Closure

Baby, I have been here before.

I know this room, I've walked this floor.

I used to live alone before I knew you.

I've seen your flag on the marble arch.

Love is not a victory march –

It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah.

/Prologue/

We all know the tale, the formula of enchantment, the stories told to us from beautifully bound books when there were stars in our eyes because at seven years old, everything happened to gleam like magic.

A princess with peonies in her hair, a prince whose love stemmed from a broken root, and happily ever afters were thrown our way until fact was fiction and fiction was all we knew. The evil queens died in fits of smoke and fire, cursed forests brewed fantasies that we could almost hold onto when we shut our eyes long enough. And we forget that there are other characters, other kingdoms.

We forget that there are twists.

And that time itself can be such an extraordinary thing. The sun shines an opposite way, the prince falls from his horse and arrives just a second later, gives the princess a chance to look for him in the shadows and find a dark knight instead. And love begins in the blink of an eye.

It's a beautiful thing.

/Before/

She was twelve years old when she rode in his limo a first time.

It was never common knowledge that Chuck and Blair were friends all on their own, before the hit of their glossed-over teenage years came – before the drinks and debauchery, and before the ice crept over her skin and under her flesh.

Before.

Because even the universe slips and sometimes forgets what's meant to be.

The first time he saw her, all bundled up in a purple coat, prim white stockings on her legs, right down to her un-scuffed Mary Janes, Chuck thought of porcelain and the fine China that Bart had out because it meant money and it meant class – not that they ever ate on it, not that they ever ate together at all. Blair Waldorf was too pretty for everything he'd ever seen, every inch of her was seemingly perfect.

Chuck stared down at his hands, big and ill-fit to handle such fragility. He hadn't a clue of how to talk to a girl like her. Yes, he was a Bass. The pre-teen girls with their skirts rolled up and their lip gloss over-pasted always scrambled to be all coy with him behind their elementary school.

But not Blair.

He stared at her, and she examined her reflection in a little compact, adjusting the band on her head, all silky and red against her curled locks. Blair narrowed her eyes until she seemed to be satisfied, then tossed the thing back into her schoolbag. Chuck took a parting glance at his own limo, then back at Blair, the lone straggler of the afternoon pick-ups. He quaffed his hair, licked his bottom lip before sauntering his way over to her.

"Need a ride?"

Blair's eyes widened, and it was almost comical, the way her features hardened in the next instant. "Are you serious?"

Chuck smirked, "Did I stutter?"

"I mean, God," Blair continued in a huff. "That's so creepy. You can't just sleaze up to strangers and ask them to get in your car." She pursed her lips, gaze trailing the scarf hanging from his neck. "Do you even know who I am?"

Chuck leaned against the wall, his shoulder crushing a bit of ivy hanging from the bricks. "Blair Waldorf," he said casually, one shoulder shrugged. "You seem to think that those things on your head make you some sort of queen, you enjoy Sweet Tarts when nobody's looking, and you've made six girls in our grade cry this month alone."

Blair crossed her arms, her blazer tightening against her chest. "Oh, wonderful. My designated stalker."

"I'm not a stalker," Chuck retorted. "I'm Chuck Bass. The knowledge comes with the name." As he said the words, a gust of wind picked up speed, making Blair shiver in her thin coat. Chuck sighed, tugging the scarf tighter around his neck, then glanced back at his limo. "Look, just get in. I won't even protest if you can't keep your hands off me." The corner of his lips lifted. "I might even be able to proffer those Sweet Tarts you enjoy so much."

"Trying to get me into your car by offering me candy?" Blair rolled her eyes, swiveled to face the other side of the street. "I suppose that the next time I see you will be on the internet, as a registered sex offender." Blair coughed, shooing him away. "Have a nice life, Bass."

He smiled at this. "You do know me."

Blair frowned. "No."

"You called me Bass like you talk about me all of the time."

"No."

"I bet you do," Chuck persisted, and Blair practically gagged at the smug grin on his face. "You, sitting at your little corner table fourth period, watch me, Blair Waldorf. Just like I watch you."

"Oh my effing God," Blair snapped, exasperated. "Do you even listen to yourself when you speak? All of this is grounds for a restraining order." Her cheeks flushed, and she tried to pass it off as a result of the cold weather. "And even if I did watch you, its because I've never seen anyone so smarmy and self-absorbed in my entire life. It's because the amount of times you've worn that scarf since school started is, quite frankly, disturbing. And you smile as if you were the devil's spawn."

Chuck pondered this for a moment, one finger on his chin. "My father will appreciate that."

Blair ignored him.

"You know, you still seem to know a lot about me," Chuck mused, "for such an apathetic little princess."

She cut a glance at him. "I'm Blair Waldorf," she mocked. "The knowledge comes with the title."

Laughter caught in his throat, like he was genuinely impressed with her wit for a moment, before he choked it down. Blair stared at him curiously, glanced down the empty street, then at his waiting limo.

"I'm assuming that it'll be heated?"

"Of course it will," Chuck replied, licking his lips. "I'll be inside."

Blair crinkled her nose, shoved against his shoulder hard, and slammed the door shut behind her when she got into the limo – just to make him go around. As his driver pulled away from the curb, Blair stared at him for a moment, playing with a curl that was tucked under her headband.

He has nice eyes, Blair allowed. Those eyes made her think of Holly and Fred, of Central Park under snowfall, of macaroons and bubble baths during rainstorms. Those eyes made her think of her favorite things.

Blair coughed, pinched the inside of her wrist until those thoughts were stung away.

"I haven't told him my address," Blair demanded, gingerly placing her Coach bag on the seat beside her, making sure that her knee did not brush Chuck's when she crossed her ankles.

Chuck grinned. "He knows where he's going."

"I don't trust you," Blair murmured, turning to keep a careful eye on the passing streets.

"I'm not going to kidnap you, Waldorf," Chuck scoffed. "As delicious as that sounds, even I don't have that much energy to exert. Perhaps another day."

They sat in silence for a moment, Blair staring down at her French manicure, Chuck toying with one of the limo's controls. She bit down on her bottom lip, her front teeth sparkling white against the swell of red. Chuck watched the movement through his peripheral vision.

He got so lost in the moment that he didn't see those lips part, didn't hear ask, "Bass, did you hear me?"

Chuck blinked, then frowned. "Excuse me?"

"I asked if you had any interests," Blair sighed, "other than inserting yourself into the lives of others and smarming about." When he parted his lips, no doubt to throw in another sleazy quip, Blair cut him off with a prissy little smile. "I'm trying to make conversation. It's the polite thing to do, no matter the…unfortunate company."

He smiled at the hazy reflection caught against the limo's window. "You're sweet, Blair."

A dimple appeared on one pink cheek. "I try."

Chuck was silent after that, and Blair busied herself with her cell phone, though she didn't have any new text messages – not from her mother or father, no concern about her whereabouts whatsoever, not from any of her "friends", the girls who followed her around with gushing compliments and wide eyes. Blair sighed, tapped the side of her flip phone.

"I enjoy the classics."

Her gaze snapped to him. "What?"

Chuck cupped his own jaw. "You know, the films with men in suits, the gangster originals, the gin martinis and Vodka twists." He raised his eyebrows. "James Dean, Marlon Brando, even – "

Blair swallowed hard. "Audrey Hepburn?"

He nodded. "I've been known to endure Roman Holiday once or twice."

The smile on her face could be seen from the next borough if one squinted well enough. She tucked a brown curl behind her ear, and then the conversation fell easily after that, little tidbits interwoven with her sass and sarcasm, his smirks and leering. By the time they'd reached the clean strip of sidewalk in front of Blair's building, the car was filled with the sound of their voices, matched equally in deftness and volume.

"And then I told her that if she was so desperate to look like me, she might want to lay off the self-tanner and stop pinching her nose like – " She cut off, staring out at the familiar arched doorway, then gasped when she realized that she was draped halfway across the leather seat, her fingers mere inches from his, her uniform crinkled from the ride. "Oh."

Chuck followed her gaze, then begrudgingly sat back. "Oh."

Blair gathered her things, hoisted her purse, violet leather, onto her shoulder. "Well…"

"Well," Chuck cut in, "I suppose you can give me a call anytime." He winked, made Blair shift in her seat. "In case you ever need me to take you for a…ride."

"Gross."

He didn't know whether to believe her narrowed eyes or the smile on her lips. So he settled on taking both.

"I'm going," Blair finally declared with a little flourish.

But before she could follow through, Chuck caught her wrist, their first touch, and she was both electrified and numbed by it, the sharp jolt pitching up her arm, sizzling at her fingertips. She gasped before pulling away, a little sound that managed to fill the entire limo.

"I mean it," Chuck said, as solemnly as he could manage. "If you ever happen to need a getaway car…"

Blair watched him for a moment. "I know who to ask."

/Present/

"What happened to that?" Chuck grumbles as Blair lifts his arm, slips it into the hole of his coat. "Why didn't we just rule together then?"

She mostly ignores him as she continues her task, and he smiles, touches the gray hair curled at her shoulder, the sole streak of brown by her ear. When he tugs a strand between his wrinkled fingertips, Blair scowls.

"Stop that," Blair snaps, her voice just a bit shaky, but loud enough to sound across their sitting room. But there's still a question in his eyes, and she sighs, "High school happened, Chuck. You started drinking scotch like water, you lost your virginity to your current aunt-in-law, and you – " She pauses, slightly winded by her own rambling. "You became a pig."

