A/N: I'm a lil' bit obsessed with these two right now. This turned out longer than I intended, and the smallest hint of NS sneaked its way in, too. If you read it, review it, pretty please. Song lyrics are Anywhere But Here by Safetysuit.

A Beautiful Unfolding

is this the end of the moment?

or just a beautiful unfolding?

of a love that will never be

or maybe be


When she is young, before she can make her own decisions, going to the van der Bilts' old-money mansions becomes tradition. In the summers she dodges her nanny's grasping hands, chases after Nate and scuffs up her soft shoes, lives on the beach. In the wintertime, she shakes off her hats and sets her hair free, tucks her gloved hands, one each in Blair's and Nate's, and steps out of a limo onto the grounds of the official, massive family home, which is all decked out in millions of twinkling lights.

If there were invitations, she supposes upon reflection, Nate's parents would have extended them on his son's behalf or maybe Blair would have demanded them herself. But before Serena ever acknowledged the existence of formalities, his family adopted her – adoringly at times, grudgingly at others – for better or for worse, into their holiday traditions.


She lets Blair's and Nate's families become hers and Erik's when they're younger, and her childhood memories are filled with Harold's apple pies and Eleanor's lectures on ladylike behaviour, Nate's grandfather's intimidating face and the way her heart eased when she said something that would make him smile. When she thinks of her youngest years, memories of tears over a father she never knew and Erik's big blue eyes filled with confusion and Lily's leaving and nannies who got so frustrated with her that they quit…those images are replaced slowly but surely by the way Blair's home smelled on Thanksgiving and images of getting tucked into bed at the van der Bilt estate of Christmas Eve only to sneak out of bed for pillow fights, the dim, tingly feeling she'd get up her spine as Nate's cousin Tripp tackled her on the bed, too young at the time to understand it.


everything that I never thought could happen

or ever come to pass and


By the time she's seven, she's starts to get the nagging feeling that maybe if there were invitations, she wouldn't get one, because sometimes Blair gives her these looks like she wishes Serena wouldn't hold Nate's hand like that. Nate's family adores Blair the way Blair's family and everyone else in the world seems to adore Blair – she's perfect.

Serena is not perfect; she's a far cry from it and everyone can see that. She's got legs that feel too long sometimes and bruises on her knee, she's precocious in a way that annoys her teachers, she wears shorts instead of dresses and she sneaks extra servings of ice cream. Nate still likes her and adults tend to chuckle good-naturedly over her head, but she often gets the sense that she's a disappointment.

Maybe it's that feeling that drives her fierce competitive spirit as they play game after game on the van der Bilts' Hamptons estate. Blair isn't even here, having deemed a weekend of games unnecessary and unladylike. But Serena has changed into blue shorts and a white baby-doll shirt, right next to Nate in the middle of the action – and beating him, at that.

Somewhere during the potato sack race she passes him, hopping as fast as she can, ahead of everyone but his older cousin. Tripp spots her coming over his shoulder and grins, speeding up. Stubbornly, she does the same, rushing to get past him, and he hops to the side strategically so that her feet knock against his and she tumbles to the ground.

She hits the ground hard, gets the wind knocked out of her and her head hurts and her wrist stings – she sliced her hand on a rock hidden in the grass and she's getting blood on her shirt.

Tripp abandons the race to turn back and crouch at her side, his eyes wide with gentle concern as he gently reaches for her hand. "Serena, I'm sorry," he tells her earnestly as she peers up with him, tears in her eyes that she desperately does not want to shed.

Before she can reply – or cry embarrassingly – Nate's nanny is at her side, scooping her up and cooing over her injury and hurrying her inside. One of his uncles picks her up and she peeks back over her shoulder to see Tripp getting to his feet, regret in his eyes.


That night she sneaks down into the kitchen in her nightie for some extra ice cream, because her wrist is all bandaged and she can't fall asleep, and finds that Tripp is already there, scooping out some double-chocolate.

He grins at her, walking over and picking her up; he sits her down so that she's perched on the counter, long legs dangling.

"Want some ice cream?" he asks in whisper, and it feels private, like a secret moment between them.

