First try at Nate/Serena. Questionable.

Title from Skin and Bones by Charlene Kaye ft. Darren Criss.


you never planned to love me for this long a time.

"Dan asked me to marry him." She says it quietly, holds her breath, waiting for him to smile, tell her that's great news, even congratulations.

"Did you say yes?" He says instead; still looking down, staring at the scuff marks on his shoes, doesn't have it in him to look up, look at her.

The question frightens her, shocks her to her core. Because why wouldn't she? And why would he even ask that?

"Of course, I did." He looks up then, takes in her features. Her searching eyes, the heavy breath she still hasn't released. He looks back down, realizes he was wishing she'd say no, Nate, it's always been you. (Nathaniel's always been a fool. Always a little behind her, behind everything. Never quite catching up to everything she is.)

She's not sure if she wants to hear him say it, but he says it. "I'm happy for you, Serena. I'm happy for you. For Dan." He still doesn't look up, doesn't say anything else.

She finds the nerve, "Thanks, Nate." (He wonders how she doesn't hear the bite in his words, doesn't hear the choose me, want me, let me have you that he's too scared to say.)

(Then he wonders if she's heard it all along, but just really never wanted him.)

It hurts a lot to say you're welcome. But he does. Then he says something along the lines of "Gotta go, tell Dan I said congratulations." He stands and walks away before she says anything else.

When he's walked around the corner, he finds a garbage can and pukes, what he feels like are all, his guts out. When he's done he can feel the stains on his teeth, taste the bitterness of the bile and the oh, serena he had moaned when he was fifteen.

He won't admit it (anything, ever) but he cries on his way home and punches his apartment door when he gets there.

–;

She sighs when she gets to the loft. She's outside the big doors, decides she'll count to ten before she walks in.

She keeps counting, is at fifteen when she realizes that she just wants to run back to the park, after Nate, and tell him she didn't mean it. (She won't.)

When she does finally open the door, Dan's sitting at the counter drinking coffee, reading a newspaper.

"Hey. I thought I heard you come up." He says, looking up from the paper.

"Yeah." She puts her purse and jacket on the couch and walks towards him. "I talked to Nate."

He gulps back the swallow of coffee he just took and sets the mug back down."Oh?" He looks up at her again.

She's leaning on the counter top, hands resting under her chin, elbows touching the cold counter. And all of sudden when he looks at her she can smell the hot coffee on his breath, smell the dusty paper, see the wonder in his eyes, and it makes her stomach roll into knots. Who drinks coffee at three in the afternoon, she wonders, it's stupid. (She thinks all of it's stupid. Somewhere, deep down inside of her, that's what she really thinks. It is, Serena.)

Then she's talking but she's not sure when she started and the words just seem to fall out of her mouth. "Yeah. He was really happy for us. Told me to tell you congrats." She smiles a little when his searching eyes diminish into loving, sweet ones. And all she can think is dandandan and right here, right now; this is what she wants. She wants Dan and the loft and Brooklyn and waking up on Saturday mornings to lines and lines of his writings about her; golden hair, blue eyes, and sweet smile. She wants it all and if she doesn't think too hard, she wants it forever.

He chuckles. "That's good. I'm glad he approves." He wonders right then why it would matter if Nate approved or not. Then he looks at Serena, Serena, Serena and the notes hidden in her that read (nate's, nate's, nate's), she's all Nate's most of the time. And he's really glad that he's letting him have her forever (for now, Dan.)

–;

He doesn't go back to work, doesn't answer when Chuck calls him once and Blair calls him seven times before noon, doesn't do much of anything except sit around his apartment.

He's sure he hasn't showered in at least two days and the shades are pulled over his windows day in and day out and it's so fucking dark inside he can't tell if it's morning or midnight.

He does not know why he's doing this to himself; why he's letting Serena do this to him (again). But it's happening and he cannot stop himself from wanting all of her, every day of the fucking week.

He knows he should be happy for her, tells himself he will be happy for her because if this is what she wants, if she wants Dan, he will let her have that; let her be happy. (He really will, really.)

So he showers. And sends them a small plant with a wish attached to it because he heard once it's an old European tradition (he asks for a maid's help) and signs just Nathaniel at the bottom of the note. Because Nathaniel sounds more formal. (And that's what he plans to be with Serena. Formal, business, acquaintances.)