"Funny," Chuck remarks, stroking through his own gray hair. "On your account, I was always a pig. But I'll take it."

Blair smiles, kisses his forehead as they help each other up. She notices the way he leans into her a bit too hard, then saunters on and acts like he doesn't. At seventy-three years old, Chuck Bass is just as irritatingly stubborn as he was at seventeen. She watches him go ahead of her, tying her hair up into a little chignon. They are aged – dusted with slight wrinkles, slower walks, tired years – but they are not old.

She smiles, satisfied at coming to this conclusion.

"You know," Blair sighs, following after him, "you should be resting."

He glances over his shoulder. "You should be resting." He smirks when Blair looks guilty for a moment. "The limo's waiting downstairs." He wraps his arms around her waist, barely touching her through the layers of their thick coats. "It's just a little ride, Blair. Nothing bad is going to happen."

"Nothing bad," Blair repeats. "Like the stroke you had last year? Chuck…"

"Blair," he interrupts, holding her chin. "Look at me. I'm Chuck Bass. I'm on my feet. I just want to tour the city with my wife. You know, we once swore that we would never deny each other anything."

Blair shakes her head, lets out an even breath. "You're turning me into a horrible wife."

Chuck grins, kisses her soundly, and she tastes like the macaroons the doctors warned her not to eat. Once he's memorized the sweetness, he whispers, "I love being horrible with you."

"Careful, Bass," Blair warns as she links her arm through his. "Someone might mistake us for an old married couple."

The sky is nearing pink when they step outside, and he replies, "Oh, we'd never want that."

/Before/

In December of 2006, Blair was sixteen, and Chuck could see that. Everyone could, really. Her hair had grown down to her lower back in sultry round curls, and she wore Chanel lipstick in Belle Ami, shorter skirts, subtle accents that told the world how a princess had grown into a queen.

Winter break hit during their sophomore year, and the two children who'd once traded charmingly devious stories in the backseat of Chuck's limo had grown into two different regions of the same world. Chuck smoked hash when he wasn't sleeping with more than willing freshman, and Blair looked on with something too concerned to be disgust. They went to the same parties, seized on every opportunity to tease each one another when they were abandoned by their dates and various vices in dark corners. She'd mock his scarf, and he'd comment on the fact that she wore a Hermes around her neck just like it. She'd blush, and he'd imagine feeling the heat on his fingertips.

But at the stroke of midnight, he'd return to a stoic father and half of one hangover – she'd cuddle into the arms of a boy who'd replaced Blair as Chuck's almost-best friend.

This was not Cinderella. No glass slippers were ever left behind.

But a snowstorm hit on the twenty-third, and it almost felt like a broken fairytale when Blair found herself sitting alone on a plush window seat, curled up under blankets in the Waldorf penthouse as the city fell white. Nate was in Connecticut, no doubt wearing his emerald green sweater around a table of golden-haired Vanderbilts.

She felt stupid now, having turned him down in favor of spending the break with her mother. Eleanor was in Cabo, soaking up the sun after a half-hearted attempt at trying to get back to her daughter during the storm. And with Serena in Acapulco as if this were spring break, Blair officially had nowhere to turn. And she'd be damned if she spent her favorite holiday stuffing her face with sugar cookies in front of TBS's A Christmas Story marathon. The movie had always freaked her out.

"I'm Blair Waldorf," she sighed to herself, and she could almost hear the empty penthouse sigh in return. "People should be lining up to spend time with me." But her city might as well have been an empty kingdom.

She paused for a moment. Well, maybe not entirely empty. Blair hesitated before picking up her cell, scrolling through her contents to the letter C. The ringer sounded twice before a deep, groggy voice greeted her hello.

"Bass?" Her features crinkled in suspicion. "Were you sleeping? It's two o'clock in the afternoon. Why do you insist on conducting yourself as such a heathen?"

She could hear a low chuckle under his breath. "Hello to you too, Waldorf."

"Look," Blair breathed, staring out at the stormy day once more. "I just wanted to know if you were in the city today."

"Where else would I be?" There was a rustle of fabric, and Blair was grateful that it wasn't followed by a girlish giggle or squeal. He was alone. "Bart's away. I have the place to myself. Which means – "

"You're going to sing drunken Christmas carols at the wall until you puke," Blair finished.

Chuck laughed at this. "I don't puke. I upheave. Gracefully."

Blair eyed the pattern of her tights and sighed, "Forget I called. Wrong number."

"Oh yeah? Who were you calling?"

"I was…" Blair trailed off, breath caught. "I was calling Cornelia, actually."

"Cornelia." He paused. "We don't know anyone named Cornelia."

The way he called them we sent a happy churn to her stomach. Blair pretended to hate it. "I have my own friends, Bass. There are people that you don't even know."

"You would never befriend anyone who shares your middle name," Chuck clarified, his voice perked up on the other end of the line. "It's tacky. And it would irritate you."

It was true. She couldn't deny it, adding only to the frustration of holiday abandonment and loneliness. Which is why she only sounded half-sane when she called out, "I won't spend Christmas alone!"

There was uncomfortable pause until she heard him utter, "What?"

"I'm Blair Waldorf. I don't spend holidays alone. It's tacky, and it would irritate me," she echoed. "Which is why I called– even if it takes digging you out of your booze-infested brothel."

There was more silence.

"Look." Blair swallowed. "It's not like I need you to do this. I just thought that perhaps you might want to – "

"What time will you be here?"

"Excuse me?"

"What time will you be here?" Chuck repeated. And then in a voice that was only half-kidding, "I'll need to clear out the heroin den before you arrive."

"Funny," Blair smirked, ignoring the little skip of her heart. She could hear him waiting on the other end of the line, and she imagined him sitting there in his ridiculous purple robe – as if he ever bothered to change when she, Nate, and Serena usually came over. She cleared her throat, drummed her fingernails against the windowsill as she said, "If you think I'm setting foot into that pit of derangement without being vaccinated first…you're seriously mistaken."

She could practically hear the smirk curl on his face. "You're inviting me over."

Blair rolled her eyes. "I'm sure that we can find some sort of broom closet for you to stay in."

And it was settled.

An hour later, Chuck strolled into the Waldorf foyer, snow lightly dusted across the shoulders of his blazer, a large bag in his hand, engraved CB with the same navy threads from his scarf. The grin on his face was absolutely wicked, and Blair knew that look all too well.

"Ground rules, Bass," Blair immediately announced, watching as he laid his jacket and bag across the pink chaise in their sitting room. He plucked a grape from the bowl Dorota had placed out earlier and sat back, the smile never once leaving his face. Blair narrowed her eyes. "This isn't an open invitation for you to try and corrupt me with illegal activities. This visit is purely out of convenience. I mean, lets face it, you and I are the only ones clever enough to knowingly take over the Upper East Side. We exude power." She nodded to herself, and he chuckled. "Sulking around at home all winter break would just be…a sign of weakness."

Chuck looked her over, admired her pale pink dress she had on. "Whatever you say."

"I'm serious. With Nate away, and Serena off to – God knows where, it's just you and I. I want to make the most of it. I suppose that we're sort of friends, aren't we?"

He stared at the brunette until she began to fidget, remembering the talk he'd had with Nate before the floppy-haired boy had taken off for Connecticut.

Serena talked about dropping by to see me before we head back to New York for New Years, Nate had said, more overexcited than he ever was around his actual girlfriend. Just…don't mention it to Blair, alright?

Nathaniel, you're speaking to the man who invented the bro-code.

A pat on the back, and then Chuck watched his best friend walk away, an inexplicable catch of guilt in his throat – like maybe his loyalty lied in more than one place.

Chuck looked at that place now, at Blair standing before him, playing with one of the curls at her collarbone. "Sure, Waldorf. If that's what you want."

The week that followed was one of constant films popped into Blair's DVD player, Blair mouthing Audrey's lines as Chuck splayed out across the foot of her bed, complaining about the lack of sex scenes in classics. They dozed off as far apart as they could manage – but always curled up in the same room because neither could sleep through storms alone. When the snow lulled for a few hours, they ordered in pastries and treats, and when he saw that twist in her face, that impulse to get up for the bathroom, Chuck distracted her with smarmy jokes she could not leave unanswered, left porn open on her laptop so that she'd at least momentarily forget her urge to purge in favor of slapping him down.

The lights went out once, when the storm hit too rough, and Blair screamed, only slightly satisfied when Chuck dug out a little cordless lamp from one of her kitchen cabinets. They sat, half-illuminated by dull light, in their pajamas, trading stories about unfortunate freshmen and Chuck's favorite sort of extra-curricular activities – the ones that made Blair's neck burn. She was suddenly grateful for the dark.

When Christmas came, Blair kicked at his side with one slippered foot until he finally rolled awake in mid-afternoon. She played holiday music on her iPod, and he goaded her into drinking champagne with chocolates for breakfast as they both stared forward at the empty space beneath Blair's Christmas tree.

Eleanor had not left a gift.

And Bart never would.

"I bought you macaroons," Chuck finally announced, reaching over her spot on the plush carpet to pick up a box tucked into the pocket of his bag, "on my way over here." He raised his eyebrows, smirked. "I figured that you wouldn't take anything sexual as a repayment for your hospitality."

She snatched the box away and smiled. "You figured correctly." They sat beside each other, A Christmas Story going unwatched in the background, Chuck's thumb brushing her wrist when he grabbed for a strawberry macaroon.

