A/N: Merry eve of Christmas Eve! :) This is my second GG fic, my first tv-based one, so just keep that in mind. Spoilers up to and including 2x13 (so all the episodes that have aired) but I know nothing about anything else, so it's all mine. Lyrics and title courtesy of OneRepublic. Read and review, please.
All We Are
All we are, all we are
is everything that's right
All we need, all we need
a lover's alibi
"Sorry, ma'am," the young-ish security officer said with a shake of his head. "I'm going to need you to take your belt off. The metal detector's still picking something up."
"No problem," Serena replied easily, slipping the clasp undone. "You could even frisk me if you want," she offered flirtatiously, dropping one eyelid in a wink.
She caught Aaron's disappointed frown out of the corner of her eyes and it hit her, suddenly, how inappropriate the comment must have seemed to him. Yet, for some reason, his discomfort irked her.
Things were a mess in her world right now. She hadn't felt so off-kilter since Pete's death and her takeoff to boarding school. Just as she'd begun to take a liking to her stepfather, he'd perished in a car accident, leaving behind a tangled web of secrets and lies. Her mother was in love with Rufus Humphrey…again. Or maybe still. Dan had just asked her not to go to Buenos Aires, clearly implying that he still had feelings for her and that she wanted him back – she was unsure as to where her own heart lay on that particular issue, considering that Aaron had also just declared his (potential) love for her.
And then there was Chuck. Their dynamic was complicated at the best of times, varying daily, if not hourly, from that of siblings to friends to rivals, and on top of it all there was that constant, disconcerting undercurrent, sizzling with sexual tension.
She felt guilt, heavy in her chest, weighing down her heart. She should have made a more conscious effort to check in with him, to worry for him. She should have tried to comfort him, should have searched for the reasons he was getting drunk and calling her mother a whore rather than lashing out at him in Dan's defence, further complicated the love triangle she found herself trapped in.
She shouldn't have yelled at him on the day of his father's funeral.
Considering how tormented her head and her heart were, she really needed Aaron to understand that what she'd just said was nothing more than a stupid, harmless joke.
With her belt re-buckled and her purse slung over her shoulder, she joined her boyfriend and allowed him to steer them both in the direction of their gate.
"What was that?" he asked as they walked quickly, weaving in and out of the crowd.
She rubbed her forehead wearily and sighed. She didn't want to have to explain. She didn't want to change for him, she didn't want him to have to change for her. She could understand him. So he should have been able to understand her.
What was with the two other members of their little, convoluted love triangle? Why couldn't her boyfriend(s) understand that the love she required was in the form of acceptance, nothing more? She was tired of constantly being judged. Couldn't anyone just take her as she was?
"I-I…" she stuttered, attempting to explain.
She shot him a desperate look, hoping he'd give up and let her off. She just wanted to get on the plane and fall asleep with her neck pillow all the way to Argentina.
"Serena, I told you, I like you a lot. Maybe even more than that. But sometimes, really…you confuse me."
Her lips felt sore and dry as they stretched out into a smile. "Come on," she said, trying to sound innocent and playful. She was suddenly unsteady on her chunky silver heels. "What's romance without a little mystery?"
His scowl only deepened, and suddenly she wanted to go anywhere but to Buenos Aires.
The ring of her cell phone saved her. She stopped short and dug the phone out of her purse. Without bothering to check caller ID, she answered – whomever it was, she was willing to talk for hours. She was met by the sound of stifled sobs and an uncharacteristically small voice inquiring, "Will you hate me if I ask you not to go?"
Serena's eyes welled up as well, mostly in worry, but also, if she were honest, in sheer relief. "No, B.," she assured her best friend. She chanced a look into her boyfriend's inquisitive eyes before she whispered, "I might even thank you. Give me twenty to get there."
"What is it?" Aaron asked softly, his voice changing as he morphed from angry to concern.
She flipped her cell phone closed. "I can't go," she informed him, the ground suddenly much more solid under her feet.
"What?" he gasped in disbelief.
She shook her head, blonde hair brushing against her shoulders. "Blair needs me." She pressed her neck pillow into his hands, because despite her annoyance, she truly did care for him. "I'm sorry," she added for the same reason.
