A/N: Happy Holidays! :)

Baby, I Can't Fight This Feeling

and even as I wander

I'm keeping you in sight

you're a candle in the window

on a cold, dark, winter's night

and I'm getting closer

than I ever thought I might

and I can't fight this feeling anymore

--

Blair stands in the middle of the room, hands a few inches away from either side of her body, showing herself off.

"What's the verdict, S?" she asks, glancing down at her outfit.

From where she's curled up on the couch, Serena smiles sweetly. "You look beautiful, B. Spin!" she orders so that she can see her best friend's outfit from every angle.

Blair obliges her and Serena grins. "C'mere, you've got this one hair that's not…"

The brunette walks over and sits next to her, turning her head so that Serena can tuck whichever rebellious strands are out of order into their rightful places.

"There!" she exclaims, tugging the blanket she's cuddled up in tighter around her body again. "You're going to be the prettiest girl in New York tonight. And you're going to have the very best time."

Blair smiles affectionately, tucking Serena's loose, messy hair back behind her ear. "Are you sure you don't want to come?"

She giggles, touched by the offer but not really taking it seriously. She's wearing a pair of plaid pyjama pants, a clingy white tank top, fluffy boot-style slippers, and absolutely no makeup. Since her accident and through the holidays, she's spent the majority of her time in comfy clothes, either in her bed or nestled on various couches so that she can spend time with her family and friends. Physically, she's feeling fine; she got into the habit of sleeping lots in the week after the crash and has simply been lazy through the holidays. The cuts on her cheek are still visible, but almost healed. But her dignity is still bruised, and she's nursing some wounds on her heart.

Her career, too, has taken a hit – she is yet again without a job, and lately she's found herself contemplating her future. She is without a job, a boyfriend, a father. She's needed this time, full of her friends and her family and too many sugary foods, to figure herself out a bit. Her head was messy even before she got that concussion.

"I'm good here, B," she promises.

Blair looks doubtful. "You're just going to sit here, by yourself, and watch a ball drop on TV?" she asked sceptically.

Serena frowns playfully, grumbling, "Well, when you say it like that, then it sounds sad…"

She's had numerous offers for company tonight. Her mother offered to stay in with her, which Serena appreciated, but she sent Lily off to a party with Rufus in the hopes they'd actually talk through things – Serena could resume being mad at her mother once she sorted things out with Rufus. Jenny had plans with the new mean girls, but Dan had taken it upon himself to offer both himself and his little sister as Serena's company for the evening, rambling about how he and Jenny were experts on lame New Year's Eves full of board games and chilli. She'd declined, leaving Jenny to her original plans and sending Dan off to some NYU party Vanessa had been talking about going to. Chuck was hosting a blow-out bash at his hotel that had been scheduled nearly a month ago, but he offered to cancel – Serena told him that was crazy and insisted that Blair go to the party as well instead of staying in with her.

Being by herself couldn't hurt. People had hovered around her for weeks – she wanted some time alone, and she wanted everyone she loved to go out and have a good evening. Since Blair had asked for her help with getting ready, Serena figured she'd just crash at Chuck's suite for the night.

"Come with us," Blair says encouragingly, reaching for her hand and giving it a squeeze.

"B, look at me," she laughs, gesturing to her less-than-impressive ensemble.

Blair rolls her eyes. "I can find you something to wear; half of my clothes are here. And I know you Serena, you can get ready to go out and look stunning in about fifteen minutes. Which, by the way, is grossly unfair," she teases, nudging Serena's knee with her own. "Come with us. We've still got time! You can get ready."

"I am not going to come to this party with you and Chuck just to be the world's biggest third wheel."

"You are my best friend. You're his sister," Blair points out.

Serena arches one eyebrow and smiles mischievously. "Okay, so which one of you am I supposed to kiss at midnight?"

"I think we could arrange for both." Chuck's voice floats over as he walks into the room, adjusting his tie and interrupting their conversation. "Or, if you'd rather," he smarms, "we could all just stay in and go to bed right now."

