A/N: This was written for a prompt meme I did over on livejournal. The prompt was D/S/N, the lyrics below, and not too much angst. Reviews are love!
come back to bed
morning's a peach
night is a pitbull
either way, i get a bite
my car reports to work at eight
my heart is several hours late
(morning's a peach – anya marina)
Dan and Nate are settling pretty happily into their post-college life as roommates (Dan writes, Nate works at a nearby sporting goods store, but mostly they live off of Nate's trust fund like a couple of slackers) when Serena van der Woodsen comes crashing in, sunglasses perched on top of her head and bags falling to the floor and still (a little bit) in love with them both.
She grins winningly at their stunned faces. "You guys should maybe think about locking your door."
"We don't exactly have a ton of room," Dan reasons. His writing career hasn't exactly taken off and the Vanderbilts aren't endorsing Nate's 'current lifestyle'. The two of them are sharing a bachelor pad with a single bedroom, very few walls, and limited space. They have money to fall back on but they try not to fall back on it. He's ninety-five percent certain that Serena has more money to her name than the two of them combined.
Serena's hand skims over his, she shrugs a shoulder like none of that matters. "I can sleep on the couch."
"What about…Carter? Or whoever your latest guy is?" Nate's voice is a little lower than it normally is, his eyes shaded with caution.
She locks her fingers together at the knuckles, murmurs, "There's no latest guy."
"Look." Dan clears his throat. "We're totally happy that you're back," – and this is the truth – " and we can help you find somewhere nearby – "
"Serena – "
"I don't want to live by myself," she whispers. "It's not forever, just – for a little while. I won't bother you, I promise."
Her eyes are wide, bright blue and shiny and almost-teary, and Dan knows that he and Nate don't stand a chance against that face.
So he heaves a sigh, nods, and begins counting down to the day she ends up in Nate's bed.
The second day Serena's there, she sorts through her luggage while Dan washes the breakfast dishes and Nate dries.
"Do you find it weird?" he asks Nate. "That she'd choose to crash with us?"
The secretive quality of Nate's smile is not reassuring. "S kind of has a love-hate relationship with this city. She doesn't really have anyone else to crash with, so as long as we're both cool with it…" He trails off and shrugs.
Dan considers. "Do you think she's in some kind of trouble?"
To his surprise, Nate laughs. "Nah, that's just how Serena is." He puts down his towel, drapes his arm around Dan's shoulders and pulls him a little closer, smiles in a way that is unmistakably flirtatious – a way that makes Dan suck in some air, makes him wonders if That Drunken Night In Cabo San Lucas After Graduation may have really meant something, after all.
Nate ruffles his hair teasingly, says, "Don't worry about it, man. You know Serena. It's not a big deal."
Dan sighs. "Sure. Not worried about it."
Just two days. That's how long it takes for all (literally, all) of Serena's possessions to be scattered over their living room and for Nate to realize that he'll never stop loving her.
It hits him all of a sudden, like it always has – they're smoking together on the front steps of the building and Serena's telling him one of her many stories that he never had a chance to be included in, and then it's just there.
"Why're you looking at me like that?" she asks playfully. Her knee nudges against his, there's a giggle tucked into her throat, waiting for the punchline. It's the exact same as it's always been.
Nate tells her a half-truth. "I'm looking at you like I always have."
"Let's go out!" Serena proposes. "I'll buy you guys drinks, I owe you for being so awesome and taking me in."
Nate nods but Dan looks a little wary, says, "I don't know…"
She frowns. "I'm not sixteen anymore. I'm not going to hop up on the bar and dance."
"You won't?" Nate blinks at her, pulls a disappointed face. She giggles, punches his arm.
"We're trying to budget, Serena," Dan tells her, but at least he sounds a little apologetic this time.
She capitalizes on her low-cut shirt, props her elbows on the side of the couch and leans toward him. "Please?"
She watches his swallow and sigh. "Okay," he finally says, gives her a smile that makes her whole self warm.
"Yes!" she cheers. She spins around and high five's Nate.
Behind Serena's back, Nate waggles his eyebrows at Dan, points to her and mouths, plays dirty.
(Fleetingly, Dan thinks that they must have learned that from each other.)
"I missed you," Nate tells her by the bar, snakes an arm around her waist to tug her close and presses his face into her hair. "I always miss you when you go away. And you always go away."