(Though, nothing ever worked with them except Natie.)

He pushes back whatever gnawing feeling it is that rises in his chest.

He's going to be happy for them, for her.

–;

Somehow she's talked Blair into coming to the loft to hang out, B, let's catch up. And all the while Serena eats pretzels from the bag, Blair scrutinizes everything she sees, touches. (Serena, what is this? Serena, where do you eat?) Then there's looks of disgust and Serena's laugh and everything feels like it should be.

(Things never change with Blair. They will always be the same. They will always be S and B even when there's no njbc anymore and everything else has changed. They'll still be the same. Serena finds comfort in that.)

Blair's somewhere in the middle of discussing her dislike for the acquired smell of the loft when Serena receives the gift. The plant's pushed into her arms at the door by a messenger with a busy day. She walks back inside, pushed herself against the counter and chews the last bite of her pretzel slowly, with a confused look on her face.

Blair asks from the couch, "What is it?"

"A plant. From Nate. With a note." And she's so confused.

Blair walks over, inspects the gift, sees it is in fact from Nate. "Oh, this is for your wedding. It's a gift. It's old tradition, Serena. Have you not read anything, ever? The Dutch used to do this. They'd buy a plant, tie a wish to it for the couple soon-to-be married. It's quite endearing, thoughtful. Even for Nate."

(Of course Blair would know what it was.)

Serena just looks at it. She wants to cry. Because it's so not the Nate she knows. He's more than the "Best Wishes, Nathaniel" that reads on the note. Some wish, she thinks.

–;

Later, when Blair's gone and it's just Serena and the silence, Dan comes home. She finds that it's been peaceful without anyone there; just her and her thoughts. (natenatenate)

He sees the plant on the counter. She wonders why he noticed it first, glad he did before she had to say anything about it. Because she doesn't know if she can really talk about it right then, right there with Dan. Somehow it means more than best wishes and nathaniel. It's more confusing and she knows he doesn't want this for her, so why is he making it so much more difficult?

Dan cuts in, "That's nice of Nate." He says it right before he kisses her on the lips. And she wishes he hadn't said it right then because when his lips cover hers all she can think is Nate and her skin goes hot.

"Nathaniel." She corrects him, like she knows just what Nate is trying to say: acquaintances.

(Doesn't mean she's okay with it. Or that she'll admit either.)

–;

They've decided on a summer wedding. Exactly three months away. He reads it in some newspaper, everyone knows now. (It's real.)

Something in his chest twists, and cuts at his insides, makes him want to throw up because that's their season not anyone else's.

–;

The months fly by and she hasn't spoken to him since she told him she chose Dan, was marrying Dan. (The words still cut at him like a knife.)

She didn't have it in her to tell him thanks for the gift. (It wilted, died, was never watered.) Dan tells him thanks though when he sees him. Which isn't too often because Nate tries his best to stay away because doesn't Dan get it? He got the girl, the one he wrote about, yeah he got her. And all Nate got were sad goodbyes and best man offers. (He just declines the goodbye. Offers a see you later to her instead.)

(He gets fitted for his best man's tux the same day Dan gets fitted for his. They go together and he cannot help thinking that the roles should be switched but the girl should stay the same.)

Dan's stupid, sometimes, he finally decides. He decides it in between the moments when he won't shut up about the cute little thing Serena does before they go to bed or how she murmurs sweet nothings during the night. He says it all while they're eating pizza Nate bought after their fittings. When the words come rushing out of Dan's mouth with a laugh and a sweet smile Nate wants to leave and vomit. Wants to do a lot of that lately. Leave everything and vomit until his heart's content (Serena, it shouts.)

So yeah, Dan's stupid. Because he should know that it hurts Nate to listen, to smile, to nod, and agree. (He already knows it all. He's the one that's loved her forever.)

But he deals because he wants them to be happy. He keeps telling himself that's all he wants.

(He doesn't listen to the voice in the back of his mind that says serena over and over and over again or the one that tells him he should punch dan in the mouth when he won't stop talking about all he's got, and everything nate doesn't have.)

–;

Summer begins and it's so very hot. Usually she would love it, and she does in the beginning.

She loves it because it's her and Dan and the summer and it's warm. The feeling in her chest, it's warm. Not hot and gooey and melting because she's so in love with him. Just warm because she thinks her heart's content right now.