She rolls her eyes, smiling slightly as Blair gets up, directing a chastising look at her boyfriend as she swats his hands away and fixes his tie herself. Chuck turns his head slightly to kiss Blair's cheek, saying something, too softly for Serena to hear, against his girlfriend's skin.

"Serena won't come with us tonight," Blair says, glancing back over her shoulder.

"I'm fine here, I promise," she insists before Chuck can say a word. She stands up, shedding her blanket and pads over to them in her slippers. "Just go out and have fun tonight, okay? Don't worry about me."

She hugs Chuck (she stayed in the hospital for two nights; he came on the day she was released and wrapped his arms around her, and ever since then she's been hugging him teasingly every few days to prove that Chuck Bass receiving a hug will not, in fact, result in Armageddon or something), laughing into his blazer when he pats her back awkwardly, and then wraps Blair up in an easier, more natural, full-body squeeze.

"Remember, how you spend the moment the year changes predicts how you'll spend the rest of the year," she reminds them. "So do something great – but not the kind of great that I don't want to hear about," she warns them, only half-teasing.

She sits back down, reaching for her book as she wraps her blanket around her shoulders again – she's been working her way through Dan and Blair's English class reading lists just for the sake of keeping herself busy – watching lazily as Blair bustled around, applying lipstick and touching her hair, smoothing out her dress. Chuck watches her movements, too, with a kind of smouldering admiration as he shrugs on his suit jacket.

"We can't be late," he reminds her.

"I'm never late," she responds breezily, moving toward him and hooking her arm through his. She turns to call "Love you! Happy New Year!" to Serena as Chuck steers her toward the elevator.

As they slip out of Serena's visual field, she hears the low rumble of Chuck's voice followed by Blair's laughter.

"Chuck Bass, if you think…" the brunette begins, her words cut off by the ding of the elevator reaching the floor and the doors sliding closed after they step inside.

Serena lets her book fall closed, her index finger remaining in between the pages to hold her place, her other hand floating up toward her face, fingers tentatively grazing her cuts. For a month now, she's had an ever-so-slowly fading reminder of the way her continuous downward spiral finally – literally – crashed and burned.

She's spent a lot of time trying to trace it all back to the moment things started spinning out of control. It's not quite as dramatic as it sounds in her head: she's had her good days, good weeks, good months. She's had times of stability. But she thinks, sometimes, that maybe she hasn't quite been herself since her father walked out of her life and never returned. Maybe something changed that night with an empty bar and emotions spilling over and the horrifying feeling of having committed two wrongs in one night (and the even scarier feeling of the first, champagne spilling onto her dress and warm hands against her skin, having felt so right).

All she knows is that it's time, high time, to figure it all out. She's eighteen now, not a little girl counting the days on the calendar since she's seen her father, and she's tired of being a…a mess.

Sighing, she shakes her head and gets to her feet, wandering into the suite's kitchen. It's not very well stocked, considering two boys, one of whom is trying to run a business empire and the other of whom is busy with classes and study groups, live there. Searching the cupboards only presents her with a great deal of alcohol and some random croissants, probably courtesy of Blair. The fridge also contains alcohol, lots of pricey bottled water, and a few bottles of Gatorade. With another sigh, she grabs the red Gatorade and idly opens one of the higher cupboards.

Her smile when she sees what's inside is automatic: popcorn and Pop-Tarts.

"Jackpot," she says aloud, pulling out a bag of popcorn and opening up the microwave. While listening to the pop-pop-pop, she tears open a package of Pop-Tarts and puts them in the toaster.

She spins on the polished kitchen floor in her slipper-covered feet while she waits, steadies herself against the counter when she slips a little, giggling at her own actions. Exhaling, she opens the microwave, pours her popcorn into a bowl, puts her Pop-Tarts on a plate, and balances her food and drink in her hands as she walks back to the living room.

Her television options are limited to a slew of vampire-themed teenage dramas or news channels, on which headlines fly by on the ticker-tape at the bottom of the screen as fireworks explode across the globe, fresh bursts of light as every time zone hits midnight.

