A/N: This is not my very best piece of writing, but it's something I needed to get out of my system before I delved into what will probably be a long Chuck/Serena/Carter fic. It's snippets of Carter and Serena's relationship throughout the years. I stole the title from Never Say Never by The Fray, which could turn out to be a very good S/Ca song. I'm falling for these two, hard. Let me know what you think!
Younger Now Than We Were Before
He can remember, vividly, the first time he was introduced to her. He was visiting his grandmother in the Hamptons and she was visiting hers. He was young and stubborn and girls had cooties, and she younger than him and he didn't want to meet her because she'd be annoying and boring – at best.
Cece, her gradmother, steered him into a room with colourful walls and toys littered on the floor. She was playing some kind of princess game undoubtedly orchestrated by Blair Waldorf, in which Blair was the princess and Nate was the prince and Serena was Blair's lady-in-waiting, and Chuck was…the jester, or something. He can't remember the exact details, but he does remember the way they all looked at him. Blair sized him up imperiously, like she was trying to figure out if he'd make a better jester than Chuck; Nate looked at him with some sort of shy admiration, and Chuck frowned as he felt himself being upstaged.
"Serena, darling, there's someone I want you to meet," Cece said.
She scampered over, looking every bit the obedient angel she already wasn't. At some point during the game, lady-in-waiting Serena had commandeered Princess Blair's tiara, and when she was introduced to him, he felt the inexplicable need to bow to her playfully, smirking as he straightened up. He could feel the stares of her friends, who were as good as siblings to her, focused on you, full of judgment and curiosity.
But she smiled. Her sweet, perfect face lit up with a grin, and she curtsied formally right back.
She was the one who could always keep up with him.
At naptime, she and her friends piled onto one big bed along with her little brother, looking like a litter of puppies as they drifted off all tangled up in each other. He was too old for naps, he insisted, but he joined them anyway because there wasn't anything else to do. He lay next to her as she slept, dark eyelashes fluttering as she dreamt. In her sleep, she rolled over until her small, warm body was pressed against his, and she opened her deep, navy blue eyes, smiling sleepily at him.
"Your eyelashes are too dark for your eyes," he blurted in a whisper, because she made him nervous in a strange way.
She licked her lips, which were dry from sleep, and said, "My mommy says that means an angel put in my eyes with a sooty finger."
"Ew," he said, grimacing at the thought of dirt in one's eyes, and she laughed breathily as she shrugged.
"I don't mind," she whispered.
He nodded slowly, still getting used to the feeling of her long, slender body pressed against yours. It was like a single flaw, and even then, a pretty one. "Neither do I," you said decidedly, and you didn't move away.
Maybe most girls had cooties, but Serena van der Woodsen just had pretty, sooty eyelashes.
She got very beautiful very fast. He saw her a few times over the next few years, never for long, but he always noticed her, and every single time she was less of a girl and more of a woman. He often met her at society events, sometimes in New York, once in London, once in Bahrain, of all places. He'd find yourself staring across the room at her, admiring the ways she'd changed since he'd last set eyes on her. She'd feel his gaze and catch his eye across the room. Their reunions were never dramatic; she'd wink at him and he'd smirk back and eventually they'd make your way over to each other. She was never shy and was usually the one to initiate the hug, and just as he had all those years ago, he'd relish the feeling of her body pressed against his.
The first time he saw her at one of those events, they were catching up, laughing together, when he noticed her mother alone and talking to a group of friends across the room.
"Hey, where's your dad?" he asked.
Something changed in those electrically blue eyes of her and her grip tightened on the stem of the glass of her virgin strawberry daiquiri. She turned away from him slightly, gnawing on her glossy lower lip, and his heart sank on her behalf. He would have heard if her father had died; it was clear that Keith van der Woodsen has disappeared from the picture. Carter, as do all children of New York's richest families, knew what it was like to be neglected by your parents, but he didn't know what it was like to be abandoned.
He saw some Eastern European man sidle up to Lily's side and he shake your head. He reached across the bar for a great big bottle of rum and gently cupped Serena's elbow with his hand, pulling her a bit closer to him. She looked up at him vulnerably, breathing hard, and he splashed some rum into her drink. Her eyes widened and she started looking less like she was about to cry and more like she was about to laugh.
