Chapter 1: The Ocean

I climbed up a mountain, and looked off the edge
At all of the lives that I never have led
There's one where I stayed with you, across the sea
I wonder do you still think of me

-The Bravery

As sun sparkled off the late-afternoon waves, Blair reclined against her beach towel, surveying the other beach dwellers through oversized tortoise-print sunglasses. A group of boys were playing football off to her right, while several couples to her left lounged under umbrellas, shielding themselves from the intense August sun. And directly in front of her, Blair watched her boyfriend Nate and her best friend Serena, splashing through the waist-deep water and laughing as the shallow waves crashed over them. It was an idyllic scene, reminiscent of so many summers the three friends had shared together throughout their privileged adolescence.

The only blemish on their otherwise perfect gathering was the absence of one member. For some reason, it was especially noticeable to Blair that afternoon, although nothing in particular had reminded her of him. Perhaps it was the boys playing football, or the young man lounging nearby wearing an incredibly pretentious straw fedora… Either way, she couldn't help thinking back to the summer two years prior, when the four of them had spent every waking moment sunbathing, swimming, and partying together. Even at just 15 years old, they'd been independent enough to enjoy all the privileges their wealthy upbringing had to offer.

The year after that, Serena had disappeared for boarding school, leaving Blair with just her boyfriend and his best friend for company. And yet, even then she hadn't felt nearly as alone as she did right now. No one had deliberately excluded her, of course, she simply hadn't been interested in dampening her newly-curled hair for the sake of chasing a Frisbee through the water. So she flipped disinterestedly through her copy of Vogue, watching out the corner of her eye as Serena was hit with an unexpectedly high wave and nearly lost her yellow bikini top. Of course, that would happen to her. As if nature wanted to see her topless as badly as every other guy on this beach.

"B, come on in! The water's perfect!" Serena called out, deftly re-knotting the strings of her bikini top behind her neck.

"No thanks, I'm just enjoying the sun." Blair replied, stretching back against the sand.

Really, she should be happy that her best friend was finally enjoying herself, after several pathetic months spent mourning her breakup with Dan Humphrey, as if that could really be considered a loss. The first month or so, Blair had difficulty even coaxing a smile out of her normally effervescent friend, who was interested in nothing but whining about Downer Dan and how badly she missed his mundane presence. That the person who finally turned Serena's frown upside down was none other than Blair's own boyfriend really shouldn't have perturbed her. The past was in the past, after all, and Blair trusted both of them implicitly. Still, she felt slightly melancholy as she watched them frolic together through the waves, giggling like a couple of 5-year-olds after a sugar binge. Sometimes she couldn't help feeling like the outsider in their little threesome- like she detracted from, rather than contributed to, their happiness.

"How about we throw out a tennis ball and see which one of them brings it back first?"

Chuck's derisive voice echoed through her head, and she snickered at the mental image. Admittedly, she did miss having someone to help her mock Nate and Serena, galloping around like a pair of un-housebroken puppies. Sometimes being the only sharp-witted one in the group was more of a burden than a blessing.

"Are you sure you don't want to get in the water, B? It's like 70 degrees in there today." Serena bounced down on the towel next to her, sprinkling droplets of water, as well as probably glitter and sparkles and sunshine, off her well-toned body.

"No really, I'm right in the middle of something." Blair replied, perusing an article on nautical stripes and their re-emergence on the fall runways.

Nate appeared on the other side of her, toweling off his tanned torso. "Hey, I should probably get headed back to the house, my mom wanted me to help with… floral arrangements, or something."

"Oh, I can come with you. I just need to pack up my things." Blair began gathering her beach accessories and tucking them into her tote bag.

"Oh, don't worry about it, you should stay here with Serena." Nate responded, pulling a t-shirt over his head.

Blair paused her packing and looked up at him. "Are you sure? I'd be happy to help."

"No, it's no problem. We've got everything under control. I'll just see you at the party tonight, okay?" Nate didn't wait for her to respond, leaving an indifferent kiss on her cheek before grabbing his flip flops and heading back across the sand.

Glancing over at Serena, who was busy spreading tanning oil on her already perfectly-hued legs, Blair wondered if she was just being oversensitive. Nate was a guy, and guys didn't care about party planning and floral arrangements. Well, most guys, anyway. He probably thought he was doing her a favor by excusing her from setup work. And sure, they'd barely talked all afternoon, but he'd been dozing in the sun or playing in the water most of the time. She was definitely overreacting.

"Certainly seems like you're feeling better, S." Blair commented, leaning back onto her elbows.

Serena smiled, tilting her face towards the setting sun. "Yeah, I guess I just realized… I was happy before Dan, so… why shouldn't I be happy after Dan?"

Put that way, it sounded so simple. Surely Blair could apply those words of wisdom to her own life? She'd certainly been happy before everything had happened last year. She and Nate had been the perfect, meant-to-be-together pair, the couple that all other couples envied. She'd forgiven him for his transgression, gotten over the horrific betrayal her boyfriend and her best friend had kept secret from her for months. And Nate had come back to her, enticed by her sudden mysterious happiness and apparently not realizing what he had until it was gone. Everything would be different this time, he'd promised. Having experienced losing her, he would no longer take her or their relationship for granted.