It's only nine o'clock and she's already restless.

--

By ten o'clock she's stretched out under her blanket, her book completely abandoned, popcorn and Pop-Tarts half eaten and Gatorade gone, half-asleep and quasi-dreaming (there are fireworks sparkling behind her eyelids).

The sound of the elevator's ding catches her attention, so she sits up groggily, squinting. Chuck and Blair can't be back so early.

It's Nate. Nate, whose smile springs to his lips the moment he sees her. (Nate, who slept all night in the world's most uncomfortable chair just to be with her.)

"Hey, sleepyhead," he greets her laughingly, but gently, as he walks over. His hand slips into her hair, finger-combing tangles out and massaging her scalp lightly. "Asleep at ten on New Year's Eve?" He clucks his tongue, gives her this look that's appeared quite often on his face lately, packed with some kind of fierce affection. "Lame, van der Woodsen," he berates her.

She squints at him a little with her sleepy eyes, pointing out teasingly in return, "You're here with me, Archibald."

He laughs easily, taking a seat at her side as she sits up a bit more. Serena rubs her eyes quickly, suddenly and strangely self-conscious about her appearance. "I thought you were…with your family 'til classes started up again."

"The Van der Bilts get tiring," Nate tells her wryly, but there is something serious in the undertone of his words. The way her mood falls at the sentiment must be mirrored in her face, because he sends her a grin and slides a bottle out of a bag she hadn't noticed he had. "I brought champagne!" he announces, nodding toward the table as he adds, "Good thing, too, since I think you ate all my other food…"

"Your food?"

"Chuck does not eat Pop-Tarts," he reminds her laughingly. "I'll go grab some glasses, okay?"

She leans toward him quickly to snatch the bottle from his hands, her eyes glittering with mischief. "Who says we need glasses?"

She gets distracted before he can answer by the feeling of the wet wool of his jacket when she leaned against him, noticing as she wakes up a little more that there are small snowflakes, quickly melting, all over him. "It's snowing?!" she asks delightedly, glancing back up to meet his eyes.

And he is looking at her (studying her, almost), with the same kind of smouldering admiration she'd seen in Chuck's glance earlier as he patiently watched Blair move around the suite. It makes her breathless, just for second, but then he's smiling again and shaking his hair at her like he's a dog.

"Nate!" she squeals laughingly, leaning away from him to avoid the very light sprinkling of water his movements are throwing in her direction.

His smile stretches out into a grin, lopsided and adorable and perfect. "Yeah, it's snowing. And you're missing it all," he tells her, reaching out to tug lightly at her hair, "hiding away in here."

"I'm not hiding," she says, her voice softer as she bats his hand away.

Nate reaches toward her, his hand cupping her cheek and his thumb moving softly over the almost-healed cuts on her cheek. She stays absolutely still, watching his face cautiously.

"Still hurting?" he asks her, matching her quiet tone.

She exhales, leaning into his touch a bit. "Not those," she mumbles.

He eyes skim over her face searchingly, understanding what she's implying. "I'm worried about you," he states.

Serena laughs, but it doesn't reach her eyes. It just seems ridiculous, that he'd worry about her, that he'd be so good to her still, after the times she's walked away from him. "Don't," is all she can manage to say, staring at anything but his face.

Nate chuckles, or maybe scoffs, or maybe does both, fingers tracing over her cuts very softly. One of his fingers hooks gently under her chin, forcing her to tilt her head up and meet his eyes. He smiles at her, slow and sweet, the kind of forgiveness she doesn't feel worthy of. "Can't stop now," Nate says, sounding surprisingly serious, and her heart flips because she knows he's talking about more than his worrying.

She smiles back, a wordless acknowledgment of all that he's saying and kind of a thank you, pulling away from his touch and reaching out to unbutton his jacket.

"Take off your coat and stay a while, Archibald," she giggles.

