Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended.
Author's Note: Post 4.03. NS centered. I miss my bb's. Thank you for reading. Hope you enjoy! :]
"Is this what you're going to do all night?"
"I'm not doing anything."
Blair rolls her eyes at the blatant lie. They've both showered and gotten ready for bed and she has early classes and a sleep schedule to keep – but there was light glowing in Serena's room, she smiles slightly at the thought Serena's room, and almost an entire minute of standing in the blonde's doorway unnoticed, had told Blair exactly what Serena had her attention riveted on. The same thing she'd done her best to ignore while checking Blackboard for her reading assignments.
Blair pads into the room, barefoot and in her pajamas, climbs into the bed with Serena, and peeks at the computer screen, "You are more of a gorgeous blonde than she is," she whispers, smiling as she leans her chin on Serena's shoulder.
Serena smiles just for Blair, her hair pulled back and her eyes somber. Blair sighs softly, reaches over to the mouse-pad and scrolls through Gossip Girl's set of Nate and Juliet pictures.
"Really," she adds after a beat, "I've just confirmed it."
Serena rests her cheek against the top of Blair's head, doesn't reply; watches as Blair's guides the cursor to a different album.
The bedroom is quiet as Blair scrolls through pictures of a different blonde, with a different boy; she pauses at one, the two with touching noses and locked eyes and sweet smiles.
And Serena's gaze slides away from the screen, to Blair's profile, to the look slipping into her friends eyes— she smoothes a hand down Blair's arm, shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow, and lays her fingers over Blair's, moves the cursor to the top of the screen, closes the window.
Blair holds still for it and when Serena, folds her hand over Blair's, lifts it from the laptop so she can shut it, she lets her do that too. There's really no use in either of them looking.
Serena sighs. "They're… stupid," she mumbles childishly, pushes the computer aside and slides down into her pillows.
Blair follows her, makes a low noise of agreement as she lies on her side facing Serena.
And Serena pulls the blankets around them wordlessly, mimics Blair's pose, eyes on her best friend. They stare at one another for a moment, gazes locked, understanding, saying more than words could.
Blair shuts her eyes and is very briefly considering going back to her own room when Serena finds her hand under the covers and gives it a squeeze, "Best off-campus housing," she whispers, puts a kiss to the side of Blair's head.
Her lips tilt up at the corner a little, "Glad you're here, S."
Serena cuddles into the pillow, closes her eyes, "Me too, B. We'll be each others…" she smiles into the shadows, "Significant others."
Blair's smile widens a little and she squeezes Serena's hand back, shifts into the pillow, ready for sleep— "Sounds good," she whispers. It sounds like always.
Hamilton House doesn't feel any less like high school on day two. Blair strides through the doors first, chin up and eyes bright, she's in her element and Serena feels a rush of pleasure for her, because Blair deserves that feeling of confidence.
She isn't as excited for herself though. A rocky start at this club is an understatement, she knows; and has to makes a conscious effort to look unaware of all the stares and attention fixed on her. Girls and guys alike, trailing their gazes up and down her form-fitting short dress, tights, and high heeled boots and she holds back a sigh, assumes a bored expression and tosses her hair back as she follows Blair over to one of the couches. Juliet and her friends pause in what they're doing, look over at the two of them and Serena feels herself tense, meets the others gaze with a hard and steady one of her own.
"I'm thinking this place isn't going to be as fun as you'd hoped, B." She whispers as they pass the small group.
Blair cuts her gaze to Juliet for a breaths time before turning a wide smile to Serena. "I'm quite enjoying myself," she murmurs and then glances over her shoulder as they reach a sofa, "Penelope, bring us water's. Get one for yourself."
The already quiet murmurings in the living area fade a bit more, attention centering on them even more firmly, less inconspicuous, more salaciously. Blair's casual request is more than a veiled command, it's a simple message and not just for Penelope: choose a side.
