Strange Little Band

He was there when she got home.

Just…there.

Like it was any other day and nothing had changed. Erik and him chatting away about some nonsensical thing she couldn't possible care about because, well, he was there.

She was likely the only person who hadn't seen Chuck since the funeral. She had looked for him that night at Victrola. She knew both Dan and Erik had spoken with him. She had later been told about what had happened on the rooftop. And everything after that up to Blair declaring him dead to her.

The boys barely acknowledged her presence, giving a slight wave of 'hello' before returning to their conversation. That was fine with Serena since for the moment she was staring. And it was always better when no one saw that. They always got the wrong idea.

He looked…Better. Much better than the last time she had seen him. She let out a small breath of relief.

"What are you doing here?" The question came out louder and more obnoxious than she had planned on.

They both turned to her, Erik's eyes wide.

"Serena!" Did she want him to leave?

Chuck just smirked.

"It's lovely to see you as well."

"Sorry." Serena looked sheepish. "I didn't mean…well, I did, but not…Yeah."

"Last I checked, this was my home."

Both Serena and Erik's mouths dropped, and Erik swivelled in his place to face Chuck.

"You're back?"

"How…When did this happen?"

"Yes. And just now." he motioned to Lily, entering the room. "Lily and I…struck a bargain."

Lily smiled as Serena eyed her suspiciously.

"What kind of bargain?" Last she remembered, Chuck hated her mother. And she kinda didn't blame him.

Lily went on to explain helping Chuck with Jack (to which they all laughed), and how Chuck had helped her with Jack (which had Serena kinda proud). When Erik enquired why Jack had even attacked her in the first place, Lily dropped the bomb.

Chuck was officially and legally family.

Lily and Bart had had adoption papers drawn up for all of them.

Serena stood quickly, and left the room as fast as her legs could possible take her.

"Serena…!" Lily stood to go after her while even Chuck watched the scene confused. Erik grabbed her arm.

"Mom, leave it. I got it." Erik looked down at Chuck. "This…it isn't about you, okay?" He made his way to the stairs after his sister, yelling out behind him. "Welcome to the family, Chuck!"

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

He knocked on the door three times before poking his head through the door.

"Serena…It's just me." He entered fully even without her answer. He finds her on the floor beside the toilet in her private bathroom. She's wretching over the toilet, but nothing is coming out.

He sits down beside her, and holds her hair back for her. He knows the likelihood of her throwing up is low, but no one like toilet water in their hair.

Eventually the dry heaving subsided, making way for sobs. Erik pulls Serena's head into his lap.

Its like when they were kids, only she would be holding him. When ever he was sick, or even just sad, she'd drop everything, just to hold him.

Well, they were older now, and it was his turn.

He absently strokes her hair, murmuring nonsense. When her tears start to wane, she pulls herself up off of him but doesn't release his hand.

"I got tears all over your shirt." She states. Erik gives a half smile.

"I'm sure they'll wash out." He looks down at himself. "It's the snot I'm worried about."

Serena starts to giggle, giving him a small shove with her shoulder. When she stops laughing Erik gets serious again.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah…I'm fine. It just…"

"I get it."

"I didn't even know it still mattered to me that much."

Erik watches her for a moment. "I knew."

"Of course you knew." She pulls him into a half hug. "How do you know me so well?"

"Because I am the shorter, much more innocent, male version of you."

Again she laughs. Erik has always loved his sisters laugh. It was always so free and light. And even when things were their darkest she always tried to find a reason to laugh. But as he knew they would, the laughter gave way to more tears.

"Grrah!" Serena made a frustrated noise, as if to clear her throat. She wipes her face violently. "I didn't even like the guy."

And because Erik knew her so well, neither of them had to say how he knew that wasn't true.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chuck was getting re-acquainted with his room. Or more like he was staring at his bags, trying to decide whether to unpack or not.

He'd asked Lily if maybe it would be better that he not be here, judging by Serenas reaction. She told him not to be ridiculous. But the fact of the matter was, he didn't want to be anywhere he wasn't wanted.

There was a knock at the door. It was Serena. Her face was red, the way he knew it got when she had been crying.

"Hey Chuck." She moves into his room, not really looking at him, fingering the picture frames on the desk. "I thought I should-"

"There's no need to explain yourself." He interrupted. Sitting through a list of reasons she didn't want him here was not his idea of a good time. "I'll be gone within the hour."

"Wait, what?" Her head snapped up. "Why would you…No. Chuck. You're not leaving." It wasn't a question.

