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I've never known what's good for me. - This Modern Love, Bloc Party

November 2016, Stars Hollow

Week 6

 

The pause is probably no more than a few seconds, but in her head it goes on forever.  

"Surprise," she manages a forced little smile. Her mother's eyebrows meet in a sudden frown. Oops. 

"Sorry," she says. "I just meant, it's an actual surprise, for us too." 

Lorelai tilts her head. 

"How did this happen? And do not pull some joke about birds and bees!" 

"I think you're mistaking me for you again." Rory says, but adjusts her tone, because it is her mother, and on her wedding day after all. "I don’t know, Doctor was a bit unclear on that, talked about the importance of keeping track of those expiration dates, which, granted, I may have gotten a bit lost on with everything that’s happened – and I’ve had so many – and she kept bringing up the small percentage of chance even on functioning devises. And to be honest I had a bit of trouble concentrating, my head was very busy at the time-" 

"And, this is it?" Lorelai interrupts. "You’re staying pregnant?" 

Rory looks up, taken by the question, even if the answer is- 

"Yes." The word bounces and echoes inside her. She’s known since yesterday afternoon, shared it with Jess for a few hours, they’ve even come to a wordless decision, but this is the first time she’s explicitly said it. Yes. She’s- They’re doing this. She’s going to be a mother.  

"Wow." 

"Yeah." 

Lorelai looks into the dawn. Takes a breath. 

"So, grandma Lorelai." 

"Yeah." 

"Mommy Rory." 

"Yeah." 

"Daddy Jess. Surreal." Lorelai looks back at her. "What does he say about this?" 

"Not much. We haven’t really had time to discuss it, I broke the news to him when I was picking him up tonight." 

"Please tell me this wasn’t the first time you grazed the subject." There's distinct concern in Lorelai's voice now. 

"It wasn’t." She reassures. "But still. We’ve talked in terms of maybe someday, so… It’s good there’s a gestation period." 

Lorelai runs her hand through her hair, possibly to prevent her head from overheating. Rory waits. 

"Rory, we have to talk about this further, but I- I suddenly really need my bed." 

"Mom, I’m sorry to tell you now, today, I just couldn’t bear keeping it from you." 

"It’s okay." Lorelai reaches out and grabs her hand, meets her eyes and produces a calming smile.  

She knows her mother's strong feelings regarding this. When you build your own identity around something unforeseen it's bound to breed inner conflict. Her mother loves herself, but is angry with herself, her young self for being stupid, her older self for not being able to shake that feeling. Her mother loves her, the not so little mistake, and wants to make sure that mistake turns out to be anything but that, the opposite, a success, a big I told you so, destiny, meant-to-be, intentional, redemption. Her mother is afraid of her getting pregnant. Sure, she's thirty-two by now, but old habits die hard.  

"And you're positive you wanna do this? There are options." 

She tells herself it doesn't matter, it's a gut-reaction, Lorelai knows better. 

"Mom, I don't have a pro/con-list to back up my decision, but I don't intend to make one, and for me to not do that... I felt like that was sort of answer enough for me."  

Lorelai nods.  

"I know the timing isn’t optimal-" Rory goes. 

"But when is it ever?" Lorelai finishes. 

Rory just stares at her. Luke and Jess gets back and Lorelai gets up.  

"We should go home," she says. 

"What about the coffee?" Luke says. 

"Some might say drinking coffee in the middle of the night is bad for your sleep." 

"Oh geez." Luke sighs, but turns and carries the tray back to the diner. 

Jess looks after him, then between Rory and Lorelai, and raises his eyebrows in quiet recognition. Lorelai shoots him a tired little smile. 

"Lorelai-" he starts but she interrupts. 

"Jess, can we just... wait? Do this later?" 

"Of course." He responds. 

Luke returns and Lorelai sticks her arm under his and starts walking home. Rory and Jess remain standing. 

"We'll be there in a bit," Rory throws after them and Lorelai raises a hand without looking back. She sighs and turns to Jess who squints at her. 

"You okay?" 

She lets out a short, silent laugh. 

"Yeah," she starts slowly, while leaning her forehead on his shoulder. "It was just, a bad time for it. I mean, I'm having trouble thinking of a time when she wouldn't be conflicted about it, but it was a specifically bad time for it today." 

"And if you hadn't told her now she would have been upset about that." 

"I know." 

He puts his palm to her jaw, fingers squeezing her neck. A shiver runs down her spine and with the pleasure she feels exhaustion.  

"Okay, we better get going if I wanna avoid falling asleep standing." 

He nods and drags his hand down her arm, grasping her hand and starts walking. They've left the square when he speaks again. 

"How far along is it?" 

"'Bout six weeks. Early. It could still- The risk of miscarrying is a thing, will be 'til week twelve, apparently." 

"Okay. So-" 

"So, we don't tell anyone else, 'til we know it's definitely happening." 

"Right." He presses his lips together and starts gesturing before speaking. "You are aware that the biggest social event in years ’round here is happening today?" 

"So?" 

"So," he starts with a smile, "you're a terrible liar. How are you gonna pull this off?" 

She glares at him. 

"I can keep quiet!" 

"Right." 

"I can!" 

"Ten bucks says everyone knows by tomorrow." 

"You're on mister!" She shakes his hand, marking the bet.


 

Once they arrive at the house Luke and Lorelai have already retired to their upstairs bedroom. They go straight to bed and as soon as he's on his side facing her she's seemingly struggling to keep her eyelids up. His mind is still wide awake though and he feels the need to fill the silence with words for once. 

"So, anything more I should know?" He asks. 

"Right now?" She mumbles. 

"Yeah." 

"Nothing of relevance that I can think of." 

"How about anything of irrelevance?" 

She smiles suddenly, endearingly, her eyes glimmering. 

"Okay; It has a heartbeat, I got to see it on an ultrasound, it looked like ripples on the water, like from a leaky faucet. And it's no bigger than an ant, and kind of looks like admiral Ackbar, who is an alien, and the choice of the color green makes much more sense now." She yawns on her last words. 

He smiles briefly at her enthusiasm and Star Wars reference, shaking his head at the incoherence of the rest. She frowns. 

"Are you okay?" She asks. 

He hasn't thought about it and when she asks he knows why. It's too much. 

"I'm fine, Ror. I mean, I guess there's processing to do, but not now. Let's just get through today, okay?" 

He strokes her cheek and she smiles at the reassurance. 

He does try to fall asleep, but his head won't stop spinning, and once he gives up and opens his eyes, she's sleeping. He observes her resting face in the morning light, puts his forehead to hers in a vain hope of absorbing her brainwaves to get to sleep. It obviously doesn't work.  

He gets up and leaves the room. Locates his bag in the kitchen and rummages through it until he finds a pack of cigarettes. He pours some cold coffee from yesterday and heats it in the microwave. The best way to tire himself out is to act as if he's doing the opposite. Who needs sleep anyway? He walks outside and sits down on the edge of the porch, lighting a cigarette and drinking the coffee. The air is cold, and he shivers slightly. 

The door behind him opens with a creak, and he straightens his back, collecting himself as best he can before turning around. It's Luke, in pajama-pants, t-shirt, slippers and a flannel robe over everything. He takes a few aimless steps and throws his arms around himself. Looks at Jess and shoots him a sort of jocular smile. Walks over and sits down next to him. 

"What are you doing up?" Jess asks pointedly.  

"I'm getting married today, I'm a bit antsy, sue me." Luke says. Then he leans against Jess in a gentle shove. "Bet I don't need to ask what your excuse is. I hear congratulations are in order." 

"Yeah. Can we save it for later though?"  

"Sure," Luke goes slowly. He reaches out with surprising speed and snatches the cigarette from Jess’s hand, stubbing it out on the side of the steps. 

"Geez." Jess sighs. 

"Hey! You gotta start taking care of yourself now." Luke lectures. "That's what happens when you spawn, apparently. They're not really viable for the first, say, 18 years, that's when you gotta be behind the wheel." 

"This isn't exactly a regular occurrence." 

"Then why bother at all?" 

"Never mind." He shakes his head. 

"Unless it's what you do when you're freaking out," Luke goes on. 

"Drop it."  

There's a devious pause making him think they've moved on, but, of course that is just Luke taking aim. 

"Do you not want this?" 

Jess turns to face him. 

"How can you ask that?" 

"Well, it looks a bit like-" 

"I know what it looks like." He mumbles. "Look, just forget about it." 

"Yeah, fat chance." 

Luke will hold onto this, before he's even had the chance to actually think about it himself. He falls back on the truth. Rushes to get it out. 

"I’m with her. No matter the circumstances. I'm not walking away." His words curdle against his intent, don't sound right. 

"Well then." Luke says, possibly ready to let it go. 

"It's not this. It's me." He tries again. "What if I can't- What if it's like one of those hereditary diseases that are triggered at a certain point? What if no amount of resolutions does it?" He can't muster speaking plainly, but Luke seems to get it anyway. 

"Listen, I've been meaning to tell you this for a while, but you've had it together for such a long time, figured you cracked the code yourself." Luke turns to him and puts a finger to his chest. "Here it is: He left the both of you. He's not a proxy or model for you in any way. His behavior is not a blueprint for anything. He's a just a man who made a terrible decision, nothing more. Fatalism is bullshit. Astrology makes more sense, and that's sayin' something. You inherit bad genes, not bad decisions. You never lived up, or down, or sideways to anyone's expectations, why start now?" He pauses, probably the most he's spoken this month. Jess tries looking away, because it's way too close to home for it to be comfortable, but Luke won't let him off the hook, won't break eye contact, keeps speaking. "And you listen to me: You get this way again you call me, you come see me, you hear? I'll remind you.” He finally turns away, looks out across the garden instead. ”And, you know, get educated. You got nine months, and you’re a fast reader. By the time the kid gets here you’ll be one of those annoying know-it-all parents who’ll drive everyone crazy." 

Jess chuckles. 

"Promise?" 

"You already got the last part down." 

"Thanks." 

"You're welcome. Now go to bed. My guess is you should try to really enjoy sleep the coming months. While you can." 

"Thanks." 

"You're welcome." 

"Okay." Jess gets up. "You too?" 

"Alright, in a bit." Luke remains sitting. "See you in a few hours." 

He walks back inside, into the bathroom, takes a shower and brushes his teeth, before getting back into bed with her. It's easier drifting off now, his body warm and his uncle's words resounding in his head. 

 

It turns out showering at that time was a pretty solid choice, he did it to get rid of the smell of cigarettes, but the boiler only has two warm showers in it at a time which means that when everybody gets up hours later the groom winds up gets stuck with a cool one. 

"Shouldn't be a problem, we all know you love those outdoorsy cold showers." Jess quips when his uncle grumbles over the prospect, and Lorelai and Rory giggle when Luke's swearwords leak through the bathroom-door. 

Apart from that the four of them are, perhaps appropriately, unusually silent, that morning, or noon, if aiming to be correct.  

A while later Lorelai and Rory prepares to leave. 

"We gotta go!" Lorelai goes and hands Rory a box with make-up hair-products. "We gotta meet up with Paris before we go to Patty's." She exits the door and Jess walks up to Rory who's lingering by the door, seemingly reluctant to leave. 

"She invited Paris?" He asks. 

"She said she wasn't taking any chances." 

"Clever woman." He presses a kiss to her lips and she holds onto him for a few moments more than usual.  

"Sweet child o' mine!" Lorelai hoots from the outside and Rory pulls back, eyes vulnerable. He smiles at her, puts his forehead to hers and shoves her gently toward the door. 

"I will see you later." 

"I just-" she starts. 

"I know." He responds. 

She smiles back at him and leaves. 

He and Luke leave a little while later making their way to the center of the town. Even on his wedding day, Luke can't stay away from the diner, and disappears inside, for whatever reason. The town square looks slightly more real in daylight, the only trace of last night’s adventures is an empty champagne bottle on the gazebo floor. Jess picks it up and brings it into the diner where he exchanges it for a box of full ones. He carries it out to a table next to the gazebo, where he starts preparing an ice bucket and the bottles for opening. Michel is placing glasses on the table. He’s the toast master and already wound very tight. 

"Are you sure you're speaking?" He asks pointedly. 

"Yup." Jess has learned from their brief interactions in preparation for the wedding that Michel will be annoyed no matter what you do, so he doesn't waste words. 

"Because if aren't now would be the time to tell me." 

"I'm the best man, it's probably weird if I skip it." 

"That title is questionable. But I'm letting you know that if you're going to back out you should do it now." 

"Not backing out." 

"Fine!" Obviously not fine. "But I have to cut everybody's speaking time to five minutes and if you are up there longer than that I will physically remove you myself." 

"You will try," he corrects him. "But it won't be necessary, it's unlikely that it'll take more than two minutes. Now get off my back." 

Michel all but growls, but gets back to lining up the glasses. Jess glances at him, slightly amused despite everything. Can't help himself. 

"The ones you should worry about Patty and Babette, and Taylor. You give any of them the mic you'll never see it again." 

Michel pales. 

"That's why you're on my case, correct? You're scared of Patty." 

"I am not scared of anyone." 

"Whatever." 

The guests start arriving soon after that and flock around the table. They have hired help for the event but they are busy preparing the food and he did volunteer to do this. Partly to serve his post as best man in any way available since Luke is being impossible, but maybe mostly because serving is a great way to navigate and be let out of awkward social interactions. This way he avoids getting trapped in Babette's and Patty's net of everlasting gossip and reminiscing, or Taylor's and Emily's more or less passive aggressive questioning. 

Another bonus is keeping busy. Every moment his thought isn't with his current actions he senses the vertigo. The enormousness of it; the embodiment of future, their projectile, and in turn everything that they- that he himself has done to enable this. It helps when she appears, all dolled up. It's so easy to transform his worries to resolve when she's around. Being strong for her is easier every day, but it does require her presence. She walks up to his table and smiles at him, partly flirty, but with a fair share fragility. He sneaks her a glass of sparkling cider and winks at her. 


 

For the dinner and following reception they're using Miss Patty's studio. Long tables have been placed pointing to the stage where the honorary table is, with seats all facing the guests. Lorelai and Luke are seated in the middle with Jess and Rory flanking them, and Emily and Michel on the outer chairs. 

"The best man." Michel announces.  

He's all charm as the master of ceremonies and has already introduced Emily standing in for Richard to toast the bride and groom. She in turn held a short but gracious speech, a perfect homage to her beloved etiquette, but with real warmth and eyes glittering. Finally.  

Rory's already feeling a bit wobbly and fears it won't get easier. 

Jess stands up and accepts the mic from Michel. He looks focused as he addresses the room and Rory smiles at that, knowing how uncomfortable he is up there. 

"Anyone who knows me knows this isn't my thing. But sometimes you gotta do stuff like that. And I learned that from you." He points to Luke. "I also learned that there was sort of an austere joy in doing things that you didn't deem you were up for, from you too I should add. Especially when you are doing them for someone you care about. Then you don't really need anything in return." While speaking he keeps his eyes on his notes. It's likely he doesn't need them, but that they provide a different kind of support.  

"And you didn't teach me this by telling me, or demanding I did it, but by being that kind of person yourself. You were when you let me stay with you, or when you helped Liz getting hitched on no notice, or when you threw a goodbye-party for Rory. And you were that kind of person in all the things that you did for Lorelai during the years. And I wanna thank you, for teaching me that, because it has bettered my life." He's never spoken about the way Luke is, and the influence he's had so openly. So, not looking at his uncle while saying the words might be necessary to be able to get through it. Rory looks to Luke and he's wearing the exact same concentrated look as his nephew. She laughs quietly.  

"It takes a lot of work to live that way, since you rarely see results, but according to Kirkegaard, life can only be understood backwards, even though you have to live it forwards." She smiles, leave it to him to quote an existentialist on a wedding. "Of course, not needing anything in return doesn't mean you don't wish for it, sometimes. So, I'm, in no austere way, joyful, when it’s clear today that you are getting it. Lorelai, thank you too, for everything." 

As he finishes his speech he looks to Lorelai, she smiles, and holds up her glass to him. It's first then that he looks at Luke, who's eyes are warm and a bit shiny. But his facial expression is grim. The two of them look at each other and Luke shakes his head and points his index finger at Jess, who smiles and shrugs. 

"Sorry." 

Luke stands up, steps behind Lorelai's chair and hugs him firmly. 

It's her time to speak, but she's more than a bit shaky. She hums to herself lowly to try to stabilize her voice without succeeding. She hasn't been able to decide on a firm structure for her speech, whenever she's tried sewing it together in one place a seam has burst open somewhere else. It's funny, she hasn't been nervous about it until now, when she realizes it's time. This is happening. She stops an unidentified sound from bursting out of her mouth. She takes the mic, closes her eyes for a few beats, and goes: 

"I know I- we, have a well-earned reputation of being a tad chatty, but for this... I've tried, but there are just no words in the english language good enough for this. I'm sorry.” Her voice breaks and she looks at Lorelai. ”Mom-” 

Lorelai gets up abruptly, and Rory hurries over to her where they just grab onto each other's arms. They stare at each other for a moment. Lorelai looks like she feels; moved, lips pressed together in a trembling smile, teary eyes, and she realizes she mirrors the expression. Something between a sob and an excited laugh bursts through her mouth, and then the two of them start skipping in the spot, giggling uncontrollably.  

A sharp whistle cuts through the air and Babette's on her feet, along with Patty and Morey and the three of them start an applaud that quickly ripples throughout the room. She hugs her mom and the two of them sway in place while the cheering subsides.  

"Thank you!" She manages and raises her glass. 

She feels increasingly relaxed as the evening progresses. It's just a natural high from seeing everybody she loves the most, happy and content. The newlyweds' shenanigans ensue with two flash mobs, one elegant and snappy featuring Lorelai, that makes the guests applaud and scream like at a rock-concert, and one so awkward with Luke at the front that has the guests crying with laughter; it's almost better in its monumental awfulness, she lies across Luke's empty chair, against her mother trying to handle their mutual spasms, and Jess, who would've participated under no circumstances, sits, face in his hands, shoulders shaking. 

After the numbers, tables are moved and it's time to open the dance floor. Rory regroups with Lane, Paris has had to leave to relieve the baby-sitter. Lane is ecstatic since she and Zack have an adult's night out and Mrs. Kim has taken the boys home after the ceremony. She skips in the spot and chats incessantly, a bit too high-paced for her blood alcohol level.  

"Oh my god!" She exclaims as the intro to Our Lips Are Sealed rolls out, and her skipping transforms do distinctly more dance-like moves, and Rory laughs.   

A few beats into the song there's a tap at her shoulder and Jess slips his hand around her waist and pulls her with him out on the dance floor. 

"Sorry Lane." He shoots at her friend mid-motion. 

"There's nothing to be sorry about." Lane shouts back. "Nothing! I'm going for drinks!" 

He keeps them close together and moves modestly to the music. But still. She smiles at him.  

"Are you dancing out of your own free will or has Miss Patty put a spell on you?" She jokes. 

"The Go-Go's." He simply says. 

"I remember." She responds. 

They look at each other for a second, and then he kisses her. With the memory fresh in mind it's what time-traveling must be like, except this didn't happen back then. But she wanted it to. God. It would be stupid not to admit that now. She keeps kissing him and loses herself to that and for several moments the world is an alternate dimension, a really nice one.  

Someone clears their throat pointedly and it's Lane returning along with Sookie who's apparently been recruited to carry drinks.  

"I tried for a Sex On The Dance Floor but apparently they only have the Beach-kind." Lane says and sticks out her tongue at them.  

Sookie giggles. 

"We went for the ones with the freakiest names. Fuzzy Navel, Monkey Brain, Dances with Wenches – no offense." She says and distributes glasses to Rory, Jess and Zack who's joined them seemingly out of nowhere. "Hey, what's the plural for drinks? A gaggle, a pride, a pod?" 

"A cauldron." Rory offers. 

"A parade!" Lane hoots. 

"A collective." Zack says. 

"Obviously a party." Jess finishes and reaches out his glass. 

"Whatever it is this is it!" Sookie says and they clank their glasses together. 

Rory almost sips the drink before remembering. She moves the glass from her lips in what she hopes isn't a too swift a motion and feels Jess's grip tighten around her when he too returns to reality. 

"Actually, I think I’ve had enough." She backpedals. 

"No, you haven’t!” Lane objects. "Did you even have champagne at the Gazebo?” 

Rory’s just about to respond when Sookie jerks her arms from her body in a jagged gesture, almost knocking the drink from her grip. 

”Oh my god you’re pregnant!” Sookie hoots, her voice faltering at the last word, probably as the insight of the multitude of social faux pas of her exclamation sinks in. Lane's eyes widen in recognition as Rory tries shushing them with a finger and at the same time going for an apologetic smile to her friend without giving it away to the people around them, among others her grandmother standing just a few feet away. But it’s too late and Emily turns toward them, chock evident on her face. Her conversational partner is none other than miss Patty, who's eyes gleam with her own brand of hunger. 

Shoot. Oh, who is she kidding? This situation definitely calls for a real profanity. Shit. 

”Sookie!” Rory says, placating, patronizing, in an effort to avert disaster. But even now, she can't bring herself to flat out lie, even if it would really come in handy. No matter what Jess says, she's not a terrible liar - just when she's tried hiding things from him - but her experience is that it works best if she's lied to herself first. And that is not an option at this point. Sookie does her best to play along though. 

"Oh, just, never mind me, you know how I am, I see babies everywhere!" Her voice wavers at the word babies, and she tries another tactic, turns to Lane. "How many glasses is that again, at least five, right?" 

"I'd say six," Lane replies deadpan, a skilled deceiver, her panic only visible to her best friend. "We'd better get you some coffee." 

With that they wobble away, Sookie overdoing it a bit for show. She glances at Jess who returns her look warily, but not without a dash of humor in the twitch of his mouth. Bastard. And she looks back at Emily who's looking far from convinced and takes a step in their direction. 

"Do you want me here or gone?" Jess asks in a sharp mumble, his lips barely moving. Her thoughts scramble before settling on it being better if he doesn't witness her in such a potentially mortifying situation, him having seen enough of those. And Jess Mariano is no match for Emily Gilmore anyway, in neither this nor most other situations. 

"Go go go." She whispers in return. "Go talk to my mom." 

He nods at her, raises his glass quickly at Emily, and twirls in the spot walking off. 


 

Lorelai isn't hard to spot, perched on her assigned chair at the honorary table raised a few significant inches above the rest of the room. He climbs it and approaches her.  

"Hi." 

"Hi." 

"Where's Luke?" 

"Off dancing with some young brunette," Lorelai says casually and gestures to the edge of the room where Luke's dancing with April. Jess smiles, then turns back to Lorelai, hesitating for a second before speaking. 

"Can I sit? I promise not to mention the war." 

She chuckles. 

"Deal." 

He takes a seat. This must be Taylor's view at those meetings. He looks at Rory and Emily in the middle of the room, exchanging words, and then hastily turning and walking out of the locale. 

"What's going on over there?" Lorelai asks. 

"Oh, uhm, Emily caught whiff of the fact that Rory isn't having any alcohol. Rory's trying to contain it." 

"Wow. Good luck with that." 

"That's what I said." 

"Well, we are both insightful people." 

"And very helpful." 

"On that note - Should I go help?" 

"Actually, Rory sent me your way so I guess that means she wants us out of it." 

"Okay, but god knows why. Just think of all the helpful help I could provide." Lorelai says mostly to herself, even giggles a little. Jess looks at her more directly. She seems comfortable in her chair, hair a bit messy under her hat, small smile on her lips while watching her guests, and her arm slung over the armrest with a glass of champagne. 

"You seem happy," he says. "Are you having a good wedding?"  

She looks at him and her smile broadens.  

"I am. I think it helps that it was actually last night. Now, nothing can go wrong. It's very relaxing." 

"I'm glad." 

"Rejoice while you have a choice, the risk of my daughter coming back with an ultimatum of a shotgun-wedding are extraordinarily high." 

He would say something clever if he wasn't struck by the severity of the statement. Instead he takes a sip from his glass. 

"Oh, god!" Lorelai mutters. "Look at me getting started all on my own." 

"It's alright," he says. 

"No, I think you better skedaddle before you make my brain start working again. I'm taking this day to only consider this day. Tomorrow I'll get started on nine months from now."  

"Okay," he says. "I'll go refill the bar."  

He gets up and walks past her. He reaches out and squeezes her shoulder briefly, but when he tries pulling his hand back, she's grabbed onto it, holding it and him in place. She twists her neck to face him. 

"It'll be fine, Jess. It's just a bit chaotic right now, but trust me, it'll work out, I am an expert on this particular kind of chaos, after all." 

"Okay," he says and she rolls her eyes, making him add: "Thank you." 

"You're welcome." She lets go of his hand, and he moves on.  


 

"Is there any truth to this, Rory?" Emily asks as soon as she deems the distance to anyone else acceptable. Of course, she doesn't know this town like Rory does. Miss Patty might keep her distance but she's obviously still listening. 

"Can we talk about this somewhere else?" She proposes, apparently giving everything away at that. 

"Oh my god!" Emily goes. 

"Please, grandma." She grabs Emily's hand and leads her away from the dance floor, towards the exit, trying not to rush. The stairs outside the locale is cluttered with people too, so she continues across the road, heading for the town square. Emily stops. 

"That's far enough young lady," she says. "A secret is as good as out if you're too thorough hiding it." 

Rory looks back to miss Patty's just to see the silhouette of the miss herself in the light of the entrance. Too far for earshot. She still turns so that they're both facing away from the studio. She puts her arm around her grandmother, so they seem more like a private party out for a walk.  

"I'm pregnant," she admits. 

"Thank you," Emily says, without any real gratitude. 

"I wasn't not telling you, it's just really early and we didn't wanna say anything in case-" 

"That's fine," Emily interrupts, in that tone of hers that makes it seem as though it really isn't. Rory feels bad before she can help it. She has to force the feeling off. She knows she's in the right, in theory. You always feel like you owe Emily Gilmore more than you can give her. She takes a breath. Emily continues. 

"Well, this is hardly the place to discuss this further. You and Jess, it is his baby I assume-" 

"Of course it is." She allows some sharpness into her voice, but Emily gives no indication that she hears it. 

"-must come to dinner, so we can talk about this." 

Rory stifles a sigh, feeling stupid that she didn't consider that this would be everybody else's business. 

"Sure, I'll give you a call in a few days." 

Emily actually looks pleased at this. Her expression goes from sternness to something resembling euphoria within a minute. 

"Congratulations, darling," she says, and gives Rory a squeeze with the arm around her waist. "A child. It's a blessing." 

"Thanks for saying," Rory smiles. "It wasn't exactly planned." 

Emily rolls her eyes and prims her mouth. 

"Never mind that now. A child is a new chapter. A chance to start fresh. A cause to celebrate." Her expression changes as she speaks, she looks younger, hopeful. Turns to Rory and smiles. "Oh, I'm thrilled! I get to be there!" She stops, and hugs her. As she pulls back she even skips a little. Rory laughs at the unusual sight. "And just imagine! A naming! Another wedding!" 

Rory goes cold at this turn that she should have seen coming a mile away. 

"Uhm, grandma-" she starts, but Emily has already put some distance between them and started walking briskly back towards miss Patty's. She turns around to Rory and blows her a kiss. Sneaky. 

Emily passes Jess on her way in, reaches out and brushes her hand across his arm as they pass each other. Rory drops the whole thing. She too tired now anyway. For another time. Jess approaches her and she sighs. She pulls up her tiny purse hanging from a golden chain over her shoulder, opens it and pulls out a ten-dollar bill. She slaps it into his hand as soon as he's within reach. 

"Cork it," she says. 

He puts the bill into his pocket, grabs her neck and pulls her into a tender kiss. The tension falls from her shoulders, and she drops thoughts of Emily in the same wave of relief. 

 

They fall into bed. She's about to close her eyes when she feels his fingers on her face, pushing a strand of hair out of the way. He looks pale, tired, but eyes intent as they wander over her face, forehead to mouth. 

"I’d do it, if you want me to, you know." 

"What?" 

"Marry you." 

She's twenty-two and her college-boyfriend, who she loves, proposes in front of her entire family. Talk about a union of souls, plural. What's the plural for that? A murmuration. A congregation. An ambush. A mob. She’s caught by surprise and does the brave thing: asks for time to consider it, even if everybody has already approved it. It’s hard to be real about it, with the ring and the storybook dreams every girl is brought up on, they always have that option and that option is always okay. And she does love him. But she doesn’t think that’s relevant right now. Everything she’s worked for, for years, it’s all in front of her. When she imagined it, marriage was never part of it. In her dreams of being married, to Logan, she’s older, and possibly, eerily, like Emily Gilmore. But that’s just the way her mind works; It’s dramatic, and weird, and will ruin everything if she lets it. So, she says the most well-intentioned no, thank you, but maybe later, please, when we’ve lived, and I don’t want this to be the end, I want to see how it ends. But he ends it. And if she didn’t understand grand gestures before, either way, she does now. 

She's thirty-two and it's anything but a grand gesture. It's an offer, a solution, a shotgun gone to someone's head. 

She laughs, loudly, it transitions into a yawn. She shakes her head. 

"Yeah right." 

She closes her eyes smiling and drifts off. 

Chapter Text

I've got this feeling that your floor is my ceiling. - Dark Horse, Deportees.

December 2016 Hartford
Week 12

They're just about to wrap their meeting up when he breaks the news. They're in Matt's living room, where they've met up mostly since Katey gave birth to their daughter, two months ago. It's messy, the new family still hasn't figured out a placement that works for their furniture, and there are boxes and bags of baby-stuff that Katey's older sister, the mother of three, has passed on to the new family member. It's noisy, the baby is an intense, angry little thing with colic, which means she's been wailing in her pacing mother's arms for the better half of their meeting.

In other words, timing could be better. But the pregnancy has passed the magic twelve-week-line that lowers the risk of miscarriage significantly. And they agreed that the time to tell people outside their immediate circle is now. It's especially important when it comes to Matt and Chris. They've already adjusted the work load to accommodate Matt's new fatherhood, and now apparently, Chris is going to have to become Superman.

He reacts to the news like you would expect a person to under the circumstances; in an apartment with a crying baby, an annoyed mother, midst a mess of a new family, foot out the door, relief within reach; with a tight smile, raised eyebrows and hesitant tone on his voice, betraying the fresh awareness of more responsibility to come.

"Congratulations."

Matt on the other hand;

"Yeah! That's great! I'm so happy for you! The both of you! Katey! Jess and Rory are having a baby!" He shoots off to the hallway where Katey is marching off and on with their daughter, and she returns the statement with dampened 'Yay!'. "How's Rory doing?"

"Uhm, she's fine," Jess starts, a bit impatiently and turns his attention back to Chris who stares all but wide-eyed on Matt who in turns seems completely unaffected by their situation. "Listen, Chris," he starts, "we don't have to do this now. I just had to make sure you knew. We can deal with it later."

Chris nods clearly relieved, and starts gathering his things. Matt looks between the two of them incredulously.

"Woah. You are going about this all wrong. This isn't a problem, it's a cause for celebration!"

"Hey, buddy," Chris goes, "I don't wanna say that I completely disagree with you, but maybe that we can push further negotiations on the subject 'til, say, next week."

"You're a drag, but fine. Run away, little boy."

Chris flips him off but gets up and hurries out of the apartment with just a quick bye to Katey and the baby. Jess starts collecting the different sheets of paper spread across the table.

"Hey man, don't listen to him, babies freak him out."

Jess is pretty sure that it might just be Matt's baby in combination with change, that freaks Chris out, and he doesn't blame him, of course that's a thought he keeps to himself. Matt may be a clueless about Chris' distaste but he's still the only friend that's also a father, and that Jess feels comfortable asking for advice.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Sure." Matt looks as pleased as he sounds.

"How do you do this? I mean, it's not as if you can take paid leave or anything."

"Oh, don't worry 'bout that. You'll work a little less s'all. And the baby-bit is cake. It comes naturally."

Katey's still pacing in the hallway, and the baby's still crying. Jess struggles to concentrate, while Matt seems unfazed by the situation, probably from habit.

"Really?" He's distinctly skeptical.

"Yeah."

"But what about work load around here?"

A first hint of hesitance is visible in Matt's face, but he quickly covers it up.

"It's... functioning." His tone is confident, but not his pace, he turns to the hallway. "I don't know, Katey, work's pretty fairly distributed 'round here, right?"

"Piss off, Matt!" Comes Katey's tired and sharp voice from the hallway. Matt turns back to Jess, apologetic smile on his lips.

"Maybe we could work on a few areas."

Jess chuckles, and drops it for the time being. He shoves the papers into his bag.

"That's my cue to leave too, I think. I gotta get going if I wanna make it to Connecticut before tonight."

"That's right, you had that dinner with your mother in-law?"

"Grandmother in-law, and technically not my in-law."

"No, just in every way that matters." Matt snorts.

"Apparently those pieces of paper make a difference to some people." Jess says. "Think about how we should work this out and we'll talk about it in a week, 'kay?"

"Alright."

"Finally!" Katey walks into the room and hands the baby to Matt. "Tag. You're it."

"Oh, come on!" Matt hoots.

"My arm's asleep and I need to use the bathroom." She's already out the room at the end of her sentence.

Matt looks helplessly at Jess, probably concerned that he's not promoting parenthood properly. Jess smiles reassuringly at him, it's a thing he does more and more these days, acting as a stabilizer. Who knew? Matt nods in relief, and Jess heads for the hallway. Slips into his coat and is about to open the door.

"Hey Jess," Katey says from behind him. He twists sideways to see her. She looks tired, but smiles at him. "My sincere congratulations."

"Thank you," he says, still with his hand on the door-knob. She opens her mouth and hesitates for about a second before speaking, quickly when she starts, as if it's the only way to keep his interest.

"Matt’s great, he just has his head in the clouds regarding all this. His parents-" she pauses "–his mother, made it look too easy. From what I gather you won’t have that problem, but I figured you wanted actual advice, not just reassurance?"

Jess doesn't know her that well. She was never one of the guys, just turned up and turned their world over when Matt dived into his first serious relationship. He likes her well enough though, she's well-read, usually a true extrovert, and with the right combination of bossy and independent, but they've never had a truly personal conversation. He puts that away though, and accepts her offer anyway, building relationships seems to be as much about accepting help as it is about bringing something to the table.

"Yes," he says, letting go of the door and turning toward her. She smiles a bit stiffly at him.

"Always do half at home. No bullshit, no bargaining. And then do more, ’kay?" She looks away while speaking. "’Cause there’ll be things she won’t be able to opt out of, like, she’ll carry, and birth the baby, and maybe nurse it too, so the areas where you can choose to be equal, just; do more."

She looks back at him and he nods at her to confirm her words. She returns the move while weighing from foot to foot.

"I gotta go before I pee myself," she whines apologetically. "Give my love to Rory."

"Will do," he smiles at her. "See ya."


 

Lorelai is driving while Rory's struggling with motion sickness. Alright, supposedly morning sickness, but it's not exclusively in the mornings so she has problems accepting the established term. She pinches her lips together. Seriously, why call it that? Why not gestation-sickness? Fetus-nausea? Or existential frickin' vertigo?

"Do you need me to stop the car?"

Rory pulls down the window a few inches and breaths in the cold, winter-air.

"No." She manages. "Keep going. I'm fine."

"You sure about that? 'Cause you look exactly like the kind of fine you said you were when you were thirteen and got the stomach-flu all over the back seat."

"Great." Rory growls. "Now you have to stop the car."

Lorelai halts the vehicle to the curb and Rory all but falls out of it, leans over the rail and vomits. Lorelai exits the car as well and stands next to her handing her a napkin after a while. She uses it, turns and sits on the rail next to her mother. Shivers slightly from the convulsions and the cold.

"This pregnancy thing sure is a kick in the head, huh?"

"Sure is. Well, between the nausea and exhaustion and the clinginess-"

Lorelai raises an eyebrow.

