DISCLAIMER: I do not own the characters/plots of "Gossip Girl."

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hello, just some quick background on this fic. It's AU, future setting and is set on the premise that Serena was away at boarding school for the entirety of her junior year. It sets major events of both S1 (NS revelation, DS, CB, VdB wedding) and S2 (continued CB & DS, Bart's death, Vanderbilt drama, NB again) in their senior year of high school. S3 did not happen, the prologue will skim the year after high school and beyond.

The day Blair Waldorf marries Nate Archibald, Serena van der Woodsen wakes up with phantom nausea— or at least that's what she calls it; it's sensations she won't identify, won't consider. She let's them roll over her, fill her up inside, haunt her steps, but she will not name them.

She spends two hours of the morning curled on the floor beside the toilet, head in her hands, knees under her chin and thoughts resolutely fixed on her bridesmaid dress; her maid-of-honor dress, to be more precise. The deep hue of blue it is, the elegance of the sweetheart cut, the careful beading on the hem, the silver accented sash, the softness of the silk and the way it suits her perfectly— was made for her, literally; the way it highlights her very best attributes, gives testament to her height and poise and makes her look effortlessly stunning. She replays every moment of buying the dress, every smile on Blair's face, every laugh they'd shared, every arched eyebrow the attendants had exchanged as the exacting bride demanded couture dress after couture dress, declaring each one "not enough."

And she remembers, replays with unrelenting focus, the ferocity, the sincerity, in Blair's voice, her best friend's voice, when she'd said, "I want you to look amazing, S."

By the time Serena dons the dress, walks down the velvet covered aisle, veers slightly to the left, and turns around to wait for Blair, she's managed to stamp down any and all… nausea.

There's no doubt the wedding is the event of the season. There's a photograph in Page Six, of a laughing Nate gazing down at his beaming bride as she tilts her face towards his – it's beautiful, perfect.

And more than that, it's real.

Serena dances at the wedding reception, drinks a little too much (but not too-too much, never at a wedding, never again), and twirls on the dance floor with long-legged grace; she laughs with the abandon that infuses her every breath and wraps her arms around the neck of every partner she has, gazes deeply into each set of eyes (black, brown, green, even blue), and drinks in the admiration and lust and sometimes even awe she sees there.

And it is enough (it is) and she has fun (she does).

High school was a convoluted knot of love and pain that spilled out from inside them, over each other and everyone in their vicinity; it was tears and shouts and betrayals, it seared the ground their friendships rested on, broke boundaries, crossed lines, left jagged edges and broken shards, branded their souls with marks they'd never really forget and then— it was over.

It ended with scorched earth and new lines; shifted perspectives and friendships growing anew.

There's a phone-call – Manhattan to Rhode Island, early-on while the earth under their feet is still smoldering; it's infused with quiet, determination and held-back tears:

"We can't—I can't do this anymore."
"What happened? Are you—"
"We're not cut out for this… we're over."
"Are you sure, B? You and Chuck—"
"It's too much, more than I can afford to— yes. I am…yes, I'm sure."

Serena goes to Brown and among other things, spends six years in and out of that institution until they finally agree to give her a diploma.

Blair's enrollment at NYU, and the entirety of her relationship with Chuck, lasts for one semester– before she transfers to Yale she graduates with honors, a year early, and takes the year to pad her already impressive resume by coordinating and managing various charity projects around globe – because one never knows when they'll need favorable public opinion.

Nate heads to California and he stays there, new friends and new interests; he graduates on time – without any familial approval.

Chuck becomes the boy-CEO his father's death necessitates, drifts around the world, anchored only dimly to the city where he was born; somewhere along the line, between then and now, he gets a degree and an MBA and becomes a powerhouse in his own right.

It all feels strangely anticlimactic, life after high school.

There's only civility between them at first but there's genuine laughter next and honest conversation soon after that; it was easy and hard, it was life spinning away from them - them growing-up.

And somehow they managed to do it alone but together.

Serena dances with Chuck towards the end of the wedding reception. They fall into an easy stance together, perfect form, learned in shared lessons over a dozen years ago.

They follow the rhythm of the floor, pressed together, in-sync. She doesn't laugh and she doesn't look into his eyes and she doubts very much he notices.

It's college graduation that sends Nate back to New York City from across the country, that tugs Blair to city law firms, that draws Serena back like the flame it is; and that is all it takes.

Just like that – it's fragments of their childhood all over again; flimsy at first, wavering, and then stronger, steadier – drinks and movies and dinner and three people that once loved each other so well, so true, they got mixed-up, tangled together in it, lost themselves in the mess of it.

Nate and Blair go to Greece for their honeymoon. Serena had helped Blair pick out the hotel over coffee and croissants one morning.

It's a gorgeous place overlooking the water with balconies to watch the sunrise on.

Chuck tiptoes around them as they get reacquainted, keeps himself at an involved distance. Blair references it on occasion, his absences and silences and how he should take breaks, come out with them more - and that alone is what marks a long ago phone-call as truth.

All those years ago, Blair had been sure and still to this day Serena doesn't know what her best friend couldn't afford.

