There's almost nothing off limits when you have money. The city-country-universe spreads beneath the van easily enough, Chuck’s hands hooked over the steering wheel with Nate beside him, feet on the dashboard, Serena and Blair pouring over records in the back. Blair is a creature of discerning taste, and will go nowhere close to the front seat when either boy is driving - she much prefers watching blue glare light up Serena’s features where she’s huddled with a laptop, or watching the world blur through the lace curtains pinned against the VW’s windows.
It’s the small moments that matter.
They are symbiotically bored and halfway to Kentucky to check out a money laundering scheme that doesn’t warrant leaving NYC (Chuck wanted sun, and Blair didn’t want a beach, and the compromise pleased no one) when Blair’s phone buzzes. Four missing paintings from a house on a hill, three missing daughters from eighty years ago and a maid crying with the resonance of the souls she claims they left behind.
When Blair smiles they all smile with her. Virginia is hardly far.
(It starts when they are children, and hide and seek is too common , but still holds some allure. Blair watches Serena hang on her mother’s long legs from her own mother’s shorter ones and both of them strain to hear the conversation. Later, when they relate the gossip to Nate, Chuck sneaks up behind them with his round eyes and slow smile and tells them how it ends.
The monster wins.
There they decide as a group that monsters, real or fake, don’t get to do that anymore. In the treehouse of the Bass summer estate, Blair takes out the decorative knife liberated from the dinner table and slices open the meaty bit of her palm.
“So we can swear.” She says, lower lip shaking, bloody hand held away from her periwinkle tutu. “So we’re bonded.”
Serena goes green at the sight of the blood, but when Chuck reaches for the knife next she snatches it from his hand. She and Blair hold their cut hands tightly together, and the boys do the same. They don’t have a name, yet. But the decision feels like a very big something. )
Blair likes order. Databases. Spreadsheets. She knows who your grandmother had an affair with in 1952 and she has four back up copies of the photographic proof. She has thumbdrives dusted with swarovski that sit on a platinum chain around her wrist.
Serena prefers action. Loose lips over mock-martinis and the veil of secrets shared. She can swath herself in fur and sit in a hotel bar, stare into a man’s eyes and watch him spill over; an outpouring of guilt and desire that makes him slump, defeated,not resisting when his wrists are cuffed together.
When a woman in Louisiana with teardrop pearls hanging from her long throat cries kidnap, Serena leans forward in her silk blouse, hair a golden cascade down her left shoulder and smiles. She says something quietly into the woman's ear, hair brushing that delicate throat, and Blair feels the woman’s brief inhale ring through her whole body.
She confesses, and it’s always the same, really.
Serena and her charming eyes and soft mouth enthrall the world and Blair sneaks up behind scavenging the ruins.
Serena is at her most stunning with a satisfied smile. Blair has her sit in the vee of her legs in the back of the van on the way back to Manhattan, curled close as their bodies will allow. She gathers up that wild hair and braids it into a fishtail to match Blair's own. Blair likes order. She prefers her things to match.
They get a call about leprechauns in Boston that makes Blair laugh so hard she loses her voice for an hour and can't look at the greasy food Nate is steadily plowing through without feeling decrepit inside.
They go, for an excuse to trail around Yale libraries like real young people must, and because when Jenny says things like I dare you, Blair is not one to forfeit.
The girl is terrible intel but knows every costumer in the country by both word of mouth and charm. Perhaps it's snobbery, but none of them affiliate with people who can't make a lasting impression. Jenny knows a fake by the state of an inseam better than even Blair's mother, and when she's staring at the interlocked arms of Blair and Serena, it looks like she might know Blair better, too.
When it's late and they're slumped in a hotel room as expensive as some college educations, Chuck plying everyone with alcohol and Nate on a call with a dealer from back home in the aid of networking, Jenny takes a long drink of champagne and kicks out her long legs on the silk bedsheets.
“Blair, I dare you to kiss me,” she says, smiling and startlingly sober.
Serena frowns, and Chuck makes a sound best described as cat-like, scratching his nails down Blair's bare shoulder. His cheer bleeds into an exaggerated moan when Blair leans in.
“You're getting good, little J,” Blair whispers against her mouth, breath tickling Jenny’s cheeks, Blair's Chanel no. 5 filtering every breath. “But I'm still better.”
When she leans back she burrows into Serena’s space, head tilted onto her shoulder. She doesn't move when Chuck bites Serena's neck, nor when Nate plays chicken with his hand on Blair's thigh.
