Author: Maribells at fanfiction.net
Who do you need?
Who do you love?
When you come undone
"Here we are, Miss Waldorf," the driver announced, slowing to a stop in front of the Empire's awning.
Feeling her heart flutter nervously in her chest, Blair stared out the window at the hotel's floodlit entrance. Flanked by monogrammed flags, brass fixtures, and uniformed attendants, it was an imposing sight to behold.
Perhaps it was just paranoia, but she could've sworn that a doorman was staring directly at her through the tinted glass.
"Drive around to the back," she instructed, retrieving a pair of oversized sunglasses from her handbag and putting them on.
Once they arrived at the deserted rear entrance, Blair got out of the car and hurriedly made her way to the door. She fumbled through the inner pockets of her handbag until she located her keycard, holding it nonchalantly in the direction of the security guard as she walked by. Thankfully, he spared her only a glance and a nod, and she strode quickly towards the main bank of elevators.
Keeping her face tilted away from the security camera- she knew exactly where it was positioned, since Chuck had once confiscated the footage after a particularly steamy foreplay session a couple of years ago- she swiped her card and hit the penthouse button.
When the indicator light blinked green, she released a long, shaky breath that she hadn't even realized she was holding.
Her key still worked.
It could be an oversight, she told herself. Maybe he'd forgotten she even had one. Or maybe he thought she wouldn't ever bother to use it again. Or dare.
But a tiny sliver of hope had lodged itself in her heart, and for all her caution, it refused to budge.
When the elevator opened, she made her way into the penthouse with cautious footsteps. It was exactly as she remembered it- tasteful, modern, and minimalist. There were few personal touches other than the artwork on the walls and a decanter of Scotch that seemed to have taken up permanent residence on the coffee table.
"Chuck?" she called out softly, surveying the living room before returning down the hall.
Lingering outside the closed door of his bedroom, she repeated his name, a little louder this time, but received only silence in response.
Steeling her nerves, she turned the knob and pushed the door open, taking a tentative step inside- only to realize that this room was empty as well.
Feeling temporarily deflated, she glanced at her watch, thinking to herself that he should be home by now. Maybe he had a late meeting, or a business dinner? Or maybe he was out of town? Blair blew out a frustrated sigh. She hadn't even stopped to consider that possibility.
She opened his closet door and took a quick glance inside- not snooping, of course, just looking- and breathed a sigh of relief when she spotted his favorite garment bag. It was the only one that didn't crease his suit jackets, so he never went anywhere without it.
So… he had to come home eventually. She would just have to wait.
She dropped her handbag on his dresser, smiling wistfully at the small collection of framed pictures. She'd been the one to insist on it- a home isn't a home without some personal touches, she'd told him- but he'd chosen them himself. And a photo of the four of them sophomore year was still front and center. She had on her best camera-ready smile, Serena was laughing, Nate was making a goofy face, and Chuck… was smirking, as per usual. Right next to it was a picture from Bart and Lily's wedding- the bride and groom posing at the reception with their new blended family, Chuck's arm thrown casually around Eric's shoulders.
Looking at the pictures made her heart ache in her chest. God, she'd missed him.
Taking a seat on the edge of the bed, she glanced at her watch again. She still had to go see her mother and Cyrus, Dorota, Serena, even Humphrey- she knew how worried they'd been, and she'd been gone nearly two months with only an apologetic voicemail to assure them she was alright.
Well, at least she knew that they would be happy and relieved to see her. She couldn't say the same for Chuck.
She knew there was a chance that she'd lost him for good this time- not just his love, but his friendship as well. And that possibility- the very thought of living the rest of her life without him in it- was enough to make a painful lump swell up in her throat.
Swallowing hard, she reminded herself that that was why she was here. Why she couldn't just give up.
In spite of all her fears, right now, this was the only place she wanted to be.