"I hate Christmas," Chuck claimed.

Blair frowned down at her fingers. "Oh."

"Not this year," he added, an odd lightness to his tone. Blair glanced at Chuck, eyes glowing against firelight, lips curled up at one side, and realized that he wore contentment awfully well.

"Oh," Blair murmured under her breath, smiling this time.

They didn't talk after that. Words were just louder steps in the wrong direction. And neither really thought that they could survive the fall.

Hours after, they watched the storm rage outside. That seemed to be enough.

/Present/

"I loved you that Christmas."

Blair turns a warm pink, but pretends she doesn't understand. "Shut up, Bass."

"I loved you that Christmas," Chuck repeats coolly, hand over hers in the space between them. He does things like that often, just to make her blood boil.

It's why she divorced him once.

He slips his warm hand underneath the Jackie O-inspired dress she has on, tapered and pretty, and his thumb finds its resting spot against the side of her knee.

It's why she married him again after that.

Blair watches Chuck pour them both a drink from his side stock, the one she specifically asked his driver to remove after their doctor advised that Chuck take the scotch habit down a notch. She waits until he's done, then chirpily rolls down her window and tosses the entire contents of her glass onto the passing sidewalk.

"That was expensive," Chuck remarks.

"Pity you can't afford it," Blair replies.

He smirks, presses his thumb against her leg, feels a vein there. "Is this foreplay, Blair Bass? Is that what you're trying to do?"

Blair smirks right back, steals the glass from his hand so that they can share through sips, one fur coat and fedora away from looking like a retired gangster and the wife who prefers to murder with glances alone.

"You know that I wouldn't have to try." Blair smiles, watches a jogger pass a bunch of school kids outside. "You know that."

He sounds a little bit naughty when he replies, "I know."

"Just like I didn't have to try that Christmas," Blair murmurs, a tad bit suggestively, her only acknowledgement of that day since he brought it up. "We could have started then, you know." He frowns, and she shifts, coughs a bit, feels less air in her lungs than there was a year ago, a year before that. "If you'd have sleazed your way into my heart back then, I would have allowed it."

Chuck raises a brow. "You would have raised hell, sweetheart."

"Yes," Blair agrees. "I would have slapped you hard, sent you home, stayed with Nate." She smiles. "But I would have allowed it." She shrugs a bit, her eyes glowing as young as they always would. "Who knows? Things might have been easier if we'd had more time, if I'd had you when Serena left – "

"You've always had me."

But she hasn't always believed it.

He's never halted in his crusade to convince her.

"Besides," Chuck drawls, cocking his head back against the seat, "no one rewrites the classics."

"No," Blair glances at him. "I suppose they don't."

And for a while, he watches the window as night threatens to fall heavier, comforted by the fact that she's watching him in turn.

Though wrinkled patterns sweep across his skin, a maze of lines for every intricate memory he holds inside, his eyes still hold the same hazel that had enamored Blair all those decades ago. He is scotch burning, is the beautiful gleam of wayward wickedness, and fireworks.

Mostly fireworks.

/Before/

Before an avalanche falls, Blair thought, watching the ceiling of Chuck Bass's limo burn white until she couldn't see anything at all. It gathers.

Which is why she found herself remembering every broken moment between them, every glance that lingered a second too long, every joke, the jabs at her hip with his thumb that always made her blush harder than she ever would with Nate.

Water pooled before it slipped through the cracks.

All infatuation came from somewhere.

Chuck thrust into her, pressed her hard into the leather seat beneath them, parted his lips beneath her ear, stroked his tongue in an easy circle against her neck. Blair gasped for air, drowned under the weight of him, struggled to stay focused as her hand slid from the nape of his neck, down over his shirt, the dampness at his back.

"Tell me that this is good for you." Chuck's command came under a low murmur, hot against her jaw. "Tell me…" His fingers slipped against her skin before they clutched her jaw, tilted her head to make her stare straight at him. It was forceful, and he held his hips still for a quiet moment.

God, he was so transparent. Or perhaps her eyes had a handle on the things that others didn't.

Regardless, she knew what he was doing.

Chuck wanted to know, wanted to make sure Blair knew exactly who she was with. This wasn't the candlelit hotel room, the boy with hair like gold and an eye for blondes – this wasn't what she'd dreamt about since she was old enough to get all hot and bothered on her own, since she started pouring over romance novels when Dorota thought she was asleep at night.

Chuck Bass was a storm, rough and gentle, maddeningly sweet. His hips still pressed flushed against hers, his length far inside of her, making heat coil at her center, spread in her stomach. He kissed her cheekbone, reached down to press his thumb into her knee and arched it back. He spread her legs and made her whimper, biting down on the skin of her neck.

Outside, the city stayed tipsy, without the slightest clue of what was going on.

"Chuck," she whispered, bunching his shirt up into tiny fists. And on cue, he pulled out of her, thrust forward again. "Chuck, Chuck… Oh God, Chuck."

Blair's slip was scrunched up around her waist, the strap of it way off her shoulder, and her lips were bruised pink and red. Like flowers and sin.

"Say it again." Chuck lowered his head to her breasts, half-cloaked in ivory silk. "Say my name again."

Her small fingers curled into the seat, her bare thigh sliding against one of his.

"Chuck," she whispered under a breathy moan. He smiled then grimaced, and she tilted her head, watched his eyes roll back, watched his full lips part. Chuck's thrusts grew sharper, and he panted obscenities, whispered sweet things to her, tormented groans sounding on a crosswalk between all that he'd ever been and what he wanted to give her just then.

(Don't ask him why – just don't.)

Blair reached up, even as they moved, and touched his jaw with her fingertips. He jerked at the gesture, pressed his chin into her shoulder, raised on one hand to look at her. Slightly inebriated, she smiled at him, a smile he'd never seen before, surely not on the face of their designated Elizabeth, regal and cold as stone, lips coated in venom, not sugar.

Her smile fell, and she cried out, digging demanding fingertips into his shoulder blades.

"Shh," Chuck whispered, smirked against her skin. He hushed her again and again as she tightened around him, moaned, whispered yes, and bit at the fingers covering her lips.

She felt him exhale, a sigh of utter satisfaction against the curve of her shoulder as he pressed into her one final time, grinding forward, shaking fingers all tangled up in her rumpled curls.

Completion.

Blair stared up at that ceiling again, a black wall above her as she drew in shaky breaths, whimpered when he pulled out of her. She felt his lips brush against her collarbone before he moved away – not quite a kiss for not quite a pair. She felt cold after that, felt like she'd give up Sunday morning Tiffany's visits just to have him touch her again.

She blinked, loathed herself.

That could not happen.

"Waldorf," Chuck began, buttoning his trousers as she pushed up from the limo seat. He watched her for a moment, watched her trembling hands shove her slip back in place, roll her panties up underneath it. It was all he could do to not jerk forward and still her. "Blair."

In the darkness, he'd never seen eyes shine so bright.

"What is there to say, Chuck?" The words didn't sound vicious – just a little tired, a little lost, a bit too hopeful.

He wanted to ask her questions, and not the smarmy ones that never truly required an answer. The same way she'd just been lying under him, learning how their bodies fit together, learning how she made these little purring sounds under her breath when his mouth was on her breasts – he wanted to know about this sharp, fluttering quake in his stomach, wanted to know why his heart was beating so fast that he couldn't breathe.

He wanted to know why he was prepared to give up every empty-minded night he'd had with every easily-bent harlot on the Upper East Side – for just a few more hours with her.

"When we were fourteen," Chuck said instead, his voice sounding odd in the thick silence of his limo. "I got so wasted when my father didn't show up to the first Parents' Dinner at St. Jude's." He wasn't looking at her now, just keeping track of the five more blocks to her building. "I ended up on the Lower West Side, bow-tie gone, wallet empty, the only freshman missing from the dinner."

"You're an idiot," Blair murmured under her breath, curling her fingers into the leather. She pressed her thighs together and exhaled. "You always have been."

Chuck glanced at her, wanted to say something like, That's not what you were purring in my ear five minutes ago. But all that came was, "You showed up in a little black dress all pissed off about having to step foot downtown without a tetanus shot. You slapped me hard across the face then helped me into a cab."

She remembered this clearly, how he'd rolled his head over, his half-opened eyes trained right on her. And, of course, the asshole grin she knew so well.

"Princess," Chuck had groaned, blowing her a kiss as she yanked him up.

"Alcoholic," was all she'd replied, shoving him headfirst into the backseat of the first cab they could find.

Blair rolled her eyes as Chuck worked the buttons of his shirt. "I spent two hours with my finger down your throat, trying to get you to puke out an entire night of idiocy."

He raked his eyes over her form, breaking into an easier grin. "I was clearly missing out. There are much better uses for it."

"Chuck."

"You were the only one who came," he continued, not missing a beat.

Blair faltered this time, pressed her lips together. "Chuck…"

"You were the only one who came, Waldorf."

Blair tensed up, felt prickles on her skin. He watched her from across the seat, ever-calculating, ever-waiting. And over his shoulder, she could see the front of her building, she could feel the limo roll to a slow stop in front of it. And then the panic set in.

"Not a word of this to anyone, Chuck," Blair hissed, and her eyes stung like she was about to cry. "Ever. Do you understand?"

