A/N: Post-s3. This ignores the very ending of 3x22. These two are kind of my OTP right now, seeing as the show has royally screwed over nearly every other ship. Reviews are love.
you're gonna be my bruise
so tell me who you run to,
when there's no one left to take your side.
- thriving ivory, "angels on the moon"
He drunk-dials her from Prague.
The shrill sound of her cell phone's ringer pulls her from sleep at nearly four o'clock in the morning, and she fumbles for it before sinking back into her pillows with the phone held tight to her ear.
"Look who's alive," she sighs sleepily.
"Look who's being a good girl this summer." His voice is a practiced, lazy slur. "Why aren't you flashing photographers all over Europe?"
She blinks her eyes open and stares at the ceiling through the darkness. "Maybe I've grown up."
"Ah." A pause, then he says: "I liked you better before."
It surprises her, so she laughs. It is late enough and he is drunk enough that there are no barriers left to break down before she tells him, "I never liked me much."
When she's cleaning her things out of her bathroom in the family suite (she's an adult now, she really is – she's going to go to Brown in the fall and never look back, she really is), she finds a tiny bag of pot stashed beneath a neat stack of facecloths.
She sits down on the floor, right on the bathmat, and tips her head back to rest against the side of the tub. She has the strangest desire to cry.
(Fourteen years old and alone, she'd crashed into his suite, into his life – she'd kissed him, pushed him back against a wall, young and reckless and heartbroken for reasons she couldn't admit to herself.
She'd swiped the back of her hand over her mouth afterward, ignored the red burns on her kneecaps from kneeling on the Persian carpet, had pretended not to notice the careful way his fingers loosened their grip on her hair.
And he had looked at her, still on the floor in front of him because she couldn't stand, couldn't move, couldn't do anything but wonder what she was doing at all – couldn't do anything but kneel there like she was looking for some sort of absolution.
She had tilted her chin up and dared herself to meet his gaze, and she'd almost vomited gin and maraschino cherries and come and all of her dirtiest secrets onto his absurdly shiny shoes.
She'd hated her reflection as she'd seen it in his eyes.
She flips her phone is her hands for easier texting and replies, you come here.
not soon enough.
Serena laughs and tilts her head back to soak in the sun, smiles against its burning light. She types back, that's what she said and likes to imagine that he smiles, too, when he reads it.
She makes out, nothing more, with a random boy in the bathroom of a club.
He's wearing a red bowtie with his black shirt and blazer and his fingers keep tracing over the zipper on her dress, and as his tongue delves into her mouth greedily she finds herself wondering whether or not she's still technically related to her step-brother.
It's rather disconcerting.
"You secretly want to date me, don't you." She lies on her back and stretches her legs upward, toes pointed into the air. She does not bother to check the caller ID. Only one person ever really phones her anymore.
"If by date, you mean – "
"There are pictures of you on Gossip Girl with a blonde girl." She notices that her neon pink nail polish is starting to chip.
"Her name is – "
She talks over him, "And I'm lying on your bed right now, and the girl in the picture above it looks suspiciously like me."
His tone changes. "You're in my bed?"
"Because." A blush works its way up her cheeks and she is glad he can't see her – though she wouldn't be entirely surprised to find cameras in his room, hidden away somewhere. "I was hanging out with Nate, and it got late, and I didn't want…"
"Someone's learned to resist temptation."
"Maybe I wasn't tempted," she counters.
He laughs. "Use the pillow on the right. And sweet dreams."
"Why…" He's gone before she can really speak. Experimentally, she picks up the pillow and buries her face in it.
She spends a lot of time in Chuck's room that summer.
She doesn't want to be at home, where there is always a possibility of walking in on her mother and step-father kissing in the kitchen, where there is a possibility of running into Dan or even Jenny is she decides to come home for a few days. Nate is around a lot of the time,
and sometimes there are heavy moments and too much eye contact and they make such an effort never to get close enough to touch each other, but beyond that it is somehow comfortable.
A lifetime of friendship doesn't erase that easily.
Chuck's room feels like Blair's domain. She tiptoes around it, touches everything like it's been marked, been tainted by another girl (by her best friend).