"Blair?" Serena's voice echoed through the small dressing room. "Are you almost ready? It's quarter 'til…" She trailed off, looking surprised and confused at the sight of her best friend.
Blair was seated in front of the vanity mirror, which reflected the image of a gorgeous bride in all of her wedding finery. Her petite figure was swathed in folds of silk chiffon and antique lace, and her strapless bodice tapered in to emphasize her tiny waist. Pearl buttons formed a neat line down the back of her gown, shining through the gauzy fabric of her veil, which was held in place by a sparkling crystal tiara. She looked every bit the elegant princess-to-be.
Except that she was currently hunched over, frantically scribbling onto a piece of stationary.
"Your mom sent me to check on you," Serena went on, a note of concern creeping into her voice. "B, what's going on?"
"I can't do this," Blair interrupted, finishing the note with a jerky movement of her hand.
"Can't do… what?" Serena asked, dumbfounded.
"Get married," Blair responded, a tremulous note to her voice. "I just… I can't. "
She began trying to remove her veil, her motions becoming increasingly frantic as she realized it was securely pinned to her head.
"Hey, hey, calm down," Serena said soothingly, taking a seat on the padded bench and placing a comforting arm around her shoulders. "B, it's okay. You're just having cold feet, it's totally normal. Don't make any rash decisions."
"I'm not," Blair refuted her, her trembling hands finally succeeding in pulling some of the pins out of her hair. "I knew this was a mistake. I've known…. for a long time."
Serena stared at her best friend, realization beginning to dawn on her face.
"You really… you don't want to do this?" she asked incredulously. "B, why didn't you say anything?"
"I don't know, I just…" Blair swallowed, feeling her eyes start to well up with tears again. "Louis has been so good to me, I thought that I…. that I should want it. And then the closer I got, I just felt more and more trapped… and I don't want to hurt him, but…"
She paused, staring down at the floor with sorrow and contrition written all over her face- and Serena took the opportunity to envelop her in a warm hug.
"I'm so sorry, B, I had no idea," she murmured, stroking one hand down her friend's hair. "You know I'm here for you, whatever you decide to do."
Blair nodded, taking a deep breath to calm her shaking nerves.
"Could you… give this to Louis?" she asked hesitantly, with a gesture towards the note on the vanity. "I know it's a lot to ask, but I just… I just need to get out of here." She returned to pulling pins out of her hair.
"Of course." Serena folded the piece of paper, taking care to avoid looking at its contents. "My mom and I can help take care of the guests- you just do whatever you need to do, okay?"
"Thank you," Blair whispered. "I'm so sorry for putting this on you, I know it's a lot to ask-"
"Don't be," Serena dismissed her with a wave of her hand. "What are best friends for?"
Serena proved herself surprisingly adept at organizing a getaway. Moments later, Blair was exiting the rear entrance of the church and entering an inconspicuous car. The driver made it back to her penthouse in record time, and she caused only a few raised eyebrows when she ran into the building in her wedding gown, unbustled train gripped tightly in one hand.
Finally alone in her room, she quickly undid the long line of buttons, the rustling fabric sliding down her body and pooling at her feet. Slipping the gown carefully onto a thickly padded hanger, she hung it on the back of her closet door. She trailed her fingers across the silky folds, giving it one last regretful look before reaching into her closet for something understated to wear.
After she'd dressed, she hurriedly packed her suitcase, throwing in skirts, blouses and shoes until it bulged at the seams. She needed at least two weeks worth of outfits, she decided. After all, there might not be laundry service at her destination… wherever that was.
Zipping her suitcase closed, she took one last glance around her room. She felt… a little sad, she realized. And anxious, and regretful. But more than anything… she felt relieved. Like a huge weight had just been lifted off her shoulders.
After everything he'd done for her, it seemed so crass to view her relationship with Louis that way, she reflected sadly. Not only had he been willing to forgive her indiscretion with Chuck, he'd accepted its consequences with remarkable understanding. He'd stayed by her side through the most difficult ordeal of her life.
