A/N: Carter and Serena. My version of post-season 5, because frankly, I really don't have faith in the writers creating a satisfying ending to Serena's storyline or properly addressing the shitwreck that was Season 5 Derena. I own nothing except my imagination…but Sebastian Stan is mine ;)
Atlantis and the Atlantic
Clipped My Wings Again
We've got our obsessions
I want to erase every nasty thought that bugs me every day of every week
We've got our obsessions
You never told me what it was that made you strong and what it was that made you weak.
She's less than a year old the first time she sees him, almost certainly dressed in a frock Alber Elbaz sent to Lily himself, Lanvin label stitched neatly on the inside of the woolen material. It's at some social event – probably tea at the van der Woodsen penthouse on a Wednesday morning. The wealthy young mothers all arrive in the newest collections with their newborns and toddlers by their sides, the cashmere-blanket-swathed babies replacing the requisite Birkins and Hysterias that usually reside on their tennis-toned arms.
The first time she actually coherently remembers seeing him, though, is when she's four and a half and he's seven, and it's some dinner party the Baizens are hosting in celebration of another fastidious and unnecessary accomplishment in their accomplished lives. She remembers because she can still see his face when Chuck Bass had arrived, rolling his stormy eyes and clenching his hands into fists while the darker-haired, younger boy trailed him around with absolute adoration, hanging onto every word and every movement Carter executed.
The first time she sees the real him – the complete complex version, not the abbreviated version where he only shows two sides of him (the emotionally handicapped playboy and the trouble-making hedonistic rebel) – is when he's fifteen and a bit and she's thirteen, summering in the Hamptons and lounging poolside at Cece's summer home. Blair's starting a fight about something absolutely trivial with her – something about finding a pack of gold-tipped Gauloises in Serena's beach bag –and she really couldn't care less usually except the shorter girl keeps bringing up the lack of paternal guidance as the reason to blame, and is sending patronizing looks and innumerable mentions of how much Harold Waldorf has helped in her troubles in her short fourteen years of life - she just can't possibly imagine living like Serena, all by her lonesome with a new stepfather every two years ever since she turned six and her father walked out on Eric and her and Lily. Serena's really trying to be the more mature one in this situation, she really is, but it's just so damn hard when her best friend who's practically her sister, of all people, is the one knowingly poking around where it hurts the most. Instead of bursting out though, all she does is sip her mimosa quietly but viciously, focusing on the slight tang of the champagne, marveling at Carter's skills as a bartender. The verbal assault goes on for about another six minutes or so, until Blair gets tired and complains about how she's going to get baked brown like Serena already is and heads inside with a dark glare on her face, warning her about the dangers of cigarettes still and how she'd better not become a heroin addict by the end of summer. In a moment fueled by suppressed fury and too much bubbly, she walks to the edge of CeCe's pool and dives in with her gauzy white sundress still on, the icy bite of the water making her let out a little yelp, dispelling her anger and releasing her rage. She surfaces from below to see Carter studying her intently, and she blushes a bit because his gaze is too intense and he should be looking down at her seeping wet red bra but he's holding her own blue stare steady instead. His eyes burn hers, and she feels like they are the ragged Atlantic, mysterious and tumultuous and absolutely terrifying, but she's drawn to the power and strength and destruction in them because even though her own baby blues are the Riviera mixed with Belizian sunlight, her soul is more like the Aegean sea, a disastrous Atlantis too dangerous and reckless and wild to get entangled with.
The first time she shows him the real her, she's fourteen-three-quarters and he's seventeen, and she's embarked on the quest of her life to find her father because she's incomplete without daddy in her life - or so everyone says; she wouldn't know herself, since she's never really had one before. Carter proves to be an unlikely ally, traveling halfway across the globe to play the sidekick, and she jokes that he's just there for the girls and booze but he responds with a cryptic, "Nah, not the Greek girls. Just the Greek goddesses." There's a sparkle in his eyes as he winks and smiles his crooked grin, and a little corner of her heart melts - a little corner, but she knows she's fallen under his charm and that the bump-bump-bump of her heart quickens half a beat faster whenever he drops a flirty gesture in her direction. Then one night she shimmies her way out of the club and down the beach, still dancing as she leads him to the sea and steals the wine from his hands, her dress floating around her as she plays in the waves like she's an unburdened child again, inhibitions long forgotten as she watches him smile with something akin to affection. She likes to think that she was able to convey her appreciation into a single smile, but she supposes she just looked a bit silly since that's what Blair always tells her she looks like whenever she tries to do anything, really.