Serena nods, sticking out her chin stubbornly. "Lots, please."

He nods, chuckling to himself. "Yes, ma'am."

She feels him watching her as she licks melted ice cream off her spoon, bouncing her heels against the cupboard.

"You really wanted to win, didn't you?"

Licking her lips, she feels her toes curl up under his knowing gaze. "It's okay, though…"

He laughs and she likes the sound, a bit rougher than Nate's little-boy chuckles. "Tell ya what," he suggests casually. "We'll call it a tie."

She grins into the low light, nodding shyly. "'Kay. We'll call it a tie."

Everything feels okay on the kitchen counter at midnight, when her legs are the perfect length to stretch out and kick him playfully, and he likes extra ice cream, too.


I wonder if maybe

maybe I could be

all you ever dreamed


He tries to teach her to sail when she's nine years old. He's eighteen and treats her like an older brother, pulls on her pigtails and teases her about her perfect red-white-and-blue sailing outfit. Sometimes she feels like too much of a kid around him, when she makes mistakes or does something childish, but she likes spending time with Tripp because he really sees her. He notices her sailing outfit and tells her to put some sunscreen on her burnt nose and listens when she has something to say. And when they dock again he puts a captain's hat on her head and piggy-backs her all the way to the house; tells her she was a sailing superstar when he sets her back on the ground, and makes it feel like she'd done something perfectly.


The holiday season she is twelve years old she drifts toward him, because sometimes she feels older – not older like Blair pretends to be, envisioning herself in the perfect life she hopes to one day have, but older for real, like she knows a little more about the world and everything in it. And Tripp is older, plus he has been where she is, so he understands.

On December twenty-first they play a lazy, careless game of checkers on the softly carpeted floor while they adults talk in quiet tones. Nate sits on a nearby couch staring moodily into the fire; Blair lies across the cushions with her head in his lap as she reads Tiffany's. Serena ignores them in turn, paying attention to the way Tripp's face looks, firelight flickering across his brow as he concentrates on their game.

"What do you want to do?" she asks him in a whisper, and his eyes flick up to hers, mildly surprised.

"With you?" he replies, matching her quiet tone, shock slipping into his words.

The way he says it makes heat fill her cheeks, but she reminds herself that he is nineteen and a college boy and he's got one hundred pretty Princeton girls competing for his attention. Serena might feel older, but she's just his little cousin's friend that he's keeping company, that's all.

"With…with your life," she shrugs, looking at him attentively.

He grins, attention torn from their game. "I'm going to be an archaeologist," he tells her, adding, as if she needs a reference point: "Like Indiana Jones."

She nods, envisions it. "Indiana Jones," she repeats.


Christmas Eve when she's dressed in a stunning deep blue dress her mother chose and a necklace that's been in her family for generations, she finds him sitting on the balcony in the freezing cold, staring out across the property which he is directly in line to inherit, a legacy that will soon be his.

"Serena!" he says her name with a touch too much enthusiasm, but he doesn't correct himself. He shrugs off his blazer, the one emblazoned with the van der Bilt family crest, and drapes it over her legs, barely kept warm by her tights, as she sits next to him.

"I had to find you," she tells him, a touch breathless. Nate and Blair are probably looking for her, but this has been bothering her. Snowflakes get caught in her eyelashes and he lifts his hand like he means to brush them away, but thinks better of it.


"I just…I had to tell you," she shrugs, a bright smile finding its way to her lips. "I forgot to say it before."

He gives her a patient smile, his eyes wary. "What, Serena?"

She licks her lips, tastes strawberry lip gloss. "You'll be good at it." She winks at him, champagne and Christmas spirits making her that much more daring. "Indiana Jones."


'cause you are beautiful inside

so lovely, and I

can't see why I'd do anything without you

you are


She loves standing on the balcony at the van der Bilt home, watching the boys tackle each other, getting their cashmere vests all muddy. She secretly, internally cheers for him: winces when someone pushes him to the ground, grins when he makes a tackle of his own.

After the game she waits around until the field clears and runs over to wear he's dusting himself off.

She scuffs the toe of her ballet flat against the ground. "You were really good."