There are no traces of Blair – no clothing, no jewelry, not even the faintest trace of her perfume – but Serena knows, knows, that someone else was here first.
It doesn't bother her as much as it probably should.
Nate goes to the Hamptons.
He tells her in mid-July, in the early morning, sitting at the kitchen table eating toast while Serena sits on the counter and sips from a huge mug of coffee.
He doesn't really look at her when he asks, "Do you want to come?"
"No." Belatedly, she adds, "Thank you."
Frustrated, he pushes his plate away. "I don't know what you want from me, Serena."
She leans her head back against the cupboard and fixes her eyes on the ceiling. "You don't have to do what I want anymore."
Go find someone who knows how to love you.
"Good morning, sweetheart."
She shifts around sleepily, opening her eyes the slightest bit and catching sight of yellow roses. "Go away," she sighs.
A hand moves against her cheek, tucking her hair behind her ear and then sliding down her neck. She frowns, still half-asleep, and turns her face into the pillow. The hand moves downward, drifting over her collarbone and then slipping the strap of her camisole down her shoulder.
Her eyes fly open and she sits up, gasping. "Chuck!" Boundaries.
Unapologetically, he informs her, "I'm jet-lagged. And you're in my bed."
"So sleep in Nate's room."
"I have my own room for a reason."
She grumbles and throws the blankets back – she will go sleep in Nate's room, if he insists on being so stubborn.
His hand falls to her thigh, pushing at the hem of her sleep-shorts, and she wishes that it was surprising when he leans in and kisses her.
But it's not.
"Never again." She yanks her shirt on over her head and realizes belatedly that it's on backwards. She struggles out of it again, the straps catching around her neck.
"Why are you acting like – "
"Because it is!" She's glad that she can yell, glad that Nate isn't home, glad that Blair is out of the country. "Because you and me – "
"We know," he interrupts her, "that sex is just sex."
She feels strangely embarrassed, startlingly vulnerable, standing in his bedroom with her mussed-up hair falling into her face. She's not even wearing the right underwear for sex with Chuck Bass, and yet –
"What?" The word snaps out of her, gets torn right out of her throat, yanked up from her heart.
Chuck looks right at her – Chuck Bass, Blair's ex-boyfriend, her own kinda-stepbrother – and he sees her in a way she might never have been seen before. She wants to ask him to stop, but she doesn't, and he keeps on staring.
"I'm going to make you a mimosa," he finally says, like that will fix everything.
She doesn't object.
"How's Prague as a hideaway from Blair?" she asks. Her whole body feels strangely heavy; she leans forward, propping her arms on the bar and resting her chin on one of her wrists.
Chuck smirks at her. "Better than boarding school, I'm sure."
"You don't know. Boarding school was…" She closes her eyes, admits, "I don't remember all that much of boarding school."
For a few minutes it's silent, save for the sounds of opening draws and glasses clinking as he fixes their drinks.
"You could have called me," he says.
She blinks her eyes open and licks her lips, which are chapped from rough kisses. "I did call you. We've been calling." That sounds oddly cute, so she winces.
His eyes roam over her face and his smirk changes into something closer to a smile. He seems to like the way she looks right now. "From boarding school, sis," he clarifies.
Serena let's her eyes fall shut again. "Don't call me that."
"Why didn't you call?" he presses, not willing to let her evade this. "Nate or Blair, I understand, but me…"
"I think…" She purses her lips a little. "I think you could've convinced me to come back."
She strips out of her clothes before showering and analyzes her reflection in the mirror through hazy eyes.
There are bruises on her skin – one that is suspiciously hand-shaped on her hip, another just above the back of her knee, a hickey-sized one on the inside of one of her thighs, and one on her collarbone.
She breathes out slowly and steps into the shower, pulling the curtain shut, hiding away from reality.
It surprises (disgusts) her, how easily she falls apart when he touches her.
His hands slip beneath the hem of her sundress and she whimpers his name as he kisses a point on her jaw just below her ear.
She grips his chin and tugs his mouth to her, determined to kiss the knowing smirk right off of his face.
"Never again…?" he wonders.
Serena bites his lip. "Shut. Up."
"Tell me why you did it." She slips into the booth next to him, lips by his cheek, a hand resting high on his thigh.