--

"Remember," he laughs, "that year when we were six, and Lily was away, so you and Eric were staying at my place and we were so determined to stay awake until midnight?"

She giggles, leaning back against the arm of the couch, her feet on his lap. The champagne bottle is sitting on the coffee table, open and empty. "I wouldn't let you fall asleep."

"But it was worth it," he says, his eyes shining as he looks at her. "We saw the fireworks from my window. Remember?"

"Of course I do," she says with a lazy smile.

He laughs again, his eyes far away, lost in memory. "You were so excited. You kept pressing your nose right up to the glass of the window. I kept worrying that the window would break and you'd fall."

Serena snorts a laugh, shaking her head fondly, humouring him as she teases: "And would you have done if my six-year-old weight managed to break that window and I'd fallen? Jumped after me?"

Shaking his head, his eyes clear as he focuses on her. "I wouldn't have let you fall. I would've caught you."

She blinks at him, a little bit tipsy, her whole body warm and tingling. "Yeah," she says, feeling as though she's making some kind of profound realization. The truth in his words is enough to make her head spin. "You would have."

"You were so cute," he says, like her can still see her six-year-old, tired self, nose pressed up to immaculately cleaned, cool glass at midnight, fireworks reflected in her navy blue eyes. He traces a finger against her anklebone and starts massaging her feet for no real reason, his fingers kneading her muscles. She flexes her feet under his hands, trying not to wiggle too much, a giggle slipping out of her mouth.

"Ticklish," she offers by way of explanation.

He laughs. "You still are. Cute," he clarifies.

Her cheeks get hot in an instant. She's blushing, and it's ridiculous, because it's Nate and no one's called her "cute" since she was about eleven years old. But maybe that's why she's blushing – because it's Nate, and because after all these years, when he's seen her at her worst and maybe her best, he still thinks she's cute.

Serena's champagne-and-Nate (funny how that combination always seems to knock down all her barriers in this deliciously frightening way) induced reverie is interrupted by a particularly loud commercial for some stupid product blaring at them from the TV. She glances over at the nearest clock, squinting at it a little more than necessary.

"It's almost midnight," she comments, surprised. "The year's almost over."

"You sound disappointed," he chuckles. "And drunk," he adds, though there's no judgment in his voice.

"I am not. Either," she insists petulantly, scowling at him. "There's never been a better time for a fresh start," she says decisively, unable to keep from sighing. "Things need to change."

Nate is studying the way her eyebrows have furrowed, and looks like he's hurting – on her behalf, as if he can't be happy if she isn't. Impulsively, he leans toward her and her frown disappears, replaced by wonderment as he presses his lips sweetly to her right cheek, over the remnants of her cuts, like he's healing her.

She smiles a little at the feeling as he says, "Not everything will change, though. Only the bad stuff."

Serena turns her head slightly, meeting his eyes, asking for answers. "And what's the good stuff?" she inquires.

After only seconds of thinking, he has her answers. "You and me," he says, "champagne and Pop-Tarts. That's the good stuff. That's how we'll ring in the new year. It…sets the tone, or whatever, right? For the rest of the year."

She nods, and confesses, her voice very small, "But I ate all your Pop-Tarts."

He laughs and kisses her cheek again, causing a grin of her own to break free. "Ah, but you didn't find my secret stash." He gets to his feet, touching the top of her head affectionately. "I think I even have Brown Sugar Cinnamon!" he declares excitedly. "That's your favourite, right?"

Serena lifts her head, touches his wrist for a second, and nods. "Yeah, my favourite," she agrees quietly.

--

They greet midnight with sugary mouths and fuzzy minds, sprawled back on the couch in the same positions, Serena's feet on Nate's lap. They're laughing about something and she's kicking at his leg playfully; their joking around and laughter drowns out the ten, nine, eight… that is being yelled on the live broadcast they're watching.

"Midnight!" Nate points out as she buries the toes of one of her feet under his leg.

On the television, in Time Square, everyone cheers and kisses their significant others, laughing and yelling jubilantly. She glances at Nate in her peripheral vision, sighs softly.

