|Like an Imprint, You Linger
Author: bethaboo PM
Returning to New York from California for Chuck and Blair's wedding, Nate has a run-in with an unexpected guest. A Nate/Jenny story in three parts, with a generous hint of Chair. Post 3x22-AU.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance - Chapters: 3 - Words: 18,129 - Reviews: 20 - Favs: 20 - Follows: 8 - Updated: 12-21-10 - Published: 12-19-10 - Status: Complete - id: 6571112
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
AN: And the final chapter of this one shot (though I guess it was more like a short story?). I don't think I'll be doing a sequel or anything to this, but you never know. Weirder things have happened. Lyrics are from The Weepies "Same Changes."
In the magic hour,
lantern petals glow.
I walk away, I walk away,
but you linger.
"You seem alarmingly happy," Blair snapped as Jenny rested her hip against the side of Blair's dressing table. "And you're blocking my light."
Jenny moved a fraction of an inch. "Isn't the fact that two of my very good friends are finally burying the last hatchet and getting married a good enough reason to be happy?" she asked lightly. "And speaking of happy, when are you going to decide that things are good enough so that you can finally be happy about your wedding tomorrow?"
Blair sighed and set down her brush. "I know I'm being horrible," she said in a small voice. "God knows, Chuck couldn't possibly be eager to marry the hideous bitch I've been lately."
"He loves you," Jenny soothed, mildly alarmed at the fraught note in Blair's voice. "He can't wait to marry you, hideous bitch and all."
Blair picked up her brush and resumed work on her hair. "You didn't answer my question."
"I know," Jenny admitted.
"Is it a man?"
Jenny had been debating all day if she should confide to Blair about the kiss. She'd see them together tonight anyway, and Jenny was fairly certain that she wouldn't be able to keep the sheer delight she felt to herself, at least not when Nate was right there. Blair would find out, it was inevitable, but Jenny didn't want her to find out until the optimal moment.
This, with Blair's burgeoning nerves and fears over the ceremony running over, was not the optimal moment.
"Not necessarily," Jenny said casually, hoping she'd learned enough at the master's knee to fool even Blair. "Just happy."
"Alright," Blair conceded. "After all, you are my number one bridesmaid, which is a huge honor."
"Exactly," Jenny said, neglecting to tell Blair that about a dozen wedding guests had sympathized with her position since the weekend had begun.
"Have you talked to Chuck? Is everything set to go?"
"I got a text from him a little while ago. The restaurant is secured, and the limo will be here in half an hour to pick us up." Surprising everyone, the rehearsal dinner was the exact opposite of the wedding itself—a restrained, intimate event, held in a tiny, elegant French restaurant that Blair and Chuck frequented.
"Excellent," Blair said with satisfaction.
"I'll go let Harold and Roman and Eleanor know," Jenny said, her phone itching in her hand. She wanted to talk to Nate. She wanted to do everything but talk to Nate.
"Go," Blair said, I'm almost ready anyway."
Jenny escaped as quickly as she could, afraid Blair would change her mind. In the hallway, Jenny typed out a quick text to Nate.
Up for the quiet drink after the rehearsal dinner?
She had just finished telling the rest of the group traveling with them to the rehearsal dinner when the limo would arrive when a quick buzz of her phone let her know that Nate had replied. She glanced down and couldn't help the huge smile.
Perfect. My room, an hour after the party breaks up.
Dinner consumed, Jenny leaned back in her chair, feeling the champagne bubbling through her veins, mixed with the slow burn of the looks Nate had been sending her all evening from his position across the long table. Candlelight reflected across the gathered group as Eleanor Waldorf got her feet, clinking her knife delicately on her crystal champagne flute.