Chuck looks at her over the rim of his glass of scotch. "Pardon me, Savannah?"
She drops her Southern accent and wide-eyed look. "With Blair. You wanted to marry her, so why would you – "
"She didn't show up."
She leans away with him and says flatly, "So you gave up."
His voice seems to be coming from far away. "I could've ruined her."
Her fingers dig into his leg. "No." I beat you to it.
His arm snakes around her waist and she recognizes the feel of it instantaneously, the same arm that's gathered her from dance floors at clubs since she was about thirteen years old.
"You're coming home with me tonight," he says against the shell of her ear.
She turns against him and slips one of her arms lazily around his neck, presses her hips right to his in a way that makes him grit his teeth and hiss a little. "You got scared," she says quietly, below the music. "You got scared of Blair Waldorf."
"But I don't scare you." She lets him lead her toward the doors, out onto the city sidewalk. The stars twinkle in bursts overhead and she wonders if Blair is looking at a similar sky, an ocean away.
"Let's go, S."
"You don't have to worry about me." His face swims before her eyes. "Always the bridesmaid, never the bride."
Blair calls in the morning, as if Serena's words summoned her.
"You don't sound good," she says, like an accusation.
Serena turns down the volume on her phone and whispers back, "Hangover." I'm so sorry.
"You should've come to Paris with me."
"Yes." I did it again, I slept with your (ex?)boyfriend.
"It's so beautiful here, S. It makes me miss you."
She swallows. "I miss you, too." I wish you wouldn't.
She throws a glass at Chuck's head; it smashes against the wall behind him.
"You don't get to do this to her. She's my best friend."
"Oh?" His eyes burn into hers. "You and I are so different, are we? What you did to Nate – "
"Don't. Don't you dare. Don't assume you understand me."
"Serena." His laugh is harsh and it seems to stick in his throat. "How else do you think we ended up here?"
On the roof, she sits with her legs dangling over the edge, listening to his footsteps get louder and louder as he approaches her.
"Are we still related?" Her voice gets caught on the wind, words whisked away the moment they leave her mouth. "Am I really that messed up?"
He moves a little closer. "Can you come back from there? I can't think when you're so close to – "
She turns her head to look at him, ignores the fact that a strong breeze could send her tumbling into the city below them. "You cannot be all I have left."
The suite is completely silent. Somewhere in the distance, a siren goes off.
"You never told her, did you?"
She sighs, absorbing the darkness. She's naked save for a single one of his black sheets. "No."
"Why would I?" She shifts onto her side, facing him, and shrugs a bare shoulder. "It was special for her, with you. It was her virginity. It was the start of something."
"And it wasn't anything when it was us."
She has the weirdest desire to touch him, suddenly – not to initiate anything but just to touch. "You said it yourself. We know that sex is just sex." She rolls over again, this time so that her back is to him. She just wants to sleep.
Moments later, he shifts closer, so that she can feel his body heat.
"What happened to know grab-ass in your elevators?"
She's leaning back against the wall, a little breathless, her dress hiked up and one of her bra straps falling down her arm, sticking to her sweaty skin.
Chuck kisses her and she starts a little; can taste herself on his tongue. "I break my own rules," he says against her mouth.
"Not even once."
"Never." She shakes her head.
"Everyone has fantasies, S."
"Not of incest, Charles."
"You never thought of it?" His voice is as smooth as honey, his eyes are narrowed toward her. All of the windows are open but the air is still. "You and me…"
"Not even when Blair told you…" He searches for phrasing and finally offers, "Stories."
"I didn't listen to her, then." She winces.
"Jealous?" he smarms.
She rolls her eyes. "You fucked that up, Chuck. You could've been her fairytale. Her movie-script ending."
"I'm not the one who took her prince charming's innocence."
"I loved him." She glares.
"And I loved her." His fingers dance over her skin, slipping beneath her skirt and smoothing over her stomach, up toward her breasts. "We're matched, you and me."
"You are the last thing I should be doing right now, you realize."
His eyes glint in a way that reminds her of the boy who wore ridiculous scarves and handed her pills. "Oh, sweetheart," he says slowly, "I realize."
"You know you're not going to Brown."
