A/N: I don't even know why. I just love them so much and needed to write them. Enjoy?
... ... ...
18 months after they broke up and she ran away to Paris, she comes back.
It's not like he's been waiting for her or anything. God, sometimes it's hard to even remember what she looks like. (Blonde hair, blue eyes, legs for days, face that launched a thousand ships or whatever that expression is.) He's dated women. He dated one girl for a year, which, though it's really messed up to admit, was his longest relationship. Well, other than Blair, but that was so young and kind of silly, if you really think about it, that he doesn't think that really counts.
They were together, happy, and they lived together for about six months. He bought a place and she paid rent because she insisted she didn't want to just live there for free, even though he really didn't want to take her money. It was fine. It was fun. He loved her. He really did. But they just kind of ended. There wasn't any big blow up. No cheating, no yelling, no kissing of exes. Just a natural finish, the end of a relationship. He's never really had that before. Not like it felt good or anything, but it certainly didn't feel as bad.
The very last thing he expects a year and a half after she left, is Serena showing up at his apartment with bags in her hand and no makeup on her face.
And really, the only thing he can do is grab her bags and tell her to come inside.
... ... ...
She's sitting on his sofa drinking from the glass of water he brought her, and he really hates that she's not just talking to him. Actually, he hates that this is the first opportunity he's had to talk to her in 18 months. Not a word since she left for Paris. He'd thought, at the time, that since they left things kind of ambiguous and open, she'd at least call him or text him or something. He texted her on her birthday that summer, but she never responded, and he never tried to get in touch with her again.
She drains her glass and sets it on the table in front of her. When she meets his eyes, she looks like she might start crying or something. He honestly doesn't know what he'll do if that's the case.
She hates that she has to do this, has to be here and look at him and wonder how he's going to react to her knocking at his door. But when she decided to come back to New York, he was the first person, the first thing, she thought of. Even before Blair, or the family she's mostly distanced herself from. It went Nate, Eric, Blair. That was the order she thought of things. And she should not question it, really. Only she and Nate broke up and they haven't spoken. After all this time, you'd think she would have put something, someone, else first. And maybe she should have gone to Blair or her family first, but they would have asked far too many questions. She doesn't want to have to answer a bunch of questions.
"I didn't know where else to go," she admits quietly. She looks down and wrings her hands together in her lap.
"How did you even know where I live?"
"Blair," she says. "She gave me your address. She...I was going to send you something for your birthday."
She never did. He scoffs and rolls his eyes. "You just decided to show up unannounced six months after the fact?"
He's bitter. Of course he is. She doesn't really look surprised.
"Maybe I shouldn't have," she whispers. She's not getting up, though, and he hates that he's happy about that.
But really, she's always been his Achilles Heel. He can't resist her, can't say no to her. He honestly can't really think of a time he ever really wanted to. Other than the day she told him she loved him then walked away. That one still hurts more than it probably should.
"No," he says, sighing as he looks away from her. "I didn't mean...I just...What are you doing here?"
"I had to leave Paris," she tells him, and he sits across from her on the coffee table. He makes sure he's not touching her at all. He doesn't want to. Well, of course he wants to, but he's not going to. She looks like she might break if he does. "I had to leave, and there was nowhere else to go."
He's a little flattered that she came to him.
"Okay." She starts biting her thumbnail. She started doing that after her dad left, and it only ever really happened when she was really nervous or scared about something. He knows it's not him that's making her nervous. Well, maybe a little bit, but not enough to warrant her looking this terrified. "Hey," he says, and she looks up at him. "What's going on, Serena?"
She loves him for sounding concerned. This is why she came to him. No judgment. He worries about her more than he should, given everything, and it's silly and probably selfish, but she just needs to know that someone cares.
"I don't really want to talk about it, but...It was bad," she says quietly, tears in her eyes. She doesn't want to tell him the whole story, not because she's worried what he'll think of her, but because she's worried it'll hurt him. "There was a guy, and..."
