no miles of pavement, no scurrying of people, just a thin strip of river dividing a new life and an old.

"If you want my advice," a familiar voice called, "I say jump."

Chuck spun around to face the chestnut-haired psycho. "After you," he said with such sincerity that even Georgina flinched.

"You would follow me," Georgina recovered herself. "You always have."

"When I was young and foolish," Chuck admitted with one last look down. "I've grown up Georgie," He finished, stepping back from the edge. The honestly in his voice undermined his nemesis as he hoped it would. Insults and accusations only fed her ego, and the twisted game she'd created but honestly cut her to the core. "Why did you ask me here?" Chuck stared right at her.

"To get to the truth."

"What do you truly want Georgie?" Chuck crossed his arms and deepened his glare. "To reminisce about the past because, if I remember correctly, I wasn't the one to walk away."

Georgina just stood there, unable to put her thoughts to words.

"You stand there and say I am afraid of the truth but you're the one hiding being twisted games." Chuck watched her carefully, studying her response. She couldn't make any. She stood paralyzed by his words and after a moment Chuck rolled his eyes and started for the door. "You're pathetic." He was nearly gone before Georgina found her voice.

"I want you," Georgina said against the winter night, and the simplicity of the declaration made Chuck stop. There was a time that he had yearned to hear those words, so perhaps he couldn't be blamed for pausing a minute in remembrance. Georgina crossed the small divide to stand before him.

There was a moment, when the vanilla tickled his nose, her freshly washed hair tickled his shoulder and her lips parted invitingly. There was a moment he could have kissed her. But that moment passed as quickly as it had came. She curled herself into his arms and he felt nothing but the weight of her slight body. He stared at her coloured hair, her dilated pupils and knew it then. Once there had been a thread of something to remind him. There had been wildness in her that had been mirrored in his mother but Misty Bass had the purest heart. Georgina's was pure black.

Once there had been a connection but now there was nothing. He'd spent so long running from his moment that he'd never felt the thread snap.

"Well that's too bad," Chuck said simply and the clarity with which he said it; the resoluteness made Georgina shiver in his arms. "You are nothing to me," He pushed her calmly away. "You never have been and you never will be."

"You're lying," Georgina's voice rose an octave with her own uncertainty.

"Goodbye Georgina," Chuck said evenly.

"I don't think so," Georgina snarled, the anger twisting her face to an unrecognizable shape.

Chuck didn't even respond. He simply turned towards the door.

"I'll tell Blair," Georgina cried out. "I'll show her the video."

Chuck turned back for just a moment. "You were always planning to."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Once he was in the elevator, Chuck could no longer pretend such indifference to Georgina's threat. He pulled his phone and took several shaky breaths. He prayed to a God that he didn't believe in, prayed that Blair still trusted him enough to listen, or at least to answer.

"Chuck," Her voice was unreadable, all emotions were drained from it.

"Where are you?"

Blair hesitated in her answer, and Chuck's stomach jumped. "I'm at Roasting Beans."

"Will you wait for me there?"

"Why Chuck?"

"I need you to."

"Fine."

"And I need you to turn off your laptop and your phone until I get there."

"Why?"

"There is something I need to tell you."

"You had better explain yourself," Blair's voice lost all its kindness.

"I will," Chuck promised. "If you truly love me you will shut everything off and let me do so." Chuck could hear the laptop snap shut and smiled despite himself.

"You have thirty minutes," Blair promised sharply and then cut the call.

Chuck stood at the edge of curb and hailed a cab.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck drummed his fingers impatiently against the taxi's thin cushioning. He glanced out both windows; there was no crack in the sea of vehicles. He checked his watch, and drummed harder, his patience growing thin. He flipped his phone open and dialled Blair's number only to have it go to voicemail. The tiny inkling of pleasure that she had followed his wishes was outdone by his growing dread. "What the hell is wrong?" He yelled through the dividing glass.

20 minutes.

The cabbie leaned out the window to yell at a passerby. A few words were exchanged and the driver turned to Chuck. "It's a bad accident. The whole road is closed." Chuck looked at his watch again and grabbed some bills from the wallet. He'd tossed the money and was out the door before the cabbie could ask if he wanted to wait.

He weaved through the rows of honking cars, darted between gawking pedestrians until he hit the yellow tape.

15 minutes.

Thick yellow caution tape that was draped from one police cruiser to the other, and momentarily distracted his single minded pursuit. The air was choked thick with the smell of gasoline, and when Chuck turned to the source he winced. There was a new model town car, or what was left of it twisted and smashed beneath a large commercial vehicle. The rich gold exterior had been ripped through with jagged tool marks, exposing the rich leather interior which was stained with... Chuck had to look away. The emergency technicians scurried around the site, yelling instructions and ordering both the crowd and each other.

For a moment Chuck forgot his original purpose, as transfixed as the crowd by the flashing lights against the rows of store windows. The moment quickly passed and he eyed his watch.

10 minutes.

Chuck looked up and down the street, measured the distance of each detour and the time it would take to push through. Realizing he didn't have another choice, Chuck pushed under the yellow tape and darted for the other side. He hardly heard the police officers yell, and didn't recognize their warnings until the explosion rocked the pavement beneath his feet.

Chuck dropped to the ground as acres of glass rained down on him.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair could hear the explosion from two blocks over. Like most of those gathered in the small coffee shop, she rushed to the door in time to see a cloud of smoke rise towards Central Park. She rushed back to her seat and grabbed her cell phone. All promises forgotten, she turned it back on, ready to dial Chuck.

Even the noblest of intentions can be sullied by cold, hard truth.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck coughed and sucked in the rank, smoke infested air. Someone put a hand to him and it reassured the shaken boy. Chuck realized he was still lying on the pavement and not under miles of cement or board. He opened his eyes and rolled over, tiny shards of glass shaking loose from his clothes and sprinkling the cement beneath.

There was a police officer standing over him, talking though Chuck couldn't hear him through the ringing in his ears. He gave his head a shake and waited until his thoughts were in a rational order.

"The paramedic is coming to check you over," The older man stated. "It should only be a minute."

A minute? Chuck eyed his watch. He didn't have a minute to spare. After checking that all toes and fingers were accounted for, Chuck rose and despite the protestations of the captain kept along on his original path. He didn't pay mind to the fire that raged beside him, to the firefighters that swelled in numbers. He kept his eyes straight ahead, his mission intent.

Once he crossed the other side of the caution tape his strides became regular again. His feet willed him on, turning his ramble to an outright run. He needed to get to Blair first; he needed to tell her what had happened.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair let the video play through again and again. She could feel the shame rise up in her chest, painting her cheeks a pale white. Her eyes darted from side to side, wondering who else knew. It was a silly exercise. This was her favourite coffee shop precisely because it was not well liked by the high school set. This is where she went to genuinely study, and not be distracted by gossip or chit chat.

Blair snapped her phone shut and threw it on the table. Her heart was beating erratically and she put a hand to her chest. She tried to will herself to calm, to pretend that she wasn't slowly cracking from the inside out.

Blair stood and started to fill her bag. She threw her belongings into each corner, no rhyme or reason, no typical organizational standard. She needed to get out of there. She couldn't face Chuck now. She could feel the tears start, to blind her from her simple task. She stuffed harder, faster. She stood and manoeuvred through the small shop, rubbing awkwardly at her eyes with each step.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck pushed harder against the pavement, weaving and ducking until he reached Blair's favourite haunt. He pushed the door open, not even noticing the archaic bell or the twenty eyes that stared straight at him. He scanned the room from one side to the other, his heart clenching when he saw no perfect chestnut curls.

He turned around and stared up and down the familiar streets. He saw her then; heels banging against the pavement as she hurried down the street. "Blair," He screamed at the top of his lungs. She heard him, he could tell by how she stumbled awkwardly in her perfect gait but she continued walking. "Blair," he screamed again but she didn't turn. He ran down the street after her. He didn't stop until he was behind her, until his large hand wrapped around her thin arm and forced her to face him. "Blair," he tried again and this time she met him.

He had guessed that she knew when he hadn't found her waiting at the shop, but seeing her tearstained face confirmed the fact. He could only stare, watching as the tears drifted slowly down her perfectly formed cheekbones.

She was stunningly beautiful, even when broken.

Her doe eyes had grown to saucers of spun gold; the tears painting them clearer and reflecting every outlying light in their depth. She held herself tall, her head perfectly still. It was feigned strength undone in the tiny shivers that danced across her collarbone.

He wanted to mend her. He wanted to fix all the cracks he'd made and make them stronger than before.

He just didn't know where to start.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – There's something that happened in this chapter that ties into how this story is a sequel to Try Honesty (How vague was that :))

I'm really nervous about this chapter so I decided to post it before I change my mind. Hopefully there's not too many errors (all my work is un-betaed), and it's easy enough to follow. I can't believe I'm posting in exactly a week. Hopefully I can get this installment finished over my Christmas break.

Blood Red Kiss of Death – E/D is going to get one last major shake down :)

Ashtondene – thanks :)

Sky Samuelle – He scampered off during (ouch eh!) There's lots of stupid foreshadowing in my writing (remember when C had that discussion about not saying ILU during sex?)

Puresimplicity – Chuck is definitely choosing to play her game (though he's stopped now) because he was searching for some kind of resolution. I think he got it here and he'll reflect on it next chapter. Chuck & Bart will eventually make amends but it won't be tied up by the end of this book.

Midnight Sky – It is possible that Chuck will end up with G (ducks to avoid rotten tomatoes). Though it depends on your interpretation of "with". That's all I'm saying. Damien has a role in the sequel (make of that what you want). I've decided to include one more flashback of CG just because I realize you get the build up to this chapter's flashback but you never get a flash of what happened after.

Up Next – Chuck faces a choice. Who was driving that exploding car? Is Georgina finally done or has she finally won?


Chapter 22: Chapter Eighteen Part One


A/N – This is short and I totally ripped off dialogue from different episodes in Season two. So thank you Josh Schwartz for the words and my vain attempt to try to tie in some things that happened in S2. On the plus this chapter is up in only two days (does a little happy dance).

You Can't Forget Your First: No Matter How Hard You Try

Chapter Eighteen

Do you hate me yet? I kind of thought you would. I can't say I'm sorry for anything I've done. I can't say I'm sorry for anything at all, except the fact that my plans have proved fruitless.

But I am not deterred, I am never broken. There is always a hidden plan for each that is exposed. There is always another hand to play, a scheme to better. I will not give up; I will not desist until I have matched him. Until I have taken from him everything he took from me.

The rain hammered down on the pair, but neither noticed. Their eyes were locked in a familiar dance, each outwardly cautious but inwardly reckless. "You're cut," Blair broke their uneasy silence. Chuck didn't even register her words until her hand was halfway to his cheek. What did register was the rejection when she pulled abruptly back.

Chuck brushed absently at his own face; the superficial cut barely darkening the rainwater that soaked his hand. "Will you stay?"

"Will you talk?" Blair countered.

"It was Georgina," Chuck began and instantly Blair snorted and turned her head. "She was blackmailing me."

"You think I care about that?" Blair cut him off. Chuck's eyes went suddenly darker. "You think I care about any of that?"

Chuck drew a breath in confusion. He studied Blair's face and tried to understand. He didn't know how to make sense of her words.

"Why did you do it Chuck?" Blair stared straight into his eyes.

"I'm sorry," Chuck touched her arm but Blair immediately pulled it back. She wouldn't let him touch her, but Chuck tried again. "I am so sorry that it happened."

A strangled cry escaped from Blair's unpainted lips but it wasn't enough to derail her. "That is not what I asked you. Why Chuck. I asked you why."

"I..." He began but then got lost. "I...I...," Chuck wanted to curse aloud. He wanted to curse himself. He knew the answers: I was scared, I was vulnerable, I thought I had lost the woman I loved. He knew what to say but no matter how much he willed it, he couldn't make the words form.

"And that's why this will never work," Blair turned to walk away.

Chuck knew that, but in hearing his thoughts reflected, Chuck finally understood why he had done battle with Georgina. It wasn't for revenge; it wasn't because she was blackmailing him. He was hoping that by facing her he might restore the boy he had been, the one who had loved without question. Instead he'd confirmed a radically different truth. Nothing of that boy remained; it was a skin he had long since outgrown. He had to accept what he had grown into: A broken child who hid his own insecurities behind bravado or a bottle. A man only half formed who had ignored his own cracking self and avoided his own impending doom. It was a sobering and humbling reality.

It hurt to know that Blair could see it too.

"I didn't sleep with her. Doesn't that count for anything?" Chuck yelled out to her retreating form.

"You think that's what this is about?" Blair turned back to accuse and Chuck drew silent. Blair bit back a sob and stepped closer. "You stopped trying. You stopped trusting me. I never expected you to be perfect, or noble or anything other that what you are. You're Chuck Bass," she couldn't suppress the eye roll "but I'm Blair Waldorf."

"Then don't give up." Chuck touched her arm again and this time she didn't turn away.

"Give me a reason to stay."

"Because you want to."

"That's not enough."

"Because I want you too."

"It's not enough."

"What else is there?"

"The real reason that I shouldn't just give up now: Three words, eight letters. Say them and I'm yours."

Blair was done, she had said her piece but she stayed standing there. Chuck Bass had a choice. He could have said that he loved her, she could have flown into his arms and they could have continued this strange meandering path to nowhere. He would have if it had been about the almost, but not quite, infidelity. He would have raged and begged but Blair's words had cut him deeper than that. The truth tended to do that. Chuck knew he was headed to a hell of his own creation and he loved Blair enough not to drag her down with him. So he turned his face and averted his eyes. He waited until the meaning was clear. He couldn't say anything; he couldn't trust his voice not to crack.

"Thank you," Blair said with feigned politeness, pulling her arm free from his. "That's all I needed." Blair pulled her wool coat tighter to her frame and walked away.

Chuck could feel the tears start to well in his eyes and this time he knew it wasn't going to be able to bite back the force of his emotions. He fumbled through his pockets until he found his pack of cigarettes. Lighting one he held it between his lips. He focused on his breathing, until the repetitive motion started to calm. Until the slow breathes overrode the aching in his chest.

Then he remembered who had taught him that particular trick and threw the cigarette to the ground, stomping it with vehemence.

He weaved back and forth along the pavement, never making any progress in any direction. It was a lost ramble and after a few moments he collapsed on the curb. He didn't notice the cold pavement, or how the rain-soaked cement stained his designer clothes. He didn't notice anything.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena tried calling Blair again only to have it turned away. She'd been trying to contact her ever since Gossip Girl had aired Chuck's infidelities. She should have stayed with her, but even the worst pessimist couldn't predict the night would take a worse turn, and Serena was the eternal optimist. Now she was beyond scared. Blair was never without her phone, could never bring herself to turn it off. It went against every organizational fibre of the brunette's being.

"Did you get hold of Nate?" Serena asked her brother, who was slowly making his way through their contacts list.

"He hasn't seen her," Eric called while covering the phone.