His gaze set into a hard glare. "Who would I tell?" Chuck raised his phone as if he was poised to compose a text. "Though I do have Gossip Girl on speed dial – " Blair slapped his shoulder, effectively shutting him up. He sobered, curled his lips into a wicked scowl, a pinched grimace. "Don't worry. It'll be our dirty little secret, Blair."

Blair narrowed her eyes, slid her hand away. "It's not going to be our dirty little anything."

Chuck held her gaze as she reached over him, grabbed for the door handle. "Okay."

"Okay," Blair echoed, taking a breath. Her hand brushed over his sleeve, and she pretended it was an accident, hopped out of the car, heels clicking against the pavement as she walked up to her building as decently as she could manage.

When Arthur started the car, Chuck raised a hand to the driver, silently watched Blair wrap her arms around herself, throat growing dry as her hips swayed from side to side, the same sultry pendulum he'd seen her play an hour, maybe hours, before in Victrola.

Eyes following the line of her back, Chuck's lips lifted on one side as he whispered, "There's always tomorrow, Waldorf."

And as if she had some sort of sixth sense for his smarmy one-liners, Blair halted in front of the building's double doors and turned around, watching the limo still stalled in front of her building. Chuck knew that she couldn't possibly see him through the tinted windows, but her gaze nearly burned through the glass.

She stood there for a full minute, the starlet of her own crooked little film, biting down on her lip as if to say, You were the only one who came for me, too.

/Present/

"That's just not true."

"Are you calling me a liar?"

Blair cuts a sharp glance at her husband, pulls a dainty lilac handkerchief from his pocket to fix her lipstick. It's smudged where he kissed her earlier, and just when she's done, he kisses her again.

"Charles, one does not need to call a liar any names," Blair says, smiling a bit. "You know what you are."

"Have I mentioned how sexy you are when you shoot me down?" Chuck smirks, slicks his hair back with one palm. "It's so refreshing to know how you've retained that skill after all these years."

"Well, how else would we keep things interesting?"

He cups her chin, feels a wrinkle that wasn't there the last time he touched this spot. "My sordid sense of humor."

A dimple forms in her cheek. "I suppose that was meant to be charming?"

Chuck leans in to kiss her, long and slow, touches her thinned hair, presses his lips to her cheeks, her chin, the hollow where her ear stops. She curls her fingers into his jacket like an anchor, whispers his name when she feels breathless.

He's only an inch away when his eyes flicker, search her face as they always do. "Okay?"

Blair smiles weakly, waves him away with a low tsk. "I'm fine. Of course I'm fine. I – " She swallows, tastes peppermints on her tongue as she curls her fingers into his jacket. "Chuck, why are we at the lounge?"

Chuck glances over his shoulder to where she's staring. There, at the lot where a club named Victrola had once sprouted a night that Blair would never, ever take back, now stands a maroon lounge, spiraling velvet and class above all the gray. The new Victrola is a place for those with a taste for the classics, monochrome paintings hoisted on deep red walls, jazz singers and burlesque dancers taking the stage for their jewel and silk-covered audience seated around marble counters, atop velvet lounge chairs. Sometimes actresses dressed as Holly murmur hearty monologues under spotlights as men in suits try their luck with Upper East Side princesses.

All that sparkle in the heart of the city – owned by none other than Henry Bass.

"I thought we'd pay our legacy a visit," Chuck answers, stroking his fingers through her hair before taking her hand.

Blair hesitates, releases a scolding breath. "Chuck, we should go home."

"Why?" Chuck laughs, shakes his head. "You don't think I can handle it?"

"No," Blair replies crisply, tugging away. "I don't."

Chuck watches his hand slip from hers and scowls, a frustrated look that will lead to an inevitable fight – she knows it well by now. He sighs, pinches the bridge of his nose between two fingers. "I'm not some sort of dying old pile of bones – "

"I never said that," Blair snaps, watching him struggle to yank open the car door. "Just stop being so stubborn, Bass."

" - who's just going to sit at home and die on my last glass of whiskey dressed in some pathetic bathrobe. I'm Chuck Bass, and I – " He cuts off, like the exertion has knocked his breath right out of him, one yank too hard, and he's bent forward, clutching at his side, a silvery black lock of hair hanging in his eyes.

Blair gasps, reaches forward, knees on the seat, hands on his back, but Chuck shoves away, whirls around in one furious movement.

"I've got it, Blair." The words come out of Chuck's mouth as a harsh snap, and she slumps back, wraps her scarf around herself as they both tremble against the cold air. His eyes, once black, soften, his shoulders relax, the hand drops from his side. "Blair – "

"I just want to take care of you," Blair whispers, stares down at the space between them on the limo seat. "That's all."

Chuck reaches over, touches her knee, the pretty tights she has on under her dress. She's still so little, even at this age, so fragile and dainty. They watch his fingers tap patterns on her knee as artfully as when he plays the piano.

"Sweetheart."

She doesn't look at him, just scowls with her arms crossed over her chest.

"Blair."

He cups the nape of her neck, jostles the beret on her head when he presses their foreheads together, amber eyes on light brown.

For a long moment, they stare at each other like children who jump from stairwells and discover they cannot fly.

Like two lovers who took on the world once upon a time but ended up not being so indestructible after all.

/Before/

It was raining, but that didn't matter. The entire year had already been a hurricane.

That was the thing about New York. Storms passed, but the pavement always remembered to dry, every second like the fiftieth second chance.

The rain soaked through her green coat as he pressed her against the wall outside of her building. The streets were empty as her gold-knotted headband clattered to the cement, as he shoved his fingers through her wet curls, unrelenting, whispering love declarations over honking car horns. Of course, the world stood quiet. You had to be insane to brave this summer storm.

Insane, in love.

Either or both.

Chuck was smiling, open-mouthed without an ounce of regret. It was what she would always remember about this moment, after he'd returned bearing the gifts that were now strewn forgotten across the backseat of his limo. He was smiling, and she was just beginning to reintroduce herself to the young boy who'd offered her a ride once before.

And then again.

It took every combined ounce of will power they had to drag themselves inside, Blair giggling at the way his suit stuck to his chest, at how his hair waved messily against his forehead. But the laughter was cut off when he yanked her wet coat away, worked at her blouse and skirt with harried fingers, so unusually anxious in his pursuit.

Blair rolled forward, thanked God for abandonment issues and mothers who left penthouses empty more often than not.

"I had planned this differently."

"You mean, you didn't want me wet?"

They sat across from each other in plush robes, crossing their legs like young children, and Chuck smiled at her comment. Between them, they shared hors d'oeuvres on a silver platter, drank tea – Chuck's spiked, of course.

"Tell me something I don't know."

"You're my best friend."

Blair's glanced up at him, dropped the spinach fritter in her hand. She parted her lips, and Chuck smiled, felt an odd sensation at drawing this reaction from her, impressing her with his sweetness. But, as always, she regained her façade, clasped her hands atop her lap. "I already knew that."

"Did you?" He popped a roll between his lips, and Blair smiled. "Why don't you go ahead then, Waldorf? Astonish me."

"What don't you know?" Blair rolled her eyes. "You've stalked me since I met you."

"Stalked isn't such a flattering word. I find casual observation to be so much more appropriate."

"Casual obsession," Blair corrected, pointing her fingertip in the air. She saw him waiting and frowned, eased his inquiry with a gentle shrug. "You know everything about me. Every favorite film quote, every irritating habit, every sexual preference." The dimple he loved appeared in her cheek. "You know – "

"I love you," Chuck prodded, startling her.

Blair's eyes widened in surprise, and then in realization. "Chuck…" she moved forward on her knees, bent into him. For a moment, she was too stunning to look at. "Chuck, of course I love you too." She swallowed, touched his brow, traced his jaw. "Haven't I said it enough times? Haven't I – "

Chuck stared at a point past her shoulder. "So you still…"

"I never stopped," Blair inserted, fingertips pressed against his jaw. Chuck relaxed then, like he could finally breathe. He reached up to touch her hair, wet strands sticking to her cheeks, against her forehead. And then he stopped, searched her face for permission. Blair smiled, took his hand and led it to the strands. "It's something that boyfriends do."

"Is it?" He smiled in that devastating way that he always managed. "Then tell me something I don't know," Chuck finally repeated, brushing through her hair with rough fingertips. She trembled against him, sighed with contentment.

"This is our first date," Blair claimed. She spun in his arms, crawled forth on her knees so that she could pounce. And in his ear, she released a breathy laugh, as though they were keeping a secret from the world: "In that sense," Blair whispered gleefully, "I've taken your virginity."

/Present/

"Mom…Dad," Henry says, sets his drink down in surprise when he sees his parents come through those gold-encrusted double doors, arms linked, both wearing their finest. Blair smiles a bit when Henry undoes her scarf and takes her coat, then steps back to admire her son.

He's nearing fifty, but his features are still so boyish, his eyes bright with that innocent, carefree nature he's always had. His smile is wide and unwavering, everything she and Chuck ever wanted for him. Blair grins now, cups his jaw and kisses his cheek.

"Darling," she murmurs against his shoulder. "God, you look so much like your father."

In truth, Henry doesn't. He looks like both of them, an even distribution of the wicked smile, the button nose, the full lips. He is a gentle boy with a reckless heart, hers and his as if they'd decided it themselves.

But in that suit – but with those eyes, Blair grows wistful and clutches onto her husband's hand.

Henry's a few inches taller than Chuck, has to bend to hug his father. They don't shake hands like the other men do in the lounge. It's never even occurred to Henry to do that.