"I'm having some serious separation-issues." Rory admits, adjusts. "More now. I blame the kid."

"Might as well start early."

"And I hear it gets worse. And then there's the birth, which is supposed to be an epic ass-kicking even when you get into the heavy drugs. And then to top it off, the reward: parenting itself, is apparently just leveling up."

Lorelai pats her on the head.

"I wouldn't worry about the parenting bit."

"Yeah right."

"No, I'm serious!" Lorelai insists. "I never knew how to deal with my parents, but with you... things just came naturally. We lived so closely, and no one ever came between us so..."

Lorelai falls silent and looks at her, wary all at once. Rory thinks the same thing. It was just the two of them, no wonder, right? But it won't be just Rory and her baby, there'll be Jess too, and it strikes her that this, she is not prepared for. When she's imagined parenthood she pictured herself alone, assumed she would be. Not necessarily because there wouldn't be a guy, a father, it's just that in her visions of herself as a mother he wasn't around. And the implications of that are now apparent; Where she came from, where she might be headed.

Except, Jess is in her life, and seems determined to stay there. Maybe it's herself she should worry about. Maybe it's all some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Her father's absence has been one of the great sorrows of her life. But the greatest joys have also stemmed from it; her grandparents unwavering loyalty to her, her mother's love and friendship. She admits to herself that the tight relationship between her and Lorelai has caused its fair share of issues during the years, but it has all been worth it. Rory wants that same thing for herself and her baby, but at what cost?

She knows a lot about parenthood, but nothing of actually being one, nevertheless, a feeling freaks her out plenty; Part of her wants to do this alone. She's scared, but paradoxically calmed by the familiarity of the potential of replicating her mother's story. She struggles to keep facing it even if her instinct tells her to look the other way. She must be able to trace this feeling later; It might be the origin of a myriad of problems. She briefly pictures it all playing out. Doing it alone. But every scenario that separates her and Jess seems absurd to her and has the added bonus of making her sick to her stomach, something she certainly doesn't need any more of. She has to act on the assumption is that he'll be around. What will that mean for her role as a parent, for her and Lorelai's relationship?

It is clear that this isn't easy for her mother to process either; she's fiddling with the cap of her coffee cup with intense concentration. Rory shoves her softly with a tiny smile, and Lorelai smiles back. Rory shakes her head, her smile broadening. Lorelai swallows and speaks.

"Hey, you'll be a tremendous trio."

"Yeah." Rory's response is slower than she intends, she's still stuck in her own thoughts.

"We gotta get going, I'm freezing my butt off."

They get back in the car and drive on. After a few minutes, once it’s clear that the nausea isn’t making a comeback, Lorelai speaks.

"You're not worried about him, are you?" She asks. "Seems pretty dedicated, if you ask me."

"No. I'm not worried." Rory gives off a short laugh at the by now vague memory. "He even offered to marry me, can you believe it?"

Lorelai gapes at her.

"No way!"

"Yeah way. Well. I don't really think he was serious. You should've heard him; 'I'll marry you', like he was buying my basket or something." She laughs. Lorelai's expression stays the same. "What?"

"And was that your reaction to the so called bogus offer too?" Her mother asks.

"What? Me laughing? Of course."

Now it's Lorelai's turn to laugh.

"What?" Rory tries again.

"Oh, nothing! He asked you to marry him and you laughed in his face. You really are your mother's daughter."

"He didn't ask me to marry him!" She protests. "He offered it like it was some sort of practical solution. It was ridiculous."

"Even more reason to call you a chip off the old block then."

"He wasn't serious." Rory insists.

"If you say so."

She glares at her mother.

"Are you suggesting that my boyfriend, the fantastic Mr. Evasive, won't-do-anything-traditional-without-a-gun-to-his-head, actually wants to marry me, with an actual wedding, and the actual hell dimension that might entail?"

"I don't know." Lorelai responds. "Are you suggesting the father of your fetus, your live-in-partner, and some might argue; love of your life, the Superman of personal integrity, would enter into matrimony with you out of convenience?"

Rory considers it. He hasn't mentioned it since then, or acted differently, though. So, it doesn't seem matter anyway. A teasing smile spreads on her face.

"Who would argue that?" She says.

"Who would argue what?" Lorelai responds.

"That he’s the love of my life?"

"I don’t know! I was being intentionally vague. People. In general. Who believe in that stuff. Exclusionists who don't mind putting all their eggs in one basket. Maybe. Not me.” Lorelai spurts.

”Not you?”

”No way, José!” She exclaims, pauses, then shrugs. "But, never mind that; Maybe a more relevant question would be if you were serious?"

"Mom-"

"Hey, I will not judge anyone declining marriage, I have myself been known as the fant- no, the fabulous Miss Evasive at... several points in my life, so I totally get it. I'm merely pointing out that he might not be Cyrano, but possibly, probably, kinda serious about it. Might be good to keep in mind when it comes up again."

"You mean if it comes up?"

"Sure, honey." Lorelai says. "And now for something completely different; we're heading for the home of Emily Gilmore, the marvelous Mrs. Meddle!"

Rory's stomach churns, for different reasons.

The last time they've seen each other was on election night. They made a point of spending it together since it was happening so closely after the wedding, in addition to being the first time ever Emily voted for the democrats. 'Lot of good it did.' She said later. It was, as expected, a sad affair. Rory still feels broken about it, and it could be just the pregnancy talking, but she's starting to suspect that it might be permanent. At the time she cried, quietly in her pale mother's arms, Luke immediately went to clear the rain gutters despite the hour and Jess yelled an obscenity at the TV screen, marched off for a good ten minutes before returning and making coffee for the three Gilmore girls who remained in various states on the couch.

Emily Gilmore likes things done in a certain order. There are rules. Lorelai's wedding is Lorelai's wedding, election night is election night, and tonight is the night when they discuss the baby, and everything attached to it. Rory tries to brace herself, even if she knows there's no real way to.

"You look awful!" Emily exclaims as soon as Bertha opens the door and she lays her eyes on Rory. Rory thinks the sarcastic response but doesn't really have it in her to speak it, even when it's an open shot.

"Life on the road isn't for everyone." Lorelai chirps as they get out of their coats.

"It's the baby, isn't it?" Emily says, smiling knowingly.

"Yes, grandma."

"Oh, don't worry about it. It's temporary. It'll pass, a few more weeks at the most."

"Thanks, grandma."

"Come in and join us. Jess arrived a little while ago."

She wants to ask when, to assess what amount of chit-chat he's had to endure so far and the state of his psyche, but hurries into the living room instead and looks at him. To her relief he looks collected as he gets up off the couch and walks up to her. She throws up a hand to prevent him from kissing her.

"Bad car." She mumbles.

"Did you remember to eat?" He asks, slight accusation in his voice.

She smiles a little. There is something oddly satisfying about their role reversal regarding eating habits.

"I was writing."

"Rory-" He gets it, she knows he does, they share that, among other things, but it’s clear that he worries a tad more since November. She interrupts.

"I know. I learned my lesson."

He raises an eyebrow and the corner of his mouth at her. Yeah, right.

"Come on now," says Emily. "Let's eat. That usually makes you feel better. Unless you eat too much of course, then it's just the same problem for different reasons."

"It's a tightrope."

"It's temporary."

They sit down and start in on the first course, some kind of bruschetta, perfect.

"So, you must tell me everything. What doctor are you seeing? What hospital did you pick? I'd like as much information as possible if you don't mind."

"Why?" Lorelai says. "So you can find out the addresses of the nurses? Call the doctor at all hours?"

"Please Lorelai, don't be silly. I just want to talk to my liaisons in Philadelphia to find out if they'd recommend them. Don't you want the best care for when your grandchild arrives?"

"Of course, but mom, women have been givin' birth for a long time, situation's gotta be pretty dire for me to worry about my capable daughter enough to demand contact information for the unsuspecting professionals helping her. And speaking of information, here's some for ya: It's Philadelphia, not a war zone-"

"It's not a problem, mom." Rory interrupts. "I'll set you up with all I got after dinner, grandma."

"You're folding?" Lorelai almost seems disappointed.

"Lorelai, honestly, I don't even know why you're here!" Emily says. "I seem to recall inviting Rory and Jess to discuss their future, not you."

Lorelai snorts.

"Oh, so now that I'm finally hitched you don't care about me anymore?" Lorelai complains, obviously baiting Emily, but Rory is too amused at her mother's specific kind of back-up to protest. "And what kind of mother would I be if I let my pregnant, car-sick daughter get into a car on her own?"

Emily shakes her head and raises her hands.

"Fine."

The main course is served, and Rory feels gradually better. She does pace herself though. Emily's right about the other side of the scale, she's had the unfortunate opportunity to learn that the hard way too.

"When are you going back to Nantucket?" She asks Emily.

"When the museum opens. Depends a bit on the weather, it shouldn't be any later than April." She smiles. "But I'll make sure to spend a few weeks back here at the end of June, so I'll be close by for when the baby arrives. I wouldn't miss it. And by the way; How soon after are you planning on a naming ceremony?"

"Uhm, I'm not sure we are." Rory says casually.

Emily raises her eyebrows.

"Either way we haven't discussed it yet." She fills in and glances at Jess who gives her an almost unnoticeable nod.

"Well, tonight's as good a night as any." Emily says, still smiling. "Did you know many parents today double the naming ceremony with the wedding? It's sort of a rising tradition."

"Oh, that's not an option for us." She keeps her tone light, vainly hoping it won't be a big deal. "We're not getting married."

Emily puts down her silver wear with a distinct clank, any remnant of smile gone in an instant.

"Honestly, what is it with this family? Your aversion to any form of tradition is like some auto-immune disease."

"I'm sorry, grandma. It's just- it wasn't on the table before I got pregnant and I don't think it should be now just because we're having a baby."

"'Just because you're having a baby'?" Emily echoes. "What do you think a child is? Some accessory? A new car, which, by the way you could use? A promotion?" Rory bites the inside of her cheek to bear her grandmother's earful. "My dear, a child is a game changer, whether you plan for it or not, and you might as well get ahead of the curb and do some changing on your own before it forces your hand."

"Sort of a good offense is the best defense." Lorelai interjects.

"Stay out of this, Lorelai."

"So much for 'it's temporary'" Rory mutters.

"Grow up." Emily snaps. "The pregnancy is temporary; the parenthood is permanent."

Rory presses her lips together and tries to keep from blushing. Jess's hand grasps hers under the table. She gives it a squeeze before letting it go. Can't be soft now, got to stay sharp. Emily speaks again, a bit more desperate now.

"Rory Gilmore! You will give me a wedding or a naming ceremony."

"No, grandma." She stubbornly replies.

Emily sighs sharply, impatiently, turns to Jess.

"Jess!"

"Emily," he parries, "I have to side with her, you do see that, right?"

Emily's eyes narrow.

"But you don’t. Do you? You proposed, didn’t you?"

"That wasn’t-" he obviously realizes his mistake as soon as he starts speaking. Of course, by then it’s too late, especially since Emily Gilmore is capable of reading minds. "It wasn’t a real proposal, more like a stupid joke." Rory winces at his words. Not better. Emily glares at him.

"You joke about things like that?"

He opens his mouth to answer, something, anything. But Rory steps in.

"He proposed. I said no. We’re still together."

"Lorelai!" Emily tries.

"I thought I was supposed to stay out of this, I'd be glad to." Lorelai says. "I had nothing, zilch, zip to do with this. Tonight's the first I've heard about it. But I will say: listen to your granddaughter. And leave me out of the drama for once."

"I give up!" Emily exclaims, arms out dismissively. She gets back to her meal and is quiet long enough for everyone to get back to theirs as well. Then she speaks in a calmer, softer tone. "At least I'll get to experience a great grandchild before I die. That is something."

Lorelai puts down her cutlery and covers her mouth with the napkin, but her nostrils flare tellingly. Rory gulps down her food with some resistance.

 

In the driveway Rory automatically goes to the passenger seat of Jess's car. It’s a strange sort of night, clear skies, no wind, just a few stray snowflakes slowly floating in the air. Jess walks to her side at the passenger seat and unlocks the car. He looks up and then at her.

”Pretty night.” He smiles and pulls the door that gets stuck in the cold open. She smiles at him. Lorelai tosses a roll at her.

"Hey!" Rory says.

"Hey yourself! The Jeep not good enough for ya?"

"The last time I was in it I was distinctly sick."

"What about facing your fears, huh!? Battling your demons, taking the bull by the horns-"

"Get off my back! It's ten in the evening, I'll face my fears tomorrow." She sticks out her tongue at her mother and picks up the roll from the ground.

"Don't eat that!"

"Won't. See you in Stars Hollow."

They get into their respective vehicles and drive off.

The truth is the clinginess is a real thing she feels. If she can avoid getting separated from Jess she will. And she's overly attached to his messy car by now. She's rarely sick from riding in it. Maybe because it doesn't smell of ten plus years' worth of fast food and old coffee. Back in the passenger seat, she cracks the window from the beginning to avoid getting sick again. They've driven for a while when he breaks the silence.

"You said no?"

It takes a few seconds for the penny to drop. Then she smiles.

"You proposed?" She counters.

He chuckles and shrugs.

"Sure."

She nods.

"Then yes, I said no." She’s quiet for a few seconds before continuing: "But it’s good. ’Cause you and I aren’t about gestures, we’re about what’s real. And this, not even being a hiccup in our life, it’s important. D’you understand?"

"Yes."

She looks out the window for a few seconds before speaking again.

"Also, I have some news."

"Spill."

"I finished the book. Well, a first version, at least."

He opens his mouth without managing an answer and she laughs at the delight of being able to produce that rare reaction in him.

"That's great!" He finally says.

It would be a bit of a surprise. They haven’t discussed it for a while, they’ve had other things on their minds, but she’s been working on it a bit every day, and nothing but it the last couple of days in Stars Hollow.

"I know. I mean it's not done-done. I gotta- you gotta edit it and stuff."

"I gotta, huh?"

"You know you want to!"

"Alright, I do." He smiles. "So, how did you end it?"

"With a new beginning."

Chapter Text

Tick tock stubborn clock. Tock tick. - Inside Your Head, Eberg

January 2017, New York

Week 15

 

He's behind the wheel, and Rory's in the passenger seat. Your Move is playing and there's a pull, to turn his head and look at her. He tries to keep his eyes on the road but the more he focuses, the more he feels it; she's looking at him, and he has to see her. So, he turns his head. Their eyes meet and lock, and he can't look away. It seems the entire air is vibrating from the tension, and it makes his skin tingle. He looks down and sees she's pregnant, just a girl, her cheeks fuller, blushing, her expression brave and vulnerable at the same time, just a girl, a child really. Pleasure turns to panic in his chest as he feels the car swerve, and its news is captured.

Does he wake from his phone ringing or from the dream? It's still dark outside the window. It rings again and Rory kicks him softly on the calf while groaning in discontent. He picks it up and blinks at the screen. It's an unknown number and he declines it out of principle. Sometimes he takes the time to look up the numbers but it's way too early for it, barely four in the morning and who the fuck calls this early? He mutes the phone and puts it back, screen down, on the bedside table. He turns his back to it and inches closer to Rory, slings an arm over her body and closes his eyes.

He's in a place where he doesn't really get to sleep but enters some sort of half-meditative state. It's the best he's been able to hope for lately if he wakes up before he's supposed to. He lies there, thoughts moving between reality and dream, and by the time his phone rings again, this time vibrating loudly against the table, it seems he hasn't slept at all. Of course, by now it's light outside. He reaches for it. It's Chris. He answers to silence it. Chris' voice immediately starts falling out of the phone.

"Hold on." He yawns as he exits the bedroom. He shuffles into the kitchen, puts the phone on speaker and starts making coffee.

"If that's the coffee maker count me in, I'm outside your door as of... now. Buzz me up."

"What are you doing here?" Jess says, slightly whiney as he makes way into the hallway.

"I have an early lecture at Montgomery, and I have to drop some stuff off."

"What stuff?" Jess asks and presses the button while he unhooks the lock on the door. "What stuff?" But Chris has already hung up.

"You look horrible!" Chris says as he enters the kitchen a few minutes later. "Are you sick?"

"Just tired. I haven't slept very well the last week."

"Well, in that case it pains me to say this, friend;" He sticks his hands into his bag and slaps a stack of paper on the kitchen table. "I need you to take over the editing for Miller's book."

"What? No." Jess growls.

"Yes! It needs to be done in a couple of weeks and I got seminars that I can't skip."

"Being brought up on welfare doesn't mean I know anything about the foster care system. Can't Matt do it?"

"Why? 'Cause his upper middle class background makes him an expert?" Chris snorts. "I already asked, and he implied that Katey's divorcing him if he spends more time outta town."

"Outta town?"

"You're going to New York for a meeting with our consultants."

"Consultants?" He's starting to feel like a parrot.

"Night and Day, or at least the latter. They are your experts. And as a bonus; your friends." Chris pours himself a cup of coffee. "You're welcome." He puts a piece of bread into the toaster. "I wouldn't ask but if you expect me to pull most of the weight around here while you and Matt are off being dads, I'm gonna need to finish this course."

Jess sighs. Chris is right. No way around that.

"Fine." He concedes and takes a sip of coffee. "Divorce? Really?"

"He's been gone a lot."

"I didn't think about it like that."

"Yeah, neither did he. I think that's part of the problem."

The toaster pops the bread, and Chris smears butter and jam on it.

"When's the trip?" Jess asks.

"This weekend."

"Dammit, Chris!"

"It's not my fault!" Chris says. "Look, just drive up early. Or bring Rory and make it a weekend. Or Skype, do whatever, just, y'know, do it."

"Just do what?" Rory asks while walking into the kitchen in her robe and blinking at the light. "Hi, Chris." She gets on her toes and pecks his cheek.

"Hey, Ror," Chris responds with a smile, "I was talking your boy into taking you to New York this weekend."

"With purely selfless motives, I'm sure." She says dryly.

"Actually, yes, they are!" Chris goes, eyes wide with indignation. "The course that will enable me to take on basically all of the duties of Truncheon while Jess here stays at home with you is demanding my attention for a few weeks."

Jess snorts.

"You don't have to use the big guns, Chris. Just mention school, and she'll have your back."

"School is important!" Rory lectures. "And you shouldn't just focus for a few weeks, endurance and routine in the long run is key."

"Thanks, miss Gilmore." Chris says sweetly.

"You're welcome, Christian. New York's no problem, I'll call Paris."

 

A few days later they're in the car, on their way. He's driving as usual, and she's picking music, chatting randomly and keeping an eye on their phones. Usually he enjoys this, but the dream a few nights back as well as his lack of sleep makes him uncomfortable, lingers behind his eyes. Sure, she might be an adult, and her expectancy doesn't show yet, but in his periphery the shape of her could be any version of her. It's distracting, and he has to focus on driving. He manages no more than to confirm her remarks with one-syllabic sounds and small smiles. After a while she stops talking and just listens to the music, looking out the window. She's used to his moods, but it's been a while since he's been in one; He's been careful to keep them at bay since she got pregnant.

"You're ringing." She says.

"Who is it?"

"Doesn't say."

"Then I'm busy."

She tilts her head with an amused smile.

"What's the point in you even keeping this thing on?"

"Don't know. Turn it off."

She does, with a dramatic gesture and he smirks.

Unfortunately, Luke's statement about him being a fast reader has made no difference to his intake of baby-literature. He knows it's real, but it feels still distant. And she seems to be in no hurry to binge either. The books they've bought on the subject so far seems to corroborate their disposition, with the so-called nine months neatly separated into 40 weeks, meant to be taken on or in chronologically, one at the time. He supposes it's to avoid shocking the parents-to-be and reminds himself that's him.

They read the sections separately, repeatedly, to have the words make sense. She reads aloud when she finds parts particularly interesting and seemed relieved to find that the clinginess that she's said she experienced, and that has been evident, sort of, has a scientific explanation. In theory it's comforting; In reality he's oddly haunted by her needing him. He can't picture Lorelai needing her teenage-boyfriend even as a girl herself, Liz needing Jimmy on the other hand... And yes, he knows it makes no sense.

 

Paris opens the door and ushers them inside. She has her hair up in rolls and seems more than a bit distracted. She actually did have plans this weekend but insisted they come and stay over anyway because it'd save her a babysitter-fee. Vague and not so vague shrieks and thumps drizzle down from a few floors up where the kids are. Rory smiles a bit too broadly at her.

"Hot date tonight?"

Paris glares at her.

"Oh please. Strictly ceremonial, trust me. Only reason I agreed to it was to keep my neighbors from gossiping about my sexuality or lack thereof."

Rory laughs and slides out of her coat.

"You coming in for a while?" She asks him.

He considers it but feels too restless to oblige her. He theatrically looks up towards the thumps and yelps.

"No, I better get outta here before the halflings catch whiff of me."

Paris smiles at the remark, but Rory looks slightly disappointed, like she has lately, at all prospects of their separation. She still kisses his cheek.

"Okay. Give my love to Day, and Night, if she's there."

"Yup. See you later."

 

He takes the subway and turns on his phone. Two missed calls. One from an unknown number and one from Liz. He winces at the screen and quickly puts the device away trying to forget he saw it.

The Carling sisters have an apartment in Williamsburg. The stable and tight nature of their relationship has enabled them to pool their resources and hold onto it since their late teens when they came into their inheritance. They've had many tenants during the years, but always kept the furnished attic for themselves, even when Night tried spending more time in Philadelphia. He walks the stairs to the top floor and rings the doorbell. Day opens the door after a few beats and pulls him through the common areas, introducing him hastily to the two tenants in the kitchen. They climb the spiral stairs to the loft. The sisters have tried making it as independent as possible, with a sort of hallway of its own, a pantry, as well as a microscopic water closet, installed when Day made the possibly tactical decision to date a HVAC-technician a few years back.

As soon as they're upstairs she turns and hugs him.

"Hi." He says.

"I'm glad it's you instead of Chris, the guy's been driving me crazy lately."

"Well, he's working on driving himself pretty crazy right now, no wonder it's contagious."

"Probably has nothing to do with great life-altering things among his friends." Day remarks.

"Yeah, yeah."

"Tea?"

"Sure."

He takes a turn around the loft. It's been years since he's been there. Things are comfortingly unchanged; strings of colored lights stapled across the tilting ceiling, illuminating what the pale, blue winter-light can't through the few and small loop-holes; Boards sticking out of the walls at random cluttered with books, DVD's and CD's, whenever they'd run out of shelves they'd simply nail up another board, where they could make the space; Rag rugs laying in trails over the bare, uneven wooden floor to dampen sound and help keep the warmth, and, of course, since it's January, an extra heater plugged in, its red light glaring at them from the corner of the room. Things are mostly the same. Except...

"Where's Eris' bowl?"

Day tilts her head at him, pinches her lips before responding.

"She died about four months back."

"No."

"To be fair she was a thousand years old, sustained only by the souls of her outlived enemies in the end."

He chuckles even if his chest aches, it's true, but heartbreaking just the same.

"I'm sorry." He says.

She shrugs.

"I should've texted you."

"You don't owe me anything, Day."

"It's not about debts, Jess." Day lifts the kettle off the cooker and pours boiling water into two cups, adding teabags to both and honey in one of them. "So, what's the deal with the book? I thought it was meant to be fiction, what do you need me for?"

"A reality check. Author went above and beyond with the research and is now worried it's overly factual, hyper-correct."

"Oh boy. But at least I am getting payed. This is the kind of labor you can discuss in terms of debts, incidentally." She walks up to him and hands him the cup.

"Yeah, yeah."

They sit down in the corner couch, and he unpacks two sets of manuscripts and places them on the table consisting of a flat coffer covered in old cigarette-burns and candle wax. He places a pen on one and pushes it towards her. She picks up the stack and starts turning the papers. He tells her which sections to focus on and they fall silent as they read. He wants to ask what Night is up to but is a bit worried it might be a sore subject, so he forces himself to stay quiet.

The extra edit doesn't seem to be useless, though. After a while Day starts muttering to herself, frowning as she crosses out entire sections from the manuscript, sometimes pausing to write a note in the margin.

"How harsh should I be?"

"Say what you want, Day, it's not your job to sugar-coat it, it's mine."

"I'm having a hard time picturing that." Day chuckles.

"Really? I did it with your book."

She exhales indignantly, then scrounges up a page and tosses it at him.

"That's a darling fit to be killed." She says and points to it. He laughs quietly and picks it off the floor.

They work for almost two hours, before ordering take-out and arguing over what album from last year should be deemed best. As usual their criteria are vastly different but it's a time-honored tradition.

The staircase starts creaking and Day gets up.

"Great timing! I'll go pick up the food, see you in a bit."

He has no time to respond before Night's head appears from the opening in the floor.

"Hey, Jess." She steps up into the loft and Day kisses her cheek on her way down.

"Hi." He smiles from the sheer familiarity of seeing her, and quite a bit from relief that she's okay. She returns the smile and walks over leaning into a hug.

"Heard about her Strifeness, I’m sorry." He says.

"Yeah me too, she was a good fur-baby." She clears her throat and gives him a bit of a wicked look. "Heard you knocked your girl up."

"Thanks for the accurate and eloquent summary." He quips, and his chest tightens at the reminder.

"I’d say congrats, if you looked it."

He snorts and shakes his head.

"No, you wouldn’t! You used to refer to kids as weeds."

She shoots out her chin.

"Fair enough. But I’m a very empathic person," she weighs from one foot to another, speaks at a softer tone, "and, if the prospect made you happy…"

He finds himself annoyed by the conversation. Here they are, in the apartment where they used to spend so much time, where time seems to have stalled, and she is acting all cautious, polite by her standards, around him, like she didn't know better.

"It’s not about being happy. It’s about purpose." He says, rather biting. "It's about not being a worthless piece of shit, and unfortunately, I’m predisposed to that particular trait. So, it means staying sharp."

She loses the hint of sardonic smile she's worn this far.

"Are you okay?"

He feels exasperated from speaking, hasn't voiced any of this before, hardly even to himself. He takes a breath before speaking, tries to slow down so that he doesn't unload on his ex-girlfriend who might've asked, but still doesn't deserve to be cast as the psychiatrist.

"I'm a bit tired from worrying about it, probably why I'm not tap-dancing. And-" He hesitates, doesn't want to blow this up, or dismiss it, she knows him too well anyway and would see through such a maneuver. "People keep insisting congratulations is the thing to say like this is some kind of unlocked achievement. The way I see it that’s all ahead of us, if we manage not to fuck up the kid there’s cause for celebration."

Night raises her eyebrows.

"You writing anything lately?" She asks, tone light.

He sighs.

"No, been busy."

"Huh." She pauses and nods silently, then sits down on the armrest next to him. "Look, seems you got this strong, silent type thing going. But let me tell you about that type: he carries shit ’til he can’t anymore, and when that happens..." She stares intently at him. "He breaks. Himself or others. Violence can be patient. So, if you’re sticking with this tactic, you’re right to be scared."

Shit. She always had a dramatic streak, that's the reason she has more trouble than her sister rolling with the punches.

"Night-"

"No, you should be. Do you think my dad was scared?"

He blinks at the mention of her father, is out of practice in handling his presence in conversations.

"Night-"

"Answer the question."

He takes a breath and answers, it's only fair.

"I don't know, maybe."

"Answer is it doesn't matter; We were scared of him. You think yours was?"

He swallows.

"Yes."

"And he ran. And if you had to choose, yours was the good guy. It’s good that you’re handling your fears, but you should see a girl about reinforcements."

He grows impatient again, and slightly angry that she would take it that far.

"Night, get to the point or drop this."

She sighs sharply.

"All parents screw their kids up, one way or another, so you might as well wave the white flag right now. Point is there's no possible way you stoop to their level. No way. I know you. You gotta cut yourself some slack." Her expression softens at her last words. That's their go-to-expression. They used it frequently while threshing their issues. He's not ready to hear it though.

"And how do I do that? By entertaining the idea that it's okay to fail this kid? To pull a Jimmy? Or a Liz? None of those are options."

She places a hand on his arm.

"But you don't have to be perfect either! If that's your standard then you are going to fail. You must see that." She pauses, looks around, goes on. "You're thinking about this all wrong – you don't start at the polar opposite of what your parents were, you just vow to do better than they did."

"Well, the bar ain't exactly high."

"So, it'll be super-easy, great!" Her smile returns.

"You sound like Day." He sighs.

"I'm serious. Set the goal to 'be there' and 'no substance abuse'. Perfect parents make sociopathic kids, true story."

"Must be why we’re such high-functioning individuals." He finally manages to return the smile and feels a little better.

"We’re not perfect, but that ’ll serve your kid well." Her expression turns wary. "Have you talked to her about this?"

"Uh-uh." He shakes his head again. "No way. She doesn't need this right now, there are enough issues there without me bringing mine."

"You have to talk to her. It concerns you both." She bites her lower lip. "Remember when I would tell you I was having a bad day?"

"Yeah." It costs her a lot to bring up the past, he's sure. They already have too many sad stories between them to start acknowledging their relationship as another. Isn't that in a way why they kept sleeping together even after they broke up? Why anyone might? To not have to classify it as a complete failure. To keep something good between you. To get to keep hoping for a happy ending. And isn’t that why he never got up the nerve to call Rory during those years? Sometimes unresolved is better. There are possibilities in that. An open ending. She continues.

"It didn’t save anything but it made me feel better to just say it. You don’t need to have some grand solution, just vent a little. I'm sure she’s tougher than you think."

 

Day returns and they eat. Day plays him some new music and she and Night sit on the couch, heads together, lowly discussing Day's comments on the manuscript. He picks a book off one of the shelves and alternates between skimming its pages and looking at the sisters, trying to decipher what they agree on. He wonders what it would be like to have a sibling like that. It's not a new thought, but it's been a while. There's support there, the guaranteed kind. Sometimes it seems his position in relation to everyone he cares about is either protectiveness or self-preservation. He wonders what he would have been like had he had someone so consistently by his side.

After another hour they compose a summarized comment and hand the manuscript back to him. Night goes to get a bottle of wine and uncorks it by the pantry.

"Please!" Day hoots.

"Jess?" Night asks.

He glances at the clock on the wall. It's close to seven. He's tempted to stay and talk, but remember Rory's look before he left, so much for a weekend in New York if she's stuck baby-sitting all night on her own.

"I better not, Rory doesn't seem to fond of my absence these days."

"'These days...'" Night chuckles.

"It's the pregnancy." Day says. "Maggie had the same thing, remember?" She turns to Night.

"Rather than her undying love for me, you mean?"

"I'm sure that's part of it too." Night says overly placating. He smirks and shakes his head.

”Yeah, yeah.”

She puts down the bottle and picks up his coat, walking over and handing it to him.

"Guess I'll go be there." He says as he puts it on.

"Good boy." Says Day.

He puts an arm around Night and gives her a squeeze, and waves to Day.

"Thank you."

"Anytime." Night and Day responds simultaneously.

 

He arrives at the house and is about to ring the doorbell when he remembers that the kids probably are in bed already. He walks down the stairs and looks up to the kitchen window, to see if he can see and contact Rory that way.

She’s leaning over the sink rinsing a coffee cup. It’s relief that washes over him at the sight. He’s surprised. Has struggled keeping it together for her the last week and it’s strange to experience that sensation when seeing her again – Experiencing the reason he does the work rather than the work itself.

His thought from before returns. She may not have been consistently there for him through the years, but she did try. Wasn't that why he fell so hard for her in the first place? Her stern expression, involuntary smile, how she bossed him around, or tried. Like they owed each other something from the beginning. She was always so connected to everything, everyone, and he'd never felt connected to anything, anyone, except her.

She looks up and spots him. She smiles with her entire face at him and he returns the smile from the inside out, has no way of stopping it, even if he wanted to. She walks away from the window, and he climbs the stairs again. She opens the door with a finger to her lips. He traps it between their mouths in a kiss. Steps inside locked in the embrace, then pulls back.

"Hi."

"Hi."

She takes a step back, then:

"What?"

"Feels good to see you."

"Really?" She walks into his arms again, putting her face to his neck. He feels her lips move against his skin as she mumbles. "I've been feeling like such a handful lately."

He shivers. Okay, so maybe it's not so much about accepting who you are, or at the very least, not all about that; Maybe it's about who you want to be. This has been true before, when he first met her he might have had the potential of who he is now inside, but he was nowhere near it at the time, and he never would have gotten this far if it wasn't for her, if it wasn't for him trying to better himself for her. He doesn’t need to weigh her down, doesn’t need to tell her anything, just this.

"Liz called me." She says, still against his neck. "Said Jimmy had tried calling you."

He goes cold and pulls back. Those incognito, and thus ignored, calls.

"What’d you tell her?"

"I took his number, said you’d call if you were up for it."

"Rory," he drags a hand across his forehead, "You can't just- You have to let me handle my parents. You cannot speak for me with Liz, especially not when it comes to Jimmy. I haven't seen him-"

"You haven't seen him in ten years, I know." She frowns. "And you don't want me speaking for you, except for pleasantries, and random chit-chat, or anything to fill the time while you just wait to leave-" Her voice sharpens as she speaks, and he tries cutting her off.

"I did not ask you to do that!"

"I know you didn't, but I cannot build a relationship with your mother on the same premises that you have, if you want it to be civil then I will have to talk, and with the talk you get to know someone and then she calls – me – to ask why you are not picking up..." She gestures vividly while she rants, raises her eyebrows. "Jess!" She locks eyes with him and slows her pace, articulating her words like a kindergarten-teacher. "If you want to handle the relationships with your parents yourself, you're actually going to have to do that!"

She reaches into his coat pocket, pulls up his phone and sticks it in his hand. Then she crosses her arms and actually taps her foot. He'd smile if he wasn't upset. Instead he glares at her.

"Fine!" He turns on the phone and calls Liz back. Rory disappears back into the kitchen while he walks into the living room. Liz picks up on the second ring.

"Hi honey."

"I hear Jimmy called you." He goes, skipping the greeting.

"Yeah, he was trying to get a hold of you as a matter of fact."

Even now he struggles to keep aggression out of his voice. It's the thing to do, but he's learned that for most people the absence of anger doesn't register unless you actively try to sound friendly at the same time.

"Then why call you?"

"Your number isn't listed, genius-"

"So beside the point." He mumbles while she goes on, unfazed.

"-and he doesn't have the best track record with Luke."

"He doesn’t have the best track record with any of us. You forget that?" Definitely angry now.

"You’re too stubborn, hun." Liz says. "Sometimes you just have to let bygones be bygones."

"Easy for you to say, you should try another tactic one of these days."

"What’s that supposed to mean?" There's still humor in her voice, there mostly is these days, but it's not without sharpness now.

"That you could stand to rehash the past occasionally."

She sighs, and her voice goes annoyingly soft again.

"It weighs you down, sweetie."

"Don’t call me that." He raises his voice some, but corrects it before going on, to not wake the kids. "Why'd you give him my number?"

"Common sense. How bad could it be? He probably wants to reconnect, what with the baby and all."

"Great. I feel so special."

"He didn’t know about it when he called."

"You broke the news. Wonderful." The passive aggressive feels so unworthy, he's ashamed of himself for a moment before going back to being pissed.

"Well, how else would he know?"

He loses what little control he has of his voice and hisses into the phone.

"He wouldn’t. Don’t tell him my business, don’t give out my number, in fact, don’t pick up the next time he calls. Let him make his own way in the world, that was your motto regarding me, so why not your grown-ass ex?"

There's a pause on the line, a quiet sigh. Then Liz speaks again, voice low.

"I’ll keep that in mind in the future, but it is your future I was thinking of, and your baby’s. Don’t you want a grandpa for the kid?"

"And that's supposed to be him?" He says, trying to cover up the bitterness with something resembling amusement, failing miserably. "I've had no choice. He's my fucking father. But he's never made use of that. D'you know what I want? I want for him to not claim vacant titles. He doesn’t get to get to create that hole in my child."

Another pause, and he doesn't miss that this is the first time he's used that word for the baby they're expecting, the first time he's expressed some kind of protectiveness of someone who isn't even here, someone he doesn't even know yet.