He grins over at her in surprise, taps her nose with his muddy finger, making her laugh and cry ew!

"Thanks, Serena," he says warmly.


In the summertime, at the beach, she feels his gaze lingering too long it places it shouldn't go. She's used to it – she does nothing if not attract attention and she knows it. But it's different, because it's him – they've got history, years of holidays between them, and an age gap that makes this a little too scandalous.

She's fourteen, and for the first time ever she's beginning to realize that her life is spiralling somewhere she might not want it to go, and there's no one and no way that she knows to stop it. She is restless and beautiful and in her element under the summer sky, and she can feel rebellion bubbling up. She's wearing a white bikini and she's got sand between her toes and she just knows that if she walked up and kissed him right this instant he wouldn't turn her away.

Before she can decide just what she wants to do, Tripp wanders over to her, older and gorgeous, body glistening with water and bangs hanging adorably into his eyes. He sits next to her in the sand, gives her a smile that has her heart skipping beats.

"Did the golden couple abandon you?" he teases, poking her bare hip.

Serena rolls her eyes like the moody teenager she's quickly learning to be, but she doesn't reply because the answer is sort of "yes". Instead, she pastes on her prettiest smile and bats her eyelashes – once, twice, and then she can have anything from anyone – and beams at him, squinting in the sunlight. "It's okay, I have you."

He chuckles appreciatively, handing her a pretty conch shell and waiting as she puts it to her ear, listening to the ocean rumble within. She tucks it into her large, cloth beach bag, knowing she'll want to keep it into the autumn months.

"Well, don't I?" she asks him, smirking.

Slowly, Tripp nods at her. "Sure you do." Before the moment can linger too long between them he stands and offers her both his hands so she can get up with his assistance, ever the gentleman. "I'll race you to the water, what do you say?"

Her response is to run off, sand tickling the soles of her feet and Tripp barely a step behind her. They tumble into the waves together, her laughter gargled by the salty water.

Underwater, their legs get all tangled up, and she holds her breath beneath the surface until it feels like her heart might explode.


and when I'm not with you

I know that it's true

I'd rather be anywhere but here without you


One evening after a party, when she and Blair are staying over, he stumbles drunkenly into her bedroom as she's carefully removing all the bobby pins that were required to keep her elaborate hairdo in place.

She giggles, watching him in the mirror as flops onto her bed wearily. "You got attacked tonight," she murmurs teasingly, aware that his grandfather is trying to set him up with a suitable girl.

"Torture," his muffled voice agrees from somewhere within her pillows.

She abandons her hairbrush by the mirror and goes to perch on the edge of her bed. "Wanna hide out in here until they're all gone?"

He looks up at her with bleary, hopeful eyes. "Seriously?"


Tripp exhales in relief. "You're a lifesaver, you know that?"

She bites her lower lip to hold in her smirk. "I know," she replies cheekily.

He sits up a bit, leaning back on his elbows are looking at her in the most serious way his intoxication will allow. "You're a sweet kid, Serena."

Sucking in her breath, she gets up and heads back for the mirror, slipping another bobby pin out of her hair. "Thanks, Tripp," she mutters as casually as she can.

"I'm serious. I wish…you know, if by some miracle you're still single in…seven years. You should look me up."

She swallows hard, tugs the last pin out of her hair and shakes her blonde waves free. "You're drunk."

"Promise me."

Rolling her eyes, she glances at him in the mirror, feeling any resolve she might have had drift away. "Okay, I promise."


The Christmas she's fifteen she wears a dress that dips way down in the back and just a little too far in the front, and she know she catches his attention. He sidles up to where she's standing in a doorway, looking like a piece of art come to life, and offers her another drink, and returns her smile.

"Mistletoe!" one of Nate's younger aunts calls playfully, catching everyone's attention as she gestures toward the sprig over Serena and Tripp's heads.

Serena honestly hadn't seen it before, and she's legitimately nervous as Tripp glances toward her, his eyes a shade darker. She lifts her chin, pretending to be brave, and wonders if he still sees through her like he used to.