And Serena rolls her eyes a little, high school is supposed to be over. "I can—"
Blair yanks her down onto the sofa beside her so hard she almost bites her tongue; and a beat later Penelope moves towards the lunch spread at one side of the room, "Mineral or sparkling?"
Blair settles back, crosses her ankles demurely, and the murmurings pick up their volume again, anxious glances and jittery shifting around as Blair replies, "Mineral is fine."
And Serena rolls her eyes again, slouches back on the sofa, and tries to remember why she was so excited about Columbia to begin with.
Gossip Girl's blast about their arrival comes in before Penelope's even sat down; all about the hierarchical unrest it's caused, about the quiet speculation it jumpstarted, about the way all eyes rested on them – and about the one person in the House who wasn't watching. Serena doesn't look over at him, even though she knows, knew the as soon as she walked in, where he was and who he was focused on – and it wasn't her or Blair.
It feels more high school than she'd been betting on and when Penelope sits beside Blair, water bottles in hand and two other girls tentatively fanning around them with a ingratiating smiles on their faces, Serena feels abruptly like she can't breathe.
She'd avoided this as best she could in high school and she wasn't signing up for it now. She's up and moving before Blair can latch onto her arm, mumbles something about need to go to a library before her next class, and strides out of the living area without a glance to anyone.
Not even Nate, who finally gives in and let's his attention zero in where it always wants to be – on Serena.
When Serena rushes out of the room, he feels bad, guilty and kind of sick, but Juliet's wandered over to him and she takes one of his hand in both of hers, gives it a squeeze and tugs him towards her a bit, stretches up and places a kiss to his mouth.
The remorseful feeling fades away as she smiles against his lips. She blinks up at him, amused and with that barely there tint of hesitancy he's learned to spot, "I'm glad you're here."
And he smiles back— she's glad he's there, she wants him there. He kisses her back, more deeply, doesn't care they have an audience; he wraps his free arm around her waist and squashes the lasts wisps of remorse in his gut—there's nothing wrong with liking being wanted.
Streaming video of Nate's little make-out session with that lying, back-stabbing, bottle-blonde blasts into everyone's phones before Blair's even finished interviewing— getting to know two of her housemates. She rolls her eyes and hits delete before it's even done playing.
But she knows, knows, someone who won't be as blasé about deleting it. A bit in the way she might not yet have deleted a certain other GG blast, about a certain someone else… a reminder, she tells herself, it's a reminder.
Serena, she thinks, probably watched the whole thing.
"A word, Nate," she says pleasantly enough as she passes him and her on the way out of the house.
She doesn't look back to see if he's followed her.
Outside she waits at the bottom of the steps, defenses shored up, determined to get her point across without giving anything away; and when it takes him an entire three minutes to walk through the doorway, she can't help it, she glares at him.
"Walking slow these days, are we?" She says, eyes narrowed a little as he comes to stand in front of her.
He shrugs, not quite careless. "What do you want, Blair?"
He's defensive too, she can tell, and it makes her feel tired all of a sudden. They shouldn't… be like this, not with each other of all people. "Nate…" she sighs, shakes her head a little, eyes on his face, "What are you doing?"
"I don't know," he shifts back towards the steps, "I should be inside—"
"You know that's not what I mean," she interrupts, motions towards the building, "With this girl—"
He doesn't let her finish. "I like Juliet, Blair," he snaps, irritated, "And she likes me. I don't need yours or Serena's approval for that."
Blair stiffens, "She's a liar, Nate."
"And you're not?"
She starts, eyes widening, "Hey!"
And some of the irritation leaves his face, "Sorry, but it's true," he amends, "You don't get to call her out on that."
"I most certainly do," Blair glares, "She lied—"
"I don't care," Nate snaps, glaring back now. "I like her." He repeats, "There's nothing wrong with that."
"There is when your little tonsil hockey sessions keep getting broadcasted for Serena to see!" Blair snaps back.
