Baby, It's Fact
When he sees her, there in the lobby, looking small and young and not at all like the larger-than-life girl he once loved, he thinks he honestly experiences a flashback. It's a blur of gold-coloured walls and half a smile on her lips; he sees her again, on that day in Grand Central, when all he could think was if only.
"What happened?" he asks, just to fill the space and silence between them. It is obvious what happened.
"It's true." Her voice is hushed, she shrugs. "He left."
Her blue eyes are wet and she just looks so broken; it gets to him, a prickling of sympathy in his chest. He stands there for a minute, watches her struggle not to cry, then he sighs and gives in. He walks over to her slowly, takes a seat next to her.
She shrugs again, so he lifts his arm carefully and wraps it around her, pulling her toward him a bit. She pulls away, at first, but then he says, "I'm sorry" once again and she lets him hug her, buries her face against his shoulder and takes several shaky breaths.
"He left me," Serena whispers, and though she doesn't say it the word seems to reverberate around them, echoing off the walls of the empty lobby: again, again, again.
He rubs her arm, tugs her a little closer. He doesn't say anything, doesn't think there's really anything to say, just lets her cry into his shirt.
After a moment, when she's quiet and still, he nudges her gently and says, "Hey. Don't let him."
"He's gone already."
Dan skims his hand over her back soothingly. "Maybe from here, but not from the city. We can probably catch him before the police do."
She pulls away abruptly, stares into his face. "Police?"
She watches as he commandeers Chuck's limo and holds the door open for her, all while explaining that Nate called in a favour with the police, and she wonders how it always is that the boy from Brooklyn manages to rescue her like some kind of knight in shining armour.
As she slips back into the limo and slouches into her seat, cheeks damp, Dan watches her sigh deeply and for a split second it occurs to him to smile, because this girl is non-stop action, and he tells her as much when she thanks him for coming with her.
She scoffs, looks sad and tired and like she needs a break.
"You want to talk about it?" he asks her.
Serena shakes her head and leans over, rests her head against his shoulder. "I can't go home," she admits in a small voice.
He nods, understanding. Gently, he proposes: "So come home with me."
Serena feels awkward, hovering near the door of the Humphrey loft. She used to spend half of her time here, but that feels like eons ago, as though a million things have changed since then.
"Probably looks the same as the last time you were here," Dan laughs, and it's just barely uncomfortable. "I haven't exactly redecorated."
"Yeah…it does." She smiles a little, finds that comforting, and manages to tease, "Maybe a little messier."
"Some of us don't have staff," he tosses back at her, but it's gentle, nowhere near resentful, and her smile grows a bit.
"Some of us should look into it," she retorts lightly, watches as he flicks on a couple lamps.
Dan grins sheepishly at her, waves a hand toward the kitchen. "You hungry? I think, uh…we might have some popcorn left. And definitely some waffles."
Without really meaning to, she grimaces. He laughs, tells her, "Yeah, my thoughts exactly."
She drapes her coat over the back of a chair and then perches on the arm of it to tug off her boots. "I kinda just want to sleep," she confesses quietly, kicking her boots to the side.
"Sure, yeah. You probably want something comfier…" He walks into his room and she follows, her sock feet padding against the floor, watches as he rifles through a couple of his dresser drawers.
He pulls out a pair of plaid pyjama pants that look relatively new and an old t-shirt; she takes the clothes, smiling a thank you and hugging them to her chest – they smell like Dan, like history, like sixteen-year-old love. She tilts her head. "I'll just go change."
Dan nods. "I'll be here."
She nods, too. She knows he will.
"So." They're standing in the doorway of his bedroom; he's in sweatpants, his suit discarded, and Serena's in his pyjamas, her cheeks scrubbed pink and her hair loose around her shoulders. He clears his throat, stalls, "Are you sure you don't want something to eat?"
She almost smiles, that little secretive quirk of her lips that he's always found both frustrating and endearing. "Yeah, I'm good. Thanks, though."
"No problem." Dan sighs. "So…you could take Jenny's bed."
Serena makes a face. "I'm kind of tired of sharing rooms with her. And her stuff's…everywhere."
"Right. Well…I'm guessing you don't want to sleep in my dad's bed – " She makes an even worse face, shakes her head, and Dan nods, "Yeah, understandable. Uh…you could take my bed."
She's quiet and it's uncomfortable, the silence filling with all the things they don't talk about. They're both undeniably aware that she was the first girl to ever spend the night in his bed – and that Vanessa was the last.
"No thanks," she whispers.
He rubs at the back of his neck. "That's kind of all the options."
Serena's arms are crossed, but it looks more like she's hugging herself, trying to keep from falling apart – and he feels horrible that this simple decision has been made impossible by their history.
(He also doesn't feel like leaving her alone just yet.)
"Okay, so let's do this," he suggests, grabbing the top two blankets off of his bed. He leads her to the living room, lays them out on the floor. "We'll camp."
"We'll what?" Her eyebrows are arched and her voice is shaky and she hasn't moved, but he can see the hint of a smile in her blue eyes.