"Alright, Jess. I'm sorry." Her voice is dampened.

"Fine." He manages, doesn't want to hang up in anger but he has no real words to offer her as a tranquilizer, hasn't had since he was a kid, can't forgive one slight without forgiving all.

He hangs up. Takes a few breaths before turning his phone off again and walking back into the hallway. He takes off his coat and hangs it on the hall stand, before walking into the kitchen. Rory's leaning against the kitchen-table, eyes to an open magazine, but she looks up when he enters. She tilts her head, face sympathetic.

”What made him think he'd be welcome?" He mumbles. "In what deluded part of his head did he imagine that I would be happy about this?”

She sighs.

"Maybe it's not about you." She says. "And maybe it's an opportunity for something new, Jess."

He's about to protest, when the lock on the door rattles. They walk into the hallway as Paris enters it through the front door.

"Oh, thank god! Appropriately friendly faces. Faces in which the friendly and familiar match!" She climbs out of her coat.

He ducks back into the kitchen and pours her a glass of wine, holding it out for her when she enters, closely followed by Rory.

"How was your date?"

Paris grabs the glass from his hand and perches herself on one of the stools before taking a sip.

"Strictly ceremonial as far as I'm concerned. I might have been able to enjoy it too, the food and wine were great, if he hadn't been all up in my business for validation we could've made it to dessert. Men are such girls."

"You know, Paris, validation is sort of what most people go on dates for." Rory says.

"Oh, please! You might go hoping for it but there is none guaranteed. Every girl with half a brain knows this. A grown man should know of better ways for acquiring appreciation than flashing his paycheck, especially around a woman who can match him in that respect."

"Oh, honey! Did he talk about the knot-capacity of his yacht?"

"Like I care, right? Especially since I get seasick within a square-mile of a dock. I even tried slipping that into the conversation, but apparently it made no difference."

"So, no chance to discuss Kerouac?" Jess interjects, slightly amused.

"I wish. It would've been so much better if he was some uninformed beats-fanboy, no offense-"

"None taken."

"-I would've gladly engaged in lively discussion about the food, even if, great as it was, food is for putting into your mouth, not having seminars on." She bites her lip, staring at her wine. "I miss Doyle."

"Can't you call him?" Rory asks softly. Paris looks up.

"That's not the issue. I'm sure he would relish an emotional booty call from me, I just don't think he deserves one. We were a unique fit, but that didn't stop him from riding into the smoggy sunset. And he even had the gall to try to blame it on me. Said that my negativity smothered him. Like that's news! I'm not a sweet person, I was never a sweet person. It's not like it was some new facet of my personality suddenly appearing, and even if it did it shouldn't really matter because we had a life together and expecting a person to stay the same through an entire life is just... unfair." She sighs, frustration clear. Then goes on, lower. "So maybe he changed, changed his mind, and maybe I should give him a break over it. But he's so far away. And, there aren't many other candidates out there for me." She frowns, face stern again. "So, I might be stuck missing him, but I don't think I could take him back. I think I would be worse for it, if that's even possible."

Rory walks up to Paris and puts her arm around her. Paris leans her head on Rory's shoulder.

"Sorry." She mumbles.

"Shut up." Rory retorts.

Jess weighs between feet. He and Paris do better in verbal spars.

"Hey, uhm, you wanna watch a movie or something?" He tries.

"God yes." Paris says. She grabs her wine glass and slides off the chair, grabbing the bottle off the counter while heading into the living room. Rory slowly follows her. Jess reaches for her when she's passing him.

"Rory."

She turns to him.

"You were right. It’s none of my business." She says.

"Forget about that!" He's regretful in an instant. "It is your business. It's our business. But I was wrong to have you pull all the weight. I won't do that anymore."

She squeezes his hand and smiles slightly. He goes on, quickly, before Paris starts missing them.

"I don’t want us being in this situation where we try to run different ships because we can’t figure out one issue. I don’t want that space between us, I don’t need it, it’s not good for anything except filling with shit.”

Her smile grows with amusement and tenderness, and she chuckles. She runs her thumb over his palm.

"I appreciate the sentiment, but you do need it. And I'm guessing I will do too once I evict this tenant of mine. Just, everything in moderation." She leans in and kisses him, mumbles against his lips. "Except that."

Chapter Text

Ain't that my old heart hanging out on your lines? - Saint Valentine, Gregory Alan Isakov

 

February 2017, Philadelphia

Week 21

 

"Do you want to know the likely sex?"

She knew the question would be likely to turn up. They did the reading, talking and came to a decision that made sense. She has an answer, and still, when the question comes she pauses, looks to him. They nod at each other. She turns back to the technician.

"Yes."

 

Afterwards they exit into the street and remain standing opposite each other, he has duty at the publishing house and he has got to fit lunch into this gap in his work day.

"Wow." She says.

"Yeah." He responds.

She locks eyes with him and they look at each other for a few beats. She tries to convey all the things she hasn't had time to think yet but knows they don't have time for that now either. He leans in and kisses her cheek.

"I know." He says. "But I gotta go, I'll see you later."

She nods and shoots him what she imagines is a pretty distracted smile. They both head off in different directions, but he calls back to her.

"Hey!"

She turns and instinctively catches the apple he tosses her. It's red, and shiny from lying in his pocket.

"Here's to knowing," he says. "Happy Valentine's Day."

She smiles, unbridled, at him, and he returns it before turning to walk away. Her smile lingers though. The weather is beautiful, sunny and cold, and she walks slowly. She eats her apple, and stops for coffee before walking to the park, just a few blocks away. The nausea from a few weeks back has faded and what little is left is easy to manage with regular meals and snacks. She picks up her phone and turns it on, usually she doesn't have to, but she's kept it off today to not let the constant buzzes from Lorelai's texts distract her. Now she's ready. So, she calls her mother.

"Oh my god!" Lorelai blurts as a greeting.

"Nope. Just your daughter." Rory responds.

"Do not give me lip today, child! What d'you find out? Is it the Admiral? Is it the chosen one? Is everything okay?" Her voice fades slightly at the last sentence.

"Everything is fine. They adjusted the arrival date slightly, the last of June rather than the beginning of July. It's healthy, everything is normal."

"Oh, bless you!"

The joy in her voice is contagious and Rory smiles again. It's real when you share it with someone, but not just anyone. They're silent for a moment, and she's sure her mother's smiling too on her end.

"Well?" Lorelai's voice in her ear again. "Did you find out?"

"Yeah." Rory says, feeling a bit hesitant. "It's likely a boy."

There's another a pause.

"Really?"

"Yup."

"And what's the error margin on these things?"

"Not big. But they can't be a hundred percent sure either."

While waiting for a reaction from her mother she sits down on a bench overlooking the river.

"Maybe you should've waited 'til the birth... Better to know for sure."

"Well, to be fair, knowing for sure isn't what it used to be." Rory mumbles. She knows where this is headed and should put a stop to it directly but is herself feeling a bit odd from this piece of information without really being able to explain why.

"A boy, huh?"

"Yup."

"Jess Junior."

Rory can picture what Lorelai's thinking.

"You don't know that! I'll be his mother after all." She protests.

"'Yup'! 'Nope'!" Lorelai echoes in guy-voice.

"I live with him!" Rory counters.

"And what do you think a kid- a boy- is gonna take after?"

"You're being absurd."

"Oh, god! I can picture it now; making grandma Lorelai cry with one-syllabic words 101-"

"Absurd as in ridiculous."

"Disorienting great-grandma Emily by randomly rearranging interior design-"

"Wrong boyfriend." Rory bites.

"-Fine! Freaking out said lady with a shiner in two easy steps!"

"Oh, boy."

"Driving uncle Luke into Anger Management therapy using no hands!

"Get it together woman."

"A man-child." Lorelai all but whines.

"Maybe he'll take after all the great traits he has!"

"I might need some help to remember what those are right now."

Rory all but growls into her phone from frustration. Takes a breath and picks another tactic.

"You're using up all the freak-out! There's none left for me, and some might argue that I'm more entitled to a freak-out if any!"

"Fine! Do you need to freak out?"

"No! But if I did it's too late now anyway, it's all drowned out by you acting your shoesize!"

"Oh, you're totally freaking out, under that organized exterior!"

"Well if I am I'm so lucky to have a stable, sane mother to lean on in this time of crisis!"

"Okay time-out."

"It's about time!"

They're quiet for a few moments.

"Are you okay?" Lorelai asks.

"I'm fine." She responds so curtly that there's awkward silence following it. She hears it herself and decides to take some more space. "I mean, it's a little weird. I thought for sure... But that's not even the real issue."

"Then what is?"

"I guess," she sighs, "that our experiences will be so different."

"Yeah, thank god for that!" Lorelai immediately responds.

"Hey!"

"No-" Lorelai stops and her sharp sigh is audible. "I mean, you're an adult, you're in a relationship that seems pretty... rigid, you have a backup-system! And listen, no one understands better than me why you'd feel like you do. You and I aren't exactly run-of-the-mill and that makes it complicated sometimes." She pauses. "But you still have to see that it's ultimately a good thing that it'll be different for you. You aren't alone in this. It's what I want for you. Because I'm your mother." Lorelai weighs the last words. "You're my daughter. You always were. We're best friends too, but even best friends gotta deal with differences and this is just ours. It's not supposed to be equal. That's just how it is. We- you- were fine! But there was always a bigger risk involved in the way we lived, and I am happy - you hear me? - happy, that my grandson won't grow-up with that."

"You should work on how you express that." Rory pouts.

"Rory-"

"You are so silly."

"You're silly." Lorelai mutters.

"Wow. Great comeback." Rory stares at the water and gets swept away. "Like you and him aren't connected in every way that matters."

"Me and who?"

"Jess. Like you aren't the same. But maybe it's just me projecting. Sun and moon."

"What are you on about?"

"I'm talking about that no matter which direction I go there's at least one of you. I'm talking about the fact that he keeps sending me back to you. You were always scared he'd do the opposite but whenever I've needed direction he's pointed me to you."

In her head something clicks. It's a boy, and he'll be perfect. She smiles. Her mother speaks again, much softer now.

"We are connected." She confirms. "We're part of that system of yours."

"Well, could you try toning down the snark then?"

"Okay."

After they hang up she remains sitting for a while. There's a stir in her belly. That's how the kicks feel at this stage, like the swish of small fish fins, of bubbles rising. She takes off her glove and reaches inside her coat placing her hand on her lower abdomen. It's still no more than a little bump, she tells herself she's been bigger after gluttonous weekends with her mom. Despite Lorelai's clear visions, it seems early to know this much about a creature as big as your hand. Seems early to jump to conclusions, but he is real, that's for sure. There's another kick. She pictures a little foot.

 


 

He's walking home from his stop, the lowly hanging sun turning everything a vague tone of orange. He's been utterly distracted all day which has led to the feeling of getting nothing done in combination with the incapability of assessing it in any real way. He wanted to stay with her after the hospital.

It’s the strangest thing, finding out. It’s not what he imagined. A boy. Not a Gilmore Girl. Someone who might grow up to be like- But what does it matter anyway? A girl might have been just as- and a boy could be just as big a part of the Gilmore clan as a girl. Could be just like Rory, or Lorelai, incessantly talking, dramatic, charming. He could be everything his father isn’t. He just assumed it’d be a girl. He thinks about all the things he could have used a father for as a child. Thinks of all the versions he's sort of had, ranging between useless and destructive.

He unlocks their door and hears furniture being pushed around in the living room. He drops everything and heads straight there.

"Hey!"

Rory's in the middle of pushing a chair towards the wall, but stands up straight as he enters.

"What are you doing?" He says pointedly.

She gestures to the laundry bag on the floor.

"Just making room for the clotheshorse."

"Step away from the chair."

She smiles.

"I do this once a week."

"You used to do this once a week." He mutters.

"You're being a little soppy." She shakes her head and picks up the bag.

She's not wrong. He hasn't worried about this before, seemed invasive to protect her from mundane things she handles every day. But now he sees it- him. He knows what he looks like, or more like, he knows there's something to see. Just the memory of this morning makes his head reel. The verity of this whole thing makes him nervous. They're part of this huge project together; there's a to-do-list; they have a clear view of the goal, but without any real comprehension of it, he understands that much. He takes an audible breath and prepares to speak on the exhale. She stops and looks up, questioning. He holds his breath for an extra moment while keeping eye contact with her.

"Let me get that." He goes with and reaches for the bag.

"It's not heavy." She sing-songs with an amused smile.

"Sure it is," he says, mimicking weight as he grabs it from her. "Just let me take care of you, stubborn woman."

She smiles broadly but remains silent. He’s just about to explain himself when she slings her arms around his neck, holding him close. He lets go of the bag and wraps his arms around her waist. They remain like that for a minute, then she lifts her head, sniffing in the air.

"What is that?"

"What is what?"

She lets go of him.

"That smell."

She follows her nose into the hallway and he follows her. She stops and turns, smiling, as she points to the bags.

"You brought Indian!"

He shrugs.

"I considered flowers."

"You hate Indian food!”

"I do not hate Indian food, I just have limited preferences in its cuisine.”

She tilts her head.

"You only eat the Naan.”

"No, I don’t, I sometimes eat-”

She interrupts of course, enjoying this way too much.

"Won't we have to burn the place down to get rid of the smell after?”

"It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”

"For me. You old softie.” She bats her eyelashes at him.

"Want me to get something else?” He threatens.

"You are the most romantic man on the face of the planet!"

He laughs.

"Your low bar is making me look bad."

"I could yell at you for a bit, if you like?"

"Nah, I'll make it work."

"Fodder for your devil-may-care persona."

"Yup."

 

She sets the table while he hangs the laundry.

She wolves down the food while he, slightly embarrassed, nibbles the bread, occasionally dipping it in Daal.

"So, what'd Lorelai say?"

There's a pause as she obviously translates her mother's words to something acceptable.

"So, so much."

He smirks.

"Did you call Liz?" She asks, not without hesitation.

"Not yet. But I texted Doula, she might've passed it on."

Rory nods, no dissatisfaction apparent.

"So. A boy." She goes after a few forkfuls of Pulao. "Got any name preferences?"

"Not really. I wasn't prepared for this contingency." He admits.

She looks at him for a second.

"Well, what did you have in mind for a girl?"

He opens his mouth before realizing that he really has nothing for that option either. She puts down her cutlery.

"I've been name-dropping for weeks and you haven't even prepared alternatives of your own to prevent our kid being named Kharma or something like that?"

"Don't you think I know when you're kidding?" He says.

Her eyes narrow.

"Do you now?"

Dammit.

"See," she continues, "I was thinking that Valentine might be appropriate from this momentous day when we found out that he was a he. If you ask me there aren't enough men named Valentine walking around out there. What the world needs now is love, after all."

He shakes his head, smiles dismissively, but she's on a roll now.

"Or maybe Allen from the first book we shared."

He stops smiling, because even if he does appreciate the very real reference he does not want any child of his being named Allen, for a myriad of reasons.

"See?" Rory goes cruelly. "You can't tell the difference, can you? Oh! What do you think of a combination? Allentine! To the book and the day!" She raises her glass of water, her mouth twitching. He breathes again.

"Fine! I promise I'll give it serious thought starting now."

"Good, and don't take too long, you don't want me involving my mother in this, do you?"

"No, miss Gilmore."

They smile at each other across the table. She frowns.

"What did we do last year?"

"This particular day?"

"Yeah."

He presses his lips together and taps his chin.

"I think we might've been in New York."

"For that Expo-thing?" She squints at him. "You think or you know?"

"I know." He answers, somewhat reluctantly.

"I'm sorry." She says. "This is not your festivity it seems."

"How so?" He's genuinely perplexed.

"Well, this year you're stuck in a condemned apartment with a living room full of laundry and a girlfriend taking names, and last year you were working and spent the evening viced in between your ex and me and ended up cross examined in freezing temperatures."

"Wow. And people call me a pessimist." He grabs her hand. "I remember playing footsie and getting groped by you in a pub with excellent music-"

"I didn't- You were just as-"

"And I remember you saying you loved me."

She drops her protest and looks at him with those eyes. He goes on.

"Pretty romantic if you ask me. And this year, I found out interesting things about this mystery person who seems to hold some importance to my future, and I'm just, sitting here, considering that."

"And defending yourself." She adds lightly.

"And defending myself."

They smile at each other.

"Of course," he adds, "I am low maintenance."

Her eyes gleam and she stands up and grabs matches off of the kitchen fan, lighting the candle in the bougeoir at the table. She turns on That's Amore from her evergreen-playlist, that she keeps mainly to pool the music her grandfather loved. She likes to sort her music, not surprisingly, by the people in her life. She takes a seat in his lap while singing along theatrically. He winces and smiles at the same time and she starts fiddling with his hair seemingly absent minded, her singing fading. There a surge through him at the weight and warmth of her, her touch and just her. His hand travel from her thigh to her stomach. She puts her face close to his. Speaks lowly so close that he feels the vibration from her voice in the air between them.

"It's been pretty busy in there today."

"What's it feel like?" He asks, at once needing to know.

"Like I'm nervous." She lifts her shirt placing his hand against her skin. "You probably won't feel it now though."

"I might have other reasons for being nervous myself." He mumbles. "And for touching you." He spots her smiling before she kisses him. He's gotten used to their new careful way around each other. She's been tired, nauseous, and maybe worried. He sure has been. Is. They didn't plan this, and she has issues with the unexpected. There are more risks when the woman is over thirty. She might have been worrying about stuff too. He knows that of course but hasn't thought explicitly about it in a while. But the way she kisses him reminds him that it can be different, and he's urgently aware that another place than a kitchen chair might be appropriate for rediscovering that, right-fucking-now.

"Hold on." He mumbles between their lips, takes tighter hold of her and lifts her from the chair as he stands up.

"Na-uh" She mumbles back and keeps kissing him. He smiles and sidles them through the hallway to the bedroom. She has a few extra pounds, that he probably wouldn't even had been aware of if they hadn't been expecting them, looking for them even. He drops her a few inches above the mattress, and she bounces as she lands, a shaky laugh pushed from her lungs at the impact. He buries his face at her neck kissing it, hand slipping under her shirt. She naturally starts talking.

"So, we've already established that you're low-maintenance."

He shakes his head in silent laughter and paces his breath. Her timing is so bad it's funny.

"Yes?" He manages.

"What's the worst Valentine's Day you've ever had?"

He turns over on his side and leans his head in his hand.

"Between the two mentioned I'd have to say last year, too many people."

"No, I mean all of them."

"I haven't had any other." He fiddles with her hair.

"What d'you mean no other?" She gets on her side too, facing him. "What about Night?"

"We went out of our way to ignore it, like true members of our generation."

She stares at him for a while with an expression he actually has trouble deciphering.

"Tell me about the two of you."

He shoots his head closer and stares at her.

"Why?"

"Because I’m curious." Now she's the one playing with his hair. "She’s the only one you ever mention, even if you’ve dated other people."

He turns over on his back.

"That was not dating. That was deliberately hooking up with people to show everyone how well-adjusted I was."

"Well then, what was different about her?"

"Is this really the day for that conversation?"

"Of course it is!" She places her head on his shoulder and drags her index finger from his forehead down his face. Speaks in an exaggerated tone, like she's reciting poetry. "This is the day of hearts, broken, healed and whole, past and present, when we revel in the year's new birth and the stirring in the earth, and spring is coming, not because we can see it, but because we know, from experience, you follow?"

"Barely." He sighs with a smile. "Why do you wanna know?"

"Because I wanna know about you. Now, could you stop being so difficult and talk to me?"

"Okay." He pushes his arm under her and reels her closer. "Truncheon was putting out their book and we hung out a lot together." He hesitates, it's not that it was all bad, but that everything besides work back then seems like a compromise from where he's standing now. He tries to be kind to himself, he didn't really have a choice at the time, but it's hard when he knows that even that is a truth with modification. "We had a lot in common, got on well. We were both partying and hooking up with other people pretty frequently. We got tired of it the same time; presto, hardly some great romance."

"Then why-" She starts, but he interrupts, eager to get it over with.

"Because she was my friend, and I may not have been in love with her but I loved her. And because it was the first time I- Not everybody has your experience, you know."

"And what experience is that?" She lifts her head slightly.

"Exclusively being with people you care about."

"Excuse me?" She gets on her elbows, frowning. "Is that what you think my entire experience has been?"

"Am I wrong?"

"Yes!" She pauses. "Or, it's just... complicated. It wasn’t always like that."

"No?"

"No. I don't think we're that different actually."

He tilts his head.

"You know my what my main feeling about that stuff was? Let down. In the beginning it felt... pure. Like an adventure, like destiny, and then I figured out that timing is really difficult, and if you're not lucky then it screws everything up, and love, like a force, can actually break a person down, and that... just made me really sad." She leans back on him, her hands and chin on his chest. "So, when I left college, I just didn’t look for it anymore." She pinches her lips together. "Anything I'd pick would have to go perfectly with my choices rather than feelings. Anything that made me feel remotely good would do."

He feels bad. Strokes her cheek.

"And then I met you again and it didn’t feel remotely good. Just different. Awkward, and achy." She locks eyes with him. "And then really, really good. Nonsensical, right?"

"Maybe not." He sighs. "Does it matter?"

"It matters that you have this idea of me as being this person who only ever ’made love’ ’cause I’m not. I was in relationships to hide, not because I was so into the guy." She shakes her head. "Paris was right about me. I’ve done stupid things, just to do something, and I’m betting you can relate. And you started out with people you didn’t care about; my curve went the other way. So, I’d say that you at least got better while I got worse."

"Hey." He pushes them over until she's on her back and kisses her briefly on her temple, cheek and finally mouth. "If it's a matter of where you start, then where were you gonna go, huh?"

She takes a deep breath and contemplates it. Smiles.

"And now we’re meeting in the middle."

"Something like that."

"Sometimes I wish I’d been strong enough to just choose being on my own."

"Being alone isn't all that hard. Tending only to yourself, or not, it's completely up to you. Not having anything, anyone, you get used to it. It's a safe habit 'cause you have so little to lose. Being around people might be harder. And it's a longer way to fall."

"Like I fell."

"I didn't mean you, but... Listen, why do you think I was in such a foul mood 'round Stars Hollow? Because being around people you care about demands that you interact with them in a real way, and that, I did not know how to do."

They fall quiet. He sticks his hand under her shirt again, stroking the side of her body, and he bends his back, sliding down to kiss her belly. She sighs, a little content note in her breath. He glances up and she's watching him.

"Speaking of real; This ultra-sound... It made it really... real."

"Yup." He looks at her skin.

"He's actually coming."

"Yup." He drags his fingers over it, watching it prickle.

"This is it. Not a drill."

"I'm aware." He looks back up at her with a reassuring smile.

"You're not worried about the end of freedom? The days of driving off in your car is over." She says overly casual, like a joke. He shrugs.

"Not sure I'd call that freedom." He starts, pauses. "I don't know. Everywhere I go there I am. I always need to work, so life is basically the same everywhere I've been. It loses its appeal kinda quickly."

"There's something to be said for going, though." She diverts her gaze to the ceiling. "Being on your way. Just, that moment. Like your body doesn't matter, like you're weightless, flying."

"Yeah." No denying that. He pictures all those moments, after a while they merge. It's night, day, dawn and dusk. It's raining, the sun blinds him. He's angry, panicking, restless, broken-hearted, free, and on rare occasions, excited. And somehow the feeling of going makes it manageable. You're doing, even if it's stupid, or just to do something full stop. It's better than throwing fists or harsh words or directly hurting yourself. But it's just treating the symptom. The body does matter, is matter. It has pull, weight and will fuck you up if you don't acknowledge it.

He sees her again and it's the opposite feeling. He's unaware of the past and the future but tethered to this instant. This room smelling mostly like sleep, blissfully just a hint of the damn take-away. It's night, skies clear outside the window. Her head on her pillow, hair spread across it. Rosy cheeks and dark eyes now aimed at him half-veiled by lashes, her hands under his t-shirt at the neck, nails lightly scratching his skin. And he's calm, his heartbeat strong and steady. The only sign of restlessness is the buzzing urge to get her naked, but that seems doable.

Chapter Text

Know I love you all I can. - Sleeping in a Car, The Staves

March 2017, Stars Hollow
Week 25

She's on her old bed. The weather outside is chilly, but the rays of sun through the window bakes whatever it lands on. Things are as they used to be on the surface. Her old furniture, even the quilt on the bed. It seems like any of the thousands of past afternoons spent in this place. She and Jess are dog-sitting while Lorelai and Luke are visiting April.

She's sitting back against the headboard, reading the edited copy of chapter five of her own manuscript. Jess's comments in the margins are making her increasingly displeased with the order of the book at large. Turns out telling your own story from beginning to proverbial end is hard. Your first memories aren't even yours but scaffolded by your parents' stories. And it makes the chapters feel uneven. She's annoyed at the script's ability to be done at one point and then nowhere near it later. Doesn't seem fair that it can change on its own, like some living being. Jess's notes are constructive but doesn't address the overall problem she experiences. He's either being kind or doesn't see it. It is possible his head is busy elsewhere, it's a marvel she's doing this today herself, she's not up for it and wants to do something else; Re-read something off her old shelves or even just stare at the dust in the air, the blue sky outside the window. Maybe it's just one of those days, or maybe she's preparing for what’s to come. She checks her watch, not time yet.

There are two books by Hemingway on her bed stand, and she’s sick enough off her own manuscript to put it down in exchange for them being within reach; A Moveable Feast that Jess got her way back when he was trying to convince her, and a poetry collection she owned long before that. She picks up the latter. Her relationship with poetry is much more on the sensory plane than one might expect, she likes the feeling of a book in her hands even on the rare occasion when she’s not up for reading, and she loves looking at the pages, the graphic of them, the way the words are allowed their own shrine in the space of big margins, even if some of them are crap. She prefers other poets by far, but she likes his poetry better than his fiction, and his writing better now in general. She has a feeling that her issues with him stems from him being so hard to talk to, so to speak; so little said. Or that she’s angry with him for throwing his life away. But she likes the fact that he was a poet at one point, there's a distinct puppy-like quality to a man writing bad poetry, something his machismo persona could use in her humble opinion.

She listens to Jess rummage around the back, he has a list of things to do around the house. The sound of him being busy outside, while she's on her bed reading takes her back to that day when she'd landed him the chore of cleaning the rain-gutters, with the backhanded motive to get her mom to like him. Even now she winces at the awkward plan, as well as how she stubbornly refused to admit what she already knew. No. Or yes, she was being stubborn, but mostly scared; of what it would mean to admit it, of who it would hurt, of who would have to do the hurting. So, she sat on her bed, trying to read, but unable to focus. Now the sound of him working comforts and calms her instead of upsetting or distracting her, and she listens for the simple pleasure of it. Him being here, hers.

Paul Anka barks and the gravel of the driveway is pushed over with a crunch and an engine turns off. Birds chirp. The door bells rings, and it's not until then that she draws the correct conclusion from the sounds she just registered. Darn. She pushes herself off the bed, and hurries to open the door, before Jess has to.

She hasn't seen her father since November, so the time has come. She usually doesn't take the initiative herself, that fight went out of her long ago, but she does miss him, still, and occasionally that feeling coincides with him calling. This time it was a bit different. She'd been preoccupied with everything new, and when he called she went cold at the realization that she hadn't told him. It was like one of those nightmares you have in which you've forgotten something big and obvious, except real. She scheduled a lunch date with him as soon as she was going to be in Connecticut, still without telling him though, sometimes she baffles herself. They were supposed to meet at the Gazebo, but she should've known he wouldn't be able to resist ringing this particular doorbell.

"You're pregnant." He says as soon as he's given her a once over, smiling as ever though.

She looks down. It's been a while since she could wear her normal pants and she's currently in pair of tights from the maternity section with a tunic for a top, but still feels small, like she might've just put on some extra weight. She realizes that it would probably be pretty obvious to anyone who hadn't seen her for a while. Her bad conscience jabs her gut again.

"Yeah. I'm sorry I didn't tell you." She pauses slightly to search his face for signs of a negative reaction, but he only looks surprised at this point. She takes the opportunity to squeeze out the rest of her so-called explanation. "At first, we wanted to wait until we were more sure it was going to happen, and then it wasn't that much of a wait for the ultrasound, and after that, I just dropped the ball."

"It's alright. But you have to tell me more about it at lunch."

"Absolutely. Shall we?"

"We shall, but hey, don't I get to meet your guy first?"

Shoot. Another oversight, this one might have been more intentional, in that she's purposefully avoided considering the possibility. Was sort of hoping he wouldn't ask. It's not that she doesn't want them to meet per se. But she doesn't know what her father knows. What he remembers from way back, or what her mother might have told him whenever they last spoke. She doesn't keep track of that either, seems better to let sleeping dogs lie. On all fronts. Unfortunately, that also means she has a hard time forecasting the outcome of situations involving said dogs, and she does hate not being prepared. She smiles tightly.

"Sure, hang on. Jess! Could you come here?"

There's a muffled thud from the back and a low mumble, presumably swear-words, from where Jess is struggling with the water bottle, then steps and a moment later he appears at the corner of the porch. He halts at the sight of Christopher, but it probably takes an expert to notice. It doesn't escape her attention either that Christopher looks intently at Jess as he walks across the porch. Jess wipes his hands on his pants before reaching for Christopher's.

"Mr. Hayden, nice to meet you. I didn't know you were coming here, I would've-"

"I've always been bad at following instructions." Christopher says. "In this case I might've broken the rules to get a chance to meet you." He shakes Jess's hand. "I understand you're related to Luke. It shows."

A slight look of puzzlement grazes Jess's face before he replies, with a steady smile.

"Thank you."

She weighs between her feet. Can't really figure out her father's real intentions with this little surprise visit, he's all smiles, as always, but there's a devious streak to him that she's never grown to be able to predict the turns of.

"Now that we're all acquainted, we should get going." She tries and grabs her coat.

"Just a moment, honey." Christopher isn't going to make this easy and keeps his attention on Jess. "I'm told you're in publishing. How's the money?"

"Uhm, enough."

"Enough to raise a kid?"

She winces, and Jess frowns but controls it before it's obvious and answers curtly.

"It won't be fancy, but we'll make due."

It hits her that she hasn’t considered, no, strike that, she hasn’t worried about money in connection to this. How is that possible? She’s felt, perhaps groundlessly safe and she knows that it’s because of her family. She may not always see eye to eye with her grandma, but she counts blindly on her loyalty. She and her father don’t even see each other regularly but she wouldn’t hesitate to turn to him in a crisis. And she understands that Jess hasn’t thought like that. He’s counted on them having to get by on his paycheck, he’s probably looked into financial plans, maybe even other professions for them to make this work. It’s surreal to consider, because they are tight. In ways she feels like they never left that close embrace they were in the night she told him. She’s been clinging to him since then and he to her, yet there are things she hasn't picked up on, and obviously vice versa.

"Come on, dad, let's go."

"Alright, alright. Nice to meet you. We'll talk more next chance we get."

Jess nods. She's missed parts of his experience regarding this pregnancy, he hasn't told her everything. At the same time, she's actually warmed at the realization that he's obviously thought about this, carried it around, not wanting to burden her. She steps up to him and kisses him goodbye, a bit longer than she might have without that insight.

She and Christopher get to walking towards the center of town. The sun is warm, but occasionally gusts of wind hit them as reminders of how far they have to go.

"How's your mom?" He goes. She glances at him, but his eyes are fixed ahead.

"Happy." Rory answers, maybe a tad quickly. "Why? When did you last speak?"

"It's been a while. I actually did check my email. Last thing I could find was from when Richard died."

She doesn't ask what kind of message it was, and he doesn't tell.

They're approaching the Gazebo.

"So, what fine establishment shall have our business today? What are you in the mood for?" He asks her.

She taps her finger on her lower lip, trying to remember which cuisine Al is up to these days.

"Actually," she goes after a few beats, "I wouldn't mind Luke's."

"Really?"

"Yeah. It's perfect actually. Luke's not there to guilt-trip me about my fries-habit."

"He's a handful, huh?"

"Yeah, I mean, he's just being protective." Her speech slows some when she realizes this subject might be a slippery slope. "And always sort of surly about it. It's just his way."

They grab a table by the window and Ceasar glances nervously at her as she puts down her elaborate and clearly unhealthy order.

"Just tell him I ate plenty, if he asks." She adds at the end, not managing to change Ceasar's expression though. "Or it'll just be our secret."

He nods and heads into the kitchen. Christopher chuckles, then clears his throat.

"So, kid, when are you due?"

"June."

"I'll be a grandpa."

"That's how it works."

"Don't name the kid from my side of the family, 'kay? Nothing but Straubs and Ursulas."

"And Christophers." She adds somewhat tenderly. "But we haven't decided yet, we're still stuck between Beat writers and members of The Clash."

"Emily must be thrilled."

Rory chuckles.

"She's mostly upset that we don't seem too keen on an official naming, or a wedding."

"She would be." Christopher allows. "What's the deal with you and him? Did I imagine that you used to date before?"

"Nope, you didn't imagine it, you never met him though. It was right after the big blow-up of 2002."

Christopher stops smiling.

"That early?"

"Yup. It didn't last long. Many years past. We reconnected."

He stops her with a gesture, the pieces unfortunately falling into place.

"Wait a minute; Jess? Luke's... nephew? Your arm?"

She goes cold and immediately steels herself, straightens in her chair and puts up a hand to stop him.

"Listen. I'm going to indulge you because you don't know, which is better than for example being obstinate or locked in old habits, but to tell you the truth I'm actually a bit tired of having to say what I'm gonna." She takes a breath to see if he's still with her. He is, he's watching her with a serious expression. "Here's what you need to know: Yes, it's the same guy. But that accident was a Collab of stupid from the both of us. And our relationship at the time for that matter. Because we were kids." She knows that's it; She'd had one foot in the past and one in her fragile future the whole time, and he'd been unable to trust her, hid himself and things from her. She can't help thinking how he's still able to do that but doesn't have time to get stuck in that at the moment. "We are together now, however, and good with the forgiveness and stuff, it's the forgetting I could use some help with, you see?"

"Not really."

"Don't voice concern, I've heard enough of that." She explains. "I can use faith though, support, trust. I love him for good reason and a bit without reason at all. He never stopped loving me. We're having a baby together. The only possible direction is forward at this point."

There's something about the look in his eyes that makes her certain he has more objections, but he surrenders anyway.

"Well, I guess I can relate to the loving you part."

Their power balance is uneven, has been since she was in her twenties, or possibly earlier, but she didn't take advantage of it back then. She's still not too fond of doing it. A part of her still wishes he could act the protective father, no matter the subsequent trouble. Of course, now she has someone else's need to use it for, if need be.

She smiles.

"It is relatable."

The food arrives, and Christopher picks up a fry, but stops mid-motion.

"You happy?"

She winces, and he frowns at her expression.

It’s a strange happiness. Not uncomplicated for them as separate individuals, she knows that. He’ll get into quiet, grumpy moods, where she’ll have to shake him verbally or move him physically, usually by cornering him in a hug, to make him communicate himself out of them. Sometimes it takes longer too, since him being quiet isn’t anything outside of the ordinary.

And she? Well… Occasionally there’ll be a rift in the space time continuum and the past will flicker with varying intensity over the present. She’ll feel like she’s seventeen, nineteen, twenty-one, and he’ll be seventeen, nineteen, twenty-one, and, oh god, she’ll have gotten pregnant by her high school boyfriend, and it won’t matter that she’s thirty-two for it. In her dark fantasies he’ll have done what his father did to him and left, but even when she imagines him as he truly is; present, it’s still a kind of nightmare, hers and her mother’s as well as her grandmother’s trauma reimagined in facing mirrors forever and ever.

She’ll shake it off. Sometimes. Most of the time. Sometimes she can't, and she’ll feel bad for no good reason. Sometimes she’ll miss Logan. Or, not Logan specifically, but his ability to rationalize everything, boil down every accident, every mistake to fate, destiny, and the way it should be. And how he could convince her of anything, how she would let him.