"I'm not doing—"
"You're rubbing it in her face!"
He frowns, "I'm not! I'm just—"
"You're being hurtful!"
"She broke up with me!"
"I don't care!"
It's Blair who says it now, shouts it, furious suddenly with ridiculous boys who don't know an amazing thing when they have it. "You're hurting her."
He doesn't respond; is taken aback by the words, the anger in her eyes, the edge of sorrow and the creeping hint of panic he sees there. It's Blair on the edge of losing control of… something— and he's never been very good at handling that.
"What do you want me to say…?" He offers finally, shrugs a little, when they've been watching each for a beat too long. "I don't – she's the one that ended it and I – she – she hurt me… I like Juliet and I – I should get to…" he trails off, doesn't know where he's going with this sentence because you're hurting her isn't something he can just dismiss. "I don't know what you want me to say…" he finishes lamely.
"I don't want you to say anything," Blair blows out a slow breath, pulls her eyes from his hapless expression and lets her gaze roam over the landscape for a moment. "I want you to think…" she says very deliberately a beat later, her dark eyes locked with his blue, "I want you to think about the fact that you're behaving a lot like Chuck." She says it calmly, doesn't infuse it with any meaning whatsoever, let him draw from that what he will.
She moves away from him then, past him, pauses after a few steps and turns around to add softly, "And maybe go find Serena and have a civil conversation."
And the thing is, he doesn't.
Because Blair may be his first girlfriend, his first ex, one of his oldest friends— but she's not in charge of his life. Nobody is but him; and that's something he's really come to grasp lately.
He doesn't set out to find Serena.
He still does though.
She's sitting on the steps of Butler library, knees drown up in front of her with a coffee cup and a stack of books next to her; completely unnoticed as steady stream of people go in and out of the library. Most of her hair is pulled back now; it'd been loose at Hamilton, but she'd tied it back since. There're errant wisps he can see fluttering near her cheeks, her eyes downcast; studying something she'd splayed out over her knees.
She looks preoccupied… and beautiful.
And there's half of him that wants to keep walking and the other half that wants to go talk to her—that always wants to talk to her; and the while the struggle rages on inside of him, he stands there, still and watching her.
Serena is almost completely certain she needs to get to West 120th street or maybe Broadway… or possibly, the corner of Broadway and 120th; but maps aren't precisely her strong suit and asking someone is so very tourist or freshman of her – neither things she particularly wants to identify with being.
Even if she feels a bit like both.
Someone's foot accidentally bumps one of her book and she looks up, they mutter a quick sorry continue on their way and she glances around—finds herself being watched.
There gazes lock and she tightens her grip on her phone; tries very hard to not think of the video Gossip Girl had sent, of the way he'd smiled at Juliet.
He wasn't her boyfriend anymore— judging by the look he was giving her right now, he might not even be her friend anymore; so what he did- what he chose to do and who with… it shouldn't upset her. It didn't upset her.
Sorry, someone else offers, knocks into the books again; and she looks up, nods, curls a lock of hair behind her and thinks maybe this is not the best place for a stack of books. She starts to gather them against her, the coffee cup too, when she remembers the map. She starts to fold it up with her free hand, tucks her chin into the edge of the one of the books to keep them from sliding… it doesn't quite all work out when she starts to stand though and she's pretty sure she's going to drop—
"Here…" Nate scoops all the books from her arms in one smooth move, "Let me."
She's left with the coffee and the map and wide lifting to his, "Oh…" she mumbles, honestly surprised. She straightens, "Hey."
He adjusts his hold on the books and then nods at her, "Hey."
And for a few seconds it's all they can think to say to each other; she hadn't really expected him to come over to her and he hadn't really… meant to either. But she'd been going to drop a book and he… had.
"Uh… thanks…!" She exclaims suddenly, eyes dropping to the books briefly, "For uh… yeah, I guess I didn't really think that one…" she hesitates mid-way through the sentence, with his eyes on her face she realizes how applicable it is to too many areas of her life, "…through all the way."