And now she's twenty-one, finally a legal adult (even though she's been twenty-one on her ID since she was fourteen) yet feeling farther away from being a grown up than she's probably ever been in her life. She spent the last year getting hung up on Dan Humphrey of all people, and now all she wants to do is forget and move on. If she were to be blatantly honest with herself, she'd admit that her fixation on the Brooklynite had more to do with her inability to deal with him finding Blair more desirable and loveable and superior than her than anything else – it's not that she's self-absorbed and egoistic; it's just that she can't deal with feeling inferior and lonely. In an incontrollable life where allure and appeal are the only controllable aspects existent, is it really her fault that she mistook envy and her hunger to be wanted as true love? It'd been like Blair in high school all over again, Serena realized with a mirthless laugh - complete with confusing first love for soulmate and even going as far as a stolen 'always have, always will' motto - only this time her first love was Dan not Nate, and whereas Dan couldn't seem to treat her any better than vermin, at least Nate had still been able to cherish Blair as a decent human being in his own way. Now that she's finally figured this out, Serena tells herself she's okay again, but she'd be lying if she said the events of the past year didn't hurt anymore. More than she'd admit, of course, but it hurts. It may not have been true love, but it was still love in one of its many forms, and dealing with rejection had never been Serena's strong suit.
Out of everything that's gone wrong in the eventful and troubled whirlwind of her life though, she's most tired of dealing with all the labels - society's always fluctuated between deeming her too promiscuous for the UES and praising her as Manhattan's golden girl - but Dan somehow managed to surpass all of this and made her feel like a vapid halfwit and cheap whore. She's forgotten who she is and how to be Serena van der Woodsen, so she gets on the train and leaves it all behind to figure herself out once and for all. But in the meantime, there's nothing a whiff and a few lines of cocaine can't grant her escapist heart.
The hot Riviera sun shines on in France, leaving tourists and locals alike exposed to its near suffocating heat. It's an overrated and somewhat clichéd scenario Carter finds himself in - lounging poolside, shirt long lost to who knows who and a half-finished mimosa by his side (too weak, in his opinion, but he's trying to not look like too much of an alcoholic since it's before noon). An overly bronzed man passes in front of him, all bravado and smarminess as he winks at a skimpily-dressed blonde and tips a "how you doing, beautiful?" in her direction.
Carter himself has referred to many women as beautiful in his life, but one blonde in particular materializes in his mind before he can stop himself (though beautiful – or any other word in the English language - never seemed to do her justice). He curses himself for even bothering to think about a girl from his past, harshly silencing the nagging voice that's telling him Serena van der Woodsen was and would always be more than just another female in his life. In an attempt to stop the reminiscing before it can start, Carter frantically downs the rest of the mimosa only to realize regretfully that he's ended up triggering a series of particularly brutal memories instead.
An enigma, eleven-year-old Carter had been informed, was a person or thing that was mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand. It came from the middle of the sixteenth century, via Latin from the Greek word ainigma. Ainigma, in turn, originated out of ainissesthai - to speak allusively - and ainissesthai was created from ainos, which meant 'fable.' When asked for an example of an enigma, the boys of his fifth grade St. Jude's class had erupted in excited whispers, a collective energy building until one blockhead finally lost it and shouted, "Serena van der Woodsen is an enigma and everyone is lying if they don't agree!"
He'd tried, honestly, but Carter, for the life of him, had not been able to understand why his classmates - all miserable specimens of humankind - found nine-year-old Serena confusing and hard to read, since he'd known since he was eight that a tug of her hair meant she was embarrassed or coming up with an excuse, a folding of arms insecurity, a slight furrow of the brow confusion, and a clap of her hands genuine excitement or the sudden occurrence of an idea. The dark-haired boy had kept quiet though, reluctant to teach others a language that only he seemed to know. He wanted to be the only one to be able to read that book; after all, possessiveness had always been one of his prominent faults.
When he was thirteen and at the Waldorf penthouse for Thanksgiving dinner, he'd found golden girl in a not-so-golden moment, cheeks stained wet with tears and her delicate silk dress ruined with a red pen mark, back hunched as she sat crumpled against the wall in the hallway. "What's wrong?" He'd asked, half out of politeness, but more out of genuine concern than he'd admit.
"Blair hates me so much," she'd sobbed in reply, clutching his hand without permission and dragging him to sit down on the floor with her. "I'm a bad best friend, you know," the little queen had declared woefully, leaning her face against his shoulder (again without permission, ruining his brand new suit in the process).
"Oh?" He'd prompted, not really knowing how to deal with emotions since he'd banished them in his court ever since he'd become king.
"Promise you can keep a secret?" She'd asked, big blue eyes wide and uncertain, and he'd thought she was playing with his newfound emotions except she'd crossed her arms – insecurity, he remembered – and pushed at her hair – embarrassment, he recalled.
