Summary: It's always easier to move forward when you're not constantly looking back. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, some things just always end the same.
Author's Notes: 1,470 words. Spoilers up to and for 1x18. All mistakes are mine. The characters, however, are not.
The story goes like this:
Things change. People change. She changes. Dan and Serena – she thought this was forever – end. Nate moves back into their world, Serena moves on. Bart and her go forward. They’re married; she’d said vows and promised forever (even though Lily is vaguely aware such a thing does not exist) and even though she’s slightly bitter and disillusioned about the institution eighty percent of the time, that still means something (doesn’t it?).
The circle continues, always in constant motion, and Lily likes it this way because constant motion and consistency equals an occupied mind (and heart).
It’s always easier to move forward when you’re not constantly looking back. Lily knows this. It’s a fundamental principle of hers.
She’s done this before.
But there are still those late night phone calls and emails. Declarations hidden behind sighs and silences.
It’s harder for her this time.
“Did you know,” Rufus ventures one night early on, beginning of June maybe. Bart’s away on business and she lies in bed on her side, knees curled up to her chest with a glass of wine next to the bedside lamp. “That my son and your daughter broke up?”
When she closes her eyes she can still picture him there, feel him with his arms snug around her, his chest against her back, his heartbeat next to hers. That night in the hotel room (skin sliding against skin, lips brushing against one another’s softly, slowly like they had all the time in the world) felt so very far away.
“I had heard something of the sort, yes. Where the hell have you been?”
There’s a pause. Sound of movement. “Occupied. Besides, Dan hasn’t exactly been upfront with information concerning his personal life these days, which leads me to suspect guilt – “
“I think there was plenty of guilt to go around,” she says and wishes she’d warned Serena against continuing this vicious circle they have all seemed to find themselves in.
“Guess forever wasn’t as long as they thought it would be, huh?”
Lily smiles mirthlessly. “Guess not.”
Summer is easy.
He’s not there and Bart is. The phone calls continue, as do the emails, but it’s sort of like out of sight, out of mind. Easier to forget when there’s no evidence. Easier to move on when the subject you’re moving away from isn’t right there in front of you, tempting you, dragging you back down a path you’d beaten years ago, when all you were trying to do was create new ones.
If Lily looked hard enough, really hard, she could see that new paths intermixed with the old once or twice, before veering off in a completely different direction.
It should be enough to make her happy.
Deep down, though, she knew they all had the same endpoint.
That’s what she’d tell people if they ever asked. Except they won’t, because he’s not there, and the phone calls come few and far between for a while, and she appears no different than the person she was before all of this (she had changed, yes, but the change he had elicited in her occurred all those years ago. She is who she is in large part because of him) and deep down, underneath all the pretense and hidden meanings, it’s the truth.
Albeit a small part of a very big truth, but a truth all the same.
Here’s another truth: sometimes, Lily wonders if he’s fucking other people. It’s okay if he is, she tells herself (this is, of course, a lie) because he doesn’t owe her anything and she really couldn’t say anything, could she? She promised her husband forever while another already had her heart; she’s not exactly the innocent party in all this.
Besides, the only promise they made to each other that day was a heartfelt we’ll pick this up again later because even though she loved him and he loved her (she’s long past the point of denying this specific truth) things just weren’t that simple. And anyway, they’re friends right? Friends probably don’t wonder that about other friends.
Or maybe they do. She really wouldn’t know. Lily’s never really done the whole friends thing before.
(Another truth: deep down she realizes this doesn’t really qualify. They can never just be friends. She wants too much and Lily has never really been good at wanting for things, either.)
Summer ends. The tour comes to a close. School starts up again and he’s suddenly too close all over again.
They have coffee in Brooklyn a week after.
“How was your summer?”
“Not at all long enough. Yours?”
Rufus looks at her fondly. “Too long. I missed New York, I think.”
“What about New York exactly?” she asks. His hand brushes against hers and she reaches for the sugar. There’s electricity, a moment, fleeting and brief. Something catches in her throat.
“Too many things to say.”
Lily’s foot brushes against his under the table as she crosses her legs; he smiles at her from behind his coffee cup and she wonders what it will take to get him out of his jeans and into a bed.
This is going to end badly.
They do coffee Sunday Mornings. A ritual of sorts at this little shop on the outskirts of Brooklyn, out of the way, like they’re hiding, but technically they haven’t done anything wrong. And it goes smoothly for a few weeks. It’s easy for a while.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he says and she recognizes the I’ve missed you underneath, and knows he does these things for her. Disguises declarations and touches because he knows they make her nervous, knows he makes her nervous (she’s never really been good at grand gestures) and it’s easier to deal with this with that at bay.
There’s a shared cab one afternoon and he slips a kiss against her lips. Soft and filled with longing and need. His hand cups her cheek and she fists one in his hair, moves against him, into him and she’s falling fast. He pulls away just before she hits the bottom. Always there, it seems, when she really needs him.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers, pulling away to look at her. “I just –“
“Yeah,” she breathes. “I know.”
They stare at each other for a long time.
Fall is hard.
They have an Indian summer. Early October and Manhattan is too hot, Brooklyn even hotter and her skin perspires (because Lily Van der Woodsen doesn’t sweat) and she flushes crimson as she looks at him from across the room. Spaghetti’s on the stove, a bottle of wine (hers) and a few beer bottles (his) on the coffee table, and it’s funny, she muses idly, looking at him with a smile, how things come full circle.
A year ago more or less and she was back here and he was cooking for her, easing her mind about Eric, her daughter, and even then, after all those years of absence, she still felt more or less the same way she does now: Right.
There’s a moment, fleeting, poignant almost where he looks at her for a little too long, looks at her like he always has – hard, passionate, almost as if she was the only thing in the world and she thinks for a second that maybe all they have are these moments. Guarded, passing when his kids are in Hudson and hers are too preoccupied to care; when her husband is away on business, only a phone call away, really, but more and more distance accruing between them.
(At odd times she remembers that morning at the loft, Bart asking her to leave the past in the past and something similar to guilt rises in her. Lily never has been very good at making promises she is capable of keeping.)
Lily wonders if this is what people who have affairs do: Spend lazy Sundays together cooking, talking, just being. They’ve been good since he’s been back, she’s been good, and besides that kiss in the cab weeks ago, physical contact has been sparse and so far that’s been enough.
She tries so hard to not be that woman.
It rains on a Sunday in early November. Another business trip, another trip to Hudson and they’re alone, bodies flush against one another, swaying to a tempo they both seem to know. Rufus hums something near her ear, slow, classical with one hand in hers, the other on her hip, and she closes her eyes.
“We have to do something about this,” he says.
There’s a long exhale. “I know.”
Rufus’s lips skim the skin of her cheek, her lips. She sighs something lovely.
Later, she touches her fingers to her lips and remembers. Smiles.
Lily settles in for a long winter.