She sighs, presses her body to his as she murmurs, "I know, I miss you too." It's a constant in her life when she's away, missing Nate. She thinks of him all the time.
"I just want you to stay." He brushes her hair out of her face. "What can I do to make you stay?"
"Nate," she breathes quietly. Her heart breaks a little. She can see Dan in the corner of her eye, approaching them, and she honestly doesn't know what comes next.
She lets Nate kiss her anyway, and she kisses back.
He burns the chicken so Nate orders pizza.
"Welcome to our world," he tells Serena, who is sitting crossed-legged on the kitchen counter.
She smiles, says, "No anchovies."
"I need a job," she moans, kneeling on the bedroom floor in a mess of classified ads from all of New York's newspapers.
Dan rolls onto his stomach and reaches out, winds a lock of her long hair around his index finger. Nate left for work long ago, and Serena finds that she likes this, having time alone with Dan, who is just as lazy as she wants to be. "I'll help you."
"Oh, sure." She sticks her tongue out. "You're just as unemployed as I am."
"I'm more unemployed than you, actually," he tells her with a lazy smile.
It occurs to her, in that moment, to say I'm happy to be here.
"That's comforting," she whispers.
Dan glances up from his notebook to see Serena standing in the doorway of the bathroom in nothing but a tiny towel, hair damp and droplets of water on her skin. He swallows hard.
"I didn't think anyone was home," she murmurs, almost demurely.
He tries not to stare, but he can't help but watch her blush, the way the flush creeps up from the highest point the towel hits her body; over her collarbone and up her neck until it flames her cheeks. He forgets all the months he was her step-brother, forgets how she kissed Nate last week, and remembers, in excruciating detail, all the months she was his girlfriend.
"I'll just grab some clothes and go back into the bathroom to change."
"No, no. Don't worry about it. I'll just, uh – I'll go into the bathroom and stare at myself in the mirror." He tries for a smile. "You get dressed. Take your time. Knock when you're done."
"Thanks, Dan," Serena says quietly as he darts by her.
(He takes his notebook with him, perches on the edge of the tub and writes two full pages before she knocks on the door and asks him if he wants to go get coffee.)
One evening Dan brings home Italian for dinner and finds Serena and Nate in bed together.
He drops the heavy paper bag he's holding. "Great," he says dryly, trying to ignore the pounding of his heart. He knew it was coming, but he finds that doesn't help.
Nate stands up, tugs on his boxers. His smile is sheepish. "Sorry, man."
Serena clutches threadbare blue sheets to her chest, reiterates, "…sorry."
Dan gives her barely-covered body a pointed look (ignores the part of him that wants to look more closely). "Nothing I haven't seen before," he says snappishly.
Her eyes widen and then her eyebrows arch, but her voice is gentle when she asks, "Are you jealous?"
He doesn't answer because it's too hard to lie to the two of them. Instead, he snits, "Why don't I just move out? Give you guys your space. You'll never have to deal with this again."
"Dan," Serena murmurs in that quiet voice that makes him think of candles and first love and every other cliché of romance. She brushes her mussed-up-from-sex hair out of her face and inhales, looks prepared to say more.
But Nate, wide-eyed, beats her to it. "No; come on, don't be stupid." He paces across the tiny apartment and pulls Dan into the part of the kitchen hidden by a wall. "Look, I…" He glances down, rubs at the back of his neck. "I'm sorry, if you're upset, but don't freak out about this. I love living with you. I just…I love her."
"Well, maybe I do, too," Dan whispers back heatedly.
Nate stares at him for a beat, and he looks so wholeheartedly distressed that Dan feels awful, wants to take it back even though it might be true.
He takes a step forward, intending to offer comfort, and maybe he offers a little too much, because – like an idiot – he takes another step closer and kisses Nate.
The other man pulls back after a breath, places a hand against Dan's shoulder but doesn't push him away.
In a low voice, he repeats Serena's question with a degree of wonderment: "Are you jealous?"
When you've coasted through life, Serena learns, on the value of your last name and your mother's husbands' money, finding a job in the real world is nearly impossible.
She comes home feelings defeated and she realizes how much she's come to rely on her ex-boyfriends-turned-roommates. She needs Dan to make her chili and Nate to rub her feet and for the two of them to whine but to watch three episodes of Project Runway with her anyway.
That's not what happens.
