I, I can't keep on without you
You paint my broken heart
Like some awful piece of art
And I watch my world as it falls
down around, but still I pray
You will come back some day.
When Nate opens his eyes, he feels sick, the sickest he's ever felt in his life. He's confused for a few moments as he gazes around a dimly lit room, and then he realizes that it is a hospital room. He closes his eyes again briefly, and his body feels so heavy that he doesn't want to move. He doesn't want to move at all. He tries to remember how he got here, but the past few days, weeks, months have all been the same; they have all been a blur. He tries to distinguish last night from the rest.
He remembers that he checked Gossip Girl earlier in the evening and was taken aback when he saw Jenny Humphrey's face in the latest post. Gossip Girl hardly ever posted about Jenny Humphrey anymore. In the photo she was at some restaurant in a town he didn't know, and she looked... happy. Truly happy, happier than he had ever seen her. She looked free, and it made his heart twist to think that she had been miserable when she was here and that he had been too self-centered to realize it. The expression on her face reminded him of the way she had looked at him during her fashion show, so long ago, the way she sometimes would look at him during those months before she left.
He remembers that after reading the post, he couldn't stand being in his own skin. Nate had been sober for a few hours; Serena and Dan had pleaded with him earlier that day to please, please just stop what he was doing. It disgusted him because Serena was the one who started this, who made him like this, broke him like this. In hindsight he now realized that he shouldn't have let Serena affect him so much. He had fabricated an image of her in his head that she was some ideal woman, when in reality she wasn't. To her he was just one of many, and he shouldn't have let her treat him the way she did. But now the drugs, the alcohol and the random sex were habit, and without them he felt empty. He was also constantly haunted by a realization that replayed itself over and over in his head, and that realization was more painful than ever now, after seeing that image of Jenny...
And so that night he drank a lot more than he normally did, inhaled a little more than usual, even shot up an icy sensation into his veins once or twice. And in his mind he saw Jenny's smile, and Nate now recalls the alarmed screams of the woman who had been beside him when he blacked out. It's been maybe twenty four hours since then judging by the time on the clock near him, and he's been swimming in and out of consciousness. He remembers Chuck's worried face, his family coming in, Blair peering over him with concern. Pretty much everyone had come to see him, and yet the empty feeling was still in his chest.
He turns his head to look out the window and almost has a heart attack when he sees a familiar blonde in the chair near his bed. He can't even say her name, he's so shocked, and she smiles at him nervously.
"Nate..." she murmurs, and Jenny Humphrey's voice is soft as a dream.
As Jenny sits there in the hospital room, watching Nate come to consciousness, she can't help but backtrack to everything that's happened in the past day.
It had felt like a nightmare. The call at four in the morning from Eric, the rush of blood to her head as she heard the words 'Nate's in the hospital', the cold October air that wrapped around her body - it truly felt as if it was all a terrible dream. Jenny's only thought was that she needed to go see him. She wanted to go immediately but it had to be timed perfectly. Jenny still remembered Blair's words from her last visit to the hospital when Dorota had her baby so many months ago; if Blair heard that Jenny had returned to the UES, she would give her hell. Jenny just needed to see Nate, spend some time with him, figure out what had brought him to this point. She had to wait many hours before she could even board the train from Hudson to the Upper East Side, and when she did, her own thoughts consumed her.
Jenny was pretty sure that Nate didn't care about her. He hadn't contacted her at all since she left. It hurt a little, but it confirmed what she had realized the night she lost her virginity: that this wasn't a fairytale anymore. She was not the white princess and he wasn't the knight in shining armor. Despite the fact that her heart still ached for Nate while she was in Hudson, there was nothing in the UES that made her want to come back; she never checked Gossip Girl anymore and hardly ever talked to anyone that was not part of her new life in Hudson. She planned to leave the Upper East Side after visiting Nate, because he probably wouldn't want her to stay.