"Okay," he says when she doesn't finish. He thought he would have felt more, jealousy or something, when she inevitably made mention of a relationship. She's Serena van der Woodsen; she never stays single long. "Do you need anything?"
She shakes her head, then looks at him and chews her bottom lip. "I'm really tired."
He nods and stands up. "Bedroom's through there. If you need..."
She cuts him off (surprises him, too) when she stands up and wraps her arms around him, rests her head against his shoulder. "Thank you, Nate." He nods, resisting the annoying urge to kiss her hair. "I promise...I promise I'll explain everything, I just..."
"It's okay," he tells her. It might not be, whatever it is she's gotten herself into, but this, her being here, somehow it's okay. He doesn't want to think too much about why. "Just go rest. You want me to call anyone?"
"No," she says quickly, shaking her head as she pulls away and looks to the floor. "Please don't."
"Alright," he says.
He watches her walk down the hall and into his bedroom, and he scrubs a hand over the back of his neck, because this, taking care of her, is coming far too naturally.
... ... ...
She wakes up in the evening and realizes she's slept for better than three hours. She wipes the sleep from her eyes, gets up and pulls her jeans back on, smoothes out her top. She braids her hair and finds a hair elastic in his bathroom to hold it in place (she isn't going to think too hard about why that elastic is there to begin with; it's really not her business).
She can hear him in the apartment. The television is on, and she hears him say something, probably to it. There's the distinct sound of a bottle cap being knocked off a beer. She likes, for some reason, that he doesn't seem too affected by the fact that she's in his apartment. She doesn't want him worrying and fawning over her and babying her. (Not too much.)
He mutes the television when she walks into the living room, takes his feet down off the coffee table.
"Hey," he says. She sees a hint of a smile, the first one since she showed up here. "Sleep okay?" She nods and grins a little bit. "Good. I ordered Chinese. Should be here soon."
He's too good to her. Far too good for her. She doesn't think she deserves it, knows she doesn't, actually. But she sits down next to him and smiles anyway, because she doesn't want to remind him that she broke his heart and left. She's sure she doesn't have to.
"Thank you," she says again.
He doesn't say anything. She's glad.
Their food arrives and he tosses the remote at her and tells her to find something to watch while he digs his wallet out of his pocket. She hears him joking with the delivery guy, and it's too comfortable, this, here with him. She remembers The Empire and nights like this, quiet and just the two of them.
Those nights are the last thing she should be thinking about right now. The very last thing.
When he sits down, he passes her her 'usual', if it can still be considered that after so long, and flops down on the couch next to her.
"This is a good one," he mumbles with his mouthful, pointing to the episode of Family Guy playing on the television. "Funny."
He winks at her when she looks his way. She knows he has no clue which episode this is. The fact that he's being silly and joking with her puts her more at ease than it should. She loves it.
... ... ...
She spends the entire next day sleeping off her jet lag. He doesn't mind that she's in his bed. He really doesn't mind. He slept on the couch during the night, and left for class with a note on the kitchen counter telling her to help herself to whatever she wanted and that he'd be home around 3:00.
He honestly didn't expect her to be there when he got back from class.
He sits on the edge of the bed while she's sprawled out in the middle. There's a lock of hair draped over her nose. It makes him smile, and he itches to reach out and push it away, but there's some sort of line here, and he still doesn't know what the hell's going on with her, why she's running, why she's running to him, so he keeps his hands in his lap and watches her for a second.
He nudges her shoulder a little bit, and she sucks in a breath, but doesn't wake up. He used to wake her up all the time. Usually in really fun ways he's not allowed to anymore. So he just shakes her shoulder a little harder until she lets out a little noise and blinks her eyes open, brushes that lock of hair off her face.
"Hey," he says quietly. She smiles a bit and pulls the covers up over herself. It's really strange, he thinks, how she does all the exact same things she did in those months before she left. "It's like, 3:30." She nods and stretches. "You sleep all day?"
"I'm jet lagged, Nate," she says, grinning just a little bit like she always did when she was joking, but sort of not. "How was school?"
He shrugs. "School. Books. Pens. You know."