He raised an eyebrow and went to open his mouth, but she clamped her hand over it.

"Just…Give me a second. Okay?" She didn't remover her hand until he nodded. "I'm sorry. For the way I reacted down there. It had nothing to do with you and everything to do with…" She paused, unsure of how to handle the net part of this conversation

"Look, S, if you've-"

"Hey! I though we agreed you'd be quiet for a minute!"

Chuck just tossed his hands in the air and fell back onto his bed. She sat next to him timidly.

"It was about…Bart." She watched him for a moment but he gave no reaction.

"When we were younger, I used to envy you. I mean, your father didn't pay any attention to you- because he was focused on work. Mom never paid any attention to us because she was always focused on a guy. But sometimes, it would just be the three of us, as a family, and I'd think, 'This time, it'll be different'. In the end though, there was always another guy, and once again we were replaced. At least Bart was constant in his ways.

Erik and I were moved all over. We converted religions. I learned German! You know this. You saw happening. Everyone saw it. But we really tried, you know, the first couple of times, to do what we could to make it a family. We'd be whatever mom and her guy wanted. But it always ended the same. We were ignored, because when it came right down to it, they wanted Lily. Not her children."

Chuck continued to contemplate Serena quietly. She was looking down at her hands, not at all like the confident girl…woman he knew and had known. He shared her pain. They both knew what it was to be unwanted and unloved.

And they both knew envy. Her for the stability of not being dragged back and forth between significant others, and him for the stability she had in having a sibling.

"Eventually, we stopped trying to fit in. Well, I did. But I didn't stop wondering…maybe this one. Maybe this is the guy she stays with, who wants us. But it never happened. So, I gave up on it, decided it was a pipe dream. Which is why I didn't see it."

She turned to Chuck. "For whatever reason, Bart wanted us. I just couldn't see it until…"

"It was too late."

They both fell in to silence, letting the confession settle.

"Although why my mother adopted you I'll never know." She laughed at Chuck as he glared at her.

"After you and Erik she needed someone with a respectable reputation in this family." he nearly fell off the bed as Serena gave him a shove.

"You're respectable?"

"In comparison."

"You're such a jerk!" She leap off the bed, laughing when he swung upwards grabbing her around the middle.

"Too bad you're stuck with me, huh, sis?" He spoke softly in her ear. She rolled her eyes.

"Pig." She attempted to roll away but he ran his fingers up her side, causing her to convulse into laughter. "Chuck!"

"Ah, to hear you scream my name, and in my bed even. But alas, it seems you missed your chance Van der Woodsen."

She made a grab for his hair. "I'm sure I'll live."

He tossed her over his shoulder before throwing her back down on the bed.

Erik was unsure what to do. From in Chucks room he could hear banging and yelling. If it were any girl in there but his sister, he knew there would be no way he would enter the room. And there was a chance they were killing each other.

He opened the door to see Chuck laying flat on the bed, Serena kneeling on his chest and stomach (it was a good thing she wasn't that heavy), attempting to hold one of Chucks hands down while his other one was attacking her side.

They were having a tickle fight?

"Aren't you guys a little old for that?"

At the sound of Erik's voice the teens halted movement, looking at each other before looking sheepishly up at him.

Serena slowly crawled off of Chuck, grabbing a pillow for protection.

"Brother, your timing couldn't have been worse. I was just getting somewhere."

Erik made a face that was half horror and half throwing up.

"Dude! That's my sister!" Then he frowned. "And yours!"

"Not by blood."

"Perv!" Serena laughed making her way to the door. She turned back to look at her brothers.

It was funny, when she thought about it. In completely different yet slightly similar ways, they were the brothers she had grown up with.

Her and Erik; each others shelter in the storm. Her and Chuck; more than friends, but always less than lovers.

Yet both brothers in the same right.

"Come on you two." She smiled. "Let's go get ice cream." She looked to Erik. "Tell mom we're going out."

He was out the door quickly, Serena trailing behind. When Chuck didn't move she stuck her head back in the room.

"You coming?"

"In a moment."

"Okay." She left but again stuck her head back in the room. "Oh, Chuck?"

"Yeah?"

"Maybe it's not so bad. Having you as a brother." Just as his mouth opened she glared at him. "One word about bathing and I'm throwing you down the stairs!"

And then she was gone.

Chuck stood, turning to look around his room. The blankets had been torn off his bed. Pillows were on the floor. His bag had been kicked over and his clothes were on the floor.

It looked a lot like a home.

He turned the lights out, and followed out after his brother and sister.

The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another's desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together. ~Erma Bombeck