"Midnight kiss?" she asks him hopefully, suddenly very grateful for his presence. She's glad not to be alone. It's midnight, it's a new year, and it wouldn't hurt to start it off with a kiss from one of her oldest friends. "For auld lang syne!" she adds with a note of teasing in her voice. For old times' sake.

She's not sure if she's crossing a line, because he's been there for her since the moment she walked into this apartment and declared that she needed him. Despite not one, but two, heartfelt confessions on his part and two heart-wrenching departures from him on hers (she still sees the way he scoffed in the bar, as if it was so ludicrous, so impossible not to have loved her; still sees the burning blues of his eyes under the stars, hears staystaystay and wishes she had), they have remained very firmly in the territory of friendship. This night, it's been nothing been a refreshing of their friendship.

And it's been nice, to be his friend again, because she loves him in whatever ways she can, always has. They've fallen into easy camaraderie and neither of them has given a single clear indication that they want anything more. It's just friendship.

(If she thanks him, eyes soft and tone solemn, over and over for standing by her, it's just because he was being the best friend she could've ever asked for. And if he has checked up on her daily with calls and texts, it's only because he's been bored with his ever-so-serious family and wants the smiles he knows will come when he reads her cute, emoticon-filled replies.)

Nate gives her this look, a knowing one, like he's got a secret she's about to find out. "That's what I'm here for," he tells her with a shrug.

She exhales then, and realizes: she was holding her breath as she waited for his answer.

She smiles, inches the slightest bit closer as he leans toward her, eyelashes fluttering as she closes her eyes.

"Happy New Year, Serena," he says, almost gruffly, just a breath away from her lips.

She has just enough time to murmur, "And back to you. Nathaniel," she adds teasingly, but her giggles never spill out of her mouth because his lips are claiming hers in a tender, chaste kiss.

He tastes like champagne and brown sugar and oh, three years ago at a bar when the straps of her dress slipped down her arms.

Ever since three years ago when you left…

Nate pulls back first, gently moving away from her, his hand having come to rest lightly at the back of her neck. Serena blinks open her eyes, feeling vaguely stunned, her heart hammering.

"Happy twenty-ten!" she reiterates, forcing cheer into her voice. It's just friendship.

His thumb glides gently under one of her eyes, calling attention to the fact that her skin is moist. "You're crying. No crying on New Year's," he chides her, his face still so close, and she finds herself fighting the urge to kiss him again.

"New Year's confession?" she proposes, words leaving her lips on a sigh as she looks at him trustingly. Usually with Nate, she's got so many things to say but she buries them deep; now, after this past month of having him in her life and in this moment of change and new resolutions, they're bubbling to the surface, demanding to be let go of (at last).

Hand landing on her calf, he traces patterns against the cloth of her pyjama pants. "Hit me with it," he says, game for anything with her. She can tell, by looking at him, that he is worried about her once again.

"I just…" She looks away, stares at the TV for a moment before inhaling, gathering her courage. She looks back at him, makes eye contact and fights to maintain it. "I'm sorry, Nate."

Realization dashes across his face, changing it, and he shakes his head but she forges on before he can say anything in response.

"I'm so, so sorry. I…I feel like I walk away from you again and again and again, and it hurts, but I feel like…I just get so scared and stupid and I start thinking it'll hurt even more if I stay, because I don't…I don't know what comes next." She takes a shuddering breath, looking at him imploringly. "I'm scared to try you and me, Nate, because what if we don't get…happily ever after?"

She stops looking at him then, focuses instead on his hand, which is still against her leg now. "I'd rather keep believing we would," she whispers, "because it's what I always…I thought it would be so easy, you and me, and we'd fight about stupid things and love each other so hard and spend entire days doing nothing but it'd feel like something…" She swallows. "You weren't just Blair's fairytale ending when we were little kids. It seemed like something that would happen so far into the future that I didn't think about it that much, but you were always mine too. And I can't…I can't lose it, Nate; I can't lose you, not so completely."