"How about Chu..." Serena's voice died when she saw the subject of her question enter the family suite. His jacket was in a disarray that matched his thick hair. His eyes were rimmed in red and for a moment Serena felt sympathy for her friend. But fears for her greater friend overcame and anger broke through. She stood up to face him, accusation in her eyes. Eric stood behind her, though his eyes were more sympathetic.

"What did you expect," Chuck yelled at his siblings, arms flying erratically through the air. "I'm Chuck Bass," he finished and pushed past them, slamming his bedroom door shut.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair stirred her coffee slowly, watching the healthy dose of whipped cream disappear slowly into the russet liquid. She eyed the poorly lit coffeehouse with distain, the people in cheaply crafted sweaters and jackets who laughed with greater merriment than anything found on her side of the tracks. She looked back at her cup once all evidence of Dan's suggestion had melted away, and then put her spoon aside and sipped. She almost winced, it was so disgustingly sweet but on second sip the sweetness lined her tongue and she enjoyed it.

"That was Eric," Dan shut his phone. "Serena is looking for you."

"And they called you?" Blair arched her brow in surprise.

"I'm sure it was a last resort," Dan replied sarcastically.

Blair wrapt both of her hands around the hot cup, trying to draw some warmth back into her frozen fingers. "I'll call her later," She promised.

"If you don't mind me asking," Dan said with his usual frankness. "Why aren't you sitting with her?" Why are you sitting with me? was the unsaid question.

"Are you trying to be rid of me already," Blair countered with her customary bitchiness. "Because I put up with hours of your whininess. You owe me more than one cheaply brewed cup of coffee."

"But you're not whining," Dan smiled playfully at her and she rolled her eyes.

"Maybe I'm not the whining type."

"I think we both know that's not true."

"Don't act smart," Blair bit out. "It doesn't suit you."

"I'm top of my class," Dan reminded her.

Blair laughed. "I bet Chuck could better you if he truly tried," She started, and then slipped over her own words. Her smile died and sadness returned.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Dan offered.

"There's really nothing to say," Blair retorted, a sardonic smile replacing her momentary lapse. "That's kind of the problem."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck awoke the next morning and for a moment he felt free. For a moment he couldn't remember the events of the last few months, couldn't remember Georgina's plots of Blair's tear-stained face. He couldn't remember anything and he felt calm. Then everything came back and Chuck pulled a blanket over his head, yelling into the morning air.

"Chuck?" Eric was in his room in a flash.

Chuck didn't say anything; he just threw his head back on the bed and waited for the younger boy to leave. Of course he didn't.

"Are you alright?' Eric asked after a momentary silence.

"I'm brilliant," Chuck bit back.

Eric chose to ignore the sarcasm. "Then you should get up. Your father is waiting in the other room."

Chuck laughed even harder at that thought. "You think I want to see my father right now?"

"You'll feel better after some breakfast," Eric said.

Chuck pulled the blankets off his and stared in bewilderment at his brother. He had just ripped his heart from his chest, stomped on it until his blood washed 5th Avenue and Eric thought it could be fixed with some waffles and blueberry syrup. "Are you fucking kidding me?"

"When was the last time you ate?" Eric asked.

Chuck rolled his eyes and considered. He's fallen into his bed shortly after returning home and hence missed dinner. Why the hell should that matter? It's not like he was in the mood for some pretentious meal set to classical piano. He wasn't in the mood for it at breakfast either. "I am fine."

"When was it?"

Chuck trained his memory back further. He could remember bottles of brandy, of port and scotch lining his bar in succession but he couldn't remember a single call to room service for anything of more sustenance. He realized it then. He hadn't eaten in days. When he looked over at Eric he could see that the younger boy had been keeping track. "Breakfast," Chuck agreed, staggering slightly as he climbed from the bed. He grabbed at the dressing table to keep himself upright, and then slipped into the clothes that had been carefully laid out.

When he walked into the other room he saw the entire family gathered, all staring at him expectantly. He needed a drink and he needed it fast. He could see the disappointment in his father's eyes when he ordered the glass of port. He waited for Bart to intervene but he didn't and that's when he realized it. His father pitied him; the entire room pitied the poor little boy who had lost the love of his life. Chuck stabbed at the stack of pancakes, slamming it down on his plate.

"Would you like some juice with that," Lily suggested as a maid hovered near, delicate crystal decanter containing the orange liquid.

"I'm good," Chuck narrowed his eyes and took the alcoholic drink from the other servant.

"How about the newspaper," Serena suggested and Chuck narrowed his eyes. Why wasn't she cussing him out? Why the hell was she exchanging little glances with his dad?

"Fine," Chuck held out his hand, nearly knocking over the silver bottle of syrup as he moved. Chuck grabbed the folded paper and slammed it on the table beside him. Once he'd unfolded it his eyes darted up in surprise.

Heir to Wiltshire Billions Dies in Fiery Car Crash

Andrew Wiltshire, son of Billionaire Matthew Wiltshire, died in a late evening car crash yesterday. The Wiltshire family briefly made headlines last spring when Andrew's fiancée was charged with having inappropriate relations with a student at St. Judes' Preparatory School. She was subsequently cleared and then disappeared, taking with her the couple's small child.

Preliminary coroners indicate that Mr. Wiltshire was under the influence of barbiturates when he drove his 2008 Bentley Brooklands into the side of a city waste management truck. The driver of the other vehicle was unhurt.

The accident caused a minor explosion on 5th Avenue. Quick thinking by emergency services kept the injuries minor, though the force blew out most of the surrounding windows, setting off emergency alarms and causing extensive damage to the retail sector.

Andrew Wiltshire was the only son of Matthew and Beth Wiltshire.

Chuck met his father's eyes over the paper and realized that this show of solidarity wasn't just for a broken heart.

"She's going to need to come back."

"You would undo everything," Chuck looked at his father, but he knew it too. One didn't leave a fortune of that magnitude without an heir. When he and Blair had schemed they'd considered just that. Blair. His thoughts caught over her name, briefly remembered how her delicate arms had encircled him the year before, how he'd kissed her soft hair. "Do whatever you need to," Chuck said and pushed his pancakes away, barely five bites in. He didn't have the energy to deal with anything. "Coat," He barked to the servant beside him, and the young man scurried to fulfill the request. Chuck stood up and walked away from the family portrait.

"Where are you going Charles," Lily asked with forced cheeriness.

"Out," Chuck answered and taking his coat, he escaped into the cooler air of the hallway, the genuine concern of the people who had slowly become his family, and their compassionate glances.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair pushed angrily back and forth through her enormous walk-in closet. She was searching for something that didn't remind her of Chuck. She was determined not to think of him. She had realized it last night, when her troubled thoughts had sought her to take refuge in Brooklyn and when her destroyed heart led her to confess her thoughts to Cabbage Patch of all people. It would always be that way with Chuck. He would take and take and take from her. It was just the way he was. He was a narcissist and only a masochist could love someone like that.

She was determined to prove that she loved herself. So she pushed through the closet again and tried to forget. But it was so hard when he had run his hands over each of her thick wool coats, when he had traced little circles up and down all of her cashmere sweaters, when he had hooked his thumbs under each and every one of her designer skirts.

So she grabbed the clothes in handfuls and tossed them onto the floor. "Dorota," she screamed down the stairs. "We're going shopping."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair pulled her long, black coat around her. It was two years out of date but it was emotionally neutral. Dorota stood beside her and Blair let her eyes graze up and down the street looking for her mother's white limousine. She'd insisted on the white one.

She caught something else instead. Across the street was Chuck, lounging against a storefront, wearing his customary smirk. Her eyes narrowed for a moment and then Dorota called out. "The car is here."

Blair's eyes flickered automatically to the maid, and when she turned back to the street Chuck was gone. She looked to the left and right but he wasn't there. She briefly considered crossing the street and searching, screaming at him like she hadn't had the strength to yesterday.

But she'd be damned if she went chasing after her imagination. So she grabbed the handle of the car instead and slipped inside.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck watched the limousine disappeared into the morning traffic from his position under a well-concealing eave. He didn't know why he'd gone there, his feet had moved instinctively.

He watched Blair disappear in the morning fog and prayed that she would be alright, because he just knew he couldn't be.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – I'm sorry…

So who thought it was Georgina that died in the car crash? I had to play with you a bit :) If you have no clue who Andrew Wiltshire is than you probably haven't read Try Honesty or you don't remember because it was so long ago. If you need an explanation than just PM me and I'll tell you what you need to know. This was the vague clue about something happening in the last chapter tying this book with TH. Lewis shall be returning but she doesn't make a flesh and blood reappearance (so to speak) until Book Three. She has a rather small but memorable role to play in that book, but feel free to leave aside that storyline until then. (Need I remind you that she's a CB shipper in her own way, she is after all the one who sent Chuck's letter in TH.)

So Georgina is still alive and kicking harder then ever. I suggest this very politely; prepare to crucify me after the next chapter.

Delphin4K – Hopefully you still think it's charming after this chapter.

Puresimplicity – A part of me wanted to put Georgina in that car. It was always planned out to be Andrew, but I thought afterward how fitting it would have been for Georgina to have died crashing into a garbage truck!

:D – thanks :)

candycorn123 – thank you :)

astondene – thank you for the wonderful review.

lilac17 - if the last chapter made you cry then I'm sorry because I'm sure this one was worse.

BRKOD – thank you for being such a faithful reader. You always write the nicest feedback. I've decided to include one more CG flashback, which should explain why he got all tongue-tied over telling Blair the truth.

Up Next – I shall leave you only Chuck's words "He watched Blair disappear in the morning fog and prayed that she would be alright, because he just knew he couldn't be." and a warning. Georgina is not done yet.


Chapter 23: Chapter Eighteen Part Two


A/N – This chapter has a rather disturbing mature scene. You've been warned.

Serena walked into Blair's bedroom and cringed. The brunette was scurrying from one side to the other, organizing her drawers, tidying her already impeccable desk. She was a ball of energy that couldn't be contained.

"Blair," Serena called out even though she knew her friend had seen her enter.

"Hi S," Blair called up cheerily and Serena just stared, her eyes making rotations of the room along with Blair's feet, strange little darts of unease dancing up her spine. This was not normal. This was not okay. Blair should have been curled in her blankets; she ought to be crying her eyes out. That's not to say that Serena wished depression on her friend, but this vigour was not natural. "Are you alright Blair," Serena asked, already knowing what the answer would be.

"Of course I am," Blair turned with a perfectly placid smile. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Are you really going to play this game?" Serena countered.

"What game are you talking about?" Blair's smile never wavered.

"The game where you pretend that everything is just fine."

"Everything is fine."

"You just broke up with Chuck," Serena deadpanned.

"I know that," Blair retorted and for just a moment the mask of cheerful indifference cracked and Serena could see just how hurt her friend was. It was a momentary lapse and Blair instantly corrected. "But let's face it, it was inevitable. He's Chuck Bass," Blair bit her lip and continued to line her skirts from light to dark. "How could I honestly think he was boyfriend material," Blair rolled her eyes as if to erase the last six months and Serena's dread crawled a little deeper.

"Blair."

"Honestly," Blair said a little too forcefully to be indifferent. "What was I thinking," She shook her head a little too much to be nonchalant. "When has Chuck ever loved anyone but himself? It was doomed from the start," She finished and flipped her hair, stepping back to examine her perfectly coordinated closet.

"Chuck did love you," Serena said softly.

"No he didn't," Blair almost shouted back and Serena realized it then. Blair needed to believe what she was saying, at least for now. It was the brunette's own way of surviving.

Except surviving wasn't moving forward.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

"Chuck Bass," The voice yelled into his ear and Chuck shot up automatically, hitting his back on the solid metal chair. He put a hand to his neck, which ached and opened his still sleepy eyes, only to come face to face with a very perturbed Mr. Fraser. Chuck turned his head slowly from left to right, noticing that each of his classmates were staring straight at him.

Chuck shut his eyes again and tried to refocus. He was so damn tired. Why had he agreed to come to school? Why did he always cave to Eric's insistences?

"You should go home and sleep it off," The older teacher suggested in his coffee-stained voice and Chuck could feel the bile rise in his throat.

He'd barely drank. He just needed sleep that didn't end in interruption. Well that wasn't entirely true. He'd chased a few glasses of scotch while he dressed, but just a few. Not enough to make the entire room spin the way that it was.

"Charles," the teacher called out and Chuck turned his eyes back to the older man. Mr. Fraser knelt beside his desk. "Leave now before I need to involve administration."

Chuck shook his head in agreement and went to gather his things except that when he looked down he saw the desk was clear. He hadn't bothered to take anything out. Chuck grabbed his small carry bag and stood up. The room wavered just a moment and then was strangely still again.

"Chuck," He heard a whispered voice and felt a hand grab at his arm. When he turned Chuck caught Nate's worried expression. "Are you okay?"

"Nathaniel," The teacher's voice clipped through their touching moment. "Have you finished your short essay already?"

"No sir."

"Then I suggest you focus your attention to the page. Mr. Bass," The teacher clipped again and Chuck continued his uneasy amble to the door.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair stared out the large library windows, watching the never ending stream of cars, the ambles of pedestrians and cyclists. She let herself be distracted in a way she had never been before. She ought to be studying, perfecting that which was already perfect but she couldn't focus. She was brimming with so much energy that the pencil shook in her hand but she couldn't put it to use. She couldn't harness that power, couldn't make it productive. So she stared outside.

She saw him the moment he exited from a side door. It was like her body had an internal radar, a special sense that drew her eyes to him. He staggered through the courtyard and something died inside her. She turned back to her books and tried to focus. It was a futile exercise because her eyes only wanted to stare at him. They wanted to trace his uneven path to make it straight. He collapsed into a metal bench. Despite the coldness of the day he left his coat crumpled in his lap.

She wasn't even surprised when her pencil dropped, she hardly noticed it. She didn't want to acknowledge what she felt in seeing him thus. Wasn't it supposed to be triumphant? Wasn't there supposed to be some twisted satisfaction in seeing the rejector so rejected? She didn't feel any of that. She just wanted to touch him, to hold him and maybe, just, save him.

But she couldn't do it because he didn't want her to. So she simply pulled the cell from her pocket, scanning her long list of contacts until the cursor landed on his driver. She called the middle aged gentleman and pretended that it was enough.

It could never be, and when she chanced another look at the courtyard she could feel the tears well in her eyes. She couldn't cry. She chased her sadness away and collected her books. She searched for a quiet corner far away from the windows and the memories they showed.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck sat with his back to the buildings radiator stack. He was perched on the edge of the Palace rooftop, one leg to safety and the other stretched out over a mile of unbroken space. He stared down at the cars but he didn't see them. He stared up at the sky and closed his eyes, pushing his head back into the thick metal cylinder.

The phone in his pocket vibrated again and Chuck pulled it out. Eric was searching for an update and Chuck quickly penned one, deliberately avoiding a mention of where he was. The younger boy's mother hen treatment of him was kind of endearing, but if he admitted he was up on the roof of the Palace the amusing safeguarding would be replaced by scary over protectiveness. The first time Eric had caught him up here, Chuck thought the boy was going to be the one to hyperventilate.