Walking away felt right: for the first time in days, she'd made a decision that wouldn't leave her with regret. She just knew it.
Blair was lying in bed, bundled in blue blankets and propped up on purple pillows, still in her dress from her mother's wedding. She was surrounded by crumpled tissues, clutching a piece of paper and her cell.
"Oh, B…" Serena sighed mournfully. She shed her coat, dropped her purse, and crawled onto the bed with her friend, shoes and all. She wrapped Blair up in a warm hug. It was then that the waterworks began at full-scale. She'd only seen Blair weep quite as much and with as much abandon under five times in their lives.
She allowed Blair to cry herself out, handing her tissues and smoothing back her hair. After her sobs calmed to sniffles, Serena gently prodded her: "What happened?"
Still too choked up to talk, Blair thrust the piece of paper at her and buried her face in Serena's neck. The blonde stroked her best friend's hair absently while she read the three sentences that had torn her apart.
I'm sorry for everything.
You deserve much better.
Don't come looking for me.
"Oh…Blair," she breathed sadly, hugging her a little closer. "I'm so sorry." She was apologizing on behalf of Chuck for what he'd written, but also for how absent she'd been from all the heartbreaking moments in Blair's life over the past few days. "Talk to me," she added softly. "How're you doing?"
"Me?" Blair cried, pulling away from her. She snatched back the note, holding it delicately with the tips of her fingers, as though it was her most precious possession.
"Yeah…" Serena said uncertainly, lighting combing the tangles out of Blair's hair with her fingers.
"Never mind me!" she practically yelled, batting Serena's hands away. "What about him? I don't know where he is, I don't know if he's okay!"
"Shh…" Serena attempted to soothe her. "He'll be alright, B."
"He won't," Blair wept, scrambling to her feet and wiping her tears away angrily. "S., he came over and he looked so…broken. He needs someone to look after him."
"Okay," Serena said, determined to remain calm as Blair continued to break down. "Okay." She sat up on her knees and reached for Blair's hands. "Breathe, B."
There was more vulnerability in Blair's eyes than Serena had ever seen before. Quietly, she assured her, "We'll find him. We'll take care of him. He's going to be okay."
"How?" It was a single syllable, packed with desperation.
She hesitated and searched her mind for an answer. Lately, she'd been clinging to Dan, running to him with everything, even Blair's problems. Were he the right person, despite the awkwardness between them, she would have called him now, for Blair's sake. But for once, he was not who she assumed she needed.
She moved back further in her memory and stumbled across a face she hadn't encountered in quite a while. Suddenly, she couldn't imagine running to anyone else for anything.
"Nate," she breathed softly, so gently and lovingly that Blair frowned in confusion.
Sniffling, she demanded, "What?"
"Nate, B.," Serena said confidently, securely. "We'll call Nate, and we'll make this all okay."
Blair's hands fell to her sides as if in defeat, and she tilted her head, clearly considering what Serena had just said. She looked remarkably both young and mature in that moment. Then she seemed to remember that Nate had been the one to help her reign Chuck in at his father's funeral, and she gained a little faith. "Okay. Can you…can you do that?"
Serena frowned, unsure of why Blair was so hesitant, but she didn't ask. She knew the trials of love triangles well herself. She definitely wasn't going to push Blair to talk right now.
"Sure I can."
Blair flopped back onto her bed tiredly, burying her head in the pillow that had been Chuck's hours before. "And, S.?" she asked pitifully.
"Yeah, honey?" Serena returned from her doorway. Their nicknames for each other weren't usually quite as sentimental, but all of them were in need of a little extra love.
"Can you ask Dorota to send in the good chocolates?"
Serena gave her a half smile and nodded before she slipped out of the room, closing the door gently behind her, allowing Blair a private moment to collect herself again.
Her fingers shook as she leaned on the banister with her elbows, clutching her cell phone in both hands as she dialled, a number she never forgot not matter how infrequently she used it. She wrapped her shaky fingers on the banister impatiently, manicured nails executing a soft, precise pattern. He was taking a long time to answer.