She expects a big-brother kind of kiss on the cheek, or maybe even the forehead, so she is entirely taken aback when he places a couple fingers lightly under her chin, lifting her face to his and pressing his lips lightly to hers for a chaste, two-second-long kiss.

Everyone around them awws and applauds, and she stays very still, lips still parted, looking at him with stars in her eyes.


is this a natural feeling?

or is it just me bleeding?

all my thoughts and dreams

in hope that you will be with me


The year Serena betrays Blair and sleeps with Nate and gets caught up with Georgie and doesn't mean to kill Pete and leaves for boarding school, Tripp finds his Blair.

Her name is Maureen. She has red hair and wears slim, clean-cut dresses and headbands. Prim and proper in public, ruthless is a quiet way behind the scenes, she is the ideal daughter-in-law for a political, influential family. She's perfect.


The year Serena returns from boarding school to the mess she left behind and a slew of new disasters that only the Upper East Side could ever produce, Maureen becomes Tripp's wife.

Serena finds her invitation weeks after the event, buried in her junk mail. It's too late and she probably wouldn't have gone anyway – but it still makes her pause, bite her lip for a moment, feel her heart thump once or twice in her chest.

It's nice that he'd invite her, that's all. It's not like she's a masochist.


is this a moment to remember?

or just a cold day in December?


It is strange, when she sees him again – it strikes a chord, how very long it's been and how very much they've both changed – but she is busy trying to have and keep a job and make up with Nate and figure out her entire life. His presence blind-sides her, even though it is his party she is trying to get invited to. It makes her nervous, the way he used to know her, the fact that he can't anymore. She touches her cheek and does some stupid knee-bend thing and smiles and says, "I voted for you," and without really meaning to, he sees right through her like he used to and gets her invited to exactly where she needs to be.


When she's not busy chasing around her method-acting fake-boyfriend, she catches the occasional glance of Tripp across the room and it makes her feel a little fuzzy around the edges: she always did have a crush on him. It's been so long since they've had a conversation that she can't help but wonder about him: is he happy, with his life and his politics and his marriage? What happened to being different? To being Indiana Jones?

And it slips in, before she can help it.

Is he happy with Maureen?

She shakes off the thought and tries to be professional.


She's proud of him, when he wins, in the distant, forbidden way she used to be proud when he won a game of touch football.


I wonder if maybe I could be

all you ever dreamed

'cause you are so beautiful inside

so lovely, and I


When he finds her at the bar, she is tired and sad, missing her best friend and the days when it all seemed much easier. He looks a little how she feels, even through his success, so she plasters on a smile and calls him congressman; tries to coax out that smile of his that she used to love so much.

"Where's your better half?" she asks softly, reminding them both how wrong this has the potential to be.

But then he shrugs and says these are his last moments of quiet – Serena reads his subtext easily, he means freedom – and he just wanted to relax. She goes to stand, to get out of his way, but he reaches toward her to stop her. And then he's analyzing her sad face with those knowing eyes…

"You want to talk about it?" he asks her, a casual offer full of sympathy, and he's looking through her like she used to, and she just melts into it.

She makes her excuses. He doesn't want to hear her teenage drama, or her work issues, or anything else that's burdening her. But then he's asking for "what she's having" and listening intently and paying for both their drinks and she can't resist anymore.

She spills the whole story, and in a way it makes her feel like the child he's always addressed her as. He is a congressman, with real-life political problems, and she is busy having her infinite fight with her best friend and failing at maintaining any sort of job. But he gets it, just like he used to – how she could feel like an adult without really being one at all.

And in some sense, in those moments with him, she is an adult. Martinis in their hands and liquor in their bloodstreams; his hand falls to her knee at one point and she inches a bit closer in turn, alcohol loosening up their body language. His eyes drift over her body and she feels just a little more powerful even as she tells her tragic tale.


can't see why I'd do anything without you

you are

She loves working for him. She really, really does. He treats her respectfully and values her opinions and has a great sense of humour – he is a far better boss than KC ever was. He hires her in an instant and she's happy from that moment on, ignoring the spark that existed between them during their conversation.