"Family, friends, I'd like to offer a toast to my new son-in-law, Charles Bass, who amazed us all with his persistence to win over my stubborn, and often difficult daughter." She paused, and Blair, who seemed to have forgotten all her OCD the moment they'd arrived at the venue, merely beamed at her mother, her hand intertwined with her fiancé's. "Chuck and Blair's path hasn't always been easy, though I know she took care to protect me from the worst of it. But mothers know, and mothers know the moment their little girl meets the man she'll fall in love with. And I knew the moment she came home, the first day of kindergarten, and couldn't stop complaining loudly about a little boy who persisted in stealing her headband. That boy was Chuck. Best wishes to you both." Eleanor, now a little misty at her remembrance of that day, so long ago, raised her glass, as did the rest of the group. "To Chuck and Blair!" Everyone echoed, and Jenny thought she saw Chuck brush a tear away from Blair's cheek, and that was almost sweeter than the speech her mother had just given.
Lily van der Woodsen stood, and she gazed fondly at her step-son at the head of the table. "As you're all aware, I'm Charles' step-mother, but to me, and I think to him, I've always considered him mine. His father and I had such a short time together, but I believe that the very best thing to come out of my marriage to Bart was the relationship I have with Charles. It's never been easy, dear," Lily said with a glimmer of humor, "but it's certainly been entertaining. I've never been bored watching you and Blair dance around each other, yet I always knew that I'd be here someday, toasting to you two." She raised her glass and the party drank.
"When Blair was seventeen," Harold said, rising, "Roman and I came to New York to visit her for Christmas. And to my surprise, I found a woman, not the girl I'd left behind. Finding your soul mate is never easy, and being Blair, she made it hard on herself, but I like to think in the end, all the pain and all the strife has left her and Charles in a position to never take each other's happiness for granted." He raised his glass. "To the happy couple!"
Jenny glanced down the table, and wasn't surprised to see that tears were gradually trickling down Blair's face, and even Chuck looked suspiciously misty, but she caught her breath at the combined radiance of their happiness. Looking up at Nate, she wondered if he would ever make her that happy, or if her wish for them was merely the fantasy of disappointed, wrecked hopes.
His eyes never leaving her face, to Jenny's surprise, Nate stood and lifted his glass. "I know," he began slowly, "that it's not traditional for the best man to make a toast at the rehearsal dinner. Sorry, Blair, I know I'm breaking all sorts of rules by doing this, but I want to say something." Blair gave a graceful little nod, and Chuck squeezed her hand. "You and Chuck have always been two of my best friends, even when I hated Chuck or I couldn't understand why you were the way you were. But watching you together over the years, I can't help but admit I'm envious of your happiness. Your certainty in the face of opposition. The combined force of your love conquering all the obstacles in your path. I have no doubt that you'll be as happy fifty years from now that you are right now."
Nate drank to applause, and Jenny was momentarily appalled to feel the tears glimmer in the corners of her eyes. He hadn't been talking about them, of course—he'd been talking generally. But still, the hope blossoming inside her wouldn't die, even when faced with the Humphrey realism that he couldn't love her. Not after all these years. Not the way she'd loved him—loved him still.
Finally, as the party wore down, Chuck disentangled his hand from Blair's and rose to his feet. "Honored guests, I know I speak for my lovely fiancée as well as for myself, that this has been one of the greatest evenings of our lives. Your love, your support, to both of us over the years is why we're here tonight, which is why I want to share a story with you."
He paused, clearing his throat, and glanced down at Blair with so much love in his eyes that Jenny felt the beginnings of a lump form in her throat. "I didn't fall in love with Blair instantly—though according to Eleanor, she beat me to it by a few years." Blair giggled through her tears. "In fact, I actually think I fell in love with her long before she fell in love with me." The room froze, especially Blair, who was nearly gaping at him, but Chuck continued unswayed, and Jenny thought that this was a secret he'd been keeping for a very long time.
"We were eleven, and it was Christmas. Bart had left for a business trip on Christmas Eve, and I was all alone except for a few servants. I didn't tell anyone, but Blair suspected and I remember sitting on the couch, feeling very much like nobody in the entire world loved me, and then there she was, wearing a bright red coat and carrying a picnic basket full of food that she'd helped Dorota fix. And though she was expected back at her own Christmas celebration with the father she adored, Blair knew I was alone, and stayed with me. The next morning," Chuck said, his voice softening, as his gaze held to Blair's, "I knew that I'd met the woman I'd love forever."