Chuck just liked it up here; there was no ulterior motive to sitting perched fifty stories about the cold pavement. It was peaceful, serene almost. It was the one place that he could wrap himself in the cold night air and still be alone. He ought to have hated the roof, but he never looked back at the space that held all his twisted memories. He kept his eyes over the edge, his thoughts away from the past.

Except it was growing progressively harder to do that.

"Why did you do it?" Chuck could still feel the force of Blair's glare. He could still see the hot tears that dampened her eyes..

Chuck gave his head a violent shake and withdrew a little flask from his pocket. It didn't help, he could still remember his shaky voice, and how he'd crumbled over the truth. He had gone there intent to tell her everything. He should have known he wouldn't be able to.

The bitch had taken everything from him. He gave his head another shake and when his eyes refocused their expression was murderous. Georgina had ruined him, not with her stupid games or her forced trips down memory lane. She had ruined him years before that.

There had been a time they had taken comfort in each other, a time when she had been enamoured in his willingness to craft his own father's devastation. Chuck shut his eyes as he remembered the twisted delight they had taken in their game, the weeks they had schemed, plotted and manoeuvred. He could feel the shame as acutely now as he finally did then, once the worst of his grief had passed, taking with it the rage that curled through him.

He's outgrown the need for revenge but Georgina never could. She hated the entire world and everything in it. When he'd refused to continue their game, she'd changed the rules and turned on him instead. She'd been so quick to turn their encounters into something hideous, to twist all the happiness until it was unrecognizable. She had been so quick to punish him for falling in love with her, until one night, right where it started on the roof of the Palace she'd taken a knife to his final shred of innocence.

"You honestly think I could love someone like you?" Even though the words were a distant memory they still held the same sting. His chest ached and his eyes started to water just like they had seven years ago. "Someone as weak and malleable as you? Do you even know how easy it was to manipulate you, how eagerly you came begging for more." He remembered how her eyes had spiked upward and her curt laugh had made his shoulders shake. "You're pathetic. You think I care about your feelings? Maybe if you could suck it up, maybe if you didn't confess everything." He could almost feel her finger on his cheek, forcing him to look up at her, forcing him to feel the full pain of her words. "But you can't help it can you? Because you're just some lost little boy who misses his Mommy and who could ever love that?"

Chuck shook his head again and took another sip. He breathed out into the night air, watching the air swirl with frost. Who could ever love him? Blair.

Blair.

Blair.

And he's sent them to hell because he couldn't handle it. Georgina had carved from him any hope of loving unconditionally, of trusting implicitly. She's stolen from him the ability to be open, of being vulnerable. He'd been halfway there after the death of his mother but she had delivered the final blow.

He wanted to be the man Blair deserved but he really couldn't. The idea of being weak scared him more than anything else. He wanted to love Blair but Georgina had stripped him of that possibility. He had never hated anyone more than he hated Georgina. He hated himself for having loved her, but he hated her for stripping him of the chance of loving properly again.

The cell vibrated in his hands and Chuck hit the screen. A single word flashed on the screen.

Set

It was unsigned but it needed no signature. Chuck recognized the number and without even thinking he hit redial. The line rang twice and then Georgina answered.

"Charlie?" Georgina's smug voice only angered him further.

"My room in the Palace, thirty minutes."

"What?" Georgina coughed out before she could stop herself.

"It's what you wanted right?" Chuck cursed and shut the phone. A spasm of energy passed through him and he took a deeper sip.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric stared at the poorly worded message and winced. It could have been worse he supposed, his brother could have ignored him entirely. Damien sat back down on the couch and wrapt an arm around him. "Happy Birthday Eric," Damien whispered into his ear but the younger boy hardly noticed. "Are you going to blow out your candles?" Damien indicated the skinny wax wicks that where halfway to nothing already.

"Of course," Eric shook his thoughts away and smiled. He leaned forward and extinguished all sixteen candles.

"Did you make a wish?"

"Of course," Eric answered, but his voice trailed off.

"Do you even want a slice of cake?" Damien asked. "Because you hardly seem like you're in the party mood."

"Sorry, I'm just..."

"Distracted," Damien supplied. "I understand. How is your brother doing?"

"It's been over a week but all he does is wander aimlessly through the family suite. He barely talks to anyone and he spends most of his waking hours wasted beyond belief."

"That bad," Damien breathed out and eyed the table. "Let's just put the cake in the fridge for now."

"That's not really fair to you," Eric looked at the table of gifts and the small circular cake. "You did all this."

"I got a cake at the bakery," Damien arched a brow sarcastically. "And those can wait," he waved at the presents. "It'll be Christmas soon enough."

"You're going to regift my presents?" Eric teased away his distractions.

Damien arched a brow. "If it'll save me a few bucks."

"You're awful," Eric teased further and taking his finger he dipped it into the thick white icing. "I think that calls for a little revenge," Eric spiked a brow and then smeared the cake over Damien's cheeks.

"You didn't just do that," Damien feigned disgust.

"I so did."

"It so wasn't smart," Damien decided.

"And why is that?" Eric teased. "You look quite fetching in white."

"Because it forces me to do this," Damien countered and grabbing the entire cake he dropped it on Eric's shocked face.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck sat at the small bar in 1812, the lights of the room remained off and the only light provided was that which leaked through the large picture window. It lit the entire room space in an amber hue, reflecting against the chandelier and Chuck's cut crystal drinking glass. He heard the knock but didn't move at first. He stared at the mirror that hung over the bar and waited. His eyes narrowed into their own reflection and he finally pushed the cup aside. He slipped slowly to the lush carpeting and crossed the room to stand behind the door.

He looked through the keyhole even though he knew who was there. He studied her chestnut hair, her thickly painted green eyes, and her strangely pale skin. Then he yanked the door open and dragged her inside, throwing her against the reclosed door.

Chuck drew his fingernails down her arm until he seized her wrist in a vicelike grasp. He pressed the slender object against the wood of the door. Georgina watched her as he dragged her hand upward. When he had it firmly above her head, Georgina turned his eyes back to Chuck, no hint of fear in her eyes, just a muted triumph. "So are you going to kiss me or hit me?" Georgina purred, and there was a hinting evocativeness in the question, as if she was open to either suggestion.

"I hate you," Chuck swore as he pushed his face close, disconcertingly close but Georgina only smiled back.

Then he kissed her, without the slightest bit of kindness or adoration. He kissed her as he hated her, with an angry fury that scorched them both. She's painted her lips in cherry chapstick, and drunk a can of coke on the way up. He knew she'd done both to fuck with his mind, but he'd never admit it had worked. He wouldn't admit a damn thing.

He pushed her and she pushed back just as hard, their mutual loathing put to actions. They bit and scratched in a vain attempt to gain the upper hand but neither could and they ended in nothing more than scarring the other. It was nothing new. They'd scarred each other long before.

Chuck pulled at her clothing, pushing her down onto his bed. She wouldn't be bettered and arched back into him. He pulled at her hair and turned her ear to face him. "You're a whore," He snapped into her ear. Rather than disturbing it excited her and she twisted herself closer and returned her own twisted endearment. Chuck tried harder to overcome her, to bring her to the point of revulsion but nothing he did could turn her away from him.

He ran a hand down her naked back and once she surrounded him he collapsed into her collarbone. It was a momentary lapse and he instantly corrected, taking from her everything he could. He could feel her twitch beneath him and he cursed. He had never meant to give that to her, but she had taken from him as she always did.

He laid his head against the headboard when it was over, listened to his combatants gasping breaths and inside he hated himself a little bit more.

But he hated the woman beside him more than anything else.

Georgina stared up at him, a certain smugness cut into her features as she lit a cigarette. She thought she had won, you could see it in the curling of her lips, the contented exhale of smoke. She looked at him without flinching, and then offered one end of her cigarette.

Chuck met her gaze and then a smirk curled the edge of one lip, a dark, unrepentant smirk that made even Georgina Sparks nervous. "I don't think so."

"You've improved since last time," Georgina raised an eyebrow in mischief.

"You haven't," Chuck deadpanned and stepped from the bed. He instantly covered himself with a robe, twisting the tie to a knot.

"You can't mean that," Georgina started but the comeback died under Chuck's fierce gaze.

"You can leave now."

"Excuse me," Georgina's cigarette froze in mid air.

"Did you actually think I would let you stay?"

"You must be..."

"My whores usually spend the night," Chuck admitted with a twisted smile. "But I'll make an exception in your case."

Georgina couldn't even formulate a response to that.

"Oh, we're you expecting to stay?" Chuck asked with perfectly timed artfulness. "You probably thought you were going to replace Blair," Chuck admitted with a shake of his hand. He put his index finger to his mouth and his eyes turned terrifyingly cold. "But you don't really compare do you?"

Georgina instinctively pulled the sheets closer to her still naked body.

"Because I love Blair," Chuck smiled down at the chestnut-haired psycho. He could almost see the cracks form. "Who couldn't love her, she is caring, affectionate, intelligent, beautiful and true. And what are you Georgina? A crack whore without family or friends? A poor excuse for a human being who schemes and manipulates to cover her own nothingness? Who could ever love that?" He finished with a pitying gaze. Then he turned and walked away.

Chuck heard her unnatural scream but he didn't see the danger. He had his back turned to her and couldn't see the priceless vase she held in her hand or the stroke she made, aimed straight for his head.

He was unconscious before his body hit the floor.

Georgina made sure not to spoil her white leather pumps as she stepped over the growing puddle of blood.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – Wow, I actually finished a half chapter in a single day. See what happened when you're on Winter Break and avoiding the huge amount of paperwork that should be getting done instead. Honestly, I'm very scared about posting this because I don't know how it would go over. So I'll go hide under my bed for a bit.

There are approximately 4-5 postings left in this story (including the epilogue), and I'm hoping to have it all finished by the end of Christmas Break.

Jessickuh – I'm betting you didn't think I'd go where I did. As for Chuck and Blair I'll just say this. What happened between them isn't going to be easily resolved (and I'm sure that after this chapter there'll be a lot of people who won't want them back together period) but I always believe that Chuck and Blair belong together. Should they be together now? I don't think so because I think Chuck is in a very messed up head space. But ask me again in another chapter :)

Sky Samuelle – Georgina didn't have anything to do with the accident. It was all Andrew & his drug problem :o I'll give you a little hint about Georgina's motives vis-a-vis her own words. "You'll be there again, so messed up and all alone. Your fingers are going to trip down memory lane until they hit my name, until they invite me to make everything better." That was her plan but as you can guess, Chuck just threw her a major curve ball. If he's smart he'll send her to jail for attempted murder.

:D – I recommend reading TH if you like this. The story is different and it involves a couple OCs as well as the regulars but it's mostly a Chuck redemption story.

Ashtondene – Lewis is going to have a defining role in Chuck's life. We'll leave it at that for now.

BRKoD – I'm glad you guys are interested in seeing Lewis again. I was a bit worried about bringing an OC back but I like her and she's got some definite lessons to teach C (and not just C)

Puresimplicity – Thanks. Hopefully the last flashback here and the explanations tied up any last questions you had.

So if anyone forgives me for the CG then allow me this assurance. Georgina will not reappear after the end of YCFYF.

Up Next – What would an amomenintime story be without an obligatory hospital scene? The return of Officer Hill and Walker. Who has Chuck's back and is he willing to keep his secrets?


Chapter 24: Chapter Nineteen Part One


You Can't Forget Your First: No Matter How Hard You Try

Chapter Nineteen

Do you hate me yet? It better not be for breaking up Blair and Chuck. That was inevitable. Were you really expecting an alcoholic and a bulimic to trip into some kind of fairytale happily ever after? You have got to be kidding me. And you think that I'm the delusional one.

As for the other, well, Chuck should have known better then to say that. Besides, I didn't leave him there to die. I called room service before I fled.

So much more than he deserved.

Chuck rolled over to his side, a moan escaping between his parched lips. His head ached far beyond its usual throbbing and Chuck tried to put a hand to it but something was holding it back. He tried to pull free but then he noticed what it was. Someone was holding his hand. He blinked as he opened his eyes, blinding white light burning into his raw corneas.

He rolled to his side, trying to break contact with the soft skin, but she held fast. His eyes slowly adjusted to the florescent lighting and that's when Chuck realized where he was. He was lying in a hospital bed with no less than four interested parties staring straight down at him.

"I'm going to call your father," Lily whispered into his ear and then freed his hand. He felt disappointed to know the gentle hand was his stepmothers.

Chuck closed his eyes again and just wished for sleep to take him.

"Mr. Bass," an official voice disturbed his thoughts and Chuck reopened his eyes. He studied the two men standing at the foot of his bed. They were familiar and when the last fog of confusion lifted Chuck remembered how he'd known them before. "Officer Hill," Chuck turned his head to the thin police officer. "Officer Walker," he indicated the other. He suddenly felt very uneasy. He tried to sit up but the pain in his head made everything difficult. The tiny Latino nurse scurried to assist and after a moment he was propped, two pillows pushed behind him. He hadn't seen the pair since the previous spring, not since they'd investigated his supposed affair with Miss Smith. There was an irony to their reappearance and Chuck wasn't sure he liked it. "You guys again? I thought you were sex crimes?"

"Sex-based robbery would be out MO," the officer didn't even look up from his paperwork.

"Is that what happened?" Chuck was relieved by their misinformation.

"Yes. Is that not what it is?" The two officers looked hopeful. "Let's get the truth in the open now, instead of waiting weeks. We'll happily transfer your case to the correct department."

"What happened to all the pride you guys had for me?"

"We like to believe our teen victims learn from their mistakes and don't repeat them."

"I'm a slow study."

"It's lucky you're a slow bleeder," Hill stared him in the eye. "Or else the doorman wouldn't have reached you in time."

Lily put her phone away when she stepped back to the room. She stared at the two officers with narrowed eyes. "I thought we discussed when you would be permitted to speak to Charles."

"It's okay Lily," Chuck dismissed her concerns. "I think I'm ready now."

The officers didn't need to be asked twice. They took out their spiral notebooks in matching sequence. "So what do you remember?" Hill spoke for the pair just as he had before.

"I don't remember anything." Chuck lied.

"Really," the officer said dimly, shutting his notebook with a snap. "Nothing? Nothing at all?"

"I did get a hard knock to the head." Chuck reminded them.

"Before or after yesterday?"

"I think you're done here," Lily immediately intervened. She stared both men down using every ounce of her pedigree.

Once the two men left in defeat Chuck turned to his stepmother. "Thank you," Chuck said sincerely.

"We won't be able to keep them outside forever," Lily reminded him, taking the seat beside his bed. "Why don't you have a rest," She suggested, running a hand lightly through his hair. "Bart will be here soon."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena entered her best friend's bedroom hesitantly. Dorota's expression had said it all. The pungent odour of raspberry that wafted through the open door said more. It was purposely hiding another, and Serena took a deep breath.

Blair was sitting pristinely at her antique writing desk. "B," Serena spoke cautiously.

"S," Blair's voice was purposely cheery but she didn't turn and Serena knew it was because she couldn't make the expression match.

"How are you doing?"

"Fine," Blair said and continued highlighting important sections.

"Really?"

"Of course," Blair chirped.

"Then look at me."