His greeting, finally, came as, "Hey, look, it's not a good time."
Her throat swelled as she realized that this is what they had come to. Their worlds were being shaken apart, and she and Nate were at a point where that was all he had to say to her. She could barely remember the last time they'd even spoken.
"Oh yeah?" she asked. She meant for it to be angry, but it came out weak and vulnerable.
There was a pause, full of tension, before he asked, "What's wrong, Serena?" His voice sounded much different, much more familiar, a lot more comforting.
"Chuck's a mess and he's disappeared and nobody knows where he's gone. He needs you. Blair's a mess because he's gone and she says that someone needs to take care of him. She needs you. And…I'm not in Buenos Aires and I wish I'd talked to Chuck and my mother is in love with Dan's dad and I'm worried about Blair and I…" She hesitated, gulping down a sob. "I need you, Natie," she whispered. "I need you."
He didn't say anything, and she felt her fear and embarrassment mounting, rising up from her chest, getting stuck in her throat, and making it difficult to speak. "I'm sorry. I didn't…I don't mean…I know it's been a long time since we've talked and it's not right of me to call you right now…" A maverick sob escaped her lips before she could say anything more.
"Don't cry," he said immediately, and she felt like she could breathe again. His voice was thick and emotional. "It's okay. I want you to be able to call me. I want that."
"Can you come to Blair's?" she whispered so that he wouldn't hear the tears in her voice.
He only hesitated for a second. "Yeah…yeah. I'll be there. And…Serena?"
"Mm?" She didn't have the energy or the vocal capacity for an actual word.
"Me too. I'm sorry, too."
She waited for Nate outside of Blair's place. She wanted to see him before they went in and dealt with Chuck's disappearance.
It was cold, so she'd planned on sticking close to the door and giving him a quick hug before they slipped into the warmth of Blair's home, which had taken on the scent of freshly baked goods most of the time since Cyrus' arrival.
But when she saw him, all the way down the street, her heart leapt, and she found herself running down the sidewalk toward him, flinging herself into his arms. She breathed deeply, her face squished against his coat, inhaling his scent. There was something about the way Nathaniel Archibald hugged her that nothing else in the world could compare to. It made her feel both giddy and calm all at once.
He held her tightly until she was ready to let go; when she pulled back his hands stayed on her waist, and hers gripped at his sleeves. "You okay?" she asked hoarsely, noticing the sombre expression on his face.
"Yeah, it's just…you know, Chuck. And I was worried about you."
She hid her smile and prodded him, "And?" She knew him well enough to know that there was something else.
He lifted one hand to rub the back of his neck, glancing away from her. "Vanessa and I just called it off."
Her eyebrows shot sky high. "Again?" she asked, ignoring the way her heart fluttered.
Nate raised his eyebrows, too, smiling gently. "Excuse me? How many times have you and Dan broken up?"
She could feel her face fall and he winced, too. "Hey, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to…"
She shook her head decisively, cutting him off without words. "No, it's okay. I mean…it's…over. We needed closure, and we got it today. Maybe for the wrong reasons," she added reflectively, thinking of the decision she'd made to go to Argentina with Aaron. "But we're over."
"For the right reasons?" he asked her, frowning.
She smiled, thankful for how considerate he was being. "Yes. I mean…there are other factors. But Dan and I…it's not like we were ever meant to be. Who were we kidding?"
He stared deep into her eyes for a moment, clearly having found something more significant and meaningful in her words. Stormy, navy blues blended together until she found herself getting dizzy. "Yeah," he said softly. "Who were we kidding?"
They sat on Blair's bed like they did when they were kids, forming a circle around a box of chocolates, their toes buried under blankets. Blair couldn't sit still, so she was at the foot of the bed, hopping up and pacing around occasionally before flopping back down in defeat. Nate and Serena, capable of remaining stationary, found themselves together at the head of the bed, leaning back against Blair's pillows, arms pressed against each other's.
She popped a truffle into her mouth and rested her head wearily on Nate's shoulder. "So should we split up? Or go looking for him together?"
"He could have gone anywhere," Blair insisted.