Jess doesn’t do that. Instead he’ll say "okay” when she shares her jumbled feelings and look at her with those serious eyes of his, and the following days he’ll work harder. He’ll handle the housework and shoo her off if she tries to interfere. She’ll watch him and think that he's earning his own existence like he told her she didn’t have to, and it’ll break her heart a little, but she’ll still let him, because there’s no convincing him otherwise. And he’ll crash on the couch, head tilted back, eyes closed, and she’ll climb onto his lap, into his arms which he’ll fold around her, and press her face to his neck. And she’ll be fine again.

She sighs.

"It's just that I don’t think happy covers it. Not in any direction." She's trying to explain the restlessness she feels. Happy sometimes means being alive with euphoria, and sometimes resting, completely content. She experiences both plenty lately, but it never lasts through the every-day. Those are imprinted with the buzzing frustration of writing and not knowing; loving, hoping, worrying and not knowing. Living a happy ending that she's accepted won't end, but instead generate new or continued stories. "I’ve read books, I know how it's supposed to go but I- I just don’t know how I’ll feel inside. And I guess I just wanna acknowledge that I don’t really have any idea what to expect."

"That's very mature of you." Christopher says. "Not that I'm surprised. You’re your mother’s daughter after all.”

There are many things she could tell him. That might be it; She’s scared that she takes after him more. And it feels both like grief and relief; The realization that she and her mother, as close as they are, aren't all that alike. Grief, because she thought so for so long, wanted to be her mother, so it makes it feel like she lost something, time, if nothing else. Relief, because she could never really measure up, and yeah, she knows how weird it seems. She was going to have the great adventure her mother never got to have. But impulsive, it hasn't really worked for her. At least not in the sense she was hoping it would. So instead, she worked, and struggled, but without it yielding anything tangible.

She vented to Jess, on one occasion when she felt extraordinarily wrong in her skin:

"When I think of her, I'm thinking Wonder Woman. And I was a sidekick, at best."

"Well, maybe she had to be. Maybe it looked like an adventure from the outside. Maybe she was scared."

"And did it anyway. Brave."

"Yeah, but I bet there were times she would have traded it for feeling safe for a bit, for your sake if nothing else."

She teased him for sounding like her mother, but he, just like Lorelai, had a point.

She’s so aware of what traits and behaviors she and her mother share and in which areas they’re hopelessly separated. Sometimes it seems the only difference is that she would ask for help and Lorelai wouldn't, but that little thing has created great divides at times. And maybe the alternative scares her a bit too. Being just like Lorelai.

But she doesn’t tell Christopher any of that. He dips the fry in ketchup, still without eating it.

"But what about the money? 'Make due' with my grandkid isn't exactly the level of comfort I like to work with. I'd like to help."

"And that would be welcome."

"Good.” Christopher smiles. ”We'll talk more on it later but now I'd like to see what's so terrible about these fries."

 

Her father follows her back, hugs and kisses her and drives off. She remains in the driveway for a few minutes, watching the dust settle. All in all it's been a nice afternoon. He's kept any disappointment at bay, and it's been good to tell him everything, a weight lifting. But her happiness is as always, when it comes to Christopher, wistful, instead of satisfying. Loving him is never without pain, and the more she feels one, she feels the other. A reminder of what they'll never have. But. It is the best they can do. So, she smiles. She walks around the yard and finds Jess and Paul Anka at the back, leeward of the house, where the former is busy trimming the rampant hedges at the edge of the garden, while the latter is spread out in the grass enjoying the afternoon sun. She sits down next to the dog and strokes his fur.

"How was lunch?" Jess asks with a quick glance.

"Pretty good. We went to Luke's."

He smirks.

"Planning on driving him crazy with that when he gets back?"

"I wouldn't stab Ceasar in the back like that." She smiles broadly at her own joke and looks at him for validation, but he's focused on what he's doing.

"Any more jabs from absentee fathers you had to defend me from that I should know about?" He goes after a moment, tone artificially casual.

She tilts her head, her father really got to him.

"No." She pats him on the cheek and ignores that he shies away slightly from the touch. "He was on his best behavior after we left here." There's no point in mentioning Christopher's skepticism when she unveiled who Jess was. "We mainly talked about the baby. In fact-" She goes on without thinking about it until the words are already on her tongue. "He offered to set up a trust fund for him."

He lowers the shears and turns to actively regard her.

"What d'you say?"

"'Thank you, daddy'?" She responds lightly and scratches Paul Anka's ear.

"Huh."

It's interesting how well she's learned to read that sound of his. She looks at him and he has returned to his task, but his expression has definitely hardened.

"What’s wrong with that?" She asks.

"What did he want in return? Friday night dinners?" His motions are sharp.

"Jess..."

He interrupts her by getting up off his knees and collecting his tools.

"You know what? It's none of my business."

"What do you mean none of your business?" She gets up too and Paul Anka lifts his head to look at them. "It's your child."

"Coulda fooled me." He spits and starts walking away.

"Hey!" She throws after him, but he doesn't stop.

He continues up the porch and puts the tools at Luke's work desk like that's really all he's doing. She follows him and grabs his arm to turn him to her. He sighs before speaking, slowly, supposedly to control his temper.

"Look. It's not even about the money. Obviously, I want what's best for this baby, and we'd be dumb to not accept help, it's just..." He takes a breath and looks away, then back with raised eyebrows. "You didn't even ask me. And it's not just about this. Rory, between you and your mother - which by the way, I do not take issue with – and Emily and Christopher throwing themselves over each other to help, to make this right..." He points between them. "It should be you and me turning this into what we want it to be."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm saying that you might not even be aware that you're doing it, but you're making it so that you have no use for me."

The words hit her hard, and she quietly gasps at the impact. They are too close, considering what she's been thinking about and discussing with her mother, and that burns, but at the same time they are so wrong. Even if she'd wanted to do this on her own she’s not sure she could have left him. Hasn't she needed him enough, too much even? And hasn’t it been painfully obvious the last months? That's how it's felt on her end and being told that she's pulling away infuriates her.

"Excuse me?" She hisses.

"If our child gets money from your dad, care and support from your mom... What am I good for?"

She drags a hand across her face, struggling to keep her voice even.

"Holy cow," she mumbles. "I am actually so angry with you right now, that I think I'm literally seeing red. You of all people should know-" She actually has to pause for a breath.

She stares at him as she remembers where they are, who could be listening. She shakes her head and promptly walks inside the house. She heads into the living room throwing looks towards Babette's house to check for spies, but there's no one there except for the garden gnomes. A wet nose pushes against her hand, and she instinctively pets Paul Anka before turning toward Jess who's hovering by the staircase. His expression is still hard, and he gestures to mark his words.

"I'm just struggling to find my place in this. It's a situation that should concern the two of us primarily, and you keep inviting more and more of your family into it." He bites his lip and exhales through his nose before going on. "That's what I mean when I say it's none of my business. This is all about you and your family."

"Jesus Jess!" Her voice is louder now. "You're so wrong it's scary."

He glares at her and puts a finger to his chest.

"I haven't dragged anyone else into this."

"Yeah!" She takes a few steps closer to him. "And why is that?" It's not a question.

He shakes his head.

"Why the hell would I want my whack-job of a family anywhere near this?"

"That's not the reason and you know it!" Her chest hurts as her words make their way up her throat, and she has to raise her voice just to get them out. It feels like crying. "Why don't you just admit that you’re scared witless? That you wanna run away?" Her voice breaks.

His eyes widen.

"That is the last thing I wanna do!" He sounds panicked, and it scares her plenty.

They both fall silent, staring at each other. She steps up and grabs his wrists instinctively, flight fluttering in her chest as it must in his. Can't let it happen. She forces her heartbeat to slow with a few deep breaths. She starts speaking, eyes fixed to his chest rather than his face.

"We will not do this. We will not perpetuate that you can’t count on people, that you have to go it alone, that you have to say no to kindnesses ’cause of pride, or suspect people’s motives. We won’t do it, because as much as I love you-" She steps closer and puts her forehead to his, emphasizing her words. "And I love you so much - I don’t want our son to have to be like you."

She allows it to hover between them for as long as she can bear, then looks to his face, reluctant. He clenches his jaws, expression serious, tired, all fight gone out of him.

"My dad can never right the wrongs he did me," she goes on, "but I’m not so petty that I’d exclude him from his grandchild’s life because of it." She tilts her head forcing him to look at her. "It’s not about us owing him, it’s about him owing me. And he’s had no way of repaying, repairing, until now. This is important for him too." She hasn't spoken the words before, not even in her head, but they are true. "So, here’s what’s gonna happen: we will accept this, because it is for him." She nods downwards. "And you will stop fretting about it. Because I need you, in every way that I don’t need money, or my mother," her voice trembles again, "and I need you to give him everything that my dad couldn’t give me. You hear me?" She takes a shaky breath.

He blinks but doesn't look away. His voice is just above a whisper.

"Yes."

"Good." She manages and walks off.

She gets into her room, and barely closes the door before she stifles a sob, pressing her hand to her mouth. It never turns into much, a few tired tears running down her face, it's how she's cried over her father since she grew up, in fact, it's rare that tears are even involved. That's what happens when you finally give up, where there's little hope there's little pain, at least not the sharp kind, more like an ache on occasion. She curls up on the bed and stares at the wall for a few minutes.

There's a knock at the door and she doesn't protest when he enters, doesn't really know why she shut it to begin with. The mattress shifts as he lies down behind her, and she feels his tentative hand on her shoulder. She takes a deep breath and reaches to grasp it. At the touch he kisses her neck, still quiet, but there's a haste to it that has her turning around capturing his mouth with hers. His hands are stroking her face, her neck, her hair. Not apologizing, but something like it.

At once she's all tenderness, regret and gratitude. That he came for her instead of getting back to work, as he could have, which would be understandable under the circumstances. She sniffles quietly and the kisses taste of salt from her earlier tears. She opens her eyes and looks at him. His gaze wanders her face along with his fingers and meets hers after a beat. He dries her tears with the side of his hand. She pushes his name though her lips in a little sob.

"I'm sorry."

He closes his eyes.

"Stop it."

He kisses her again, with no apparent indication of stopping. Her hands drag down his body, and his breath turns ragged.

It escalates quickly. She's trying not to use sex as a distraction so much these days, they don't need it and it brings back bad memories for her anyway, but sometimes, like now, it's difficult to disregard its painkilling abilities. There's a moment right in the middle of it when he demands her attention, slowing his motions to a halt and tapping her lips with his fingers.

"Hey." He whispers sharply. She looks up into his eyes with some resistance, a bit annoyed at the interruption. He stares at her though, serious, while struggling to stay still and pace his breath.

"I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying. You got that?"

There's a sting in her throat– a tightness in her chest. It's the acknowledgement of her very real, albeit irrational and therefor unacceptable, fear, and the emotion at his adamant promise. She can't avoid it when he's inside her, can't shield herself at that point and sort of hates it. She swallows thickly.

"Yes."

 

After, they’re side by side, tightly to fit on her old bed. She's trembling slightly. He sticks his arm under her neck and pulls her closer, putting his lips to her temple.

"I don't want him to be like me either," he whispers on his slowing breaths.

More pain. From pity this time.

"That's not-" she starts, halts, and adjusts her position turned toward him before continuing. "You can balance anyone’s checkbook. You know everyone’s debts. You carry everything with you. You build on your pain. But that’s your groundwork, and it might not hurt anymore, but it did at one point and he doesn’t have to feel that. He doesn’t have to make the best of a bad situation, to build on being broken – He can be whole."

He's just silent in response. Lies still for about a minute before pulling the blanket over them.

 

Even later they’re still in bed, she has her head on his chest, ear to his heartbeat. Paul Anka is enjoying getting his ears scratched while lying across their legs. She's getting hungry but is, just like him it seems, stalling having to get up to make dinner. The sky is orange.

"What about Richard?" He mumbles.

She blinks in surprise and answers as a smile spreads across her face, and maybe a little bit inside too, as she understands what he's referring to.

"That's a nice thought, but... I don't know, feels like it'd be a bit too much about me."

"I don't mind."

She squeezes him tighter, gives something back.

"Well, I think we should set the bar a bit higher than 'don't mind'. How 'bout Jack?"

"We could tell Paris it's after Kerouac." He suggests, voice almost gleeful.

"That would drive her crazy." She laughs.

"Good." He sighs. "Although, maybe we should set the bar a bit higher than 'just to drive Paris crazy'."

"Okay, but you're pushing it. Hey, speaking of pranks, what if we named him Lucas?"

He chuckles but seems to consider it.

"Too mean. But..." He pauses. "William."

"As in Luke's- your grandfather?"

He shrugs.

"Yeah. I didn't know him, but consensus seems to be he was a good guy, and Luke- but I don’t know. Maybe it’s a bit too much about me."

"Hey, Luke’s mine too." She automatically objects. The sound of the name clicks into place. "And I actually love it. William. Will."

"Okay then. And we can tell Paris it’s after Burroughs."

Chapter Text

The birth of an accident grew to a spectacle that couldn't wait. - New Mistake. Jellyfish

April 2017, Stars Hollow
Week 29

 

Liz arrives at the diner with both TJ and Doula tagging along even if she's talked about just her helping. On instinct he moves from the front to a safer place behind the counter and starts folding napkins when he sees them coming. Luke speaks his mind the moment they enter.

"Why are you all here? It doesn't start for another hour, we don't need this many people crowding the place!"

"Figured we could use the company." Liz tries.

"Don't worry 'bout it, Liz." TJ says. "I know when I'm not wanted. I'll just go back and work on my project." He turns to Jess. "If they could make suspension bridges for moats in the dark ages I'm pretty sure I can construct my own garage door opener."

"Sure, TJ." Jess says, not letting his morbid amusement show.

TJ heads for the door where Luke is stationed.

"Such a scam to buy a ready-made, huh, Luke?"

Slight panic runs across Luke's face.

"What one man can do, another can do!" TJ hoots as the door closes behind him.

"Uhm, TJ!" Luke calls and heads after his brother-in-law.

Lorelai shoots Jess a look, which he pointedly ignores, he has his own baby on the way without looking after Liz' chosen one. Liz puts her bejeweled bag on a table and steps up to the counter.

"What can we do? What do you need? Your bidding, good sir."

He smiles tightly and nods to the storage.

"Lane's the boss."

Liz heads to the storage and Doula sneaks in behind the counter stopping at his side. She seems to be too old for the giggly, unreserved hugs, at least for the time being. She gets into distinctly physical moods though, and today is such a day. She leans against his side, rolling her entire body back and forth over his shoulder. He smiles and shoves her back.

"They're driving me crazy." She sing-songs.

"Keep it together and you can come stay with us this summer."

"How long?" She asks suspiciously, probing the offering.

"Long weekend?"

"A week."

"Deal." He hands her a stack of napkins and she starts folding. Lorelai calls him for help and they move two tables to make a space for gifts. She looks at him, expression amused.

"What?"

"Your negotiation skills could use some work."

"I want her there, Lorelai."

"No, it's just, you better start practicing now, or you'll be no match for your kid, he'll have you around his little finger in no time."

"I hear that's supposed to happen anyway." He goes.

"Fair enough. But being a parent is constantly being trapped between wanting your kid to be happy now as well as later, and that often takes two very different decisions."

He simpers.

"Well, luckily I'm just a brother in this case, plus, I think preventing a murder might be good for Doula's present and future. One of those unique situations I guess."

"Fine, be willfully ignorant." Lorelai sighs.

"Fine."

"Fine."

Liz emerges from behind the curtain with Lane, the two of them carrying the helium tank. They place it in the corner and Lane runs back to fetch the rest of the decorations. Liz walks up to the table where she left her bag and rummages through it retrieving a soft package. She hands it to him.

"It's for your kid, and I know it's tradition to give stuff like that to the mother, but me and tradition have never been that close."

He stares at the gift, not knowing what to do with it.

"Open it." She says.

He stifles a sigh and quickly unwraps it. It's a pale, yellow piece of cloth from old flannel with a pattern of teddy bears along the edge.

"It's a baby blanket." She explains. "Yours to be precise."

He stares at her, can't control his expression, which has to be some form of mild shock. The two of them moved more times than he can account for, and they never brought many things with them, too much of a hassle. His reading habit grew substantially with age and must have been one of the things annoying her the most since it meant bringing along heavy boxes for their everlasting journey. It's quite possibly what made his ideas of personal possession so liberal, since she knowingly sent off a lot of his books to rid the two of them of baggage, causing him to steal them back from wherever he could. And, as an added bonus it drove her crazy when he got into trouble. The idea of her holding on to anything they didn't absolutely need for so many years seems unreal.

"It's nothing special. I bought it on a discount about a month before you were born. A friend at the time was tagging along and told me you could never have too many blankets for your kid, so I said: 'what the heck'."

He looks at the cloth in his hands. It draws him in and he wants to inspect it closer, smell it, but it's too intimate a gesture to share with Liz.

"It was a pretty day," she continues, "weather was lovely and Jimmy was a doll. And it used to be so soft. I used to pet it myself those last weeks before you were born. It's aged well. It's probably why I could never bring myself to toss it."

He's uncomfortable and it takes him a few seconds to realize he's in pain. He stops his thumb from moving over the surface of the blanket. He turns and places it on the table reserved for gifts behind him. Takes a second to draw a breath and spots Lorelai and Doula peeking at him and Liz with different degrees of wary.

"Thank you." He says, balancing his tone to keep it from being too tight without it acting as an invite for more.

"It's nothing." She says, and even though he didn't want any public displays of affection, he's taken aback by inherent bitterness of the words. They're barren and not like his mother at all, who's is all about the overwhelming gestures, of love, of anger. He uses it for cover though. The thing really must be worthless, or she'd have sold it years ago. Probably kept it around for padding moving boxes. He knows the thoughts are toxic, but they're part of his make-up at this point even though he tries not to oblige them so much these days. He straightens his back. "Doula and I are gonna wrap a gift for later." Liz finishes and gestures for her daughter to join her. The two of them disappear behind the curtain.

He glances at Lorelai, prepared to face whatever comment she might feel the need to voice, but she's mounting a nozzle on the helium tank and leaves him be.

Luke returns a few minutes later.

"Where’s TJ?” Lorelai asks. "Did he fall into the moat?”

"I sent him shopping." Luke responds. "You can never have too many coffee filters.”

"Wanna bet he’ll prove you wrong?” Jess goes.

"Thanks for helping out back there,” Luke says caustically, "you’re a real lifesaver!”

"The man is not my responsibility.”

"Then who’s is he?”

"How about whoever willingly married him or, I don’t know, his own? Both of them could use the practice.” Jess mutters.

"You know what they say about old dogs?”

"Probably something unfair to dogs.”

Lorelai bursts into laughter. Luke glares at her.

"Nice.”

She slaps a guilty hand over her mouth.

"Hey, don’t you think you forfeit your right to a personal bodyguard if you refuse to read warning labels while being the reason they were invented?” Jess remarks.

Doula joins them before Luke has a chance to answer and Jess falls quiet. He feels a little bad. He doesn't hide his feelings about Liz and TJ, but usually lets his sister set the tone for conversations regarding them and tries to reel her in when she gets upset. It's rare for him to make fun of them openly when she could easily overhear. Then he notices the time.

"I'd love to stay and banter, but I gotta go get Rory."

He leaves the diner as Liz, Lane and Lorelai get started on the balloons, and makes his way to the house. His timing is perfect; Rory pulls up the car when he's about to climb the stairs.

"Hi."

"Hi." He turns and meets her at the vehicle. "How'd it go?"

She smiles before answering which is a really good sign.

"They want it!"

"No!" It's his go-to response to good news. Still eerily uncomfortable with unadulterated joy.

"Yes!"

”I thought it was just a pitch meeting.”

”I did too, but, she actually read the outline I sent her. And, turns out she wasn’t just being polite when she coaxed that first draft copy from me.”

"That is great! Diane is a gem."

"No kidding! And so nice about it, went on and on about how the book is perfect for Silver Moon."

"It is. I'm so happy for you."

Rory inches into his arms.

"It probably wouldn't have happened if it weren't for you so, I owe you thanks too."

"Cork it." He kisses her.

"She also asked about you." Rory's words fall from her mouth even as it's pressed to his. "When were you gonna publish new material.” Her tone is light, but he knows the enquiry is personal too. If he told her to just go eat right now, she’d agree, but he needs to stall. He shrugs.

”I don’t know. I have all these sections and I had a plan but… just doesn’t seem relevant anymore.”

”What do you mean?” She looks worried.

He pecks her nose with a small smile to calm her. Shrugs again.

"I just don’t think the story is about what I thought it was. I have to do some re-writes but I haven't decided how yet, and it's been a while since I've worked on it and it’s not…” He pauses. "It’s not a priority right now.” He strokes a hand across the expanding curve of her belly. She smiles a little.

"Are we meeting mom at Luke's?"

"Yes." With an arm around her he sets them walking in a distinctly slower pace than usual and steers them along the scenic route rather than the closest. She's apparently to distracted by the topic to object. They're halfway down the street when she speaks again.

"Hey, do you need me to be a paying costumer? 'Cause I can do that. I'd pay, say twenty bucks, for your take on how the Beast spent his ten years in the castle. Did he read all the books? I mean, he wouldn't have been busy cleaning. And if so... Wow."

He laughs.

"It's fine. Don't worry about this, not today."

"Alright.”

She reaches her free arm around his waist and hugs him as they're walking. The town square becomes visible ahead a few minutes later. He keeps asking questions, a bit to see how long he can keep her mind busy.

”Okay. So… that’s it? Silver Moon’ll publish it?”

”Yeah. Well. Diane had some revisions she wanted me to consider. A change in the order of the story, a shift in the focus, it would require writing a few more sections.”

”Are you gonna do it?”

”I said I’d think about it. Let her know within a week.”

By now you couldn't miss it.

"What's going on at Luke's?" She says, spotting clusters of green and silver colored balloons anchored at the entrance.

"No idea." He responds, only partly lying he tells himself. Apparently, she can tell anyway.

"Jess!" She says, frowns at him, then looks back, eyes widening in some kind of realization. They've slowed their pace but are moving closer, the alien designs getting clearer on the silvery balloons and the stringers of UFO's in the windows becoming visible. Her mouth drops open as she closes the remaining space between her and the entrance. The guests inside the diner hoot their 'surprise!' And she spins around and glares at him through her wide professional smile.

"I said no baby shower!"

"Yeah, that's easy for you to say when you're not the one convincing Lane of it!" He responds through a smile of his own.

 


 

She looks back, walks inside and receives the group hug charged by Lane. Jess tries slipping by to the back, but she snags hold of his arm while he's passing and closes the distance between them in a hug, all the while she hisses in his ear.

"What good are you if I can't use your antisocial behavior for my own benefit? I need to be able to trust you to protect me like you would your own social life!"

"I was in an impossible situation!" He says defensively. "I talked her off costumes and renting the Inn. Give me some credit."

"It's a baby shower!" She protests loudly.

"Technically," Lane goes, slipping an arm around her, " it's a casual gathering of individuals bringing the occasional gift or hand-me-down for the baby. No funny business. Boys allowed."

Rory quirks an eyebrow at her friend.

"And they will mostly be running errands, but it's a pure coincidink." Lane adds reluctantly. "Oh! Come on! Just accept this silly tradition without a fuss for once!"

"Okay." She lets herself be led inside for a greeting round. Lorelai and Emily are there of course, and Liz, Doula and Paris. Mrs. Kim is sitting with Babette and Patty at a table which, like the others are covered in green, disposable cloth, peppered with golden polka dots. She laughs.

"No leprechauns?"

"Yeah! I was shocked to find that apparently most green party-decorations are meant to connotate St. Patrik's, not alien-baby-showers! The market's just too narrow to meet your unorthodox needs. But, I think it works anyway, for instance: Check out your pot o' gold!" Lane points to the gift-table in the corner. It's already filled with packages, cards and flower, among others a bouquet from Sookie who's apparently not able to attend. "Now, before you freak out, these are all hand me downs! Everything here was gonna come your way anyway, and, you need it. You don't know it yet, but you do. Look at this." Lane lifts down a big, soft package that seems to be wrapped in brown, paper bag, tied together with silver string. "These are some of Steve and Kwan's old clothes and toys."

Rory glares at her.

"What?" Lane says. "You had to get them at some point. Open it!"

Rory opens the package with some difficulty and finds a bag filled with clothes and what looks like the occasional baby toy. She picks out a garment.

"This one still has the price-tag."

"Yeah, you wouldn't believe all the stuff we got for our kids, some of it we never got around to use."

"Right."

"Just you wait. You'll see."

She gives up, laughs, and hugs Lane, rocking them back and forth, pecking her cheek as she pulls back. Luke has appeared, and him, Jess and TJ are placing trays of mac 'n cheese on the counter, as well as some dutiful salad, bread, and bowls of fried bacon.

She winds up at a table with Emily, Liz and Lane. Paris plops down beside her, plate full of mac 'n cheese.

"So, how's our fetus doing? Active? Any nausea?"

"Yes and yes." She answers.

"Good, both good signs."

"Well, I just wish good signs didn't feel so, bad, I guess."

"Comes with the territory." Paris says. "Thank god you have the culinary taste of a toddler, you shouldn't be within a block of wild salmon or tuna in any form. And don't get me started on soft cheeses. You should be glad you don't know all I know, in my line of work you can't be too careful."

"Thank you for not telling me."

"You're welcome," Paris says, straight-faced, before smiling, "that would take a particular brand of meddling, right?"

"One you're simply not capable of." Rory quips.

"I'm all in favor of the more you know," Lane says, "but if anyone told me how to handle my own body to cater to what is essentially a parasite I'd start swinging."

"As long as the experts don't move in next door you have to listen to them." Emily interjects. "They know what they're talking about."

"Then how come the guidelines change so much?" Lane asks. "I mean, one decade a glass of wine is a catastrophe and the next it isn't."

Paris clears her throat loudly.

"I think you're confusing new guidelines with the difference between pregnancy and breastfeeding." She says firmly. "It was never okay to drink again once that was out the window. Do you know what alcohol does to a fetus?"

Rory stifles a sigh.

"Can we possibly not read the pamphlet right now?"

"Fine," Paris says with an overly dismissive gesture, "be it on your own heads, but let me just add, that if there's ever an occasion-"

"I haven't had a drink since week five, Paris." Rory assures.

"Okay, so no alcohol, but the foods!" Lane says. "Isn't that constantly changing? What were the guidelines like in the sixties, Emily?

Emily smiles.

"Nothing like today." She says. "But alcohol was generally frowned upon. And I remember some from when Lorelai was pregnant, you weren't supposed to eat fish back then either, at least not certain kinds, because of the mercury." She passes the question on to Liz who's sitting next to her. "You must have been pregnant about the same time. Do you remember?"

Liz puts down her plate and shrugs cheerfully.

"Guidelines were all different then and, y'know, I wasn't particularly particular with what I ate, drank or inhaled to begin with."

Paris glares at her.

"You're lucky he came out intact, and in working shape." She says. "I hear Doula's having trouble with math. Some cognitive function develops in narrow stretches of time from week to week. Can you account for your diet in the time before week twelve and between week 22 and 30?"

Liz laughs.

"Honey, I don't even recall what I had for breakfast this morning."

"Luck." Paris says pointedly.

"Don't I know it." Liz admits, tone light. "Oh! And I do remember! Granola and a boiled egg!" She adds triumphantly.

Emily shoots Rory a concerned glance that she answers with a small, apologetic smile that has to be slightly sad by now. But Liz is a master of deflection, which actually makes her something of a social Houdini. An expert on navigating awkward situations. She puts her hand to Rory's belly.

"Tell us about the activity, hun. What are the odds of getting your ass kicked?"

Rory smiles.

"Pretty high at the moment, Jess took one to the ear last week, I think he's officially done using me as a pillow."

"You're lucky you get any cuddling time in. "Lane says. "I wouldn't let Zack within ten square feet of me during my pregnancy. Too nauseous, too full of baby, and he did that to me!"

"If I was bearing twins I might feel the same."

"You bet you would. And the kicking! Four legs! I swear sometimes it'd look like a xenomorph was bursting out of me!"

Rory raises her glass for a sip and the others follow her example.

"You don't seem too fond of being pregnant." Emily observes.

"It was the worst time of my life." Lane says simply. "I'm gonna assume you don't share that experience."

"That'd be correct. I quite enjoyed it. Lorelai was planned for and wanted and me and Richard were so very happy..." Her voice fades, then she takes a breath and continues. "The birth though." She looks around. "It might be why I never wanted a second one."

There's hum of confirmation from the others and a following paus.

"I kinda liked giving birth." Paris's voice breaks the silence at the table. Everybody turns and looks sharply at her.

"You are an insane person!" Lane goes.

"What!?" Paris retorts. "It was a chance to understand my true potential! Pain is nothing, it only makes me stronger! I can survive this, I can survive anything!"

"I feel you." Liz says in her warm way. "First time was pretty disorienting, but I'm pretty sure it was the entire situation that made me feel like that. Everything that had happened up 'til then, and everything that was about to happen... It was there in those moments. I wasn't clean, physically or emotionally, y'know?" She turns to a significantly pale Emily. "Second time was so much better, safe space, safe people, probably the biggest day of my life."

Lane looks between Liz and Paris, and to the others. After a few beats she smiles.

"Well, we are all here. That is pretty cool."

"Hear, hear." Emily says.

A whistle cuts through the diner. Lorelai's on her feet and everyone falls quiet.

"Hi! Since it's about time for cake I thought I'd take this chance to slip in a few words. First and foremost, thank you Lane for orchestrating this thing. I'm not much for traditions, at least not in the traditional sense, so it's good to know that our friends make sure that we don't miss out." She raises her glass to Lane who mirrors the gesture. "I'd also like to thank all the guys doing their best to carry the weight 'round here today. Keep it up!" She raises her glass to Luke and Jess behind the counter and Luke lifts the coffee pot in response. "Also, a shout out to my very own baby, Rory. When I was pregnant with you a baby-shower wasn't appropriate, but if it had been I would've liked if it'd been like this. And the sweetest thing about the two of us is that being happy for you is being happy for myself." Rory and Lorelai smile at each other. "Of course, the honorary guest of this party isn't here yet but already listening in. So here it is baby; The venue used to celebrate your imminent arrival is well chosen since there would be no you without it." Rory glances to Jess who's already looking at her, with one of his almost invisible smiles on his lips. "And I wanna make myself clear: You are anticipated." Lorelai looks directly at Rory with those words. They smile at each other again and Lorelai blows her a kiss. "So, it is with great pleasure that I proclaim this place your mothership. See you soon!" She raises her glass again and the entire diner mimics her. "Cheers!"

TJ wheels out the cake which is giant and green and in the shape of a UFO.

The door chimes and Christopher walks in followed by a teenage girl, Gigi. Rory has to stop her jaw from dropping, she hasn't seen her sister in years, and even then, just in passing. Since her parents broke up for good she hasn't been keen on involvement with anyone from the Hayden family, and the relationship between Sherry and her father being what it is, or isn't, has made it difficult to initiate contact with Gigi. And then, too much time had passed for her to feel good about calling. Christopher walks up to her and kisses her cheek, over his shoulder she spots her mother smiling weakly at them, while Luke keeps purposefully busy with the cake. Emily's expression is icy in a way that's almost comforting.

"Hi, kiddo", her dad says.

"Hi dad."

Christopher smiles and steps aside ushering Gigi forward. She smiles shyly, pretty, preppy, in an outfit that would do her mother proud.

"Hi Rory." She says. "Congratulations." She hands her a package in gift wrap.

"Gigi!" Rory says, and finds she's a bit choked up. "Thanks for coming, I- I'm so glad you came!" She puts down the package on the closest table and leans in to hug Gigi. Her little sister responds a bit awkwardly, so she gives her a firm squeeze across the shoulders before stepping back.

"Now that you're safely delivered I'm gonna go for a walk, see about some unicorn shops." Christopher says. "I'll be back in an hour or so." Gigi nods at him and he turns and walks out the diner reaching out and grasping Lorelai's hand as he leaves. She smiles at him. Luke stays busy. Emily and Christopher briefly nod at each other.

Rory looks back to Gigi, who regards her more openly now.

"Thanks for inviting me."

Rory lets out a silent laugh, because she of course didn't, but it's hardly appropriate to let Gigi know.

"It was a given. I'm just so happy you came." She pulls her little sister down on a chair and sits opposite her. While she endures the usual interview regarding the baby's ETA and such, Jess brings them lemonade and cake. She wants to grab his hand, but that'll escalate to more, too much, so she settles for kicking his ankle. He skips and shoots her an insulted look which she helplessly returns, and his expression softens.

She and her sister talk for a while. Gigi's back from France, attending Chilton and loves to read, although their tastes differ as she mostly reads urban fantasy or different kinds of romance, she sticks her chin out slightly when she talks about it, like she's used to defending herself. Rory smiles in recognition, used to be the odd one out at that age, at least before Chilton, and to be honest pretty frequently after that too. Gigi reports on Sherry (intense but cordial), Christopher (busy but generous) and Francine (actually kind of cool since Straub died a couple of years back) and it's good to hear someone with a similar perspective on these people talk about them. Her sister goes on about Sherry and Rory's surprised to find that it doesn't hurt to hear her name anymore, that it's not just a bad memory, but the beginning of something that doesn't have to be irrelevant to her.

"Did you know I attended your baby shower?" Rory starts, possibly interrupting Gigi.

"No. But it's nothing personal. I don't seem to remember that party at all."

Rory laughs and is more than a little impressed at the wit of this girl.

"Well, I’m pretty sure it inspired the theme of this one.”

"A space-theme?" Gigi gapes. "I can't imagine my mom approving that."

"Actually, I think this is supposed to be an Alien-theme. But to be honest it's more an elaborate joke, yours just had the color green."

"Well, how was it?"

"Weird. I mean, we knew no one there, so it was a bit awkward, and y'know, showers are a strange kind of party in general, probably why I didn't want to throw one at first."

"It is strange to have a party for someone who hasn’t even been born yet." Gigi agrees. "It’s like a funeral, but the other way around.” She pauses. "So, are you happy with this one despite the weirdness?"

"Oh, yes. And you know, once you were born I got what the fuss was about, so, that party made much more sense in retrospect."

Gigi smiles.

"Hey, don't forget to open the gift!" She says, pushing the package on the table beside them towards Rory.

She carefully peels off the paper. It's three tops for the baby, one with a pun about miso soup, another with a rebel symbol and the words 'The Force That Awakens' and one that reads 'My aunt rocks'.

"I know it was supposed to be second hand-stuff, but I have so little of mine left and I couldn't resist these."

"They're great. Thank you."

Doula comes up to them and hands Rory a package.

”Open mine next.”

She unwraps it and reveals a somewhat worn copy of Where the Wild Things Are.

”It’s my old one.” Doula says with badly covered enthusiasm. ”Look in the binder.”

She opens it and finds Jess's neat hand writing there. ’For Doula from Jess. Christmas 2008’. And underneath: 'For Nephew from Doula. April 2017', in finicky letters. Rory closes it.

"But it's yours." She protests.

"Exactly! It was my favorite as a baby." Doula says. "The first monsters I ever saw."

"And he bosses them around," Gigi fills in.

"Right," Doula says. "Like they're his pets."

"It's a good lesson," Gigi smiles.

"Your baby might need it." Doula insists. "At least for learning to howl at the moon." She adds with a laugh and Rory joins in. She pulls Doula into a hug.

"You're just the sweetest. Thank you. You're really living up to your name."

"I try to."

"Hey, do you like creature features?" Gigi asks Doula.

"I don't know. I might be more into ghost stories than like, slime and stuff." Doula responds.

"Fair enough." Gigi says and launches into a list of recommendations which Doula excitedly jots down on a napkin.

