a/n: ugh, all my ships for this show have been royally fucked over by the writers. whatever. the fans can write their stories better than they ever could. just needed to vent about how pissed i am at this show. the ending to dair, my beautiful otp, made me miss this pairing—they're definitely endgame in my head. ah, how i miss the first two seasons. i know this won't happen on the show, because apparently the writers hate me, but humor me. sigh. story title from heartbeat by the fray.
a flame in the heart of night
Nate's never believed that his life is already mapped out for him by the big guy upstairs.
He doesn't believe his father was meant to hide out in the Dominican Republic for three years because he didn't want to be charged with possession and embezzlement, or that his family was meant to fall apart, or that his relationships with Blair and Serena were destined to crash and burn.
I love you, Nate Archibald. You're my soulmate, my forever and always, Blair would say, smile stretched wide.
Through thick and thin, this is fate, giving us a chance at being together, Serena would whisper underneath her sheets.
No, that's a bunch of bullshit, he decides.
Whatever happens, it's all on you. His family falls apart because his dad's a dick and his mom doesn't have the courage to stand up to him. His relationships with Blair and Serena fall apart because both girls can't find enough space in their hearts to put him in, too overcrowded with their feelings for Chuck and Dan.
He doesn't blame them, he really doesn't. He just doesn't think it's right to blame some unknown deity for your misery or happiness—you hold the reigns of your life, you control your outcome.
Fate, destiny, soulmates, etc. It's all the same to him—utter crap.
He can't help but believe in those theories when he finds himself standing in Starbucks on his lunch break, behind a strangely familiar blonde head with the scent of lilac and vanilla reminding him of better days.
He watches her through guarded eyes, scrutinizing every detail of her appearance in order to find some semblance to the girl that wreaked havoc on the Upper East Side two years earlier.
With her blonde waves framing her face, nose scrunched up in concentration as she pours the desired amount of sugar into her black coffee—fancy caffeinated beverages are so 2007—Nate can't really say he finds one.
"Why'd you come back?"
"Not to stay," she answers quickly, and he can't deny the way his shoulders slump a bit at her harried reaction—she obviously doesn't want to be here. "I just came to help my dad sort through some things, y'know, since he and Lily got divorced."
"No. Went back to who you were before...everything." He looks at her carefully, analyzing the way her posture straightens and lips purse just slightly. "You're the Jenny I first met, the one who was my friend."
The unspoken words loom in the air between them—the one I could've fallen for.
She breaks the tension with an easy smile. "Yeah, well, I'm glad I can finally say the main focus of my life isn't building hierarchies and backstabbing all the people around me," her eyebrow creases and her fingers inch closer to his absentmindedly, "I'm really sorry about everything I did to hurt you, Nate. You were the one person that I never—you always protected me...and I'm just so sorry."
He stops her by raising his palm. "It's in the past. No use worrying about it." She nods, and he notices the line of worry that's still painfully prominent on her forehead. "How's London?"
"It's...great. It made me wake up, made me realize I can't be childish, I can't make the same mistakes. And I won't. That girl that came in between you and Serena, that sent those pictures to Gossip Girl, that slept with Chuck..." she exhales deeply, and his knuckles tighten under the table, "I wish I could say that wasn't me. But it was, I own up to it. I had to go through the lies and manipulation to realize how much I did not want to be a part of that."
He sighs. "Be careful, it's way too easy to get roped back in."
She sips her coffee, and he can see her smile behind her cup. "Same old Nate, always looking out for me," she says wistfully, reminiscent of the days when she was the only one who held his trust.
"Looks like some things never change."
The way he says it makes her believe it's a promise he'd never break.
"Trust me, Jen. You won't win. This is Modern Warfare 3. It's top of the line."
She scoffs. "Hey, I used to play shooter games with Dan all the time!"
"Yeah, and Dan sucks. There's no way."
She holds out her hand. "Care to make a wager?"
He shakes it.
"Tell me again why I agreed to this?" he asks, exasperatedly running his fingers through his hair as he surveys the utter lack of luggage laying in the bed of their rented truck; two duffel bags. Nate's sure Blair would've pulled her hair out with the limited amount of carry-ons.