"So you've said. Many times," Serena replied, trying not to sound frustrated.
Nate chose that moment to input his opinion. "But I don't think he did."
"And where do you think he went?" Blair huffed impatiently, glaring at him.
"I think he's at the Palace," Nate shrugged, and both girls turned to look at him as though he'd lost his mind. For Serena, this meant tilting her head upward so that her chin bumped his. She kept thinking that it should have been awkward, but it wasn't.
Blair blew out her breath and cast Nate a scathing look that was the non-verbal equivalency of I knew there was a reason that I broke up with you.
He took it in stride, though, reasoning, "Don't you see? We'd all assume that he's run off somewhere in his jet. But really, when you think about it…is he really strong enough for that right now? Even if he told you not to look for him, Blair, he knew that you would, and that you'd hit all his favourite cities and all his favourite hotels…but that you'd never think to look so close to home."
Serena raised her eyebrows triumphantly and glanced at the brunette. See, this is why we called him.
Blair picked at her fingernails idly, her attention focused on the blankets they'd piled on to. Serena glanced at Nate in confusion – he could only shrug. Gently, she asked, "B.?"
Blair looked up at them, her eyes swimming with tears but shining with fierce determination. "I just want him to be okay. I…I…"
Serena opened her mouth to speak, but Nate shook his head, sitting up slightly and reaching out to lay his hand atop Blair's. "We know," he said quietly.
"So does he," she whispered brokenly. "So why…"
"Because he loves you, too," Nate said in the same quiet voice, and she looked up at him, shocked and strangely timid. "He's trying to protect you, stupid as it may seem. And don't tell me that he doesn't, because you know that he does. He told me."
"He told you?"
"He told me," he confirmed.
Blair flipped her hand over under Nate's and intertwined their fingers, her smile gaining a bit of strength. Serena felt a stirring in her stomach as she watched the private moment between the exes, but it was gone seconds later, when Blair reached out with her other hand. Serena scooted forward to join them, clasping Blair's hand and taking Nate's as well.
This was her family. All those years that Lily had been caught up in men and traveling, these were the people who'd taken care of her and Erik, accepted them into their homes every time without question. Her family…minus one. She looked first at Nate, who smirked slightly in her direction, and then at Blair. "Let's go get Chuck."
The Palace looked strangely intimidating to her as they walked in. She threw the doorman a smile – too late – as they walked through the doors. She and Nate flanked Blair protectively. Blair looked calm and collected, but Serena could tell that she was grinding her teeth, and she'd binged on chocolates earlier that morning. She made a mental note to keep an eye on the brunette for the next few hours.
She fully expected to spend the next twenty-odd minutes banging on Chuck's door, and she could tell that Nate had, too – when Blair pulled a key-card out of her purse they both stared at her in relieved amazement.
"What?" she snapped.
They both shook their heads, but in unison, teasingly, said, "You're such a girlfriend."
"Shut up," she grumbled, letting all three of them in.
The suite was dark and dull and quiet. The three of them crept in hesitantly, reaching for each other's hands and arms and holding on tight.
"Do you think he's here?" Serena whispered, wincing as her voice penetrated the silent darkness.
"He is," Blair replied with certainty, even though her voice was shaking. She knew it, intuitively, and the blondes that flanked her could tell.
"Where? Bedroom?" Nate asked.
Blair squinted at him for a moment, as if trying to determine whether he was making a dig at her for the fact that she'd lost her virginity to Chuck Bass.
"What?" he demanded, handing up his hands in surrender. "I didn't mean anything by it."
"He must be in there…" Serena murmured, ignoring them. "B., you should go."
She looked shocked. "Me?"
"Well…yeah," Nate said, exchanging a confused glance with Serena. They'd both assumed that she would want time alone with him first.
"It's okay," Serena said softly, tilting her head so that she could make eye contact with the brunette. "You should go. He'll want to see you, no matter what he's said."
Blair shook her head stubbornly, "No. One of you go first."