Rory listens, since she knows little to nothing about the genre. The furthest she's gotten is magical realism, although her mom sometimes tries to get her into King. She's always had Lorelai, but never really anyone else. And it's a strange sort of loneliness she's aware of just now, when it's practically gone. She's sitting amidst two different kinds of sisters, but hers. Lane joins the conversation and it shifts towards music and when Christopher shows up a while later, it's a reluctant goodbye drawn out by the exchange of phone numbers, email addresses and social media accounts. When Rory and Gigi hug and they hold on for extra moments, she swallows down tears. After waving her off, she spins around and backs Jess in behind the curtain as he tries to exit.

"Woah." He looks concerned at her expression, so she smiles from behind her blurry vision to let him know she's okay.

"How did you even-?" She starts without really being able to finish.

His hands are up in a defensive gesture.

"This is all Lane. I just carried out orders."

She laughs in a sniffle. He leans into her, whispers, as if they're sharing a secret, which they sort of are here behind the curtain.

"I don’t know if you noticed; she’s a bit of busybody."

She smiles broadly.

"She’s a Kim after all."

He strokes her cheek.

"Hope we didn’t overstep."

"Overstep?" She shakes her head. "Of course you did. You overleapt." He laughs. "But it’s good. Sometimes meddling is just the thing." She kisses him in attempt to honestly communicate her feelings, but still thinks it falls short. "How'd you do this?"

"Oh, it was a nightmare; I had to use the phone." He smiles.

"Yeah, I know that's not even an exaggeration."

"It was no biggie. I just called Christopher s'all."

Just called Christopher. There's guilt and gratitude, and she grabs the sides of his face with both hands and presses her lips to his and keeps their faces together for a beat after.

"Thank you." She whispers.

"You're very welcome." He responds, kisses her again, and goes back out to serve coffee. She takes a breath and returns to the table with Doula and Lane. Sits next to her best friend and squeezes her hand.

 

They clear out the diner and end up sweeping the gifts into a duffel bag; A number of toys, a baby watch, the baby tops, Doula's book, and a faded yellow baby blanket mixing with the clothes from Lane's kids.

Chapter Text

Nobody else is in your room. - Still Want You, Brandon Flowers

May 2017, Philadelphia
Week 34

 

It's May, but warm as in July. The apartment isn't exactly state of the art, and they rely on open windows and fans to make summer bearable. She's in the kitchen with her laptop because that particular room isn't exposed to the sun this time of day. Beside her is the new chapters she's written for the book, with Jess's edits in the margins. On her screen, her manuscript, and she is slowly working herself through it, changing and correcting things as she goes. Her belly lurches occasionally, the baby is very awake.

She's in a dress she should have thrown out years ago, but at least it's covering her body without suffocating her. She's grown distinctly this last month. Before the progression has been slow, so, she was caught by surprise. She wandered around in her underwear for days when the heat hit, unaware. Then, one day, she walked past a mirror.

There she was. So much bigger than last week, so much bigger without clothes. It's what she'd expected in the beginning, what Lane and Lorelai described, but time went on and it never happened. She started thinking it might never happen. Both her friend and mom have a flare for the dramatic, after all. But there it was. Extra-terrestrial – or the opposite, whatever that'd be... endo-terrestrial? So very terrestrial. Practically a planet. Primitive divinity, like Venus of Willendorf. She never saw herself as a woman who cared that much about her exterior, there was even a sense of pride at the fact that she rarely judged her own appearance, her body was just a vessel for her brilliant mind. Until then. At that moment it seemed that was all she was; body. She caught sight of Jess in the mirror, in the corner getting dressed, and stared with unveiled jealousy at him who, of course, had remained unchanged. When she looked at his face she found his eyes already on her, expression unreadable, but he quickly averted his eyes. Since then she's taken the trouble of covering up.

She can't be sure what he was thinking though, she rarely is. They like the same things, and when they don't they enjoy the discrepancies. They respect each other, but not too much, he sighs when she puts on certain music, and she teases him when he reads authors she dislikes. They spend almost all their time together. But they are not the same.

There are some things that are ever elusive about him, some part that is exclusively, reclusively, his own. He loves her, that much is clear – she knows this. Not always instinctively, but logically; It makes sense, anyone willing to be back for more after what they've put each other through in the past, would have to love.

She thrives on reason, the spoken, outspoken, clarity, instructions, she loves schooling, teaching herself things, or being taught. He doesn't. It's strange to think about somehow because he works with words, but it's like he doesn't always need them. It's pure intuition with him sometimes. She expects he'd have made an excellent dancing partner had he been born a woman. They don't dance much, but when they do he is surprisingly gentle. Other partners would lead her firmly, forcibly sometimes. They would talk, without being asked to. Now, she sometimes doesn't even know when to ask for it.

They have a lot in common but they are not the same, as people. So, she can't be sure what he was thinking at that moment, but she sure knows what she felt.

It's early in the day, but she's already too warm in her skin, too big, too crowded, too stressed. It's getting hard to concentrate but she soldiers on. Her goal all along has been to be done with the manuscript before the baby arrives, and time is running away from her. To add insult to injury this heatwave decimates her efficiency. She's tried drinking coffee, but it's too hot for it. That's another thing she's envies him right now: the freedom to ingest whatever amount of coffee he fancies. The pregnancy has limited her to three cups daily and she has to pace her intake.

Jess is in the other room, working with great concentration despite the heat, doesn't seem as bothered by it as she is, but her body temperature is higher since the pregnancy. He too is working harder to get as much done as possible before the birth, taking on projects from Matt and Chris as soon as he finishes his own, taking meetings, running to the printers and setting up transports, all while editing – she thinks it might be three books right now, excluding hers. He makes time for that too, but not so much for her lately, it seems.

Seems. She's not too sure about herself at the moment, about what experiences are... well, real. She doesn't feel like herself, inside, outside, and blames the baby. She and Jess have gotten rather good at talking to each other, about things bothering them, still not comfortably all the time, but they both know that, meaning every awkward conversation is at least equally awkward. The last week though, she's been feeling like they should talk, but met more resistance than usual. In herself, but his activity level hasn't opened up many spots for her to push through a conversation either. He's busy, distant.

He comes into the kitchen, eyes intently fixed on a bundle of papers in his hand. He puts his pen between his teeth and reaches for a cup, pouring coffee into it. She stares openly at him to attract his attention, but he's continually lost in the text, squinting at it, lips vaguely moving with the words he's reading. He puts the stack on the counter, takes the pen from his mouth and leans over the paper, printing a comment or symbol at the edge of it, with some determination. Her chest aches a little. Wants him to look over, walk over, touch her. But he doesn't, and that, paired with the pride that won't let her ask for it, stings. He puts the pen back into his mouth and leaves the kitchen with the cup and the paper.

She sighs and looks back to her manuscript. It's her turn to squint at a note in the margin. The new chapters Diane has had her writing means an increased focus on her childhood and teen years in Stars Hollow, which means new parts about Jess. In a way she's glad that the process has been so quick. She hasn't had time to hesitate at the prospect of handing her boyfriend more pages on their first encounters way back when for him to edit. He's been all grace about of course, even if it has brought back old discussions on certain authors, he hasn't given her a hard time about her, sometimes, awkward descriptions of their relationship. Until now. She's on her achy feet before she can help it, marching out into the living room where he's perched on the armrest of the couch, papers strewn out all over the piece of furniture. She sticks the page in question on top of the stack in his hand.

"What’s this edit supposed to mean?" She points at the paper. He looks at the note for a second before replying.

"I never said that."

"I can read the note on my own. I was questioning its existence."

"I didn't say that." He shakes his head firmly.

"Did too."

"No way."

"Yes, you did."

He raises an eyebrow.

"If I said that, why the hell did you ever hang out with me?"

"No idea." She says sharply.

"I sound like the biggest douche. You wouldn’t have gone with a guy like that version of me. You had better taste than that."

A part of her is amused, but a much bigger one is in dire need to blow off steam.

"Don't try that tactic. If it would have been about Dean, or Logan for that matter, there's no way you'd go on about my great taste in guys. That is you." She pokes the sheet of paper firmly again. "You said that."

He has more fight in him, it's clear. But he gestures dismissively.

"Fine." He sighs. "You know what they say about the winners writing the history books." Apparently, he's taking a stab at folding while still staying in the game.

"I’m a winner? Of what exactly?"

"Forget it."

"No, tell me!" Now she's definitely angry. "'Cause I sure don't feel like one at the moment. Unless it's sumo wrestling, but I don't remember being that agile for the better part of a year."

"Rory-"

"Or maybe the criteria are measured in pure body-mass." Angry and ranting.

"It was just a stupid comment."

"Or maybe weight, or heat containment." Okay, maybe more like rambling.

He tries her name again, reaches for her, but she pulls away.

"Watch out, you might burn yourself. Also: Worst timing ever."

He leans back and crosses his arms, looking away. She goes on, figures the damage is already done, might as well get it off her chest.

"You haven't touched me for, like, weeks, but now you feel inclined."

He stands and starts gathering his pages off the couch.

"I'm not having this discussion."

"What? Why?"

"'Cause there's no way to win!" He exclaims.

"Oh, it's about winning again? Is that how I'm a winner? By walk-over?"

"I meant there's no way to get out of it without turning into an asshole, so I was hoping we could just skip it."

"Wow, real mature." She snorts. "So, tell me, if you're sure you're coming out of it looking bad, then what you have to say must be really bad."

"Oh, come on!"

"No, you come on!" She grabs the paper from his hand and holds it out of reach. "What's on your mind? Tell me."

He regards her darkly for a beat before answering, while reaching for the paper.

"I'm not touching you 'cause I don't wanna start something, or pressure you-"

"Pressure me?"

He grabs the sheet and straightens it while speaking.

"Look, you don't wanna sleep with me right now, and that's okay, I get it, I think, If I was housing an army in my body I'd-"

"Housing an army!?" She yells.

"I'd be uncomfortable too." He finally looks her properly in the eyes, and it's clear that the comment is supposed to offer some form of solace, but it's too late for that.

Her arms drop to her sides and she backs over to the edge of the room. She glares at him.

"You don't know how I feel. You'll never know. At least I'll get to keep that to myself."

She turns and heads to the door. Sticks her bare feet into her sneakers, can't bring herself to wear flip-flops, she almost grabs her jacket out of habit but stops herself at the last second. Takes her bag instead and heads out.

As soon as the door slams behind her she's all regret. Unfortunately, her feelings are too hurt for her to turn around and reverse this whole thing. She's not proud of herself, but not ready to apologize either. And the mere thought of walking back into the warm apartment makes her claustrophobic. She drags her feet downstairs and out into the street instead. The trees along the sidewalk provide some shade and she remains standing in it for a while. There's a light breeze carrying the smell of the blooming of May and fuel exhaust. Her chest hurts, and she feels sorry for herself. She rummages through her bag and is relieved to find her phone there. She calls her mother. Lorelai picks up after the first ring and she has to swallow hard to not start bawling the moment she hears her voice. Of course, that doesn't stop Lorelai from detecting something's up.

"What's wrong?"

"I don't know." No way she's telling her mother that this kind of, sort of, boils down to not getting laid. It's more complicated than that but she knows that's not how Lorelai will read it, and she's embarrassed enough as it is. "It's too warm. I'm not getting enough coffee."

"Right."

"And I'm worried about giving birth."

"Oh honey." Pause. "Seems pretty fruitless to backpedal after years of that birthday-story of yours, huh?"

Rory sighs. Lorelai goes on.

"But you know I was just being dramatic. It's what I do."

"Mom-"

"Okay, so maybe giving birth is worth getting a bit dramatic over, and it was no picnic, but your body knows stuff you're not even aware of, and it does pass, like, quickly, when you compare it to nine months, or the lifetime that your baby is starting then, that's what you focus on." Without changing her tone, she carries on. "That and swearing as much as possible. You know you don't have to stick to 'shoot' when you're in labor, right?"

"And I got into a fight with Jess." Rory blurts. She is worried about giving birth but is already processing, practicing channeling Paris, and is more anxious to ventilate now than to be on the receiving end of a pep talk.

"What!? Tell him to pick on someone his own size!"

"Ha-ha."

"I'm sorry. What was the fight about?"

"It's not even relevant and not why I called." She realizes she makes little sense. "Just... how did you get through this?"

"This part of the pregnancy?"

"Yeah."

"Uhm," Lorelai starts, tone even, "I watched a lot of soaps, ate a lot of garbage and yelled at your grandma, mostly."

"Of course."

"If it's any comfort I'm sure I'd have yelled at your father if we'd still been together at that time."

Rory's silent. Lorelai continues after a pause.

"Hey, you're free to use me accordingly. Pass it forward and all that. The next time you get an impulse to rip someone a new one, pick up the phone. It's only fair since you wouldn't be in this mess if I hadn't given birth to you in the first place."

Rory chuckles and feels a bit better.

"Did you make up?" Lorelai asks.

"No. I walked out."

"Honey-"

"I know. But the place was driving me crazy."

"Okay." Lorelai sighs. "Well, you might as well make the best of it. You got your wallet?"

Rory glances into her bag and finds it.

"Yeah."

"And a book?"

"Obviously."

"Good. Now go sit down at a café and get a coffee. A big one. With ice. And a little, tiny bit of vanilla syrup. Trust me."

Rory's chest aches a little again.

"I don't really feel I deserve a treat, right now." She manages.

"And you wouldn't, but that, my friend, is not the point, or exactly the point depending on how you look at it. You don't have to earn everything. If you're not partial to yourself, who's gonna be?"

"I was kind of hoping you would be." Rory pouts.

"What do you think I'm going for here?" Rory can see Lorelai's familiar gestures in her mind's eye. "Look, it's too hot for Mac 'n Cheese, but it's the three b's that's the important thing."

"The three b's?"

"Beverage, book, and brawl."

"You just made that up." Rory laughs.

"I did no such thing! The elements of power are constant; food, fiction, and fury – sustenance, soaps, and scuffle – edibles, escapism... and....-"

"Enemies?"

"Close enough. Trust me, you'll be a kitten afterwards. And don't worry about him. He's a toughie. You can hit the eject button for a couple of hours. If he's anything like his uncle he'll get it."

"Thanks mom."

"You are welcome."

 


 

After the door closes he remains standing, staring at it for a little while.

"Shit."

The lonely word wanders the apartment uselessly. He's not surprised, or sad at her outburst, or, he might be, but it's all covered up with anger. At her for walking out. He doesn't follow. Once you start doing that you spend all your time chasing trouble instead of dealing with it. It's one thing knocking on a closed door, and another running around the city streets looking for her aimlessly. Well, not completely, he has a few ideas, but still. And at himself. For all his acumen he can get narrow-minded while he's on a mission.

He gathers up all the sheets of paper spread around the living room, works quickly even if he knows he'll pay for the speed later when he can't find which parts belong to which. He does the dishes. No music on, which is rare for him particularly when he's home alone. Music is a treat though, you can use it to steer and control your emotions and thoughts, you can use it to escape, he doesn't deserve that at the moment.

He sorts the laundry and even starts reading the impossible instruction manual to assemble the crib that's been sitting in the corner of their bedroom for a couple of weeks but tosses it in a corner after the first page. He sits down at the computer instead opening the document.

What he told her a month ago was true. He has not touched his own writing in a while. Bad idea, obviously. Apparently, it's impossible taking your own clever advice. He hasn't stopped writing since he started twelve years ago even if he has abandoned projects before. This feels more significant though, like he's at a crossroads. It's because of the baby. There's a mincing question regarding if it's defendable spending time on anything other than making a living now. So, he's struggling with motivation, his own as well as his characters. They don't interest him anymore, they seem self-indulgent and like they should be able to work out their own damn problems without his help. He thinks about these things while dibbling with the text, changing bits of the dialogue, moving a few paragraphs and correcting some typo's.

He glances back at the crib. He wants to start working on it but has trouble calculating when she'll be back. If she'll be back. He remembers that his phone is turned off and curses to himself as he picks it out and turns it on. No messages of any kind. He considers calling her but doesn't feel any one of them deserves that either, yet. He looks at the clock on the wall. It's been an hour.

He's a hypocrite. Wasn't walking away his signature move? At least she hasn't run off to California. It's highly unlikely, anyway. He can't blame her. He should've seen it coming. Now there's just frustration with himself. Lately he's incapable of anything but work. It needs to get done but he has to do the human thing too. He doesn't need people, not unless he wants to. It's easy for him to turn it off after years of training. She can't do that.

He closes the document, picks out the tools from the wardrobe and places the parts and pieces of the crib on the floor and starts assembling it, muttering swearwords through his teeth. After a while he picks up his pace and even turns on High Visibility.

Once he's put together the side boards of the bed, everything seems so real. It's the head rest that does it; It's decorated with a relief of an anthropomorphic crescent moon gazing lovingly at a star, who in turn smiles back. Sometimes he thinks he remembers his crib, he has a vague vista of a pattern of race cars along an edge with chipped blue paint. And he's not sure he's simply seen it elsewhere or if it's a real memory, but it makes him feel uneasy.

There's a knock through the music and his body jerks at the sound. Rory's in the doorway, knuckles against the frame. His heartbeat is fast at the surprise but he's instantly relieved at the same time. He stands up and turns down the music.

She walks into the room, slowly, obviously calmer, sets down a plastic cup with the remnants of ice-coffee at the bottom. He can't help a smile.

"I'm a klutz." He admits.

"I picked a fight." She responds. "And a stupid one too."

"Not stupid." He shakes his head.

"What made you think I don’t want sex?"

He shrugs, wants to dismiss it, but she did ask, and words are important sometimes.

"Irritability. Discomfort. Don’t object, it’s obvious. And there was this moment… last weekend-"

"Before Chris'." She fills in.

"Right. You were looking at me, obviously not pleased, and then you caught me staring back… you seemed so appalled. I figured it’s because-"

"Yeah." She cuts him off, nodding quickly.

"But you weren't-"

"No." She frowns, shakes her head with sustained fervor, then pauses before speaking again. "D'you think that part of why I'm uncomfortable is because you haven't-"

"No. Because I'm an idiot. Guess the reason I came out of that discussion like an asshole is because I was one."

"It's okay. You were right too. I don't really like myself at the moment, it's probably what you're picking up on." She falls quiet and smiles disarmingly at him, eyes vulnerable.

He wants to hug her, isn't sure they're there yet though.

"For what it's worth; I really like you."

"Why?" The word is helpless, needy, and she's obviously aware of it.

He looks at her, allows himself to, hasn't done that for a while. He's restrained himself, even though he knows it's potentially a bad idea. He has always had, since childhood, an ability to shape his reality into what he wants, or at least needs it to be. So, when he started avoiding situations he thought would make her uncomfortable he got used to it way too fast. He's strong like that, but there's a danger to it. He forgets that he's doing it. Now the seconds pass the deadlines for how long he gets to look at her. She's in a flowery, worn sundress, the coloring, the shape of her, makes her look vaguely like a peony. She's in it for lack of other clothes appropriate for the heat and the state of her body, definitely not her first choice, but it still becomes her. Her hair is down, not brushed today. the warm weather is visible at her temples, where strands of hair are moist, and her blushing skin. There’s a tug in his abdomen at observing her.

"You sure you wanna go down that road? It's really sappy."

She cocks her head to the side.

"Yeah, 'cause if there's one thing us girl types dislike, it's sappy confessions of love. Yuck."

He smiles, feeling his heart pick up its pace while he takes a step towards her.

"You’re just-" he actually has to swallow before trying again. "You’re lovely. Have you seen you?"

She smiles a little, cheeks seemingly pinker, looks down and gestures helplessly.

"There’s nothing but me in my field of vision."

He’s about an inch from her now, and reaches out to drag his fingers down her arm, heartbeat ringing in his ears at the touch.

"I don't see the problem. It’s just your perspective that’s off."

He closes the distance between them, leaning against her. Her mouth is slightly open, breath rapid. He leans in and brushes his lips against hers, and on a sudden instinct, grabs her hand and puts it to his crotch. She yelps a little, surprised laugh, and opens her mouth to kiss him back, mouth cold and sweet from the coffee. Ripples of pleasure climb his spine to his neck. She's so good at it. Or, maybe it's not like an objective truth, more that she's good at kissing him. She should be, they've spent a lot of time doing it. As kids, granted, but they haven't forgotten, might not have been conscious, even if he's spend a fair share of time reminiscing. He remembers being frustrated, constantly torn between needing her words and her mouth; while kissing he'd long for her to speak, and when she spoke he'd battle himself to not seize her lips with his. Sometimes it would exhaust him, and he'd need time away from her, but then that would become unbearable too.

"You’re so beautiful," he mumbles in breaths between kisses.

Everything's better now. He's better, more comfortable in his skin, stronger. They have the time to be silent together and the space to move the kisses in any direction. But it's still there, what they've learned, and he's acutely aware of the privilege of being able to use it as adults.

He has a real hard time pacing himself, another side-effect of opening the floodgates. She doesn’t seem concerned about it however, wraps her arms around him like a vine, wobbling a bit at his words, and letting out a little moany sigh. She’s heavy and he’s a tad weak at the knees himself. He acts on it and leans them against the wall before dropping to his knees in front of her. He strokes her legs up under her skirt, closing his eyes.

"Ror... I always wanna sleep with you."

He feels her hand in his hair, hears her breath.

"I'd question that if I didn't like the sound of that so much right now." She mumbles, something similar to song in her voice.

"That's how you do it. You get 'em when they're weak." He leans his head on her thigh, slowly inching her panties off her.

"Well, I'm pretty sure this weak person is capable of crushing you to death."

"We'll work around it."

Chapter Text

Your life into me, I can finally breathe. - Come Alive, Foo Fighters

June 2017, Philadelphia
Week 38+6

At this point she's basically asleep when she's not in pain. It goes fast, the slip into darkness, and is glorious. She has time to acknowledge it, but can't for the life of her, stop it. She'll lose time, context, but as she comes to from the next contraction rising she'll recollect the book she read on delivery and know that it's not been longer than about a minute at the most. And then she'll be smack in the middle of giving birth again. Insane. She can acknowledge that too.

It's been a bit quicker than the book said it'd be. It had said something about first time deliveries lasting between twenty-four to thirty hours. It's the body's precaution, it has to be slow so the mother won't break too badly. But also because the body doesn't really know what it's doing, it's its first time. The second time is usually a lot quicker, Paris says. You've learned, but it's not from reading, it's from doing. And you can’t really pass the knowledge forward, teach someone else, at least not in the traditional sense.

She's obviously lost track of what the time might be and tries to figure it out in her hazy head, instead of looking at the clock on the wall for some reason. It gives her thoughts some form of texture, something to think about besides the panic from the pain scratching at the edges of her mind, and her inability of keeping up with the contractions. The breathing helps too, some people talks about it like a painkiller, but she has nothing to compare with, and starts thinking that it might have more to do with structure. People crave routine, rhythm, patterns, the breathing provides something like that. And yeah, it's not a bad idea to have a set of rules for breathing since she might forget it otherwise; she forgets it when she stabs her toe, when she's typing fervently, when she has an orgasm. There's a good chance she'd forget it now unless Jess reminded her.

He's here. Right now, no more than a dark mass at the edge of her sight, but she hears him clearly when he tells her to breathe and she's holding on to what must be his hand for dear life. He almost left for Trenton this morning before she forced herself to admit that there might be something going on with the baby. She was reluctant to because it's early. He's not supposed to arrive for another week, and all the books warn you that it might be longer than forty weeks, so she's been expecting a bit more time. But here they are. There they were. It felt like light cramps initially, coming and going in uneven and long intervals, but by morning they were sort of, kind of, maybe regular. He was in the hallway, in his jacket, hand on the handle. She bit her lip and breathed through her nose. He had to go. Important plans. And it struck her that she was thinking like Sherry. "Wait." She said.

As the labor has progressed he's stayed close. The books all have sections on stuff the father can do to help; massages to ease the pain, instructions on how to coach the mother through the breathing, advice from established doulas and nurses, and he's followed the list, quietly, seriously, with soft, concerned eyes. He's nervous, close-jawed, like he is under pressure, but stoic too, that's good. She's been the one to lighten the mood, chatting like she does when she's nervous, playing wild association games and reciting lyrics from the silliest songs she knows. But that's all subsided as the pain has gotten worse and she's gotten tired. His presence is a huge comfort but also increasingly drowned out. And he can't do this work for her any more that he can change his personality.

The midwife is called Sylvie. Despite the circumstances Rory instantly liked her. She has a distinctly mother-like quality that she finds comforting. She's determined, friendly in a stern manner, and invasive in a way that Rory appreciates when she feels she doesn't know what she's doing. She's talked to Lorelai, hours ago, once they were sure what was up, but it seems like a lifetime ago now. When they arrived at the hospital she harbored some real angst over wanting her mommy, but Sylvie has helped with that.

She tried the nitrous oxide but it ended up making her dizzy, so she quit. But not before having a pretty good time, carrying both sides of a conversation with her mother and doing her best to drag Jess into her messy head. He participated, and even smiled, seemingly relieved that she was distracted from the pain. She'd decided against the epidural since she learned that it might slow the process, she wanted no part of that. Of course, now, she's questioning that decision pretty harshly, but she honestly can't concentrate enough to ask for it and it would probably be too late anyway, because Sylvie might have mentioned something about pushing a few contractions back.

As soon as she tries pushing though, she wants the passive endurance of the last stage back. It's too hard, too heavy. It doesn't feel like she's getting anywhere, instead she's increasingly exhausted. She wants to cry but hasn't got the energy for it, wants to give up but isn't allowed.

"Alright now, you are one contraction away from seeing your baby. Give it all you have on the next one." That can't be right, she's gotten nowhere, how can it be time? That's all she has time to think before she's in the middle of the next contraction and pushing for all she's worth. With a look of concentration Sylvie rapidly reaches in and pulls the baby from her, lifting him onto her chest and wrapping him in a towel, all in what seems like one motion.

Her tears are instant, unstoppable, and her hoarse sobs mixes with a brittle cry that cuts through the room, from the mouth in the small, strange face, head to her heart. Relief from the absence of pain, as well as the radically new reality of the moment, and supposedly all the moments to come, overwhelms her. It's like waking from one vivid dream to another, only she knows this time it's real.

"Oh my god!" She exclaims, voice thick with emotion.

She's captivated by the little face but she glances to Jess. He's a step away and meets her eyes, his face a mixture of too much for her to decipher in the second they face each other, his body rigid, tilted and frozen in its spot, hands at his side. Sylvie looks at him too and snaps her gloved fingers at him. She points him to the side of the bed and he gently, awkwardly, sits down beside Rory.

"That's where you sit," Sylvie says and then nods to the baby. "And there's where you keep your hand," she finishes with a knowing smile.

"I- I wasn't sure-" He starts, with a stutter, and places his hand over Rory's wrapped around the baby.

"I know," Sylvie says while getting back to work, cutting the umbilical cord, and instructing Rory on what's left. "Just a couple more contractions and you'll be done."

The contractions hit but the pain is reduced to mere discomfort. She even has the energy to whine slightly and laughs silently about that. The baby, Will, has stopped crying, and is lying quietly, blinking his small but puffy eyelids open. Another nurse, who's name escapes her, is rubbing his back and head lightly with the towel and it's suddenly clear that he has a rather significant amount of black hair sticking out from his head. She shakes with an adrenaline-fueled giggle at that too. Sylvie starts stitching her up and she's surprised at the pain, she assumed it'd be nothing after actually giving birth, turns out it's just a different kind of pain. She squirms, and Jess moves his arm to around the pillow so her head leans on his shoulder but keeps his hand on hers. The support helps. She glances at the back of his hand and sees the marks from her nails on it. Now she's tired.

Eventually Sylvie and her colleague prepare to leave but informs them they will be back in about an hour to make sure everything's okay before checking them out.

"If you're gonna breastfeed it's good to start right away," says the other nurse, "he needs the practice and it gets the milk flowing."

She nods, unable to speak, and the woman helps Will up to her breast. Then she and Sylvie leaves. It's quiet in the room, a light buzzing from the fluorescent light and radiators, a ticking sound from the clock on the wall; It's after midnight. Will pinches her breast, but it almost feels good after what she's just been through. She looks at him. Funny that something so natural, universal, feeding your child, can feel so unique, almost miraculous. But she smiles at the thought moments later, when she realizes that it probably won't feel so special in a couple of weeks since it'll be the main basis for her relationship with her kid, and she’ll be doing it around the clock for quite a while. She senses Jess shaking his head and turns to see him. His face remains hard to read, and if he's feeling what she is it's understandable; How do you express a feeling you've never experienced before?

"I can't-" Finish the sentence, apparently, he falls silent, and she's not sure she minds.

She leans into him and starts dozing off and on. She wakes up as Sylvie once more enters the room to check on her and Will. An hour has slipped by like nothing. Jess stands up and shakes his arm to get blood back into it.

"I should call Luke." He says, "Your mom'll want to know too."

She blinks and realizes that Will is an hour old and she hasn't called Lorelai. She nods, dumbfounded.

"Of course."

"I'll be right back." He says, grabs his jacket and exits the room.

The pace of which it happens makes her dizzy. Sylvie starts poking at Will and her, asking questions, and she looks at the door to the corridor through which he disappeared. Her and Sylvie's interaction only takes about five minutes. Sylvie says they can wait to check them out, letting them rest 'til morning if possible. Rory manages a smile at her as she exits the room. When she's alone she looks around the room, takes her time to make the moments pass. Pretends not to think what she's thinking but giving up after a while.

She looks at her son. He's his own person. It's clear and obvious now. He doesn't look like the stock photo baby but like the result of a very specific lineage, which is what he is. She thinks about all the happy endings that supply the foundation for him. And of all the tragic ones. And how you never seem to be able to see them coming. How she wishes she could protect him from any such event but also recognizing that he would not be here if it hadn't been for... all of it. Your ability to protect your child is limited, at best, and what you should protect your child from is not cut and dry. She said it herself, you build on the ground you're given, you have no choice, but a parent should make that as good as possible for their child. She knows, and Jess knows but words are hollow unless you back them up with action. That's why he never spoke when he called her those years ago; nothing he could say would change what he did. This moment seems frozen in more than one ghost story. The clock ticks and she's suspended.

 


 

 

When he exits the room, he keeps walking until he's rounded the corner. He's not sure if that just happens to be the spot he finds that he's shaking, or if he intentionally got there before letting himself go. He drinks from a water fountain and wets his face before wiping it with his sleeve. He leans against the wall and tries to breathe slowly. He slumps down in a squat and closes his eyes for a few seconds before picking out his phone.

The call to Luke is over relatively quickly, since him and Lorelai already are on the road. He exchanges a few incoherent words with Lorelai, who's buzzed on excitement and tons of coffee and apparently rocking the car from her place in the passenger seat, but it's clear she doesn't have the patience for him tonight. She wants her daughter, and hangs up after making sure everything is alright, before forcing a promise of a call-back as soon as he gets back to the room. The nurses haven’t left yet, and he turns away from the open door, walks down the yellow corridor to the elevators, pushing himself down to the ground floor that holds the gift shop, cafeteria and exit. He buys a pack of cigarettes with no real conviction and steps outside. He's lost track of time but it's night, not evening, not many people or cars moving around. He walks over to the edge of the building, you're not supposed to smoke by the entrance. The light from streetlights doesn't reach this far and he looks up. It's clear and it seems like every star is visible.

Further down the street is a bus-stop where two vehicles, facing different directions stand still, their engines humming reassuringly, not driving anytime soon, but not staying either. Watching them is like standing on the top of a building looking down; You may not want to die, but you still feel it – the pull, the power, the control and comfort of fucking yourself over. Day says constructing stuff takes all kinds of variables, and wrecking it takes none, or at least only one. Creation takes trust, faith, hope. Destruction is not dependent on anyone but yourself. You can always choose it, which is why so many people do. His fist closes around the pack in his hand, crumpling it, and he tosses it in a waste bin before heading back inside.

He increases his pace the closer he gets to the room. Stops before entering, taking a few, slow breaths before walking through the door and up to the bed where she sits with their son in her arms, her face naked and tired, but eyes awake and uncharacteristically dark. He presses his lips to her forehead – mostly because he needs to kiss her, but a bit because that way she can’t see his face.

 


 

 

When he comes back, the relief makes her feel ridiculous, but it's there just the same. He picks his phone out of his pocket, puts it on the pillow next to her and carefully peels Will from her arms, making it clear that he's listened to Sylvie's instructions. He nods to his phone.

"Call Lorelai."

She does, and starts crying the moment she hears her answer, causing Lorelai to break into tears on her end. For minutes they just sob into the phone. Jess sits down in a chair in the corner with Will, eyes locked to him. She looks at the two of them as she cries.

"Rory!" Lorelai finally manages a word.

"Mom!" She whimpers. "He's so beautiful!" She laughs after saying that because it's definitely no crying matter.

"Why won't this stupid car go faster?! Luke!"

Luka protests in the background, saying something about her getting to be a grandma at all is dependent on him keeping the speed limit.

"Mom! Don't rush! They're letting us stay for a while. If you're here before dawn you can pick us up."

"Fine!" Lorelai wails. "But I hate this!"

"I love you." She sniffles. "God I'm tired."

Lorelai laughs.

"Sleep. See you soon."

They hang up.

She drifts in and out of sleep, exhausted, but too elated to fall into it deeply. The excitement too sharp to allow real rest. At one point she wakes up and sees him sitting with Will in his arms, fingers stroking the baby's forehead, frowning. She shakes off inertia and speaks.

"What's wrong?"

He looks up at her, gaze softening. For a moment he looks exhausted too.

"It's just... strange. This is it. This is the thing, right here." He pauses. "Yours wasn't even present, and mine, came, saw, walked away."

She's shocked at her apparent ability to experience such radically different emotions at once, especially under the circumstances; The tired bitterness associated with Christopher, the empathy she feels for him, and the overwhelming love stemming from that she gets to have this moment with him, with them, and gratitude, that their son doesn't know what they know.

"I’m just glad I never called him back," he says darkly.

"Yeah, I can tell gladness is your primary emotion." She retorts, with some gentleness.

He looks at her and smiles a little.

"I honestly can’t tell what I’m feeling. This is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me."

She loses her breath at his words, and something clicks into place inside her. She stares at him. 'The greatest thing'. Greatness.

"Get over here," she says.

He gets up slowly, softening all immediate movements surrounding Will. Walks over to the bed, puts the baby next to her and inches onto the bed on his side, face close to them both.

"Small," he just goes. She smiles.

"There’s your army."

"You're the army." His expression is pure admiration for a moment.

"Per definition one person can't be an army." She deflects.

"First; Björk would disagree, and second, that was sort of my point."

"Maybe if me and Will join forces." She goes on. "I mean, he could take anyone, he's obviously been through hell."

"He's been through something."

She laughs.

"Nice."

"Hey, I tried a compliment."

A while later Jess actually falls asleep. It's good. He's slept terribly for a while, but this last week especially, like he knew it was coming. It can't be deep, it looks way too uncomfortable, bent on his side. She keeps awake though.

Her gaze travels between the two. She's aware by now there's a kind of mysterious bond between herself and Jess, but now it's so very tangible. It has its own body, spirit, life. It's very real. She looks at him and sees herself now. She cries a little over it. Why not? It's a day for every possible emotion. And all expressed through crying. So much crying.

She looks at Will. He resembles a little troll, with the dark hair sticking up from his head. And as if to keep her company, he opens his eyes. She knows newborns can't see more than light and certain colors, everything in a blur, his eyes still move about the place, squinting. They are blue, almost shining against the darkness of his hair and skin. She also knows that both the hair and eyes can change. But now they make him seem incredibly real, and she realizes that he is. He's here. She stifles a sob, to not wake Jess, shakes her head instead, smiling so broadly it makes her face ache. Her breath is sharp though and Jess opens his eyes, instantly springing into action by asking:

"You okay?"

"Yes. Just... look at him."

He does, smiles, and looks back to her.

"Can you believe it?" She says.

"No."