And there it is, her heart laid bare, just as his was that night on the street when she couldn't look into his eyes for too long or she would've broken right in two, so she turned around and got into a car with his cousin.

She is a mess and she knows it, has gotten mixed up and has been downright wrong so many times, has apologized for things that deserved apologies and things that didn't, has fallen from boy to boy. There's been alcohol and there were drugs, there was a year at boarding school and coming back looking for redemption, and there is now; now is paparazzi following her and a father who refuses to see her and a mother who lies…and Nate. Somewhere past all those layers, all those messes that sometimes feel like they define her, Serena was once a little girl with the same exact daydreams as her best friend: a boy who would love her unconditionally, love the perfect wedding she'd create for them, love her enough to protect her from the whole world, love her enough to last forever.

At her core, that daydream is still something she desires. And even deeper down, all layers peeled back to reveal her heart, it's Nate that she sees. Nate, on a white horse coming to her rescue, standing next to her when she wears her white dress and makes promises of forever. Nate.

He's staring at her, as though dazed by her words, his eyes a little bit hazy from the champagne they drank. His mouth opens but no sound comes out.

Lips pressed together impatiently, she is dying for him to say something but willing to wait. They never talk about these things, about them, so she wants this to be a careful, deliberate conversation.

(And he's waited for her long enough. It's only fair.)

"You could never lose me," he finally says slowly, looking heartbreakingly confused that she could ever even fathom the thought. "I told you, didn't I? Even when I was mad at you," he laughs, "Or you were mad at me, or…whatever. I told you…you can count on me, always. You have me, always. Serena, I could never…" He shakes his head slightly and waits to see if she has anything to say.

"Always," she repeats quietly, rolling the word around on her tongue (it tastes good, so good, mingled with champagne and the taste of him). Slowly, she smiles, even though her voice is small and shaking when she asks: "New Year's confession part two?"

Nate nods solemnly, his eyes searching her face as if he's looking for clues as to what it will be.

It's her final secret, the one that's been haunting her lately, one that will give him more of her than she's ever acknowledged him having before, but she finds she's strangely ready. "I…I can't stop thinking about it. That day we spent together, catching up and eating ice cream, and the bar…" She pauses, stares at her own hands, which are knotted together on her lap. "I think about it all the time, Nate, I hear it over and over, what you said to me that night, that…that you loved me. But if I think about it for long enough, I hear you saying it…present tense."

Her eyes lock with his before she even decides to look at him, blue against blue. His eyes are wide, and full, shining and overflowing with emotion, and her smile gets caught in between growing and dimming, so it simply freezes on her lips.

"Wishful thinking…?" It trails off into a question.

Even though he's already looking at her, that is the moment their gazes seem to really collide, as he takes a breath so deep she can see the movement in his chest.

She can see it his eyes, in his face, the same things she saw that night, standing on the curb. Licking her lips nervously, she waits for him to answer her question (her life-changing question that might plunge them both into something years in the making) but she is already smiling at little, because at least now he knows, and, just…his face.

"Or maybe not," he breathes, the slightest bit of excitement gleaming in his vulnerable eyes.

Her smile blooms, big and bright, but she quells it quickly. "Do you forgive me?" she asks him softly, sincerely, inching just a little bit closer.

"I forgave you the moment it happened."

"Nate." She frowns. "It can't be that easy."

He laughs, a burst of delight, and humours her as he's always done. "Alright. I will make it my new year's resolution to forgive you. Better?"

"Better," she agrees firmly, her eyes drifting toward his mouth. She forces herself to blink and meet his eyes again. "I'm sorry. I really am. I'm just such a mess lately…"

"You're not."

She throws an incredulous look at him, because he has just witnessed the worst of it.

He concedes. "Okay, maybe." But he says in grudgingly, doubtfully, like he might not really agree.

"I'll make it my new year's resolution to be less of one," she tells him, eagerly, because she wants him to see her in a better light as much as she wants to be in one.