During the train ride, she couldn't help but think that it's always been about Nate. She had always needed him in her life, but when the hell had he ever needed her? He didn't need her to visit him in the hospital as much as she needed to reassure herself that he was alive. And her constant searching for him, her constant assumption that he would save her from her worst mistakes - that was what destroyed her, what caused her to make the worst mistake of her life. For God's sake, she went looking for him at his apartment, wanted to see where he was, and was always asking about him. She thought he'd come in at any point, and when she realized that he wouldn't because he loved Serena, she felt absolutely alone. And so she fell down the darkness, into the rabbit hole with Chuck as her tour guide, but in her head the whole time there was only Nate. When she and Chuck were done and she was just lying in bed, feeling so empty inside, they heard someone come into the apartment and she immediately assumed it was Nate, coming in to save her. Nate, whose expectations and opinions she never wanted to offend. But it wasn't him at all, it wasn't her knight because the fairytale didn't exist. It was all in her head, had been in her head all this time, and she'd been too blind to see it.
Eric had told Jenny on the phone while she was packing that Nate had changed. He wasn't the boy they used to know anymore, and they had all been concerned for months, Eric just never told her because he didn't want Jenny to worry. And so they planned for her to arrive unnoticed at seven P.M. Eric somehow managed to convince everyone that he would watch on Nate for the night, when in reality, Jenny would have all night with him while Eric slept over at his boyfriend's house. So far the plan was working, and Nate had been asleep ever since she arrived a few hours ago- it was eleven P.M. right now- but just seeing his chest rise up and down with each breath was a comfort to her. His body looked so lifeless on the bed that it was heartbreaking; he looked so weak with an IV needle stuck into his arm, and his face was pale. According to Eric, Nate had consumed far too much alcohol, and combined with the drugs that he had taken, it was lucky that he didn't die.
When Nate wakes up and notices her, she can't help but smile in his direction and murmur his name. She still can't help but look at him like he's her world, but his eyes are so blank that she feels small and insignificant. Nate finally smiles back and tries to say her name, but his voice cracks; she gets him a cup of water and holds it to his lips as he drinks. Jenny can't help but notice that his face is unshaven and he doesn't smell like he used to; he smells like alcohol and unfamiliar drugs.
"Thank you," he says, looking at her like he can't believe she's here.
"How are you feeling?" she asks, pulling her chair closer to him. She wants to reach out and brush his hair away from his face but she can't bring herself to do it.
"Terrible," he says with a hoarse chuckle. "My arms, everything feels heavy... I'm so tired. I feel like I got ran over."
"Go to sleep, then," Jenny says comfortingly, finally reaching out and brushing back his hair. She can't help it, she needs to touch him and make sure he's here, that he's real. She runs her fingers through it comfortingly and he closes his eyes for a moment before opening them.
"I don't want to. I'm afraid I won't see you again..." He trails off, and when Jenny doesn't respond, he speaks again. "Why did you leave?" He asks her bluntly, and he tries to sit up. Jenny helps him do so, and he can see that her facial expression is strained and worried and afraid.
"I didn't like who I became," she says automatically, and it isn't exactly a lie. Jenny crosses her arms over her chest and she wonders if he can tell just how uneasy she feels. "All the lies and the drama and the plotting... I wasn't happy, it wasn't good for me."
At that moment there's a knock at the door, and Jenny freezes as Serena comes in. They stare at each other, and Serena's eyes narrow. Before she can open her mouth, Jenny gets up and walks over. "Can we talk for a moment outside?" she asks, and after a few seconds Serena nods and Jenny shoots Nate an apologetic look before closing the door behind her.
"What are you doing here? Give me one reason why I shouldn't tell Blair you're back." Serena asks with a glare. She hasn't forgotten anything, but she doesn't realize that Jenny's changed. In Hudson there's no games and no lies; the art of complex lies and plots that Jenny learned in the UES had no use there. It was a cleansing sort of lifestyle, and Jenny wishes that she could prove that she's trustworthy now, that she means no harm.