Serena wanted to ask why but thought better of it. There was no way Blair would give her a concrete answer. She glanced at Nate for a moment, holding his gaze. That was all it took for her to find the confidence to make her next move. "Okay," she said, giving Blair's back one last comforting hug. "I'll go first."
He wasn't curled up on the bed in a ball or anything – and for that she was thankful. She'd never seen Chuck in a vulnerable position, not even when they were little kids. She wasn't sure she would have known what to do.
He was sitting by the faux fireplace in a wing-backed chair, most likely staring into the flames.
Going for levity, she spoke softly, opening the conversation with, "Found ya."
He sat up, startled, and turned to look at her. His expression was blank, yet somehow full of grief, and her heart went out to him. She tossed her purse on the bed, shrugged out of her coat, and walked toward him, her footsteps muted by the thick carpet.
"What're you doing here?" he asked hoarsely.
"Helping Blair," she shrugged, trying to be blasé about it. "Helping Nate." She paused. "Helping you."
"I thought you were mad at me," he said, so simply and almost childishly that it made her throat swell.
Boldly, she walked right over to him and perched on the arm of the chair he was sitting in. "I don't think you should have called my mother a whore," she admitted. "But you're hurting, and you should be, and I shouldn't have…I should've been a better sister."
Chuck sighed tiredly. "You are not my sister," he said, repeating his sentiment from the funeral.
She sucked in a deep breath, gently leaning her legs against his so that their knees bumped. "I would be if you'd let me," she told him quietly.
Chuck's eyes focused on her knee for a moment before sliding up her thigh and taking in the rest of her body before his gaze finally landed on her face, clearly thinking of all the times they'd bantered, both angry and playful, the handful of moments when they'd kissed. "What are you trying to say?" he asked, his voice sounding much more normal.
"I'm trying to say that we're not really related but that you've always felt like my family," she told him honestly. "And Eric needs you, too. And if you can find any incest aspect to all of this, and if it turns you on, I do not want to know," she added teasingly.
"I should I apologize to Lily," he muttered.
Serena nodded slightly. "Later's fine," she assured him. "Chuck…I'm sorry."
He took a moment, as if he had to think over his answer, and then admitted, "I know…and…me, too."
She twined her arms around his neck effortlessly in a hug, resting her cheek against the top of his head for a moment. As she pulled back, she asked, "Can I send Blair in?"
He nodded, eyes suddenly anxious and hopeful, and she decided not to waste any time. She left her coat and purse, walking back out into the hall, where Blair was pacing nervously.
"He okay?" she demanded, practically jumping on her friend.
Serena didn't say anything, just gave her a soft smile and tilted her head toward the doorway.
She and Nate watched as Blair walked in. Chuck stood up and the brunette barrelled over to him, and Serena could hardly understand what's going on. Blair was yelling and Chuck's voice was quiet, broken, but firm. Hands were everywhere, but in the purest sense, just to make sure that everything was real, that they were truly there together. Blair was crying and Chuck whispered something, she slapped him half-heartedly, and then he was leaning toward her, his lips grazing the corner of her mouth, and she flung her arms around him, the words she speaks muffled, getting lost against his shoulder.
It was practically a blur, and she couldn't help but be confused, but still, Serena smiled. They were in their own little world, but it made her happy to see that, even at their unhappiest, they had each other. And she wasn't upset by the chasm created – the fact that in one space Chuck and Blair existed and that it was theirs alone. She could feel Nate's presence over her shoulder, the warmth coming from the smile that he was wearing, too. She wasn't alone where she was, either.
"I don't care what you think I deserve," Blair whispered fiercely, cupping Chuck's chin in her hand. "You are what I deserve."
"Leave them for a minute," Serena whispered, nudging Nate backward with her shoulder and closing the door behind them.
"They look…" he muttered.
"Yeah," she agreed with a quick, small smile. "Yeah."
He looked at her deeply, like he had something meaningful to say. Part of her ached to hear whatever it was, but the look in her eyes frightened her, at the same time. He said her name, "Serena…" and it was with the exact same inflection as he'd said, Serena, listen to me, since that night, I have not stopped thinking about you.