Nate looks at her, eyes skimming over her body fondly and hands creeping toward her slowly, fingers threatening to tickle her. "Maybe I like your mess. I'm not exactly perfect, S. I wouldn't expect you to be."

"So what do you suggest then?" she inquires, impish and coy, you love me floating around in her tone; she wants to shout it from the rooftops. And all of a sudden her body is much closer to his, her thighs draped across his lap rather than her just her lower calves.

He pulls her closer, tickles her ribcage lightly. "Maybe we could be messy together."

"Natie!" she squeals, squirming against his hands, and he relents. He shifts her weight against him until she is practically sitting in his lap. She sighs, rests her forehead lightly against his and savours the contact, lets herself get lost in the past for just a moment, just a second, because now they have a future. "Messy together sounds good," she murmurs, too close to him to think totally straight, but she knows for sure that this, right here, is the absolute definition of good.

"You love me," she breathes, in awe of it. He loved her and he loves her. "You love me."

He laughs, kisses her nose gently. Nods, but doesn't say anything. He doesn't need to. She can see it, feel it: always.

"Maybe I'll change my resolution," she muses teasingly, trying not to feel so much, but it's getting harder and harder as he presses his lips against her jaw and her fingers slip into his hair.

"Mm, to what?"

"To love you back," she says casually, and it is one-half jesting and one-half pure and utter seriousness, because she is almost there already, so very close to letting herself love him (always has been).

She kisses him this time, an outpouring of all that's always been there (love; present tense), her mouth opening against his. She throws her blanket away from it's place around her shoulders, doesn't need or want it anymore: she'd so much rather be wrapped up in his arms, he has proven twice over that he is the only protection she could ever need. She scrambles to sit fully in his lap, straddling him; it makes him laugh against her mouth, and she nips at his lower lip playfully.

It feels so good, so right, making out heavily in a perfect kind of mess, and she can't believe how long it's taken them to get here. One of his thumbs dips, just barely, into the waistband of her pyjama pants and the other grazes the side of her breast once, twice, drifting upward to cup her cheek in his hand.

"You know, they say how you spend New Year's Eve is how you'll spend the rest of the year…"

She glances up, hazy-eyed, toward the direction of the mocking voice that's interrupted them by reiterating Serena's words at the beginning of the evening, only to see Chuck smirking at them – no, smiling, genuinely happy. It makes her smile back, her cheeks turning pale pink.

Blair is at his side, and there's a moment of hesitance – of cheating and not knowing and wanting a boy she'd later realize wasn't the perfect one for her – but then she smiles too, slower and sweeter, a blessing.

"Well," she says, in a tone that would normally be clipped but is slurred ever-so-slightly by whatever alcohol she's consumed during the evening. She pauses and turns to Chuck, feigning confusion. "What's the phrase I'm looking for?"

"About fucking time?" he supplies, shooting Nate a pointed look and smirking at his girlfriend.

Blair smiles demurely, slipping her hand into Chuck's and tugging him off toward their bedroom. "Happy New Year, you two," she tells Nate and Serena, gently but pointedly, before the two of them disappear.

Nate kisses her again the moment they're alone, and she giggles against his mouth, placing both of her hands lightly on his face and sinking into him, her hips pressing against his a bit more.

He groans lightly, his hand gliding down on of her thighs. "God, you feel so good," he breathes, burying his face in her neck and kissing her skin.

"You too," she says softly, nestling her face against his neck in turn, kissing his shoulder just because she can. Then she's laughing into the fabric of his shirt, unable to stop, because she is giddy and this feels surreal and so much like finally.

"What?" he asks, half-laughing because her joy has always been contagious for him. He smoothes her hair out of her face, fingers moving gently against her skin, enjoying the feel of her.

She pulls back a little bit, gives him a sidelong glance, warm and hopeful and coy, and bites her bottom lip lightly. "Say it."