There were tears and exclamations of love and adoration as Chuck swept Blair into his arms and kissed her passionately, completely, in front of everyone. And Jenny found her gaze magnetically drawn to Nate, and to her surprise, he was staring back, a serious contemplative expression on his face.
The rehearsal dinner had broken up at 11:45. 12:39 found Jenny in her suite primping in front of the mirror. She'd debated changing out of the dress she'd worn to the rehearsal dinner, but it was vintage Chanel and she looked amazing in it, so she'd kept it on, exchanging her sky-high Louboutins for a pair of comfy slippers. After spending way too much time touching up her makeup, then taking some of it off so it didn't look like she'd put more on, to re-applying again, she'd finally forced herself to walk away from the bathroom. Now, she was in the hallway, focused on that mirror, trying to make her perfect hair somehow more perfect.
She glanced at the clock again, the champagne and the excitement bubbling through her veins in an intoxicating mix. Jenny didn't want to look too eager to see him, had always intended on being there to the minute of when he'd said, but she didn't think she could wait a moment longer.
Deciding that waiting was silly when it might be possible that Nate wanted to see her as much as she wanted to see him, Jenny opened her door and walked with determination across the hall, knocking on his door with confidence.
Nate opened the door so quickly that Jenny couldn't help but wonder if maybe he'd been waiting for her too. "Hi there," he breathed out, a crooked smile lighting up his face, and this time, it was him that leaned down, kissing her soundly. They broke apart breathlessly, and Nate wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her towards him as they walked into the living room of the suite. Jenny sat down on the couch, tucking her legs underneath her, and Nate turned to her, holding up a bottle of scotch. "Drink?" he asked as he poured himself a glass.
Jenny hesitated. Not since the bad times had anyone offered her scotch. They knew better than to even ask, but Nate hadn't been around in the aftermath or her recovery. He had no idea she didn't drink it, that the flavor and the nauseatingly slick viscosity and the aftertaste made her sick.
It wasn't even that it was Chuck's drink of choice—they'd made their peace with each other years ago—and she didn't blame him at all for taking her virginity, not when she's practically thrown it at him. Scotch simply reminded her of a time when she'd been mentally and physically out of control.
Nate must have sensed her dilemma, because he smiled down at her. "No scotch? I'll call down to the concierge for something else.
"Vodka," Jenny replied gratefully. "That would be lovely."
Nate picked up the phone by the desk and dialed, asking for a bottle of vodka some ice. "It'll be up in a minute," he told her as he set the receive down with a decisive click and walked back over to where she sat on the couch. He settled down next to her, drawing her hand into his, their heads close together.
"It was a beautiful evening," Jenny said softly, "did you have a good time?"
"I did," he said, sounding surprised at his answer. "I suppose I expected something . . .different? Bigger? More ostentatious?"
"I always forget that you've been away so long. Back then, Blair might have gone for that—after all, that's pretty much what the wedding tomorrow is—but they've changed. Not very much, because I don't think people like Chuck and Blair will ever be truly different, but they're softer. Quieter, I guess. Mostly wrapped up in each other."
"But they still enjoy lording it over everyone, or else the wedding tomorrow would be smaller, right?"
"Of course," Jenny laughed, "they still like a good spectacle. They still own society."
"Jenny," Nate began, before he was interrupted by a knock on the door. He leaned down and brushed his lips over her cheek. "That'll be room service. I'll be right back."
He rose from the couch, and to Jenny's horror, the voice at the door didn't belong to the concierge, but instead to Blair Waldorf.
"Have you seen Jenny?" Blair asked with annoyance. "I've been calling her for half an hour, and she's not answering her phone or her door."
"Uh," Nate hesitated, finally swinging the door open farther to reveal Jenny sitting on the couch.
Blair took one look at her, at the undeniably intimate atmosphere, the glass of scotch in Nate's hand, and clearly put two and two together. "Nate," she grimaced, "I'll deal with you later. Jenny, I need your help. Now."
