BEHIND THE MASKS
A Gossip Girl Fanfic
Pairing: Chuck and Blair
A/N: I do not own Gossip Girl.
"Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within."
~ James A. Baldwin
Nate saw her first. Well, looked at her would be the more appropriate term, as Chuck was the only one who has ever completely seen her. Not even I, after years of being her best friend, can do that. So Nate looked at a beautiful girl, beautiful and poised with the grace and glamour of Audrey, flair of Marilyn, and dignity of Grace, but underneath the image she carefully designed and projected, there was something wrong, something broken. She had tried to fix it endlessly, but after continuous failure, she had to accept defeat to her worst enemy – herself. Now, she just attempted to achieve perfection, denying that there was anything broken at all. And to the outside world, there didn't seem to be. She was fine with the naivety of the outsiders who believed she truly was perfect, not happy necessarily, but fine. Sure, no one really saw her, but she certainly wasn't invisible. Everyone knew her name, knew things about her…trivial mostly, but information nonetheless. But it wasn't until Chuck that she realized what it was like to be seen, really seen, and not just looked at, listened to and not just heard, to feel like she was more than just an it girl's best friend, the queen of a school, and a fashion designer's daughter. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. After all, to completely understand a story, especially one about love, you have to start at the beginning.
Although I know it's unfair I reveal myself one mask at a time.
~ Stephen Dunn
FIVE YEARS AGO
Nate and Chuck grinned toothily at each other as they leaned their heads against the wall, letting the joints work their magic. It wasn't long before Nate could feel his mind getting fuzzy, the boiling of his blood, and the dissolving of his stress. Though most people assumed life was easy for Nate, the Golden Boy of the Upper East Side, he had pressure too, especially his father's endless discussions of Dartmouth when all Nate wanted to do was go to USC. There was adventure there, and he could imagine smoking up as he walked down a sandy, white beach, surfing in the crystal blue water, and most of all, escaping the expectations everyone in New York had laid out for him since before he was even old enough to understand them. But while he wanted to escape for his sake, he also wanted to escape for theirs, the people who expected so much from him and would inevitably be let down by his failure. Nate knew that there was no chance in hell those expectations were becoming reality, and he didn't want to disappoint anyone. So he dreamed instead of running the exact opposite direction of where everyone else wanted him to go. California was the answer.
Nate tilted his head over to Chuck and wondered what his best friend was thinking about. As he saw Chuck lick his lips, he followed his eyes to a tall redhead in a dress so tight, you could see the outlines of every little curve she had. Nate rolled his eyes. At only 16, Chuck already had a hit list that rivaled even Hefner's, and his reputation was even dirtier. Nate and Chuck were clearly foils of each other – Nate's warm heart to Chuck's cold one, Nate's ignorance to Chuck's unrivaled sense of perception, Nate's overbearing and overprotective parents to Chuck's distant, unemotional, and uncaring father – but somehow, their differences only served to bring them closer. They balanced each other out, and since both were only children, they were the closest things either would get to having a brother.
Nate continued to scan the room, his hazy blue eyes attempting (and nearly always failing) to recognize his schoolmates behind the masks they had been required to wear to the exclusive event. He knew it was supposed to create a sense of mystery and intrigue, but he just found it confusing and off-putting, as he did most things that required any sort of guessing. How was he supposed to hang out with his friends if he didn't even know which ones they were? And in that instant, he spotted her. She was descending the staircase leading into the party with an air of superiority he had only seen in one other person before, a person who was still checking out the leggy redhead.
"Hey man, who is that girl?"
Chuck snapped his head first to Nate, then to the direction Nate was pointing. Nate head Chuck sigh and saw him give his head a little shake.
"Nathaniel," he began, drawing Nate's name out. He was the only one Nate liked calling him Nathaniel. "That is not a girl, but a woman."
"Yeah, okay Chuck, but who is she?" It wasn't so much her beauty that interested him, though she was beautiful, but rather the way she had gone down the stairs like she owned the place – no, like she owned the world. "You don't know, do you?" Nate continued, quite enjoying Chuck's expression as he racked his brain trying to remember all his one-night stands. They both knew he never could. "I thought you knew every girl in Manhattan by now."
"Nathaniel, Nathaniel," Chuck berated, his voice full of self-assuredness, his posture one of cockiness. "I know exactly who she is."
"So?" Nate asked. "Who is she?"
"The woman who will be screaming my name in about five minutes. I couldn't care less what hers is." Chuck's eyes never left his prospect.
"Oh, man, gross." Nate watched Chuck as he sauntered off, a predator after his prey, though it was difficult to classify this girl as prey. She looked intimidating and fierce to Nate, but that was only because he couldn't see past her mask, the literal or the figurative.
You may be wondering whether I was there among the revelers that night. The answer is yes, of course. That was going to be one of the most talked about parties of the year; how could I resist? And I was glad to go to; I wouldn't want to have missed Chuck's first encounter with my best friend.
"Hello," he began, his voice low and silky.
"Hi," his prospect responded, clearly appraising him with her dark eyes while she spoke.
"You look familiar," Chuck said, eyeing first her chocolate ringlets, her long, white neck, the spot where her fuschia dress dipped into a "V" and exposed milky flesh, and back up to her lips, which were perfectly pouty and pink. "Have we met before?"
"I don't know," she answered, not having made up her mind about him yet. Normally, all it took was a few seconds for her to decide if someone was friend or foe and then treat them as such, but she was clearly intrigued by this character.
"We must not have met then, because I'm sure you would remember meeting me."
"Is that so? I was under the impression that you can never be sure just who you're talking to at a masquerade."
"Oh, I can assure you if you knew me you would know me anywhere. Would you like me to prove it to you? We could get properly acquainted in that secluded corner over there, or on the roof if that's more your style."
"Thanks for the offer, and while I'm very flattered and all, I'm not interested at this point in time." While before, their back-and-forth vocal sparring had clearly amused both of them, Chuck's eyes suddenly got a shade darker.
"Is that so?" he asked, mimicking her words and sarcastic tone from before.
"Not in the market for an STD, I'm afraid. Too bad, really… Though it appears you have fan club by the bar that would be all to happy to join your not-so-little black book." Her dainty hand pointed in the direction of the trio that was sucking down martinis and wearing matching exprssions of desperation and desire unconcealed by their thin masks. She certainly was enjoying this, unsurprising considering very few people were able to capture her attention like he had. As she smirked up at him, a matching expression appeared on his face, and the light returned to his eyes.
"You lied to me. You know exactly who I am," he said, admiring the way her eyes peered out from under her wispy golden mask mischievously.
"I never said I didn't know who you were, just implied it. I make it my business to know everyone else's, even boozing, womanizing playboys."
"Ouch," he said, pretending to be insulted, and placing a hand over his heart. "But I'm afraid you left me at a disadvantage."
"And what's that?"
"You know who I am, and I know nothing about you, not even your name." Behind the pair, Nate shook his head – so much for not caring about this girl's name.
"It's supposed to be a mystery," she chided as if it were obvious. "I can't tell you who I am. It will ruin all the fun."
"Then, how about I tell you who I want you to be instead?" Chuck waited to see how she would react to this one. It wasn't just her name that was a mystery to him. This girl continued to surprise him, and he couldn't understand why he was feeling so turned on just by talking.
She laughed in answer. Chuck couldn't believe it. Most girls would be all over him after a line like that, and those who weren't would run off scared with their panties in a twist. But this girl, no woman, as he had correctly informed Nate, was something else entirely.
So, who was she?