His head lifts at her greeting.
“Hey,” he returns quietly and then looks away again.
Serena looks around; they’re in an empty vestibule at the prom venue, several rooms away from the action; the sound of संगीत and laughter dim even though the door is open. She’s looking for Dan, needs to tell him she’s going घर with Blair.
“You having a chat with Bevy the Rabbit या something?” She teases, getting closer and tapping his shoulder with one palm as she waves the other around the room, “Room’s empty…”
Nate shoots her a sidelong look, “There’s a rule about not mentioning childhood stuffed animals…”
Serena giggles, whirls around so she stands directly in front of him. “What’re आप doing in an empty room all द्वारा yourself?”
He stares her a moment, no answering smile and she feels her own dim.
“Blair and I broke up.”
Her smile vanishes completely, “Right, yeah. I knew that,” she murmurs, biting her lip a little as she ducks her head, strands of golden hair falling in front of her face, “Sorry.”
He nods slowly, gaze sliding away from her again, fastening on the golden tile of the floor.
Serena reaches out to touch him and pulls back, uncertain suddenly in a way she hardly ever is with Nate.
“I told Chuck that…” Nate’s voice is soft, “… he was lying to himself.”
Serena looks away then, sighs, because she can’t think about this; about the mess that is NateBlairChuck. All she can do is pray that it somehow resolves itself with minimal bloodshed, that her फ्रेंड्स make it out in mostly whole pieces.
“I lied to myself too, didn’t I?”
His सवाल makes a lump rise in her throat, a flash of Chuck’s face watching Blair accept her tiara fills her mind and she closes her eyes—stays silent, doesn’t want to hurt any of them.
“I really thought that…”
He trails off, sighs roughly; and even without looking she knows he’s shaking his head, trying to dispel thoughts.
Serena lifts her gaze to him again, presses her lips together when she sees his gaze still fastened on the floor, लॉस्ट in thought. She’d stayed uninvolved; things ran deep with NateBlairChuck and she didn’t want to go that deep again—it was so hard to climb out.
“When did it get like this?” His voice is sad and she desperately wants to stop him, because Nate shouldn’t be this sad, “Where I’m the problem?”
“Nate, you’re not--”
He lifts his blue eyes to her again and offers her a half smile, “Don’t lie,” he says softly, “No और lying.”
Serena licks her lips, casts her gaze to the other side of empty room. Dan was around here somewhere and Blair was waiting for her outside—but she couldn’t leave Nate, not like this.
He starts a little then, seems to rouse himself from his thoughts, “Look sorry, don’t—don’t worry about it. I didn’t mean to… bring down your prom night.” His smile is genuine, if subdued, “You came with Dan, right?”
She stares at him for a moment, then nods, “Yeah… I’m actually looking for him,” she admits, wonders briefly if she should tell him about meeting Blair on the steps.
He nods, skimming his eyes over her, “Ah... well he’s not in here…” he teases gently.
She nods and reaches out, touches his arm, “You’re not the problem, don’t think like that, okay.”
He doesn’t even try to brush her off, instead fastens imploring eyes on her, “She wasn’t even serious, was she?”
Serena flinches a tiny bit, but she meets his gaze, “I don’t know,” she says, even though she does.
Nate knows she’s lying, his mouth thins and he sighs as he looks away— because he knows too; she thinks, they all did.
“I don’t know anything, Nate,” she adds quietly; he doesn’t respond.
They stay like that for a long moment, the room silent expect for the hushed caterwauling and संगीत from down the hall, her hand on his arm, his face averted from her.
And then suddenly Serena knows something—suddenly she’s sure of one thing—completely sure, “Except that it’s our senior prom tonight… and Blair’s outside sitting on the steps staring into the सड़क, स्ट्रीट and Chuck’s probably at a bar somewhere drinking alone and I’m wearing…” she looks down at herself, “This and you’re in here brooding alone… and that’s not how it’s supposed to be.”