Despite being 24 years old and her own person, Jenny couldn't mistake the voice of authority that Blair used, and just like she was still a minion at Constance, she obeyed her Queen. She rose, slipping her feet back into her slippers, and approached where Blair was standing, arms crossed over her chest.
"What is it?" she asked.
Blair didn't answer, merely grabbing Jenny's arm and towing her past the doorway, into the hall. "I'm in trouble," Blair hissed at her. "I need you to keep me from breaking down."
"Breaking down?" Jenny asked with confusion.
Blair let out a deep breath. "A month ago, Chuck and I agreed not to sleep together until the wedding. I'm 24 hours away, and I feel my self-control . . .slipping."
Well, Jenny thought, that explained a lot—both Blair's insanely bitchy attitude and Chuck's patience with her increasingly bad mood. "Chuck's speech tonight?" Jenny asked sympathetically.
Blair just nodded and Jenny knew what she was going to have to do, even though all she wanted was run back into Nate's suite, and shut the door in Blair's face. But, there were certain things that number one bridesmaids had to do, and this was clearly one of them. If Blair had gone to Serena, the latter would have only persuaded the bride that self-control was too taxing and she should just give in now. Jenny, however, appreciated the romance of the sentiment that Blair was attempting, and having witnessed firsthand Chuck and Blair fall in love, she knew it was right to help them, even if meant cancelling on Nate.
"Let me go grab my keycard in Nate's suite. I'll be right back." Jenny re-entered the suite and Nate's eyes raised to her face.
"Let me guess," he said. "Queen Blair needs something imperatively before tomorrow and she's assigned her favorite number one bridesmaid and ex-minion to do it for her."
"In a way," Jenny said apologetically. "It's perhaps a bit more complex than that."
"It still means that you're leaving," Nate said, a genuinely disappointed look on his face. "I was looking forward to catching up."
Jenny rolled her eyes, knowing that hadn't been all he'd been looking forward to. "We have tomorrow," she said, trying to stay optimistic, but feeling their window of opportunity closing like it had closed so many times in the past.
"Right," Nate said sarcastically, and Jenny couldn't help but be annoyed at his attitude.
"Listen, I'm disappointed too, but there's nothing to be done. Blair needs help and as her friend, I'll be happy to help her."
"Don't you think that maybe you sacrificing everything for Blair should be coming to an end sometime soon? Haven't you repaid her enough for letting the love of her life take your virginity?" There was an edge of hurt in Nate's voice, but Jenny was the one who really hurt, the words he used hitting her like body blows. He'd apologized for bringing up the bad times before, and she'd forgiven him. Now, she wasn't sure she could.
"You don't know what you're talking about," Jenny challenged, her own voice rising.
"I think I do."
All Jenny could see was red fury, and she snapped, saying the thing to him that she'd vowed she'd never admit to. "Blair forgave me a long time ago," Jenny bit off in a cold, cruel voice, "because I told her that I wasn't ever in love with Chuck. Not even close. I let him do what he did because I'd given up on you. You were always who I wanted to take me the first time. I loved you for years, and instead of committing to me, you toyed with every other girl you knew. I got sick and tired of waiting for you to make up your damn mind."
She wanted to turn and run, but she stayed frozen in place, her eyes glued to his. "Blair knew it meant nothing; that who I'd really wanted was you," she whispered. "And now you know."
Nate was still speechless, her words robbing him of any coherent thought, apparently, especially any declarations that he himself could have made back. And sicker and more tired of waiting than she'd been back at seventeen, Jenny turned and walked out the door.
"It took you long enough," Blair sniped as Jenny slid her keycard on her own door.
"Sorry," Jenny said shortly, not feeling like discussing Nate with Blair. "I had to say goodnight."
"It's rather bizarre," Blair chatted away as they entered Jenny's suite, "seeing you two together. I didn't know you were friends. Or even acquaintances anymore." Jenny followed her into the bedroom, as she set her bag on a chair in the corner. "Besides, I'm sure that he came back for Serena."