He joked about deflowering her cocktail and pulled her onto the dance floor, twirling her around until she was smiling genuinely.
It's not that he was responsible for making her such a fearless, wild child – that was always the way it was going to be. He just made the transition easier.
He liked it when she showed up to wherever they happened to be with only her mother or brother or grandmother, or even by herself. When she was with her friends, Chuck was always hitting on her – Carter could never establish whether he was serious or not – Blair was always dragging her away, and she and Nate were always casting each other these longing looks. He was jealous of them all. He didn't mind her bestowing lots of attention of her little brother – he thought it was sweet, though he'd never admit that to anyone – but Blair, Chuck, and Nate were such vital parts of her life. Carter wanted to be that fully ingrained in her world. He wanted to talk to her, flirt with her, be the boy she stared at like she wants nothing more than to be with him.
So he did what you could to fit into her life. He'd tell Chuck off, ignoring his sneer, he sat patiently while Serena and Blair giggled about who-knows-what, and he danced with her, whispering in her ear to make her laugh and promising that Nate would get jealous.
He was the envious one, but he was too proud to let her realize that.
She didn't go through an awkward phase, not at all. One day she was pretty, young, and fresh-faced. The next she was unstoppable and fucking gorgeous. There was something wild about her beauty and her personality and he were so entranced by her. She got hips and breasts and her skin was perpetually smooth and tanned. Despite her perfection, or maybe because of it, there was a tumultuous, rebellious quality to her that she never bothered to suppress. She could get away with nearly anything, because even when people gossiped about her, they were fawning over her, too.
When Carter came back to New York, bursting into the party he knew was going on at Chuck Bass' suite, she cried out your name and rushed across the room to hug him in a way that baffled everyone. He didn't protest as he wrapped his arms around her, sucking in his breath as he felt all of her curves pressed against his body.
"You grew up so good," he breathed into her hair, unable to help it, and she laughed with an easy kind of delight.
She pulled away from him for a moment, met your gaze with her own, and leaned in to give him a quick kiss. She patted his chest and winked at him as she walked away, and he smirked back.
"Welcome home," she said.
When he was in New York, he found himself playing mentor to Nate and Chuck, which was as much fun as it was rewarding. What was more rewarding was spending so much time with Serena, because she and Blair were always attached to those boys. She could keep up to him when they partied, even when Chuck and Nate couldn't. She could maintain her smiles and her energy until dawn; he was almost in awe of it. She'd sprawl out next to him, leaning over his body to look out the window as New York zipped by, as they took Chuck's limo home, the other boys and Blair passed out on the leather seats.
It was a rare night that she'd have too much of something, or many things, and he'd have to look after her. Not wanting to send her home to Lily and whoever her husband of the moment was, he'd take her back to his hotel suite and tuck her into his bed. He can't deny that he loved sleeping next to her.
There was one night when she was a mess, sitting on his bathroom floor with her head resting back against the side of the tub, wrapped up in a towel and one of his sweaters that she said sadly, "Sometimes it's like they have everything without me."
He realized in that moment that while Serena was queen by default – she was beautiful and daring and authoritative without having to work for it – but she was lonely. She loved Nate and Blair, but they loved each other more; Chuck was Nate's best friend and Blair's partner in crime.
As he picked her up off the floor, he took and deep breath and decided just to say it, because she'd probably have no recollection of that night in the morning: "I only have everything when I have you."
Right about the time he realized it was time for him to leave New York, he accidentally walked in on Blair and Serena fighting about him. Blair insisted that he was a bad influence on her best friend.
"He's not a bad influence!" Serena shot back hotly, hands planted on her hips, that dangerous look in her eyes. "Maybe this is just how I am, Blair. Maybe it's how I want to be. And maybe he's who I want to be with."
The last afternoon he spent with her in Manhattan was so simple and normal and oh-so-slightly romantic. They walked through Central Park, talking over frozen yoghurt and laughing about nothing. She grabbed his hand as they ran through the grass in Sheep Meadow and they sat in the grass until they caught their breath; she whined about how her feet hurt so he swept her up and carried her back to her penthouse. He kissed her in the doorway of her apartment and saw something like shyness in her eyes before she stood on the balls of her feet and wrapped her arms around his neck as she kissed him back.
