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Parting Gifts

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Chuck’s voice is thick, but Blair doesn’t think it’s from drinking. Not only from drinking, anyway; she’s pretty sure Chuck’s blood is ten percent alcohol on a good day. She’s pretty sure Chuck hasn’t had a good day in a while.

“Where are you?” she asks.

“I need you,” he repeats, gravelly and insistent, like he needs to convince her and not give her directions.

“Just tell me where you are.” Her words come out too high and too fast, but she can’t spare much time for self-assessment. No one has heard from Chuck in weeks, not Lily, not Serena, not the staff at the Palace, not even the Bass lawyers (she took a paralegal at the firm out to dinner and drinks, and in between dodging his hands she managed to extract that much). She’s caught between terror that Chuck is halfway around the world and fear of humiliation if he admits that he’s only in the Village.

He gets out an address—Harlem—and she’s already grabbing for her coat.

She calls Nate in the elevator, because this is not a one-woman job. If they’d been two years younger she would have called Serena first, because the four of them had been stable in their own crazed way, but Serena has floated off into another world, only half-merged with Blair’s now, and despite being Chuck’s stepsister she doesn’t have enough connection left to bring her to Chuck. A three-legged stool may be shakier than a table, but she’s seen enough decorating disasters to know that you can’t fix that just by shoving a different leg under.

Nate meets her in the lobby of the building where Chuck is waiting. It’s new construction, and Chuck has the penthouse. The doorman looks them up and down, as if he’s wondering what kind of people Chuck Bass invites upstairs if they’re not delivering food or sex. She gives him her best closed-off UES face—nothing bad has ever been acknowledged to happen to me—and sails past, dragging Nate behind her like a shopping bag.

The elevator has a security camera in it. She fantasizes that Chuck will watch, later, that he cares enough to wonder what they’re saying.

“What are we going to do?” Nate asks, because he’s supposed to.

Nate is good at that. All their parents and all their expectations, and somehow Nate is the only one who ended up with a sense of duty alongside his drive to get what’s coming to him.

Blair checks her makeup in the golden metal of the elevator wall, a little distorted but recognizable. Her hairband has slid forward a quarter of an inch, so she resets it. She doesn’t answer Nate’s question, because she can’t tell him anything he doesn’t already know.

When Chuck opens the door, he hangs on to the edge of the doorway and leans forward, like a cheerful drunk in some old Technicolor movie. He’s wearing a dress shirt, unbuttoned at the collar, and plain black pants, but the clothes do look like they’ve been changed within the past twenty-four hours or so. His eyes flicker from Blair to Nate and back. “You brought backup,” he comments.

I know you, she doesn’t say. I wasn’t sure there was enough blood in me alone.

Chuck blinks and falls back, inviting them in by unblocking the way. The apartment is barely furnished, not minimalism but disregard. It’s clean, though, which means Chuck has allowed a service in. Through another open doorway, Blair sees a platform bed, crisp clean pillows and a dark red comforter shot with black.

“What do you want?” Nate asks, too soon.

Chuck shrugs. “I thought I made a booty call. While you’re here, though, I suppose you can watch. What does do it for you these days, since you stopped selling your charms?”

Nate barely flinches. “Maybe I should leave.”

Their eyes are locked, and it is like the way Chuck looks at her, only not quite. “If that’s what you want.” Chuck’s tone says he expects nothing more. Then his voice gentles. “Just this,” he says. “That’s all.”

Nate closes his eyes, dark lashes she used to try to count and never could get to the end of. “Okay,” he says. Blair knows then that this is the hour when three becomes two. It would hurt more but she’s already lost Nate in every way that matters, and in some ways it’s good to know that Chuck has wanted someone other than her, because he wants her more and that’s important.

Chuck turns to her and takes one step, all that’s required to put their bodies flush, heat coursing through her like an express train. He kisses her and she brings her hands up to hold on to his cheeks, because he’s bending her back. Nate makes a noise she can’t categorize, and Chuck takes her wrists in his hands and pushes back, breaking the kiss, but not cruelly.

“Take your coat off,” he says. “Stay a while.”

And it’s Nate’s hands at her shoulders, easing the coat off, letting it fall to the floor, stiff gray wool all awkward at such mistreatment. She can hear Nate breathing behind her, and Chuck is seeing her, for the first time in months, so she crosses her arms and grips the edge of her shell and tugs up, pulling it off in one smooth motion.

Chuck’s eyes flare; Blair can feel herself shaking, her skin prickling with cool air and hot looks.

Then Chuck holds out his hand, inclining his head and shoulders a fraction, just like a gentleman would, and in her bra and skirt, stockings and heels, she steps over the puddled coat and follows him into the bedroom, Nate behind her like a bodyguard.

After that, it’s all flashes—Nate’s body, still beautiful to her but almost unfamiliar after so long apart, the mole at the top of his thigh a surprise all over again; Chuck’s hands, bigger on her body than they seem from afar; her own hair, swinging down over her face and catching on her wet lips. Chuck whispers instructions and she and Nate follow them, Nate because this is his ticket out and Blair because Chuck needs to hurt someone and she’d rather it be her than himself. He’ll use this in their slow sweet war, use it for years and years. She’ll regret this; she knows it even as she closes her eyes and lets her breath puff out, moist against Chuck’s neck, as she pushes back into Nate’s touch.

But if letting Chuck say goodbye to Nate this way gets her decades of battle instead of another funeral, then—right now at least—it’s a price she’s more than willing to pay.