Her cell phone saved her for the second time that day, vibrating in her pocket. She saw that it was Dan. She didn't particularly want to talk to him, but she couldn't stay there with Nate, not in that moment. "I just…I have to get this, okay?" she told him, patting his chest as platonically as she could before she hurried out of Chuck's suite.
"Hey, are you…allowed to answer your phone on an airplane?" Dan asked cautiously, trying to sift through the awkward post-breakup air.
She leaned back against the hotel's wall, tilting her head back. "I'm not on a plane. I didn't go."
"You didn't go?" he asked, and she could picture the happy-but-shocked expression on his face.
Serena heaved a tired sigh, studying the fleur-de-lis wallpaper. "I didn't stay for you," she whispered, and she realized that there was much more truth to that statement than there had been in the moment when she'd informed Nate that she hadn't come back for him.
She hit her head on the wall behind her; she was so surprised at his calm reaction. "O-okay?" she stuttered.
"Yeah, look…there's something I have to tell you."
He spoke delicately, as if he was trying not to spook her. She shook her head in frustration despite the fact that he couldn't see her; she didn't want things to be glossed over. "What?" she asked shortly.
"Your…look…" He sighed on the other end of the line. "Your mom and my dad have a kid."
She felt as though the wind had been knocked out of her. "What?" she breathed.
"Before…us. I guess…Bart found out?" The last part sounded like a question.
"Oh my God," she whispered. "Does Eric know?"
"Don't tell him. Just…don't tell him."
"Do you want me to come get you, from wherever you are?"
"Dan…this is…really the end. For you and me. Okay?" she asked haltingly.
"I'm just – "
"I know. And thank you. For everything you've helped me through lately but…I think I…I'm with who I need to be with right now. Okay?"
"Okay," he said quietly.
"Thank you for calling."
"Serena, I –"
"Don't," she cut him off, her breathing laboured. "Just please don't."
She sank down against the wall of the hotel, textured wallpaper scratching her back lightly. Her phone toppled to the floor beside her and she pressed the heels of her hands against her foreheads, trying to process the information he had just given her.
She didn't even notice Nate coming out of the suite until he sat down right next to her, his thigh pressing against hers, the warmth of his body reassuring. "Hey…you alright?"
"Yeah," she murmured without moving her hands from her face. "Just dealing with a lot. You know how it is," she added wryly.
"I think we all do," he agreed, and she didn't have to look at him to know the exact smile he was wearing.
She sniffled and dropped her hands to her lap, picking at her perfectly manicured nails. "I just feel really alone sometimes, you know?"
"You're not alone," he told her gently. "Look at all the people who have been there for you lately."
Serena glanced at him in her peripheral vision. "Am I a fake?" she whispered. It was a touchy question that had been plaguing her.
"What? No." His answer was instant and certain.
"It's just…" She sighed sadly. "I feel like both Dan and Aaron fell for someone I'm not. I'm tired…I'm tired of disappointing people."
"No one thinks you're disappointing," Nate contradicted her vehemently.
"I'm not perfect," she said, her voice tight in her throat as she held in her tears. "And I don't think I can pretend anymore." She shook her head and swallowed hard. "I look…at Blair and Chuck. And that's the weirdest couple ever, right? Everyone thought you and Blair were going to get married and rule the UES. But they're…they work so well because they don't…they don't expect more. All they want is each other." She pressed her lips together and glanced over at him. "I want that. Is it stupid for me to expect that? To have someone love everything about you, even the annoying and stupid stuff?"
"What annoying and stupid stuff?" he asked with a breathtaking smile.
"Shut up," she scoffed, rolling her eyes.
"Seriously, Serena. I cannot think of one bad thing about you."
"Yeah, right…" she mumbled. "What about my tendency to make random flirtatious comments to people I don't really know?"
"Harmless fun," Nate brushed her words aside. "You're not serious. It's kind of cute, actually."
She felt heat in the apples of her cheeks and cleared her throat, venturing into more serious territory. "You don't think it was annoying and stupid of me to yell at Chuck at Bart's funeral?"
He placed his hand over her knee. "Don't beat yourself up over that. You were hurting, just like he was."
"But what about…" There were a million other thoughts in her mind.