"Camp on the living room floor. You never did that as a kid?" He shakes his head the second he asks it. "Right, never mind. But…it'll be fun." He grabs another blanket as well as a couple of pillows, walks over to pull up the blinds so that they can see the stars.
Serena steps forward. "You'll sleep out here with me?"
"Yeah, camping by yourself is boring." He smiles softly at her. "It's fine, Serena, really. I mean…it's okay, right?"
She nods, takes the other end of the blanket and helps him lay it over the floor. "Better than."
They've been officially broken up for almost a year now, so she doesn't think it should be this solemn, this strange – but it's quiet in the loft when they lie down, as far apart from each other as possible, and the air feels thick. Serena pulls the blanket up to her chin, acutely aware of Dan's proximity, of the warmth of his body.
She can't sleep. And judging by his not-yet-steady breathing, neither can he.
She rolls over, toward him. He glances ever and follows suit, so they are lying about a foot apart, facing each other. His eyes search hers but he doesn't ask any questions.
"I'm sorry," she finally breathes. "I should have believed your dad and I'm sorry I didn't."
He gives her a gentle look. "I'm sorry about your dad, too."
"You shouldn't be." She bites her lip. "You were right about him. Everyone was right about him."
Dan reaches out a hand, lays it in the space between them, tells her quietly, "And I'm sorry about that."
She meets him in the middle, rests her hand on his. He gives her fingers a comforting squeeze.
"Goodnight," she whispers.
"G'night, Serena," he replies.
(She has a feeling that he waits for her to fall asleep before he lets himself relax.)
Dan wakes up in the morning when sunlight floods the room to find himself tangled in sheets and Serena.
He somehow ended up with his arms around her loosely; his face is pressed into her hair and one of her arms is slung across his chest, one of her legs hooked around one of his. He knows that they've woken up like this before, and that thought creates a pang of nostalgia.
She fits against him now as well as she did when they were together, which isn't surprising because they are, after all, the same people. It just feels bittersweet now, to have her with him but not truly with him.
She stirs only about a minute after he does, her foot running down his leg as she shifts in his arms, blinks open her eyes slowly. She tilts her face up – almost expectantly, and he assumes it's just instinct, that maybe she's still far enough into dreamland to believe he's Nate. He holds her breath as her lips hover near his, waits for her eyes to focus.
And when they do, he sees a glimmer of shock and he expects her to pull back, to roll away from him instantly.
But she doesn't. She stays where she is, her eyes on his face. "Sorry," she murmurs, still without moving.
"S'okay," he says back, his voice thick with the remnants of sleep.
Stretching her legs out, she arches her back a little, the soft curves of her body pressing against him. He exhales sharply, says quietly, "Serena…"
She freezes, licks her lips. "It's always going to be there, isn't it?" (1)
Dan knows, but he asks her anyway: "What?"
"Us." She breathes out slowly. "You and me."
Her eyes are pleading for honesty, and after all the lies of yesterday, he can't do anything but give it to her: "Yeah. I guess it will."
She sniffs, swallowing hard. Tightly, she says, "I don't know what to do now."
His heart pounds, hopeful for something his mind refuses to acknowledge. "About what?"
"About everything." Serena's eyes flood and she starts to cry in earnest for the first time throughout this mess, sobs getting caught in her throat and hands wiping fruitlessly at her cheeks.
Pulling her closer, he lets her cry against him, tears dampening the front of his t-shirt. "Shh," he mutters.
She chokes on something that might be a laugh or a sob or maybe both. "Does your back really hurt?"
He smiles against her cheek; this floor is way too hard. "Hell yes."
Dan toasts waffles while Serena takes a quick shower and slips back into his pyjamas. When she steps into the kitchen, her hair dripping onto his shirt, she finds a cup of coffee waiting for her – black with tons of sugar, the way she likes it; he remembered.
She shrugs as he slides a plate in front of her. "Not really."
"You have to eat, Serena."
"I know. I just – I can't, right now."
Dan leans toward her, elbows on the counter, asks quietly, "You miss him?"
She traces the rim of her coffee mug with her finger. "It's not like it's anything new," she mutters. "It shouldn't hurt this badly."
He sighs, reaches over to touch her cheek, tilting her face up so that he can look into her eyes. "What's going to make you feel better?"
"Hallucinogenic drugs," she cracks, sticking her tongue out.
Dan laughs, stops touching her as he rolls his eyes. "This may surprise you, considering what my sister's been up to lately, but we don't have any of those kicking around."
"What a shame," Serena replies with mock-sadness. She thinks that they both know what she really needs is time and some space and to talk to her mother, her brother, her step-father, her best friend…her boyfriend.
She's just about to suggest that she leave when Dan says, in a softer voice, "Seriously, Serena. What'll help?"
She shrugs, decides she can stay a little longer, so she takes a sip of her coffee and admits, "You're doing a pretty good job."
- fin -
(1) Stolen shamelessly from One Tree Hill.