What happens is that she unlocks the door, begins her sentence ("This day has been – ") and instantly forgets the rest of it when she sees Dan and Nate on the couch – which also happens to be her bed – groping each other.
"OMFG," she gasps, because some habits you never break.
"I'm an idiot," she says.
"You're not," Nate rushes to reassure her. He wants to touch her but he doesn't know if that's allowed. In the haste to put his shirt back on her tugged it on backwards, and now the tag is scratching at his throat.
"I just waltzed in here. I didn't think you guys were living together living together."
"We weren't," Dan interjects. "Not really."
From where he's sitting, a foot away from Dan on the couch like they're guilty teenagers or something, Nate watches Serena's brow furrow.
"So this only started after I moved in?" She scoffs, but it sounds sad. "Lovely."
"Don't…read too much into this," Dan tells her, voice muted. He gives Serena a pleading look.
"How can I not?" Her gaze swings to Nate. "I've been sleeping with you," she whispers.
"I know. I know – and I love you, you have to believe that."
"And Dan?" she prompts. "You love Dan, too?"
Dan shifts nervously on the couch next to him. Serena's got that look in her eyes, the chilled one that Nate's always hated. So he gathers up courage he never really knew he had and says, "Well. Don't you?"
Serena's eyes flood and Dan looks a little shell-shocked.
She stands from where she's sitting on the rickety coffee table and moves toward the door.
Dan jumps to his feet and, alarmed, demands, "Where are you going?"
"I don't know," she says, whirling around, "considering my best friend lives in Paris and my mother's dead. I just need to get away from you."
"Serena!" Nate yells, but she slams the door before the third syllable of her name. "Fuck," he growls, kicking over a pile of Dan's books.
Dan touches his back. "You know how she is. She'll come back."
Nate shrugs him off. "But probably not soon."
Serena calls Chuck, and because her words are mangled by her tears and because he's always bailed her out, he gives her his credit card information and says, "Don't max it out and don't do anything stupid, I'll know about it."
She turns off her cell phone and spends three days sulking in a room at the Palace, decides that Nate and Dan deserve to worry.
(Just once, she does check her phone – twenty-two missed calls and she thinks good.)
Dan's alone (Nate's at work) and in bed (nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to see) the morning Serena comes home
She crawls under the covers next to him, tucks her hands under her cheek.
"Where have you been?" he asks softly, inches closer to her and rests his hand on her hip. "We were worried."
Eyes closed, she says, "I'm not talking to you."
He almost laughs.
And as soon as she falls asleep, curled up to him, he grabs his phone and texts Nate.
"We can talk about it," he offers.
Serena shrugs. "I don't really want to."
"You left," he points out, "for three days."
He presses the issue. "What's fine?"
"Me and you," she says quietly. "You and Dan." She sighs. "Me and Dan. It's all fine."
He reminds her, "You left."
She shrugs again, almost smiling. "I thought about it a lot. And I figured…that's the way it should be, right? You should live with people who love you. And love each other."
Nate blinks at her. "You're crazy."
Her smile breaks free. "This part of life is where we get to set the terms, y'know? We get to do it all over. So…we'll do it right."
Like always, he can't help it: he smiles back at her. "I think you're the only person in the world who'd call this right."
She leans in and kisses him softly, her lips barely brushing his. "I set my own terms, Natie. S'how I roll."
"Oh, is it?" he mutters, grabs onto her and rolls them both off the couch.
Serena makes a face. "But there are subtitles."
"And it's black and white." Nate looks bored by the very thought.
"It's a great film," Dan protests.
Two pairs of blue eyes blink at him, unrelenting.
"Fine," he sighs, tossing the DVD aside. "We'll watch Finding Nemo."
Dan wakes up to the sound of whispering; Serena is in Nate's bed. His jaw clenches.
"Could be fun," Nate murmurs. "Will be fun."
The mattress shifts and Serena giggles quietly. "I don't know."
"It's not like you've never done it before."
"The third person's supposed to be a stranger, Natie."
Dan can practically hear Nate roll his eyes. "Screw what Chuck says. C'mon, babe…"
He can hear them kiss, and then the two of them are up, moving across the two feet of space that separate the guys' beds – and slipping into Dan's bed on either side of him.
"Wha…" he mutters sleepily, though he is suddenly much more awake.