Blair spun in her high backed leather chair. She smiled brightly and if you didn't look too closely you could truly imagine that she was fine. It was only if you looked close that you noticed deep lines that her foundation could not quite cover, and the slight fraying at the edge of her lips that threatened to sink her smile downward.

"I know you heard about Chuck."

"I sent him some flowers," Blair clipped. "Some red roses, white calla lilies and yellow daisies," She listed as if Serena would care for the arrangement.

"That's not what I meant." Serena fought the urge to roll her eyes.

"It's fine Serena," Blair tossed her hair and grabbed her literary text. "I mean it was bound to happen, I'm just surprised it hadn't happened before."

"How long has it been since you've thrown up?"

Blair narrowed her eyes at her best friend. "I don't do that anymore."

"Not since last week?" Serena reminded her.

"That was a low moment," Blair lied. "I'm doing so much better now."

"Have you called Dr Sherman?"

"It's not that serious," Blair dismissed her concerns. "I'll call him if things deteriorate."

Serena stared right at her brunette friend and really studied her. She looked like she'd lost at least fifteen pounds and Blair had been slender to start with. She was almost gangly, with prominent cheek bones and an exposed collar. Serena took a deep breath and exhaled audibly. It was so hard to deal with Blair when she escaped into denial. "You need to call him now."

"I'm sure he has much more pressing matters to attend to."

"Have you looked at yourself?"

"I'm fine," Blair insisted again and somehow every time she said it, rather than reassuring her, it made Serena even less sure.

"No Blair, you're not," Serena said forcefully.

"Why can't you just leave me alone," Blair spat out, easily shifting from denial to hostility.

Serena didn't take it personally because she knew her friend and understood the strategies Blair employed to keep her secrets. "Let me help you."

"I don't need help," Blair tried to insist but her artful facade was beginning to crack. Her hands were shaking and Blair grabbed the tea cup from her writing desk. She wrapped her fingers around the ceramic black until they pained too much to shake.

"Stop lying Blair."

"What do you want from me S?" Blair put the cup aside and pulled her arms tightly around herself.

Serena didn't say anything. She wanted her friend to be alright but she knew to say that would end only in another denial.

"You want me to tell you that I'm not okay?" Blair shook just once and Serena tried to hold her but Blair stepped out of the way. "Fine, I'm not okay. Everything is awful," the tears started then, cutting across her friend's porcelain skin. "Nothing is right and I can't fix anything. You want me to say that I miss Chuck. Of course I do. I love Chuck and so help me God, I know that he loves me too."

"It'll be okay," Serena put a hand out but Blair slapped it away.

"No it's not and it's never going to be because even if he loves me it doesn't matter. He didn't love me enough to stay."

"Blair..."

"Nobody ever loves me enough to stay." She screamed and grabbed at her bed comforters.

"I love you Blair," Serena promised. "And I will always be there for you." Blair stared up at her and cried harder. Blair didn't fight this time when the taller blonde wrapt Blair in her arms. "You're my sister," Serena whispered into her friends wracking form. "I will never leave you," she promised.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck could hear voices to his side and chanced a brief opening of his eyes. He relaxed once he noticed the lights had been dimmed considerably and the stench of bleach had been replaced with someone floral. A slow glance to the side showed that he'd been moved to a private room. He recognized one of the voices as his fathers, the other was accented but articulate. When he shifted all the way he could see that his father and Lily were reviewing some slides with the doctor.

"You son is a very lucky man. The force of the attack was severe but it doesn't seem to have caused any permanent damage. There is a linear fracture from here to here," the doctor indicated something on the larger slide, "but the results of the CT are excellent."

Chuck put a hand to his head, and felt it then, the small row of stitches and the tiny area of flesh where the hair had been shaved back.

"So Charles is going to be fine." Lily asked.

"It appears so," The doctor assured the couple. "But we need to wait a few more days before we rush to conclusions."

"Thank you Doctor Grewal." Bart offered his hand and after a brief shaking the older man departed.

"So how much longer do I need to stay here," Chuck asked aloud. It'd only been a few hours but already the slow muted sounds of the hospital were starting to crawl at his consciousness, the scent of bleach that couldn't ever quite be covered.

Bart and Lily turned to his bed in surprise. They hadn't even realized he'd awoken. "Just a few days," Lily spoke first, taking the seat beside his bed. His father stood behind, one hand on Lily's shoulder and the other hanging awkwardly into space.

"Okay," Chuck offered a muted acceptance. He chose to study the room rather then stare into his concerned parents' faces. There was a collection of flowers on one table and on the other an oversized teddy bear with a bright orange shirt. He could guess Serena's gift but the other arrangement intrigued him. A family blend of flowers: red roses, white calla lilies and yellow daisies. He smiled despite himself and considered asking his father to bring them closer.

But he was a little afraid that his first assumption would be wrong. His parents took matching seats at the side of his bed.

"Ms. Smith is coming back Stateside," Lily said with a glance at her husband.

"Hmm," Chuck mumbled away their attempts at small talk. Then he took a breath and forced himself to meet them halfway. "To New York?"

"To Stanford," Bart corrected.

"Hmm," Chuck muttered noncommittally.

"Apparently they're quite motivated to have her finish her research." Lily offered, her own cheeriness growing proportionally to Chuck's disinterest.

"What is she studying?" Chuck attempted. When neither parent answered immediately, Chuck turned back to them.

"She's studying the effect of parental death on developing adolescent identity," Bart said with a more businesslike tone then was needed.

Chuck looked away at that, but couldn't help but snort at the irony.

"Lily," Bart whispered, "I'd like a moment with my son." Lily acquiesced and Chuck didn't turn back until he heard the click of the heavy metal door. "How are you doing?" Bart asked but it wasn't to make small talk, there was a strong sincerity to the question.

"I thought the doctor said I was doing fine," Chuck evaded.

"He did but I'm asking you."

"I'll heal," Chuck admitted with a silent hope that he was speaking of more than just his physical scars.

"I know who did it," Bart admitted and Chuck turned away again. He felt so completely hollow inside and somehow, knowing that his father knew made everything worse. "I'm not going to ask you why; I'm pretty sure I don't want to know."

Chuck stared at a point on the neighbouring wall, some waterfall meant to convey calm and safety. Chuck was going to need a hell of a lot more than some artistic rendering of peace. If his father knew then it was just a matter of time before everyone did, before the rumour hit a set of chestnut curls and ruined any hope of a future between them.

"It doesn't need to become commonly known," Bart suggested and Chuck finally turned back to face his father. "What do you want?"

What kind of loaded question was that?

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Serena ran her hand slowly on the cold ceramic table, feeling the smoothness of the granite beneath her fingers. From her side, a tall figure moved to sit beside her. He pushed a hot cappuccino, all foam and whipped cream, into her idle hands. She stared at the delicately woven chocolate pattern and smiled. "Thank you," She smiled up at her blonde companion.

"It's the least I can do," Nate promised and took the seat beside her.

"You've done so much more than the least," Serena decided. It was true. Nate had been trading shifts with Eric, keeping a constant vigil at the hospital and to be true, for the week before that. He'd been the same quiet but constant presence that he'd always been. He'd even taken to checking up on Blair, though he wouldn't admit to it. Nate just shrugged her compliment away. She covered his larger hand with her feminine one. "You've been a great friend."

"Thanks," Nate said, turning Serena's hand in his. He traced a few circles along her wrist and echoed the compliment. "You've been pretty incredible yourself."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck held a black journal in his hand. He stared down at the thick leather cover, the heavily embossed pages and the silver pen that completed the set. He looked up and his brother and arched one brow in loathing. "I thought I asked for a bottle of scotch," He complained and then threw the large tome onto a side table.

"I thought that might help more."

Chuck didn't say a thing and the two lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. The throbbing in Chuck's head had lessened but it had been traded it for a general shaking. He really needed a drink. He knew he should have asked Nate, the other boy was so much more impressionable. "Blair isn't coming eh?" He asked after the silence became unbearable. It had been a forgone conclusion days ago, but Chuck hadn't put it to words until now. Everyone else in their circle had shuffled through those doors, even Vanessa had passed a few minutes with him (in company of Nate obviously).

"No," his brother informed him. "Might have something to do with the whole got beaten in the head after a romp in the sack. I think it threw her."

Chuck nodded his head, in some ways he was pleased that she didn't show. It was better that she stay far away from him. He only destroyed everything he touched.

"She sent…"

"Flowers," Chuck interrupted his brother, eyeing the familiar bouquet for the hundredth time that day.

He studied them hopefully until Eric finished the thought. "There's no card."

"It's better that way."

The silence lapsed again until Eric spoke. "What are you going to do tomorrow?"

Chuck looked at his brother and really considered. He knew the first thing he was going to do when he got out of this hospital. He was going to get suitably loaded but he'd hardly admit to that. "Go to school," he suggested.

"You want to go to school?" Eric asked in shock.

Chuck just shrugged his shoulders. "Why not?"

"Do you know that radical personality change is a possible side effect of head trauma?"

"Fuck you Eric," Chuck rolled his eyes.

Eric let out the breath he'd been holding. "We could never be that lucky." Facing his brother's peeved expression he put the thought to words. "I know… fuck you Eric." Eric finished sarcastically.

"I could'a really used that scotch," Chuck muttered instead.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

The auditorium was filled to capacity, the usual morning assembly momentarily mixing the sexes and filling every seat. Blair sat right behind him with just a single row of middle classmen to stop her from touching him. She couldn't stop staring at him, and she was sure that Serena was growing nervous at her side, but the blonde didn't say a word.

His hair was shorter than it had been before the hospital. It had gradually grown longer through the first half of senior year but Blair had always thought it looked better at this length. Despite this, she missed the extra few inches. The way she could wrap her fingers through it, twist his face back and forth, make him curse into her ear.

Blair gave her head a shake and tried to focus on Ms. Queller's words. The headmistress was discussing the procedure for final exams starting next week. The Christmas break was nearly on them all but Blair had never felt less felicitous. There was no seasonal joy twisting through her heart.

Instinctively her eyes found their way back to those shortly shorn locks. She knew why they'd been cut. The place that had been shaven was less noticeable this way. You almost couldn't notice it and she was sure Bart had insisted they'd cut the smallest section needed. Blair had to suppress a giggle at the thought of Chuck Bass waking to find half his precious dark locks missing. Bart was a smart man. Chuck was vain beyond all proper sense.

"Are you alright" Serena whispered at her side.

Blair turned to the blonde's worried expression and nodded, a wry smile fixing a place in her features.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck held onto the porcelain bowl for dear life, his momentarily idealistic plan to live life sober had been flushed somewhere in the third heave. He had truly tried to focus on Ms. Queller's speech but it was hard to do when his hands were jumping as fast as his heart, or when the bile was slowly crawling up your throat, bringing with it distracting waves of nausea.

When had he got that bad again? He had cut his drinking way back only eight months ago, but it felt like a lifetime ago. He sat on the cold cement floor, thankful that the private bathroom on the upper floor hadn't been occupied. He pressed his head against the tile wall and took the small flask from his pocket.

He had known he'd fail.

The tart liquid was comforting and he drank until it cleansed his mouth.

The soft knock on the door startled him and he put the flask away. He waited silently, hoping the interloper would move on. Then they spoke, "Chuck?"

Were hallucinations a symptom of alcohol withdrawal? He tried to remember the fact sheet the doctor had provided. He took the flask from his pocket and drank even more deeply. It was another way to find the truth.

"Chuck, I know you're in there."

Chuck swallowed the liquid. He had his answer.

Blair tried the door but it was locked. "Just open the damn door."

Chuck reached with his right hand and pulled carelessly at the handle.

Blair closed the door as soon as she could pass though. Chuck just stared up at her. He didn't know what to say. They hadn't exchanged even mundane pleasantries since that night on 5th Avenue. So he just stared, taking in her perfect black leather heels, the perfect thick navy tights that didn't even contrast with her tartan skirt. Her perfectly folded school scarf, perfectly pressed school jacket, perfectly arranged hair and makeup. She looked unnaturally perfect.

"That isn't going to help," Blair grabbed the flask from his hand.

Chuck was going to correct her, explain that it was the first drink he'd had since he'd awoken in the hospital and that he was still, regrettably, sober. He didn't bother. It would be easier if she thought he was drunk.

"You need to go home," Blair clipped with an icy voice. She gave every indication of being pressed to duty, of hating the fact she was helping him but then, why was she helping? "Before you get expelled."

When Chuck didn't respond either way, Blair gave a hiss of frustration and grabbed at him. "I'm perfectly capable," Chuck stole his arm back. It still burned from her touch. She couldn't touch him.

"Fine," Blair stood up quickly and Chuck could see her relief. "I called your driver."

Chuck wasn't sure how he felt about such interference.

"Well," Blair clicked her heel against the floor and raised an eyebrow.

Chuck stood up despite the difficulty. His stomach pitched and rolled and for a moment he thought he'd end on his knees again, paying court to the porcelain god. He shut his eyes fiercely and the moment passed.

Once it did, he felt her hands on him; holding his arm and rubbing soft circles into his back. He threw himself across the small space. She really couldn't touch him.

Blair seemed to understand it then. She kept a respectful distance. "We'd better move now," She decided checking her watch. "The assembly will be over in twenty minutes."

Chuck followed her through the strangely empty hallways. He should have been walking easily but his head was killing him. Maybe he should have reconsidered attending school the day after his release.

By the time they'd reached the front gates the black limousine was parked in wait. Chuck slipped on the stairs and Blair instantly reached for him. "Are you alright?" She asked without any of her earlier iciness. She was genuinely concerned.

"I'm fine," Chuck hissed and wrenched his arm back. The open concern on her face was replaced again, her mask of detachment restored.

It might have ended there in an awkward ceasefire. Chuck might have left her standing on the stairs, and might have collapsed into the limousine's thick cushions but he only made it five more steps before the nausea bit back with a vengeance. He stopped suddenly and closed his eyes, wavering obviously to the right as he tried to maintain a tenuous hold on the last few bits of his stomach.

It didn't help. Chuck stumbled the last few steps to his limo, grabbed the back and prayed he could remain upright. The driver immediately stepped out but Blair waved him back. She put her hand to his back, continued the slow rhythmic circles, the loving touch that she'd attempted before. He didn't pull back; he didn't have the strength or the inclination.

Chuck clutched his own side as dry heaves shook his entire body. God gave small mercies and for a moment Chuck was thankful that he'd long since ridded his body of everything he'd eaten. The thought was washed clear as soon as another tremor overtook.

Blair never turned away from him though he'd given her every reason to. She stayed right behind him, a small pillar of strength and a soft hand. When it passed she didn't say a thing, she simply opened the limo door and pulled him inside. She didn't even hesitate as she sat beside him, didn't question herself as she loosened his tie and brushed the matted hair from his forehead. "Are you alright?" She asked for the second time and her voice was even gentler than the first.

Chuck opened his eyes and faced her. He couldn't answer. He wasn't sure he would be okay ever again and having her there, seeing her staring like that, it didn't make things easier. So he turned back away but she wouldn't let him escape. She drew a delicately manicured fingernail down his chin and forced his face back. He didn't have the energy to fight her. He had never been the altruistic type and when she touched him he lost the desire to fake it.

