A/N: Partially a Christmas gift for dysenchanted2 . Prompt was "I dream in her vicinity."

Seven Years

In the back of Serena's closet, there is a box. The hem of an old Versace dress skims the wooden flowers carved on the cover and the sides are flanked with boots that she bought but never wore. It's no bigger than a box for a plain dress shirt, perhaps a little deeper. The original mahogany finishing has all but chipped away, exposing the cheap, sandy wood in specks and

It's been seven years since she looked at it, but she figures now, as she packs her life away for the school where her mother found herself, is as good a time as any to reminisce. She presses her palms to the sides and crawls backwards out of the cluttered space, her blond hair skimming the floor and catching beneath her elbows as she goes. She leaves the thought of her old teddy bear behind - she'll find Mr. Snookums sooner or later.

She stretches her legs before her, the bright pink polish on her toes peek out from beneath her jeans. She passes her hand across the cover and the dust dances in the air and she absentmindedly rubs her fingers together to get rid of the coated grey drifting softly, slowly onto her cream-colored carpet.

The tip of her French manicure traces the letters carved haphazardly on the edge below the design: "S+B"

Seven years, it's been, since she threw that box into the dark. But now she's had Dan, and Nate, and a whole slew of other boys and the sting of rejection shouldn't hurt as much, should it?

The clasp is more difficult to maneuver than she remembers and her eighteen year old hands have to curl and turn before the bronze clinks together loosely and falls apart. The hinges give a light protest as she bends the cover back and places it slowly on her lap.

Pictures and a few strings. Chuck would be so disappointed if he knew that's all there is to it. She's sure he wouldn't try again though - the last time he tried to steal it, she left quite an angry red mark on his face.

Her lips curl in a small smile at the corners and her eyes, in deep blue, soften beneath her lashes. The friendship bracelet she had made in Camp Suisse is now an inch too small to go all the way around her wrist. She remembers the time she gave Blair the other half and the brunette scowled at it until Serena teared up. Serena was an impatient child and, well, she got tired of crossing over, looping back, crossing over, looping back and she figured that Blair had a daintier wrist anyway.

Young Serena was never very good at guess-timating (two inches is not a proper size for anyone). It didn't fit Blair, but she did begrudgingly tie it around her Chanel schoolbag in the end. Then she gave Serena her last Godiva so she'd stop crying.

There are a few Polaroids here and there (it was a phase). The beach, restaurants, birthdays, galas and she's always the girl hugging too tight, smiling too big with hair messy all over. She traced her smiles with her the pads of her fingers, careful not to scratch the glossy surface. Poppy had said that Blair was dimming her light, but she never knew that Serena shined the brightest when they were together.

Because when she hugged too tightly, Blair was there to steady her with a dainty hand at her elbow and a strong, yet elegant stance. And hugging, squeezing Blair, cheek-to-cheek, as tightly as she could made Serena happier than anything else on the planet.

She puts the pictures on the floor beside her and finds a few pieces of construction paper - red, blue, green, yellow, purple. She puts her fingertips up to her lips to stifle a giggle. She was such a little artist. The stick figures with the loopy curls was Blair and the ones with straight lines was her. She flips through them - Serena and Blair as princesses; Serena and Blair as mermaids, pop stars, knights and ladies, clowns and brides. They're always holding hands, ten black lines overlapping one another.

Blair makes her dream like no one else does. Where Carter and Nate wanted flesh and urgency and the now, Blair was all about the fantasy. Feeling good down to the very core of being and happily ever afters. When her own dad never came back, it was okay. It hurt, but it was okay, because Blair was the best at playing pretended and they pretended they were sisters so they shared Harold. When her mom left with another boyfriend, it was bearable, because Blair could still smile at her and pretend like she didn't know what was going on. She could sing off-key with her hair brush and act like she was winning a Grammy because Blair said she could. She could play a world renown director with their old camcorder because Blair would be her star.

They held hands in the pictures because they always used to hold hands. The feel of Blair's warm, soft palm brushing against hers kept her from running too far and too fast, from falling on her face, and when she reached up to wipe away her tears, Blair's fingertips would touch her cheeks too and she wasn't alone.

She put the papers aside and stares at the lone content remaining in the box. A strand of red ribbon, about two inches wide and nearly a foot long, curls around itself, the satin finish reflects the light at its turns. Serena reaches for it, the feel of it familiar and her fingers slip around it until she is clutching it in a fist, tight and wrinkling. Her nails dig into her skin but it is better than the feelings that memory conjures.

"I love you, Blair."

The mumble rings loud and clear.

Eleven years old, Christmas, spent with the Waldorfs. Unwrapping gifts.

Red ribbon.

"Serena, you're supposed to play with the gift, not the wrapping!"

It reminds her of Blair still. The red like the red of her lips and the neat bows she used to wear.

"I love you, Blair." Her first kiss was sweet then sour. A backwards sour patch kid.

Serena shuts her eyes tight. It's difficult to forget.

"I love Nate, Serena." But what about me?

Bit lip, head down, she reached for Blair's hand again.

"I'm... going to call Nate."

She shoves the ribbon back into the box, the tails frustratingly escaping each turn until she slams the cover of the box shut. She leans her head back, breath heavy, their faces in pictures under her hands.

The box clatters when she hurls it at the corner of the room. The hinges gives and the ribbon bleeds out from the wreckage. Seven years and she still can't leave her behind.

She kicks her opened suitcase in frustration. She doesn't think she ever could.