Disclaimer: I do not own "Gossip Girl."

Author's Note: Set in some indeterminate time post 2.07, but before 2.08. I know that's kind of technically impossible, but please bear with me, guys—finding a spot to set this during S2 was the hardest part of writing it, lol. ;-) So Nate has moved in with the Humphrey's, but SCB don't know about it.

I hope you're able to enjoy the fluff! Thank you for reading.


.2009.

.Senior Year.


It's a simultaneous gasp and leap to their feet, hands flying to their mouths, eyes widening, in unconsciously mimicked poses; there are other gasps rising up around them, but by the time others have stood they are on their way down to the field.

"It's what girlfriends and friends do, they support each other."

Serena had insisted for an hour into Blair's ear that day at school; to which Blair had replied in various forms, "You are not his girlfriend and I am certainly not his friend."

"I'm his friend, I support him; you're my friend, you support me."

And an hour of that was how Blair ended up sitting on a blanket over cold bleachers, aloofly following the antics of the many boys running up and down a field in pursuit of a checkered ball— a pastime she'd been certain she'd given up when she'd given up Nate.

It's Nate their rushing too now; their hands clasped as they make their way out to the huddle of teammates and coaches.

"It's bad," Serena murmurs as they get closer; because no one's dispersed it yet.

And Blair doesn't respond, silently agrees. It had certainly seemed bad; although admittedly she hadn't been paying all that much attention. Still, a collection of shouts and grunts, another player left grabbing his knee, and Nate sitting up much too slowly, leaning heavily on the grass—

"Oh my god…!" Serena's voice is a decibel above normal and she tightens her grip on Blair's hand as a player moves around to the other side and they see inside the huddle.

"You girls can't be out here," Someone says, "Get back to the bleachers please…"

It's not like they would have have paid attention if they had heard him; but as it is they don't really hear anything except a din of voices.

Because there's blood.

And they've never been very good with blood; it's as simultaneous as the gasping and leaping to their feet had been—they go pale, hearts pounding, and thoughts racing in frantic patterns…

Serena freaks out first.

She squeaks his name, voice low, pitch high—Nate! And pulls away from Blair, pushing her way into the huddle of players; she drops to the grass right beside him, knocking into Dan who's right there too. Blair follows in the wake Serena's opened up and stands above her, her eyes on Nate's profile.

Serena's hands land on his arm, his chest, as she mutters, oh my god and are you okay and you're bleeding in quick, fretful succession; her hands rubbing and smoothing and her eyes roving over his face. He offers a tiny smile, wan but sincere, mutters back s'ok, and she doesn't believe him.

Blair doesn't either.

"What were you thinking!?" Serena snaps over the hum of voices; but her suddenly fierce blue eyes are fixed on Dan, not Nate.

Around them teammates are throwing out their own questions, offering explanations, the opposing team is looking edgy, and the coaches have moved a few paces away to speak to the referee.

Blair shifts her position and narrows her eyes at a blonde boy on the grass next to Serena; he backs up. And she moves into the space, bends demurely, and reaches for the bloody, wadded t-shirt Nate's holding against his head.

"Let me see," she says, pulling at his wrist.

And he winces turns his head towards her a little, "No, it's… fine. I just… need a second… and for people to… to back up… so we can get off… the field… and finish the game…"

Blair rolls her eyes, stamps down on the burst anxiety thrumming inside her, tries to calm her heartbeat; it's a residual effect, she just has to breathe past it. "Fine. Of course," she drawls; sarcasm helps with the, breathe past it, "That's why it just took you 3 hours to say that sentence… let me see."

Dan's kneeling behind Nate, a hand on his shoulder; but his eyes are on Serena, "I didn't mean to— I just— I didn't realize—"

"That he was right next to you," she snaps, "You got in his way, Dan!" And then she's touching Nate's cheek, "Hey," she adds, voice considerably more soft, "Let Blair—"

"You girls can't—"

"Alright, paramedics almost here, let's you get on a bench, Archibald— oh hey, you girls can't—"

"They won't leave, coach!" The same player complains and Blair makes a mental note, player #8.