Nate chuckles, obliges her. He speaks slowly, almost as if he feels the same sense of wonderment that she does at this emotional awakening. "I love you, Serena," he says, a playful note in his voice but nothing, nothing at all but seriousness in his eyes.

She blows out her breath, laughs with a little less mirth. "Took you long enough," she murmurs, her eyes searching his face as their noses brush.

He nuzzles his nose against hers sweetly. "Consider it my new year's resolution to make up for lost time, then," he all but growls, his hands gripping her close.

Serena smiles softly. "Natie, I –"

He doesn't let her finish – maybe he doesn't need to hear her say it because he just knows, or maybe he knows her deeply enough to know that she needs a little more time, or maybe he's just greedy for the feel of her – whatever it is, it's got his mouth covering hers again. And their kissing is more relaxed, gentle and slow, almost lazy. They've never kissed quite like this before, unhurried and totally relaxed into each other, because they've never had time spanning endlessly before them like this.

It's wonderful, his fingers tracing upward against her spine and making her shiver delightedly, the familiar feeling of his lips against hers. She pulls away for oxygen, her breathing heavy but relaxed as she presses kisses to the corner of his mouth, his jaw, his cheeks, his nose and then curls into him, cuddling up with her head tucked under his chin.

Nate runs his fingers through her hair, presses a kiss to the top of her head. She snuggles even closer to him, can't seem to ever get enough of him, and makes a quasi-purring sound that has him chuckling; she can feel his laughter in his chest and it makes her smile, big and wide, as she closes her eyes contentedly.

"Tired?" he asks, and that one word is full of so much fondness that she wants to be even closer to him.

"Mm," she murmurs as she nods, the top of her head bumping his chin as he wraps her up in his arms.

"You're staying here?" he asks her, teasingly, because it's clear to them both that she is. Nevertheless, he waits for her small sound of agreement before he drops another kiss on top of her head. "Bedtime, then."

And in one smooth movement he picks her up, like she's a princess or a bride, one arm slipping beneath her knees, the other at her back. She squeals, surprised, as she wraps her arms around his neck.

He carries her into his bedroom, tugging the covers back so that he can lie her down. She's already half-asleep, and in her pyjamas, so he simply covers her with the blankets, kissing her cheek and then her lips, repeatedly, until she's giggling sleepily and smiling against his mouth, her hand cupping his jaw. When he straightens up a bit she reaches for his arm, pouting.

"Where're you going?"

"Nowhere," he laughs, pulling his shirt over his head. She bites her lip, burying her nose in his pillow and breathing in the scent of him as she admires him through half-closed eyes as he pulls of his socks and shoes as well before he steps out of his pants.

"Won't you be cold?" she asks him mischievously, blinking innocently up at him.

"You'll just have to warm me up," he replies easily, wiggling his eyebrows as he joins her under the covers, getting into bed with a little more force than necessary so that the mattress moves beneath her and she giggles.

The moment he's settled in she curls up close to him, their legs tangling together as she snuggles up to him again. She can feel Nate's even breaths against her cheek and tickling her ear. "G'night, Natie," she murmurs, tilting her chin up for a goodnight kiss, which he grants her instantly.

"Sweet dreams, S," he replies, his body relaxing against hers.

Moments slide by slowly as she drifts further and further into dreamland, but then his lips are touching the shell of her ear, whispering a secret. "New Year's Eve confession?" he breathes.

She shifts a little bit, enjoying the feeling of the arm he's got wrapped around her waist. Nodding without opening her eyes, she mumbles, "'course."

"I think we can have it," he tells her gently, certainly. "Happily ever after. I think we will." It is clear, in his voice, that he loves her enough to really believe in what he's saying.

Serena buries her face in his chest and clings to him a little tighter. She drifts off for the first time in 2010 with a smile on her face, a smile that will make her cheeks hurt in the morning, a totally different kind of pain in her face for the first time in a month and a reminder of all the goodness to come.

Her mess isn't going to go away right away, she knows, but falling asleep curled up against Nate, listening to him breathe – it feels okay, because he likes her mess; they can be messy together.