He nods, glances away. They're standing in the middle of the steps to the front doors now and he uses that as an excuse to sidle off to one side.
Serena follows slowly; he has her books, after all.
Away from passerbyer's, they're still quieter with each other than they're used to being. There's an alien awkwardness in the silence between them that makes something inside her ache, she swallows hard, "Right, thanks…" she repeats, folds the map in half and then holds her arm out, "I'll take those."
It makes her feel lonely, to have Nate look at her with such serious eyes.
Nate knows he should just give her the books and go. "Serena…" he touches the top of her hand, has never been very good with what he should do around Serena.
She glances at him, lips pressed together tight, "Hm?"
He doesn't know. "I…?" He likes Juliet and she likes him and there's something there, between the two of them, that he wants more of— but Serena is… she looks at him and she's Serena.
And that is exactly why he shouldn't look at her, he snaps to himself, jerks his hand back. "Forget it."
She rolls her eyes, "Oh right, you're mad at me."
"I'm sure it's not like you care." He huffs.
"How would you know if I care? It's not like you'd have time to notice with your tongue stuck down Juliet's throat all the time."
He grimaces, "Don't say— it's not like tha—" he blows out a breath, "It's not your business whose throat I put my tong—" he cuts himself off, glares at her.
"Whatever, Nate." She looks away, "Just give me my books."
He should give her the books and go. "You can't be mad at me for being mad at you," he snaps.
"Why not?" She lowers her arm, crinkles the map between her fingers.
"Because… you just can't. You're the one that—"
"Yes, I heard you the first time you said it." She makes a face, "You changed while I was away."
He clenches his jaw, "Don't say it like that. Don't make fun—"
"That is not—"
"You can't always just pick up where you left off. Things change and—"
"I don't want to talk about it anymore," she interrupts him, eyes shifting to beyond him.
He blows out a breath, tries to get a handle on all the things he's feelings – that only she ever makes him feel. "Serena—"
"I have to… to find this building…" She continues, sounding flustered and feeling vaguely anxious about it all, about everything she got herself into by coming to Columbia. "And I'm already running late and Blair's locked into some kind of social structure thing at Hamilton and I just— I want to pass my classes and I—" she blows out a shaky breath, "I don't want to talk about this," she motions weakly between them.
Then she takes a deep breath and makes herself look at him. "You're mad at me. You can kiss whoever you want. I get it. Message received." It comes out lower than she meant it to, but the words are steady enough.
"You're hurting her." Blair's words echo in Nate's mind suddenly and he shrinks back a little at the way they match the expression on Serena's face. "I'm not…" He starts over, "I'm not trying to send a message. I—"
"Oh please Nate." She huffs now, drawing up exasperation to overlay the hurt; she squeezes the coffee cup tighter than she needs to, gives him a pointed glare, "Since the minute I got back all you've done is- is show her off to me like- like—"
"I haven't!" He frowns, "It's not about you." Not entirely, "I like her." He does.
He honestly does like her and if having her around dulls the ache of missing Serena better than Chuck's little black book ever did, that's just a bonus.
"Fine!" Serena hisses, fed up all of sudden, "Go ahead then! Like her for all Gossip Girl's mailing list to see!"
"You broke up with me!" He shouts for what feels like the hundredth time, "You don't get to be mad about who I—"
"I didn't think that meant we wouldn't talk anymore!" She shouts back, "I thought we'd always be friends!"
There's a burning of tears behind her eyes that accompany the words and she backs up, shakes her head, looking anywhere but at him; it sounds naïve said out loud, but she can't take it back, can't make it untrue.
It takes her a moment, a breath, to calm down and then she licks her lips. "Whatever, Nate," she mumbles, bats hair away from her face, map still clutched between her fingers. "Give me my books. I'm already late and I don't even know where I'm—" she cuts herself off, "Just give me the books."