He blinks at her, doesn’t take the bait she’s offering him. “Blair just broke up with me because everything was the way it was supposed to be, Serena… I don’t—” he cut himself off, pulling away from her now and running a hand through his hair.
“I don’t know—” he sounds oddly desperate, “This year… has just been…” he turns away from her then and Serena barely hears him when he says, “Hard.”
It makes her दिल hurt, that tone in his voice; makes her remember that Nate has had hard—they all have and tonight… tonight should have been better, tonight should have brighter…
… tonight wasn’t over yet.
She moves towards him, around him, so she’s face to face with him again, and reaches out to take his hand, “Let’s fix tonight, Nate.”
He blinks at her, brows knitting in confusion, “Blair was serious about the break-up. She doesn’t—”
She squeezes his hand, rolls her eyes a little as a smile stretches over her face, “No, not that. Tonight. Us— the four of us… like before…”
She watches comprehension light up his eyes and feels her smile fade when he doesn’t smile back.
“Serena, I can’t… I don’t think…” he trails off, a quick indrawn breath for courage and then he tells her, “I don’t think we’re all फ्रेंड्स like that anymore.”
She doesn’t mean for tears to fill her eyes या for her fingers to tighten on his so much, but it happens anyway and she glares at him, “You don’t mean that.”
His eyes widen a tiny bit, “God Serena, do आप really—” he breaks off. Starts over, “There’s nothing that goes right with any of us anymore…” he says and then adds softly while bringing his other hand to cover the one she was his with, “Don’t cry.”
“Then don’t say stupid things.”
“We don’t have to be फ्रेंड्स like that,” she snaps at him, her tears fleeing as quickly as they’d appeared, “We’re फ्रेंड्स like this, like now, tonight… and it’s the end of high school, Nate. We’re eighteen, there’s college, the real world, growing-up— all those things; and tonight it’s prom and things aren’t supposed to be lik—”
He pulls back, drops her hand and scowls at her, “Blair just ended it because things are the way—”
“Blair ended it because she’s in प्यार with Chuck,” Serena cuts in, not lying— like he wanted.
The room is silent for a breath and then she adds less sharply, “Whatever that means…”
Nate opens his mouth, hurt flashing in his eyes, but Serena shakes her head, beats him to it and pours her दिल to him like she did to Dan in the cab, like she did to Blair on steps…
“And I’m not talking about that… I’m talking about us, about the four of us who’ve seen each other and been with each other through every possible circumstance and grown up in front of each and other lied and trusted and betrayed and laughed with one another…” she takes one of his hands in each of her own, “Let’s get obnoxiously drunk and watch the sunrise.”
One last time.
The words hung in the air between them as their gazes clash, hands gripped, breaths held—
And then Nate’s head dips आगे a little, the corners of his mouth tilting upwards just a bit, “You almost twirled off a roof last time we did that…”
Serena’s breath leaves her in a rush and she grins so wide it almost hurts, “You saved me though!”
Nate’s tiny smile stretches a little more, “Yeah…”
She laughs and then impulsively throws her arms around his neck, “We’ll have a great time, you’ll see!”
His arms come around her and for a मिनट she closes her eyes, grins, because she’s going to make tonight perfect.
She’s going to fix it for Nate and for Chuck and for Blair and for herself…
She pulls back; let’s go of only one hand as she tugs him with the other towards the door, “Okay, let’s go…”
“Wait… don’t आप have to find, Dan?”
“I’ll text him, he’ll understand…” she says, looking over her shoulder at him as he follows her, “Blair’s outside and we’ll—”
He stops walking, yanks her back into him, doesn’t account for her heels and has to steady her before she trips.
Hand’s on her arms he murmurs a quick, “Sorry,” and then shakes his head, “Bl-Blair isn’t going to want to see me.”
She grins at him now, bright and happy, because he’s agreed and that was all she needed to make this happen— just one person on her side.