She smiles sadly and looks away. "Yeah."
(She doesn't know; hasn't known for a while. School is caught somewhere between being a distant memory or some kind of dream she thinks she'll never stick around to follow through on.)
... ... ...
He hears the shower turn on sometime between cold Chinese leftover and the start of his reading for the night. It's really annoying that everything she does reminds them of those few short, stupid months they were actually a couple. Showers with her were always...intense. She'd shampoo their hair, then kiss him and they'd get distracted and the hot water would run out before they got a chance to rinse. So they'd sit on the bathroom floor wrapped in a huge fluffy towel, her chest to his back as they waited for some more hot water so they could finish. And yeah, that happened more than once.
He's not trying to get a glimpse of anything, he swears, but he goes into his room to grab some clothes for the next day, since he doesn't know if she's planning on going straight to bed, and he doesn't want to wake her later if he needs to get them. She steps out of the bathroom with one of his navy blue towels wrapped around her and her wet hair dripping over her collarbone.
"Sorry, I was..."
"It's your room," she reminds him quietly. "I hope it's okay that I showered."
He pulls a face. "Kinda glad you did."
"Shut up." She almost, almost laughs. "I need to do laundry."
"Maid comes tomorrow," he explains. She smiles in his directions. They both know he's helpless without a housekeeper. "Just drop it in the hamper. She's good."
She nods and reaches for the knot at her chest, holds it tightly. "Yeah, but I'm saying I don't have anything to sleep in."
"Shit. Right," he mumbles. He hears her laugh softly and he heads for the closet. She's standing behind him as he reaches way to the back for something, pulls it off the hanger. "Here."
She takes the light blue button down from his hand and looks at him. She smiles and furrows her brow. "You kept this?" she asks, disbelieving.
He shrugs, stuffs one hand in the pocket of his pants and runs the other through his hair. "It's your favourite," he says, like that explains everything.
Or because it explains everything.
He heads back out to the living room. She comes out after about an hour. She's wearing just the shirt and a pair of clean white socks. She picks up his History of Criminal Law text and starts reading through it, and sometime in the course of the two hours they sit there her feet end up beneath his thigh and she deems law school completely boring.
He just smiles at her and tosses her a fortune cookie from where it was sitting on the end table from the night before. She opens it and cracks the cookie, already has half in her mouth when she holds the fortune up to read it.
"What's it say?"
"Your everlasting patience will be rewarded sooner or later," she reads.
Their eyes meet and they both start laughing.
She's anything but patient. Everyone who knows her, knows that.
He taps her calf with his pencil. "Probably later," he teases.
He sees this gorgeous, sincere smile and decides that however long she wants to crash with him and not tell anyone she's in the city, he's okay with it.
... ... ...
She thinks about calling Blair, but they aren't exactly on the best of terms right now. It's nothing that won't pass, but she doesn't want to make the first move when she doesn't think she did anything wrong.
She's sitting cross-legged in the middle of Nate's perfectly-made bed (his maid really is good; the two of them chatted and Serena helped fluff pillows while the woman worked). She's wearing that favourite shirt and a pair of white cotton shorts. She's braiding tiny sections of her hair and using little coloured rubber bands to tie them off. She's never been good with boredom.
She pads through the apartment, looking through his textbooks from his few years of school, his CDs, his photos, his closet. She goes into the bathroom and looks through his medicine cabinet and smells his colognes, smiling when she finds a nearly-empty bottle of the one she always told him was her favourite. She drinks milk from the carton (he's always done it, too) and eats Eggos dipped in jam for lunch.
She finds his favourite movie on the shelf and takes it back to the bedroom, sets it up and lets it play while she lays beneath his sheets. They're clean, only slept on by her. It's really weird, she thinks, how they still smell so much like him.
She falls asleep a quarter of the way through and only wakes up when the bed dips. She keeps her eyes closed, though, tries not to smile every time she hears him laugh.
The lazy half-grin he gives her when she opens her eyes makes her feel something she hasn't felt in far too long.
"I fell asleep," she says as she stretches.