"You're lucky to get away," she whispered.
He shook his head because he didn't feel very lucky at all. "I'll miss you," he told her with a smirk, and she winked at him as he walked away, and then she slipped inside and that was that.
When he left for boarding school, he found himself missing her more than he'd even thought he was capable of missing someone. He was rich and handsome and charming and he could have had any girl from the small town only a five-minute walk from his all-boys school, and he did have some of them, but he missed her. He missed blonde hair in his face and her signature sandalwood-and-patchouli scent and her bright blue eyes. He remembered how she almost cried when he left and how there was a question in her eyes that he didn't know how to answer.
He thought maybe he had feelings for her, and he kept hearing her words playing over and over in his head: Maybe he's who I want to be with.
The day he got word that she was attending Hanover, it took him all of an hour to pack his things and arrange to transfer. When he was waiting for his car to pull up at the gates of the school, one of the girls he'd hooked up with over the past couple months strolled by. She stepped to the side of the road to stand next to him.
"Carter," she purred. "You look happy. Where're you headed?"
She gave him a sage look. "So that's where the girl is."
He could hardly process what she'd said before she stepped away from him, carrying on to whatever her destination was, yet another girl he'd never see again, another girl who couldn't keep up – but a girl who may have been smarter than he'd ever allowed himself to be, and certainly smarter than he'd given her credit for.
He was the kind of person who grabbed attention because he exuded some sort of power and he knew it. So when he reached Hanover, he said a polite hello to the headmaster, deposited his belongings in his room, and wandered out into the main courtyard, just waiting for it. Soon enough one of two things would happen: she'd see him, or she'd hear about him.
It turned out to be the former. She was standing with a group of girls in uniform, subtly ruling over them, a position he was familiar with seeing her in. But she looked much less innocent than she had back in those days when she and Blair held court on the steps of the Met, much older now than she had then. She glanced in his direction, then away, and then back in a double take, her mouth falling open.
He smirked at her and she grinned, winking at him. But she couldn't keep her cool; she ended up dashing across the courtyard, the hem of her uniform skirt flipping up with each step.
"Carter!" she called, and he realized that he loved the way she said his name, gentle emphasis on the first syllable, warmth in her words and her smile, something like teasing but even more akin to understanding buried in her voice.
She gave him a great big hug, jumping into his arms and letting him spin her around. When he set her back down she laughed breathlessly, but her eyes were solemn. "I really fucked things up," she said softly.
He looked at her sympathetically even as he smiled. "Then I trained you well, didn't I?"
Serena laughed, blinking those sooty eyelashes of hers rapidly, and grabbed his hand, insisting that she needed to give him the grand tour of their new school. "You are such an ass, Carter Baizen, you know that?"
He could only laugh as he slung his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close – in heels, she was as tall as him. "But never to you."
He only had a month and a half at Hanover before his father realized that he'd switched schools. It very well may have been the best month and a half of his life.
Most of Serena's friends were boys; boys who were friends but not boyfriends. He tried to figure out why: boys were drawn to Serena like moths to flames, but so were girls, everyone was. When he finally asked her why one day she pressed her lips together and cast him a look in her peripheral vision.
"It's easier to hurt your girlfriends," she said quietly.
Still, despite the disproportionate amount of testosterone in her life, she made more than enough room for him, and it soon became clear that he ranked above the other boys. His memories of that time at Hanover are snapshots, like glimpses of the scenes of a movie of another life. He remembers skipping class with her and sitting on one of the stone benches on the grounds as she lay at his side in the grass in only her skirt and her bra, trying to get a tan. He was always the boy she snuck into her room after hours; he got so accustomed to the fresh Serena-like smell of her sheets that it felt strange to sleep with his head on his own pillow. He gave her piggybacks from class to class, ignoring the jealous looks of the other girls. He remembers that one time they showered together, her giggles echoing in the room, water slipping down her skin.
She watched him leave the school with one of his ties on, hanging loose around her neck over her mostly-unbuttoned shirt. She kissed him full on the lips and he gave the tie a gentle tug.