Nate bristles as Dan stands and hooks his hands under his arms, starts with, "I don't need—"

And the coach interrupts him, "You just slammed your head against that metal goal-post hard enough to break skin, kid, that merits a hospital visit," he concludes definitively and then he fastens his gaze on Blair and on Serena, who's straightening to her feet beside the brunette, "You two need—"

Dan's hauling Nate to his feet; and Nate feels the entire world tip on its axis, feels the wadded-up t-shirt slip from his grasp and his feet slide out from under him and then he doesn't really feel anything at all…

Dan hisses shit and two other boys come at him to help, they guide a sagging Nate to the closest bench and when Serena glares at Dan he shifts so she can slide into place at Nate's side; Blair slips in on the other side and looks up at the approaching coach with unabashed worry in her eyes, it's easier than it should be, and she can see the way the coach softens.

It probably helps that Nate's still bleeding and Serena's trying to let him lean on her and not touch the blood while she holds a towel someone had given her to his head; she's got her almost-crying face on and the coach doesn't stand a chance when she has to wipe a smear of blood from her fingers on her plaid uniform skirt, not with the way her lip wobbles…

Nate makes a face and groans when the paramedics arrive, says no when they suggest a trip to the hospital.

And Blair huffs, says firmly, "It is not up to him," and then she blinks wide brown eyes over at the coach, "Is it, Sir?"

The coach plays right into her hands; and Nate's strapped in and headed for the ambulance despite his quiet, but fervent protests in less than five minutes.

Dan grabs Serena's arm when she moves to follow; Blair's already a step ahead of her, following to the ambulance.

"It's not like it happened on purpose," he says earnestly, "… I don't even know how it happened, I was running and his feet and my feet… and the other guy and then everybody was just falling and I— I didn't mean—"

She nods, softens a bit, looks over to where they're starting to get into the vehicle, "Yeah, I know, I'm sorry I snapped at you— I just… it's not you— about you, okay… I'm just…" she shakes her head, says, "Sorry," again and moves to follow.

In the ambulance the paramedics ask about health conditions, tetanus shots, and allergies; Nate's responses are slow, a little dazed, so the girl's answer for him in tandem. It's Serena, in the middle of recounting an accident when they were eleven involving rusty rope-hooks and a sailboat, when the blast hits—

— with video, even; Nate bloody and dazed, being carried off the soccer field by paramedics while S and B run after him— captioned with a lilting limerick about missing C's and royal triangles reborn …

"I really hate that bitch," Blair hisses with enough vehemence to have the paramedic glancing over at her; she ignores the look, deletes the message from her phone with a furious tap of her finger.

Serena agrees, does the same; and when Nate murmurs, what, eyes turned towards her, she smiles and smoothes his arm, whispers, don't worry.

Inside, Nate's taken behind doors they can't follow and they're asked about paperwork and whom to contact; the number at the Archibald residence isn't connected and as strange as they both find that they don't bat an eyelash, concoct a story of a remodeling and a cruise with imperceptible hesitation. Blair calls Eleanor's number, mumbles urgently, Nate's hurt, Mom, just tell them you're responsible, we'll handle it from there, and Eleanor sighs dismissively, tells Blair oh fine, and speaks to an RN.

Blair takes the paperwork to fill out, sits in an armchair in the waiting-room to do it; and Serena walks to the window and then back over to Blair to check on her progress with the forms and then back to the window over and over again…

When Chuck walks in, they're not surprised; rather they lift a pair of what-took-you-so-long expressions to him and he ignores them, asks what's going on.

Serena tell him, tests, waiting, when Blair makes it clear she has no intention of answering him.

Serena shrugs, doesn't really care about whatever's going on between them at the moment—thoughts focused on Nate's bloody face and dazed eyes; having Chuck there gives her a new spot to walk to since he sits across from Blair rather than beside her, and she's strangely grateful for that.

Chuck stares at Blair; slowly, intensely, eyes running from her high-heeled Mary Jane's past the prim Constance uniform and to her to perfectly placed headband in a slow, invasive manner.

Blair withstands it for moments longer than Chuck thought she would and then she slams the pen down against the clipboard she's holding, "What, Chuck?"

He shrugs at her, smirks a little, says, "Just admiring," before going serious, "So what happened out there?"

Blair rolls her eyes and then responds in kind, eyes going serious. "He fell, hit his head on that… metal thing— on the goal…" she shrugs, figures he knows what she's talking about it.

Chuck blinks. "He… fell? Nathaniel? Playing soccer…?" He can't keep the skepticism out of his voice. Nathaniel's as gifted at sports as he is with twins.

"He collided, with others…" Blair continues, "I wasn't exactly… paying attention—though, I think… Humphrey was involved, right Serena?"