She throws a pointy-heeled shoe in his general direction, not bothering to comment before she returns to packing. He's right, she'll never end up going, but she wishes he'd let her pretend for just a day or two.
"Serena. You don't need college."
"Then what comes next?" she challenges him, collapsing on his bed on top of the piles of her clothes. "This year was supposed to show me and it hasn't and now I can't figure it out. What comes next?"
He leans against the doorframe. "Work for me."
"Don't be a jerk."
"I'm always a jerk. Come and work for me."
"Chuck." It's a plea, an undisguised one.
"Serena," he echoes mockingly. "Get over yourself for one goddamn second and just agree."
"Classy," he comments pointedly from the kitchen as Serena's one-night stand slips out of the suite in the morning.
"Please." She rolls her eyes. "Like I'm the slut in the room right now."
"Things were awfully quiet last night." He frowns when she takes his cup of coffee from his hands. "He didn't make you – "
"Stop it. You're gross." She slides the cup back toward him. "I don't owe you anything."
He inclines his head. "Someone owes you an orgasm."
She presses her hands to her ears and scrunches up her nose. "Stop." She peeks at him through her eyelashes. "Are…are you…"
"Am I what?"
"Nothing." She shakes her head, reclaims his coffee cup, and leaves the room.
She meets him in his office, sitting on the desk with her knees pressed together demurely.
"I thought you were starting in September." He notices what she's wearing – her Constance Billard uniform skirt – and his eyes flit to her face, openly curious.
"Let's just say I'm eager."
He smirks and corrects, "Unsatisfied."
She moves her legs apart a little, allows him to stand in between them, to rest his hands on her bare thighs. "You want me all to yourself," she says softly.
"Hmm?" His eyes are dark.
"Admit it. You want to keep me."
"You tend to forgive me. It's a nice trait to have around."
She touches the collar of his shirt, fingers moving to undo a couple of the buttons. "If I didn't forgive you then I'd never forgive me."
His mouth brushes the corner of hers. "Shameless girl."
Her lips curve and it might be her first genuine smile in a month. "Take me or – "
When his mouth covers hers it feels blessedly like some kind of lovely magic, and leave me never gets said.
"You were jealous." She whispers it against his neck.
"Do you remember…when we were kids, when we used to…you had fucking stars in your eyes, I swear."
She tilts her chin up to look at him, waiting for an explanation.
He shrugs; his voice is husky. "I don't know. Maybe for a second I thought I'd put them there."
Nate calls and tells her about his summer thus far.
She smiles at the melody of his voice, remembers how fiercely she'd adored it as a little girl. "You sound happy, Nate."
It stuns her a bit when he laughs and says: "You too."
She giggles, sitting on his bed and watching as he personally sorts out the clothes in his closet by colour.
"Either you've got a brothel I don't know about or all the girls in your little black book are on vacation."
He doesn't turn to face her. "Maybe I'm just not in the mood."
"Come again?" she deadpans.
He smiles (smiles, not smirks) at her. "There is a possibility that I've grown up, too."
They go to the opera (at Lily's request for keeping up appearances) and when she gets bored she slouches down in her seat and she leans into his shoulder and closes her eyes.
"S'not cuddling," she whispers when she feels him shift. "I'm just tired."
He lifts his arm and settles it around her shoulders, letting her curl into him, and rests his chin lightly atop her head.
It's still not cuddling, just…resting.
"You are a horrible person," she says matter-of-factly, breathless from laughter. A reporter had found them as they were leaving, had stopped them to ask questions with a pen and paper in hand, and when Chuck had said he loved his stepsister, he'd given her a look so lewd the reporter had stuttered an excuse and hurried away. "What if that gets in the papers?"
"It won't. And if it does…" He shrugs, and he gives her that look again, but she recognizes the hint of real desire behind it. "Shame turns me on."
She's contemplating which shoes should go into her bags and boxes for Brown, sitting on the edge of her bed in the van der Woodsen – Bass – Humphrey penthouse apartment and trying on pair after pair, when Chuck seems to materialize in front of her.
He arches an eyebrow.
"I might go, you know," she huffs insistently.
Her heart thuds, the beginning of an ache, and she abandons all thoughts of shoes when she realizes that she wishes he'd ask her to stay.