That took Jenny by surprise, and she swallowed her hurt to ask, "for Serena? I didn't know they were still involved." If she'd known, she wouldn't have touched him with a ten foot pole. She'd had enough of being rejected in favor of the golden princess.
"Oh, they're technically not," Blair said breezily, presenting the back of her dress so Jenny could unzip it, "but I have my hopes. It would be wonderful for Nate to come back to New York more than once a year."
"Yes," Jenny said shortly, "it would." Nate himself hadn't seemed too interested in Serena, but Jenny had been around long enough to know that what Serena wanted, Serena got. And yet again that had turned out to be Nate.
"I need my beauty sleep," Blair announced as she climbed into Jenny's bed. "And don't let me answer the phone if Bass calls. It's technically already our wedding day."
"Of course," Jenny said, reaching into her suitcase for her pajamas. "I'll just be out on the couch." She was almost out the door when Blair suddenly giggled, and Jenny turned to see her sitting up in bed, the biggest smile on her face.
"Jenny," Blair breathed out, as if the fact had just hit her. "It's my wedding day! Tomorrow night, I'll be Blair Bass."
Jenny chuckled, unable to be angry at Blair when she was so transcendently happy. "Yes, you will. Goodnight, B."
"Night, Little J."
Nate sat on the couch, unable to move, unable to even process coherent thought since the bomb Jenny set off in her wake. She'd loved him? Had loved him for years? It seemed too much, too big, for him to have missed, but he'd preoccupied those few years, a constant circus of drama and anger and one girl's face after another. Jenny had been a respite fit into those insane twenty four months, but he'd never even considered that she'd felt more for him.
He was clearly a moron.
A knock on the door echoed through the suite and he bounded off the couch, praying that it was Jenny, and she'd somehow been able to ditch Blair for the evening after all.
It wasn't. It was the vodka he'd ordered for Jenny, and he couldn't do anything but take it and stare moodily at the bottle on the coffee table in front of him.
He should go to sleep. The wedding was at three, and it would be an insanely busy day. He needed to get some rest, but the words Jenny had said kept repeating through him, like a broken record, and each time they gnawed harder at his conscience.
He'd betrayed her. It was as simple as that. He never should have let it get as far as it did with Jenny when he'd been dating Serena. Nevermind what he'd done to her the winter before that—kissing her and disappearing out of her life not just once, but twice.
And now he'd gone and insulted her, accused her of screwing Chuck for sport, making her think that he believed she hadn't changed at all, when he could feel the difference of her. Yet, she was still so much the same—the fiery, level-headed, quixotically charming Jenny Humphrey that he'd known for years.
Nate glanced down at his phone, knowing he should say something, anything, but not at all sure that it would make a difference, and he knew, like Chuck had known with Blair, that you didn't just give up. You persevered because you knew it was right, knew it down to your bones and your marrow.
Before he could change his mind, he typed out a quick message.
Tomorrow. We still have a date?
It was mere seconds before she replied.
Are you sorry?
Didn't she know him at all? He was over here, a freaking wreck because of what he'd said in anger, jealousy of what he'd always wanted and what Chuck had taken bubbling through his veins.
I sincerely apologize, Jenny. Be my date tomorrow.
This time, she made him sweat a little. Five minutes later, as he was brushing his teeth, her reply arrived.
3 PM, at the church. I'll see you there.
At 3:45 PM, the grueling first half of Jenny's duties as Bridesmaid #1 were finally completed.
She'd walked down the aisle of a sanctuary blooming with orchids and lilies, poinsettias and peonies, and had watched with tears in her eyes as Chuck and Blair became Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bartholomew Bass.
After so many years of torturous angst, it all felt a little too easy. Maybe even a little anti-climactic.
Jenny sat at the wedding party's table at the reception and watched as Chuck and Blair moved as one being on the dance floor, her head resting on his shoulder as if he was everything she'd ever wanted.
Nate had not found her. Their date, if it had ever really been that, all joking aside, appeared to still be stalled at the ground floor. They'd glimpsed each other during pictures, during the ceremony, even as they headed into the Empire for the lavish reception. But he hadn't singled her out or even spoken to her more than a simple "hello," and she was feeling moody and annoyed that she'd convinced herself last night that forgiveness was the right path to take. Instead, she felt gypped, as if he'd asked for something he hadn't wanted at all.