And she'd repaid his devotion by leaving him at the altar, she thought with a sharp pang of guilt.
But in her heart, she knew that she couldn't spend her life feigning a depth of emotion that she simply didn't feel. Louis had been so committed to their relationship that she had tried everything in her power to convince herself she felt the same way- but as much as she'd wanted to love him, she couldn't will herself to do so. And he didn't deserve to spend his life with someone who could muster only lukewarm affection for him.
Someone who was still hopelessly in love with another man, she admitted to herself.
She stared down at the enormous yellow diamond adorning her left hand for a moment, before twisting it off and setting it on her vanity.
Retrieving her cell phone from her white satin clutch, she thumbed through her contact list and paused on Chuck's name. She swallowed.
As soon as she'd decided to flee her wedding, she'd known that this moment lay ahead of her- and she was petrified. Chuck might never be able to forgive her once he heard what she had to say. But she couldn't just keep hiding from him. She owed him the truth- even if it cost her everything.
With shaking fingers, she clicked the "text" button and began to type out a message.
She read it over, shook her head, and deleted it. She wrote another one- and discarded it as well.
God, there was simply no way to broach this conversation via text message, she thought, rubbing her hand across her forehead. "I'm running away from my wedding. Want to come along?" was hopelessly gauche, and "We need to talk" was an understatement of epic proportions.
She finally decided on something simple: "I need to see you." Nodding resolutely, she began composing the message.
But before she could finish, her phone buzzed with an incoming Gossip Girl blast.
Steeling her nerves in anticipation of the inevitable Runaway Princess Bride headline, Blair opened the message with a leaden feeling in her stomach. Frowning in confusion upon seeing a video link, she clicked on it, and a shaky camera-phone video began playing on the screen. The camera was trained on Louis as he strode out the front door of the church, wearing a perfectly-tailored tuxedo and elegant boutonniere… and an expression of self-righteous fury.
She swallowed, her unease expanding into dread when the camera panned sideways, revealing the target of his wrath.
"Chuck." Louis spat out the name as if it were an epithet, and Chuck turned to face him, frowning in confusion.
What was he even doing there? Blair thought, wide-eyed with alarm. He'd been invited, of course, but she'd never expected him to actually attend.
"You did this, didn't you?" Louis snapped, accusation dripping from every word.
Wedding guests, paparazzi and random passersby milling around the front steps of the church began to take notice of the tense situation, pausing their conversations and surreptitiously watching the two men.
"Did what?" Chuck asked, with a skeptical quirk of his eyebrow.
"I always knew," Louis continued bitterly, as if he hadn't even spoken. "I always knew there was something going on between you."
Understanding began to dawn in Chuck's eyes, but he remained silent, warily eying his adversary. The two men stared each other down, not even noticing the gathering crowd of onlookers.
"I should have known that she would rather be your whore," Louis bit out, "than my wife."
Chuck inhaled sharply, narrowing his eyes in response.
"I know how upset you must be-" he began, his jaw tensing from the effort of containing his own growing anger.
"You think she'll be any different with you?" Louis derided him. "That she won't lie and cheat? Use you and then toss you aside?"
Louis scoffed bitterly.
"She didn't even tell you she was pregnant with your baby," he spat out, his face twisted with vindictiveness.
Blair felt the air leave her lungs in a sudden, violent exhalation. The phone almost fell from her hands.
"No," she whispered helplessly.
Shock and disbelief flashed across Chuck's features, his reaction unfolding on her screen like a slow-motion nightmare.
"No, she-" he faltered, shaking his head adamantly. "She had a paternity test done…"
"Which said that it wasn't mine," Louis retorted, his voice sharpening nastily over the last word. "I was willing to stay with her anyway, raise the baby as my own… and this is the thanks I get."
Chuck stiffened, almost flinching away from Louis' words, and she felt his pain like a physical blow.