Scoffing, Carter had answered disdainfully, "I'm not a jealous minion, van der Woodsen. Of course I can keep a secret. What is it?"
There'd been a long silence, filled only with the occasional sniffle and sigh. He'd just about been ready to give up when she yanked him back down again, squeezing her eyes shut and whispering, "I kissed a boy yesterday. It was only a silly kiss - like a peck – just for fun, I swear Carter! But Blair isn't happy that I kissed someone knowing she hadn't had her first kiss yet-"
"So she destroyed your lovely dress with a red ballpoint pen as revenge;" Carter interrupted, torn between amusement and an unexplainable feeling of anger, "real classy, I'd say. So much for Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly…"
She'd giggled then – a sweet little laugh that the uppermost keys of his piano made whenever he played some fancy Rachmaninoff etude, not the nasally simpering sound all the other girls seemed to make around him – and he couldn't help but giggle a bit back in return, a surprising feeling of satisfaction bubbling inside that he'd made her happy.
And then came fifteen, summering in the Hamptons with lazy afternoons by CeCe Rhodes' pool - the first time he was able to not only decode the language only he seemed to know, but understand the book finally too. They'd been having mimosas that day, Carter recalled, an affectionate smile ghosting across his face before he could stop it, the tang of the orange juice and champagne left over in his mouth making the memory that much more vivid. While Blair looked on with general disapproval like usual at their hedonistic lifestyle, he'd noticed how grown up thirteen-year-old S looked, having graduated from being a charismatic pretty-faced girl to an alluring and graceful young woman, all intelligent sophistication and unintentional subtle seduction. (He liked how her laugh was still the same few keys of the Rachmaninoff etude though.)
Of all the things Carter would never understand about Blair Waldorf, number one by a long shot was her inexplicable need to reign Serena in and tame her into a lesser version of who she naturally was. And frankly speaking, the brunette's lecture of choice that day - all snide remarks and cool snubs at the blonde - had been severely grating on his nerves. There hadn't even been a tug of the hair or a frown or a folding of the arms to tell him Serena was upset and hurt - just a slight lift of her shoulders, a half-shrug of sorts accompanied by adamant avoiding of eye contact. And being reckless and wild and Serena van der Woodsen, she'd jumped into the pool in a spur-of-the-moment decision and like a lost sailor flailing to reach Atlantis, he'd drowned in the hurricane in her eyes, a heart-wrenching portrayal of a marred soul tarnished by betrayal and disappointments and impossible expectations too heavy for her young heart to carry unscathed. He'd recognized in her the same will to be different and the same drive for freedom, the same turmoil and torment in her that haunted him every day of his life.
But then came Santorini, which knocked his world out of focus and churned up everything he thought he knew until he didn't know anything anymore, except that he lived only to hear those few irreplaceable and unrepeatable Rachmaninoff notes like a starved man for bread. Too much ouzo and too much spontaneity had landed the two of them on a beach at three in the morning, and she'd laughed as she stole the bottle of rosé from his grasp, running into the ocean with it and losing it in the process as she crashed among the waves. Her white silk dress was positively ruined - not that she cared; she had the most gloriously gratifying smile on her face - and he'd sworn she looked like a fallen angel, wings clipped and too magnificent for this world. The transparent material had clung to her body, sinful in an act so innocent, a recreation of the birth of Venus with her hair drenched and golden against the moon. She was a siren with men delirious at her feet, and though he was Adonis with plenty ready to keep him company and warm his bed, this sparkling, tragically lost Aphrodite had ruined him for all others and so he ruined her in an art he knew all too well in turn in the hot summer night. (Only it had felt like the first time all over again for him, as if he'd never really known what he was doing before and she'd awakened everything in him and the only things that existed were stolen kisses and then more and more and more until it culminated into something grander and more meaningful than they were both expecting and she'd run away because she was afraid and running was what they did when things were too perfect to last.)
Coming out of his nostalgia, the last memory bites Carter a bit too hard. He needs to stop thinking about her - there's no good that'll come out of reminiscing about memories he should've forgotten long ago - so he stops thinking altogether and takes the first decent brunette he sees to bed. (There's the additional trivial detail that he makes sure she's petite and brown-eyed and waifish and shy and everything Serena isn't.)
A/N: God, I haven't written in forever. I miss Carterena though *sobs* ;_;
Oh and - don't forget I'm a shameless review lover ;p (mainly I just want to hear your opinions and commentary; fangirl or flame it, just don't stay silent because then I don't know if I'm doing well or not either).
To each their own,
P.S. I have a plan, I really do. Just...this was an introduction of sorts, okay?