"Stop," he chuckled. "There isn't a single thing you could say that would make me change my mind. I like everything about you."
He shrugged. "It's true. And you like everything about me, right?" he teased.
She nodded grudgingly. "I like that you called granny smith apples grammy smith apples for the first fifteen years of your life," she said softly.
When she turned to him, he was smiling, but his eyes were serious, scanning over every inch of her face and settling on her lips.
"And I like that you let me do this," she added breathily before she could lose her nerve, tugging him toward her by the lapels of his winter coat.
The kiss wasn't safe and familiar, like Dan's; nor was it new and exciting like Aaron's kisses were. It was right. It was Nate and Serena doing what they always did, ignoring all the boundaries that defined their relationship, accepting each other, quirks and faults and oddities – every single bit of the other. It was taking care of each other when they were drunk, it was iced coffee in sweltering summer heat, it was afternoon parties dressed in white when hearts took off and skin tingled from body heat and the rays of the sun. It was snowball fights on Manhattan streets, it was open doors and welcoming arms in the middle of the night, his coat around her shoulders when she was too lazy to bring her own. It was I love you but I can't, you're literally not going to speak to me, I think about you all the time, let's talk about not talking. It was secret smiles and surreptitious winks and the love that wasn't supposed to be. It was childish nicknames and your enemies are mine. It was two sets of blue eyes connecting across a room and finding exactly what they needed to see. It was liquor and lust, yellow dresses and tresses, the cold marble of the bar and his hands all over her, it was Nate, Serena; Serena, Nate, voices overlapping in whispers, giggling and gasps, a breathy I love you that should never have been, just as her mind got fuzzy and her eyes fluttered shut.
When it ended she couldn't seem to fill her lungs with oxygen, but it didn't matter. He rested his forehead briefly against hers, brushed her hair out of her face with his fingertips, pressed his lips to her temple. His arm moved around her shoulders effortlessly and she cuddled into him, her head resting perfectly in the crook of his shoulder as though that was where it was meant to be.
"I meant it," she whispered meaningfully. It very well could have been the most important sentence she'd ever said. "I mean it."
Nate exhaled and she could hear the unending thump thump thump of his heart. "I hoped you did." He paused. "And I'm so glad you do."
Serena lifted her head slightly to kiss his neck, right at his pulse point, and then settled back down, snuggling closer. Right now this was what she wanted and what she needed. Complexities and questions could be dealt with later. Right now they were Nate and Serena, together again, against the world, and that was all that mattered.
Chuck and Blair, both looking a little bashful but overall, relieved, ventured out of the suite at that moment, hands clasped together tightly. "There you are," Blair said, and her voice had its usual confidence again. She dragged Chuck over with her and they sat down on the floor across from Serena and Nate. "What do we have here?" Blair asked.
Serena remembered, then, that this was not how things were supposed to be, no matter how much it felt that way, and she felt caught, afraid, and found herself searching for excuses.
"Relax," Blair said with a lazy sigh, touching Serena's ankle reassuringly. "Non-judging breakfast club. Remember?"
"Nathaniel," Chuck greeted Nate in the same lazy tone as Blair had used.
"Charles," he returned sarcastically, grinning.
Serena smiled over at them, easily able to understand everything that had just occurred but had gone unspoken. She reached down toward her ankle and door Blair's hand in her own; with her other hand she reached into Nate's lap and entwined her fingers with his. Nate, taking her cue automatically, took Chuck's hand as well – loosely, which caused both girls to roll their eyes.
She looked around at her circle of friends – her family. They all looked tired: grief-stricken and emotionally spent, they still had a lot to deal with in future days, months, and years. But none of them looked defeated; despite everything, they looked content, their eyes shining over the heavy loads they all carried. Back together, again, for real – no secrets, no lies. Just friendship.
She smiled over and Blair and Chuck. "We're going to be okay," she said with a small smile that they both returned automatically but earnestly.
Chuck winked at her, only slightly lascivious, as Nate kissed the top of her head. Blair, of course, was the one to reply, "Yeah. We are."
All we are, all we are
is everything that's right