"Can you believe they let us take him home?"

"Inconceivable."

She chuckles.

"Apparently we're fit to handle a baby."

"Seems we meet the standard."

"For a figment-baby. I was totally ready for that. But now I've completely forgotten everything. Do we even have a crib? What are those thingies that they need not to wet themselves? And his college fund! He doesn't have one of those. We're in trouble, his graduation is practically tomorrow."

"That's what I'm here for." He smiles and picks out an imaginary note pad. "Secretarial duties." He runs his finger across the non-existing page checking off her questions. "Yes. They're called diapers. Christopher's on it. And his graduation is about eighteen years away. We're set. Okay?"

"Unreal."

"But it isn't. It's just new reality."

She lets out a short laugh.

"Yeah. 'Just'."

He chuckles in response and looks back to Will. She observes the color of their hair, and shivers.

"Can you believe that you and me..." Her words falter. He looks up at her again. Shrugs.

"That part makes total sense to me." He pauses. "It's the only way I'd be here." The words are quick, like an after-quake.

He falls quiet and awkwardly returns his attention to his son. She observes him, unsure of how to respond. He looks back at her while running his thumb gently over Will's head, expression earnest and then resolved, and he speaks again, quieter.

"You should know that. For several reasons."

They look at each other for a second before Lorelai's sharp and slightly shrill voice starts falling into the room from the corridor, increasing in volume.

"Look, I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to act guide on this little excursion, but I promise I'm fully capable of getting to any room in this corridor on my own or using my trusting squire here. Seriously. You could just say the number. I didn't mean that thing about a search warrant. I'm sorry, okay? It's just, she’s my only daughter, and that thing were you communicate telepathically seems reserved for twins and sensates and any device that allows others to hasn't been invented yet, but I swear as soon as it is I will possess it, use it and stop bothering people and my god! Are you taking smaller steps? Are we even moving at all? Why are we stopping?"

"Ma'am." A firm voice interrupts. "We're here."

There's a shuffle and Lorelai bursts into the room. Jess swiftly gets out of the bed, and helps Rory to sit up, places Will in her arms and rearranges the pillows. He doesn’t say anything, just backs closer to the corner, like he’s riding the shockwave of Lorelai. In the background Luke speaks to the nurse;

"Thank you, and sorry, again."

Lorelai stops inches from the bed, almost hesitant. Rory is reminded of Jess just a few hours earlier, and she giggles at the weird parallel.

"Hi mom."

Lorelai blinks and tears run down her cheeks.

"Hi kid." Her mouth is slightly open, but she closes it after a second and tilts her head with a smile. "Sorry we're late. We kept looking for Unplanned Parenthood."

"Geez." Luke mutters.

Rory feels her face crack in a broad smile. She looks at Will and nods to Lorelai.

"Grandkid meet grandma, grandma – grandkid." She leans closer to Will and whispers. "She's a handful."

"Holy cow." Lorelai mumbles and sits down on the bed, inching as close as possible to Rory, who gently hands the baby over to her. "Look at you." She coos at Will. "You're you."

Rory looks at Luke, who's entire face it lit up, while he sort of paces, sort of weighs between feet at the door. She smiles. He's always been intensely awkward with unadulterated joy.

"His name's Will." She throws at him.

He blinks, looks at her at little disoriented.

"What?"

"William." Jess fills in.

Luke's lower lip actually trembles for a second and she exchanges a look with Jess who smiles at her, she thinks they might be enjoying this a bit too much. Luke frowns, opens and closes his mouth, before going with:

"Oh boy."

After a brief pause he walks up to the bed and pats her on the head. Then he walks over to Jess and hugs him, mumbling something inaudible. Rory returns her attention to her mother and, oh gosh, her son.

Will starts whimpering. Rory changes his diaper for the first time flanked by her family. She revels in the small but strong body. Definitely human, unfocused will. Lorelai leans over her shoulder and guides her through the tricky parts that'll be second nature in no time. She's overcome by the certainty of that and feels safe.

"I wanna go home." She says.

Lorelai nods.

"Alright, hun. How'd you get here?"

"Cab." Jess goes. "I wasn't up for driving. We could use a ride."

So. They’re checked up and eventually out. And get into the Jeep. Head south. The sun's up and blinks its rosy light at the car between buildings, like passing days. Will quickly falls asleep in his chair between Rory and Jess in the backseat lulled by the buzz from the engine; Luke is driving and Lorelai is humming lowly along with the sound of the car in the passenger seat. This is her system. No. Will's. He is the star, they are his celestial bodies. She looks at Jess, takes his hand. He looks back at her, eyes flickering between black and golden with the rays of sun. His expression is soft. He smiles at her. The two of them are finally in the same orbit.

Chapter Text

Side effects they don't advertise. I've been sleeping so strange, with a head full of pesticide. - We Are Nowhere and It's Now, Bright Eyes


July 2017, Stars Hollow

 


He's in the car again. The dark road ahead is lit by his headlights, and twists jaggedly while coming at him at terrifying speed. The car keeps pulling off in different directions, the steering wheel seemingly with a mind of its own. Will's in the back, in his chair, cries rising from the sudden turns the vehicle makes. That wakes him up, the real cries of his son.

Rory's already on her way up but he grasps her arm, pulling her back down softly.

"I got it." He stumbles out of bed and stubs his toe on the edge of the bed.

They're presently in Stars Hollow, in Rory's old room and he lacks the habit for navigating it at three am. He tried suggesting the apartment above the diner, but Lorelai wouldn't hear of it. She's already head over heels for her grandson and wants all the time she can get with him. Rory has a meeting with Diane in the morning, and since Will is only a month old, mother and son has issues parting for longer than a few hours. Besides, Doula has yet to meet Will and it is definitely time.

Jess stifles a tirade of profanities and limps up to the cot, lifting Will from it. Mostly he wants Rory this time a night but Jess tries calming him anyway so she can get some precious sleep. He changes him and then paces at the edge of the bed and the limp seems to help, because Will falls quiet and eventually back into slumber. He himself won't though. He doesn't even try. Instead he keeps Will in his arms and sits down in the easy chair in the corner, it's already padded with pillows and blankets to make it easier for Rory to stay there for longer periods. He just shuffles it around a bit and leans back. It won't be long before Will wakes up again, might as well be ready for it.

When he closes his eyes, dark road is rushing onto him so he keeps them open. He looks at his son instead. He's grown a lot. One and a half inches and he's gained thirty-five ounces since he was born. He's lost some of the troll-like features that he had at birth and become distinctly more baby-like: Softer skin, actual cheeks, and light blue, curious eyes, when they're open. He sleeps a lot, an annoying portion of it during the day, while waking up in intervals all through the night. They take turns getting up when it's possible. He tries to do more, since Rory's on what Sylvie referred to as "mom-brain"; Hormones keep her sleeping lightly so she'll wake up when Will does, while at the same time letting her keep enough energy to function, sort of. It's clear that she's not all there, most days. He’s caught her pouring coffee into her cereal twice.

Will’s kept the crazy hair though. It’s dark and soft but stubbornly sticking straight up from his head and it’s turning stranger by the day as an inverted donut-do is forming around his scalp from all the lying down he’s doing. It looks ridiculous. ’Ridiculously cute.’ Rory says, but Lorelai laughs every time she sees him without a beanie.

He gets where Rory’s coming from, but he has trouble seeing it since he can’t look at his son for too long; It makes it hard to breathe. Fortunately holding him makes it easier. It’s a natural comfort without having to think too hard about what it means.

He’ll observe separate parts instead, the hair, for instance, the fingernails and tiny heels. And notice how his own existence seems bent around the tiny body; How he’ll want Will and Rory in certain places and himself somewhere between them and whatever he’s deemed too unpredictable. Years of using this strategy to place himself out of real and perceived harm’s way finally come to fruition.

He must be dozing off and on because when Will whimpers the next time the sun has risen, and horizontal rays given structure by dust particles in the air sneak through the window. Before he's gotten his bearings Rory's up, leans over him and picks up Will. She backs up to the bed and sits down leaning against the headboard, pulls down her t-shirt and puts Will to her breast.

During the years he has summoned the image of her as a way to push himself forward when he's been stuck in different ways. He's imagined her buying a house, getting married, being unreasonably successful and even having kids. The ultimate stab to urge himself onward. For a moment it's surreal to actually see her like this, and for it to have something to do with him, of course, he's barely awake. She returns the look.

"You need to sleep." She lectures.

"You sleep."

She shakes her head, smiles a little.

"What time is it?" He mumbles.

"About five thirty." She says.

"I'll go make coffee."

He walks into the kitchen and carries out his plan, and the sound of the coffee maker seems to serve as a wake-up call because Paul Anka comes trotting, and there are distinct sounds of people moving around upstairs. Fifteen minutes later they're all around the table apart from Will who sits in his baby bouncer in the corner, Paul Anka nearby but not too close, having learned the hard way about the strength of baby-fists, cups of coffee and varying degrees of breakfast in front of them. Rory's chewing on a piece of high bran sour dough bread inflicted on her by Luke, while Lorelai gets away with a pop tart. Despite this she doesn't get the energy to speak until her second cup of coffee, and he files this information away if he ever needs her muted.

"What's the plan? When's your meeting?"

"At nine." Rory answers. "Don't know how long it'll go on for though. How'll you spend your time?"

"Oh, don't worry about us. Me and the boys solemnly swear that we're up to nothing but good."

"I'm meeting Doula at noon." Jess adds.

"Great, I'll keep you updated." Rory gets up, stops behind him momentarily pecking the top of his head, and goes to take a shower.

About an hour later she says goodbye and gets in the car to drive to Hartford. By then Luke's off to the diner, and Jess, Will and Lorelai hangs out at the house, the latter taking a few calls for the Inn. Jess lets Will stay in the bouncer for as long as he has the energy to examine the colorful wooden pearls threaded over the wire across the chair. He himself browses through Rory's old books, lacking the capacity to concentrate on anything new, or more likely, needing the comfort of the known.

After a while he packs up all the stuff necessary for any outing with a baby and the three of them walk into town. Lorelai pushes the pram and coos at Will continuously. They've been here for a couple of days already, so the biggest racket about Will, Rory and him, in that order, has already been had, but he still catches Miss Patty staring curiously at them when they arrive at Luke's.

"You're married to the man, I'm sure you can have him make this food for you at home with your powers of persuasion. Why do you still insist on the diner?" He asks with some irritation, not keen on spending time in a crowded room where his month old son is the center of everyone's attention.

"Not the same." She answers curtly.

"Whatever."

"And second breakfast is a thing." They're right outside the diner at this point and she taps her foot at him.

"In the Shire, maybe."

"Don't worry, I'm sure Luke can get you some cheese for your whine." She sticks out her tongue at him.

"Right."

"Look, if you prefer paying a visit to Unicornocopia or hanging out with Babette's garden gnomes, go ahead. Me and Will are gonna be fine on our own."

Lorelai doesn't leave her grandson if she can help it, and it is clear that if he wants to be elsewhere he's going to have to go it alone. In theory not a problem, but his stomach pinches at the thought.

"Forget it." He sighs and opens the door.

"I'll try." She glares at him and pushes the pram inside, to Luke's loud but ignored protests.

 

As they leave the diner after their meal and go to cross the street, he spots him, over by Doose's Market; Dean, surrounded by what he assumes are his many children. Dean looks up and their eyes meet for a split second before Jess looks away, pretending he didn't see him. But when he glances over moments later, Dean is still looking at him, his facial expression mixed to say the least. A blonde, tall woman has joined the children outside the store and is distributing apples among them. Lorelai's still talking but falls silent when Dean starts making his way towards them.

"Woah. Don't look now." She whispers, in a painfully obvious way.

"Too late," he replies behind clenched teeth, then turns to face Dean.

"Hi!" Dean greets them.

Jess transforms his sigh to a greeting as well.

"Hi, Dean!" Lorelai says, warmly, and leans in for a hug.

Dean smiles.

"I wasn't sure if I should- but I just had to have a closer look. Is this-?"

He leans over the pram and inspects Will who blinks at the towering giant.

"Yeah, Will 'Hardware' Gilmore."

Dean laughs.

"Hi there," he says to Will, then turns to Jess. "May I?" He reaches for Will.

Jess twitches as he prevents himself from placing his body between Dean and Will. Every fiber of his being yells no, and he hesitates, long enough for Dean to notice, and look at him with a mixture of disbelief and pity. Yeah, he doesn't miss that.

"Oh, come on," Dean says, smile disarming, but not without a hint of glee. "I'm something of an expert."

If Rory was here, there'd be no question, so he channels her and lifts Will from the pram, handing him over to Dean. He has to look, has no choice, with that oaf holding his son. He bites the inside of his cheek to control his expression. Dean's face goes soft and he lifts Will up, close to his face.

"Hi Will. Nice to meet you."

"Is that a baby!?" A sharp exclaim cuts through the air and all three of Dean's kids come running. The woman, pushing a pram of her own follows. Jess feels Lorelai's hand on his arm, an anchor holding him in place. Dean squats and his children surround him, oh:ing and ah:ing, surprisingly hushed and careful.

The woman with the pram joins them and greets them like an adult. She's tall, possibly even a match for her husband, and valcyric, nothing like Rory, on the surface at least. The baby in the pram points to Will.

"Baby!"

"That's right", Dean goes, and looks to Lorelai and Jess. "Takes one to know one." He gets up and hands Will back to Jess. "He sure is a pretty little guy. He must take after his mother."

Lorelai laughs. Loudly. Deceitful woman. But then again... Jess smiles tightly.

"Let's hope so." He admits.

Dean smiles at him, and for a second there's real warmth in his eyes.

"It was nice running into you, getting to meet the baby. Give Rory my love. Come on kids!"

"Bye!" Lorelai says and waves as the group of people move on like a well-coordinated flock of birds.

Jess puts Will back in the pram. Lorelai turns to him, clearly with things on her mind.

"What?" He says.

"Guard-dog Jess." She nods, as if considering the words. "I like it."

"I didn't-" He starts.

"Slightly misplaced, y'know, but..."

"Did I hinder him in any way? No."

"But it was pretty clear what you wanted to do."

He straightens his back and raises his eyebrows at her.

"Which is what?"

"Protect your baby from the big, bad man."

He can't deny this without lying to her face, so he tries frankness instead.

"Well, he hates me."

Lorelai snorts.

"First off; Still? Not necessarily."

"Hey, I didn't even hate Chuck Presby and I still think he's a jerk-"

"To be fair, I happen to know that Chuck Presby still is a jerk." Lorelai interjects.

"My point was, time is irrelevant. He has no reason not to hate me."

"And my point, which was really my second, was, so what?" Lorelai instantly responds. "He doesn't hate Rory, wouldn't hurt Will."

Jess is silent. Knows she's right.

"You're a new parent, so it's to be expected that you're a little tense." She goes on. "I'm just trying to make sure you don't go all survivalist for nothing."

"It's on me to make sure he's safe." Jess says, words intensely familiar from him repeating them to himself in different forms for weeks.

"And it should be, and you should, and I don't care if you let Dean cuddle your newborn or not, that's between Rory and you, I'm simply checking to see that you don't drive yourself crazy, we need you sane." She pauses briefly before going on. "And I'm sure you have your reasons, I'm just not sure that they're needed anymore."

"I went out of my way to piss him off, so I think it's only fair that I feel a little bad about it." He mumbles.

"Woah." Lorelai goes, frowning. "Do you think you deserve feeling like shit?"

He bites on a nail, doesn't answer, because, yeah, that's exactly what he thinks, he's just not real upset about it. It seems like balance, like science. It’s also a side effect of keeping people in your life scarce, you can track every storyline down to singular events. There should be a diagnosis for it. Either way you pay, sooner or later. But Lorelai doesn't seem happy with this idea. She makes eye contact.

"Look, not sure how to tell you this without offending someone but, seems to me you're suffering from some form of personality dysmorphic disorder."

"Lorelai-"

"You're too hard on yourself!"

He has ways of handling this scenario with Luke or Rory - he can tell the former to get lost and the latter can be distracted in a myriad of ways – but he cannot shield himself from Lorelai. Luckily, it's getting late.

"I appreciate the sentiment, but I don't have time for a life coach session right now."

Lorelai shakes her head and rolls her eyes.

"Suit yourself. See you at home." She waves dismissively at him, leans over the pram to kiss Will. "Bye baby!" She walks off.

 

Jess pushes the pram in the opposite direction of Liz' and TJ's house. He and Doula have strategically picked a time when Liz is at the store and TJ busy in one of his sheds. He knocks lightly at the door before entering. Doula comes running on the pads of her feet, expression excited. She butts him in the chest with her head as a greeting before turning to look at Will.

"Wow." She says.

"I agree." He puts his arm around her shoulders and they stand like that for a minute before Doula reaches for Will.

"Can I hold him?"

"Of course. Better to sit down the first time though."

Doula runs ahead of him into the kitchen while he plucks Will from the pram. As he enters the room she's picking out cups and plates. The coffee maker hisses on the counter and there are muffins set out on the table.

"You didn't have to-"

"Shut up. I had to do something for my first close encounter. Is it alright if I sit here?"

"Sure."

She takes a seat in one of the kitchen chairs, legs together, both feet to the floor, arms at her sides.

"Hold out your arms." He instructs. "Support his head." He hands over Will to his sister who receives the baby with a small but warm smile.

"Here’s your nephew, auntie."

Her smile grows wider, her new braces showing.

"Awesome! What are my powers?"

He laughs.

"Well, you’ll teach him to draw, and you know, how to be a good guy."

"No way! You’ll do that."

He falls quiet at the impact of her words. She whispers at Will who blinks back at her, strokes her finger down his nose, then she looks up at Jess and chuckles at his expression.

"Oh, shut up."

"I didn’t-" he starts.

"Well, you not talking is really loud."

He grabs a muffin to hide behind and she goes back to gazing at Will. Beside her soft whispers there isn't many sounds around. A distant irregular banging from the yard, a clock on the wall ticking. It isn't lost on him that it was in this room that he held Doula for the first time.

They get a full half hour together in peace before Liz returns.

"Why didn't you tell me you'd be here?"

"It was a lucky coincidence-" Doula starts, but falters as Liz eyes the muffins still on the table. Jess winces and makes a mental note to teach her how to lie better.

"-That Doula got hold of me the other day." He fills in, while turning to Liz. "I was supposed to call you, but I forgot." He adds.

It doesn't matter if she believes him. Him doing her the curtesy of either implying anything apologetic or even bothering to lie means she has to fold.

"But I gotta go. Rory'll be back any minute."

Liz smiles after the smallest of pauses.

"Alright." She heads over to the counter, opening a drawer. She picks up a piece of paper and a pen, scribbling something down. "Here's the number to my friend Amber, you know from the fair?"

He nods, even if he doesn't. Liz hands him the paper.

"She's really good at that astrology stuff. You should call her about Will." She pauses. "Just tell her you’re my son, she won't charge you."

He's temped to tell her off but still feels a little bad, so he manages a small, amused smile.

"Thanks. I'll see if we get 'round to it."

Liz sneaks in a cuddle with Will before Jess hovering gets her to surrender him back to the pram and he can get out. He even gets away with a wave at TJ who's exiting a garden shed when he walks down the driveway. Doula follows him a bit up the road.

"You know it wouldn't kill you to let her hang out a bit more with Will." She mumbles.

He stops and turns to glare at her.

"What?" She says. "She's upset about it."

"If she's trying to guilt you into something-" He starts but she interrupts him.

"She hasn't said a thing to me. It's just obvious."

He sighs, tries to explain even if he hasn't given much thought to it, it's all instinct behind the wheel.

"I can't just give it a try. If it doesn't work out it's like I'm the one breaking a promise."

"Where does it say that?" Doula asks. "Nowhere. There are no rules anywhere."

"Look, I just don't want her to get her hopes up."

Doula stares at him for a second, mouth ajar.

"You don't wanna hurt her." She says, tone surprised. "Even if she hurt you."

He has no response. Her eyes go warm and she tilts her head with a slight smile. Then she stands on her toes and pats his head.

"You softie you." Her smile grows wide and mischievous.

"Hey!" He tries, but she's already started walking back to the house. She turns and waves.

"Bye brother!"

He shakes his head but waves back and can't help a smile. Hopeless.

 

Back at the house he arrives minutes before Rory who's happy about her time with actual adults, from positive feedback, and from the relief of getting to feed Will. She goes on about the meeting and he's relieved just to have them both back somewhere safe. They decide it's better to drive back home tomorrow morning and spend the afternoon in comfortable banter with Lorelai on the porch. Will falls asleep for the night, whatever that means, at about seven and Rory and Lorelai disappear into the living room to catch up on their lifetime movies. He declines to join them, but can't really muster his usual level of mocking, so they leave him be in the sofa. He keeps the baby monitor with him and reads for a while. The summer night is warm, and with the Gilmore-Danes' unattended garden, lined with old trees, the place seems much more exotic than it really is, he's back on To Have and To Have Not and it feels appropriate.

The stairs creek as Luke walks up them. Jess glances at his watch. Almost nine.

"Hey."

"Hey."

Luke sits down next to him and leans back. The constant stream of talk from indoors is broken by a fit of laughter. Luke turns his head.

"Lorelai remembered the TiVo."

"That she did."

"So... No hurry to go inside."

"Nope."

"Heard you had a little run-in-" Luke starts.

Jess chuckles and shakes his head. Loquacious Lorelai.

"I swear to god this day-" He closes the book. "She ran straight back to the diner to tell you?"

"Oh please, the woman won't stop texting me." Luke rants, some relief audible, presumably from venting. "And it's that annoying kind where she sends a sentence, and you start answering that, but right in the middle, she sends another one, and you realize she's nowhere near done, or you both send texts at the same time. The stuff of nightmares."

"You answer your texts?" Jess mocks.

"Don't give me that, like you never make compromises to keep the peace."

Jess sighs, still smiling though.

"I did not have a run-in with anyone. So, I'm not one hundred percent with Rory's elephantine ex handling my month-old son, sue me!"

Luke throws up his hands.

"Hey, I'm not trying to start something, I'm just... observing that you're a bit on edge. And that could be 'cause of anything, or it could be 'cause you're doing that thing where you try to bend existence to your will, which usually works when there's only you, only now there's a real, actual Will, who's a separate being from you. I'm guessing that's a new level of chaos for you." He almost looks pleased with himself as he finishes: "And here’s a radical idea; you love your son."

Jess wants to bite back, but feels too exhausted to, and thinks about it instead. The belly-aches, the irritability. Of course. That’s the way love comes sometimes. Or at least the practice of love. Doing. Buckling belts, paying attention, comforting when it does no good, waiting, pacing, repeating yourself. And worrying that it's not enough.

"I mostly feel like I don't know how to keep them safe." He admits. ”The way I used to protect myself was to just stay in a constant state of stasis, but I can't do that with them." He sighs and stares into the by now dark garden. "How do you stand it?"

"Being happy?" Luke snorts.

Jess nods, resigned. Luke straightens his face.

"Being comfortable and happy don't necessarily belong on the same scale." He shrugs. "In the beginning it felt like being in the eye of the storm or something, and I tried doing what you're doing, I tried to control, compartmentalize it, but that did not, I repeat, did not work. So, when I got a second chance I understood that I had to accept being powerless and now it's just, same old, same old."

"Same old, same old?" Jess repeats, skeptically.

"It rarely gets to be this huge, epic thing. Mainly it's just being content, maybe even a little bored. And sometimes, for certain people, it means being a little antsy." He pauses and fiddles with the sleeves of his shirt. Goes on, seemingly to himself. "Romance and stability were always opposites; You had one but not the other. So, for love to be a stabilizing influence on your- on my life..." He trails off and looks back to Jess. "Happily ever after means Monday to Friday, weekends, 24/7. Even celebrations mean spending time with people I have little to no interest in. But even the boring stuff is never really boring. Being with her, it’s constant entertainment, even when I'm begging for it to stop. It's normal to me now, but, I know it's a privilege. Some people will never know."

Luke gets up and opens the door but stops before entering.

"You'll get used to it."

Jess remains sitting, thinking about it and reading some more, trying to process this whole, strange day. The sounds of Rory feeding Will and going to bed crackles through the baby monitor before she shuts it off on her end. The house gets quiet after a while, lights turning off. He heads inside.

He goes into the bedroom and finds Rory on her old bed asleep, Will next to her. He has to move him to fit, but he doesn't do that straight away. Instead he lies down on his side on the edge of the bed facing them. First, he looks at her, and smiles a little about that she has to be part of his retina by now. Then, he looks at Will. Not parts of him, but him. Tries to wrap his head around that he's a person instead of figments, fragments of his imagination, and that he's here, alive, because of him, and then, an equal part because of her. His breath becomes strained, but he breathes through it.

 


 

One week later there's knock at the door that startles them out of their slow, Saturday morning haze. Rory shrugs wide-eyed and Jess goes to open the door. It's Lorelai’s voice falling into the apartment as soon as the door is opened. There's a tumble as her mother makes her way in, and she herself gets up and goes into the hallway to meet her. Jess is closing the door with Lorelai's jacket flung over his arm, he turns to her and raises his eyebrows. Rory shakes her head in response. She walks up to Lorelai jumping lightly despite her fatigue, as they do whenever they meet after any time-period longer than a week.

"Your buzzer's broken," Lorelai says.

"We know," Rory answers, and hugs Lorelai, "that's why people usually call us when they want to come visit."

"Well, your landlord'll fix it now, I had a chat with him."

"You- How-?"

"Well, I couldn't get in, But I wanted it to be a surprise-"

"Oh, it would have been." Jess says and hangs Lorelai's jacket on the hall stand.

"-so, I knocked on apartment one's window 'til he opened. Turns out that's your landlord."

"We know."

"Well, seems to me you should have done what I did months ago. You can't have people not being able to stage friendly take-overs if they have to call first. Caller-ID's a bitch, and I didn't get the chance to try out my new secret agent persona. It pissed me off, so I told him. Sometimes people find it incredibly hard to say no to me." She pats Jess on the shoulder and walks further into the apartment. "Now, where's my grandchild?" She walks into the kitchen, picks up Will from his bouncer and wraps her free arm around Rory. "There he is! My babies!"

Rory smiles broadly and possibly a bit perplexed. Jess comes into the room.

"Coffee?" He asks. "Side of why you're here?"

"Uhm, yes?" Lorelai says. "And I'm here to take Junior off your hands for the better part of the day. He's about a month old. The code states that this is the time when a grandparent might sweep in and take their grandchild for minor excursions, freeing up time for the new parents so that they can feel like individuals for a few hours again."

"The code?"

Lorelai turns to him, finger to her lips.

"Shush, you're not supposed to know about it until Will has kids of his own."

"All well and good, but please don't spread the news to Liz, I got enough to worry 'bout without her wanting to take care of my infant."

"My lips are sealed. Except for coffee." She takes a sip. "Why don’t you pack a bag for Will?"

"Sure."

He walks off. Lorelai takes a seat at the kitchen table, Will in her arms.

"How are you doing?" She asks.

Rory yawns.

"Achy breasts, place is a mess, haven’t had a coherent thought in a week, at least." She places her head in her hands. "And, tired”

"Well, good thing I'm here then. I suggest you spend the extra hours in bed, with or without company-"

"Mom!"

"I said you can choose." Lorelai goes on unfazed. "And then later I'll help you move the socks from the fridge to the appropriate drawer and put your keys back in your bag from the spice rack and color code the kitchen utilities, so you'll never pour coffee on the house plants again."

"Thank you, mommy." Rory smiles.

Jess enters the room.

"Bag's in the pram."

"Alright, I'm off. Enjoy the time and don't do anything... I wouldn't do? Or better yet, forget I exist."

"We'll try." Jess sing-songs.

"Don't listen to them, Billy! You and I are gonna paint the town red."

Lorelai moves the pram out through the door with some difficulty and then closes it behind them.

He looks at her and takes a deep breath.

"So..." He starts.

"So."

"Any requests?"

She smiles.

"I'm way behind on my reading."

He scratches his head.

"Oh, yeah, I could use some time with my word processor."

"Okay then."

"Okay."

She does decide to stay in bed and starts by sleeping for a good thirty minutes. Jess wakes her up and puts a cup of coffee on the bedside table before heading out into the living room. The sounds of his keyboard sneaks into the room, and she sips her coffee. Then she starts on a new book. She hasn't read for pleasure for months and soaks up the content like a sponge. An hour passes, and she's almost done with a fourth of the book. She laughs at herself, at her speed and ability to immerse herself, and how she feels like herself more in this simple moment than she has in a while. It's interesting that her first instinct when given this free time isn't to clean the place or to write or edit her manuscript but to read. Like she instinctively knew what she needed to do to reboot. And how she apparently knows herself even without conscious thought. It seems primal in a way, doing what makes your heart strong. She gets out of bed and walks into the living room where Jess is stationed at his computer, playing the keys like a piano.

"You know you don't have to give up writing, right?" She says before even stopping.

He freezes and spins the chair around to face her, expression vaguely curious.

"I mean, for yourself." She fills in.

A tiny smile grazes his lips.

"It's important that you keep doing it." She goes on.

He keeps observing her, and she feels like stomping her foot.

"I like that you're doing it." She says firmly.

He's definitely amused now.

"I want you to write." She says, looking at the ceiling so she doesn't get distracted. "Okay?"

"Okay." He finally says. There's a pause before he points to his screen and goes on. "Right now? 'Cause I was already-"

She laughs and feels silly. Sillier.

"That's not what I meant. Y'know. Just so... you know." She finishes, tone softer.

He tilts his head forward.

"I kinda knew that." His eyes are warm. "But thanks for telling me. It means a lot coming from you. You’re the reason I did it to begin with."

She blushes.

"You’re a liar!"

He shakes his head firmly.

"Am not. I have the questionable privilege of a good memory. Without you I'd probably-" he sighs, "be in jail." His tone is light, like it's nothing. He even grins as he finishes: "Pathetic, right?"

"Not my first word choice." She mumbles, eyes wide.

He speaks again, explaining.

"You kept me staying with Luke and that got me a bit better. And after I left there I only had what'd happened, and all those books in my head and I couldn't change any of it. I had to write myself out of that and... There."

Her cheeks are burning. She walks up to him and kisses his forehead. Takes a breath and a step back.

"Okay then."

"Okay." He smiles at her and turns back, facing his screen. She gets back to her book.

 

Lorelai's panting when she enters the apartment dragging Will in the pram. Rory steps aside to make way for them and her mother looks at her curiously.

"So, what've you crazy kids been up to?"

"Oh, mom, thank you, thank you, thank you!" She hugs Lorelai. "I've been in bed, reading, for glorious hours!"

"You read a book!?" Lorelai looks disappointed. Rory reaches to lift Will from his carriage.

"Hi baby!"

"Jess! How could you allow this to happen?"

He comes wandering out into the hallway, a paper from a manuscript in hand.

"What?" He looks up.

"You let her read all day?" Lorelai accuses.

"What d'you want me to do?"

"Take her dancing! Schlep her off on a cruise! Use your imagination!"

"I didn't realize the day off came with instructions."

"I didn't think you needed any!" Lorelai shakes her head. "Oh, forget it, you're hopeless! Where do you keep the spare-sheets?"

Lorelai picks out the things to make up the couch for herself and goes to get take out. They eat and watch a movie after Will is put to bed. At about eleven he wakes up for his first round, and Rory excuses herself for the night. While she's nursing the baby, Jess enters the room and gets into bed. Will usually falls asleep easily at this time of night and tonight is no exception.

She puts Will in his crib and gets under the covers, turns to Jess, and sees he's awake, looking at her in the dusk. She smiles and feels the relief for the first time in a while.

"Mom still up?" She whispers.

"Yup. She had to see how it ended."

"How'd you do today?" She whispers.

"Three thousand words and some editing. Great."

Her smile broadens.

"I'm happy," she says.

"Me too. Gotta send your mom a gift basket at some point.."

"Agreed."

Then it's there between them again, and it's first at that moment that she feels how long it's been. It hits her and she forgets to breathe as she leans over and kisses him heatedly, open-mouthed, from the get-go. And he's right there with her, in an instant, and her heart speeds up at the joy of that as well as the touch, taste and sounds of him. She straddles him and he half-sits up in the same motion, leaning head and shoulders against the wall, pushing his body tighter to hers, his increased control evident in his movements against her. Her breath catches up with her again and she does her best to muffle the whimper that escapes on her exhales. A hand of his rises from her bare waist to her face and he strokes her and creates a slight gap between their mouths, slipping his thumb across her lips. She briefly grasps it with her lips and tongue. His breath is on her and she locks eyes with him until they're paced and in sync.

"I love you," she breathes. He smiles and closes his eyes just to open them again, shining, a moment later. For a second, she thinks she can sense his heartbeat vibrating through her body, but it's probably her, or at least a joint effort on their part, being the epicenter. She swallows. She gets on her knees, and inches out of her underwear, an old pair of his boxers, and he follows her example.

"Hey," he whispers purposefully and her eyes meet his again. "Let me know what you want, if something is weird, okay?"

She nods fervently and closes her eyes to make sense of herself. She's been pushing sex ahead of her, it has seemed like too big of a project while staying up nights with Will, or trying to structure their everyday life into some sort of functioning routine. It has seemed far away. But after today, she's back in her body and suddenly in the middle of it. His hand is between her legs, thumb against her clit, and fingers inside her, pushing and pulling slowly. She bites her lip as the sensation travels up her abdomen, down her thighs. Shakes a little, from anticipation and, she has to admit, just a hint of nervousness. She kisses him again, to distract herself, but can't seem to keep from trembling. She reaches between them and strokes him. He gasps at the touch.

"I wouldn’t do that, unless you want this to end really quickly."

She blinks, at once infinitely more confident by him acknowledging her power, and she smiles.

"I’m not sure I could handle some marathon my first time back anyway," she purrs and keeps touching him.

"Don’t say that.” He mumbles through clenched teeth. She chuckles, pushes her mouth to his and whispers, overly moany;

"Oh baby! Give it to me hard and fast."

"Shut up!" He growls, but his lips go tight from his smile.

He's been static up until now, waiting, holding still, his breath the only thing betraying him. But his grip on her tightens, and he reaches for the drawer in the nightstand.

"Do your worst." He hands her the condom.

She does, and he bites his lower lip and closes his eyes, and for a second it's the most adorable he's ever looked, while her lust mixes with amusement. She grabs the hair at the back of his neck and mounts him.

He makes no attempt to move them, so she steps it up. At first, she holds still for a few seconds, to figure out if anything hurts. But nothing does, so she slowly starts moving until the moment comes back to her. It's at that exact time, as she stifles another moan, and not before, that she's intensely impressed by this body of hers; It's never been good at sports, and outside of sex she's had little appreciation for it as it mostly just cries for coffee and demands increased comfort in inappropriate times, and she's joked on more than one occasion that she was made for the Futurama space-age, when being a floating head is a real option. She's underestimated it. It knows so many things she can't put into words, it's capable of creating a person, of birthing a person and it heals itself and allows her to experience pleasure again, with little to no words of encouragement. Go it.

She keeps her movements moderate, in addition to this being their first time back, she also has her mother in the other room and would sooner chew off her own arm than have Lorelai be privy to the sounds of their lovemaking. He matches her motions for a while before losing it. His grip on her hardens to control the outcome of his sharper moves. The hazy thought that his grip might leave marks runs through her head as she climaxes. She kisses him to mute them both.

He whispers how he loves her on the after-waves and tips them over, still inside her, still moving, and she allows herself some hushed, content moans. When she had enough of his body and they're separate people again she inspects her own. She runs her finger over the echoes of his grip on her hip and waist.

"Sorry." He says.

She shakes her head.

"It is okay. I was just thinking that I like my body."

He lets out a silent laugh.

"Join the club."

"No," she goes on, "it's just I never cared about it much. But now, after everything..."

"It's you."

She smiles.

"Yeah."