"I wasn't expecting either of you here tonight. I thought the doctors – "

"Son," Chuck cuts in, all suave when he edges past the man and sits at the bar. "Why don't you buy your mother a drink?" He raises a brow, extends his hand to Blair. "She's a little tense tonight."

Blair frowns, subtly shakes her head at Henry before joining Chuck. "If I'm tense, it's because your father has decided that his attempts at self-destruction should be a murder-suicide after all." She says this with faux cheerfulness, and Chuck pinches her side in retaliation.

Henry smirks. "Fighting again," he says, ordering a vodka for himself, quietly asking for a virgin drink for his father. "Am I going to be the best man at your third wedding, too?"

Blair laughs into her hand, rolls her eyes. "Henry, I still revoke your father's limo privileges when he misbehaves. I won't hesitate to do the same to you."

"I wouldn't cross her," Chuck chimes in, leaning back against the counter. "You remember when she cut up all of my bow-ties and left them as a trail for me when I got home one night." He plays with the ends of Blair's hair. "The magnificent feud of 2025. One of my favorites."

Blair raises her eyebrows.

"I mean, the reconciliation that came after the fight," Chuck drawls, the strokes through her hair, his fingertips on her skin growing more suggestive. Blair flushes.

"Wow, no," Henry coughs, "I actually don't want to hear this, thanks."

His father laughs, salutes the man with his drink. When he turns to talk to the bartender, a man he hired himself years ago, Henry walks over to massage his mother's shoulders. Blair sighs appreciatively, smiles when her son shoots her a worried glance.

"Don't look at me like that," she says. "Like I might break. I'm Blair Bass. I don't break."

"Relax, Mom. I'm not looking at you in any way."

Blair looks away. "As if you weren't my own son."

Henry sighs, pushes away from the counter, twines his fingers through his mother's until their pinkies touch. Her palms are cold, her finger has trouble bending when she tries – but this has always been their thing, the pinky promise, a silly gesture that things would always be alright. He had fond memories of being all dressed up in his little suits, his mother a regal beauty in piled-up brown curls, in gowns like the queens from stories. She was always so poised, perfectly postured.

But by the end of the night, she'd chase him and his sister Audrey around ballroom corners, claiming ownership to new "kingdoms" under hushed giggles, her finger over her lips.

And though the other children had mothers who shook their toddler's sweaty palms away, Blair would wrap her pinky around Henry's, call him her little prince as they sauntered into galas side-by-side.

"You know that I love you, Mom."

"Henry, don't you dare try to scold me – "

"You know that you're supposed to be at home. You know that. So, please, don't make me worry about you two."

"Why don't you call your sister?" Blair sighs, effectively changing the subject. She glances at Chuck, who's engaged in a conversation about the proper age of some fine liquors. She turns to Henry, smiles, "Have a drink with her."

"She," Henry smiles, "is still on her extended honeymoon."

"That poor boy," Blair grins back. "She was cruel, holding on to that engagement ring for twenty years. But then again…"

"She's her father." They say it at the same time, under light laughter

"Call her anyway," Blair says. "Just to talk."

"Yeah," Henry replies, confused. "Yeah, I'll call her."

And when he pulls his pinky tight around Blair's, there's a hiccup in her breath when she holds back.


"I miss your headbands."

Chuck says this to her once they're back in the warmth of their limo, once she's given Henry a soft kiss goodbye and gotten Audrey on the phone to whisper about their mutual deviousness after a drink. Blair is smiling at the passing streets now, feeling very at ease, when Chuck whispers the words in her ear, as naughtily as any other man would discuss handcuffs or hardcore porn.

Blair smirks at him, coughs lightly into her sleeve. "Do you?"

Chuck nods, kisses her neck.

"It seems like it's your lucky night, Bass." She bites down on her lip and reaches for her purse, a vintage Chanel worth more than most in the city, and she rifles through it, feels for silk. "I brought one. I always bring one. In case we're ever in the mood for role play."

"God," he gasps breathlessly, "I love you so much." And together, they reach up to slide the thing into her locks, simple black jewels twinkling against her faded curls. Chuck pulls back to admire her, and his hand lingers, slides from her hair to her cheek, from her cheek down her neck, and then to her beating chest. She watches, petrified, electrified, and everything beyond what people in love are meant to feel.

The fire is supposedly meant to fade. Or, that's what she's heard.

But all of that is hard to believe after years of being held in positions that haven't been invented yet, being kissed in places that no one has ever even fathomed touching. There are nights when they have bent and broken each other, have had sex like shattering glass, prickling blind heat that can kill and revive once more.

But they've also made love so sweetly that it's brought her to tears, and he's whispered things so beautiful to her, poetry of his own nature, touches that meant more to her than anything else. He's an artist in that way, makes music and makes love because he can keep those things away from the world and for himself and Blair.

It's the best sort of magic.

But it had gotten more difficult after his heart began to fail him. It got more difficult when Blair couldn't eat as much as she used to, when she blacked out and went blind at sporadic moments of the day, weakened by the years and constant fight her life had been.

"Sometimes bodies begin to shut down," her doctor had warned. "I think you need to prepare yourself for that possibility, Mrs. Bass."

But even then, they'd found other ways around the impossibility of it all. Chuck had been on bed rest, and she'd tended to him. She'd be dressed in her nightie, curled up against him, and he'd tend to her. Touch was a funny thing, a substitute for so many things. All it took was her lips pressed to the plane of his chest, the backs of his knuckles down the curve of her thigh – and they were seventeen again.

The janitor's closet.

Barely a moment to remove his scarf.

She thinks of this now, struggles through a few body aches when she moans against his lips, slides her hands into his coat pocket. He groans, kisses back, lifts her a bit higher. And in her pursuit of bare skin, she comes across something round, a coin in his breast pocket – a bet placed and still standing.

She grasps the poker chip and is instantly taken to another era.

Monte Carlo.

When they had all the time in the world.

/Before/

You see, theirs was a love that spanned continents and seas. He strayed for land, she strayed for royalty, crossed borders to insane uncles and misguided Brooklynites. She slipped from him a bit too far, and she married a prince rather than a king.

But somehow, it always brought them back to France.

The first time, he'd taken her on the floor and left her trembling, grasping onto rumpled sheets, hair spilling from its casino-inspired hair-do, elbows buckling, eyelids fluttering. It was hot in the room.

He was burning all over her.

Her back arched against the carpet, and Chuck was taken back to nights too bittersweet to remember - her heels hooked over one finger, her dress strap slipping off one pale shoulder - and it hurt too much, stung like a burning cigarette, but Blair never bothered leaving the ashes behind.

She faced the wall now, her own elbows and knees buckling under her weight as he moved into her, plucked his fingers between her legs, and developed a rhythm that made nonsense spill from her lips, made her sweat and scream as he raised her higher.

"Tell me what you want, Blair."

"I want your limo, close to midnight, eyes half-closed, your lips at my ear - " She was delirious, he could tell, and staring down at the nape of her neck hurt like a stab in the heart. Chuck threaded his fingers through the messy tangle of brown locks and yanked backwards so that he could see her face, smiling and crying at the same time.

"Tell me," Chuck repeated.

"I want that ball you threw, peonies and macaroons, and you're telling me you love me - "

"You told me you loved Dan Humphrey," Chuck interrupted harshly, curling his hand into her hair, breaking to whisper profanities against her shoulder. "A year later."

"I'm telling you I love you now," Blair bit back. There's a crash, a sigh, a cough. "I'm telling you that I was afraid we were too much, so I chose something that was nothing at all." She sighed again, cried out like he was hurting her, reached back to hold onto his thigh. "I'm telling you that these nights belong to you."

Chuck closed his eyes. "Everything belongs to you."

Blair closed her eyes. "That's why we're the best part."

Blair raised up to push him back, and they fell forward onto soaked sheets. She pulled his hair until he could no longer comprehend the fine line between pleasure and searing pain. And then she let go, stared at him with bruised lips and wild eyes, bent forward to kiss the line of blistered white along his chest. She kissed from the beginning of the scar, and he gasped aloud, stroked down the side of her cheek in awe.

He'd never allowed anyone to touch him there before, had never even considered touching himself there. But that place, those three inches of marred skin belonged to her. The fight lost in romantic idiocy, the hours lying in his own pool of blood, had always been for her.

And there, she healed him, lips parting against the white line, hands grasping onto his.

After, on the balcony, draped across the bed, she'd make him forget skillfully, like it was her duty, and he'd grimace and groan, do as she silently asked, made her promises that he could never deny.

"We'll get married," he rasped against her collarbone.

"We'll get married," Blair agreed, only half-conscious.

There went the ashes after all.


Nearly a year later, France found the two in a different place, hearts soaked with less agony than before. Chuck had his hand on the small of her back as they strolled down a cobblestoned street, and he stopped to marvel at how at-home Blair seemed here. She wore a peony pink dress, a few shades darker than the color of her blush. He wore a gray suit, the one she liked best on him, his bow-tie salmon to match her outfit.

They kissed on the Ponte Alexander, and an American couple snapped a picture of them. Surely, the beautiful duo had to be famous.

It was their honeymoon, and Blair could hardly believe that they were sitting in a room that glistened gold and lilac, that had a balcony where she could sit out and watch the Eiffel Tower to her heart's content. She was here with Chuck, she forced herself to realize. She was here with her husband, her long-time love saga.

But Paris never had shone properly for them.