"G'morning," Serena whispers, and Dan means to say it back but all of a sudden Nate's tongue is in his mouth.
As they kiss, Serena slips a hand beneath the sheets and then beneath Dan's pyjama pants to wrap around him.
He pulls away from Nate, groans, "Serena…"
She giggles against his neck and Nate pushes the sheets away altogether; Serena leaves a trail of kisses all the way down his chest and tugs at the drawstring on his pyjama pants with her teeth.
Dan's hand sinks into her hair and Nate pulls him into another kiss and oh holy fuck, good morning is right.
Serena gives Nate a lingering kiss before he rushes off to work while Dan dozes next to her.
When the door closes, Dan reaches for her and she snuggles up to his side, chin propped on his chest. "Tired?" she purrs.
"Yeah." He kisses her, soft and savouring. "I, uh…never really learned post-threesome etiquette."
"Aw, and I thought Nate had taught you everything." She laughs lightly. "Showers are good."
"Yes. Makes sense."
She leans in, captures his lips with hers and mumbles, "You're cute."
He laughs against her mouth, "Is that a compliment?"
"How else do you think you managed to snag such hot people?"
"My physique? My personality?" He lifts his eyebrows, feigns insult. "Jeez, Serena."
"Nope, just your cuteness," she teases. "And the love poems you write about us."
He turns red and it makes her giggle, makes her remember the boy he was when they first met. "You found those?"
Dan sits up. "I am going to shower, and then I'm going to kill you."
"We are going to shower," she corrects with a devilish grin that's meant to let him know that she took it easy on him when they first dated. "And then we'll see about that."
(He comes home to find Serena pined beneath Dan on the kitchen floor, clinging desperately to scraps of paper from one of Dan's many notebooks as he tickles her mercilessly.
The both look up at him and plead, in unison, "Nate."
He shrugs apologetically and winks at Dan, tells Serena, "Don't even worry about it, sweetheart. I made photocopies.")
Once, Nate wakes them up early and makes them get dressed warmly, pulls them outside into the sun. Serena's not sure if she whines more, or if it's Dan, but Nate is undeterred.
They play soccer in the snow. It ends in red cheeks and tangled limbs and breathless laughter on the way home.
They lose the ball but she doesn't think that matters.
Serena and Dan have a blow-out fight on Christmas Eve and Nate gets caught in the middle, trying and failing to mediate.
Dan wants to talk about the future, wants to maybe start considering forever (he's always been forward-thinking, which Nate often finds useful), and as usual, Serena's having none of that.
"You always have all these goddamn expectations! I don't work with those expectations and you know that."
"You could try! Is that really too much to ask?!"
"What the hell do you think I'm doing, Daniel?"
Nate winces – full names are never good.
"I think you're scared. What are you gonna do, Serena, run away again?"
He obviously hits a nerve because the frothy contents of Serena's glass of eggnog end up in his face.
"You know," Serena seethes, puncturing the stunned silence, "this is exactly why we broke up!"
"Which time?" Dan retorts bitterly, incredulously adding, "Seriously?" as he wipes at his face.
Dan blinks, rubs the thick liquid away from his eyes. His voice is quieter, more cautious, when he asks, "Are you saying you want to break up?"
And here is where Nate is at a loss, because if they want to break up, he's not sure where that leaves him. He feels like he should step in, because he definitely doesn't want any breaking up to happen. But his foolproof method of shutting Dan up when he starts to get ramble-y is to kiss him, and somehow that doesn't seem appropriate at the moment. And while he's usually pretty good at getting through to Serena, he really doesn't want her to throw something at him.
But then Serena huffs, "That's exactly what I'm not saying!" and Nate decides the two of them can work it out for themselves.
So he nods, to himself, and heads to bed, calls, "Wake me up for makeup sex, yeah?" over his shoulder.
Christmas morning kisses taste like cinnamon and cocoa. The boys give her a blue fish; she thanks them profusely and names the fish Adam. Nate and Serena give Dan one of his short stories that they stole and had professionally bound, watch as he smiles wistfully. She and Dan get Nate whipped cream and gourmet chocolate sauce and handcuffs – all of which are put to good use.
Nate stares at his breakfast. "But I like waffles."
"Yes," Serena agrees from where she's sitting on his lap. "Especially blueberry ones."
"I'm a Humphrey," Dan explains. "Waffles are a major food group for us. I've eaten them every year of my life. I can't do it anymore. Pancakes are good, you guys! I made these from scratch."
