Still a little bit of your ghost your witness
Still a little bit of your face I haven't kissed.
You step a little closer each day still I can't say
what's going on
. Stones taught me to fly, love
taught me to lie
, life taught me to die. So it's not
hard to fall
, when you float like a cannonball.

-Damien Rice

All Nate can think is that it's not the same.

The dim lights, the musty air, the overpriced gowns, the masks, the people - it's all calling him back to a time years ago. Was it three or four now? He can't remember. All he knows is that Blair's trying to rewind the clock, take things back to when they were all young and in high school. Back to a party that took place in a time before they all lost themselves, before things became so convoluted and complicated.

For him, it does take him back. It takes him back to a time before she left, a time before Jenny left. Her ghost is here, present, in the room, trailing around in a bright yellow dress. But there's the smell of the sea wafting around here that makes her ghost less real, just a vision in his head, and the venue feels unfamiliar. Nate recalls Blair's fit when she couldn't book the same location as last time; she had to settle on a place by the harbor. It's like a 1920's theme party or a Snowflake Ball, it's all pretend. They're pretending they exist in a time when their mistakes hadn't ruined them quite yet, hadn't completely changed them from the people they used to be.

'It's not the same,' he thinks as he sees Dan and Serena dance together, attempting to mold into the silhouettes their bodies left three years ago. It's not the same as Blair and Chuck attempt to act like nothing happened between them; they're trying to keep things light and full of banter but it's all just a charade. But here he is, still brooding as he stares out a window, just like he was years ago.

Nothing's changed, but it's not the same.

And now it's almost midnight, and he turns to stare up at the clock, and all he can think of is how four years ago his arms were reaching out to the wrong girl who was actually the right girl, but for four years he was completely oblivious to this fact. And right now four years ago Nate was telling the right girl that he loved the wrong one, and right now four years ago he was turning her around and kissing her, and at this moment four years ago she was running away in that direction, to that entrance-

There's a girl standing there, and there's a dainty silver mask on her face that matches the silver beading that lines the bust of her black dress. He can't help but think that she's some strange kind of vision as she hides her face behind a silver fan- but her hair is such a dark blonde that she can't possibly be who he wants her to be. She's talking to some boy, coquettishly brushing his arm with her finger tips. The fan shifts a little, Nate catches a glimpse of a familiar smile as the girl leans over to whisper something in the stranger's ear. She glances over in Nate's direction, and her cool blue gaze lingers on him as he puts two and two together.

He knows that smile. It hits him like a ton of bricks, and why hasn't anyone realized it? Why hasn't anyone realized it's her? It's not like these masks do much good, anyway. She's looking at him now with wide eyes before she flits her fan in front of her, covering her face once more. She's whirling around and before he knows it Nate's pushing through the crowd, and he starts running when he realizes she's running toward the entrance, too. Nate's heart is hammering in his chest when he finally rushes onto the balcony outside. It's dark outside, but there's some lighting and he sees her silhouette running toward the beach, her high heels grasped in one hand.

Nate can't help but think that finally all those years in soccer and lacrosse have finally come to a good use as he easily catches up with her, sand flying beneath his shoes.

"Jenny? It's me, it's Nate." he asks as he grasps her arm, and he hasn't said her name in so long that it feels unfamiliar. He rips off his mask and looks at her desperately, he's missed her so much, she's the only one who ever understood him- he's afraid to really hope that it's her. But it has to be, that smile, those eyes-

"I don't know what you're talking about," the girl says coldly, and she jerks her arm away from him. "Leave me alone." And with that she's turning away from him. As she does he catches scent of her perfume, and it smells so familiar, like vanilla and lavender.

"Wait," Nate's voice comes out sure and commanding and she stops in her tracks. He steps forward and turns her around; his eyes meet hers, and he's sure. Nate reaches out slowly and touches her face; she closes her eyes. His fingers move to her mask and before she can protest, it's off, and it's her, it's Jenny.

"I knew it," he says, and he wants to pick her up and hold her forever. "What's going on here, Jenny? When did you come back?"

"I'm not back. Nobody knows I'm here, Nate... nobody was supposed to know. Please don't tell anyone." Jenny replies softly and pleadingly, and it feels so good to hear her voice that it takes him a while to understand what she's saying. "I just came to see how you all were, I guess. I came for the memories, to see if the masquerade would be any different... I'm going back to Hudson in the morning."

"Wait, what? Stay, Jenny. Please. You owe me an explanation, at least, for why you left." Nate feels her shifting, stepping back, and he grabs her elbows to keep her there. Why is she so desperate to leave again, why doesn't she want anyone to know she's here in the first place? He feels her body tense and she looks angry.

"Excuse me, what? I owe you? For what? I owe you nothing." She replies angrily, jerking her left arm away from him, and Nate's other hand just grips her right arm more tightly.

"I mean, aside from all the times I've saved you-"

"Most of the time I never asked you to-"

"-there's also the fact that you never called me before or after you left!" He wonders why the water beating against the sand is so loud, but then he realizes it's his pulse throbbing in his ears. All the hurt, the anger, the rejection he felt for so many months, it's all coming back to him now. "I texted you. I called you, I e-mailed you, I asked Dan about you. I even sent you my letter from two years ago, the one Vanessa stole that I kept, and you never responded. And as far as I know, I've done nothing to be treated that way."