The crowd of spectators had erupted into a flurry of whispers- people pulling out their phones to take pictures or send text messages, sharing the lurid details of her most shameful secret. Her reputation, her entire life, crumbling to pieces in front of them.
But all she could look at was Chuck.
The taut, self-protective expression that couldn't disguise the devastation in his eyes.
She knew that as long as she lived, she would never forget the look on his face at that moment.
The video jostled sideways, and then cut out abruptly, and she was left staring at a blank screen, her features frozen in shock. Her stomach churning so violently, she thought was might be physically ill.
And then her phone vibrated, jarring her back to the present, and her breath caught when she realized it was a text message.
Three words, eight letters.
Is it true?
Fighting back guilty tears, she typed out a response. The only thing she could possibly say.
I'm so sorry.
She waited and waited for a response. Nothing. Her subsequent texts had been ignored, her phone calls unanswered. And so she'd had no choice but to flee the city alone- alone with her disgrace, her heartache, and her overwhelming regret.
She hadn't heard a word from Chuck since.
And then one day, two months later, she'd finally decided to take matters into her own hands.
Chuck strode through the lobby of the Empire, nodding at his employees as he passed by the front desk. He finished texting a list of instructions to his assistant, pocketed his cell phone, and stepped into the elevator.
Swiping his keycard to gain access to the Penthouse, he allowed his head to drop back against the wall and released a weary sigh. The numbers on the digital display increased rapidly as the elevator sped towards the top floor- but even a brief moment alone with his thoughts unnerved him. This was why he preferred to stay as busy as possible, often staying at work until the early hours of the morning.
Retrieving his phone from his coat pocket, he distracted himself with his email for the remainder of the ride, barely lifting his gaze when the doors slid open to reveal his penthouse.
He was already through the doors and halfway across the foyer when he felt a familiar prickling sensation at the base of his spine. Coming to an immediate halt, he surveyed his apartment warily, trying to identify the source of his unease.
When he took a deep, steadying breath, it hit him- the faint but unmistakable scent of Chanel No. 5 in the air.
Blair was here.
The realization left him with a confusing jumble of emotions, anticipation wrestling with anxiety and resentment. Part of him had known that this encounter was inevitable. Everything he'd done over the past few months- ignoring phone calls, retreating into his work, refusing to have a real discussion about the situation with anyone- had only served to delay this moment.
He'd known he would have to face her eventually, but he wasn't ready yet. But then again, he never would be. Nothing could ever truly prepare him for this conversation.
Spotting his bedroom door slightly ajar, he slowly made his way towards it. He arranged his features into a mask of composure, determined to remain outwardly calm even as his heart pounded nervously in his chest.
But when he finally pushed the door open, expecting to find her wide brown eyes staring back at him, his gaze fell instead on the petite figure curled up on his bed... sound asleep. She was lying on top of the covers, the folds of a red skirt draped around her legs, glossy curls spread across the pillow in a deep brown swath. A set of black pumps sat on the floor next to the bed and a matching coat hung neatly on the back of his leather armchair.
He drank in every facet of her appearance- from the dark fringed lashes resting against her cheeks, all the way down to her stocking-clad toes, curled up in response to the slight chill in his apartment.
God, he still loved her so fucking much.
And he hated himself for it.
In spite of everything, part of him was glad that she wasn't awake yet. He could almost pretend that he was returning from work to find his adoring girlfriend, the love of his life, sleeping in his bed- waiting for him to come home to her, and rouse her with a kiss that left them both breathless in its wake.
He could momentarily forget that she had betrayed him so badly, he wasn't sure he would ever recover…. or that she was here for a confrontation he was dreading with every fiber of his being.
So he took a moment to indulge himself, to stare unabashedly at her sleeping form with all of the longing he'd tried to suppress. To imagine that the last two years had been nothing but a nightmare, and this happy fantasy was still his life.
Then Blair stirred, and the spell was broken.