Two pairs of bleary blue eyes stare at him sadly.
Dan rests his forehead on the table, mumbles, "There are Eggos in the freezer."
Serena comes home on a high, jumps onto Nate and Dan, who are watching the news.
"I got a job!" she tells them gleefully.
"Congrats," laughs Dan, lips pressed against her neck. Nate slips a hand between them, undoes the buttons of Serena's work-appropriate blouse.
She sighs into Dan's mouth, lets Nate get rid of the rest of her clothes.
He takes Serena as his date to the Vanderbilts' annual New Years' Party.
"You realize they hate me?" she asks.
"Don't worry about it," Dan says from the kitchen table, where he's slouched over a mismatched collection of papers. "I think they hate me more by default."
The party is flawless and quiet and it feels like their childhood, feels like time has stood still. His grandfather disapproves and Serena drinks too much champagne; same old, same old.
Outside, on the balcony where they must have spent one hundred summer nights, Serena says, "We should've brought Dan."
Nate laughs, watches the stars sparkle in her blue eyes. "You just like to cause a scandal."
"M'serious." She leans into him, head against his shoulder. "We're your family now, you know?"
He smiles a little, thinks of all the times tonight people they hardly know have told her, in empty voices, I was so sorry to hear about Lily; kisses the tip of her nose and says, "We're yours, too."
"You were always my family," she says softly, and then her hand finds his and tugs, "Let's go home."
They jump off the low-level balcony and laugh off the grass stains and water marks on their nicest clothes.
"Daaaaaan!" Serena is drunk, barefoot, and piggybacking Nate when the two of them stumble into the apartment at a little past two in the morning. She says, "Down, down," and Nate obeys, setting her onto her feet carefully.
"You two had fun." It's not really a question and he feels a little grumpy, a little left out – feels sixteen all over again in the face of their blonde-haired, blue-eyed wealth of history.
Serena throws her arm around him, buries her face against his neck. "We brought you pizza. But then we got hungry on the way home. So we ate it. Do you forgive us?"
She smells like alcohol and snowflakes and her coconut shampoo and cheap pepperoni pizza and Nate's cologne, like Serena, like home – and Dan can't help but pull her a little closer as he steadies her. "The Vanderbilts are serving pizza now?"
Nate sits down on the floor. "No, we left the Vanderbilts. They're not family, Serena said – and we saved you the crust!" He holds up the pizza box. "Do you want the crust?"
"No thanks," Dan says, trying to match Nate's solemn tone and avoid chuckling.
"Let's sit, too?" Serena pulls back to look at his face. "Can we sit with Nate?"
"You are gone, aren't you?" Dan asks her, his amusement mounting. The knot is his chest loosens considerably.
She crushes her mouth to his. "I'm here."
"Me too," Nate points out from the floor. "And I have the crust we saved you."
Dan gives in and laughs, sitting on the floor and pulling Serena with him. Nate holds out the crust for him to take a bite and he obliges, biting off one of the ends.
"What did you do tonight?" Serena asks him, all smiles and bedroom eyes.
"Uh, nothing, really – "
"So we'll do something now! Family time!" Nate suggests brightly. "What can we do now, S?"
"Scrabble!" Her enthusiasm escapes both boys so she elaborates, "Dan, like a month ago you said you wanted to play Scrabble and we never did…" She crawls across the living room and pulls it from their pile of board games.
Nate decides that Dan no longer needs to be wearing a shirt, so Dan laughs and lets himself be wrestled out of the t-shirt that he's pretty sure actually belongs to Nate anyway.
Serena tilts her head when she re-joins them. "Strip Scrabble?"
Dan reaches over to touch her cheek, "We should sleep, you know. The two of you have work tomorrow and I have to write another story that no one will ever publish."
"If I owned a magazine," Nate says somberly, "I would most totally publish your stories."
"The ones about you," Serena teases as she dumps out all the scrabble letters.
"Really – water, Advil, and bed," Dan suggests one last time, half-heartedly.
"Strip Scrabble first," Serena declares, bottom lip poking out and daring him to contest her.
So he doesn't.
And he wins, because they're both so drunk that Serena has to team up with him so that she gets some points and Nate manages to convince himself that cat is spelled with two t's.
He wins, in more ways than one.