He twisted his fingers in her hair with a speed he no longer possessed. He pulled her to him and crushed her lips to his. Her entire body tensed at the touch but she didn't pull away. He wouldn't let her go and after a moment they relaxed into each other. She moaned beside him, parting her lips and leaving her momentarily vulnerable. He plundered her mouth, drawing his tongue between her inviting lips and winded his fingers deeper into her hair.

After a moment's hesitation Blair's fingers began their own exploration. She ran her fingers through his hair, her entire body tensing as she touched his stitches. She breathed against his lips and deliberately moved beyond her hands lower. She inched down his long neck and that's when she felt it: four scratch marks so deep that they had once drawn blood. She drew back and met his eyes, her eyes sparking in disbelief. Chuck didn't say a thing; he just let her fingertips trace the truth he couldn't admit to.

Blair pulled at his collars, forcing them open but it wasn't in rushed adoration. She pushed his head to the side but with none of the gentleness she'd used earlier. She drew her fingertips along his shoulder, touching the rough bite marks that lined his pale skin in succession. She stared right at Chuck, her eyes dangerously dark. He didn't say a thing; he didn't have it in him to deny what was obvious.

As fast as the moment started it was over. Blair pulled herself back, nearly throwing her petite form to the other side of the limousine. "Blair," He spoke at last. He reached for her again and she almost let him touch her.

Instead she slapped him across the face, with as much force as she could muster. "Don't touch me ever again," She warned and if her lips hadn't been swollen with their rushed kissing then he might have believed the sentiment.

It didn't matter. He was happy that she'd hit him. Call it a twisted form of penance. He didn't ask her to stay as she open the door. He let her escape into the morning air; allowing nothing more than his eyes to follow.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck dangled the scotch glass between two fingers. He stared at the television screen with no awareness. Anything could have been on; he was too lost in thought. He took another sip but barely noticed the burning liquid. He was happy he'd never put his ill advised commitment to words. He took another sip. At least this time he could only disappoint himself.

His cell rang and Chuck tried to refocus his eyes on it. Once he could read the name flashing, he suddenly felt very, terrifyingly sober. He considered not answering it. He considered throwing it against the wall.

Why the hell couldn't he just let it be?

"Hello," He laced murder into his words.

"Charlie," The voice cracked through the airwaves.

"I hope you're calling me from jail," He snapped.

"Last time I looked in a mirror I didn't resemble a five foot Asian."

"I can easily rewrite the facts."

"But you won't will you," Georgina taunted and Chuck could feel his skin crawl.

"Don't push your luck."

"We all know you'd never tell. You wouldn't want little Snow White to know. You're not ready to give up on that fairytale."

Chuck was about to spit out that Blair already knew but he held back. There was a difference between a supposition and fact even if that supposition was indeed fact. "Goodbye Georgina…"

"I wouldn't hang up before you hear me out."

"What are you going to do to me if I do? You've already taken everything from me."

Georgina laughed aloud. ""You think that was the best I could do?" Georgina spat out. "Break up two mentally unbalanced freak shows. It wasn't exactly challenging."

"Don't talk about Blair that way."

"Why not?" Georgina laughed harder. "I almost feel sorry for the bulimic head case."

"Don't make up shit like…" Chuck started but the words died. He suddenly realized something he should have known so long before. It hurt him to know that even Georgina had known first. Chuck held the phone out, he willed himself to shut it but his hands wouldn't cooperate. "Why are you doing this?"

"You already know why," Georgina cursed back and, truth be told, he kind of did. "So consider this a pity call."

"Well I do pity you," Chuck countered with an empty, drunken laugh.

"Shut up Chuck," Georgina snapped and he followed her words. There was something terrifying in her voice, in the abandonment of the sing-song Charlie. "You're going to meet me tonight."

"I don't think so."

"You're going to meet me at the Brooklyn Bridge…"

"Hell no," Chuck yelled and nearly hung up then.

"At the Brooklyn Bridge and then I'll tell you my last plan."

"What more could you do to me that would be worse than that?" Chuck laughed at her stupidly played hand.

"It's not what I can do to you." Georgina said "it's what I can do to those you love." Chuck's laughter died immediately.

"Bullshit."

"You don't think I'm capable?"

Chuck couldn't answer that. He put a hand to his forehead and raked his hair in agitation. "Pick another location," He caved.

"Don't even ask me to," Georgina's voice lightened and he hated that she was winning yet again. "It's there or nowhere."

"I don't believe you," Chuck shook his head as if she could see. "You're not that good."

"Oh Charlie," Georgina cooed, "You know just how good I am."

"No," Chuck kicked at the coffee table in frustration. "I want proof."

"That's exactly what you'll get," she promised "if you show."

Chuck closed his eyes and considered. "Who is it?"

Georgina just laughed.

"Who is it?" Chuck asked more firmly. "Tell me or I'll know you're lying."

She hesitated just long enough for Chuck to consider his circle of friends and family, to judge the depth of each friendship, to measure it against what she was asking him to do, to determine who was strong enough to endure whatever twisted revenge she'd planned. He just hoped to hell that it wasn't Blair.

"Eric."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – we're approaching the end of YCFYF (one chapter left after this...I can't believe it's drawing to an end). I'm going to revisit one of the factoids that I had from earlier. There will be one couple that emerges from YCFYF to continue on in GRG. Anyone wish to hazard who will survive/be created?

I have a question/need a bit of help. Is Blair's doctor called Sherman. I had it written down but I'm thinking that it's wrong and I can't find my S1 DVD to check.

Ashtondene – I definitely think Georgina gets it now, but that leaves another question. Do you think Georgina is a sore loser?

BRKOD – thank you, thank you, thank you. For the record I think that CB do belong together in the long run.

Lilac – thanks :)

:D – Yeah, he was kind of vicious.

CBEBTRRBLSB trory12 – I think you reviewed in TH at some point so feel free to feel less guilty. I personally believe Chuck needs mental help and he might just get it :0

Sky Samuelle – There's something coming up that might please you but I'm going to leave it at that for now.

Puresimplicity – I would say that Georgina is fully around the bend but there's still a strange calculating clarity to her. She's kind of like a serial killer without the murder. (though she came close in the last chapter)

Littledancer – Chuck is physically quite okay. I hope you're okay with Bart having his back.

Queennaldy – thank you for the effusive praise. I'm a huge CB shipper myself so you know that my stories will always have their CB share.

Whatever – thanks :)

Up Next – Game, set, MATCH. What do you think Georgina has planned for Eric? Who is comforting Blair? And who is going to intervene?


Chapter 25: Chapter Nineteen Part Two


A/N – for those of you that live in NY or have been on the Brooklyn Bridge. I'm very sorry for my errors concerning the layout of the bridge, I plead ignorance, say I am a poor Canadian who has never been to NY and made too many assumptions which unfortunately couldn't be undone by the time I'd realized them.

This chapter is very difficult to read (at least it was to write) so you might want to leave it until after Christmas.

You Can't Forget Your First: No Matter How Hard You Try

Chuck shuffled into his father's office and entered the familiar code to the Bart's larger safe, the one that held all his files and paperwork. He flipped up and down the rows of files until he found them, the thick folders that held all his family secrets. He tossed them on the table, his fingers flicking through until he found the file entitled "Eric."

Chuck pulled it from the rest and sat at his father's desk. He eyed his watch. He had exactly two hours to figure out what Georgina knew. Two hours to avoid meeting her ever again.

Chuck flipped through the dossier from the first preschool picture to the last e-mail. He always knew the file existed but he hadn't breached his brother's privacy until now. Now he didn't care, he studied each document, his anger growing at the futility of his search. There was so much information there; his father's private investigator was very thorough but there was nothing he didn't already know.

He put his head to his hands and tried to think. His head was too fuddled and he cursed angrily into the small space, tossing the thick, chocolate brown profile across the desk. Papers flew across each way, but they were all useless. There was nothing there he didn't already know. Eric had been fragile and he had been hurt but Chuck knew that already. Eric was gay but Chuck had known that first.

Then Chuck put his head up and considered. Lily didn't know or at least that's what they had thought. The photos of Eric and Asher as well as those of his brother and Damien made things a forgone conclusion. It seemed unlikely that his stepmother was ignorant now.

It also seemed unlikely that an outing would really hurt Eric. His brother was halfway there already. He cursed into the ungodly hour, smashing a fist onto the thick wood. It definitely wouldn't destroy Eric as Georgina had promised.

"Chuck?" He could hear the sleepy voice and he jumped to start collecting papers. It wasn't any use, his stepmother was in the room before he'd closed the folder, and before he could hope to slip any of them back to the safe and fix the lock. "What are you doing up after midnight?" Lily asked as she stepped into the study, thick cotton robe around her thin frame and hair bedraggled.

"Nothing," Chuck wished he could say it without slurring.

"Chuck, you need your re..." Her motherly voice died once she saw what was on the table. "What are those?" she clipped in a much franker tone. Maybe she hadn't known after all. Lily ran a finger down the folder that held her name and Chuck stuffed as many of Eric's papers in his pocket as the small window of opportunity allowed. Lily looked up at her stepson, waiting for him to offer an explanation. When none come she flipped open the thick folder and gasped in shock.

Chuck shut his eyes and took a deep breath. She really hadn't known. "What the hell are these?" She said darkly as she flipped through her personal history on 8' by 11'.

Chuck wanted to stay and explain but he just didn't have time. "Don't hate him too much," Chuck begged "my father doesn't really trust anyone anymore."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair walked around her room in predatory circles. She grabbed random items with vulture-like swiftness, throwing them into the ornate ceramic waste bucket. Any of his gifts, anything he had touched, anything that reminded her of him. It all had to go. She needed to cleanse her space. She needed a fresh start. She needed to rid herself of him.

When she looked back to her shelves, at her dressing table, at her bedside tables she realized they were now bare. She had thrown everything out. How was that even possible? How do you rid yourself not of a boyfriend, but of a friend whose life was so completely wound within your own?

She had to try. She pulled at the first drawer of her dresser and started to sift through her jewellery. She tossed gifts and trinkets on the table above: pearl earrings, a stunning emerald drop necklace, a tiny crucifix he'd bought in jesting: each a memory she needed to purge. She reached the bottom of the drawer and a thick black case. She opened the lid and eyed the Erickson Beamon necklace. Her hands grew shaky and no matter her will, Blair couldn't bring herself to toss it with the rest. Her fingers traced the delicate detailing for a moment and then she snapped the lid shut again.

She tossed it unceremoniously into the drawer. She couldn't throw it out. It was a symbol of something better. Chuck had given it to her when he could have had only slim hope of his affection being returned. It was hope.

Blair slammed the drawer shut and sat on her bed, winding her legs beneath her. She still didn't understand what had happened. She had been so sure, so confident in his affections. Even if it was not love: No she was sure it had been. Why would he have pushed so hard if it was misplaced infatuation? No matter how she tried to twist the facts to suit the ending she just couldn't.

Blair pulled her journal from the side drawer and ran her finger to the creased page. She ran a finger along Chuck's roughly scratched script, caressed his small letters and the meaning behind them.

They say love comes like a summer breeze, soft and gentle, bringing fragrant flowers and floating butterflies.

I say love comes like a thief in the night, bearing perfect chestnut curls and blood-stained lips that suck your soul with every kiss.

I say love brings fingers that pull at your clothes, but remove much more. Fingers that creep underneath your greatest defences, leaving you exposed, alone and lost.

I say love brings nails that that tear at your skin, but leave their scars on the inside. Nails that destroy truth without bringing anything to replace it.

I say love brings blood without source. Love is the one that cries out, but you are the one left aching, nursing injuries that appear and disappear with a single smile.

They say love brings every happiness.

I say love is the source of all misery.

But bring me a smile.

Brandish your nails.

Unfurl your fingers.

And kiss me again.

For even if the morning brings me pain, I can't help but want love tonight.

How could she rewrite history when it was written plainly, by his own hand, wrapped between her deepest thoughts and fears? A tear hit the page and Blair shut the book. She wiped angrily at her eyes. Why couldn't she stop crying? It was all she could do now. She felt so weak and, just maybe, that scared her more than anything.

"Blair?" She could hear the familiar voice and turned to the door. "How are you doing?" He asked even though the answer was obvious.

She turned back away in embarrassment. When had she become this sniveling, ineffectual mess? She couldn't even send Nate away when he sat beside him. She didn't have a quip or a retort to chase away the awkwardness they both felt. She didn't slap him when he tried to hold her; it felt good to be enveloped in such strong arms.

Having Blair in his arms felt awkward in a way it probably shouldn't have. Still he let her cry into his shoulder and ran his fingers comfortingly through her hair. It worked. It took a long time and a lot of tears but Blair relaxed beside him, and her sobs came to a gradual end.

Nate ran a thumb alone her cheek and smiled wryly. "See that's better," Nate teased to comfort her. "It's wrong to see that beautiful a face in tears."

Blair smiled and let her head fall into his shoulder again. "Despite what I may have said in the past," Blair said with haughtiness out of place on her still tear-stained face, "You, Nate Archibald, are a good person."

Nate laid a friendly kiss on the crown of her head but he couldn't smile. It was the second time in a week that someone had assured him of his decency but he still couldn't believe it. Not while he was still walking the narrow line of a liar. He knew what he had to do.

When he looked down at Blair again he noticed that she'd fallen asleep on his shoulder. He wasn't surprised; the last few weeks must have ravaged a path across her psyche. She'd heal from it, rediscover her power, revive her regime and until then the people who loved her would take care. God help the rest once she'd regained her strength.

Nate laid her slowly back, making sure to fluff the pillow until it cradled her head and to tuck her covers just the way she liked. It was one o'clock and he was tired. He took one final look at the sleeping queen and grabbed at his jacket. He had the suede folded on his lap when he changed his mind. He grabbed one of the voluminous pillows instead, setting it under his own blonde head. He lay down in his familiar place, asleep the second his head hit the pillow.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck hunched down in the back of the taxicab as it approached its destination. He had his custom-made soccer cleats resting on his lap, proof that the lunatic had taken an even further turn to the delusional. It didn't bother him. If she wanted him to trade his soccer cleats for information then he was happy to give them away. Once this was done she was going to jail. She could jack off to them for five to ten.

Chuck called to the driver before they reached the platform proper. He instructed him to pull aside at the last side street. He kept his eyes from the famous landmark and typed into his blackberry.

I'm here. Where are you?

C

Chuck waited impatiently for a reply, feet drumming against the snow dampened baseboards, hands keeping time above. He wanted this done already.

Enjoying the sun in the Dominican Republic.

G

Chuck stared at the screen initially in disbelief, but as the initial shock passed so did his surprise. Georgina might have played the part of unfazed combatant but she wasn't stupid. She knew not to bank anything on Chuck Bass and his often contradictory motivations.

Then I win by default.

C

Chuck hit send and waited for the information she'd promised.

How do I know you're even there?

G

Guess you're going to have to trust me.

C

Send me a picture.