Serena turns from the window at the mention of her name, hands twisting in front of her, "Um… yeah, like three people went for it, legs got tangled; Nate tripped and fell forward into the goal post… I think the other boy— from the other team, sprained his knee."

"So he was tripped," Chuck clarifies, lips pursing a little. Because being tripped and tripping were two different things entirely.

And Serena blows out a breath at the way his eyes are narrowing, "Possibly… accidentally… maybe," she equivocates, points out, "It's a game, Chuck…things happen that—"

She cuts herself off when a doctor appears in the open doorway, looks over at the MD with expectant eyes; Chuck and Blair turn too.

A concussion, but otherwise fine, overnight for observation, and then home to rest for a few days— good news, and when they immediately ask to see him the doctor asks for parents.

His mother is on her way, Chuck says smoothly; knows it's a lie even as he says it; Anne would be here already if she were coming. But he's not worried; there are ways of getting around these things and she isn't needed.

In the room, Nate's lying back on the bed and staring sleepily at the ceiling, there's a white bandage at his temple and the covers are pulled up to his chest.

Serena slides in ahead of Blair and Chuck who can't stop giving each other, by turns, sly and then challenging looks; she slips onto the mattress with a smile and lays a hand to his chest as she murmurs, "Nate, hey!" sweetly, her blue eyes searching his out, "You're looking better…" she adds, feels a rush of relief at the flush of color on his face.

Nate blinks his gaze away from the ceiling; finds it surprisingly hard, vaguely remembers they gave him something after the tests were finished, because his head had really, really hurt…

"Serena," he says, feels himself smile as he sees her. Her hair's falling forward around her face, long and gold, and she's smiling that wide smile of hers that reminds him swinging higher, higher…

She touches his hair softly, "I think you're kinda out of it, Archibald…" she says, still smiling as she watches the way his eyes drift upwards a little.

"How are you feeling…?" Blair's voice is oddly cautious as she poses the question; she doesn't sit on the other side of the bed, she stands beside it, a pace back even, as if to keep her distance despite the concern evident in her dark eyes as she studies Nate.

But she's feeling suddenly awkward with Nate; with the memory of the welling of panic she'd felt. There wasn't really cause to feel anything towards Nate anymore—and that, that had caught her unawares.

Serena sends her a curious look and Blair ignores it.

Nate turns his head slowly in the direction of Blair's voice, blinks a couples times, "Oh… hey, Blair…" he murmurs, feels a flicker of surprise that she's there which is followed immediately by the realization that he's hurt and what exactly that means…

He shifts on the bed a little, feels sleepy and light, like he could float away, closes his eyes as he wonders, "… where's Chuck…?"

Because it means Chuck should be there too; he wants Chuck there too.

And Chuck drops a hand around his ankle, squeezes as he assures, "Here."

Nate shifts again on the bed and goes to lift his head, to look down at Chuck; ends up wincing instead, breathing a quiet whimper.

"You okay?" Serena wonders, her hand sliding to his arm, taking his hand.

Chuck moves forward then, feels it's less likely that Nathaniel will order him to leave since he's asking for him to be there. It'd been a quiet concern of his for a moment there… his relationship with— hell his role in the other boy's life felt uncomfortably precarious lately. But Nathaniel had wanted him to be here— and that counted for something.

He walks to stand beside Blair, figures it's a good opportunity to drive her a little insane, and no use passing that up.

"Felt crappy…" Nate mutters to Serena, "Before… maybe coming back…" he finishes with a slight pout.

"Perhaps you should stop moving around," Chuck offers wryly, smiling a little.

And Nate's eyes flicker open, shift languidly to Chuck. There's a memory, hazy and insistent, about him not speaking to Chuck; he can feel it— something niggling, a reason… but it's immaterial and shifty and mostly, it's good to see Chuck…

Because Chuck's gonna turn this into a joke, even if right at the moment he can't remember what this is… something with… soccer and… Dan-too-fucking-close and get-back-so-I-can-take-the-shot

He blinks again, the impressions fading; Chuck's smirking at him and as wrong as things can go when Chuck smirks, they don't usually go wrong for him, so he smiles, wide and easy, because everything's feels okay…

"S is right," Chuck concludes, "You, my friend, are completely smashed."

Nate doesn't really hear the words, but the tone is affectionate and amused, "… m'glad you're here…"

Chuck ducks his head a little, looks, for a moment, almost abashed and then the moment is gone. "Of course you are," he confirms with a nod, "You'll be even gladder tomorrow when I spring you from here and we can laze about my suite in the decadent company of—"

"— in the company of whom, Bass?" Blair snaps, elbowing him the ribs.