"Because, golden boy," Jenny rolls her eyes, slender arms reaching back to tie her messy waves into a ponytail. Nate refuses to acknowledge how stunning she looks with her face free of makeup, clothes free of designer thread. She raises an eyebrow at him, as if she knows exactly what he's thinking, but before he can make a liable excuse as to why he's staring at her like a twelve-year old boy who just saw a Playboy for the first time, she continues, "a road trip is essential to grant any person's true sense of self-fulfillment. And besides, we made a bet."
He scowls at her and she raises her hands up in defense.
"Hey, don't be mad because I made Call of Duty my bitch."
He sighs, unable to keep a chuckle from slipping past his lips. "I'm fine in New York, Jen. Oh, hold on a second."
His phone vibrates in his pocket, and before he can respond with a definitive yes to Dan's inquiry about whether to get a haircut or not, his iPhone is snatched from his fingers and thrown into the nearest trash bin. He looks to Jenny with wild eyes, scanning his brain for the most appropriate way to murder her without leaving evidence. He's about to steal her phone to call Chuck for help in his plan, but she takes it out of her duffel bag and tosses it, right alongside his.
"Are you out of your mind?"
Jenny's face shows no remorse, shows nothing but a smile that is too knowing and too triumphant for him to be comfortable with.
"Nothing but you, me, the radio, and the road." At his remaining hesitance, Jenny takes his hand in hers, looking at him with as much sincerity as she can muster. "Trust me."
Nate thinks of how complicated life is; Serena, Blair, Chuck, Gossip Girl, the never-ending drama, of how amazing it'd be to escape that, if only for a short while.
He groans. "I'll drive."
She giggles, grinning so widely that her eyes shine and he's reminded of masquerade balls, entrusted conversations, and improv fashion shows. As he gets into the driver's seat, with Jenny already quietly munching away at Doritos as she flips through stations, he can't help but think that he'd throw away a million phones if it meant seeing her smile like that.
It's not a complete disaster.
Okay, yeah, they probably argue more than they breathe in the week-span of their crucial voyage to places unknown—Jenny's words, not his—but in all, they manage to get to Nashville and back without too many scratches ("Really, Jen? A pebble? What the hell are you doing wearing flip flops anyway?") and on better terms than when they left.
When they're not yelling at each other—"How the fuck are we in Nebraska?" "Ugh, road trips are stupid." "What are you, nine? Come up with a better adjective!"—or ignoring each other to the extent that their silence is absolutely deafening—"I can't believe you said Batman was stupid."—it actually goes exactly as Jenny thought it would.
Her legs hang out the window, and she sighs happily as the midnight breeze hits her skin. The Red Hot Chili Peppers play through the speakers, and she can't help but bob her head along to the rhythm of the song when she notices Nate's fingers drumming against the steering wheel.
"Nate?" she asks meekly.
He rolls his eyes—this is not unfamiliar to him. Besides, he swore the grumbling he'd heard earlier wasn't in the chorus of Under the Bridge. His eyes scan the stretch of road through the windshield, and he can't help but blanch when he sees a run-down neon sign that reads 24 Hour Diner.
Jenny smacks his arm. "Self-fulfillment, honey."
He sticks his tongue out at her as he pulls into the diner and tries not to look for hidden subtext in the way her lips curved upwards when she called him honey.
She orders pancakes with a side of eggs and ignores Nate when he grimaces. He asks for a glass of Sprite and flicks Jenny's ear when she rolls her eyes.
"Who says breakfast is just for when the sun's up?"
He slides into the seat across from her. "Only everyone in the history of ever."
The waitress comes by with Nate's drink and sets it down in front of him. Nate thanks her and she gives both of them a smile that wrinkles the corners of her eyes.
"Lovely couple," she states.
He opens his mouth to protest, likely to spin a story about family friends or school trips, but Jenny just grins at the older woman and twines her fingers through Nate's.
When she goes behind the counter once more, Nate looks to her with confusion swimming in the depths of his eyes. She shrugs her shoulders and takes a sip of his Sprite.