He stares at her, surprised. "We will." He says it unthinkingly, without even realizing it, and his own surprise is mirrored in her expression.
"Doesn't seem like it." She offers after a beat, voice quiet as she looks into his face. "You're being mean to me."
His mouth goes dry, completely unprepared for the way her eyes meet his – hesitant and wondering and full of bewildered hurt.
"And this— it's just not what I— I thought it would be… better," she continues, uses the back of her hand to bat at strands of her hair again, "The three of us at the same school. But it's not, it's hard and awkward and just…" she bites her bottom lip a little and then finishes, "A mess."
And it just— it dissipates. Irritation and resentment and that horrible sick feeling that's been pressing in on him since he'd walked into Dan's loft and found her there, smiling and perfect and no one's— it seeps away with those quiet words and that sheepish gesture and the flood of memories that incites in his mind.
"I know," he nods a little, looks down. Nobody can deny how great they are at messes.
The silence between them falls less heavily this time, less uncomfortably.
Serena breaks it, wonders carefully, "Do you?" Before adding with a little shrug, "Because I don't. I don't know what to do. About… this, us."
And there's no part of him that questions that—that there is an "us" between them, that there always has been and that he can't imagine there not being one; doesn't want to imagine it.
"I don't… either." He offers, ducks his head a little. "I just…" he trails off, rubs at his hair with his free hand, "It's harder than… it's hard." He concludes.
Her lips quirk up the slightest bit at the corners, "You're telling me?"
And he returns the expression, mimics her tiny shrug.
She glances at her watch. "I really have to go," she says seriously, holds her arm out for the books again.
"You're taking all these to class with you?"
"I was going to get them after… but I suddenly found myself with the need for… not being at Hamilton House." She says easily, shoots him a dry look.
He licks his lips. "Where're you going? I'll… walk you."
She watches him for a beat and then slaps the map on the top of the first book, "You tell me," she offers, smiling a little, "Who names a building Mudd?"
He smiles a tiny bit, takes the map and tucks it inside one of the books, but all he says is, "Come on…" tilts his head to motion down the street.
She doesn't "come on"; she leans back on her heels, meets his gaze, "You're still mad at me?"
"Serena," he sighs.
"You don't have to walk me, I can figure it out," she steps a little closer to him and loops her arm around the books, tugs, "I did yesterday."
"I've got it." He tugs back. "I'm walking you."
"No, you're not." She frowns, "Just go back to Juliet and be mad at me."
He frowns back, "That's not— that doesn't even make any sense."
"Whatever, Nate." She pulls the books hard.
And he holds on tight.
"Let go," she snaps.
He glares. "No."
"I'm going to be lat—"
"Then we should go."
"You're not walking me—"
"— I am!"
He tugs back a little too hard and her grip slips, the books rear up and knock the coffee cup from her hand, crack Nate right in the face as the latte spills between them, over the front of their clothes and the covers of the books.
"Oh my god! Nate!" She shrieks, jumping back as the cup falls to the ground.
He mumbles, "Ow," rubs at his forehead and eyes the mess resentfully.
"The books!" She says pitifully, wipes at the front of her dress, "My dress!"
"My face," he corrects pathetically, hand at his temple.
And they blink at each other, her dress is stained and there's a red mark on his forehead and people have paused to stare at them.
"Your face," she repeats and then she giggles. It rises up inside her too fast to stop, his expression and the way he's looking at her; the laugh spills out unannounced and she lifts a hand to cover her mouth.
He grins, points at her, "Your dress."
She smiles again and their gazes simultaneously go to the books Nate is still holding. "Hardcover books are a menace," he states somberly, swipes at the top cover to dry it off and the waves his hand in the air to dry it off.
"So are…" she grins, shrugs, "Latte's." Attempting to do the same thing to her dress.
"I could have lost an eye."
"I did lose my latte."