G

Chuck stared down at the screen and hissed in the back of the taxicab. He threw the driver a few bills and told him not to move. Chuck meandered through the side street until he had a satisfactory view. His heart dropped as he looked at the iron landmark. He immediately looked away, letting only his camera keep the vantage. He took the image hurriedly and sent it.

How do I know that's not a stock photo?

G

Chuck stared at the reply, his anger growing in proportion to his distress. Of course it wasn't a stock photograph. The image was half sideways and partially blocked by the surrounding buildings.

Besides you're not even on the bridge. You're miles away.

G

Go up on the bridge deck and get me a proper photo. All my friends in Dominican are dying to see the famous Brooklyn Bridge.

G

He had expected it. He had expected her to force the meeting on the bridge itself but it didn't make the involuntary clutching in his chest any less extreme. Chuck took a deep breath and then he knew: he really couldn't do it. No matter how good a friend and brother Eric had been he couldn't do this for him.

I'm through playing your games.

C

She texted back almost immediately.

Everyone has a moment where they have to face their fears. It's your turn.

G

Chuck glared at the screen. Since when had the psycho gone philosophical?

No!

C

Are you really sure you want to walk away now? After everything that Eric has done for you?

G

Chuck closed his eyes and tried not to feel guilty. He tried to forget every single time that Eric had stood beside him after everyone else had abandoned him. He tried to forget how the boy had respected him even when he didn't deserve it, trusted him when no one else would, and protected him in a way no one had before.

Fine.

C

Take your cleats.

G

Chuck glared at the screen. He was done trying to figure things out. Chuck tossed a few more bills at the taxi driver and grabbed his custom soccer cleats from the back seat. He waved the cab away because he didn't want anyone to witness. Not that there wouldn't be witnesses because even at 4am the streets were not empty and the bridge was not clear.

Chuck walked the short distance to the bridge, his eyes firmly on the cement walkway, rather than the rising metal rods and the other reason he hated going to Brooklyn. Only when his feet hit steel did Chuck turn his eyes up at the architectural wonder.

He brought his camera immediately up, hoping that by focusing his attentions to the smaller screen; he might strip the moment of his awful glory. It didn't work and his eyes still watered, his chest still clutched deeper. He snapped the photo and sent it away.

Not enough. How do I know you haven't paid someone else to take it?

G

Do I need to add paranoid to your usual repertoire of psychotic tendencies?

C

Put your cleats on.

G

I'm not playing part in any of your sick fantasies.

C

Fuck you Charles.

G

Like I said.

C

Let me spell out exactly what I want and what you'll get for it. You're going to march onto that bridge and give me exactly the picture I want. You're going to take a photo of the East River exactly as she saw it, without a single rail to mar its perfection. You're going to include those cute little shoes to prove that it actually is you and you haven't paid some homeless migrant to cover your own cowardly self. In return I'm going to provide you all the information you need to undo my mischief and save the little Golden Boy.

G

It didn't seem like much of a choice.

It's just a picture Charlie. I'm not asking you to jump. Though if you'd rather...

G

Chuck glared at the little platinum box and debated his options. He wished she had picked someone else, anyone else. If she had then he could have just walked away. He would have abandoned even Blair. Not because he didn't love her even now but because the task was too great and Georgina was right, deep underneath he was still a coward: A weak individual hiding his own insecurities behind bravado. He would have turned away even if it was her because she had never taken a razorblade to her wrists when life had become too much. He could trust that Blair would be strong.

But no matter how strong Eric appeared now Chuck was afraid that his glued cracks could come undone. Eric had taken that route once and there was always the chance he'd take it again.

If I do this then you will leave me alone forever. You'll never again come near me or the people that I love. Is that understood?

C

If you can do this then I will have gained everything I wished and I shall never set foot within a hundred miles of you or yours again.

G

Chuck texted his agreement and kicked off his thick boots. He stepped into the thin leather cleats and began the long march to his greatest fear. He'd made it three steps when Georgina texted him again.

Hope you haven't had that much to drink.

G.

Chuck kept his eyes to the Brooklyn side as he trekked the long journey across the pedestrian deck. It was ironic. He'd long looked to Brooklyn in disgust, now he marvelled on it in an attempt to calm his rapidly jumping nerves. He wouldn't let himself consider morality; he wouldn't let himself consider his mother's thoughts. She had stood between her two lives, her youth in Brooklyn and her home in the Upper East Side. She had stood in the centre, craving a return to the home she would no longer belong in and running from the place she needed to be. Even if had no understanding of life's ironies, Chuck Bass would have understood the symbolism.

The walkway stretched miles and he felt every inch of it beneath his feet. By the time he'd made it a quarter of the way his tears had started anew. By the time he'd crossed halfway he'd given up all pretences of strength, he divested himself of all his life's pretence.

He might not have been able to save his mother but he'd be damned sure to save himself. He wouldn't let himself fall to the same fate or the same ending. He'd claw his way to happier place and maybe this was the first step. He could continue to let the past control him, dictate his actions and steal life from him. Or he could finally strip it of all its power, and start anew.

All the positive self talk in the world couldn't coddle him once he climbed the metal rungs. That was sheer force of will. It was the same strength he'd denied only moments before that let him face the endless blue of the river below, the same view she'd had, and capture it forever on film.

Chuck didn't so much climb down the railings as throw himself back into the space. He felt to the cement with a jarring pain, passing motorists honking wildly into the night air. He didn't notice. He sent the damned photo and sat against the safety guiderail, legs pulled to his chest. He tried to erase the mental picture as easily as the photographic one. It didn't help. His chest was closing off again and Chuck just knew that no breathing technique or mental technique was going to keep him sane. He let his head hang heavy into the closed space and tried to remember it was for the greater good. It didn't help. His heart raced at an extraordinary pace, his forehead dampening despite the chill of the fresh snow fall.

"Sir," some passerby gave a sympathetic hand. "Can I get you some help?"

Chuck slapped the hand away and stared up at the elderly man with such anger that the Good Samaritan quickly moved further away.

He put his face up to the sky and let the slowly drifting cover it, melting the instant it touched his burning forehead. He tried to breath evenly, to focus on the constant whirl of traffic. His legs slipped down to sit in their smooth white blanket and his panic slowly melted away.

Then he received what he had sought.

Do you know how happy my mother was when I showed interest in the arts and a desire to sponsor burgeoning talent?

G

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair could hear her phone ringing and put a hand out to grab at the side table. When she touched flesh instead she opened her eyes in shock. The boy shifted beside her, the familiar curve of his back open to her curious eyes. Blair put a hand to herself, just to check that she was still wearing her clothes. When she felt the delicate cashmere of her sweater and the thick wool of her wide-legged pants she let out her breath in relief.

"Who is it?" Nate asked in a sleepy voice, reminding her to grab at her still ringing cell phone.

"Hello," She clipped into the phone, eyeing her clock as she did. It was nearly five o'clock in the morning.

"Blair," Serena's voice came clearly through the line.

"Why are you calling at this ungodly hour?"

"I'm so sorry to do this to you," Serena started and Blair knew she wasn't talking about the early hour. "But I need your help."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck slid the patterned cleats from his feet and let them rest below his desk at Victrola. It was five-thirty in the morning and the stage was blissfully silent, the chairs empty and the rooms dark. Chuck took the bottle of scotch he'd nicked from the bar and laid it on the table in front of him. He filled three small glasses without pausing, pouring a liberal portion of liquor across the long table.

His eyes glanced to the laptop he kept in the office for business, the flickering screen set to the Grant Gallery website. It was there, nestled far away from the stunning homepage, far from the large digital recreations of Damien's work, the extensive list of impressive reviews. It was far away from the glitz and glamour surrounding Damien's soon to open show. In small size 8 font was the evidence Chuck sought.

Generously sponsored by the Ewan Sparks Foundation for the Arts

Chuck downed one of the glasses without flinching. He would have liked to believe Georgina had had a tiny inkling of integrity, a genuine passing of guilt that had forced her to wave the white flag.

He should have known better.

She'd waved the black one instead, stealing from him even in her last play. She had made him the one who would say the words. She had made him the one who would devastate the brother that loved him best.

And he would do it. He had to do it. But he needed a hell of a lot more alcohol before he tried.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

It was hours before Chuck fumbled with the lock to his family suite. He had to run the card lock three times before the light shone green. He much preferred the traditional metal keys, but his father had insisted on increasing security after the Amelia incident. Chuck just prayed that the rest of the family was sleeping the morning through.

Chuck opened the suite door, cringing as it banged on the thick drywall behind. That probably wouldn't help. Walking into the entrance he stared down at his shoes. He considered leaving them on as his sense of vertigo was slightly off. But Chuck was a creature of habit so he bent over to undo the laces. He made it halfway before his lack of balance undid him and he fell soundly to the right. He cursed the fates and leaned his head back against the wall. It was so much easier that way. He kicked his expensive Italian leather shoes against the marble tiles until they flew across the smaller space, landing somewhere near the closet.

With the first task done Chuck grabbed at the ornate umbrella rack. It was barely enough to support his weight but he managed to struggle back to his feet. He kept his back tall, his arms stiffly to his sides and focussed on making the small journey to restorative slumber.

He never made it beyond the living area. As soon as he turned the corner he saw seven people lined in sequence, all staring expectantly at him: six familiar faces and one stranger. His stomach dropped just below his rib cage and even before his father spoke he knew what it was. His family sat in anticipation, at their sides Nate and Blair. The unfamiliar man was obviously a doctor; he had the three piece suit and the thick glasses to play the part.

"This is an intervention," his father started.

Chuck laughed, his drunken state creating an artificial echo that rang through the room. "Is it Thursday already?"

His father was disturbed by the outburst but the doctor took over smoothly. "My name is Doctor Sherman," he said by way of introduction. "You're family and friends have asked me here because they are concerned about you."

"Really?" Chuck's eyes narrowed instinctively. "Congratulations," He clapped theatrically to the room. "I know I drink too much. I didn't need a roomful of people to point out the fact."

"This isn't about that," Serena broke in and Chuck trained his murderous glance on the blonde.

"Then what is it about?" Chuck spat.

Serena stood up from her position on the couch and handed her phone to Chuck. "It's about this."

Chuck took the offered device and stared at the LCD screen. Once he saw what it held his face went white as a ghost.

Georgina had forwarded the picture to his sister.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N _ I want to dispel a few fears about the direction of this story. Georgina isn't going to haunt Chuck forever or chase down his friends and family. I don't like to play those sorts of games. She had planned to hurt Eric from the start and there is a reason she picked him. If you bear with me everything will be explained in the last posting (pre-epilogue). That being said, her little trick in this chapter was the genuine end. She meant what she said to Chuck and she's done playing with him.

For those of you expecting Chuck and Blair to take down Georgina and make her pay…allow me this quotation which will end our tale. It comes from Jane Eyre.

"It is not violence that best overcomes hate — nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury."

You'll see the fruition of that quotation by the end of the story. That's all I can promise you.

I agree with some of the retorts that Blair and both Chuck seem weak. They've both been through the emotional ringer. And I'm actually happy that this part of the story is drawing to a close because the writer ends up going right through the emotional highs and lows with the characters in a way. I had such a hard time writing that bridge scene from Chuck's POV. I had to walk away from it a few times. GRG starts out with a lot of comedy and I'm glad for it. I'm ready for the change.

Which brings me to my final request. Please be polite and encouraging with your reviews. I knew when I got started that not everyone was going to 'love' this story. While I don't write for popularity I am a very sensitive person by nature (I stopped writing for a couple years because someone close to me basically told me my work was crap and to this day no one close to me is allowed to read my writing). I am in person a very shy and unassuming person and I do get easily affected by criticism (why I'll never make it as a real author).

Remember that I provide my stories for free and you have the choice to partake or not. If you hate the direction I've taken (and I knew that some people would) then I suggest you hit the back button. There are lots of very excellent Chair fanfiction out there (notice I have never actually titled my fics Chair though I'm a huge B/C follower).

CBEBTRBLSB trory12 – thanks for the review.

BRKOD – I just love CE too. I just love the dynamic that had been established between TH and this fic. It's probably the part I'm most proud of.

se1ge – thank you for the praise. I printed it and put it beside the computer when I was really struggling through these scenes, thinking no one would like them.

ashtondene – thanks. I almost feel bad for doing what I did to Eric.

:D – thanks

BlackLace – I know that this plot is a lot more involved and secretive than TH but I promise every single thing will be explained in the posting after next. As for the soap opera bit. All I can say in my defence is that GG is a soap opera.

Puresimplicity – All the "storylines" will be tied up in this story with the exception of Eric's outing to him mom. The events to make it happen have already happened but it only actually happens in the prologue to GRG. That being said part of GRG is the characters dealing with the after effects so there are storylines that kind of centre around the recover from YCFYF. But Georgina is happily camped in the Dominican and she will not interfere in any of their lives again (she keeps her word to Chuck).

And last but not least.

Merry Christmas to one and all. Thank you for being such faithful readers and reviewers of TH and YCFYC. You have all made my transition into writing again an enjoyable and fulfilling journey.

May God Bless Each and Every One of You.

From my family to yours.

Up Next: The intervention, Eric gets the bad news and another couple faces their moment of truth (part one of the final chapter)

Considering it's Christmas (or will be in about 30 minutes here). Here is a Christmas Present for all my faithful readers. It's most of the write-up for Grand Romantic Gestures (tentative write up). I'll give you an outtake at the epilogue.

Couples: BCNVSD (quite frankly, anyone within that grouping is fair play and most of the characters will "date" at least two, though I use the term dating liberally). Eric/OC, Bart/Lily/Rufus/OC

Summary: The end of senior year is approaching. The future beckons but where will our favourite six spend it and more importantly who will they spend it with? Who will stay on the straight and narrow and who will meander of the paths they were destined to? It is a time of turbulence and tragedy where some will find love and others questions. Friendships will be tested, lovers found and lost but in the end everyone will discover one simple truth. Some people were meant to enter our life for a moment and draw from us a lesson, others were meant take root forever.

Wow, longest Authors Note ever!


Chapter 26: Chapter Twenty Part One


You Can't Forget Your First: No Matter How Hard You Try

Chapter Twenty

Do you hate me yet? If you do then I'll thank you and take the power that that gives. But am I really to blame? Eric and Damien, Nate and Vanessa, Serena and Dan, even Chuck and Blair, they each had many chances to turn away from the path I'd plotted for them. But they chose not to. Whether in vanity, in pride or in fear they fulfilled their own destines. So who's really to blame? Me, who plotted the course or they, who followed the route to its logical conclusion?

Chuck stared at the small screen, the now familiar clutching in his chest replaying the entire event in his memory. There was so little in the picture, the power wasn't in the photography, it was the context. There was a railing on which perched a pair of booted feet; green soccer cleats broken only by two large purple flames: a singular, custom made set of footwear that could signal no one but him. Below those feet was nothing, a mass of blue water broken only by the very familiar New York waterfront.

Chuck almost laughed at the insanity of it all. Surely his family could not have drawn that conclusion. Yet when he glanced from right to left, when he saw the concerned glances and the pity he knew they had. His lip curled in instinctual anger mixed with a far less pleasant emotion. He must have stumbled because Serena put a hand out but he shoved her away. Others stood but he brushed past them all. He was not dealing with this. He was not.