Frustrating her even more was Serena's absence. It wasn't too hard of a stretch to imagine them together, locked away in some nook of the Empire, letting the general romance of a wedding wash over them.
That was supposed to have been me, Jenny thought with increasingly annoyance. She was no longer sure that Nate Archibald was such a prize, but regardless, he should have been her prize. Not Serena's. Never Serena's. Had Nate ever felt a fraction of what he'd felt with her when he'd been with S? Jenny sincerely doubted it.
Their dance finished, Blair floated over to Jenny's table, her expression beatific. "Having a good time?" she trilled and Jenny had to force her facial muscles into something resembling a smile instead of a grimace.
"Wonderful," she enthused. "It's a lovely wedding, Blair. One of the prettiest I've ever seen."
"I know, right?" Blair agreed. "It turned out wonderful. All except for my number one bridesmaid who apparently can't be bothered to dance or express her happiness at my wedding."
That was the final straw. Jenny had a date for this blasted wedding, and she was sick to death of Blair's pointed remarks, of her own soul-deep resentment of Nate being always taken. If he was going to be taken this time, god damnit, she was going to do the taking. Not Serena.
Jenny rose to her feet, the folds of her crimson silk dress swishing around her ankles. "I'll be right back," she said to a surprised Blair. "I have something of mine that appears to have wandered away."
She found them in one of the empty special event rooms. Nate was leaning against the edge of a bare table, and Serena was close—too close, Jenny thought with resentment—laughing with him as they shared a bottle of champagne.
Jenny had never wanted to think of what that evening at the Shepherd wedding must have looked liked, but staring at the scene in front of her, she couldn't help but think that it must have started out much the same way.
"Nate," she called out, her voice hard and determined. "I finally found you."
"I'm right here," he said jovially, wrapping a free arm around Serena's waist. She was giggling, her face flushed and her hair tousled. She was drunk and he wasn't far behind. Jenny swallowed her anger, and walked right up to them.
"Serena," Jenny said with as much pseudo-politeness as she could manage. "I'm afraid I need to borrow—no," she corrected, "I need to take—Nate. He's my date and so far he hasn't been able to give me even one dance."
Serena, despite the copious amounts of champagne she'd probably consumed, clearly understood what Jenny was saying. Hands off, you grabby bitch. He's mine.
She giggled again, the sound bouncing around the dim, empty room. "Is that true?" she asked Nate incredulously. "Jenny Humphrey is your date?"
Jenny ground her teeth together. Serena had never respected her, and it was high time that Jenny put her in her place. "Blair is looking for you, S. Why don't you go back to the reception and at least attempt to fill your role as maid of honor?"
"Blair would understand," Serena said. "She knows . . ."
But Jenny couldn't let her finish. Didn't want her to finish the thought that would no doubt take Nate away forever. In two years, Jenny would be attending another of the Upper East Side weddings, but this time it would be Nate Archibald and Serena Van der Woodsen's, and she didn't think she could ever stomach that.
"Serena," Jenny snapped. "Reception. Now."
"Well, fine. I'll see you there, Natey?" Serena sulked as she turned to leave.
Nate didn't reply though, his eyes were glued to Jenny.
"What the hell," Jenny exploded. "I thought you were my date. Not Serena's."
Nate crossed hi s arms over his chest. "Serena's a good friend. I didn't think you'd go into a jealous rage because we took some time to catch up."
"Oh, you mean like the way we were going to catch up?" Jenny asked.
"I wanted to! You bailed on me to play babysitter for Blair."
"She's a friend," Jenny ground out. "But that's neither here nor there. What I want to say to you is that I'm sick and tired of being passed over for Serena, or Vanessa, or whatever other girl of the week that you want. If you want me, then tell me. If you don't, then don't make me think that you do."