She dares Jenny to kiss Serena, and strokes Serena's back until she relaxes, controlling the moment until it disappears.
They leave for Nevada the following morning, and Jenny stares at the state of the hotel room, wondering why she ever thought Boston would feel like home.
In Vegas, they make Blair wear glasses in the casino, trying to catch the attention of a croupier seducing first timers and pulling cons back at his hotel room. Blair did not volunteer. She looks up at them all from her place on the bed, blowing miserably at her hair where it’s resting on the black plastic frames.
“But you look so precious in them.” Serena tucks Blair's hair behind her ear and kisses the exposed skin of her cheek so softly Blair worries she's going to break.
“Impressionable,” Nate adds.
“Delectable,” Chuck concurs.
Blair fixes her glasses, fights the urge to wipe them on her $300 crushed velvet peasant shirt and tells them all to grab their furs, because they're all destined for the ninth circle.
Serena's flash goes off somewhere in the middle of the sentiment.
Somewhere on the Upper West (close to home but still just shy enough that none of them can work out if it feels better or worse) the four of them have been tracking a group of hustlers using old sleight of hand and confusion tricks to liberate people of their jewellery. It started after a wave of interest in magic within upper echelon parties, but the news rarely trickles down. Three men, identical masks, and six very quick hands.
There are dozens of magic groups making rounds through the debutant circuit at the time, and reluctantly, Serena suggests they call Dan.
(A while back, but not long enough for Blair to feel less animosity, Dan wrote an exposé called Monstrous Elite about Serena and Blair’s sordid family histories that Lily had stomped out before a publisher got their grimy fingers on it. Serena sought him out, after, Blair in tow, dying to know how he got so deep into their lives without them noticing. He told them he was good at blending in. Blair told him to keep it that way. In another universe he would have been recruited on the strength of this skill, an outsider eye into their insular world. In this one they are nothing like friends.)
Blair and Chuck vote a resounding no, and Nate sits on the fence, and Serena sighs deeply and slinks off to do it anyway.
Dan studies the information they have, cross-references it quicker than even Blair can entirely keep track of, and narrows it down to two gangs. Serena gathers up her satisfied smile again and Blair daydreams of murder.
(Later Jenny will call and ask about her brother and Blair will laugh falsely and hang up the phone.)
In the end, Dan shakes his two-dollar haircut and pawns them off to what he calls an ally, and Blair feels uneasy about it the whole ride there.
Seeing Georgina alleviates very little nausea. She holds her iPhone like most would hold a knife and she twists a slice of hair around a long, pale finger when the car draws up.
“We're like two blocks down from their club house,” Georgina breezes over to Serena and runs a hand through her hair. “You're welcome, princess.”
Serena holds Georgina by the wrist and they share a coded look, Serena's mouth in a tight line and Georgina's smile never wavering. Blair swallows venom back. If Dan is her enemy Georgina is her dark mirror, a periodic reminder of this is what you are in the dark. (Without her.)
They reconvene in the van, not the packing warehouse Georgina had them drive to, which makes her huff about wasted time and effort. Nate smiles sweetly as he slides the door shut in her face. “Members only, sorry.”
“Are we really doing this?” Serena wears her discontent on her face. “Trusting Georgina? She’s tried to ruin us all more times than I want to think about.”
“What’s a little slander between friends?” Chuck interjects. “And what choice do we really have?”
“Well,” Blair says. “We’re investigators. We should investigate.”
They find somewhere to wait for nightfall, a trashy diner a few miles shy of the warehouse complex where they pass around fries with matching grimaces and take turns huddling in the bathroom, switching into dark clothes. By the time they’re all ready it’s dark and quiet, but their target is lit up with floodlights. They stand huddling for warmth outside the van, lights and motor off. It's times like these that dropping the helicopter for the authenticity of the van seem most gratifying.
“What now?” Serena’s arms slip around Blair’s waist, her blonde head resting atop Blair’s dark one.
Chuck goes to open his mouth but Nate is already there, fixing his hair in the sideview mirror then glancing at them all in turn. “I say we split up and look for clues.”
Chuck nods and smiles wryly, digging into his pocket to procure a joint that he tucks behind his ear and a cracker he tosses into his mouth.
When they pass through Cali, Serena comes back from lunch with a short black skirt trimmed with a soft orange fur, which she hands to Blair with a gentle kind of smile like the one she gave boys when they were sixteen and knew much better but pretended not to, and Blair smiles back. The thing completely vile. Blair wears it near constantly for a month.
In Chicago they find themselves scattered across a dusty mansion with a haunting problem, each taking a different corner of the house.