It's a little bit of chemistry and a little bit of history, that's all. Their relationship is purely professional and platonic now. She's sure of it.


Except she's not, because she's felt herself bonding with him lately and she's without a boyfriend and a brother and a best friend and a Nate, so she brings him dinner because she knows he's busy working late, and she cares. She drops her purse and curls up next to him on the floor, waiting for that smile of his to spring up and returning a grin when it does.

It's like something out of a cheesy romantic comedy, the way they joke about how (un)interesting his speech sounds, and they both lean forward at the same time, fingertips brushing. Someone walks by and Tripp's shoulders stiffen like they've been caught at something, and she leaves in a whirlwind of hurried confusion, convincing herself it's all in her head.


and when I'm not with you

I know that it's true

that I'd rather be anywhere but here without you


And then, he says: "This was a huge mistake."

Her heart jumps all the way up into her throat and she has to swallow it back down, shaking her hair into her face the way she used to when she wanted to hide. She tries to talk about work and this job and everything that's professional but he's walking toward her and he's got that look in those eyes.

"I find you…smart, and charming, and I wanted to help you out. But having you here…"

Don't, she wants to say. Or maybe please, and in the end she says nothing and lets him talk instead.

"…I didn't realize how much it would affect me."

There is an awkward moment, where her lips twist and neither of them are strong enough to make eye contact and they suddenly feel like they are in much too public a place.

"Say something," he begs her, a half-smile on his lips for a millisecond, and he is suddenly forcing her to make one very adult decision.

She almost cries in the elevator and almost wishes she'd gone to Brown and just gotten some stupid degree, because she lacks control around him. If it weren't for the glass windows of his office and Blair's text, she might've (would've) kissed that millisecond-long smile off his lips.


The next time she sees him is on an elevator ride, and she internally begs for someone to get on at every floor. She can smell his cologne and there's still some awkward air in between them. She buries her nose in the file she's carrying in an attempt to distract herself, and does such a good job of it that when someone does get in the elevator, she doesn't even notice.

Tripp reaches for her arm to pull her to the side to make room, and she spends the rest of the elevator ride feeling the heat of his body radiating against hers. He doesn't let go.

When the other person finally gets out, he turns to her with serious eyes.

"Serena…I don't want this to be awkward. I really love having you around, and you're doing a great job here. I didn't…I'm sorry about what I said. Let's just forget it. Okay?" She hesitates and he smiles coaxingly. "C'mon. I still owe you for this…" His fingers trace off that old scar he gave her and a shiver shoots up her spine.

She finds herself smiling and nodding.


One day when they're both working late she pads into her office in her shoe-free feet to show him a positive media report – he's been working hard, he could use a smile – and she manages to trip over his foot and end up practically in his lap.

His hands go out to her instinctively to steady her – one at the small of her back and the other on her thigh. And it is the kind of situation neither of them are quite strong enough to walk away from, her skirt slipping up her thighs and his tie loose around his neck, perfect to grab on to. She closes her eyes, lets the paper flutter from her hands, tries to pull herself back together.

But she doesn't have a chance, because he leans in (like she has to admit she knew he would) and his lips find hers for the softest of kisses. Her arms snake around his neck easily, like they've been waiting to do that exact thing for months, or maybe years.

She forgets to think, as she settles a little more comfortably on his lap and relaxes into the kiss as it deepens.


is this the end of a moment?

or just a beautiful unfolding?


She has to take a moment to breathe when she gets home, because she's got a paycheck and stack of files to read through, but all her lip gloss is kissed off and she's honestly not sure what the hell that she's doing.


She tells Blair some, but not all, and gets the disapproving look she was expecting, but she's not sure how to make it all stop.

The worst part being that she's not sure if she wants it to.


And it doesn't.

It is a whisper in his office that is actually a kiss on the cheek, a hotel room paid for my one of her mother's many credit cards, blushing when her co-workers gossip about his marriage.

It is feeling so amazing one moment and so dirty the next, it is as though her head won't stop spinning, it is as though she's younger and older all at once.

("It's a silly little childish crush," Blair dismisses her feelings firmly.)

But they're adults and their behaviour is more mature than she's aware of how to handle.