He fled to the sanctuary of his room, only to have his phone beep an unpleasant reminder.

Match

The phone was cracked against the wall before he had even stopped walking. He was not going to stand in there. He was not going to explain himself. He was not going to relive a single moment of it. He had never wanted to run as far or as fast as then, but how could he with a room of expectant commiserates, each waiting to offer a solidarity he didn't want.

Chuck grabbed the alarm clock from his side table and flung it against the bedroom mirror. The comforting crack of glass on glass only lasted a minute, couldn't even distract his mind from Georgina's perfectly constructed victory. So he grabbed the laptop, the bedspreads, the crystal picture frames, his stereo, even the god damned television. He pulled, kicked, cracked and shattered every inch of the room. He destroyed everything he could touch and at last, when there was nothing left to sully he said complacently: a twisted contentment in matching space to thought.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

It was a surreal experience to step into a space that moments before had been ripped to shreds: to step through the broken glass, the scattered belongings and to see the purveyor of all that damage, sitting quietly, almost passively in the centre of his enormous king sized bed. He had his back to the door and it was held straight. For a boy who slouched by habit, the posture seemed unnatural. His shoulders were rigidly flexed, his eyes holding steady to the side table even though there was nothing left on it to hold his notice.

He didn't turn as Blair stepped across the room. He simply kept to his meaningless vigil. Blair pulled her white throw tighter around her shoulders. It blended seamlessly into her snow coloured pants and tank. She was dressed entirely in white, a perfect sacrificial lamb.

"If you think you were the cause of this,' his voice comes low and clear through the silent room, "then dismiss your guilt. I'm not that romantic." He finishes, spurring her with every breath.

Blair flinched at his words but she would not give up. "Then tell me what it was," Blair wrapt a hand around his shoulder. It was tense to her touch, growing more so as her fingers drifted down to touch his.

"You are no longer my girlfriend," Chuck reminded her even though the words burned. "You don't have to do this."

"I want to," Blair promised and brought a hand up to brush the matted hair from his temple.

Chuck reanimated at her touch, pushing her hand away and resettling a few inches to the left. "I don't want you to," Chuck swore with absolute conviction. He meant it. He didn't want her to get wrapped up in this, especially now. He wouldn't let Blair trade her sanity for his.

"You need to stop this," Blair used a firmer tone, tried another tactic. "I have been here for you all along, through your stubbornness and dare I say your stupidity. I have stood with you but you have refused to take the olive branch."

"I can't be what I am not," Chuck said, hollowness rose from within to colour his words.

"You would rather dwell in your secrets and destroy yourself."

Chuck's face grew progressively darker at that.

"I have laid everything open to you but you'd rather romanticize your own ruin."

"No you haven't," Chuck spat out, standing abruptly up.

"What are you talking about?"

Chuck stared straight down at her. "What secrets have you been keeping from me?"

Blair flinched again but this time had no easy response to counter it.

"Tell me, is Dr. Sherman your doctor? Did you recommend him to my father?"

Blair didn't admit or deny except in her face, which paled at the blatant truth. "Stop Chuck," She finally cracked.

"No!" Chuck shook with the force of his anger. "You are not the paragon of virtue against which I am to be measured."

"That is enough," Blair yelled. "I am done."

That seemed to deflate his anger and sag his shoulders.

"I love you," Blair tried to touch his face but he flinched away. "Even now, I love you," she insisted "but I can not save you." Blair wrapt her wool stole tighter around herself, trying to wrap her emotions away. With one last look she put up her chin and walked away.

"Blair," his voice was softer now and she didn't fear turning back to it. "I love you too," He finished in a whisper.

Blair shook her head sadly, brushing away a tear that had fallen despite her resolve to be strong. She recognized his declaration for what it was. It wasn't an invitation back into his life, in fact, it was quite the opposite. He didn't want anyone else to try to fix him. He said the words because she had given him what he didn't know to ask for: the time needed to fix the parts of his soul that were broken. He hadn't purposely kept the truth from her before; he had needed the freedom to recognize it.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Blair tripped through the hotel on shocked energy. She'd punched the button to the elevator over and over again. Serena had run after her but Blair had forced her back. Chuck was her family now.

She regretted it the moment her feet hit the snow packed street. She had fled on pure nerves but now she was lost. The full reality of what had transpired cracked through and she was run away with it. She didn't want to cry again. She didn't want to cry ever again. She didn't want to go home. She knew what would greet her there; she knew the temptation would be too great.

All the people she truly loved were camped in the Van der Bass suite. His needs were greater than hers. She couldn't take them away.

So she picked up her phone and dialled the next best thing.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck played with the slip of paper in his pocket and waited. He waited for the next victim to pass his threshold. He would have sought Eric out but he already knew his brother would be it. He barely looked up when the door opened again. He didn't need to. His brother didn't pause at the disaster before him, he gave an absent kick at the piles of destruction and fixed his eyes on his brother. "I'm sorry Chuck," Eric started and Chuck rolled his eyes.

"How could you let Serena set this up?" Chuck stared up at him. "I did my part, I told you everything."

"I know that you did."

"So why?"

"Because I think you need the help." Chuck snorted at the thought but he couldn't entirely disagree. "You promised me you were done with her games after the stint on the roof," Eric reminded him.

"I was," Chuck looked up. "She wasn't done with us."

"Us?" Eric caught the misused word.

"I had to do it."

"You don't have to do anything."

"I needed the information she had. That was the price I had to pay."

"What could be worth going through that?"

Chuck took the folded paper from his pocket. "This," He held it out to the younger boy.

Eric took the slip from his brother's hand, unfolding the printed page between his still youthful fingers. Chuck had circled the necessary information, as it could so easily be lost. "The Ewan Sparks foundation," Eric read aloud, realization hitting before he'd finished the sentence. "That's…"

"Exactly what you think it is."

Eric took a deep breath, lump forming in his throat even as he tried to put his thoughts to word. "So…" He started and then looked up at the roof. He tried to blink back the tears but he'd never mastered the art.

"You know her too well to doubt the rest." Chuck stared at his younger brother and if he had a single emotion left to feel within him, he would have felt it for Eric.

Eric didn't stay to ask questions. He stuffed the paper into his pocket and fled.

And, just as Georgina had wanted, Chuck Bass lost both of the people he loved best. He had nothing left to hold onto, no pride left to cherish and fear that he had not faced.

So he walked into the bordering room and, with a calm and controlled voice, he agreed to meet with Dr. Sherman.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Nate was positively petrified as he knocked on his girlfriend's purple door. He didn't know why. It wasn't the first time he'd confessed to cheating on a girlfriend with Serena. He ought to be an expert by now. It didn't help when Vanessa opened the door sporting the largest smile he'd ever seen. She flew into his arms and for a moment he let himself be wrapt in her enthusiasm. "I have the best news," She promised and dragged him into the small apartment.

That so did not help.

He was barely out of his shoes when Vanessa started on her tale, too excited to wait until he'd taken a seat. "The New York Film Academy is offering a full scholarship through this short film contest. Its fiction and I know I said I'd never do fiction but it's the New York Film Academy. And I know I said I didn't want to go to university but that is hardly university. It's the most incredible opportunity, and I can't believe that they've invited me to submit. Little home schooled nothing Vanessa Abrams."

"That's great," Nate threw his jacket on the sofa and considered saving the truth for another night.

Vanessa sat down on her used sofa and eyed her boyfriend curiously. "That's great?" She echoed sarcastically. "That's the best you can do?"

"I'm sorry," Nate tried to rediscover some spark. "I'm so proud of you," He squeezed her knee for good measure but it couldn't hide his general mood.

"Are you alright?" Vanessa asked but he didn't answer. "Is it Chuck?"

"No," Nate shook his head. "I told you, he's going to see that Doctor."

"That's good right?" Vanessa tried to make sense of her boyfriend.

"Yes, yes it is."

"But that's not what this is about."

Nate looked up at her and considered lying again. He couldn't. He'd had a good look at what lying could do in the long run. "No it's not."

"You might as well tell me," Vanessa sat up straighter, her eyes unnerved.

"I had sex with Serena." He could hear Vanessa suck in her breath from across the small space. "I'm sorry," He couldn't look at her.

"When?"

"The night Blair called me."

Vanessa didn't say anything, but the water pooling in her eyes showed that she had understood. She blinked the tears back but they overwhelmed, drowning out the blue undershades of her eyes and turning them a solid, ashen grey. After a moment she stood, and calmly started to collect his things.

"Vanessa," Nate put a hand on her arm to stop her.

"Don't touch me," She ordered. She threw his jacket at him and stared him straight in the eye. The gathered tears fell down her cheek, but did nothing to diminish the strength of her words. "Don't call me; don't even look at me ever again. We are over."

She waited for him to walk away and Nate realized the origins of his fear. It wasn't that he had loved her more; it wasn't that he had loved her less. It was simply that Vanessa wasn't nurtured on a diet of superficiality, groomed to accept a husband's wanderings while perched behind a glass house. He knew that when she walked away she would mean it.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric wasn't a coward but when he stood in front of the Grant Gallery his hands shook like the weakest of men. He took another sip of his cappuccino, another unobligatory meander on the path to this moment. He hadn't needed the caffeine; his mind was feeding on continual nervous energy. He had needed the extra time to plan his words.

How does one plan a confrontation of this nature? How does one face the possibility that the man that they loved was only ever out to hurt them?

Eric decided to take it one step at a time and the first step was opening the door.

The gallery was a flurry of activity; Damien had finalized the pieces for his show days before, and now, he and the gallery staff were arranging the layout. For a moment Eric stood back and stared. What Damien had planned for months was coming to fruition and as stunning as his pieces were individually, they were memorizing staged together: colour competed across the expansive space, prints mingled with plaster and one truly touched the artistic genius that was Damien Allenby. Eric felt a longing at the base of his throat, a pain to know that he would not be there for the Brit's greatest triumph.

"Eric," The familiar voice cried out across the gallery. He couldn't turn; he needed to calm his nerves first. "Eric?" the voice called again.

"Damien," Eric turned then but regretted it the moment he caught his boyfriend's eyes. His glance quite naturally fell away and Damien recognized it then.

"Is something wrong?" Damien asked and the concern sounded so genuine.

"Just tell me one thing," Eric regained his equilibrium. He met the green eyes straight on, not even daring to flinch. "What were you supposed to do to me?"

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

A/N – I actually wrote on Christmas (well Christmas night at least). How did I manage that? We were snowed in and couldn't make it out for our customary Christmas dinner. It's been rescheduled for tomorrow. Wow, that was definitely the short half-chapter of break-ups. Any predictions on the couple that will start GRG? I know what you're thinking. Who's left? :)

Violet – thanks for the review.

Sky Samuelle – I honestly think that my Georgina is beyond redemption in this tale. She is too jaded, too messed up and too hollow. I'll just take the easy road and say that your beautiful short Seasons could be a perfect sequel to Georgina's side of this story. The last half of this chapter will not redeem her but it will help everyone to understand her, her motivations and why she drew Eric into her game. It might also, as a side effect, help everyone to forgive Serena just a little bit.

:D – thanks :)

Sofie – thank you, I have such a feel good buzz from your review.

beachbumyeahh – I like Nate and Blair as friends. I'm actually happy that they seem to be moving that way in the show too; though I find them a snore fest as a couple. To be honest, the only person who I've liked Nate with so far on the show is Vanessa. He seems to come alive around her.

dazzledeyes – thank you for your supportive review. I said way back by the beginning that this story was going to be dark & twisted. GRG will not be so get prepared for some comedy and the rebirth of bitchy Blair, a kinder but still Basshole and their verbal swordplay.

puresimplicity – The poem was from the epilogue in TH. I thought it would be fitting to bring the story whole circle before the last scene between C/B in this chapter.

BRKOF – let me reiterate your thoughts by saying that you're an amazing reviewer. You have been with me for a really long time now (dating back to TH) and I'm always so happy to see your name pop up.

Up Next: The end :)


Chapter 27: Chapter Twenty Part Two


The work continued around the pair but Eric didn't hear the squealing of ladders or the barking of orders. He was too focussed on Damien, hoping though he didn't want to admit to it. He was hoping that there was an explanation, that this was a huge misunderstanding. Then the colour slowly drained from Damien's already pale face and Eric knew it was true. Eric's disgust mingled with an anger that told him to walk away then but he wanted answers.

"You have to understand. This is the kind of opportunity most artists spend their entire lives trying to attain."

"How do you even know Georgina?"

"She was in rehab with my brother Tom. She kept him from getting thrown out."

Knowing Georgina she probably set the stage.

"When she offered me this," Damien waved his hand around "I couldn't really say no."

The bile rose in Eric's throat, the force of his disgust twisting his body, turning everything slowly inside out. "What were you supposed to do?"

"Eric...I..."

"What were you supposed to do?" Eric used a harder voice.

There was a moment and then Damien admitted the truth. "I was supposed to out you as my lover at the show's opening, in front of all the New York media," Damien stared at his shoes.

Eric sucked in a breath.

"And then I was supposed to dump you," Damien whispered.

"And you were prepared to do these things?" Eric asked.

"I was going to do one," Damien admitted in quiet, finding it hard to meet his lover's eyes.

"Which one?" Eric started and then reconsidered. "Forget I asked. I don't want to know."

"Please Eric," Damien begged, his eyes already filling with tears. "Please try to understand. I never wanted to hurt you."

"Save it," Eric stared at the older boy's crestfallen face but wasn't moved. "Enjoy your show," Eric took once last look at the decorated space. "I hope it was worth selling your soul for."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck sat at the bar stool at 151, not even noticing the swirl of bodies around him. He usually came to this place to think but not tonight. Tonight he was going to ingest enough alcohol so that when they lead him to that doctor's office tomorrow he would still be half smashed.

After a couple hours even the bartender was nervous to serve him more. A few hundreds fixed that problem, but couldn't make the room stop spinning. He'd long since lost sight of that line, the line he'd once played with but never crossed: the line between drunkenness and true intoxication. The brief stint of sobriety in the hospital came undone under two days of total inebriation.

He only stopped when he knew his body would not take anymore, when he knew another sip would rob from his the ability to speak or walk. He was surprised he could still define it.

Then he went home. He tried to sneak quietly into the family suite but he knew it would be impossible. It didn't matter. His family kept to their rooms, a couple because they couldn't stand to see him in this state and the others because they understood that they had done all they could and didn't want to see their optimism evaporate in the sight of such contradiction.

Chuck grabbed his sister's bag from the side table. He rifled through her belongings until he found her phone. He scrolled through the blonde's contacts as he staggered to his room. His fingers hesitated over Blair's name but to call her would be to undo everything. He made a silent little promise to himself and to her. He would go to her again, when he was healthy, when he'd burned away his own inadequacies, when fear didn't make him run and when he could tolerate pain without drinking himself to this state. Until that moment she was free from him and the drama he created.

And perhaps the other was the first step. He pushed his fingers down to G until he found her name. He listened as the phone cracked through the distance, stepping into his room.