Both would be damned if they didn't change that.

Hours before, they'd shown up at Harold and Román's chateau, a quaint little place that made Blair crinkle her nose and Chuck laugh before leading her inside. Though her father pulled her in for an instant hug, Román practically squealed – already able to sense the burst of glistening carats on Blair's finger.

The blood drained from Harold's face.

"Papa," Blair had tried softly. "Papa, it just happened. Chuck and I have been waiting for this, and I felt that we'd never have forever if it didn't happen right then. Sometimes – " She cast a smile at Román. "Love must be seized upon. C'est inévitable, non?"

Harold glanced between the two, his daughter with a glow on her face, the boy who'd once had this tragic grin pasted on his lips whenever he'd seen him. Harold remembered glimpses of Chuck the playboy, sweeping through Manhattan with one bimbo on his arm at a time. Now, he'd been clutching onto Blair's hand like he didn't know what else to do with himself. He was wearing a silver band, one 3 and one 8 engraved on either side, like he'd never been prouder of a possession.

Harold sighed and took a step forward, felt Blair and Román watching him with matching grins as he pulled the other man in for a hug.

"Congratulations," Harold said, "my son." Chuck tensed, his brows furrowing when he found himself breathless under a wave of emotion, tearing up as he curled his fingers into his father-in-law's sweater. And then he relaxed, winked at Blair and exhaled as he patted her father on the back and heard him murmur, "I had my bet placed on the two of you."

So that was where she got it from.

And then, "You were always my favorite."

Not Nate, who was too much a boy for the woman he'd raised. Nor Louis, whose royalty shone right over the real fairytale he'd crafted with Blair when she was young.

"I'll be with a boy who will build kingdoms and overturn the world just to be with me," Harold remembered Blair saying, hands clasped against her cheek. She was a romantic that way, always with flushed-pink cheeks. "He'll be beautiful, and he'll move mountains. People will write books about that kind of love, Daddy."

Harold stepped back, smiled now at the boy who had built kingdoms and overturned the world and moved mountains, unselfishly, irrevocably. It was no longer a matter of who deserved the other.

"Román," Harold had said finally, "let's get out the champagne and have a toast to the newlyweds. It's been long enough."


At their return home, they accidentally paid a visit to the Gare du Nord, a battlefield of its own. There was no avoiding it when their car could not make the trip up to the chateau so early into the morning, when it would be silly not to take the first-class tram tickets Chuck could so easily purchase.

They stood there for a long time, luggage splayed out around their legs, hands clasped atop the bridge's rail, trains dragging back and forth beneath them. Through her peripheral vision, she imagined seeing a passing blonde, heard a gunshot ring through her ears and saw red.

"Chuck," she gasped out, leaning forward, counting only on his hands against her waist. He clutched on but seemed haunted himself, digging his fingers in, seeing nothing but wasted months away from Blair, a life he almost lost.

"Everything broke here," Blair whispered.

"Blair." Chuck said it harshly, in warning, and the long-healed scar on his chest beat back.

"And we can't escape it. We've tainted the entire world," Blair gasped, exasperated. "We've painted it red, splattered it with bloodshed and one thousand broken hearts. We've stomped our way across everything, Chuck. What's left?" Her voice cracked, an angry tear rolled down her cheek. "What haven't we ruined yet?"

She gasped when she felt him stroke the diamonds on her finger, staring off in a trance at the world moving on around them.

"This," Chuck said. "You and I were never ruined."

And then he kissed her, pressed her his lips to hers until she couldn't breathe, reminded her of the nights they'd just spent wrapped under sheets imagining the tune of La Vie En Rose, of the couple who'd come before them, too blinded by the pain to see past what had already been written for them both. Blair pulled away, but he did not stop, just bit at the corner of her lips, held onto the nape of her neck, their tongues sliding over one another's until she felt faint.

And when he was done, the bridge didn't seem so red anymore.

"We're done here," he rasped, dropping his head to her shoulder as she felt for his skewed bow-tie. "The rest of the world isn't the same without us in it."

/Present/

The car pulls up to Central Park, and she doesn't ask any questions.

There's no need.

Without the blue gown on, Chuck's white suit and the echo of their quick vows, without even a Humphrey to spoil the wedding pictures, the Angel's Tunnel is eerily still, arches glowing indigo under the night, a violinist playing sad music down some far-away field. In front of them, the fountain flows quietly, a fond trickle as if it remembers what happened there years and years ago.

Three words, eight letters.

"It looks so different," Blair says, and her hand shakes in his. "But still so, so beautiful."

Chuck cocks his head to the side, that old familiar swagger as he wraps his arm around her. "Like you."

One word, three letters.

Blair rolls her eyes, places her hand against one of the cold arches. "Such a sudden taste for old ladies, Charles. I never thought I'd see the day."

Chuck sneaks up behind her with less agility than he'd like, and she feels his nose press into the nape of her neck, feels his words rumble across her skin. "You, Blair Bass, are never going to be an old lady. You wouldn't allow it."

She laughed. "No, I wouldn't." She breathes out through her nose, presses her fingers into ridges etched into pillars. "We're not going home, are we?" The words take on a sudden permanence, and he grimaces, scoops her up into his arms as the violinist plays his bow.

There is a house built out of stone.

Wooden floors, walls and window sills.

Tables and chairs worn by all of the dust.

This is a place where I don't feel alone.

This is a place where I feel at home.

"No," he whispers into her hair, sidestepping twice and dipping her slow. "No, I don't think we are."

And I built a home, for you, for me.

Until it disappeared from me, from you.

Blair freezes, almost steps on his toes, but he catches her just in time. The wind blows, and their footsteps bounce across the silence. She shivers, and he reacts. They are tethered and unwilling to break free.

Out in the garden where we planted the seeds

There is a tree as old as me.

Branches were sewn by the color of green

Ground had arose and passed its knees.

He spins her around like he did at the Snowflake Ball, lights a fire in her that she remembers from Cotillion, and she's as giddy as she was at their wedding reception. She is breathless as they spin, lying when she throws her head back and tells him to stop.

She never wants to stop.

Things have a habit of ending that way.

By the cracks of the skin I climbed to the top

I climbed the tree to see the world.

When the gusts came around to blow me down

Held on as tightly as you held onto me.

"Okay." Blair smiles in sudden acceptance, presses back into him so that she can see the moonlight too, snuggles under the flap of his coat. "Okay, Bass. I suppose there is a reason I married you twice."

/Before/

A woman sat at a bar, hair hanging to her lower back, lips painted scarlet, the neckline of her dress much too scandalous for daylight. Behind her, a man watched like all the rest – but those poor souls were no match for the devil himself.

Cue scene.

Take two.

"A man walks into a bar," he began, raising two fingers to gesture for drinks. He sat on the barstool beside her, and she visibly tensed, rung her finger around the rim of the glass in her hand. He had the distinguished look of an older gentleman, Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, a single gray streak in his quaffed hair.

She licked her lips, stared straight forward.

"A woman can't care less," she replied.

"I was married to someone like you once," he smirked, spread his fingers out against her thigh. "She bit just like you do."

Blair froze. She hadn't been touched this way in months, maybe a year. That touch, his fingers slipping under fabric, igniting nerves that hadn't even existed there before, was like falling backwards into arms that would always be waiting, like pirouetting right into the madness she'd been born with. She glared down at his fingers, shifted away.

"Don't touch me," she hissed. "And cut the shit, Bass."

Chuck sighed, downed his drink in one gulp. "You broke character."

Blair laughed bitterly, tossed her hair over her shoulder. Her ex-husband swallowed, raked his eyes over the full figure that maturity had gifted her – round breasts and hips that curved into perfect c's.

Chuck swallowed air and ordered another drink.

"There are no characters," Blair corrected. "Not anymore." She cut a sharp glance at him. "You signed the papers, you lost the right."

"I thought we were here," Chuck said, pursing his lips, "because you wanted to give me a chance."

"Wants and obligations are entirely different things, Charles." Blair had taken to that now, to calling him Charles when she absolutely detested him but couldn't stand to be away from him for another second. She smiled, the only remnant of a girl who'd once peeled herself away on a spotlighted stage. "I was obligated to have this dress seen by eyes that don't even dream of resisting me."

"Sassy today," Chuck mused. "One of your play things stand you up?"

"One of my play things," Blair echoed. "No. In fact, I'm off to meet him after this. So if you could speed up the groveling, I would very much appreciate it."

"Unnecessary. You'll want to call and cancel now," Chuck replied easily, and if he was affected by the prospect of losing Blair to one of the thirty year old sandy-blondes she paraded around glitzy clubs for his sake, he didn't show it. Henry found it ridiculous. Audrey often joined her. And now, Chuck simply laughed. "You might be a little caught up when you're screaming my name later."

"Is that what this is?" Blair asked, finally swiveling atop the stool. "A half hour of your smarmy jokes?" She touched the lapel of his suit jacket, patted it down. "Darling, wasn't twenty-three years of it enough for you?"

Chuck ordered another round of drinks. "Darling," he mocked, "I'm just getting started."

The divorce debacle had all begun on a quiet Sunday afternoon quite a few months ago. The sun had shone brightly that day, entirely unaware of the catastrophe about to unfold on the Upper East Side.

The girl had been blonde, yellow tresses over-bleached, smile chemically whitened. And at the opening of their newest club, a classically-styled barroom downtown, she'd taken it upon herself to kiss Chuck Bass square on the lips, right in front of a dozen cameras – a flash, twelve flickers, and a burn.