Late night under dimmed fluorescent lights he lowers her to the floor on top of a freshly-printed congressional speech, carbon ink staining their fingertips black, his breath against her neck, hand slipping between her legs.


One evening when she's wearing his blue button-down shirt over her slip and they're sitting on the floor in his darkened office eating Japanese takeout, she rests her chin on one of her bare knees and asks, "Hey, Tripp?"

"Hey, Serena?" he mimics her gently, feeding her a bite off his chopsticks.

She has to wait to swallow before she can speak. "What…happened?" At his inquisitive look, she inhales and clarifies: "To what you wanted. Indiana Jones."

"Grandfather…interfered with the situation," he replies with a wry twist of his lips, chuckling and brushing the pad of his thumb gently over her lips as if trying to erase her frown. "Don't look so…mournful. C'mon, Serena. You know how it is. What stopped you from chasing your dreams?"

"How do you know working in our successful congressman's office isn't my dream?" she teases, eyes brightening up. Her mirth fades, and she shrugs. "My father, he…" She takes a deep breath and smirks, making eye contact with Tripp. "I guess you could say he interfered with the situation."

They break eye contact and return to their food, eating in companionable silence, settling into the kind of kinship that makes her feel like this might be okay, just for a few minutes.


of a love that will never be

for you and me


He just might be the very biggest secret she's ever kept. She doesn't realize until his entire family offers her an invite to their annual Christmas party, and she's standing there next to him laughing with an old family friend and sipping champagne and feeling like one half of a couple, when Maureen walks up and wraps herself around one of his arms, and Serena suddenly feels like an intruder.

She hides away for the rest of the party, wishing she could pull a sweater on over her revealing dress and feeling like a fool. She avoids Nate all evening and wanders through one of the many family mansions where the party is being held, checking out guest room décor and old portraits of the political van der Bilt men.


Tripp finds her hiding in a darkened hallway, a sprig of mistletoe in his hand. She lets him hold it above their heads, kisses him hard and heavily, and buries her face in his shirt for a moment, hiding from them both.

He sighs against her neck and she can feel them both unravel.


'cause you're so beautiful inside

you're so lovely, and I


They fall apart where they first came together after all those years, in the empty bar of Chuck's hotel. She's staring into her martini instead of drinking it, legs crossed demurely at the ankle and mascara smeared on her cheeks.

"You're married," she murmurs shakily, without looking at him, as he drapes his suit jacket over her shoulders. Her dress is sleeveless and flowing and she's wearing one of those uselessly decorative, flimsy scarves around her neck. "You're…you're a congressman." She shakes her head, wipes at her eyes. "Of course I would do this…"

"No, don't…"

"But I would," she insists, throwing her hands outward helplessly and looking him in the eyes for the first time. "If people knew about that, I couldn't even count how many people would say it was only a matter of time before that Serena van der Woodsen wrecked a home…"

"You didn't," he begins vehemently, but she keeps cutting him off because she's scared to hear him talk.

"You have a family. And I guess maybe I always…thought, or hoped, that it'd be mine, even with all the formality but not…not like this," she says forcefully, looking deep into his familiar, saddened eyes.

"Not like this," he agrees slowly, exhaling. He reaches over and picks up her martini, takes a long drink.

Serena sighs, whispers: "I have to quit."

"Let me find you something else." His hand inches across the bar; their pinkie fingers touch. "I gave you this job for partially selfish reasons, but…I really did think that you deserve it. You do. I believe that."

He stands up, rests a hand over the fabric of his jacket across her back, and leans down to kiss her temple, acting for once like the older-brother figure he always should've been.

Too little, too late, she thinks. Or maybe it was just never enough.


He helps her move out of his offices, even though it's unnecessary and she's only got one box. She's walking two blocks away, to a law firm where a friend of his is in need of a secretary. He walks her the whole way there, even though that, too, is unnecessary.

They don't talk for the two city blocks, simply weave through the throngs of pedestrians and pets, their footfalls in sync. They stop in front of the building that is her destination, and she makes herself smile through the awkwardness, says "Thank you" and reaches out to take the box from his hands.