"Why are you calling me Charlie?" Her voice was clear and it clipped through an strangely quiet background. "I told you I was done with you. I've destroyed you and to be quite frank, you bore me now."

"Why?" Chuck asked and the other girl's posturing stopped abruptly. "How could you do that to me?"

"Do you have to ask?" Georgina asked first and when Chuck offered nothing but silence in return she countered with another question. "Why did you have to call me? On that day of all days?"

Chuck thought back nearly a year before, to the night he'd done perhaps the stupidest thing in his eighteen years. He had just needed someone to be there for him, to pass the anniversary of his mother's death but he had screwed things up with everyone in his life. He hadn't had Nate and Blair had hated him with a passion that through friendship Serena was sure to mirror. "I didn't have anyone else," Chuck admitted. "I didn't have anyone to talk to. I didn't even have anyone to not talk to."

"So why didn't you come like you'd promised? You left me in that hell to rot away."

"Why did you even want me there? You've never loved me; you're not capable of loving anyone."

"Because I came closest with you," Georgina admitted and then swiftly changed her tone away from the sentimental. "Besides, Serena was trying the redemption bit. I figured it was worth an attempt."

Chuck put his wavering head back to the pillow.

"You should have come to Paris with me. Instead of coming in Blair Waldorf."

"The damage was already done," Chuck admitted.

"You were already in love with her," Georgina finished the thought.

"What did you expect Georgina? That I would go the rest of my life as some kind of romantic hermit?" He asked even though once upon a time he had planned on exactly that.

"You'd managed seventeen years with barely a date." Georgina reminded him. "Did it have to be Blair? I could have managed anyone but her."

"I wondered if that was it."

"Perfect, smiling, beautiful Blair. It's not fair Charlie. She can bat her eyelashes and half the men in the world swoon. They can all fall in love with her but you weren't supposed to. You were supposed to be mine."

"Why do you even care?"

"Because you proved that I was loveable." Georgina said with such simplicity that Chuck was taken back to the little girl she had been, so broken and in need of genuine affection. "No one else has ever really loved me. It was almost touching. Your mother could jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and two months later you could still be a romantic."

"You certainly took care of that."

"I had to," Georgina replied. "You were too weak."

Chuck shook his head and almost laughed at her. He would have but he understood that she truly didn't understand what it meant to love or be loved. It some tiny way it wasn't truly her fault. "I can understand it now," Chuck admitted. "I can understand everything except why you involved Eric. He didn't deserve your games."

"Why didn't you come to Switzerland? Why didn't you smuggle me away to toast to life's disappointments on the Eiffel Tower?"

Chuck turned his memory back to the year before. Why hadn't he fled? He had destroyed everything. Then he remembered.

"Because he was there for you. He kept you from me."

Chuck let her words wash over him.

"He loved you and he had to be punished for it. You had to lose everyone who loved you to truly understand what you took from me. What you took from me and gifted to Blair."

"So why not revel in your triumph? Why did you let me stop it?"

"Maybe because I felt guilty," Georgina admitted. "I used everything I knew about you, I bent you and broke you but you still kept my secrets."

"Some things aren't meant to be said aloud."

"Like your feelings."

"I did love you once," Chuck admitted at last.

"Thanks Charlie," Georgina whispered lazily into the phone. "Perhaps one day you'll acknowledge it publically."

Chuck heard a click and then the line went silent.

Chuck sat for hours after she'd hung up the phone. He just stared at his room. The destruction had been swept away, bed returned to their perfectly laundered state, those things that weren't broken dusted and returned to their proper places, paintings rehung delicately and the rest banished from sight. It was like nothing had ever happened except he couldn't banish his memories with such simplistic orderliness. Chuck let a cigarette and let it dangle between his lips. The scotch glass beside his bed had been abandoned hours before, and all that remained in his head was the steady thrum of his earlier imbibing. The sun was rising, already starting to decorate his room in shades of yellow and red. It was a new day and in a matter of hours he would face Dr. Sherman.

There comes a moment in every person's life when they doubt their sanity and sitting in that perfectly kept space, realizing what he had admitted to Georgina despite everything she had done to him, he doubted his.

His eyes fixated on the painting that stood immediately opposite the bed: The portrait of a young man by a very familiar artist. Apparently housekeeping hadn't known better and had replaced Damien's gift. It was even more intriguing than the first time he'd seen it. The man was light and colour but he was encased in plaster, surrounded by a circle of grey. He couldn't help but draw the comparison. There were always a thousand thoughts swirling around him, thoughts he sought to silence with drink, or with sex. They never went away, they always came back. He stared at the portrait and laughed. Could that be him? Was he destined to be like his mother? Destined to go crazy?

Chuck didn't even want to think of that. He grabbed the bottle of brandy from the table and threw it on the portrait, dousing it until tiny rivers of liquid dripped down below. Then he took his cigarette and threw it. He laughed as it burst into flame, the flames burning away the artistic masterpiece and any comparisons it might create.

The fire alarm started almost immediately and within moments Serena and Eric were in his room. Once they saw what had happened, Serena grabbed the fire extinguisher from the kitchen. She hadn't needed to; the sprinkler system went off shortly after.

The hotel's system soaked Chuck through but he couldn't stop laughing. Eric and Serena exchanged a glance while his parents made their way downstairs. "I'm all for burning the bastards work," Serena decided. "But couldn't you have removed it from the wall first?"

Chuck couldn't help but laugh harder at that. Lily and Bart entered the melee next but before anyone else could speak Eric waved them all away.

Chuck didn't stop laughing until he saw Eric study the destroyed painting with certain sadness. Then the guilt crept into his stomach and extinguished any amusement he might have felt. "I'm so sorry Eric. It was my fault."

"I don't hold you responsible for any of this," Eric said simply and with that he removed the charred portrait from its place and tossed it towards the door.

"If I hadn't..."

"Don't," Eric stopped him. "You're my brother and nothing is going to stop me from loving you."

They hugged then, with that sort of weird awkwardness that usually surrounds a hug between two men: as if neither remembered where they were supposed to put their hands, neither wished to admit they were crying and each had a moment when they had wanted to call Lily just to act as feminine intermediary. The moment passed as quickly as it started, and both boys reclaimed their more customary distance.

"So was it?"

"Humiliating and yet strangely horrific," Eric glared at his brother with a sort of sardonic sarcasm layering each syllable.

"Are you going to be okay?"

"I'll be fine," Eric decided. "I just thought," Eric took a deep breath. "I just thought that he liked me for me."

You deserve that," Chuck promised. "You deserve it better than anyone I know."

Eric smiled with a derisive edge. "It could have been worse," he decided aloud.

"How so?" Chuck asked.

"My first love could have been Georgina Sparks."

Chuck stared at his brother in disbelief, at first shocked that he would dare to go there. But Chuck knew better than anyone that we all have our coping mechanisms. Eric's was bitingly sarcastic wit.

"I know" The younger boy rolled his eyes "fuck you Eric."

Chuck shook his head but he couldn't help smiling, the first genuine smile in weeks.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck eyed the doctor's office with a critical eye. There were pastel paintings on the wall, boringly repetitive neutral furniture and far too much yellow. These places always looked the same he decided derisively; ignoring that his only other experiences were seven years old.

Dr. Sherman lined his four pens beside his spiral notebook and Chuck checked his watch. He wondered how much it was costing his father to watch the psychiatrist maintain his anal orderliness.

It wasn't surprising that Blair used him.

"So Charles," The doctor began in a neutral tone to match the room.

"Chuck," Chuck interrupted, "My name is Chuck."

"So Chuck," the doctor corrected, "Why do you think you ended up here, in my office."

Chuck stared at the doctor in disbelief. Was he joking? Dr. Sherman made a little notation in his book and Chuck figured he had better say something.

So he cleared his throat and folded his hands in his lap. "My mother took a header off the Brooklyn Bridge when I was eleven. I think that gives me a fucked up lifetime pass."

XOXO THE END XOXO

"It is not violence that best overcomes hate — nor vengeance that most certainly heals injury."

Jane Eyre

A/N – Well that's it except for the epilogue (which will give you a hint of where GRG is starting.) The epilogue is very short and I should have it up tomorrow. Wow, the end. It's like the end of an era. This was the hardest, most involved and dramatic story I have ever written.

Oh and for Christmas my parents enrolled me in an actual writer's course. I have never taken one before (my degrees are in History and Education). Wish me luck :)

puresimplicity – thanks :) Like I said this is definitely the most "involved" story I've ever written.

Violet – yes, there will be a story that will cover the rest of senior year to graduation posted starting in January.

MidnightSky – thanks for the wonderful reviews throughout the whole series.

CBEBTRBLSB trory12 – the end has come : )

beachbumyeahh – a huge thanks to you for all your reviews through this tale

Sky Samuelle – Thanks for all your support throughout both of my stories. This was definitely a bittersweet ending but Eric and Chuck have definitely bonded. Georgina couldn't undo them but she never knew enough about love to really break it.

MF85 – there's definitely a lot of hints in my writing that kind of predict future events or give clues about what's really happening. If I actually went back and picked out all the clues that hinted at Damien being on Georgie's payroll I could probably fill a page, starting quite naturally with his name. They're so vague though that they're hard to pick up on. (like the throwbacks to TH…eg: "Is it a Thursday" goes back to when Eric said they only stage interventions on Thursday) As for the next book, There will be a CB theme woven through the story but they are going to date others and learn lessons from it. (Well Blair will date others anyway…I don't think you can call it dating with Chuck.)

So thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you to all the others who have read this little tale of woe.

Epilogue is up tomorrow along with two excerpts from GRG (I'm feeling generous, well that and one excerpt has been up for a couple days on my profile already).


Chapter 28: Epilogue


You Can't Forget Your First: No Matter How Hard You Try

Epilogue

Serena stared at the little screen and waited for the door to open. Chuck was several hours late from his appointment with the doctor but his sister wasn't surprised, expecting him to take a long detour on the way home. She looked down at the flickering screen and considered whether to show it to him. The thing was, he would find out eventually and at least here, at home, he needn't manage his reaction. It was far better than a jab at school or parts in between.

She heard it then, Chuck slowly meandering his way through the hall. She left her room and met him at the side table. "How did you appointment with Dr. Sherman go?" She asked, flinching when he turned to her with red rimmed eyes. He'd been exactly where she'd thought.

"It was just peachy!" Chuck cried out with false enthusiasm. He grabbed the scotch bottle from the side and poured a double.

"I'm sorry," Serena felt awful. "I really didn't know."

Chuck rolled his eyes, making his drink a triple instead. "How could you have not known? Georgina was the one who sent it!"

"So maybe I had an idea," Serena admitted. "But Chuck," she met his eyes with his. "What if I was wrong?"

Chuck couldn't put an answer to that so he just looked away.

"I'm really sorry," Serena repeated.

"It's in the past," Chuck said, dismissing everything with a sip of his drink.

"Not just for that," Serena started and Chuck looked up. He noticed it then. She had bags under her eyes to match his and she held her phone out. "I thought I should be the one to show you."

Chuck took the device from her hand, a certain dread crawling in him as he viewed the LCD screen and the message from Gossip Girl.

The King is Dead…Long Live the King?

Spotted: Queen B getting pretty cuddly with another St. Judes boy. Someone should tell her that we are meant to move up the food chain, not stumble pathetically down it.

Chuck flipped through the photographs one by one. He couldn't quite define the emotions coursing through him. Blair looked so stunningly beautiful, her white coat blending in with the snow, her brown curls flying through the air where her hood had fallen to free them. She was on a swing set in Central Park; her face flushed bright red with the chill of the snowfall. Her fingers were clutched stiffly to the linked chain as she soared higher in each picture, but her face was dressed in a juvenile smile like he hadn't seem for a time: the kind of smile that lit her face from side to side, showing each of her pearly white teeth. She looked positively, gloriously happy and joy bloomed in his heart to see it. He could want nothing more for her.

He could almost ignore the other person in the photograph: the boy with matching brown hair that flew through the breeze as he pushed her, who ran beneath her as she soared higher, who smiled in matching form. He could almost have ignored it except for the last photo. In that photo, the boy had his fingers to her cheeks and his lips pressed to her forehead. You couldn't confuse the affection.

Chuck Bass wanted nothing more than for Blair to be happy, and when he let her go, he had promised to himself that he would accept whatever form or fancy it took.

But God be damned, he hated to share: Especially with Dan Humphrey.

Chuck handed the phone back to Serena and grabbed the whole bottle of scotch, not even bothering with the glass. He went a few feet and then changed his mind. He slammed it on the kitchen bar instead. "I need to get out of here." He decided aloud and walked to his room.

Chuck had his bag half full when Serena walked into his room. She dropped her own travel bag beside his, already full and ready.

"What do you think you're doing?" Chuck asked in surprise.

"I'm coming with you," Serena decided simply.

Chuck just stared at her and then shook his head. "No," He dismissed her but she wouldn't go.

"Everything that happened was my fault," Serena decided. "And I'm prepared to make reparations." Chuck shook his head again but she wouldn't have it. "I will do anything. I will go on your liquor runs, hold you head back when you puke, I would even run interference so you can score."

Chuck arched an eyebrow at his sister's stubborn but rather enticing invitation. "It wasn't all your fault. I'm the one that called her last year."

"You called her? Why would you do that?"

Chuck closed his suitcase, zipping it roughly. "Because at that point I didn't care, and I had nothing to lose." Serena tried to figure out the context of his words but she never was that smart. Chuck grabbed his carry bag and threw it over his shoulder. He staggered towards the main room, stopping at the threshold to throw a question. "Are you coming?"

"Where are we travelling?" Serena asked. Chuck smirked devilishly at her use of we. "Paris, Milan, London?"

"Unfortunately not, since the little escapade last year, you darling mother convinced my father to keep my passport in the safe at all times. It puts a real damper on sudden vacations."

"Well," Serena's face fell. "That's that then."

"But," Chuck stumbled through the main room. "His town car keys." Chuck fished through the drawers at the front entrance. "Are readily accessible," he emerged triumphant, giving the keys a little jingle.

Serena grabbed them immediately. "Even if you knew how to drive, I wouldn't let you in your current condition."

Chuck gave the keys over willingly. "You may chauffeur me."

"But I don't know how to drive either." Serena reminded him.

"I do," a voice announced from the other side of the room.

Chuck and Serena turned to see Eric standing expectantly.

"You have got to be kidding me," Chuck shook his head. "How old are you?"

"I turned sixteen last week. Thanks for remembering by the way," Eric lifted one eyebrow sarcastically.

"Are you sure you want to come?" Serena asked.

"What am I going to do here?" Eric asked them. "Go to Damien's opening show? Autograph copies of the New York Arts Magazine?"

"True enough," Chuck agreed and elbowed his sister. Serena held the keys out and Eric took them. Before he could pull his hand back, Chuck held both of them tight, putting one hand under Serena's and the other over Eric's. "Nothing like a road trip to cure a little heartache," he announced, opening the door for the three to pass through.

"So where are we going?" Serena asked.

"I was thinking Palo Alto," Chuck suggested as the door closed behind the three.