Serena gets signed by a modeling agency, out of the blue, which is quintessentially one of those things that could only ever happen to Serena van der Woodsen, so he doesn't bother to question it.
But when he sees her first published photographs, which happen to be in the January issue of Vogue, his jaw drops for a moment.
Serena stands in front of him, bouncing nervously on the balls of her feet. She's halfway ready for work, standing in front of him in a pair of his boxers and a bra, her hair damp around her shoulders. "Good? Bad?" she demands anxiously.
Nate sneaks up behind Serena, grabs her around the waist and pulls her against him, lifts her off the floor and swings her around, making her squeal. With her still in his arms, he says to Dan, "Dude, how could you not notice how hot our girl is?"
Their attempt at baking cookies one evening is a quasi-failure, since the kitchen is a mess and in the end only half the batch is edible.
Serena doesn't care when Nate licks cookie dough off of her neck, biting her skin playfully, and Dan's mouth tastes like sugar.
In February, when New York is at its coldest, the heating bill goes up so high that Dan begins to think he might need a job, too, and Serena gets sick.
She has some flu from hell and Nate freaks out, which is when Dan realizes that these people used to have doctors on call. So he calms Nate down, promises Serena she's fine, and trudges through what has to be a blizzard to get to the nearest pharmacy to buy medicine and tissues and sports drinks with lots of electrolytes.
"You are ridiculous," he whispers to Nate over Serena's head as they tuck her into his bed.
She shifts, whimpering through her feverish half-sleep. "Is not," she says hoarsely.
Nate grins, leans down to kiss her forehead. He directs his adorable grin at Dan instead. "Hey, what milady says goes," he jokes, as if it's all out of his hands.
"She's half mine," Dan jokes back.
Serena coughs, blinks open her eyes. "I do not belong to you people."
"She's delusional," Nate stage-whispers.
Dan rolls his eyes. "I stand by what I said earlier about you being ridiculous," he says, but he lets Nate share his bed that night, anyway.
Somewhere between the tenth and eleventh days of the sickest she's ever been, Serena tells Dan that she never really stopped loving him.
He tucks his hand under her chin, examines her eyes. "Are you hallucinating?"
"It's been years," he says softly. "You can fall out of love and fall back into it again."
"Is that how you feel about me?"
He takes a cool cloth and lays it on her forehead, doesn't answer.
"Dan?" She reaches for his wrist. "Is that how you feel about Nate?"
Lightly, he laughs. "Nate's kind of a new thing."
"Does that make me an old thing?"
"No." He smiles at her. "It makes you…an always thing."
She smiles back as best she can, satisfied and triumphant. "You never stopped loving me either."
She tugs on his wrist. "Will you cuddle even though I'm sick?"
Still smiling, he slips into bed, spooning behind her. He kisses the shell of her ear, murmurs, "Tell me if you get too hot, 'kay?"
Instead, she informs him sleepily: "Sometimes I used to think I'd marry you."
When Serena's dead to the world, knocked out by her medication, Nate kisses Dan in the kitchen but pushes him away when Dan's hand slips the button on his jeans undone.
Nate doesn't really know, but he tries to explain: "I heard you and Serena talking the other night."
"Oh." Dan is quiet, as is Nate, so quiet they can hear Serena's laboured breathing. Finally, he says, "I guess you loved her long before I did."
Surprised, Nate blinks. "What?"
"Come on." Dan gives him a look. "We both know that's true."
"Okay, yeah." Nate blows out his breath. "That's not really a problem. Right?"
Dan gestures vaguely. "Old news, yeah. So…the problem is…?"
"I don't know. It's like…what she said to you, I used to say stuff like that to her all the time."
"She's sick. She's saying whatever's in her head. You shouldn't think…"
Nate interrupts; he knows that Dan's right, and he doesn't really need to hear the rest of it. He knows Serena has genuine feelings for them both, and then all of sudden, with that thought, he stumbles onto the root of the problem. "She's…an always thing, for both of us. But I was wondering…" He rubs the back of his neck, ducks his head. "Am I really that new of a thing for you?"
Dan stares at him for a beat, and then another, and another – and then he grins. "Are you seriously asking me about Cabo?"
He blushes, says, "Shut up," and then kisses Dan again to guarantee that it happens.
"Hey, you," Nate greets her, walking into the bathroom while she's taking a bubblebath.