"I'll have her killed."

Blair had been glaring down at the picture, ignoring the ones that followed, of Chuck shoving her off, of Audrey slapping the poor girl hard across the face for even thinking of weaseling her way into her parents' marriage.

But that wasn't the point.

Chuck and Blair were ticking time bombs aching for passion, bubbling up with insecurities that could not be shaken through vows. It was a spark that would escalate, exactly the reason she needed to be so afraid of their so-called stability.

"You're not going to kill her."

"It's always going to be you, isn't it?" Blair snapped. "The King of Manhattan. Despite the partnership, despite the prestige – it's always going to be you."

The joke had been funnier when he'd thought of it.

"Well, they do claim that it's hard to resist royalty."

Detonation.

There were things Chuck and Blair had decided never to touch once – but all bets were off during the storm that followed.

Vases were broken against various walls near his head, and he kissed her drunkenly more than once, sloppy, rough lips that left her neck bruised with love bites, and her lips swollen with the frustration of every feud. They claimed properties like darts on the map of a battlefield, made big shows for the papers, all in the hopes that the other would see.

Henry was left out of it, as was Audrey – who were both blissfully involved in much saner relationships. Serena played mediator, while Dan considered it all novel-worthy. Nate split mayoral duties with clueless couple's counseling. Lame attempts at taming the wild-hearted.

They loved too much.

They would always be too much.

The divorce papers came on another Sunday, the sky overcast and in mourning. They drank bad champagne in their ruined townhouse until they were too drunk to sign straight, liquor staining her ball gown and his best suit as they toasted to the fact that there were no two others in the world who would kill themselves this way for love.

"I just wanted to show you," Chuck had slurred, pressing his face into her lap, unhooking her heels from her feet. "But the fight was all wrong. The way it fell was all wrong."

And when he couldn't see, she'd nodded back.

But in the morning, he'd been gone.

"You came to convince me that I should take you back," Blair suddenly said, snapping out of the memory, subtly wiping at one misty eye. "Go ahead. Seduce me, feed me a terrible line, do what you want."

"I just want to tell you a story."

"A story."

"A memory."

"Something I already know?" Blair sighed, trying not to sound as intrigued as she felt. "That's an interesting tactic."

"Nate had just kissed Serena, and it was the kind of shit you were okay with back then. You got drunk off of your little gin martinis and paraded around with the sleeve of your dress off one shoulder. He didn't notice."

"And you did?"

"I always did." Chuck exhaled, getting that tormented look in his eyes, like there was a younger boy lurking inside of him, one that was still grasping for acceptance, one who had everything and was still somehow aching for the broken parts. "The party was in my suite, and you ended up on my bed, about to get felt up by Harrison Thomas, his paws on your leg while you dozed off and murmured about there not being any blonde stars in Breakfast at Tiffany's."

Blair bit down on her lip as she listened, drew blood.

"I don't particularly enjoy punching people. It ruins my hand. As you know, social destruction is more my forte." He stared at the beauty mark on her neck. "But I nearly killed him, like I would want to kill Carter Baizen years later, Russell Thorpe for even fathoming to endanger you years after that." Chuck paused, cupped his jaw. "My own father, when it came to you."

Blair sat like a little girl being told a bedtime story now, toying with the hem of her dress. "And after that?"

"I'd never seen anyone so sad," Chuck said, "after my own reflection."

"Chuck – "

"I carried you – all deadweight, threatening to puke on my suit – out to the suite's balcony, and you started humming Moon River, even though the sky was black." Chuck smiled fondly. "You talk so fucking much when you're drunk, Blair. All about your scrapbook, how your father had bought you your first headband, and since then you'd had something to prove." He swallowed. "You told me that you made yourself throw up and promised that you weren't a freak – that you loved the taste of macaroons and pumpkin pie, but the act of physically packing on the pounds made you sick. You told me that it didn't count as being broken if you could fix it. You said that you could fix it. And I just sat there and smoked hash, and you kept talking and talking – "

"And…" Blair frowned, suspicious. "you listened?"

"Barely," Chuck admitted. "But you were beautiful, and a voice hadn't relaxed me that way since I had dreams about my mother singing before she died." He cleared his throat at a catch of emotion. "Party raging on, you fell asleep on my shoulder and drooled – "

"I would never."

" – all over my sleeve. And I had this ache in my chest, like I could see things in you that Nate could never touch, that Serena would never understand. I was high, but I began to imagine this whole other life. You and I, the Queen and King, and you could tell me these things, and I wouldn't have to drink my secrets down."

"You – "

"And then I had it seven years later. I had all of it. And I am not letting that go."

"You're saying all of this because you can't stand to lose when you want something."

"You're right," Chuck rasped, low and honest. "And all I want is you."

Blair's face fell into her hands. "I don't remember a thing. You could be lying."

"I'm Chuck Bass. Bonafide liar," he said solemnly. "It's nearly guaranteed." Chuck watched her, dared to stroke his fingers through her hair, ruffling her hairstyle. Only my boyfriend gets to touch my hair. And she allowed it.

He glanced around at the emptied barroom and whispered, "Say something."

She touched the skin under his eyes, bruises blossoming under her fingertips. "You haven't been sleeping."

Chuck grasped her hand, turned his head in to kiss the center of her palm. "I don't sleep if you're not in my bed."

Blair let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding and nodded to herself. "Okay."

"Okay," Chuck echoed, his eyelashes fluttering against her knuckles.

"When we get married again, I want to wear red."

The smile on his lips betrayed him. "I'm more than amicable to that proposition."

"In a ballroom," Blair demanded quietly. "The biggest one in Manhattan. I want you to find it, and I want you to socially demolish the waiting list for it. I need it to be there. I need it to be beautiful." Her voice wavered. "Because it's going to pale in comparison to our first if we ever try to recreate it." She was shaking now, her bare shoulders trembling, the red on her lips bleeding onto the rim of her glass. "I want things that can't be broken."

"Hey," Chuck murmured, glancing around before draping his suit jacket over her. He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, and she flinched, forgetting how hot his fingers could get on her skin. "Hey. We are unbreakable."

"You left."

"You left," he snapped right back. His fist came down on the marble counter, startling the bartender as he poured a drink. "Blair, dammit, have I not proven to you that I am nothing without you by my side? Have I not fallen headfirst, despite our past, despite the risk?" Chuck laughed, a bitterly cut noise at his throat. "Do you think it was easy to fall in love with someone as bitchy and vicious as you are?"

"Because I married an angel?"

"Because I married my Bonnie," Chuck explained, digging his fingers into her arm, "the sweetest sinner there is. You are the only one who will conquer the world without a speck of dirt on her hands. You are the only one who understands how to burn bridges and make the ashes gleam."

"You," Chuck promised under an unsteady breath. "Are my queen."

It was a blur after that, and Blair found herself pressed against a familiar back wall, near a familiar haze of smoke, taut thighs sliding against his hips in a beautiful mess. She laughed like a woman who'd gone mad, curled her fingers into his shoulders when he thrust into her so roughly that it almost hurt. But beyond the smile, there were tears in her eyes, sliding down her cheeks and into her open mouth as she moaned out his name.

"Chuck."

"Don't leave me again," he murmured back, rather brokenly, against her skin. He might have been crying then and tried to do a good job of hiding it – but she knew better. Blair reached up to cup his face, felt the wetness on his cheeks.

"Don't let me," she whispered against the hollow of his throat, smiling when he whimpered against her kiss. He cupped her ass, pressed their chests flush together.

"A man walks into a bar," Chuck groaned against her throat.

Blair smiled, pressed the tip of her heel into his calf. "A woman forgets how not to fall again."

End scene.

Fade to black.

/Present/

"I know that there are things you haven't told me." Chuck doesn't look at her, and Blair tenses. "Blair, you lie well to everyone except me. I see right through the whispered phone calls with Serena, the big brunch you insisted we all have at the townhouse. I can see the way you struggle, and I haven't said anything because I know how you are."

"I'm sorry," Blair says, then touches her lips as if she just surprised herself. "I just – "

"You didn't want me to tiptoe around you like you've been doing to me," Chuck finishes. "I'm aware of my health. I can feel it, even now, like my bones are breaking and my lungs are shattering, and my heart is forgetting its purpose. I know…" He trails off, glances down when she takes his hand. "I just know."

Blair relates to the description all too well and tries a smile to ease her nerves. "I'm glad we came outside. You were - " She scowls as if this physically pains her. "You were right."

Chuck's lips lift. "Say it again."

Blair snorts, "In your dreams perhaps." They laugh, and she likes it, likes feeling cloaked in an easiness like this one last time. They hold hands because they were born to dwell in irony, and she stares out at the city, sees a burst of purple in the distance. Her heart stops, her eyes grow wide as she whispers, "Chuck, look."

Chuck falters at the sight, then squints his eyes because there might just be a dent in the Empire State Building where his heart fell out of his chest forty-five years before.

"Mine too," Blair whispers against his neck, though he hasn't said a word. "Me too." The car stalls, and they sit to watch the lights glow lavender up the building's side.

It's a tribute to everything they've ever been.

/Before/

Their world, the baubles and glistening drinks that lit it up, truly was something straight out of a Fitzgerald novel.