His fingers graze that mark on her wrist that seems to have bound them somehow. He smiles back, resigned and polite, the last glimmers of hope flickering through his eyes.

"Maybe in another lifetime, right?" he says as jovially as he can, and he turns to go before she can reply and complicate the moment with anything emotional.

"Maybe," she calls out to him as he goes, because she feels like she needs to have the last word, but they both know it's a lie.


A week after she's settled into her new job and made fast friends with her smile and her determination, he sends her a bouquet of pale pink roses and with a note that wishes her all the best. There is a phone number scribbled on the back of the card, a scrawled sentence that mentions there are other ways for her to be a part of his family.


Summer in the Hamptons and she wears white dresses and drinks mimosas, makes small-talk with old family friends as the sun sets over the van der Bilt garden party. Nate stands close to her side, his palm skimming warmly down the bare skin of her arm until his hand reaches hers and their fingers thread together; he slides past that old scar without a thought and tugs her closer to him.

She allows herself one glance back at Tripp before Nate leads her away, catches the wink he throws in her direction, and lets herself smile a little. Maybe in an alternate universe they would've figured it out, the two of them together, but the reality is that this is their life, this is the one he's scarred her for, and they were never meant to be.


can't see why I'd do anything without you

you are


She invites him to her marriage to his cousin, a courtesy in the form of an anonymous cream-coloured envelope that can get lost in the midst of his junk mail.

They've gotten so very good at missing their chances, after all.


He surprises her on her wedding day in the tent just off the garden where all her guests are waiting. He's in a business suit, on his way out of the country, a card for Nate in his hands. Blair has run off to make sure everything's perfect, and Chuck is waiting to walk her down the aisle, and she's amazed at how easily Tripp capitalizes on this moment to get her alone.

"You look beautiful," he says, as if it's pure and simple fact, and he reaches out to fasten her diamond bracelet for her without her having to ask, securing the clasp over that old scar of hers. He grasps her hand when he's done, gives it a gentle squeeze.

"So, I want you to promise me something. If Nate ever…" He shakes his head, smiles. "I don't know, gets abducted by crazy zombies or something…"

She giggles and tries not to look as shy as he can still make her feel. "I'll look you up," she laughs, completing his thought.

"Yeah?" He grins at her, boyishly pleased.

Serena tugs her hand out of his slowly, carefully, and nods without looking away from his face. "I'll need your help, won't I? Indiana Jones."

He looks down as he laughs; leans in and kisses her cheek. "Be happy."

She exhales as he walks way. "You, too."


and when I'm not with you, I know that it's true

that I'd rather be anywhere but here without you


On Christmas Eve they've both got rings on their fingers and a good two feet, respectable distance, between them as they sit on the carpeted floor playing checkers. She's laughing, blonde hair glittering in the firelight, as he tells her about all of the drama that's gone on in his office since she left.

"I miss work!" she says wistfully. She quit her job when she was wedding-planning and off on her honeymoon, and she's still trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do.

"So come back. Work for me again. We could all use you there."

She hesitates. "We…tried that," she tells him hesitantly, speaking quietly. "It didn't work."

"We didn't," he agrees in the same muted tone. "But you did."

Serena looks up, catches his eyes, and sees what she's always seen there. He makes her feel like an adult, and like she's doing things right, like he understands how she's feeling and what she's thinking beyond her pretty face. He's always taken her seriously.

She moves her red checker-piece, capturing his last black one and sweeping them both off the board, granting the two of them a clean slate. She nods, reaches across the board to shake his hand. "Okay," she says, tugging up her shirt sleeve slightly to show off her scar and rewarding him with her brightest smile, "You still owe me for this, anyway."

Tripp grins back. "That I do."


At midnight, as the evening morphs into Christmas Day, she finds him standing outside and ventures over to join him, snow crunching under her feet.

"You know," she says quietly, into the quiet snowfall, "I always meant to tell you…you're wonderful at what you do, congressman."

He smiles over at her, recognizing the harmlessness of her flirtatious tone, and she grins back because it's about time that he knew that she believes in him, too.


anywhere but here without you