And he had been true to his word, for at least a month or two. He'd been more attentive, sending her flowers, calling her every night before bed, and actually listening when she talked about her day. Finally Blair had the perfect Harlequin-novel boyfriend she'd always imagined, and she was convinced nothing would ever intrude on their happiness.

But as days went by, and reality set in, Nate's efforts had gradually subsided, and things returned to their former comfortable routine. Blair had no specific complaints, as he was always well-behaved and considerate towards her. And given all the family issues he'd been dealing with lately, she really couldn't blame him for being somewhat distant. But sometimes- usually while half-asleep, or after a cocktail or three- she couldn't help thinking back to those few weeks last fall, when she'd felt so free, so relaxed... so wanted.

Settling back against the sand, Blair willed her mind to drift off, far away from her own secret transgressions and the restless feeling they still left in the pit of her stomach.

"You like that?" She purred, letting her long blonde hair trail over him as she kissed up the inside of his thigh, before taking him back into her mouth.

"Mmm hmm." Chuck murmured impassively. The girl was obviously very skilled- she must give a lot of head- but for some reason, this whole tryst was taking quite a bit longer than he'd anticipated. Probably shouldn't have had that fourth martini, he thought to himself… although, in a sober state he was unlikely to end up in this situation at all. Laura was a 6, maybe a drunk 7, but she'd been practically panting after him for months, so he figured if she wanted to blow him that badly, he might as well let her. The girls at his boarding school weren't quite up to Manhattan hotness standards, but at least they were easy, which saved him a lot of effort.

Watching her work her mouth up and down his firm cock, he anticipated the tightening sensation that would indicate he was close to release- and yet, still nothing. If he didn't take action soon, this could easily go on for hours. So closing his eyes, he allowed his mind to drift off into sweet fantasy. Silky mahogany curls swaying against his abdomen, her pouty red lips and delicate pink tongue teasing against his skin, those innocent brown eyes batting at him wickedly as she took him fully inside her mouth. She was kneeling between his knees, her demure white blouse and plaid skirt contrasting seductively with the very naughty moans vibrating against his length. Chuck groaned in pleasure as he felt the tip of his cock brush against the very back of her throat, arching his hips up to stay inside her as long as possible. As her tongue lapped once more against his sensitive head, he grasped a handful of her silky locks, gasping uncontrollably as he released deep into her throat. Lost in a haze of gratification, he could almost convince himself it had been real.

Until reality intruded, in the form of an eager blonde sophomore crawling up next to him, clearly hoping he would return the favor. Finally spent and anxious to be rid of her, Chuck stretched both arms behind his head before reaching down to pull up his boxers.

"Well Laura, as enjoyable as that was, I'm feeling rather fatigued…"

Her eyes narrowed. "My name is Leah." She spat back at him, yanking her blouse on over her shoulders.

"Right, sorry." Chuck aimed for contrite, but he missed and landed on indifferent. So it wasn't all that surprising when she stalked out of his room in a huff, slamming the door behind her. Well, no big loss, he wasn't terribly enthusiastic about the prospect of a second go-round with Laura anyway.

Stretching back against his pillow, Chuck closed his eyes and waited for those hazy, unwelcome fantasies to be overtaken by an alcohol-induced sleep.

All of these moments are lost in time
But you caught in my head like a thorn on a vine
To forever torment me and I wonder why
Do I wish I'd never known you at all

"Dan, I'm ordering Indian, do you want anything?" Jenny's voice rang out from the living room.

"Umm… yeah, sure, just get me… whatever." Dan mumbled in response, running his fingers through his curly dark hair for the hundredth time.

Jenny appeared in the doorway. "Writing going that well, huh?"

Dan sighed in response, gazing at the blank screen in front of him and willing letters to appear on it. "I don't know what's wrong with me, I've been sitting here for hours. It's like there's some kind of… blockage, or something."

"Like maybe trying to write a story about why you dumped Serena even though you're still butt-crazy in love with her is impossible, because even you can't figure out how that happened?" Jenny asked sardonically.

Dan glared at his little sister, who'd become increasingly snarky lately. Clearly they'd been spending far too much time together this summer. "I'm not 'butt-crazy' in love with anyone, Jenny. Hell, I've gotten more phone numbers in the past week than I did the first 16 years of my life. It's not like I'm crying into a pint of Ben and Jerry's every night."

Jenny responded with a derisive roll of her eyes. "Yeah, your rebound parade isn't fooling anyone, Dan. Maybe instead of trying to Chuck Bass your way through every pretentious poetry-reading groupie in the city, you should just man up and go talk to Serena. Who knows, she might even miss you too." With a disdainful sniff, she returned to the living room. Dan exhaled slowly, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. Apparently sorting buttons all day long wasn't doing much for Jenny's disposition.

He had to admit, though, that she had a point. He and Serena hadn't spoken, or even seen each other, since the night of Bart and Lily's wedding. And his reasons for ending their relationship, while perfectly logical, had been largely rooted in anger and frustration over the ridiculous situation they'd found themselves in. Now, with several months' worth of hindsight at his disposal, he couldn't help wondering if maybe he'd been too hasty. Serena was by far the best thing that had ever happened to him- was that really worth throwing away over one mistake?

He took one last look at his laptop screen, and the four pitiful words on it (just his name and the date, he'd even thrown in his middle name for good measure), and slammed the lid shut. He'd just go pay her a quick visit, they could grab a cup of coffee and talk about everything. If nothing else, maybe at least he'd finally get some closure.