Pulling herself to a sitting position, she blinked the sleep from her eyes, glancing around the room in confusion- until her gaze fell upon him. A jolt of electricity passed between them as their eyes met, hers wide with apprehension, his dark and fathomless.
Sliding to the side of the bed, she set her feet on the floor, keeping her gaze fixed on his. She swallowed nervously and tucked her hair behind her ear, as if waiting to be lambasted.
But he remained silent, keeping his expression impassive. He wasn't about to rant and rave, or demand an explanation, or have her thrown out by security.
He was going to force her to make the first move.
"Chuck..." she began hesitantly. "I know... I know I shouldn't be in here. But... my key still worked, so I figured I would just... wait for you."
She said it with the barest hint of optimism in her voice, as if that simple fact had given her hope.
And still he said nothing. He just looked at her, waiting for her to continue. To address the source of the thick, suffocating tension hanging between them.
"You didn't answer any of my calls or texts," she went on, averting her eyes. "And I thought we needed to talk."
Again she paused, twisting her fingers together nervously and staring down at them.
"So talk," he said quietly. His low, husky voice, barely higher than a whisper, resonated throughout the silence of the bedroom.
She took a deep, trembling breath.
"I'm so sorry," she said softly. Her gaze fixed intently on his own, as if willing him to believe in her contrition. "I'm sorry for lying to you, I'm sorry for lying to... everyone. I'm sorry you found out the way you did."
He nodded in acknowledgment, if not exactly acceptance.
"I was going to tell you," she continued, her voice full of sincerity and regret. "That day, when I texted you about meeting me for dinner, I was going to... but then..." she trailed off.
He didn't need her to finish the sentence. That horrible November afternoon was seared into his memory.
She'd been rushed to the hospital in a vain attempt to save her baby... their baby, he mentally corrected. And he had waited at the hospital with the rest of her friends and family, scared out of his mind that he might lose her.
Until the day of her wedding, he'd had no idea what he'd actually lost.
"And... after that," she went on in a wavering tone. "I thought that telling you would only hurt you, because it was... too late."
So all her lies had somehow been for his benefit? He clenched his jaw, feeling indignation rising within him at the suggestion.
"You lied to my face, Blair," he said in a low voice, struggling to keep his temper in check. "You told me the baby wasn't mine."
"That's true," she admitted, seeming suddenly unable to look him in the eye. "I convinced myself that what I did... was in the best interests of my child. I didn't think you wanted to be a father and I didn't think... you were capable of it."
"You never even gave me a chance," he retorted, his voice rising to almost a shout. She flinched and he took several deep breaths in an attempt to compose himself.
"I know," she said remorsefully. "I made a mistake, Chuck. And then once I'd lied, everything just... snowballed and I didn't know how to fix it. I was so worried what everyone would think of me- what you would think of me... I just felt trapped and I didn't know what to do."
He nodded tersely, his blank expression betraying none of the violent emotions churning through his mind.
"I'm not trying to make excuses, or justify any of it," she added hastily. "I just want you to know that... that I didn't do it to hurt you. I thought I was doing the right thing at first, and then I realized it was a mistake, and then... and then it was all over." Her voice broke over the last phrase, and she blinked rapidly to hold back the tears he knew were gathering in her eyes.
"What it is you want from me, Blair?" he asked after a long pause.
"Forgiveness," she whispered. "A chance to... try and make amends."
And he looked back at her- at her pleading eyes, shining with moisture, her trembling hands, the desperation in her face- and all of his instincts were screaming at him to just take her in his arms and forget any of this had ever happened.
All of his instincts, except his own sense of self-preservation.
"I understand..." He paused, struggling to get the words out. "I understand why you didn't think I was ready to raise a child. I'd certainly given you no reason to believe otherwise."
The admission was painful, but there was no point in whitewashing the past. He hadn't exactly behaved like Father of the Year material for the first twenty years of his life.