"Jenny," Nate began, "it's not that I don't want you. . .I just. . ." But he couldn't finish his thought, didn't even know what the thought was. Suddenly, when faced with the do-or-die moment, didn't know if he could literally quantify what he was feeling. What he could feel for her. It was something, of that he was certain, but when it came down to it, he couldn't even begin to express it, and as her face grew colder, he knew she was slipping away from him.
"Is that all?" she asked angrily.
"Jenny, you know I like you," Nate started to say, but it was clearly nothing she wanted to hear or nothing like what she'd expected because she just gave him one last look and turned and walked away.
Maybe, he thought to himself, it would always be about five seconds too late for them.
The flight back to California was interminable—even more so than the one that had delivered him to New York only a few days before—because there was no hope, no potential, no blond hair to gaze at as he sat bored in his first class seat.
He'd gone back to the wedding reception, hoping to find her, but he'd been too late. She was already gone, and Blair had caught his eye, giving him a stern look before she'd been swept up in leaving for her honeymoon in Tuscany.
He was sure that when she and Chuck returned, he'd receive a very angry phone call.
But until then, all Nate wanted to do was forget Jenny Humphrey existed all over again, but this time he found he couldn't. She haunted his days and his nights, and as he stood in the Orange County airport, hailing a taxi, he looked for her everywhere. He knew she'd moved to California right before the wedding and he kept hoping that he might see her again. He called her dozens of times, texted her even more, but she'd steadfastly ignored him.
The day after he flew back to California, he went into work, but he couldn't focus on the speech in front of him, the words blurring together and magically shaping into Jenny's face.
He'd gone home early, wondering if in a few short days (and three proceeding years) that she'd ruined him for other women.
That night, after hearing her voicemail for the millionth time in the last week, he picked up his phone and dialed yet again.
"Nate." Chuck's voice was foggy and satisfied. "I hope you have a really, really good reason for calling me on my honeymoon. Like imminent death or bankruptcy."
"I'm sorry, man. . ." Nate said with real regret in his voice, "but I need to talk to you."
Nate sighed, trying to postpone the moment when Chuck realized he was completely hooked—and completely whipped—by Jennifer Humphrey. "It's Jenny," he finally admitted. "I really screwed it up with her."
"I know," Chuck said, not a whit of regret or sympathy in his voice. "I knew you would."
"You knew I would?"
"You had Blair Waldorf, the most amazing girl in the entire universe, and you fucked that up. Why would Jenny Humphrey be any different?"
"An excellent point," Nate managed to get out. "But I need to find her. She won't take my calls or reply to my texts. Do you know where she lives in Orange County? I know you probably helped her find her place out here."
"As it happens, I did," Chuck drawled. "But I don't know why I should help you. You never helped me with Blair. In fact, I distinctly remember the feel of your hands around my throat, choking the life out of me."
"I've apologized for that a million times," Nate grimaced, "but if you were here now, I'd do it again, if you'd just give me Jenny's damn address."
Chuck chuckled. "I suppose I could help you out. Go outside. To your balcony." Nate did as he asked, knowing better than to argue or ask what the point of this foolish exercise was. If he did either of those, Chuck would dry up faster than the Sahara.
"I'm on the balcony," Nate announced testily.
"Go down your stairs to the beach."
He plodded down the wooden stairs, and walked out onto the beach, the waves crashing into sand only a few hundred feet away.
"Now turn to your left and walk to the next house over."
"Chuck. . ." Nate said warningly.
"Just trust me," Chuck interrupted. "Go to the first house on the left and go up the stairs. You'll find what you're looking for."
Nate followed the directions, and with every step he took sure that Chuck was trying to get him arrested for trespassing or maybe even breaking and entering.
"Alright. I'm on their porch," he hissed into the phone. "Will you tell me what the hell is going on?"
"You're there," Chuck told him. "Knock on the glass door."
Before Nate could argue, he heard the click of Chuck hanging up. Fucking fantastic, Nate muttered, promising to himself that he would strangle Chuck again when he returned to New York. If he ever returned to New York.