Blair knows the plan is stupid, and proclaimed it as such for most of the ride over, but Nate refused to hear it and Chuck thought it amusing to screw with the radio every time she dared open her mouth. (Serena was asleep across Blair’s lap, and she murmured in her sleep whenever Blair’s voice rose to a whine.)
There are too many factors, already one dead butler, and it’s clearly too dangerous for them to be out of earshot of each other when all cell signals are blocked. Still, she wields the flashlight with an easy familiarity, catching sight of an extension cord and trailing it under a series of persian rugs until it leads her to a poorly disguised projector behind a plaster bust.
Finding it doesn’t mean much. She snaps a few pictures incase evidence is corrupted and goes to yell when a hand closes over her mouth, another around her throat.
“God,” a gruff, even, semi-familiar voice says. “I’m so tired of you fucking kids. ”
She bites him on the hand and kicks at his shins, screaming before his hand seals over her mouth again.
She loses grip on the flashlight before she gets her arm up to swing, but keeps struggling, only stopping when his hand squeezes tight around her throat, her last inhale pushed out before it reaches lungs.
She panics for a bright, sharp second as her chest flutters, then Blair is completely calm. Her insides are still and dreamy, and the fight falls away from her like sweat and she hardly notices the hands slip away from her in a flutter of gold and violet, the man falling with a mouth full of spit teeth.
(It took a Valentino heel to the spine and flashlight to the mouth to knock him out, and next time they are home Serena sends a gift basket to the Valentino offices thanking them for the durability of the arch.)
Serena’s hands curl around Blair’s biceps and haul her up. They grip each other for a long moment, Serena surveying Blair for damage when Blair surges forward to catch Serena’s mouth in a sharp, breathless little kiss that has them slumping together against the mansion wall, clinging. They are nails dug in skin and ruined lipstick and warmth pressing from one to the other.
Nate finds them like that half an hour later.
“Guys it’s the...um.”
“The butler we -” Blair coughs, hears her voice for the first time since the hands unclasped her neck and sighs. “Know.”
Serena strokes Blair’s hair, feels warm to the touch. “Get the cuffs from the van, and tell Chuck to call the cops. I’ll help her out of here when you get back.”
Blair slumps back and Serena takes her weight.
They go back to Manhattan for a month, after. Blair’s mother begs for therapy and her stepfather makes another play for late-admission at NYU. She smiles sweetly at the both of them and informs Tiffany’s she’s on her way in for something sparkling to distract from the bruises.
Serena stays with them for the first week home and most days after, curled around Blair’s waist like a tightly-sewn shadow. Serena spends one night tracing the faint outlines of Blair’s bruises then kissing each one as if to swallow the pain back for herself. She stretches out beside Blair and curls their bodies together so they fit (so they match.)
They fall asleep and wake just shy of symbiotically, filling waking breaths with each other to be sure their lungs work. Blair’s legs slip between Serena’s and they falter on the way to eachother’s mouths.
Serena stumbles down to breakfast in Blair’s silk dressing gown instead of her own, and Blair’s mother lowers her glasses on her nose and picks up the paper again, saying nothing. Blair reconsiders what her mother knows but keeps quiet, and promises to look at a therapy brochure when she has the time.
Serena holds her hand when they run back upstairs, pulling Blair into the en suite and running a bath.
They manage a month’s rest altogether, before they all turn half-feral with the boredom. Chuck has put on three pounds that he vows to eradicate and Nate’s projects have each steadily fallen apart without anyone looking over his shoulder forcing him to stick with it. Blair cannot take another minute looking at the same walls and the same stores and the same Agatha Christie novels that Serena has taken to stealing and dog-earing the pages, and Serena claims she may begin to lose her hair if she stays a single night more under her mother’s roof.
They’re on the road before sun-up; New Jersey’s werewolf problem a siren call to their need for stimulation. Their gas stop spills into a breakfast and that into group bonding in the back of the van until lunchtime shocks all of them awake where they’ve fallen, apart from Nate who promptly turns over and curls up.
Blair creeps up on him when Chuck and Serena make a vital coffee run and slips the plastic glasses over his eyes. She climbs into the front seat of the van and rests her legs on the dashboard until Serena pulls open the passenger door. Blair slips the cups into the holders and yawns. As her arms fall, she pulls Serena in by her silk scarf, tilting her face up for a kiss.
“Come on, gang,” Blair says, settling her hands on the steering wheel, the leather matching her suede driving gloves. “Mystery waits for no man.”