(She thinks about a fake relationship years ago and how her heart melted, fell flat into Nate's hands, and he loved it until she got it back again.)

(Stupid decision, Serena, giving it away in the first place.)

(Cause now it's breaking, breaking, broken.)

–;

She shows up at his doorstep a few weeks before the wedding. Her hair's pulled back in a ponytail that wasn't given much thought and she looks flustered.

(She's beautiful.)

It's been so long since he's spoken to her he doesn't really know what to say. So he just starts with what he knows best.

"Hey." (Because he's always telling her hello and goodbye, never anything like stay.)

"Hey." She breathes out.

He takes in her appearance; starry-eyed, loose top, shorts, and a million reasons why not.

It flusters him a bit.

"Can I come in?" This time she waits for him to nod his head or say come in. She used to just brush by him, hand finding his on the way.

"Yeah. Come in, Serena." All of a sudden he realizes he doesn't want to be here, doing this.

But he can't really leave because it's his apartment, he should stand his ground, not let her push him over. (Though, he can't help thinking he'd let her, again and again.) She walks in, he closes the door, he turns around, and she's standing there staring at him.

(She can't look anywhere else, because everywhere else is them. On the counter top, on the couch, in his bedroom. And her breath catches in her throat.)

(It hurts a lot to look at him, as it is, all she sees is them.)

He can't choose between small talk and asking her straight-out what she's doing here at his place.

She chooses for him, opts for small talk. (God, he wanted to get it over with. This feeling.)

"How have you been lately?"

"Good, fine." He shoves his hands in his jean pockets.

She waits for a 'how are you' but doesn't get one. "That's good. I've been doing good too, fine. Planning... stuff." Right then she remembers, "You probably don't want to hear about that."

"Yeah." It's a sharp response. And it's not him. It's not Nate. And she can't get over that. He's not the same, he's not fifteen and giving himself to her. (Give yourself to her, Nathaniel.)

"You're different, Nate." She walks forward, he still hasn't moved away from the door.

"Yeah, well change can do that to you." They both realize how real and true that is. Everything changes, always. And they get caught up in it, always.

She just nods.

"Blair used to say we were destined for a Ken and Barbie wedding someday." She fills the moment with yearning and what could have been.

Dammit, why. He wonders.

"Blair's been wrong before. Obviously." I thought so too.

"Yeah, well. Things change, huh, Archibald?" We shouldn't have changed.

"Yeah, van der Woodsen." He hates the thought of when he'll have to call her Humphrey. It makes him squirm, he thinks she should leave.

So she does. When it gets too awkward, when they're both stumbling over their words, when it's hard to breathe; she walks to the door.

"Why'd you come here, Serena?" Because he had to ask.

"I..I- jus..- I just wanted to see you" She leaves it left unsaid, but kisses the corner of his mouth before she leaves.

She cries the whole entire way home.

Nate screams fuck real loud, throws something through a window, and wants a major redo. Because he surely fucked up big time.

–;

They don't talk anymore after that.

There really isn't much to say.

–;

The wedding comes and it's hot outside, hot inside, humid, the sun's blaring, the cement is sweltering, and the trees aren't shading anything.

But it's their wedding day so it doesn't matter, Dan says to Serena when she whines a little before she goes to get ready.

She smiles then runs away. To her dressing room, of course.

–;

"Who knew Brooklyn had it in him, snagging the girl, and rave reviews." Blair says to Chuck.

"Who knew Serena had it in her to stay." Chuck says back.

Nate doesn't say anything.

–;

The wedding's outside. Finally, there's a breeze and everything's not as hot as before. 'Course it'd work out for Serena.

Nate walks down the aisle with Blair. He stands right behind Dan, can look straight into Serena's eyes from where he's at, could see into her soul if he wanted.

But he doesn't look. He looks behind her at Blair and her reassuring smile, 'cause she's always been able to comfort anyone.

(He does manage to look at Serena once during the ceremony. She's beautiful, he thinks. Dan's lucky.)

–;

Serena marries Dan because he makes her happy and Nate gives one hell of a best man speech at the reception.

–;

(He talks about destiny, soul mates, eternal love, and chokes up a little when he wishes them a lifetime of happiness.)

'Cause that's all he wanted for her. Really.