A light was on in the house, and he could see the kitchen and the living room of the house. It was remarkably similar to his, though his house was decorated in an airy, Mediterranean style and this was all neutral black and whites with a few touches of ultra-modern primary colors mixed in. Hesitantly, he knocked on the glass, and his breath caught when Jenny appeared in the hallway.
When she spotted him, he thought he saw her smile, and then her expression went completely blank.
Still, she walked over and opened the glass door with a vicious yank. "Nate," she said. "What the fuck are you doing here?"
He'd had a lot of sleepless nights to prepare apology speeches, but faced with her in the flesh, they all flew right out of his head, and all he could offer her was the unvarnished truth.
"Hell if I know," he admitted to her. "But I hated the way we left things between us. I hated that I couldn't tell you that I liked you, liked you more than Serena or Vanessa or any other girl I've seen in a long time."
"How long?" Jenny challenged.
"Six years," he finally admitted. "It's been six years."
Jenny paused, clearly warring with herself. "And I should just forgive you, like that?" she asked archly.
"Being a disciple of Blair Waldorf Bass, I sincerely doubt that you'll forgive me anytime soon. But it would be really nice if you could start so that we could be together sometime in the next hundred million years."
Jenny cracked a smile at that. "That's why you're here? On my deck?"
"Actually, I'm on your back deck because I live next door."
Jenny's jaw dropped. "You live next door?" she repeated.
"I do," he confirmed. "Which is either the most insane coincidence in the history of the world or. . ."
"We've been set up," Jenny finished for him, her expression morphing from surprise to astonishment to something he thought might resemble happy resignation.
"I think you might be right," he said softly. "So is that a yes? Will you start punishing me now? I know it's going to take a long time."
"You're really sorry?"
"I am standing in front of you, no Serena in sight. No Vanessa either."
Jenny paused, and finally sighed. "I suppose that I could give you a third shot," she sniffed. "Though god knows, you don't deserve it."
"Do you really think Chuck deserves Blair?" Nate asked.
"Of course not."
He saw the beginnings of a smile on her face, and could barely keep all the happiness spreading through him contained by just his skin. "So are you going to let me kiss you now?" he asked with a smirk.
She shook her head.
"Is there a reason for that unfair denial?"
She just looked at him, and gave him an insouciant smile of her own. "Because."
Blair returned to her original position pre-phone call—head on his chest, one arm draped across his body, the other hand curled in the hair at the base of his neck—after Chuck finished setting the phone on the bedside table.
"And?" she asked sleepily. "Is it done?"
"He won't blow it again. After all, he's not me."
"And isn't Jenny Humphrey lucky?" Blair grumbled to herself.
"She did have to wait a bit longer you," Chuck observed. "Not by much, though."
"I have to say, Bass," Blair admitted, "that this might be the best wedding present you gave me."
"I told you I could pull it off. You shouldn't have ever doubted my skills. It was like taking candy from a baby."
"You cheated," Blair said indignantly. "You went to Eleanor. Got her to make Jenny even crazier than normal, then got her a job offer in Orange County. That wasn't fair."
"And losing is fair? Don't forget that I found her the house right next to Nate."
"Eleanor won't ever leave me alone now," Blair complained. "She lost her best employee simply because you wanted to play matchmaker."
"I do believe it was your idea, lover," Chuck said, brushing a kiss across her temple, "but I'll concede that involving Serena was truly a brilliant move on your part. Jealousy is a powerful motivational tool."
Blair smiled into his skin. "They would have found each other again, eventually."
Chuck slid his hand down beneath the sheet, reveling in the silky feel of his wife's bare skin. "But we know what it's like waiting. . .and what it's like when you can stop waiting. You were right, they needed a little nudge in the right direction."
"Chuck Bass, a romantic. Who knew?" she asked as he pulled her closer to him.
"Now you do," he smirked, "and that's all that matters."
AN: I stole a few lines from some Gossip Girl episodes: 2x09, "There Might be Blood," and 1x18, "Much (I Do) About Nothing."
Hope everyone enjoyed, and a very Merry Christmas to my readers, but especially to comewhatmayx and The Very Last Valkyrie :)