He shuffles his feet a little, still smiling, "Maybe I can get you another one…?"
And her smile fades a little, wary suddenly. "I have to go to class."
He nods, "Right. Yeah…" he blinks, "Me too, actually."
They both fall silent again, watching each other, but this time, it's different – because it's the same.
It's their silence— charged with the things they always almost say, the smiles that are just for her, the giggles that he brings out of her.
"I don't have to go. It's only the second day." She says.
He tilts his head to one side a little, "True."
"So maybe… you could."
He nods, "I could…" he takes a deep breath and then adds, "Since I was mean to you and all…" He says it lightly, but he searches her face for something, an answer to something he's not sure how to ask.
She stares at him for a beat and then bends down and picks up the empty coffee cup, "Yep," she smiles a little, looks a touch sad. "Seems only fair," she teases softly.
"I'm sorry." He blurts that out too. It doesn't seem to matter then, how angry he'd been, not if he was the one to make her sad.
"Nate," she gives him a half-smile. "I think we just— I know things change, I know. And if she makes you— I want you to be happy. It's just…"
"Hard," he fills in for her when she trails off. "It's hard."
"Yeah, I didn't really think about the whole—being ex's part of… us."
He considers that for a moment and then tells her, "I don't want to not be your friend."
And she huffs a little laugh, says wryly, "Well, good."
"Mad?" She finishes for him, averts her gaze.
He studies her face for a beat and then confesses, "Kind of less mad now."
"Oh yeah?" She arcs an eyebrow at him. "How come?"
"I don't want to not be your friend." He repeats.
She blinks, "I guess… that's a good reason."
He nods, lips quirking a little. "And, if I'm not mad then you can't be mad at me for being mad."
"Good point." She says slowly, fiddles with the empty coffee cup in her hands.
"So then, we're okay…?" It's one part statement, but mostly a question.
She meets his gaze—it's not even of a question. "Hmmm, you kind of need to get me another latte." She puts the empty coffee cup on top of the books, "I will wait here. Throw that out."
He rolls his eyes.
She sits at the far side of the steps to wait for him and he leaves the now coffee stained books beside her.
He comes back with two latte's and a cookie to share; sits beside her, shoulder to shoulder, and wordlessly breaks off a piece, puts it in her hand.
She glances at his face, a little amused, and then eats it, turns her attention to the people on the sidewalk. They eat it in silence – she holds her hand out and he puts another cookie piece in it and when there's no forthcoming piece of cookie, she looks back to his face to find him watching her intently.
"I'll show you around." He says seriously.
She nods, equally serious. "Okay."
"And then… we can go back to Hamilton House… and hang out there. It doesn't…" he pauses thinks of Juliet and her whispered having your ex around, but Serena's not just his ex, she's his… friend. So- "It doesn't have to be weird."
A smile peeks through her seriousness, "Nate," she says fondly.
"It doesn't!" He exclaims, smiling a little too.
She tilts her chin down, shakes her head. "I like it here," she tells him. "I like this building and the fresh air and watching the people go in and out and— I'm pretty sure no one around here reads Gossip Girl."
"I think only Hamilton House reads Gossip Girl." He teases, bumps her shoulder with his.
"I think… I might avoid that place, a little bit." He shoots him a fast glance, "Not because of you or… Juliet," she assures him, "Just… it's really… not what I want from this whole experience, you know?"
He nods. "I know, I really know." He laughs a little, "It's way…" he motions with his hands, "Intense."
She nods, takes a sip of the coffee, "This is nicer."
"You think so?"
"Hhm…" she meets his gaze, "You don't?"
She's holding the cup with both hands, waiting for his response. Nothing, but him and her. "Yeeah…" he drawls, gives her a wide smile, "This is better."
She nods, feels something inside her settling with his easy smile. "Library and latte's." You and me.
He laughs, feels like he can breathe easier suddenly. "At three o'clock." Right here.
He touches his cup to hers, you and me.