 


 

He has one hand on the wheel and another on the shift stick. Rory's in the passenger seat, head turned to the back seat and carrying a conversation, or rather parrying inquiries from Will who's sitting there. Her answers are clever and playful, generating new questions.

"Why is the cat’s meow something good?"

"It’s how they go ’wow’."

"Can snakes go backwards?"

"Every way is forward to a snake."

"Do fireflies breathe fire?"

"Only when they’re really passionate about something."

Will laughs at each answer. The sound is a tickle made audible and his cheeks ache from the broad smile it causes. He looks in the rearview mirror to see him but only catches glimpses of long, dark hair and flashes of familiar blue eyes behind it. Rory puts her hand on his on the stick and he has no choice but to meet her eyes. He has an itching feeling that he’s forgetting something and that he should be more concerned about it but she’s looking at him like that and he’s too happy to care. They look at each other and he keeps driving.

Chapter Text

Open doors would soon be shut. - Solsbury Hill, Peter Gabriel


August 2017, Philadelphia

 

Her phone rings from the living room while she's on the bed, feeding Will.

"That's yours!" Comes Jess's voice from the kitchen.

"I know, dufus! Can you get it for me?"

He gets the phone at the second ring and enters the bedroom moments later, squinting at it.

"Logan Huntzberger," he reads off the screen.

She must look struck by lightning because he freezes, squinting at her instead, phone ringing in his hand. She shoots out her chin.

"Answer it." She says.

"Me?" He says skeptically.

"Put it on speaker, dufus." She says and he chuckles. "Unless you wanna hold it to my ear."

"Not for all the tea in China," he says and places the phone on the bedrest before pressing the call through and briskly exiting the room.

"Logan?" She starts.

"Ace! Good to hear your voice."

"And yours," she answers, smiling widely. "Long time no... anything. How've you been?"

"Oh, just great, same as always." He doesn't need to tell her anything. Everybody knows what's going on with him; The private is public property. he discloses everything in social media with beautiful pictures to match, his professional life, his traveling, his girlfriends and then his fiancé, at least last she looked. A fiancé that’s since turned wife, no missing that. She doesn't need to ask, but it is the thing to do. "What about you?" He counters.

She scrambles to figure out what he might already know. They’re contacts on Facebook, but she uses it for networking, never anything private, much to her mother’s dismay. Plus, she did unfollow him about three years ago, she’ll admit it was painful to watch him do so well and not being able to match it. Every party he attends in both private and professional capacity, every relationship, is marked with pictures, and he always looks great, the girls look like straight out of the fashion scene. Unfollowing didn’t do much when every post he makes gets hundreds of likes, they’re all highlights. If she didn’t know what it’s really like, what he’s really like, she might be truly intimidated by how swell it all seems. Even after the cabin she never got around to following him again. That stuff just didn’t seem to matter much anymore.

She hasn’t posted anything about Jess or Will. Why should she? Her professional contacts wouldn’t care, all her friends know about it anyway, and Jess's only tie to the platform is a login to Truncheon, they couldn’t exactly post 'in a relationship'. To her knowledge The Enquirer hasn’t written a piece on her pregnancy, so that’s out. And how many people does she actually consider friends? Do any of those socialize with Logan? Could he know? Why is he calling?

"Uhm, Sorry, I'm just trying to remember the last time we spoke." She says after realizing that a moment longer than what might be appropriate has past.

"Must've been about two years ago."

"God, has it been that long?"

"Yes, it has. Now spill. What've you been up to?" A man on some sort of mission, apparently.

"Why do you sound like you already know what I've been up to?"

"My reach is far," he says playfully, "and I might not have birds braiding my hair in the morning, but I do command an army of flying monkeys."

"Is that how you refer to Colin and Finn?"

He laughs.

"Obviously."

"What's on your mind, Logan?" That's the way you have to do it. Make him laugh and he will surrender.

"Why so suspicious? I'm not up to mischief. I simply caught wind that you moved to Philadelphia and since I'm going there in a few days I thought I'd see to it that we go for coffee."

"Could you be more vague? 'Caught wind?' 'Few days?' Come on!"

She hears the smile in his voice when he folds.

"Mitchum ran into Christopher at some function a few months back."

"Oh."

"I can adjust to your schedule." Logan goes on. "Are you free Thursday? I can come another day if you're not."

"You'd do that?" She can't help being flattered by his insistence and drops her guard.

"I am my own boss, Ace. And I missed you."

She caves.

"Okay. Fine. Thursday."

"Great. I've been meaning to take a stroll in that park of yours."

"A hike is more like it."

"I'll bring my boots. Fourteen hundred hours?"

"Ten four."

They hang up. She smiles to herself, looks forward to it without considering potential pit falls – he has his usual effect on her even from hundreds of miles away.

 

It's Thursday and it's impossible to choose something to wear. She doesn't have time to dilly about it though, an upside of having a baby to look after. He keeps her anchored to the bed, the couch, any chair available and even the floor under a few desperate circumstances. She can get around with him attached to her breast, but it's not easy. So, she spends the morning glaring at her wardrobe, mentally taking inventory of what she can wear these days, what she'd feel comfortable wearing, and what's acceptable for seeing Logan. Her skinny jeans might not be too tight, but they feel it, the softness of her tummy making her self-conscious. But they might be too warm anyway. Okay, maybe she has time to dilly a little. She goes through two outfits before settling on a dress, black base with flowers and her brown boots.

She's in front of the mirror regarding herself critically and is just about to change for a third time, when she catches sight of Jess walking by behind her and stopping in his tracks seeing her. They make eye contact and she turns and faces him. His expression is hopelessly hard to read, but then he shoots her a short, crooked smile.

"You're beautiful." He says, simply, and his tone doesn't help her make out what he's thinking, but she sure is aware of her own thoughts. She feels caught in the act of... what? She blushes.

"Thanks."

"You sure you don't want me to take Will?"

She considers it again. It would be nice to spend an afternoon with an adult, for fun and nothing else. But she hasn't told Logan she's a mom. Doesn't know how to unless he explicitly asks, and she can't count on that. She has got to tell him. Having a baby is definitely the kind of thing you should mention when someone asks you what you've been up to. What's wrong with her? Bringing Will gets her out of the whole having to tell him thing. She shakes her head.

"It's fine. He needs the air and you're just gonna be holed up here all day."

He smiles again.

"Maybe."

"Work. Read. Sleep." She urges.

"Okay."

She packs up Will and all his accessories, including the sling and stuffs it into the pram. Jess opens the door and turns to her. He opens his mouth as if to speak, so she stops, but he closes it again and tilts his head forward in a nod, another tiny smile.

"Have a good time."

She sighs, and nods in response, leans in and pecks his lips.

"See you."

 

Logan of course offered to come pick her up, but she declined pretty firmly, she's avoiding ruining the day with too much reality, and an apartment filled with unsorted laundry, dirty diapers and a sleep-deprived boyfriend would definitely get in the way of that. Going anywhere on public transportation with a pram is something of an extreme sport though and she tries not to rush, it'll spoil her mood and look.

They're meeting at Logan Square, his brilliant idea, but it's where she used to go after her doctor's appointments during her pregnancy and it's the first time she comes here with an actual baby. A baby who seems to be enjoying the trip, his blue eyes darting between the equally blue sky and the mobile with colorful dragons attached to the carriage, his head elevated and supported by double pillows. His communication skills have expanded significantly the last month. He has a whole range of different sounds for different purposes, makes eye contact and smiles, possibly even on purpose. She looks at him and tells him what happens every chance she gets during the ride.

When she arrives at the café Logan is nowhere in sight. She sits down by the Fitzsimmons statue and rocks the pram slightly while cooing at Will. A couple of minutes pass before there's a tap at her shoulder, and she looks up into his ever-smiling face. The tunnel vision is definitely at the bottom of her list of things she enjoys about parenthood.

"Sorry." She says and stands up to hug him.

"Don't apologize, I must have looked at you for at least thirty seconds before registering that it was you." He turns his attention to Will and lifts a hand in a greeting. "Hi."

She smiles.

"Logan, Will. Will, Logan."

If he's surprised he doesn't show it. His expression and voice are levelled and friendly.

"How old is he?"

"Two months, ten days."

"Wow." He looks back at her, clearly evaluating. "You look great."

"Thank you." She says generously, both relieved and annoyed at his remark. Relieved because it is as it always was between them, he makes her feel different about herself. It's left-overs from her early twenties and at that time he had made her feel, for the first time in her life, that she could belong, be cool, have fun, and not have to think so much about tomorrow, and whenever she sees him, for real or in a photograph, she thinks about that. Annoyed because... she hasn't had time to process that yet. "Let's get that coffee."

They get take away cups and head toward the park. He has a business dinner that evening, and is staying overnight before heading to Washington, apparently having the time to drive for a change. She tells him about Lorelai getting married and about the book. They've almost reached the Rodin when she has to ask.

"I'm that different?"

"What?"

"You said you didn't recognize me."

"No!" He gestures vividly. "You look the same, it's the combo with the baby that made it hard to process. I knew, but seems it was hard to actually get."

"Same on this end." She says with a crooked smile, then turns to him. "You knew."

He bites his lip.

"I knew."

"'Heard you moved to Philadelphia...'" She says with her dude-voice.

"Well, I wanted to see what you'd tell me on your own." He protests.

She winces.

"Turns out your conversational tactics are as limber as ever." He bumps his fist lightly on her upper arm.

She scoffs.

"Yeah, limber. And you're one to talk!" She pauses slightly. "How'd you know?"

"I told you."

Two fathers, one function, right. It makes her ill at ease.

"Wow, that dad of mine sure has a big mouth." She musters.

"My dad's mouth can beat your dad's mouth any day." He pushes his chest out in a faux boisterous way. Then shakes his head, eyes to the ground with a grim smile. "You should have heard him go on and on about 'that Gilmore girl you used to date, getting herself into trouble, pregnant and unmarried in Philadelphia', on second thought, I'm euphoric you didn't hear it."

His words make her halt to a stop. There are so many things wrong with them that she doesn't quite know where to start. Her head spins with hatred of Mitchum and the sharpness of it takes her by surprise. And it's still trumped by her searing doubt about Christopher's loyalty. Will starts whimpering and she's almost grateful because that means she gets to pick him up and hold him close. She starts pacing with her son in her arms.

"Rory?"

She looks up and every emotion must be exposed in her face because Logan frowns in concern.

"I'm sorry.” He offers. ”It's Mitchum, you know he's a bastard."

The words sound hollow at first but actually make her feel a bit better; Christopher might have just stuck to the basics, it might have been Mitchum questioning him instead of a real conversation, and he would have made the worst possible interpretation of the answers he received. She makes herself remember her interactions with her father during the last few months. Barren as their relationship might feel at times she knows he wouldn't sell her out to a sociopath like Mitchum, not even for good business. She takes a few breaths and Will calms down as well. The other implications of his words still remain however, and she's tired of engaging in conversational hide and seek.

"Is this some kind of rescue mission, Logan?"

"What do you mean?" He doesn't meet her eyes.

"You know what I mean."

"Rory-"

"I do not need rescuing. It's 2017." She's off balance and tries her best to keep it out of her voice. "I may not be married but that doesn't mean I am alone. And so what if I was? And since when do you consider an unmarried mother some damsel in distress?"

"I don't! I wasn't planning-" He stops speaking abruptly and takes a quick breath before going on. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

"I am. I'm more than that actually."

He puts a hand on her shoulder, leaning in.

"Okay. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything."

"No, you shouldn't have." She bites back but then tries swallowing the rest. She might still be able to save the afternoon. She sits down on the steps next to The Thinker, puts her lips to Will's dark head and looks out across the street, trying to calm herself further by the beautiful weather and the rustling through the canopies. Logan sits down next to her and looks at Will.

"I'm assuming he has your eyes?"

She forces a smile and it makes her feel better.

"He does."

"That hair though..."

"Not mine." She says and doesn't miss that he doesn't ask further. Not that she minds, she’s not really in the sharing mood. Instead he apologizes again.

"I am sorry."

"Let's not talk about it anymore. Let's get on." She mounts Will in the sling on herself and has Logan push the pram. They walk up to the Oval and get refills at the museum, plus bottles of water, before continuing their walk. She jokes about the pram mainly being for all the baby stuff, tells him about her zombieish state and rants about Will's nightly shenanigans. Their conversation is light, she intentionally keeps it that way, until comfortable again. He hands her a water bottle and she sees the ring and remembers.

"How was the wedding?" She asks.

"Delightful. You didn't see the pictures?"

She didn't. He's still unfollowed, and she's not online much lately. She avoids answering directly though.

"Pictures don't tell the whole story. How was the music? How'd the food taste? Was your outfit comfortable?"

He laughs.

"Everything was great. String quartet for the ceremony, cover band for the reception, venue provided what I hear was excellent catering, I'm having some trouble remembering it to be honest." He lets out a short laugh. "That's what happens after a bottle of Champagne on an empty stomach. As far as I'm concerned we might as well have ordered from Wendy's. I was however, very comfortable in my clothes."

"I'm glad." She says. Hesitates. "Tell me about your wife."

"She's great." His answer is quick. "Very clever. Nauseatingly successful. Makes me look bad."

She smiles, and it's not as hard as she thought.

"She's off visiting her family right now, and I didn't really have another trip to Europe in me, hence the extra time to do sort of a road trip. Mixing business and pleasure."

"Any plans to reproduce?" The question is careful, not everyone enjoys being asked.

"Not at the moment." His tone doesn't indicate any negative reaction. "She'll decide when it's time though."

Will starts crying, possibly tired of the warmth in the sling, and probably hungry. They've reached the Lincoln monument by now but have to head to the steps across the street for some shade and a place to sit. She picks Will up and sits down on a step as close to the edge as possible, and has Logan flanking her, same way she does with Jess when she feeds Will in public. She catches him looking and they lock eyes.

"Sorry." He says and actually looks a little embarrassed.

"Don't worry." She assures. "It's only food. And it's nothing you haven't seen before."

He chuckles.

"Not like this."

"I guess not."

There's a pause and they both sip their water. When he speaks again his tone is a bit more serious.

"Tell me more about parenthood."

"I thought it wasn't on the map for you yet?"

"It's not, I'm asking because you-" He obviously hesitates. "I thought you'd seem happier about it."

She chuckles. She forgets that her baby-jokes, in the jargon of chastened war-veteran, world weary from a harrowing service of nine weeks sometimes gets lost in translation. She tries to not talk down to him. Even if she's relatively comfortable in her parent role by now, it's unpopular behaving like everyone's mother.

"Well, I’m not happy in the carefree sense." She confirms, chin out. "It's a lifelong commitment, a relationship where you do all the work, and you're supposed to. So, you have to want it, which I do. I’m glad he’s here. But I’m happy cause of what I give, not what I get." She pauses. "You wanna know something weird?"

"Sure."

"Before I could force myself to do anything. Even stuff I knew I didn't really feel right about. But since he was born..." She looks at Will and then back again. "I've gotten better at listening to myself. Maybe 'cause his well-being is dependent on mine." She takes a breath. "And I used to fret about this great success I was supposed to become, had this belly-ache that I didn't measure up. You think he cares about my title?"

"Probably not." He smiles. "But you don't have to use the same measuring scale for everything."

"I know. It just, seems silly now. I mean, the way I feel about my mom..."

"He'll feel that way about you."

She smiles quickly, but goes on, onto something.

"It’s exhausting, and slow. You put all of you, all your time and attention into this little being and as tired as I am, as much as I long for him to get bigger so I can exit the bubble, it- It makes me feel-” She bites her lip and sighs through her nose while searching for the right words. "I guess I never felt quite so useful even when I mess up, powerful even I'm powerless. The things I do now are so different from the ones I did before and that makes me different."

"Sounds nice." His tone is soft, but a bit sad.

She shrugs.

"It is and isn't. I have problems finding words adequate for it. I'm still me, but some of my identity is new."

"A metamorphosis."

"A bit. Same parts, different shape. And I thought the whole parent-thing was gonna be all about this new human, not my... what's the opposite of a personality crisis?"

"Sounds like an unpredicted bonus." He says, and the fall silent for about a minute before he speaks again. "What does Emily say about all this?"

"You mean does she approve?" It's more a clarification than a question. "She loves him, probably since before he was born. And you should’ve seen her when she met him for the first time-"

She smiles at the memory. Emily came when Will was about two weeks old and stayed for three days. Their first encounter a huge relief to both women; Emily with the patience and fresh enthusiasm to give Will her undivided attention for hours on end, while Rory enjoyed having blood back in her arms, and heaven help her: doing laundry, going grocery shopping. Jess gave up his side on the bed for the benefit of Emily's back and to promote the absence of comments regarding their civil status. Funny how that works - out of sight, out of mind - even with a baby. But Emily Gilmore always had a soft heart for children and their sacred right to clean slates.

"She actually came here."

"No way! Emily Gilmore way out west!"

"Yeah way." Rory laughs. "Such is the pull of this little star. She has issues with a bunch of my choices, but it makes no difference regarding him. And she felt the same way about me. She knows the difference."

Will falls asleep at her breast and she inches it from his mouth and buttons her dress. Stands up and places him carefully back into the pram, pulls the shade over him and hangs the yellow baby blanket they got at the Shower askew over the remaining gap to ward off the sun. They walk slowly along Sedgley Drive, lush vegetation obscuring the street from view. They reach a trail that seems almost overgrown, but climbing the hill, and he stops them at the fork.

"You know, if you ever need a break from the family life you can give me a call. I've got plenty of get away spots that you can use. I could even join you if you like." His tone is light but he holds her gaze, reaches out and pushes her hair behind her ear. She blinks. It takes her an embarrassing extra fraction of a second to process what just happened and to respond in any way. She turns her head away from his touch.

"Logan-" She starts. Falls silent. It's all on the tip of her tongue; That she doesn't know how many ex-girlfriends he has in mind to visit on this road trip of his, that she might be in no way special, but that she has to let him know anyway. Because she used to be called Mary after all, granted, not by him, but someone like him, and he wasn't far off, mocking her for her sense of duty, for how she used to be before she grew embarrassed at that quality of hers, before she gave in to him. That his proposal, proposition is an insult. To her, to her family, to his clever wife, but most of all, to him. Does he think nothing of himself? Is he worth nothing? The feeling stems from love, from caring for him, she knows, but she also knows that honesty can be cruel, no matter how well intentioned. And she doesn't want to be cruel, even if she can be, cruel words are a gateway. She hesitates too long and he speaks again.

"Sorry," he says. "That must be the fifth one today, huh?"

She shoots him a tight smile and nods.

"It's okay. But y'know, words matter. You should be careful with 'em." She hates her own wording, ironically. Adds more, to make her real point: "You matter."

"Yeah," he says, without any real weight to it. "Thanks."

They walk for a while longer after that, but she can't recover. She pulls them to the right, past the baseball field, and crosses the Poplar Street Bridge, back towards the city. The carelessness he oozes, that he makes her feel as well, is an illusion. He only feels it because he doesn't control his own narrative or doesn't think he can, so why worry? He's not free, he never was. She only feels loneliness from him now, like icy wind, and shudders despite the heat. It's a different loneliness than the one she knows Jess has lived with, that somewhat chosen, clean isolation. Not Logan. He smiles, but it's the smile from selfies, from the glamour of his life, the myriad of things, people. Crowded emptiness. In an unaffected way, like it's a matter of fact. She feels like crying and she wants to hug him, make a difference to him, anchor him to something, in any way. But she can't. Her responsibility lies elsewhere now and is not one she can disregard. The impotence of her situation makes her wretched and she can't keep up the façade.

She tells him she has to go, and he offers to drive her home. She wants to take him up on it, is desperate enough to want to show him their apartment, which in its simplicity seems saturated with significance, warmth and safety. She wants to show him all of that even if it means putting him and Jess in the same room. But she has the pram and he has no car seat for Will. So, she has to say no, and a small part of her is relieved at that.

"Logan. Don't be a stranger. Call me again."

He smiles and winks at her.

"Dito." He waves and saunters off.

She remains in the same place until he disappears. She takes a shaky breath as soon as he's gone and blinks away tears. Only for a few seconds though, because Will gets restless and she has to get going, pushing life forward. Walking off her feelings sets the idea to get to Girard and 24th on foot in her head but she has to give up after a few blocks. She hasn't walked this much in months and is emotionally exhausted to add insult to injury. She jumps a trolley and makes her way home.

She calls Paris. It's unfair to put it on Jess and she has no use for Lane's nuanced advice since she's well-aware that there's little she can do, Paris is her angry friend - a blunt force instrument.

"You're not responsible for the well-being of your ex-boyfriend.” Paris says, naturally. ”Do you need me to remind you what you are responsible for?"

"No!” Rory says firmly. ”That's why I called you. I just can't escape the feeling that I made his life worse."

"Explain."

"I don't know.” She presses her lips together. ”Maybe I made him more pliable, maybe he would've been better off living like he did when we met."

"He would've been deranged from some venereal disease or disowned long ago if it weren't for you." Paris’s answer is immediate, like it’s obvious. How does she do that?

"But what if that would've been better?" Rory objects. "Maybe not the deranged bit, but-"

"Did you know that people generally maintain the same of level of happiness throughout their life, no matter what happens to them, more or less?” Paris’s words are fluent, unaffected. ”Like, if they lose a limb or win the lottery they're miserable, or ecstatic for a while, and then they just... baseline it. Go back to how they always felt. My point is that he was broken in his particular way long before you, and probably still is."

"This isn't making me feel any better."

"Is that the effect I usually have on you?" Paris sounds surprised.

"No. Yes. You usually surprise me." Rory says and smiles to herself.

"Oh." Paris pauses, and Rory can almost hear her raising her eyebrows. After a second, she fires off again, her aim true to her target. "Well, here goes: Suffering, like happiness - you only feel it sharply for a little while, then you get used to it. Doesn't mean it's all the same but let me make this clear: it's better to be unhappy in a thousand-dollar suit than unhappy and on the street. You bettered his circumstances. What he does with that is up to him."

Rory lets it sink in. Then she thanks Paris and hangs up. Looks out the window.

She thinks about how she won't be able to be the first one to call Logan after this. And considers that had it been just a couple of years ago she might not have flinched at his suggestion. But something's happened since then, several things really. She's learned that bad decisions blind you, in a way. Once the waters are murky it's so much harder to find your way back. She thinks about how she was never reached out before either to be honest, not even when her grandfather died, and she files that information away as a private little pat on the back. She's never been the one to pick up the phone after he broke up with her at her graduation. Right. Part of her is angry with herself for carrying guilt about that. He was the one who did the dumping after all, and very untimely, but she did say no, so maybe the roles might as well have been reversed. In his head they probably are. And then she thinks that he might always have viewed an unmarried mother a damsel in distress. Maybe this is not news. But she has a weak spot for him, she can forgive him a lot, too much, has already done that, and payed the price. And perhaps that's the way it'll always be, or not, she did undergo a metamorphosis. But she'll never look at his posts in social media the same way again. She's safe to follow him, if she gets around to it.

She's about to get off at her stop when her phone chimes. She picks it up when she's back on the sidewalk. It's a text from Logan. 'My sincerest apologies about today, Ms. Gilmore. I meant no disrespect and will be on my best behavior the next time our paths cross ;)'. She sighs, she's both troubled and relieved that he already broke the silence, sometimes she thinks there should be more of the deliberate kind between them. But she can't help a smile. She answers: 'Until next time, Mr. Huntzberger.' Seems the best she can do.  

 

She enters the apartment and lets Will go on sleeping in the pram in the hallway, he'll wake up soon enough for his last session of the day. She drops her purse and walks into the living room falling over on the couch in over-dramatic exasperation. Jess is at the computer writing and smiles at the gesture he's registered in his periphery. 

"How was Throwback Thursday?" He asks. 

"I threw my back out." She whines. 

He chuckles. 

"That bad?" 

She turns over on her side, supporting her head in one hand. 

"No, not really, but, you know, you don't see the ex expecting a regular weekday." 

"Maybe not. So, any big revelations?" 

"A few.” She stares at the ceiling fan as a thought takes shape in her head. ”Remember when I said you drag everybody’s debts around?" 

He turns around on his chair facing her, expression questioning. 

"I guess." 

"Well, Logan doesn’t. Never did. Not even his own.” She sits up, swings her legs over the edge and sits on her hands for some reason. "Y'know that metaphor about the bag of rocks that you can simply put down? That’s him. And today I’m thinking that’s one of my main reasons for falling for him.” She pauses, takes a breath, vaguely registers that his expression has turned wary. "Seemed so free, never got into trouble, real trouble. And being with him… you felt safe. Like you were above everything. " 

"Rory-" he starts, somewhat stifled. 

She releases her hands from under herself and gestures to emphasize her word. 

"And it felt like living in this beautiful house that had everything you could want, or need, and it was never yours, it would never be yours.” She makes eye contact with him and he closes his mouth and tilts his head as the penny drops. "You didn’t have to carry all that you did, do. Why do you do it?" She asks him. 

He shrugs, but chews on his lip all the same, like he does when considering something. Then he speaks. 

"I don't know. I gave everyone else such a hard time and just reached a point when I had to hold myself to the same scrutiny." 

"But you had the right to give them a hard time." She protests.  

"Being angry with other people doesn’t change ’em. Being angry with yourself…” He pauses. ”That you can work with, as long as you're not just glaring at yourself in the mirror. It was actually you who taught me that." 

"Me? Why?" 

"Because as soon as I had you I proceeded to fuck us over. I did that. I was so sure I had everything under control, and then I didn't. I did the opposite of what I wanted. So, I need to keep myself on a short leash about a lot of things. That’s why I carry the bag. It works for me." He pauses and smiles. "Plus, it's a really great work-out."  

She chuckles and shakes her head. Feeling part frustration part admiration. 

"You're really something, you know that?" 

 

She's doing the dishes, listening to music when her phone rings. She picks it up and Liz is on the other end asking for Jess. Her hands are wet and covered in foam so she hurries into the living room where Jess and Will are sitting on the couch, the latter sucking on a corner of the former's shirt. 

"Jess, it's Liz." 

"Have her state her business." He says without looking up and she rolls her eyes but turns her attention back to the phone and asks.  

"If this is about the full horoscope thing again, tell her to back off." Jess says a bit too loudly, while Liz' answer on the other end makes Rory go cold. Jess turns his back and goes on talking to Will, who's stuffed his mouth full of shirt by now. "You don't need to know your Mars-sign, right? It's probably better if you don't."  

Rory covers the bottom half of the phone with her wet hand and tries. 

"Jess-" 

"Not who you were in a previous life either, as if this one wasn't confusing enough-" 

"Jess!" 

"What?" He turns to look at her, finally noticing and reacting to her expression. "What?" He repeats. 

Her voice is broken. 

"Jimmy died." 

Chapter Text

Just give me a sign, there's an end with a beginning. - New York, Snow Patrol

September 2017, Los Angeles

 

The funeral home is a big house in red brick surrounded the foliage of an, at least partially, well-groomed park. It has a big annex sticking out of it, not unlike a church. It even has stained glass windows, but with a sunset instead of a religious motif. Apparently, Jimmy was an atheist and this is a place specializing in humanist services. Rory stifles a yawn as they exit the car. It's been a long few weeks. The call threw their little family into frantic activity, or maybe it was Jess who did following it.

Sasha has been a big help, setting up most of the practical things for the service, it's hardly surprising considering it's in California. The shortest discussion surrounding the event was where it would take place. Jimmy had been pretty clear about where he belonged, even in death.

As soon as they had a date Liz announced that she was joining them, said it was important to say goodbye even to people who hurt you, maybe especially those, and that Jimmy was a good guy, just not a dad. For a brief moment Rory worried that Jess would take issue with that but he quietly accepted, well, there might have been a 'huh'. But here they are.

The worst part so far has been learning what happened. Rory had no insight in the man's life, but Sasha got them up to speed. He'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about a year prior and died the tenth of August. The story's hardly unique, but that's of course beside the point. Watching Jess take part of that information was awful; It had been easy figuring he counted backwards to the first ignored phone call from his father, putting two and two together.

Since then he's been submerged in arrangements for the service, working his butt off on Truncheon to compensate for the trip to California. She's had little to no idea on how to help him. She's fairly clear on what he must be feeling, but not on how he wants, or needs, to handle it. At first, she was scared that he would break, go off somewhere and self-destruct, but that hasn't happened. Instead he's been absent-minded, busy and quiet. He hasn't initiated... anything, really. He's spent time with her when asked, but it's seemed more like an act of reassurance for her benefit rather than for himself. And she won't push further, because she's supposed to be reassured.

The guests start arriving, and there is a surprising amount of them, possibly because of Jimmy's young age, possibly because of his excessive social interactions. Many are dressed in whites, light colors and casual clothing as per the invitation, that was the one thing Jess and Sasha couldn't agree on; Not that it lead to any sort of conflict, he backed off when she insisted. He hasn't been able to pick anything in that style for himself however and has fallen back on his black suit, just skipped the tie. Rory's in a black dress also, seemed the least she could do so he doesn't stick out.

The last funeral she attended was her grandfather's and this seems to turn into a radically different event. Not that it's a surprise, and it might just be a question of surface anyway, but she considers the changes all the same, to steel herself.

She remembers being all torn up at the day in question, longing for a way to say goodbye, but being distracted by the form, the ceremonial shape of the service. All the etiquette, the marks she and her family were expected to hit. And how strange all the religious elements had felt. Her grandfather hadn't been a distinctly religious man, so it seemed to be more a part of the way things were done, and she remembers that it made her feel distant, and sadder because of that. She remembers feeling unsatisfied as Luke drove her to the airport afterwards, heart heavy.

She harbors a vain hope that things will be better for Jess, even if she's certain they won't, not even with the lack of ceremony in this particular ceremony, too many unaddressed issues.

They stand a bit away from the rest of the crowd, and Rory wants to urge Liz and Jess to Sasha's side but holds herself back. It's not her decision, and she knows too little about the whole situation to drive some agenda of her own. Anyway, this seems to be a function for people uncomfortable at events labeled as functions, so etiquette might not be the first thing on people's minds.

She nervously regards Jess – his entire being a dark spot in the Californian sun and Jimmy's brightly clad friends. He's pale from sleep-deprivation and from that other thing that they've yet to discuss. Grief. She's well-aware that it can be as complicated as the people it concerns. He's disappeared into his to do-lists and has yet to emerge. She gets it. Has done the same thing herself.

The only outward sign of the state of his heart is his serious expression and that he chews on his lip and nails, a habit accentuated under pressure, she knows that from experience by now. And he keeps fiddling with a coin, flicking it between knuckles and dragging fingers over its’ surface, possibly to keep his teeth off them. It's not much but she's worried, for his cuticles if nothing else.

She takes his hand to calm him but her capacity for intervening is limited by Will. Liz has repeatedly offered to take him, but Rory knows it would unnerve Jess enough to cause more damage than it would help, so she plays the clingy mother and keeps the baby close.

She wishes she'd asked more about Jimmy when there was time, now she doesn't want to risk making it worse by prying into it. She's asked if he needs to talk on a few occasions but has received answers along the lines of 'nothing to say', 'I hardly knew him' or 'the man was nothing to me' - the last one verbatim, actually, a couple of times. Then he's appeased her by taking Will, urging her to watch a movie or something like that, and she's let herself get calmed, stupidly, maybe.

A gong of sorts rings out and people start heading inside. Sasha, accompanied by Lily, walks up to them and sticks her arm under Jess's.

"It's time." She says.

They walk towards the entrance. Jess clings to Rory's hand and she has to move Will up on her arm to keep the grip. Liz flanks her.

Sasha shows them to places in the second row. Jess stops, however, keeping them from sitting down, looks to Sasha, obviously uncomfortable, hesitating, then:

"I don't want this."

Sasha stifles a sigh, places a hand on his arm, and speaks lowly, like to a scared animal.

"You're family, this is your seat."

Rory is torn between her manners, telling her to accept graciously and sit down as soon as possible, and her loyalty to him, that demands she waits for him to approve it. He does, following Sasha's words, though; After a few beats he takes a half-step back, letting Rory, Will and Liz into the row. He takes a seat at the edge of the pew.

Sasha takes a seat in front of them where there are also places reserved for a line of scruffy-looking musicians scheduled to play during the ceremony, and who are all seated by their instruments in the chancel. Lily joins them and supplies the vocals on their version of Anywhere I Lay My Head. Her voice is simple but strong. The place is beautiful, the sun's rays through the windows creating golden and rose-colored light over the spot where the urn and Jimmy's portrait is placed, and the mic-stand to which the officiate walks and stops. He's in a grey suit. Unremarkable. As the song ends and the band takes their seats, he starts talking.

"Author Naguib Mahfouz wrote: 'Home is not where you were born; home is where all your attempts to escape cease'. Jimmy was born in Minnesota but didn’t find home until moving here in his late twenties-"

As he speaks, Jess's grip on her hand tightens uncomfortably and a weak sound is pushed through her lips.

"Ow."

He looks at her sharply at the sound, lower lip dropping, his expression turning wide-eyed.

"Sorry." He says. Swallows, then: "I'm sorry." He lets go of her hand and gets out of the pew walking briskly toward the exit. She looks after him, stunned as he exits the doors, daylight from outside briefly flashing as they open and close. She's paralyzed for a second, before turning to face Liz, feeling the desperation in her own expression.

"What do I do?" She whispers.

Liz reaches for Will.

"Go." She responds.

When Rory exits the building she can’t see him, she walks around the building without finding him, and she’s on her way to search the park, when she halts and walks back towards the parking lot on a hunch. He's standing on a patch of grass between the lot and the street, smoking a cigarette. He looks up as she approaches and stubs it out with an expression both apologetic and irritated.

"Sorry." He says again.

"Don't be." She shakes her head and forces away her earlier urgency, walks slowly towards him. "Seems like the appropriate time for it if any. But you're gonna have to show me your stashes at some point because I am clueless."

He looks at the sky for a moment before meeting her eyes.

"The man was nothing to me."

She stops a few feet from him.

"I know."

"So how come I have to feel like this?" The words are naked, and she swallows the sting in her throat.

"Because he was nothing to you." She walks into him, throwing her arms around his body. Talking into his shoulder, grateful it muffles her voice. "People are supposed to matter." She weighs her words. "Parents aren’t supposed to be nothing to their children."

He gasps, then tenses, and she pulls back to see him biting his lip, frowning, a look of dark concentration on his face. She swallows thickly once more and squeezes harder around him.

"You have to stop fighting this," she barely keeps the desperation from her voice, and he sounds no better.

"I can’t."

She kisses him. Doesn’t quite know why, but it’s a real kiss and the first they've shared in weeks; her lips prying his open, tongue in his mouth, tasting his stupid cigarette, his blood. He sobs into her, it’s a strange sound, she’s never heard him make anything like it, except during sex. She pulls back, and he throws his hands over his mouth, some shock evident in his eyes. She bends her neck and buries her face in his chest, stroking his back, to offer something like comfort, and to register his sobs without looking at him. Doesn’t think he wants her to, not sure she can handle it herself.

Then there's another, familiar cry: Will. She turns around to find Liz a few feet away, Will in her arms.

"I'm sorry, " she starts, "I couldn't calm him."

Rory lets go of Jess and instinctively walks up to Liz, taking the crying baby into her own embrace. His cries immediately subside. Liz looks at her son, who pinches the bridge of his nose, shoulder rising and falling with decreasing speed, as he obviously struggles to collect himself.

"Oh sweetheart!" Liz exclaims.

He looks at her sharply, eyes shiny, and throws out a hand to stop her.

"I'm fine, Liz."

Liz tilts her head but won't be deterred by his dismissive gesture.

"I know, honey." She says in an indulgent tone that seems completely earnest, but she still walks straight up to him folding her arms around him. Rory holds her breath, while watching the rare interaction. He's frozen for seconds, eyes staring into space, his arms pressed to his sides, hands in fists. Then he sighs, putting his arms around his mother and actually leans his chin on her shoulder, closing his eyes.

It doesn't last for more than about thirty seconds though, he straightens his back.