He laughs. "I know." He tugs at one of the braids she forgot she part of her morning doing. They're in random places. She might leave them for a while. "Cute braids."
She smoothes her hand over her hair and flops back against the pillow again. "Don't make fun."
"Not making fun," he promises. "They really are cute."
He hasn't called her cute in about 10 years. It's probably crazy that he's making her nervous.
And maybe it's stupid (or maybe it just proves how well he knows her) but she loves him for not asking her all the questions she knows he wants to ask.
... ... ...
Sometime around 3:00 am on the fifth day she's there, he's woken by a light in the kitchen and the sound of the tap running. He throws back the blanket he's been using on the sofa and walks through the apartment, trying to blink away sleep. She's leaning back against the counter with a glass of water in her hand. She's wearing that shirt, like she has been every night, and her hair is a mess.
"Sorry," she says quickly. "I tried not to wake you." He shrugs and runs a hand over his bare stomach. "Your hair's crazy."
"So's yours," he shoots back. She runs her hands through hers. He doesn't do anything with his. "You okay?"
"I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep."
"No," she whispers, shaking her head and looking downward. "Just...thinking about stuff." He nods, but doesn't know what else to say to that. "Do you have class tomorrow?"
"Not 'til 2:00," he tells her.
She finishes the last of her water, then sets the glass in the sink. "Can we talk? I think I need to talk."
He smiles across the kitchen and scrubs his hand through his hair. The way she giggles tells him he's just making it messier. "You would want to talk at 3:00 a.m."
She shrugs her shoulder and gives him this look that makes him want to do whatever she wants. She's had the same one since she was four. His earliest memory of her involves that look and the two of them ending up in a bathtub together, because her idea to pull the 'weeds' (tulips) from the flowerbeds at her grandmother's place was not a good one.
Still, she must know she has him, because she grabs his hand and starts walking back to the bedroom, pulling him with her. He manages not to weave their fingers together, but it's a struggle.
He hates her for coming back here and making him be like this again. Crazy over her and making choices that are probably stupid. She has to know she's doing it, too.
Actually, she probably doesn't know how to stop.
She lays down on what's always been her side of the bed when they've shared one, and he carefully drops himself over the covers on the other side. She looks at him like he's crazy, so he hides his grin as he pulls back the sheets and slides his legs in. He's still sitting up, and she's laying on her side with her hands tucked under her cheek like the innocent little girl she's never really been. She doesn't say anything for a few minutes. He doesn't really know if he should, but he does anyway, because being in a bed with her is awkward enough without the silence.
"You said there was a guy," he says, remembering that first few minutes when she'd showed up out of nowhere and he already wanted to fix her.
"Yeah," she says. She laughs softly, at herself, he thinks. "Of course." He doesn't want to be bitter about it. But then she sounds bitter, too. "He was...it lasted a while."
"How long's a while?" he asks. He knows he'll never be her longest relationship, not as it stands, but it kills him to think he might be among the shortest.
"Almost six months, I think." She's not looking at him. He wonders why she'd want to talk to him about this, before realizing he doesn't care, because he likes that she knows she can. "He had a lot of money. I mean, that wasn't why I was..." He nods, gives her an encouraging smile. "His family really hated me."
"Beautiful, crazy American girl? Can't imagine why."
She hits his thigh lightly with her fist and cracks a little smile. "They hated me, but they wanted me to have their heir." His eyes go wide and she just looks at him for a moment. "I guess my name, and my connections...They basically thought it'd be good press if...Well, whatever."
"So how'd you end up here?" he asks, because really, he doesn't want to hear about her relationship with some other guy, her getting married and having someone else's baby.
"I can't have a baby, Nate," she tells him seriously. "I mean, I can't even sit still long enough to get my hair done. I can't have a baby." He nods again, because he doesn't know what else to do. "Anyway, I realized I didn't want all that with him. Like, ever, not even just right now. I kind of ran."
He wants to laugh. He does a little bit. Of course she ran. "Yeah, that's kinda your thing," he says before he can stop himself. She looks uncomfortable.