She opens her eyes, squints up at him and smiles. "Hey back."
He sits on the edge of the tub. "You feel better?"
"Good, I'm glad."
"I'm pretty glad, too."
"Hey," he says again, softer this time. She doesn't reply, just looks at him inquisitively. He meets her eyes and says, "I love you."
"Natie." She reaches up, hooks her fingers into the collar of his shirt and pulls him to her for a kiss. "I love you, too."
He smiles into her mouth, deepens the kiss – and then she pulls harder, grabs onto his arm so that he loses his balance and topples into the bathtub, water flying everywhere.
"Serena!" he yells. "I'm clothed!"
She giggles. "Can't get mad; you love me."
"Flawed logic," Dan points out from the doorway. She can tell from his eyes that he's laughing.
Batting her eyelashes, she orders, "In."
"The three of us cannot fit in that tub."
Nate drops his soaked clothes over the edge, onto the floor. "Wanna bet?"
Dan clears his throat.
Nate sighs, admits grudgingly, "You were right."
"There was a bet involved."
He laughs. "So what do I owe you?"
He yells it without really intending to, because he checks the mail every morning and there's never any news – never mind good news.
Serena, out late for a shoot, hasn't even gone to bed yet; she has mascara smeared under her eyes and had been sleepily eating some cereal, but she snaps out of it to shriek on his behalf, throwing both her arms and her legs around him.
"You're published?" Nate demands, barreling in from the bathroom with his face covered in shaving cream.
Dan laughs, sets Serena down. "Well, no, not yet – but I will be."
"Same difference!" Serena cheers, eyes bright, and Nate engulfs them both in a hug so tight Dan can hardly breathe, and they all get shaving cream smeared on their cheeks.
"So," Nate says with a cocky grin, gesturing to himself and then to Serena. "Which one of us is it about?"
Dan laughs, narrows his eyes and says, "Neither," just to annoy them, but the answer is kind of both.
It's her brilliant idea to push the beds together.
And it really is a good idea, in theory – the couch isn't comfortable to sleep on, it's too hard for all of them to squish into one of the twin beds, but it also seems kind of unfair to make on person sleep alone.
But they forget to ensure that the beds stay together – and Nate ends up falling in between them one night, groaning "Owwww" while she and Dan peer down at him apologetically.
Three o'clock in the morning on a Saturday, he lies across the couch with his head in Serena's lap while she holds a package of frozen peas to his head and Dan scours information about concussions on the internet.
"M'fine, seriously," he tells them, closing his eyes as Serena runs her fingers through his hair.
"You're sure?" Dan asks, eyes still on the screen of his laptop.
"Yes. Stop with that…health site and research beds, because we clearly need a new one. A big one."
"We'll go shopping tomorrow," Serena says happily.
Nate tries not to move too much as he lifts an arm and pulls her face to his for an upside-down kiss. "The sooner the better."
"But this one's cheaper," Nate whines, examining price tags.
"And comfy!" Serena contributes, bouncing a little to demonstrate. "It's all squishy."
"A little back support is worth the money," Dan tries to reason.
Two pairs of wide blue eyes blink at him expectantly.
They leap up; Nate throws an arm around his shoulders and Serena presses her lips to his, murmurs, "thank you," sweetly against his mouth.
"Uh-huh, you guys owe me – "
"Oh, definitely!" Nate says brightly, throws Serena a smile Dan can't quite decipher.
And then the two of them fall back onto the mattress, yanking Dan with them – Nate laughs heartily and splutters around Serena's hair as she giggles from where she's partially sandwiched between them, and Dan can't help his smile.
"I meant when we get home," he says, but really, this isn't that bad.
"Maybe we could get a house," Serena muses in the middle of their morning rush; Dan is peeling a banana, Nate is in his boxers, and she is on her perpetual hunt for her missing earring – you know, the one that's kind of blue and kind of green and shaped a little like a teardrop, or maybe a heart if you look closely enough.
Nate runs a hand through his still-damp hair, glances over at Dan for a long moment. "You'd have to stay, you know," he tells Serena carefully. "If we had a house. There'd be…"
"A mortgage," Dan contributes. "Some bills. Maybe a dog." He nods in agreement. "You'd have to stay."
She tilts her head, the earring forgotten; bites her lips and asks, "What will you give me if I do?"
Work is forgotten for the day.