"It's just easier. It's not like we're ever going to see her again," she assures, before mischief gleams in her eyes. "Unless," she creeps closer to him above the table until his vision is clouded with nothing but Jenny Humphrey, "you don't think she's Gossip Girl, do you?"
He turns to the woman, busy whisking the pancake batter in a clear bowl, then back to Jenny. "Not unless that bitch has an Aunt Jemima fetish."
She giggles and sits back, abruptly pulling her hand out of his. He clears his throat and tries not to think of her scarlet-tinged cheeks as cute.
"Uh, I'm sorry. I think we've played that card long enough."
He smirks. "Let's agree to disagree."
She looks at him questioningly underneath her eyelashes, and all he can do to not kiss her right then and there is to take a sip of his Sprite, eyes telling her everything he's willing himself not to say.
Before she can say anything, the waitress comes around and sets Jenny's food in front of her, and the way Nate's stomach roars betrays his earlier words.
"Do you want me to set you up another plate, dear?" she asks kindly.
"That's okay," Jenny says, moving her plate towards the middle of their table. "We'll share."
There's a moment where they can't do anything but stare at each other, both silently daring the other to do something that'll bring the line they've been teetering over since she was a freshman at Constance and he was a junior at St. Jude's to full front and center.
Nate stabs at her eggs and plops them into his mouth. His eyes practically roll backwards as he chews. "God bless this diner. The probability of infectious disease is almost worth it."
"Okay, so this isn't as bad as I thought it would be," he relents, pouring hot sauce over his half of her eggs so he won't see the smug grin that he's sure graces her features.
"And...you're right. I do feel more fulfilled."
"And...when we get back to New York, you're definitely watching The Dark Knight. I simply cannot be entangled with someone who doesn't think Bruce Wayne is all that is right with the world."
She laughs so hard she snorts and Nate can't help but join her, hands clutching at his stomach from the force of his laughter. He sits back and sighs, doesn't mention how he hasn't laughed so hard in years.
"So we're entangled now?" she asks, eyebrow raised.
He gives her an easy smile. "Haven't we always been?"
Somewhere between Manhattan and Nashville, he falls.
"Okay, the Joker was awesome. But I'm still not feelin' it."
"Seriously? Friendship over!"
Thing is, he still has Lola—Charlotte—to deal with.
Frankly, it's a little hard to remember that he even has a girlfriend, because he's swamped at work, busy helping Blair try to locate Serena, and receiving text messages from Jenny that help lighten the burden that weighs so heavily on his shoulders nowadays.
So when he comes into the little cafe that he's supposed to meet her in thirty-three minutes late, he's not surprised when she greets his smile with a scowl. He quietly sighs and takes a seat, preparing himself for the outburst that's sure to come.
"I was busy," Nate answers, a little irritatingly, because hello, it's not so easy trying to keep a company running smoothly while searching the deepest crevices of the world for one of his best friends while trying to bury the very existent feelings he has for a girl he thought he'd never see again. So yeah, right reserved.
"Too busy gallivanting the states with Jenny Humphrey to spend actual time with your girlfriend?" Nate catches the uncannily predatory glint in her eyes that reminds him of almost every girl from the Upper East Side and his eyes absentmindedly narrow. "Why didn't you just tell me?"
"It was...spur of the moment," he says with a one-shouldered shrug.
Yeah, he's half-assing the conversation when he should be apologizing profusely because the fact remains that they are still in a relationship, but Lola is starting to become a lot like the Charlotte Rhodes she was born to be and not like the girl he was so drawn to because of her devil-may-care attitude.
"She's bad news, Nate," LolaCharlotte whispers.
He gives her a warning glance. "Don't go there."
She gapes. "How can you sit here, unwilling to work through any problems that we have, but still be able to defend her? Am I wrong, did Jenny not try to sabotage your relationship with Serena a couple of years ago?" Nate exhales deeply and reminds himself to be patient with her. Her next words are their defining moment—he knows where this road is headed. "I am not willing to let her do the same with us."
He pinches the bridge of his nose and ponders.