"And I know you're sorry," he went on, his voice growing calmer and more self-assured. "So yes... I forgive you."
He could see her visibly relax in response, her face shining with relief and tentative hope.
Gathering together the tattered fragments of his pride, he forced himself to finish.
"But as far as you and I go... we're done," he finished quietly.
An extended silence fell between them as Blair absorbed his words. He averted his gaze, because no amount of justification or moral high ground made it any easier to see the pain in her eyes.
"Do you not love me anymore?" she asked softly.
"I didn't say that," he replied, rubbing one hand along his jaw.
"But..." she hesitated a moment. "If you love me, and you forgive me, then... I don't understand."
"It's not about that, Blair." He exhaled a sigh of frustration before finally meeting her eyes again. "It's not about love, or forgiveness. It's not about what you did- it's why you did it."
She shook her head, her brow furrowing in confusion.
A little voice whispered in his ear, telling him that he should just forget about his dignity and his self-respect and take whatever she was willing to offer him.
He ignored it.
"You lied because you didn't want me to be the father," he said regretfully, finally voicing what had tormented him ever since he'd found out the truth. "You wanted so badly for me to not be the father of your child, you were willing to do anything to prevent that from happening."
Blair stared back at him, her lips parted in dismay.
"And I know I've made a lot of mistakes in my life," he continued sadly, feeling a dull ache permeate his chest. "But I have to believe I deserve someone who would... want that."
"But I did," she protested earnestly.
"Some small part of you, right?" His mouth twisted into a humorless smile. "Yeah, I remember."
"Chuck, I was just scared and confused, and I didn't know what to do," she pleaded. "It's not that I didn't... want that, I just needed time... to figure everything out. But when I did…it was too late."
God, it would be so easy to just take her back, he thought. Admit that he was miserable without her and pretend everything could be fixed.
But as much as he loved her, he was no longer willing to be her second choice. Her backup plan when everything else fell through. The bad habit she could never quite shake.
"I'm sorry," he replied, forcing himself to sound resolved. "But you're right. It is too late."
Despite his certainty that he was making the right decision, he still had to turn his gaze away from the pitiful quiver of her lower lip, the tears threatening to overflow her big brown eyes.
Attempting to gather her composure, she straightened her shoulders and nodded.
"I should go," she said quietly.
He watched as she turned to retrieve her coat, the red fabric of her skirt flaring out before settling around her knees once again. She'd certainly lost all of her pregnancy weight, he observed- if anything, she was even thinner than she'd been before.
His eyes trailed over her body, noting her frailty with increasing concern. She looked beautiful, of course- she always did- but her tiny frame was drowning in her frilly chiffon blouse, her collarbone protruding visibly beneath almost translucent skin. And he could see the red-rimmed eyes and dark circles hidden below layers of expertly-applied makeup.
Chuck felt a stab of worry laced with guilt, as he remembered the dozens of phone calls and text messages he'd ignored over the last few months.
He opened his mouth to speak, but he suddenly realized that she wasn't paying any attention to him. She was standing motionless in front of his dresser, her hand suspended in the air above the handbag she'd been reaching for.
When he followed her gaze to a black-and-white image, tucked discreetly behind the collection of framed family photos, his heart stuttered in his chest.
"Where did you get this?" she whispered in disbelief, pulling it out from behind the frame.
"I..." He faltered, his breath caught in his throat, as she stroked the sonogram with trembling fingers. There was no use denying what it was- she likely would've recognized it even without her own name printed across the top.
"From Mount Sinai," he admitted. "Apparently a donation to their pediatric research foundation was enough to buy a... momentary lapse in medical ethics."
"Why?" Her hushed question was barely audible.
"I just wanted to..." He trailed off, struggling to put his feelings into words. "Have something," he finished weakly.
He didn't know how else to explain his desperate desire to have some tangible evidence of his child's existence. Some connection to the son he'd never even known.