She doesn't respond, just sighs in frustration. "I was saving you, Nate."

"The fuck? From what, Jenny? A friendship? I needed you, Jenny. I was there for you when you needed me-"

"You weren't!"

"Do you not remember the nights with Agnes? Cotillion?" He didn't care if anyone heard him as he yelled at her - why in the world was she acting this way?

"You weren't there, Nate! You weren't there, I was looking for you- you were all I saw when I-"

"When what? Just fucking tell me!"

"When I slept with Chuck!"

All he can hear is the sound of the waves, the blood in his ears, a ringing sound; he can't speak and all he can see are red angry splotches. He's dimly aware of her shaking him off, of Jenny turning her back to him and beginning to walk away.

"Say it again." He says hoarsely, and he must be some kind of a masochist because it hurt so fucking bad the first time, and he's already closing his eyes in anticipation of her twisting the knife in his stomach a little more. Nate can barely breathe right now, and he knows it's not just older brother feelings that he's feeling right now. It's what he felt that night in Agnes' apartment when that photographer looked at her like she was pure gold: jealousy.

"Chuck took my virginity. I came to the apartment looking for you. Blair had just told me that no one could love me. I went looking for you because I loved you, you were the only one I trusted. But you weren't there, and he was." Her voice is calm, steady, dead. Nate was sick to his stomach, he didn't know what to do...

"Don't leave, Jenny," His voice is cracked and he feels like he is begging. "Please stay. Please..."

Jenny pauses and turns and Nate thinks maybe it'll be like the movies now, she'll run back into his arms. She's all he has left of his past. Serena and Dan have each other and Chuck and Blair have each other and they're all pretending that they're whole again. He needs Jenny, he needs her because she's his other puzzle piece, she fits. The sea breeze ruffles his hair as she tilts her head a little to the side and observes him with her keen eyes.

"Do you know how long I chased after you, Nate? How many ridiculous things I did for you? Chasing after you brought me to the worst mistake of my life." She pauses. "I lost myself in a world I don't even belong in. And for what? A fake throne? For you? I lost myself for nothing."

"Jenny, Jenny, Jenny..." His heart hurts, and he can barely speak. He buries his head in his hands for a few moments, trying to collect himself. Why hadn't anyone told him this, why hadn't Chuck or Dan told him what had happened? Jenny is breaking him and maybe she senses that in the silence that follows; he hears her footsteps and he feels her taking his hands away from his face, looking up at him with eyes that he once had memorized like the back of his hand. Jenny is holding one of his large hands in her two small ones and before he knows it he's leaning in and kissing her roughly and she's kissing him back. He buries his hand in her hair to keep her there, he doesn't want her to pull away but she doesn't seem to have that in mind either. She's brushing away the tear that had managed to escape his eye and she's crying too, he can feel it on her cheeks and he knows that it had hurt her just as much as it had hurt him, to say all of those things...

And he's pressing her against one of the wooden supports of the dock, the sand getting into his shoes, but he doesn't care because he's driven to kiss her neck a little rougher than he normally would, to bite at her bottom lip softly and nip at her skin from her collarbone to her lower stomach. Something is telling him he has to claim her as his again - she's always been his- and it's messed up, it's so messed up how hungrily they're tugging at each other's clothes. It's messed up how she moans his name into his ear, how her hands almost rip off all the buttons of his shirt, how the roughness of the dock leaves scratches on her back when he lifts her up against it, how her nails clutch dig into the bareness of his back...

Time passes after they're done. She doesn't cuddle with him on the sand. He stares at the sky, barely registering the clearness of it; all he can focus on is her steady breathing. Before he knows it Jenny is getting dressed and he's clambering to do the same, but she finishes before him and begins to walk away.

"Where are you going? Wait! Jenny!" He calls after her, leaving his shirt unbuttoned and grabbing his shoes. She turns and glares at him.

"Don't follow me."

"Jenny, you can't... you can't think those things you said were still true. I'm not nothing to you, I'm something, didn't we just... I need you to stay. I need you here with me."

"You're nothing to me, Nate. That was nothing. Leave me alone. Leave me in peace. The Upper East Side isn't a part of my life anymore and neither are you. You're the past. I don't want you in my life anymore." Her voice is so spiteful that he can't help but take a step back, and he stands there as he watches her begin to walk away.

Nate has to give it one more shot, and he calls out desperately: "You said you loved me earlier. You loved me, Jenny."

"I loved you," She doesn't bother to look back, and the moonlight catches onto the blonde strands of her hair just as tightly as he wants to hold onto her. She throws something- a paper?- into the ocean carelessly before continuing to speak. "I loved you, before you destroyed me." And with that she runs away from the masquerade, just like she did four years ago.

Nate sees that it is his letter that she has thrown away, and he watches as it drowns and becomes lost at sea.

Bit of a random/AU story but I hope you guys like it. I wasn't really satisfied with Keeping On Without You because I prefer more angsty stories, and ever since then I've been wanting to jot this down but I haven't had time. I hope you all will enjoy this because I think it is one of my favorites.