The photographer poses all the bridesmaids with the groom; and Serena keeps her smile bright, wide,when Nate slips an arm around her waist and whispers, "let's make it a good one," in her ear; his eyes glimmering with laughter and his smile joking and easy.

She smiles because it's all good; this is good. Their life is good.

There was one moment.


An entire year before the idea of a Waldorf-Archibald wedding would rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of their childhood.

Blair had had to work late, had canceled on their movie and Serena and Nate had gone without her; sat in the back, shared raisinet's and twizzler's and a cup of soda with one straw; laughed together and fallen silent together. She'd leaned into his shoulder and he'd wrapped his arm around her and when the movie had ended and the theatre emptied they'd stayed in their seats.

He'd looked at her, smiling, hair awry and eyes bright; and she'd smiled back, beamed, warm and cuddled against him, had lost herself in that moment, tilted her face towards him, eyes closing. His lips had touched hers, carefully at first, then less so, firmer, bolder, moving with hers, tasting her,remembering her. His arms had tightened, had pulled her closer and she'd lifted a hand, touched his face, opened her eyes to look into his, breathless and pliant and sinking into love and it had drifted through her thoughts, unbidden, unexpected, the first of its kind in so very long: I hope they were his eyes, I hope the baby had—

Her breath had caught in her throat at the thought, a gaspy sound that had startled him; she'd gone pale, tense all over, goosebump's prickling her skin and heart pounding in her chest, had jerked back away from him, shot up from her seat and left the theatre in a rush, without another word.

She would never say a word.

Nate had called after her; he'd run after, shouted her name and to stop and to wait and she'd caught the first flight to the farthest place she could go to that very night.

Serena hadn't meant to issue a statement – but she had.

She'd stayed away for three months that time, nothing really (the first time she had run from him, fromthem, she'd stayed away for an entire year).

But they weren't fifteen or seventeen anymore, and statements resounded more loudly, were felt more clearly, were taken with more resolve.

She had run and he had been left and Blair had stayed – that was the lay of the land, it always had been, and neither shifted perspectives nor re-arranged lines nor freshly blooming friendships had changed it.

And Nate, Nate had accepted that.

Nate proposes to Blair on a winter's day, beside a lake, with a ring he buys on his non-profit program coordinator's salary. She says yeah not yes and giggles against his mouth when they kiss.

They aren't exactly dating and they aren't exactly madly in love. What they are is two people who love each, understand each other; who know each other at their best and their worst and everything almostand in-between there can be – and they still wanted to spend every day of the rest of their lives together.

Amelia Eleanor Archibald is born not quite eight months after her parent's marriage. The gossip is discreet and snuffed out by a few well placed words from a certain Great-Grandfather.

She has soft fuzzy brown hair and big baby blue eyes and Serena holds her tenderly and coos and all together does a fabulous job of not thinking until Blair smiles tiredly at her and asks, "Would you be her godmother?" in a soft tone.

Such simple words but they unhinge something inside her; the grief wells up abruptly, hot and stifling and it brings tears to her eyes and sob to her throat and she shakes her head, feels panic following on the heels of grief because doesn't want to ruin this moment, won't ruin it; she looks away, holds the tiny, precious baby just a little closer, lowers her face into the fabric of the baby blanket.

Blair slinks towards her on the bed, wraps an arm lazily around Serena's waist and presses her cheek into the blonde's leg, looks up at her with wide, understanding brown eyes. There are things they don't talk about, things they don't need words for anymore.

Amelia wiggles in Serena's hold and the blonde lifts her head a little, forces herself to breathe, to push the panic and grief away, underneath, bury it under the sight of waving little fists and blinking baby blues. "She's beautiful." She whispers through a tight throat, tries to smile down at Blair, lifts a hand to wipe at her cheek.

And Blair nods against Serena's leg, slides an arm around her waist and squeezes her sister in a hug,"Be her godmother, we'll share her."

It's the easiest heartbreaking thing she's ever done – holding baby Amelia Archibald, donned in her gold and white christening dress, and becoming her godmother.

Blair hugs her tight afterwards; Nate kisses her cheek – and they are glowing so brightly, faces turned towards each other, eyes on their newborn daughter, that it hurts to look directly at them.

Serena does it anyway.

She weaves her life around theirs – flies the world over for magazines and ads, a blur of wide of smiles, hair flips, and martini glasses that only ever pauses long enough for Amelia's birthday parties or Blair's nationally lauded cases or Nate's firm holding a gala.

Sought after and fawned over, she's as golden as she's ever been, spinning bright and fast in an industry that chants not enough, not enough, notenough in everyone's ear. They become her anchor— a quiet home with fondly exasperated glances and bright baby giggles, perfect table settings and six ESPN channels; her sanity, where everything is still and painfully heartbreakingly breathtakinglyjoyously real.

But who wants to be sane, still, real for long anyway?

The accident isn't her fault—

There are four people in the car with her, two of them die on impact, one will never walk again, the other will heal, and she— she'll heal too, mostly.

— it's the fault of an Italian autostrada, slick with rain, and another driver whose had two shots too many. The car slides, the breaks screech, lights blur, metal howls, and the spinning stops.

Everything is real.