He'd spent hours studying it, using an article he'd found on the internet to identify the baby's features- a foot, an ear, a tiny hand obscuring his face from view. Staring at that grainy, abstract image, he'd tried to imagine what his son would've looked like. He could picture a little boy with wavy dark hair. Blair's deep brown eyes and perfectly-shaped nose. His jawline. A mischievous expression on his face, courtesy of both parents.
He liked to imagine that his child would've loved him, if only because he didn't know any better.
Roused from his introspection by the splatter of a teardrop onto the dresser's glossy surface, he realized that Blair was crying, tears running silently down both cheeks.
"I have all of them," she said in a wavering voice, returning the picture to its former position. "In a scrapbook I was... making for him. If you want... to see." Her shoulders shook from the effort of holding herself together.
"Blair..." His heart twisted in his chest. He'd seen her cry before- usually because of something he'd done- but he'd never seen her look so anguished, so broken.
"Don't," she responded hoarsely, swiping the tears away with the back of her hand. "I don't want your pity, Chuck. I know this is my own fault."
"Losing the baby?" he asked, frowning in confusion. "Blair, that wasn't your fault. It wasn't... anyone's fault." He swallowed as he recalled his own struggle to come to terms with that fact, with the cruel twist of fate they'd been dealt.
"I was so stressed about everything," she continued as if she hadn't heard him. "Worried about lying to everyone. Trying to decide what to do. Planning my stupid wedding." She shook her head, tears streaming unabated down her face. "I wasn't taking care of myself. And I wasn't taking care of him." Her voice broke over the last words, and she pressed her hand to her mouth, attempting to stifle a sob.
"Blair," he protested, staring at her with disbelief and increasing concern. "You can't blame yourself, you didn't do anything wrong. Miscarriages happen all the time. Anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of pregnancies-"
"Miscarriages don't just happen 24 weeks in," she said in a quavering voice. "My nerves were shot. My blood pressure was too high. I wasn't paying enough attention to what I was eating, I got halfway through a tuna steak before I remembered about the mercury. I forgot to take my prenatal vitamins twice that week." She wrapped her arms around her middle, bowing her head as she tried to steady her shaking body. "I killed him," she whispered, her voice choked with grief.
Chuck felt an agonizing tightness in his chest as he realized that Blair had been suffering more than he'd ever imagined.
Feeling an almost visceral need to comfort her, he took several steps forward, gripping her upper arms and pulling her into him- and she resisted for only a moment before dropping her coat to the floor and sagging against his chest, her tiny body wracked with sobs. Embracing her as tightly as he dared, he stroked her back with one hand and murmured words of comfort against the top of her head.
"I'm... so sorry," she whispered into his chest, her speech punctuated with sharp little gasps as she tried to control her breathing. "I knew you'd hate me for it. I only... went through with the wedding because I knew... I knew you could never forgive me."
"Blair, this wasn't your fault," he assured her. "You didn't lose the baby because you ate the wrong fish, or skipped a day of vitamins. There was just something... wrong with him." He swallowed tightly. "There was nothing anyone could've done."
She said nothing in response, her face pressed into the crook of his neck, fingers curling into the damp fabric of his shirt.
"Blair," he repeated, more insistently this time. "It wasn't your fault, and I don't blame you." Pulling one hand around, he cupped her chin and tilted it up, forcing her to look at him. "You believe me, right?"
She stared up at him, her wide brown eyes still wet with tears, her silence punctuated by a single pitiful hiccup.
"Tell me you believe me," he demanded, starting to worry that he wouldn't be able to convince her. His hand slid from his chin up to her cheek, brushing away the lingering tears. "Blair, please," he entreated.
She nodded- unconvincingly, but it was something.
Taking her hand in his, he took a seat on the bed and drew her down next to him. Lying back against the pillows, he wrapped one arm around her and pulled her head onto his shoulder.
Ten minutes passed, then twenty, and still they remained like that, both lost in thought. The atmosphere felt somber, the silence interrupted only by an occasional sniffle from Blair.