First, she turns into everything she said she never wanted to be—concocting a plan to end Lily (Bass, van der Woodsen, Humphrey—take your pick) with Ivy kind of goes against her earlier words. Second, the lies always seem to be piling up with her—her actual identity, where she was, the fact that she's his ex-girlfriend's sister slash cousin. Third, she has the nerve to talk badly about Jenny, the only person who keeps him from tearing his hair out in frustration at what his life has become?
Three strikes, you're out.
Nate sighs. "Trust me, you don't have to worry about Jenny coming between us." She's about to smile at him, and it's enough for him to almost be repentant. Almost. He stands and looks at the wall behind her so he won't see her face fall. "You did that all by yourself."
He breathes a humorless laugh. "No. You're just like every other girl I've dated; scheming, malicious, and vain," he seethes, and the hurt in her eyes does nothing but fuel his words. It's not like he's wrong. "I thought you were different. That's why I liked you. You were nice, and pure, and good. You—"
The following words die in his throat. You reminded me of Jenny, he doesn't say.
"I can't see you anymore."
He walks out of the cafe and doesn't look back.
"Dude, what's going on with you and my sister?"
Nate laughs. "You'll see."
"I want you to have this."
He hands her an envelope with her name and old address scribbled on the front, and she can't help the remorse that settles in the pit of her stomach when she's rewarded with the image of Nate scolding her and running after Vanessa.
"Why are you showing this to me now?"
"Because," he whispers, and her mind flushes with the memory of them on the sidewalk and his hands all over her body, "you're the person you were when I wrote that. You're back to being the person I wanted you to be when you got the chance to read it."
"Nate, I can't." Her fingers clutch the envelope tighter, and he pulls her chin up with his index finger. His eyebrows furrow when he notices her eyes becoming glassier by the second and he runs the pads of his thumbs over her cheeks.
"What do you mean, you can't?"
"I can't—when I went to Hudson, I left all this behind. Left the wealth, left the schemes, left you. You still have so much drama, and Serena and Blair hate me, I just don't—"
She's cut off by his lips crashing against hers. Her response is immediate; she wraps her arms around his neck and pulls herself closer against him. He relishes in the feeling of having her once more, but his moment of glory is cut short when she pulls away, shaking her head as tears flood her eyes.
"I'm sorry," she snivels, turning around and heading towards the door.
"So what was the road trip then? Did that mean nothing to you?" he calls. "What about everything we've been through, Jenny? Is it really so easy to walk away from it all?" Her hand is clutching the doorknob so tightly he can see her knuckles turn white. "Stop pretending you don't love me. Because I don't know about you, but I'm done. I'm done ignoring my feelings for you!"
She closes the door behind her without looking back.
His jaw clenches and he punches the wall next to him and ignores his welting knuckles. He falls to the floor and stares at the door, hoping against all odds that she'll walk through the threshold. Nate sniffles and swats angrily at his cheeks.
He's never cried over a girl.
"You have a visitor, Mr. Archibald."
"Yeah, thanks Jane," he tells his assistant absentmindedly, loosening his tie before turning the door handle, preparing to sit and sulk for the remainder of the day.
He's not in his office for two seconds before lips are against his.
His nostrils detect vanilla and lilac, and his hands fly to her familiar waist, clutching her to him so tightly that he's sure there's not an inch of space between their bodies.
She hushes him with a finger to his lips.
"I was supposed to be here for a week, that's it. You weren't supposed to run into me. We sure as hell weren't supposed to go to Nashville. But when I saw you...it's like I never left," she breathes a laugh, and he really hopes she can't feel the thundering of his heart beneath her palm. "Damn you, Nate Archibald, and your uncanny ability to make me fall for you all over again."
He smiles cheekily, shrugging a shoulder. "What can I say, it's a talent." She giggles and he drops a kiss to her shoulder. Oh boy, the way things turned out. He was positive he'd never even hear of Jenny Humphrey after her drama-ridden departure, and here she was, just two short years later, the epitome of everything he's ever wanted. "Jen, do you think that running into you—was that fate?"
She laughs. "No. That was just pure luck."
He looks at her like he's found the sun.
yeah, a bit rushed, but too many feels to care.
reviews are love.