“Trust me, Nate,” she assures, throws in a wink, because with Nate she can, and grabs his hand again.
His laughter rings in her ear as she pulls him through the doorway and past the crowded ballroom.
Blair’s face when she appears on the steps holding hands with Nate Archibald is a thunderous बादल of disbelief, but Serena glides right द्वारा it, because Blair loves the Nate she doesn’t have to date, and she won’t begrudge them all this one night…
It takes all of seven मिनटों to talk Blair into pulling her magic with Chuck’s limo driver— not even Serena can talk him away from Chuck, but Blair’s dialed into all things to do with S’s stepbrother.
Another ten मिनटों of stony silence between the ex’s as Serena chirps everything from oh this will be fun to we need vodka, you’ll talk to each other then to my dress isn’t right, I was going to wear Cavalli and back to this will be so fun, you’ll see before they’re ensconced in the बास limo.
The driver takes them to where he took Chuck and then there’s a moment of complete, soul dampening silence as they stare at each other wondering who will go get him.
“Why don’t आप go get him, Blair,” Nate hisses, eyes narrowed, “That’s what आप want isn’t it…”
Blair’s eyes are narrowed into equally thin slits as she hisses back, “Shut-up, Nate.”
“Guys,” Serena drawls, looking between them.
Blair frowns at her, haughty and bored in the way only Blair can be, “I’m going to state, again, how ridiculous this is. We don’t even—”
Serena whirls her head towards Nate, smile not faltering, as she cuts Blair off, “Nate?”
“No,” he says, shaking his head.
Serena bites her lip, and then says brightly, because this night is going to be bright, she’s going to make it so, “I’ll go then…!”
She crawls across the अंतरिक्ष between her and Nate and takes his face into both her hands, looks into his eyes and warns, “Be nice while I’m gone.”
Because warning Blair would be futile.
He rolls his eyes, “Yeah.”
He nods and she’s gone, out into the night; the last sight of her before the door closes is her long blonde hair blown around her face द्वारा the wind.
“It was always Serena, wasn't it.” Blair says softly when the silence nearly suffocates them both.
Nate pulls his eyes from the limo door, realizing he’s been staring at it, a fond smile on his face. He doesn’t deny it, meets Blair’s brown eyes instead— finds they’re not angry like a moment ago, though they’re just as dark— and responds just as softly as she spoke with the truth he’d lied to himself about, “It’s been Chuck all along, hasn't it.”
They stare at each other in silence, but it's easier this time, less stifling—and then the door opens and Chuck tumbles through it.
“Have आप लॉस्ट your mind,” he’s protesting, scowl dark as he looks over his shoulder at Serena who fairly glides into the vehicle, holding a bottle in each hand.
“Onward and beyond!” She cries towards the front of the limo and then they’re moving smoothly into traffic.
“What is this?” Chuck is still squalling, righting himself and taking a सीट अगला to Nate, sending the other boy a confused and somewhat angry frown.
“This is our limo party!” Serena cries exuberantly and then passes one bottle to Blair so she can shake the other vigorously.
Chuck’s brows rise nearly to his hairline and his mouth drops open. To be fair, Serena thinks wryly, as she grapples with the champagne bottle, Blair’s pouting and Nate’s brooding and neither looks particularly festive, but champagne would change that.
“Our wha—” he starts to ask just as she manages to pop the cork off the bottle.
It shoots to the roof of the limo, spilling bubbly liquid over her fingers and face and Blair who is beside her, the brunette shrieks as Serena turns the bottle and sprays it over the boys, laughter in her eyes and a grin on her face.
“Dammit Serena! Cut it out!”
The champagne eruption slows and she lowers the bottle, looks them over. Blair is scowling at her, brushing at her gown; Chuck’s glaring at her, shaking the liquid from his hands; Nate is licking his lips, wiping at his face—none of them look any और festive.
“Okay,” she murmurs, she won’t be deterred, as she lifts the bottle towards her lips, “We’re gonna need tequila…”