"What are you doing here?" she wonders.
"I thought you might be thinking about moving back here. Nate'll be home soon."
"Right." She looks at the floor and then back at his face. "Chuck." Gathering her courage, she asks, "Did you ever just want me?"
Am I ever first pick, am I ever good enough, will someone ever –
He walks over to her and stands in front of her and leans down to kiss her, and it is surprisingly gentle; it's enough to soothe her.
"Yes," he says, like everything is that simple, like it can all boil down to one word.
"Real me," she protests, her mouth still a breath away from his, her neck still stretched upward a bit desperately. "Not bad-girl me, not me when I just came back and no one really new who I was, not me when I was trying to be better – "
"I," he says, cutting her off smoothly, "have only ever known one you."
She wakes up one morning facing him, their hands tangled between their pillows.
Sometimes when she looks at him it's like staring at her own reflection in a funhouse mirror; different, mangled, but still recognizable.
"What?" he grumbles, eyes still closed.
She smiles and runs her fingers along the planes of his face. "You're Chuck Bass," she whispers, and she can feel it, the way that it means something to her, therefore it means something to them both.
"Oh my effing god."
She waves Chuck away and chases Blair out into the hallway of the Empire in nothing but a robe that she's holding closed.
Blair whirls around. "Whatever, Serena. I don't care. I ask you to come to Paris with me and instead you decide to stay in the city so you can fool around with my ex-boyfriend, but…whatever. I really don't care anymore. It doesn't mean anything."
"It does," Serena insists, and her voice breaks. "I care," she says, like a confession, "I care."
"S." Blair sighs.
"Why are you here right now? Do you miss him? Do you want him back?" She ties the belt on her silky bathrobe tightly around her. "Tell me."
Blair presses her lips together and replies with questions of her own: "Why would you stay with him? I wanted you to come with me."
Serena bows her head, stares at her bare feet against the hotel's hallway carpets. "I wanted to stay here."
Eyebrows flying up, Blair prompts, "And?"
She faces Blair, unapologetic. "And he needed me to."
Blair gapes at her, aghast. "Do you love him?"
Serena shakes her head to the negative.
"You're sleeping with him."
"It's not as easy as that." She hugs her arms around herself and tells Blair the truth, "It's never been as easy as that."
Chuck is waiting for her, his eyes alert and anxious.
"She's angry," he states, reading it on her face.
Serena shrugs and her robe falls off one of her shoulders. She tries very hard to smile at him. "Shame turns me on."
He tugs at the tie on her robe and pushes it off of her shoulders, and when he kisses her cheek he probably tastes salt, but it is not because she's crying.
She sits on the floor, leaning back against the couch, drinking red wine straight from the bottle. Chuck is smoking, his head resting on her thighs.
She breathes in and says, "I…"
He lifts a hand and tangles it in her hair, drawing her mouth down to his. Their lips meet at awkward angles, but he must be able to taste her secrets anyway. She laughs into his mouth, relieved and relaxed, and he swallows the sounds of her joy.
His driver takes her to Brown. The car is packed. She left Blair a message and hugged Nate goodbye. Chuck stands on the sidewalk with his hands in the pockets of his trenchcoat, the collar of it popped.
"I have to go." She just does. It's going to prove some kind of point – to herself, to her mother, to the world.
He shrugs, careless. "Okay."
She breathes out slowly. "What if I want to stay?"
Chuck shrugs again, and then he leans in to kiss her, brief but somehow lingering and significant, because she doesn't know what he feels or what she feels but anyone could see, anyone could send it to Gossip Girl.
"Call me," he says. "And I will convince you to come back."
She sits in the stairwell of what would be her dorm, her feet tapping impatiently again the tiled floor.
"What are you wearing?"
She giggles a little. "I'm…I'm calling," she says, the words stilted.
He's quiet after that, so she rushes on, "I just…I'm trying so hard to change and to figure out what the right way to do that is, and I keep getting lost."
She bites her lip. "Yes?"
The limo is still there, Chuck's driver sitting patiently. She sucks in some air and doesn't say a word.
But he does: "I liked you better before."
Serena grins and she laughs and she blows him a kiss over the phone.
She likes that not even they can ruin themselves.