"I'm going back to Hudson soon. You won't even know I was here - my dad doesn't even know- so please. There's nothing here for me in the city anyway. I just had to make sure Nate was okay." Jenny takes a deep breath and then continues. Serena's face is stony and passive. "Eric told me to come. I needed to see Nate. Serena, look... I apologize for the things I've done to you in the past. I really do." Serena's facial expression wavered and then softened when she realized that Jenny was being sincere. "Just please... I don't think he knows why I left. You know, what happened with Chuck. So all I'm asking is please, don't tell him." She thought Nate knew why she left but it's clear that he doesn't, and now she's afraid of him finding out. She's afraid of disappointing him.
Serena's silent for a moment before responding. "You really care about him, don't you? After all this time?" Jenny nods slowly and Serena sighs. "Okay. I won't tell Blair, but Jenny... don't keep this secret from him. He's going to find out eventually." Serena smiles a little and she reaches out to tousle Jenny's recently cut hair. Jenny laughs. "You're good for him, Jenny. Please save him."
When Jenny comes back in, Nate feels like he has more energy. He could stay up all night with her to make up for the past few months of no contact. He's missed nights of playing Wii with her, of staying up and just talking. Nobody really gets him like she does. All these physical connections from the past few months have made him feel so empty- Nate's realizing now that Jenny's always given him this emotional connection that made him feel like a bigger person, like there's actually some strength inside of him.
"Serena just wanted to check on you. She says she'll visit you tomorrow." Jenny smiles at him and takes her seat again.
"I'm glad you're here, Jenny. I've really missed you." He says honestly. She smiles, and Nate can't help but smile too. Jenny looks into his eyes seriously and he knows a question's coming - the question he's heard so many times already. "Please don't ask me why I've been doing the things I've done," he says before she can speak. "I felt empty, at first I was hurt, and then I was just bored. I just want you to know that not everything Gossip Girl has said about me over the past few months is true."
Jenny's eyes were still concerned and afraid. "Will you promise me that you'll stop doing these things? Please? And we don't read Gossip Girl in Hudson. I haven't checked it in months."
"I promise I'll stop. I don't exactly feel on top of my game right now," he replied. "Of course, it helps that you're here now." There's a reserved expression on her face that makes him think. "So how long are you going to be in the city for?"
"However long you want me to be," she says, and he can tell that she just wants to make him happy. He assesses her medium-sized bag on the ground and knows that she's only packed for a few days. His heart sinks as she looks at him with her bright blue eyes. "I came back for you, Nate. I want you to get better, and I'll do whatever it takes."
'I came back for you.' This words strike him hard. If only she knew the significance behind them, what they mean to him. He can't help but smile at her, and he takes her hand, intertwining his fingers with hers. He sees Jenny's mouth tighten as she jerks her hand away, reaching for her purse.
"Sorry," she apologizes, folding her arms in front of her chest after checking her phone. "I thought I heard it ring." It is an obvious lie, and all he can think of is what he realized so long ago, and his heart hurts a little because it's never been more true than it is now.
"So let's backtrack a bit - you haven't checked Gossip Girl in months? That makes Hudson sound like a different world. Tell me what it's like there." Nate says to kill the awkward silence, settling back into his pillows as she begins to talk. She tells him everything, from how the art of lying-a necessity to survive in the UES- doesn't exist in Hudson to her mother's accountant boyfriend whom Jenny can't stand. Nate tells her about Columbia, about the people and things and places that he's seen over the course of his lifetime, and about his new apartment.
He's about to fall asleep when he murmurs something to her. "Jenny, I'm getting out of here tomorrow... well I guess today, actually," he says, noticing that it's two in the morning now. "Do you want to come over at night? We can play Wii like we used to."
Jenny looks thoughtful and then nods, curling up in her seat. She's wrapped herself up in one of the extra blankets that the nurse gave Nate. "I'd like that. My Mario Kart skills have improved over the past few months, I'm pretty sure I can kick your ass now even more than I used to." She grins playfully at him.
"In your dreams, Humphrey," he scoffs, and with that he falls asleep.