"Blair loved him, and mom...she doesn't understand anything. I can't face them yet."
"I get it," he says, sinking down into the bed. "Wrath of Blair is not fun." She laughs quietly and shakes her head. "But it's just a breakup."
She closes her eyes and gets comfortable, which apparently means shifting a little closer to him. "Yeah, but she didn't exactly approve of my last one, either," she says, eyes still shut.
She falls asleep and he stays awake, laying there beside her listening to her breathe.
... ... ...
He sleeps through his first class of the day. It's not his fault, though, because Serena's pressed against him and his arm is asleep beneath her, and he really doesn't want to wake her. And this feels far more important than class, to be honest. More important and a lot better. He lays awake with his eyes shut for a while, just laying next to her and smiling at the way she still knees him in the thigh every time she moves. He always loved that, even when it woke him up at 4:00 in the morning.
She lets out a hum sometime around 11:00, buries her face against his chest, and he pulls her closer. He doesn't care if he shouldn't. She might not realize he is who he is just yet, but he's going to take advantage of the fact that she's not moving away.
"I missed this," she says quietly after a few moments. He breathes in deeply, nods and his chin bumps her head gently. "You. This."
"Yeah," he whispers.
He doesn't know what to say, doesn't want her to move, doesn't want her to run. She kisses him and he lets her, and then he just says her name, just once, and he doesn't remember any words after that.
... ... ...
Her first instinct is to leave before he wakes up. It's her calling card and she hates that, but it's what she's always done. But his hand is warm on her bare skin and there's a stubble on his jaw that makes him look so sexy she can hardly breathe, and there's an ache deep in her muscles that's forcing her to stay exactly where she is. She wasn't lying; she missed waking up with him. Does it matter that she hadn't let herself miss it (admit she missed it) until she was with him again?
She doesn't know what her problem is. She shouldn't have done that, kissed him and pulled him on top of her and taken off their clothes. That shouldn't have happened. But Nate has always been synonymous with comfort, and he's been amazing to here these past however many days, years, forever. It's so easy to be with him, easy to fall into things with him, because it's always been (not very far) beneath the surface.
She's always loved him (a little, a lot, secretly, completely) and he's very, very good at reminding her of that.
So when she gets up, it's just to use the washroom and check her messages. And when she gets back into bed, he's pressed against her immediately, chest to her back and hand on her thigh, and it's like two years ago, safe and real and something like a lifetime of almost quietly trying to be something a lot more than that.
... ... ...
It's hard to pull himself away from her. It's even harder to admit to himself that this, whatever this is, probably doesn't mean all he wants it to. She's staying with him for reasons he doesn't even understand (why him? why now?) and acting like no time has passed at all. She kissed him first. She makes him feel all these things and he loves it and hates it all at the same time.
It's so easy to want her. It always has been. That's been his problem all along, his fatal flaw with her. He always wants her so hard, and he knows she tries, has tried, but it's never been quite enough. He'll take what he can get, though, because she's Serena and she's like some kind of drug.
And if she could ever love him the way he knows he could love her...
He tries not to think about it, because he feels like they already got so close to that, and he doesn't want to convince himself there's any hope when maybe there never will be.
But they've never really called it 'over', and he knows a lot of hope lies in that, too.
... ... ...
He's sitting at the edge of the bed with his back to her when she wakes up again. His elbows are on his knees and his head is down, and she knows all his signs. This isn't a good one. He only looks over his shoulder when she moves closer.
"Hi," she says quietly, suddenly shy (she rarely ever is that) as she pulls the sheets up around her a little more.
He takes a breath, sits up straighter. "Nothing."
"Nate," she laughs softly. She knows him too well to buy that lie.
"We shouldn't have done that," he says quietly, still just barely glancing at her over his shoulder.
He always did know how to hurt her best.
"Why?" she asks. She hates this, not having her voice, being nervous around him.
"You're on the rebound or...whatever it is you're doing. I can't just..." He turns his body a little bit. She hopes he doesn't see how hard she's trying to just keep it together right now. "You can't just show up here out of nowhere."