"We'll see each other soon," he promised her, because somehow they always managed to.
In Santorini he thought he finally realized that he was in love with her. It took about twenty trips to the beach, two midnight skinny dipping sessions, sixteen cries of "Opa!", three nights of dancing with her at clubs, four days of lying in bed kissing her, one crying jag that she tried to hide, a lot of serious talk about her father, an incredibly complex situation involving the Greek police and her wide, fearful eyes, and one night of amazing sex for him to come to that realization.
And when he woke up in the morning, she was gone.
It felt like Christmas when Cece called and asked him to escort her to the debutante ball. He was embarrassed of his own emotions as he picked up a suit and flew in to New York.
But then she had a boyfriend. Carter could tell, easily, that Cece disapproved, and that he might have just been tool in Celia Rhodes' grand plan, but he went through with it anyone.
When you love someone, you do stuff like that, right?
He could tell that he'd caught her off guard. There was a glimmer of panic in her eyes when her grandmother 'introduced' them at the Waldorf tea. It was there again when he winked at her across the room, insisting that she wasn't one of the many errors of his wayward ways. She wasn't scared of him, but she was certainly startled by his presence there.
He was taken aback by how very beautiful she looked at the debutante ball. It was hard to capture the essence of Serena van der Woodsen only in memory. Her hair was in a ponytail – of course it was, because she never put effort into much of anything. When he greeted her, he called her "beautiful", and when she balked at the words of her presentation statement, he took the card from her and edited with ease, knowing that the name free-spirited girl he adored was just lying dormant under this reformed version of herself. He smirked at her and caught the small smile that lit up her face just before she winked at him.
Dancing with her felt familiar, like all those years they found themselves meeting at those society events. They didn't talk much, but when they did she seemed different but also so natural, and he realized that he'd missed her more than he could ever really say, but he was about to try to put words to that feeling right before they switched partners and he ended up with Blair and Nate punched him.
The way she winced on his behalf as she pressed an icy glass to his head made the heart he'd hardly known he had melt. She apologized so sweetly to him and he couldn't let it go any longer; he had to bring up Santorini.
It almost took away his breath, the way she glanced down and looked at her hands as she stumbled over her words lightly. She was shy and so beautiful and it reminded him of how deeply their history was entwined in one another. She said things about what she expected and what she didn't expect and when she met his eyes he understood that she'd missed him, too.
So he told her that he understood and let her go back to fix her family and find her boyfriend.
He was reminded why he missed her that day she and Chuck cornered him and he say steel in her eyes, the ferocity with which she was defending her best friend. He saw shades of the girl she once was, the girl he wanted as his own, but he also sensed some improvements. It was similar to the way he felt about his own personal growth, most of which was tied to her.
Chin set firmly, she threatened him with Santorini as Chuck listened intently and he made a good cop, bass cop joke and he couldn't help but wonder when they were going to give in and have a real conversation with each other, but then she handed him a ticket to Dubai and it seemed like he was going to have to wait a bit longer. Just as he walked away, he locked eyes with her and smirked, thinking that maybe she was jealous.
He catches up with her just before she leaves the city, having thought about their history as he waited for her. She looks amazing in that effortless way, and when he calls out to her she spins around and says his name in that same way as always, warmth, mirth, and understanding tied together: "Carter."
And when he says you know you can't lose me for long it feels like there was never a truer phrase uttered when it comes to defining their relationship. "Where're you headed?" he asks her.
"Everywhere," she shrugs blithely, smiling carefully at him.
When he tells her there's something she'll want to know, she frowns and asks him if it's about Blair, and he can't help the surge of triumph he feels. She is jealous. She must be.
With faux frustration, he informs her that he found the thing she was looking for in Santorini once more on the trip she so graciously gave him. She gives him that vulnerable look that feels like it belongs to him, the one that makes him want to hug her and protect her and make her smile.
"You found my father?" she asks mutedly, and he has to resist the urge to touch her.
Shaking her head slightly, she folds the PI's report and says, "Get in. Let's go," just before she slips into the limo.
He smirks to himself just before he gets in, because they've always been about give and take and he's more than prepared to follow her. Just like she learned to keep up with him when she was a little girl, he's learned to keep up with her.