"Today was my due date."
His breath caught at the whispered admission.
"What?" he asked faintly.
"Today..." She swallowed, pressing her face into his shoulder. "He was supposed to be born today."
All of the hurt, the anger, the regret he'd experienced hadn't prepared him for the crushing sense of loss he felt at that moment.
He'd struggled to accept what had happened, to reconcile himself to the reality of his son's brief existence. And now, as his throat constricted until he could barely breathe, he finally felt the grief that had eluded him. It coursed through his body, twisting his insides until he was certain the pain would tear him in two.
He tightened his arm around Blair, keeping her snug against his shoulder so she couldn't see the anguish on his face- but a single tear escaped his eye, rolling down his cheek and neck until it mingled with the damp patch on the front of his shirt.
"We would've had a baby together," Blair whispered against his chest, unaware of his reaction. "We would've had our own family..."
He swallowed hard, feeling another tear trickle down his face.
"I wanted that so much," she continued in a trembling voice. "Even when I knew I wasn't supposed to… I still did. More than I've ever wanted anything."
"I did too," he admitted, his voice raw with barely-repressed emotion.
I still do.
The thought echoed through his head, his mind bombarding him with images of Blair holding their baby, rocking him, smiling adoringly down at his innocent little face. And the sheer unfairness of it all- of knowing that his dream had actually been within his grasp, only to be yanked away in the most heart-wrenching manner possible- was almost too much to bear.
He heard a muffled sob, her shoulders shaking against him as she began to cry in earnest. Instinctively pulling her closer, he enveloped her in both arms and pressed his face into her hair... fighting a losing battle against the tears welling up in his own eyes, until he gave up trying to contain them.
And lying in that darkened room, with Blair clasped tightly in his arms, he finally allowed himself to mourn. To curse at God, fate, nature- whoever was responsible for taking away his child before he even had a chance to live.
The pain was relentless, excruciating. Almost unbearable.
But it was cathartic to finally let himself experience the grief he'd been suppressing for so long. To lower his defenses and share the burden he'd been shouldering alone, with the only other person who could possibly understand what he was going through.
Eventually Blair's sobs petered out as her body grew limp with exhaustion in his arms. He stroked his hand across her tousled curls, wondering if she'd fallen asleep.
Until he felt her tense against him and draw a deep, wavering breath.
"Chuck, do you think..." she whispered, her hoarse voice cutting through the stillness that surrounded them. "Do you think we could ever get past this? And be... together again?"
"I don't know," he murmured. He could feel her nod before she burrowed her face against his chest, pressing it into the tear-soaked fabric of his shirt.
Even as he said the words, he knew he was lying. Despite his attempt to maintain some semblance of dignity, part of him had been ready to forgive her the moment he'd come home to find her curled up in his bed. And when faced with her tearful brown eyes, filled with remorse, desperation, and hope... his remaining defenses had crumbled.
Because he could no sooner stop loving her than he could stop breathing. And after facing the prospect of a lifetime without her, he knew he could never let her go again.
But for now, all they could do was hold each other and grieve together. Grieve for the child they had lost, the hurt they had caused each other, and the love that had been battered and bruised almost beyond repair.
Hold each other, and hope that the comfort and strength they found in each other's arms would be enough to get them through it.
Long after their tears had stopped falling and their trembling breaths had eased to a deep, even rhythm, they remained curled up together. Blair's head grew heavy on his shoulder, her body relaxing against him as she drifted off into an exhausted slumber.
And as the hours ticked by, pink streaks of dawn painting their way across the night sky, Chuck finally found the elusive sense of peace that he'd been seeking- in the warmth of her embrace, the steady cadence of her heart beating against him. The dainty hand resting almost protectively over his chest.
He pressed his lips to her forehead, drawing her tightly against him and tucking her head underneath his chin, before finally succumbing to sleep.