After Lily passed, beautifully and naturally, most suspiciously at a retreat where Rufus Humphrey had also been passing his time, friendships had snapped back to life. The 1770 House glowed all the way back to New York City in the night. The Hamptons manor was old, but it stood steady, gold finishes and family heirlooms dusted across high shelves. Roses and peony bushes bloomed against freshened white paint. Lanterns floated along the pool, faux lily pads joining the décor in tribute. And all around, families overlapped, all wearing white.

Henry and his wife exchanged conversation with the former mayor, Nate Archibald. And his wife, still that little Jenny Humprey, proved that it never seemed to be too late among their group.

Blair and Serena sat in flowing gowns across wicker chairs, their daughters, Avery and Audrey, sitting at their feet. The younger two of the four looked like replicas of their predecessors – Avery with her long hair tied into wavy strands and loose braids, Audrey with her headband slightly skewed in her brown curls, pink lips pouting in boredom.

And then she made eyes at her boyfriend across the pool, giggled in delight when he went as red as one of the fresh tomatoes rolling around their vegetable garden.

Blair watched on and shook her head, exchanged an incredulous glance with Serena.

"B," the now clearer, more mature voice of Blair's best friend sighed, "look at who her parents are."

The girls had been best friends since Eleanor and Lily, their mothers, had taken them to Alice's Tea Cup on third when they were seven years old – a business meeting under the guise of a harmless play date. As Blair had daintily lifted the cup to her lips, Serena met her with a wide grin. Blair's eyes widened when she realized that the blonde had lost both of her front baby teeth.

"You drink like a queen," Serena had giggled, mocking Blair's raised pinky. The brunette frowned at her, self-consciously closing her fist under the tea table. But just as soon as the tense moment came, it passed when Serena reached across the table and waved a piece of her scone in front of Blair.

"We'll be friends," Serena said, "we can share everything."

Of course, Blair hadn't had a clue of what she meant at the time, that those graces might extend into the world of first loves and beautiful boys like Nate Archibald. But Blair didn't mind so much now that her fingers were intertwined with Serena's, hands dangling between their chairs as their daughters traded stories about European trips and indie rock concerts before them.

"We made it, B," Serena whispered. "We managed all of this."

"Yes," Blair agreed, squeezing her hand. "And I was the last to go gray."

Serena stuck her tongue out, touched her blonde locks. They'd both gotten appointments to get their color retouched, but the wisps of silver still came like gentle reminders. They were not the girls in uniform kilts eating yogurt on cold steps any longer.

They were better.

It was all better.

"Thanks a lot, Blair."

"Hm," Blair sighed back, rather wistfully, as she took a sip of Serena's drink. "I knew that we'd end up like this all along."

"B," Serena chuckled, rolling her eyes. "That is such bullshit."

Blair grinned, stealing one last sip before untangling her legs from Audrey's, kissing her daughter on the forehead, then leaving one on Avery's as well. She smiled once more when she heard her daughter whisper to her friend, "Bet you ten bucks that she's off to make-out with my father again."

As Blair went to indeed do just that, she bumped right into Humphrey, who offered her a gentle grin and nudged her shoulder.

"Evening, Gossip Girl," Blair sighed briskly, squeezing his shoulder. She examined his ragged white dress shirt and rolled-up black slacks, stained a bit with barbecue sauce. "I see that you dressed up for the occasion." A step behind, Nate ambled over and laughed, clapping Dan hard on the back.

"I really don't think that's ever going to get old, man," Nate chuckled.

"No," Dan agreed, "but Blair will." Humphrey found it funny, this one-liner, and he raised his hand in the air, hoping for a high-five from Nate. But the man quickly ducked his head instead, dodged Blair's elbow just as it jutted straight into Dan's side.

She neared the house and followed the low thrum of piano keys and dark notes to find her husband. The sound seemed to stretched around corners, a haunted melody that told stories of the house itself. An almost declaration, the start of an uneasy game, a green rolling field where she'd cried for him but never looked back.

Where he'd cried for her, and there was an absolute first for everything.

Blair watched him until the song ended, licked her lips at the sight of Chuck's bow-tie hanging untied around his neck, his parted lips drawing in the ragged sighs she heard only from him during sex. He played like he touched her, paid attention but wasn't so meticulous that he lost sight of the entire song, the burst that subtle touches and a few right keys could create when combined.

When it was over, she clapped, leaned back against the wall and grinned.

"Bravo," Blair murmured, coming to sit on the piano bench beside him.

But he was too quick, too smooth when he maneuvered her onto his lap, setting her gently on one of his thighs. She noticed one of his Cubans burning in a tray atop the piano, and he watched her watching it, reached over to raise it to her lips. They smoked for a little while, if only so that he could quietly watch her inhale the whispers of gray through her plump lips. She kept her hand on his shoulder, admired the portraits of women clothed in Waldorf Designs, of the buildings built high above the skyline and blazing with the Bass name.

"We own so many things," Blair sighed happily.

And it was true. She owned boutiques, and he owned the buildings they were housed in. They owned each other's hearts just the same.

"Let's go dancing," Blair sighed. "Let's travel backwards until there isn't a thing we haven't seen. I want to be Bonnie, and I want to do everything that Daisy gave up." She hooked both elbows around his neck, straddled his lap and kissed his chin.

Chuck pushed her back against the piano, her back playing a slanted song against the keys. She giggled when he pressed artful kisses to her neck, tickled her sides. He dug his face against her chest, the fabric of her pretty dress rubbing against his cheek.

"Is that what you want?"

Blair held his face in her hands. "That's what I want."

Chuck was older, and it was silly, but he picked her up, spun her off her feet as they whispered of empires in Singapore, how macaroons would taste in Barcelona, too. She dizzied easily, and he placed her on the floor to follow after, his chin resting against her shoulder.

"I'll call for the jet," Chuck promised.

And a week later, when she arrived at the helipad in her little blue dress –

He was there, waiting.

/Present/

Blair knows it's coming first.

It's such a strange feeling for a pair who once swore that they would never be finished with the world.

But it creeps slowly, like finishing a sweet dessert in the Hamptons among friends, like meeting an ex-lover in a bar when you already know how it'll end, like soaking under the City of Lights with the world on your arm, like placing bets after you've already lost and hearing the first I love you like a lovely exhale.

It comes, and he feels it next, says nothing when she curls against his chest.

"So many years," Blair murmurs into his coat. "And I loved you every second."

"I'm sorry," Chuck says weakly, "that I couldn't give you something unbreakable."

Blair smiles and shakes her head, soft ringlets rubbing against his cheek. "If you have the nerve to say that to me after all this time, Bass – then you are quite the stupid man." Chuck laughs and pinches her again, but it barely has an effect. She kisses him like she did the first time, sans a whisper of hesitation. "We were golden." Her hand slides across his chest. "Weren't we?"

Chuck stares up at the ceiling, her Orpheus in black, who will dive headfirst into Hades without the strength it takes to never look back. "We were everything."

Everything. She likes that.

And so it goes.

"Three words," Blair whispers, but the breath is weakened and drawn in, a parting little sigh as her head lolls onto his shoulder. "Say it one more time, Bass." Her words fade as easy as a song dies at the end. "Say it one last time." There's a sob caught up in his throat as he kisses her pale neck, once, twice – but can you say it again? – three times. There's no pulse.

"I love you," he whispers into the night, windows rolled down to reveal their city, and even the buildings seem to stand taller in respect when they roll past. Never has there been a tragedy so beautiful.

Chuck Bass leaves the world with a single tear rolling down his face, all that he can give her now, all that she ever wanted. The city holds its breath, the stars remember to shine.

It's an inevitability.

/Epilogue/

It's a cold November.

And the modern fairytales, the cemented kingdoms – they're always the finest.

There's a bow tie and a headband, both strewn across the same leather seat, partially in tribute, mostly in memoriam. It smells like scotch in the car, like Chanel No. 5, and a driver who is not Arthur turns left onto Madison, but the journey is still the same.

It all comes down to blonde girls in boarding schools like catalysts, light-haired boys who love often and all wrong, and two brunettes relearning what it is to feel in the back seat of a limo headed to nowhere.

She was always sure, you know.

And further ahead to miscommunications, a fake death, a real one, peonies crushed under the weight of her broken heart, hands held tight in front of an empire that would fall just a few months later.

And he loved her, he did love her, he just knows how to now.

It all comes down to the wrong prince – no, not a prince at all – you were promised a twist, after all. A few frogs kissed before the violet-bricked road leads back home, and a girl pours out everything she has to a boy who will never stop listening.

Embers fade to ashes, glinting so brightly, there might be diamonds in that dust.

There's another turn on Fifth, past the steps where a young brunette in knee-highs was once so sure of how everything would turn out. On the radio, a guitarist sings his heart out.

I don't want this moment, to ever end.

A whole lifetime ago, a boy dons a crooked crown and offers an olive branch: "If you ever happen to need a getaway car…"

She does. They both do.

This time, there won't be any stops along the way.

It's a beautiful thing.

fin.


A/N: So, there it is. I feel like I've been writing this one-shot for such a long time, and it all began when I sat and imagined Chuck and Blair's lifetime together through snippets and scenes. I will never, ever get this couple out of my system, but I found this to be the only way I could really pay a final tribute to them and be satisfied about it. This is, indeed, the last one-shot I plan to write for the fandom. My multi-chaps will be updated slowly - and that's about it! Thank you so much for reading and going on these various journeys with me through Gossip Girl fanfiction. I really hope you all enjoyed it.