He takes a step back, doesn't rub at the sore spot she just made, "Why my dear, in the comp—"

"Our company, of course, B," Serena interrupts with a light laugh, "He'll get Nate out of here and then go laze around in our lovely and awesome company… and chocolate ice cream's…!" She adds, shifts her hand so her fingers intertwine with Nate's. "We'll get you ice cream…"

And Nate blinks again, their voices drifting around him in an echoic haze; it's a moment before he understands and then there's a vague spike of panic inside him, "… can't… go…" he shakes his head, trails off— isn't sure what he can't do exactly; and he winces at a stab of pain the motion costs him— stop moving around, Chuck had said. He stills, "… home's… not…" he swallows, trails off again, can't find

And Serena shifts closer, turns more fully towards him, her knee nudging his side; her other hand coming up to touch his face gently, "It's okay…" she murmurs, "We know your Mom's not home, you can come with us…"

"Well," Chuck states, "Me. I'm thinking more my suite than the family one, sis."

"Where is Anne?" Blair wonders.

Serena narrows her eyes at Chuck, "Fine, but then have it cleaned—it's disgusting."

Chuck frowns, a little irritated, "It is not."

"Is so, Chuck. I found a thong in one of the kitchen cabinets once."

"OH, did you?" Blair picks up, gaze shifting to Serena, "And when was this?"

Serena rolls her eyes, "Not the point, B…"

"No, it isn't," Chuck agrees, "And yes, where is your mother, Nathaniel?"

Nate starts a little at the mention of his name, eyes flickering open and he frowns, wonders when he'd closed them.

"Your Mom, Nate," Serena repeats, "Where is she…? She's not home, right? They called, there's no answer at your house…" she bites her lip, "No service actually…?"

Nate licks his lips, feels a strange burbling of agitation, of uneasiness inside at the mention of home; notions of cold and alone washing over him and he brings his hand up to rub at his face, to rub them away…

"Ah-ah, Nathaniel," Chuck intercepts the movement, hand wrapping around his wrist, "Let's try not to rub off the bandage, hm?"

The blue eyes that shift to Chuck are unexpectedly distressed and Chuck feels a jolt of alarm in response to them. He moves closer, brushes past Blair, as he lowers Nathaniel's arm back to the bed and then he sits carefully on the edge, doesn't release his hold. "Is something wrong?" He asks quietly.

"Does it hurt?" Serena wonders.

Blair inches closer, her legs pressed against the edge of the bed, hands brushing the sheets, "Do you want us to go and find—"

He doesn't want them to go; it's the clearest thing in his muddled thoughts.

"No," he says over Blair's words, his hand turning over so it's gripping Chuck's wrist back, "Don't go."

There's an edge of panic to the two words and the three of them exchange fast looks.

Before Chuck nods and pats Nathaniel's hand once with his other, "Of course not…"

Blair huffs a little, touches his shoulder, "I didn't mean we'd go, Nate. Just if you… need something… I could find someone… to procure it for you." She tells him; he's looking disoriented and upset and she's curiously protective then, because Nate's always been just a touch younger than the rest of them…

But Nate relaxes as the meaning of the words work their way into his mind, not leaving, loosens his grip on Chuck's wrist, they're not leaving.

And with the release of tension comes a flood of lethargy to take its place, eyes drooping and head falling to one side, he tries to blink them open again, "…s'good…" he murmurs groggily, "Sstay… so no' 'lone… don' leave…"

"We're not going to leave," Serena says soothingly, smiling a little as she leans forward towards him, "We'll stay…" she comforts, brushes back a lock of his hair from his forehead; feels fiercely sympathetic because hospitals have always struck her as hauntingly lonely…

He turns his face, following her touch, and he sighs sleepily.

"Just go to sleep," Blair says softly, watching the way he's fighting it.

"We're still going to be here when you wake up," Chuck adds, his voice low. And they would be—every time.

Serena nods, trails her fingertips lightly down the side of his face, "Sleep, and then you'll feel better…"

It's a moment later and Nate's eyes slip shut, another moment still and his breathing deepens, evens out. They breathe, collectively, easier; Serena leans back and Blair steps away and Chuck loosens his hold. And then they look to each other, expressions almost wry and oddly assured — because this remains, always. A thing they can't wholly express in words, a concept that's become simple instinct— they'll still be here when Nate wakes because this is what they do, what they have— each other.


.the end.