"You knew where I was," she says, sitting up. "You didn't call me any more than I called you."
"We broke up," he reminds her seriously. "It's just so like you to leave, then come back and try to say everything's different, then act like it's completely the same. And you make me let you do it every time."
"I don't make you do anything!"
She wonders if she's been gone so long, if they've drifted far enough, that he can't remember how big a deal it is that she's even still here right now.
He just smiles a bit and looks at her, shaking his head. "Serena," he says, like they both know it's true and they've just never said it. They're quiet for a moment, and she's already planning her getaway. It's like he can sense it now, because he moves closer and looks her right in the eye. "Don't."
"You just said you don't want me here. I think I'll leave before you decide to say anything else you've been holding onto since we broke up," she says bitterly, gathering more of the sheet around her.
The truth is, all she's ever wanted is someone to fight for her. Maybe she always leaves, but people always let her. Most of the time she thinks they let her leave more easily than they let her come back. They just say it's her way and that she'll do what she wants. It's true, she supposes. All she's ever wanted was for people to care enough to miss her. (She's still the little girl who'd wait up past her bedtime for a phone call she honestly thought would come from her father.)
"I never said I don't want you here," Nate insists, setting his hand on her thigh. She wants to pull it away. She almost does, just to spite him. She's sick of playing that game, though. She wants to let him fight for her if that's what he's going to do.
Sometime in the last however many days (since he opened the door and welcomed her inside) she's come to remember how nice it is just to be with him, around him.
She never did say she didn't love him.
Maybe they've spent enough time apart.
"Of course I want you here," he says quietly. He looks at her again, slides his thumb over her bottom lip. "I always wanted you here."
"Why didn't you tell me that?" she asks.
"Serena." He sounds exhausted, like he's had this conversation with or without her so many times that she should know all the answers. "You decided we were done. I was mad, but...Fuck, I still loved you." She tells herself not to be hurt that he's using the past tense. It's been two years. She was almost engaged to someone else. She knows he lived with someone. "I didn't want to break up."
She watches his eyes close, then open slowly. It's not like she ever forgot what he looks like, but it got a little blurry sometimes. It's silly, she knows, because she's known him her whole life, but sometimes she'd try to think of him and couldn't get it right, his eyes or his lips or the curve of his jaw. She always thought it weird how you could love someone (she won't kid herself) and miss someone but not even remember their face.
"I hate that you left," he admits finally. "But I'm really, really glad you're back."
She shouldn't be as relieved as she is. She shouldn't have needed so badly to hear that. "I know I always make things so much more complicated than they need to be."
He shakes his head, smiles a little and leans in closer. "'S'not complicated," he insists. He's almost whispering as he leans over and she's forced onto her back again, him half on top of her. "We're easy." She giggles and he laughs. "You know what I mean."
She nods and then his lips brush against hers. "Are you done thinking this was a mistake?" she asks.
She knows the answer. It's nice to know he'll say the words.
"I never did," he tells her. "We were never a mistake."
"Even when I broke your heart?"
He laughs. She's so glad he can tell when she's teasing. "Even then."
"Are you still mad at me?" she asks.
It feels really important, like if they can't get past what happened a year and a half ago, they'll never, ever be anything more than just something they both want. It'll never be something they have, this relationship, because their apologies were never spoken and always just assumed. She's tired of playing pretend, acting like things are perfect when they aren't. She's done it all her life. Nate's always been the one real thing. She wants to keep him that way.
"Who could stay mad at you?" he asks, nose brushing against hers.
She breathes out a quiet laugh, a humourless one. "Lots of people."
"Not me," he promises. "I like you too much."
She gives him a coy smile, runs her hands up his back. "How much?"
"You don't even wanna know," he says, shaking his head a little bit, eyes closed.
"Yeah, I do."
He kisses her, tugs the sheet away, and spends the rest of the day trying to prove words to her that he hasn't even said. She lets him, wants him to, draws hearts on his bare skin as he sleeps.