"We should get back inside."

They silently agree and return to their places when the band plays an instrumental version of Life on Mars. He holds her hand through the remaining service, stroking its back with his thumb.

The reception is held in a separate building but part of the same complex, smaller, more like a home, but a bigger kitchen and several restrooms in a row by the entrance. Most of the people from the service attends the reception as well, so the crowd is a lot at times, even for her. Since Will came along she's needed privacy more than before. Noises and movements should be tempered to suit a baby, luckily Will doesn't seem that bothered today, just clings to her shirt holding his still somewhat unsteady head to look around the room at all the people. Jess stays close, even though Sasha manages to take him for a walk around the room, introducing him to a few people. He returns as soon as he can, though, and brings Will with him for a short walk around the place. Liz joins her and leans against the wall in the corner where she stands.

"You okay?" Liz asks.

"I don't know if it's relevant." Rory answers in a sigh. "How about you?"

Liz gestures dismissively.

"I'm fine. I said goodbye to Jimmy a long time ago and made my peace with it then. I'm just here for Jess."

Rory looks at her, expecting more, but there isn't any. She wonders what Liz knows, or senses about Jess's feelings regarding her, and what she herself does, what she might have missed. They remain standing next to each other for a while, and she thinks about how strange it is that it's comforting. She still doesn't know what to make of Liz, but her presence is familiar, so it's sort of calming anyway.

Jess returns with Will and they get something to eat, taking turns holding the baby, while Liz talks with one of the musicians who apparently attended the actual Woodstock. She offers her a cigarette and they head outside.

Rory wolfs down her food. She has to be quicker considering the amount she needs these days. Jess holds Will and Will holds on to Jess, grabbing strands of his hair and even his chapped lip pulling it. Jess's wince is no more than a twitch and a tremor in his face. Despite the physical discomfort he mostly looks calm while watching his son.

"Excuse me."

They turn around and are approached by an angular old man, with dark grey hair and immaculately maintained beard, in a navy suit.

"You're Jess." The man says.

Jess nods and the man reaches out his right hand in a greeting.

"James Mariano." Jess shakes his hand. "I'm your grandfather."

Rory has to bite her lower lip to keep it from falling and Jess doesn't look much different from how she feels. He awkwardly introduces her and a somewhat fussy Will. James is a widower, ex-military and flown in from Minneapolis. She excuses herself pretty quickly after they've done away with the introductions, to let them get to know each other. Will falls asleep in his pram and she leaves him on the back porch with Lily and goes to find Sasha to help out. The two of them wind up in the kitchen, stacking trays with coffee cups and cake. Once they've found their rhythm, Rory speaks.

"I'm so sorry for your loss." She says, hasn't really had a chance before in the flurry of introductions and practical distractions. Sasha sighs and smiles weakly.

"Thank you." They work for another minute before she speaks again. "How long have you and Jess been together?"

"Now, or...?" Rory starts without really considering her words. She interrupts herself and Sasha smiles. "Just over two years, we might have had our anniversary a few days ago." She hasn’t had a chance to think about it.

"I’m sorry."

Rory shrugs.

"It doesn’t matter, there’ll be others."

Sasha smiles again and nods. She picks down two smaller glasses from a cupboard and pours dessert wine into them before handing one to Rory. They each take a sip.

"You getting hitched?"

"I don’t think we’re the kind to." Rory answers with some hesitation.

"Really? You seem so..." Sasha raises her eyebrows, then looks like she remembers something. "But, I get it. You have bad experiences, so you figure you’re not right for it."

"A bit." Rory admits.

"You're looking at it wrong. You don’t gotta measure up to the institution - it’s a tool you can use, give your own meaning."

"You don’t strike me-" Rory starts.

"As the traditional type right?" Sasha finishes and Rory nods. "I was married, to Lil’s father. He was good at hiding what he was. I won’t do it again." Her words are like well-worn clothes. "My parents though... everybody's a kid when it comes to their parents I guess, but that's where I get it." She smiles to herself, a bit lost in thought. "They weren’t attached at the hip or anything, just had a real good harmony with each other. My dad had this way of looking at my mom..." She looks back at Rory. "Maybe Jess reminded me a bit of that today. He seems pretty devoted to you."

A shiver of recognition runs through Rory at the words, reminding her of all the times she thought about that word in connection with him, not only when it comes to her. Sasha continues after another sip.

"When we had him years ago he sure was committed to brooding."

Rory snorts, smiles a little.

"Yeah, you gotta pay attention to him otherwise he’ll be going through stuff on his own." She says.

"And what does it take to provide that commitment?" Sasha remarks. "Seems that devotion is mutual." She taps the side of her glass staring into space for a few seconds before continuing. "He has a completely different vibe than Jimmy." She shakes her head.

"What was he like?" Rory doesn't hesitate to ask, having quickly grown comfortable with Sasha.

"East Coast refugee, converted Californian. Very taken with the option of letting go, being laid back about stuff. Avoided conflict like the plague. Forgave easily. And Jess was like-" Sasha pauses for a short laugh. "-It was clear he wasn't the forgiving and forgetting type."

Rory frowns and Sasha obviously notices because she goes on.

"But, you know, that has two sides. I always figured if he could find some way to direct it properly, that kind of energy could do pretty much anything. Sticking with a relationship for good for instance." Sasha pushes herself off the counter she's been leaning on and puts down her glass. "Listen to me! I sound like some advice column from Housewife's Weekly! What do I know? I’m just trying to save everybody I guess. It's a blessing and a curse."

Rory takes a swig of wine, suddenly a bit achy.

"I wouldn't know." She mumbles. "I don't think I've ever helped anyone." Except him, he claims. But that wasn't on purpose and they're so beyond even at this point.

"I somehow find that hard to believe." Sasha says with an eyebrow quirked.

Rory changes the subject.

"You and Jimmy never got married?"

"Oh no, good thing too. We broke up years ago."

"Oh." Rory's embarrassed and a bit confused. It must show because Sasha puts a reassuring hand on her arm.

"It was an amicable split. I spent most of my time taking care of everybody's lives, and when Lil started flaking out in school, sinking into depression, I just needed someone with a bit more spunk. He was very understanding, always was once you explained things to him." She gestures to the living room. "Jared out there, you saw him on Base during the service, is also an accountant. We've lived together for the better part of a decade."

"I'm sorry, I just assumed-"

"I told you I manage people's lives. Even deaths, apparently." Her tone is dampened for a moment before it turns up again, escalating with sharpness. "Me and Jimmy always stayed in touch, and lucky for him, he never could pick a keeper, the last one left when he was diagnosed. He didn’t tell me until three months ago though. Stubborn idiot." She pauses for breath. Looks at Rory with sudden regret and smiles. "Don't be sad about it, he was fine, always landed on his feet, emotionally." She picks up another coffee cup and rinses it before putting it in the dishwasher. "It's hard to fall through the cracks completely around here, hard times aren't quite as hard when you have the ocean and the sunsets nearby."

It's too much right then for some reason. Rory excuses herself. The line to the bathroom is too long and she winds up crying in a cleaning closet. She's just gotten herself together and listens until it's quiet outside the door, but when she exits she still walks straight into Jess. His gaze is awake as he reads her expression, what she assumes are slightly red-brimmed eyes, then he smiles softly, with real warmth, and pulls her into his arms, strokes her head. She sniffles a bit into his shirt, this time from relief.

"We traded numbers and addresses." He mumbles. "I promised to write, actual letters, to send him books. He'll come visit us later this fall."

"Okay." She manages and is once more grateful for the muffling darkness of his shirt.

"He didn’t know about me until Jimmy already split for California." The tremble in his voice is only audible for the well-trained ear. "Apologized for it like it was his fault.”

She can’t produce another response, just presses closer to him, and he holds her for minutes.

"You wanna get outta here?" He asks.

She looks up and must look puzzled, he goes on.

"I already cleared it with Sasha. We’re meeting for breakfast tomorrow."

”Then, yes.”

"Okay then."

They collect Liz and Will and get into the rental. Once they arrive at the hotel Will is wide awake. When they exit the car Liz turns to Jess.

"I can take him for a while. Let you have some time to yourselves.”

Rory prepares to dutifully object but Jess interrupts her.

"Sure.”

If Liz is surprised she hides it well, maybe she’s where he gets the poker face. She puts Will in the pram and turns toward the beach.

"We’ll go for a walk. We’ll be back in a couple of hours tops. Call me if you want him back sooner.”

Jess nods and grasps Rory’s hand heading into the hotel. She looks at him and he glances back with a tiny smile.

"Cork it.” He mutters.

"Fine.”

He hugs her as they enter the room. It is probably not meant as anything other than acting on a tender impulse, but she's hanging up her coat at the time, arms elevated while his slip around her waist and she feels like an exposed nerve, a button waiting to be pushed. She tilts her head to the side baring her neck and pushes back. He exhales at the pressure and holds her tighter kissing her neck up to her ear, and she's just giddy from the fact that he wants something again, plus, it's really good, so she produces something vaguely like a purr and his breath speeds up at the sound. He leans her to the wall and pulls up her skirt. She almost loses it, his energy is unfocused, ragged, and not a little bit suggestive. But it's also unstable, it needs someone at the helm, so she reaches for his hands and directs them to the zip string at her back. He pulls it and strokes the dress off her.

She’s been tip-toeing around his silence for the last weeks, and this day, this charge of him breaking it by needing her, suddenly means it’s very relevant how she feels too. She twists in his pinning grip until she’s kissing him. When he touches her face, his hands smell metallic. It's clear he's off his guard. His rhythm is uneven, there are tremors where there's usually just strength. She rises to occasion in those moments, brings him closer. She does it when she demands he meets her steady gaze, she does it when she pushes them off the wall towards the bed, she does it when she wraps her legs around him locking them together. He clings to her like it's all he can do. His face is expressive with mixed sensations, but he's all there, not taken by routine or mechanics. She doesn't need him to tell her about it though, she's felt it herself, in Luke's cabin, and the memory moves in her along with him.

A while later they’re naked in bad together and their clothes are left in piles in the hallway. Her release or maybe relief but probably both, spreads their ripples through her body. And he sniffles. She turns her head sharply towards him but he’s already drying his eyes. He looks at her, eyelashes still wet.

”Guess you were right about missed opportunities and all that stuff.” He says hoarsely.

She turns onto her side for better contact. Leans on him and drags her fingertip over his lashes.

"Yes. But you didn't need me to tell you that. Sometimes things just work out exactly like they have to."

He raises his eyebrow at her, in skepticism, but also genuine confusion.

"I could've not been so stubborn," he says, "picked up the phone."

"Sure. And you could have called him back. Anything is possible. But you didn't. You had no reason to, no new information." She stares at him for emphasis. "He told no one. You didn't know, you couldn't have known."

"How could he have told me when I wouldn't answer my damn phone." He looks at the ceiling.

"He could've told Liz. Liz would've told you."

"I could've-"

She interrupts him firmly without feeling the least bit bad about it.

"Had you known you would've called, I know you would've. And now, you will have to stop being so stubborn and forgive yourself that you didn't. You hear?" She reaches out and strokes the side his face to keep him facing her. "It's not too late to forgive him too, if you want to. And communication may be a two-way street, but he was your father, and he owed you. No matter how you twist this, that was on him."

He doesn't answer, but doesn't protest, so she relaxes some. They’re quiet for a while. She gets up to use the bathroom, washes her face clear of smudged make-up. Looks at herself in the mirror. On her way back, she spots something shiny in the white of his shirt on the floor, bends over and picks it up, inspects it closer. It’s not a coin, it’s a medallion. Jess regards her from his place in the bed.

"Matt gave it to me after Will was born." He says as she walks the last steps to him, still with her eyes on the thing. "Apparently Joseph is the patron saint of fathers."

She climbs onto the mattress again, lies down, and leans on his shoulder, lifting the medallion over his chest catching the light with it.

"That’s nice." She mumbles. "Someone choosing to be one."

"Right."

She puts it down over his heart and takes his hand instead, laces their fingers together and inspects his nails, bitten to the flesh. She sighs sharply.

"Look at this mess, Jess!” She manages to sound more like a disappointed teacher than a concerned lover, and he laughs on his next breath. She kisses his fingers to make up for it. Then she asks again. "You wanna talk about it?"

And then finally he does.

"I asked for a month, and that's the time I got, over ten years ago. And it was all pickle jars and quirky anecdotes. He did not get into the deep stuff. And when that time had passed... I couldn't bring myself to ask for more, he didn't ask where I was going, didn't try to stop me." He pauses. "And that was it. I didn't feel I could hold it against him at the time, but now... After Will..." He takes a sharp breath and speaks again, a little louder. "He walked out, not just on me, but Liz too, and I don't usually commiserate with her but- And even now I'm angry with him and by extension me, 'cause I just left too."

She gets up on her elbow.

"That is not the same." She objects.

"Who does that?"

The question is rhetorical, but she blatantly ignores that.

"Probably someone who thinks he's nothing. Or thinks he can only make things worse."

"Or someone who only thinks about himself." His tone is soft, as if urging her to accept the harsh sentiment. "I think you're missing the fact that sometimes people are just pricks."

"So, which one was Jimmy?" She counters.

He sighs.

"Probably both."

"And you're not him." Her follow-up is immediate.

When he speaks it's slow, like he's pushing the words out against his will.

"I have plenty in common with Jimmy."

"Well, I don't see it. So, if that's the case it's nothing bad."

She knows her stubbornness lacks the realistic nuance, but she doesn't care, she needs him to feel what she does. Silence. He looks at her disbelieving but manages a tiny grateful smile.

"Hear that? Nothing." She mumbles and puts her mouth to his. Minutes pass before she pulls back, leaning her head on his shoulder. She picks up the medallion again.

"You don’t have a chain for it."

"What, I’m gonna wear it? I’m not catholic." He objects.

"So? You're not a hippie and you still wear that turquoise ring."

He twists his neck to glare at her.

"It was a gift from Doula."

"That's my point. When you receive a gift, you accept the giver's vision of you, that's its' power. That way you can be meant for things you didn't picture for yourself. Belong to new things in new ways." She smiles and shoves him lightly. "Besides, you do what you want."

He leans back against the pillow.

"What I want." He repeats.

"Or choose." She adds.

There's a pause before he presses his lips to her head.

"Thank you."

 

He falls asleep a little while later and she gets up and calls Liz back. Then she gets into her yoga pants and a t-shirt and walks outside. She buys a lemon soda from the vending machine, pulls out a plastic chair and sits down, waiting for Liz and Will. The place is nothing special and her view consists of the parking lot, but the pink sky visible between buildings and even the silhouette of palm trees in combination with the warm night air, makes it seem exotic. Or maybe it's just jet lag. Liz comes walking with the pram and she raises her hand in a greeting.

"He's asleep." She says and gestures to the closed door when Liz stops in front of her.

"Good. This one's getting there too. Long day."

"How was your walk?"

"Lovely. Place is full of my kind of people. Speaking of which; is it okay if I skip breakfast tomorrow? Figured I could use the time to spend some barefoot time on the beach. Talk a bit with Jimmy."

Rory smiles.

"I thought you were done talking to him."

Liz returns the smile.

"Wishful thinking. It's my specialty."

Rory nods.

"We'll be fine."

"Good. G'night." Liz turns to leave for her room.

"Thank you, Liz." Rory says.

"Hey! That's my line." Liz wags her finger at her.

 

She's at her grandfather's funeral, she faces the casket along with the darkly clad guests but turns to the sound of wind through canopies. Behind them is the terrace of Luke's cabin, once more overgrown with weeds. Her grandfather stands with his back to the gathering, facing the path to the lake, then starts walking it. She hurries after him. It's dusk, and murky under the trees, even as they sway in the wind. The ground is all wet moss and she slips hopelessly after her grandfather's tweeded back. He reaches a hand behind him and she grasps it feeling the force of it lifting her above the lumpy ground. They reach the cool air of the lake. She loses the grip of his hand and he's immediately swallowed by fog rising from the water surface like smoke. She's crying, shaking from the cold. She turns and stumbles back into the woods, into Jess's arms, at once one with darkness, warmth and calm while he conducts the muck away.

She wakes from sobbing softly, even as the pinching in her chest eases. She folds herself into his arms, kissing his clavicle, strange gratitude resounding inside.

Chapter Text

A sign is to be found, won't come looking for you. - Deep Sky Diver, Husky

October 2017, Stars Hollow


Something happens in New York. Or has already happened. Something shifts. It's not dramatic, on the surface everything is the same. It's more like finishing a book, which you do with a word, one of so, so many. For one thing, he started having his phone on when he's not with them, that's one of the many words before the last one. And he misses them, that's several sentences, on getting used to being with rather than without.

But he has to work. There's a number of meetings with a bigger publishing house who wants to reissue some of their books, and Chris has tried dealing with this stuff but has called on the verge of tears - manly tears, okay? - because people are such pricks when it comes to money and why can't they just pay what it's worth? Jess is better at this, he's scary, he can make people cry using no words, it's like dark magic.

So, fine. He goes and stays with Paris for a couple of nights. He's done it before, the two of them get on surprisingly well and her kids seem to like him for some reason. And he thinks about Jimmy and then swears to himself, might even mumble 'stop being so stubborn' and directs his thoughts to James, who he's talked to a few times since the funeral, and it helps.

Anyway, he does his thing, effectively, and he goes for walks and reads and writes between meetings but still feels a bit like the only living boy in New York when he’s away from them and vows to train Matt and Chris to do this or to practice himself at communicating deadening silence over the phone, or in a damn email, he's a writer after all, how hard could it be?

It's Thursday evening and he gets back to Paris's at seven and she meets him in the hallway.

"Rory called. She and Will are coming for dinner tomorrow, so you don't need to rush packing up if that was your intention." She hands him the wireless phone. "She said she'll call again after she puts Will to bed, oh, and she said to tell you to start living in the twenty-first century and turn you damn phone on."

He sighs.

"She did not, Paris."

"She meant to, reactionary." She bites.

"Can it. And I didn't turn it off, my battery ran out."

"So? What modern man doesn't keep a charger with him? You have a kid now, you know. You can't just not be available."

It's just Paris over-reacting again, but she has a point. He must look guilty too, because she reaches into a drawer, pulls out a cordless charger and hands it to him.

"Load it, use it." She says.

"Thanks," he says. "Do you want me to say g'night to the kids?"

"Please," Paris sighs. "Those little monsters have forfeited any right to any treat tonight. They're going straight to bed."

"Okay.” He heads for the stairs. ”I can make breakfast tomorrow if you want though, I've got an early start."

Paris smiles, in that way of hers that makes it seems she’s a bit annoyed about it.

"Thanks, that's nice."

"I'm a nice person."

She takes a step towards the kitchen but turns before entering it.

"I'm watching The Late Show in a bit you can muster it."

He nods.

"Sure, I'll be down later."

He walks upstairs to the guest room, and drops his stuff in the corner. Gets on the bed and plugs in the phone as well as the charger, picks up his book and waits for his son to fall asleep back in Philadelphia. The phone only has time for one ring when she calls.

"Hi."

"Hi."

The sound of her voice makes him smile.

"He was good tonight." He says. It’s not a question, Will’s routines are pretty rigid by now, and it’s earlier than he usually falls asleep.

"Very. Katey was here earlier with Luna. He’s all socialized out.”

"Sorry for not picking up earlier."

"Don't worry about it, why would you even-" At first she sounds surprised, then the amusement is audible by the skip in her voice. "Did Paris give you a hard time about that?"

"A bit." He admits.

"And you actually listened? That’s cute."

"Shut up."

"You can't make me," she teases.

He changes the subject.

"So, you're coming here."

"Yes. I'm in a New York state of mind. I had this craving for the AMNH."

"Really?"

"If I could explain it I would. It was probably the first thing I ever visited in the city, so now that I'm spending every waking moment channeling Will I'm probably regressing." She laughs.

"Well, my last meeting is tomorrow morning, but I'll probably be done by ten thirty."

"We can meet there."

They go on talking a while longer. She asks about the meetings and tells him about lunch with Katey and gossips about Matt's latest oversight. The couple is hanging in there but seems incapable of communicating clearly. Strange, since they had no problems in that department before they had kids, no apparent ones anyway. It would make him uncomfortable listening to complaints about Matt if he wasn't sort of indebted to Katey for her inconspicuous advice before Will came along. There are things he'll never fully understand about that particular piece of human experience, about being a mother, but he could try, and at least not being a total klutz about it.

Then they hang on for a little while to a quiet line. It might be impossible using hard silence as a tactic in business negotiations, but the silence of separated lovers speaks volumes. He thinks he might write something about it. They say goodbye. They hang up.

The next day he spots them outside the museum. She's pacing with Will in her arms, speaking to him by the movement of her mouth, some soft nonsense. The love evident in her face, the way she grazes the baby's head with her lips as she talks. Will holds his head, his blue eyes darting around the place in incoherent curiosity. He grabs hold of his mother's hair for support and she smiles, broadly, but a bit uncomfortably in response, and tilts her head trying to adjust his viselike grip, while he works to fit his other fist in his mouth. She's pale and looks tired, from three days without backup. She throws glances over her shoulder supposedly looking for him. There's a tug in his chest and his feet wants to move forward, but he remains standing, staring at them for moments, while something falls into place for him. She's there, baby in arms, and he sees her mother in her place, hell, even Liz flashes before his eyes. Lonely and strong, or strung out depending on who you picture, looking, waiting for someone. They're locked in their own obviousness, imperfect and real and he sees himself entering that too. He's part of the picture. He's supposed to be. He finally closes the distance. She looks up as he approaches and smiles at him.

"Hey you."

"Hi." He swallows and reaches for Will before he's slowed to a halt. She hands him over with relief evident.

"Oh, thank goodness!" She exhales. "He's extremely handsy today."

He chuckles.

"Hi guy." He says. "I missed you."

Will responds by grabbing his hair and neck with strong hands armed with sharp but soft nails pulling himself closer, like a baby-monkey.

Jess puts his lips against Will's head and breathes though it. And he understands Jimmy, and Christopher too, knows they ran, stayed away because of how scared they felt, but he's neither one of them. He won't. And it's possible that understanding that is a little bit like forgiveness. He puts his free hand around her neck and pulls her into a kiss, her hands sneak around his waist. When they part her eyes are happy. Both more awake and relaxed at the same time. She smiles.

"I wanna see the whale."

"Okay."

 

And then there's Philadelphia; A couple of days later they're back home. He's putting Will to bed and thinks that this is the best part. Possibly of his entire life. There's a natural annoyance in getting Will to sleep. He has what his name implies after all and is stubborn. He'll keep his eyes wide open and move around when he's dozing off in order to stay awake. And just when you've given up and accepted the idea of never getting your arms back and you stare at the wall, there's this mood that gets you, a good twenty to thirty minutes into the thing, a meditative state that grabs you, and it's like magic, because the kid feels it too, and drifts off. And then, there's peace.

He loves her, no question of that, there's only her, but he's rarely at complete peace with her, even when they share quiet union, there's a shimmer at the edge of things that keeps him awake to it. But with Will, after he's fallen asleep on his chest, everything is so clear, so calm. He sits longer than he has to, and often volunteers even when it's her turn. Repeats Katey's words about there being things she can't not do, to explain it, and it's true, but that's not why he does it.

He does it because he feels meant to. It's a newly articulated feeling. Belonging in a role, in a place, and he's sometimes baffled that this is it. Being a parent. Always assumed he would suck at it, that he would be doomed to repeat his parents' disastrous mistakes. That it would take all his willpower all the time to keep up with Rory. Instead it's obvious, these days. Simple, easy, not because it doesn't take work, but because it's absolute purpose, no doubt. Becoming what you need to be is one thing, becoming what you needed... it's a surprise.

After a while he gets up and inches Will into his crib and walks over to the door. It seems no matter how well his son sleeps in either parent's arms he'll wake up at the wrong creak of the bedroom door, or the floor right by it. As Jess widens the crack in the door, two voices, just before only audible as a murmur through the wall, becomes clear.

"-they are so close-minded! Like we can't do surf music because we're an east coast band!" Lane's voice crackles through the phone on speaker Rory keeps next to her while she folds laundry and hums in response. He halts and turns to see if the increased sound has any effect on Will. "It's ridiculous! Zack is such a dude, like the original kind! If he'd been born out there that's all he'd play."

"And he'd be dissing Lou Reed." Rory confirms.

Will turns over, so Jess remains at the door, waiting, watching, listening.

"Speaking of California – how's Jess doin' with everything?"

He wouldn't eavesdrop if he could help it. But now he's stuck.

"Not sure." Rory's voice lowers. "I mean, he seems stable." She falls quiet.

"You think he's not?"

A moment passes before Rory responds.

"It's obvious that he's processing stuff, so I'm sort of afraid of jumping to conclusions. Before the funeral, I was so worried about him 'cause he was just killing himself with work and not talking, but now..."

"He mutated into a regular chatty-Kathy? We should probably alert the media." Lane quips.

"He smiles more." Rory says.

"No!" Lane's voice is an incredulous whisper.

"He's calmer, and-" Rory falls quiet.

"What?"

There's a pause.

"Better!" Rory says. "And it almost seems wrong to say it because his dad died, I just don't know how to explain it."

"Closure can do a world of good."

"I didn't feel better after my grandpa's funeral." Rory's voice is low, monotonous.

"I know." Lane comforts. "But not everybody handles that stuff the same way."

"At the ceremony, he was a mess." Rory goes on. "But it's weird, that just reminded me- Like, him being broken then made it obvious how together he is these days."

Lane chuckles.

"Well, your boy is sort of an enigma at times, but I'm betting you know him better than anyone, if he seems like he's better he probably is."

"And I can't help it; I feel better." Rory says after a few seconds. "In California... I could help him."

"I'm pretty sure you're helping him all the time." Lane interjects.

"Maybe, but I never feel like I know what I'm doing."

"It's not rocket science, you just support each other. That goes a long way."

"That's what they say." Rory mumbles, and when she speaks again it's a bit louder, quicker. "I guess I just have an easier time seeing what he brings to the table, and I know that guys get twice rewarded for a woman's work and if you breathe a word of this to Paris we're gonna have a problem, but... He's great, not just on guy-scale." There's relief, a song in her voice. "He’s so good with Will. And with me. And I’m not even surprised, because, y'know, it's him." She pauses, laughs on an exhale. "And I knew he was. Even when we were kids. It’s just, my concept of what that could mean was so limited, but I knew then what I know now." She sounds breathless. "I knew it."

The elation in her voice vibrates in his chest too. He swallows to keep it there. Lane laughs.

"Y’know I used to think that maybe you had your head stuck so deep in the sand regarding his feelings about you because it was sort of uneven between you, like maybe he loved you a bit more than you loved him. But... You shoulda heard yourself just now."

There's silence. His heartbeat rings inside his head. Then Lane's voice again.

"Feels good being right, doesn’t it?"

Rory's smile beams through her voice.

"Yes."

The floor boards creak and Jess winces.

"I gotta go." She says. "Bye." There's a beep when she ends the call.

He quickly turns his head towards the crib to check for signs that Will is waking up again, but it's still. He turns back and is face to face with Rory who's peeking in through the crack in the door. They're inches apart and she smiles a little, expression searching.

"Is he waking up?"

"No. I think we're okay." He exits the room, but they remain outside the door for a few extra seconds. She listens for Will, but throws glances his way, cheeks a bit pink. Mostly it's a well-needed piece of acceptance that slides into place inside him, right in that tiny, mundane moment, the relief causing him to feel almost euphoric. Becoming, no, being what you want to be; What she wants. Being enough. He smiles at her without giving anything away, at least not to his knowledge. But that's not saying much when it comes to her. She might be different from him in a lot of ways, but she knows him, better than anyone. She's about to move when he puts an arm around her waist and kisses her, slowly, keeping their faces together, breathing the same air as her. Maybe she catches on at that if not before.

 


 

 

Lorelai calls. In a distracted moment right after Will was born she promised Taylor the Inn to host a party for the presidents of all the county's, or if it was the entire state's, beautification committees and promptly forgot about it. To add insult to injury she's given large parts of her kitchen staff the weekend off to compensate for late fall's upcoming rush. She's managed to get Luke to do the food and will double as concierge and waitress herself but still needs kitchen staff and is desperate enough to ask them.

"Pretty please with all the cherries!" She whines through the speaker on the phone. "It's partly your fault, you know! Your kid distracted me and now I'm screwed if I don't fix this. Liz and Doula will watch Will, or you can keep him in the kitchen like a little mascot, and I promise I'll never ask you to do anything else ever, just help me out here!"

Rory's feeding Will and just laughs.

"I'm not the hard sell missy- or is it mississy these days? Huh. You gotta convince Jess."

"Why?" Lorelai grumbles. "Can't you just boss him around like a normal Gilmore woman? 'You gotta convince Jess' - Like he'd have a choice if you put your foot down!"

Jess is changing the mattress in the crib and shakes his head with a smile at Lorelai's word.

"Okay." He says. "We'll do it."

There's a pause on the other end. Then:

"Really?"

"Sure." He says. "I was gonna say no, but since you asked so nicely."

Rory stares at him with an expression she imagines Lorelai shares three states over.

"What?" He says.

"Nothing." Rory responds quickly. "Guess we'll be there mom."

 

They drive up early the day in question. Rory's at the wheel for once while Jess is in the back with Will. She looks at them in the rearview mirror occasionally and smiles. It's truly amazing how ordinary things like driving a car, going to get groceries, having an hour to yourself to clean feels like freedom these days. If she didn't do that her arms would always be full. Hence the willingness to drive even if she hates it at longer trips. Will sleeps for a large portion of the drive, but when he wakes up, it's necessary to have a servant ready and waiting. Jess will hand him toys and stuff to chew on to keep the peace; They learned that tactic through trial and error.

They arrive at noon and park at the house. Lorelai exits it onto the porch, waving and skipping a bit in excitement. Rory waves back and gets their overnight bag from the passenger seat. Jess gets out of the car and undoes the belt holding Will's seat in place in the back. She makes a mental note to get a new one, he's getting too big for this one.

With both son and chair in hand Jess walks up to Lorelai and pecks her cheek. Lorelai doesn't have a poker face, more of a joker face, she can smile through anything. And she does now too, but her eyes widen at the touch, and she shoots Rory a perplex stare as Jess passes her heading indoors. Rory returns the look and shrugs in response. She walks up to her mother and repeats Jess's move.

"What was that?" Lorelai hisses and gestures after Jess.

"Would you like to file a formal complaint?" Rory raises her eyebrows at Lorelai who's lower lip drops.

"Of course not- It's just..." Her words falter.

"New." Rory fills in. Pauses, then: "But good, right?"

"Obviously." Lorelai responds. "I'll just have to think of appropriate responses."

Rory sighs.

"Please don't turn this into something. Not everything needs to be balanced. Just, accept this good thing, come on mom! I believe in you." She shoves her mother gently and she nods in reluctant acceptance before they both head inside.

They have a late lunch a little while later and go over the menu and plan for the event; A three course meal with luckily just a few of the participants staying at the Inn for the night.

"So, Jess, what have you been up to lately?" Lorelai asks when they've wrapped up what they need to.

It's rare that she in particular asks him in particular so exclusively what's going on and Rory blushes a little at the knowledge that her mother is prodding him for the reason his demeanor to her has changed. If Jess notices the same thing he makes nothing of it.

"I've been writing. A lot. Changed the outline for my project, it's still the same story, but the theme is different." His answer is direct, and Rory smiles at him.

Lorelai looks at him curiously.

"What's the theme?"

"Parenthood. Or lack thereof. Sort of." He smiles a little but looks away, a bit embarrassed, like he figured out right then that he was giving away something flawed and unfinished. She grabs his hand under the table. Lorelai doesn't ask any more questions.

They finish lunch and Luke heads to the Inn to start preparations for the evening. Lorelai goes for a walk.

Will winds up taking his afternoon nap on blankets on the living room floor with Rory and Jess on the couch. He has his head in her lap, and she reads sections aloud from her book to him. There's a knock at the door after a while and he gets up to let Liz and Doula in. The simple fact that Liz babysitting was an option is definite proof of something being different in him. He shows them where everything connected to Will is, including the list of his general schedule. Then they sit and talk in the kitchen for a while waiting for the little guy to wake up before they can leave. When Will wakes up Rory feeds him before handing him to Doula. After that she and Jess walk to the Inn.

They hear Taylor's voice as soon as they arrive. It's still hours until his dinner, of course he is here.

"I was led to believe that there would be a Saint-James level of culinary discourse when I booked the Dragonfly, and I find you here-"

They exchange a glance and pick up their pace.

"If I wanted to offer a slice of Americana I'd certainly bring my guests to Luke's, with a stop at the Soda Shoppe to finish with. But that was not what I had in mind at all. Where is Lorelai? I need to discuss this with her right away."

Taylor has Luke trapped in the dining room close to the kitchen entrance, and the latter looks like one would be expected to under those circumstances.

"Taylor, do you honestly think that I'm incapable of cooking anything but burgers?" He objects. "I've worked here on and off for years and people don't seem to notice the difference between me and whatever fancy name currently on the payroll, except that the fries are better when I'm in charge."

"Fries?" Taylor sneers. "Luke, these people won't be impressed by the best French Fries in France! They are expecting Dauphinois, Papas Arrugadas, Hasselbacks. I've certainly never seen these dishes in your diner!"

"Because it's a diner, Taylor!" He's definitely losing his patience.

"He's not throwing you with all those names, uncle Luke?" Jess says, amusement clear as he walks into the room.

"Don't encourage this, please!" Luke growls, without looking at him.

Taylor turns around, frowning at the sound of Jess's voice, but tilts his head and smiles when he sees Rory.

"Rory! What a lovely surprise." He glances to Jess and drops the smile momentarily, managing a curtly nod before returning his attention to Rory. "What are you doing here?"

"We're working your dinner, Taylor!" Rory says sunnily, innocently, with a hint of sadism from the pleasure of delivering the terrible news that she hopes is only noticeable to those who know her well.

Taylor's smile fades even if he tries to maintain it.

"We needed a break from changing diapers." Jess adds deadpan and flashes a smile when Taylor looks at him, panic visible.

"I sure could use a chat with your mother." Taylor tries.

"I'm pretty sure she was gonna keep her phone turned off for at least another hour," Rory says, "it's important that when you're off the clock, it's really off, you know?"

She pats Taylor's shoulder and heads into the kitchen, but Jess stays. She knows a not so small part of him enjoys seeing Luke rubbed the wrong way, especially on those occasions when he ends up going nuclear on the townies. She stops right inside the doors to keep listening, peeks out through the glass in the door. Taylor pulls out his phone and taps the screen, pensive.

"I suppose I could go find her-" He starts.

"Oh, give it a rest, Taylor!" Luke bursts out. "You're getting this event at the friendliest of discounts! And if you bother my wife on her time off I'll be sure to fry every fricking Hasselback tonight!"

"Oh man!" Jess puts a hand on Luke's shoulder. "Messing with the kitchen will get you into some gnarly situations. Especially when you're dealing with high cuisine. I have this buddy working as a scullion at this Michelin-place, told me about this one guy ordering Swiftlet nest-soup, sent it back because it 'tasted funny', like he had vast experience with the dish-" He chuckles. "Let's just say, bird-spit would've been a welcome ingredient in what he got back. He thought it tasted great though." Luke stares at him and Taylor's gone white. Jess drops the smile, like he just figured out who was present, and turns to Taylor, serious, defensive hand-gesture. "Not that I'd ever do anything like that."

Taylor backs off. He can't handle Luke with backup. He puts away the phone and walks out into the lobby instead. Luke follows him, supposedly to make sure he doesn't get any ideas. Jess turns and walks into the kitchen snickering to himself. Rory pokes his side as he enters.

"What buddy?" She says.

He turns to regard her, she raises an eyebrow, and crosses her arms.

"Who's your scullion-buddy?" She repeats.

He smiles.

"No one of substance."

She shakes her head but smiles in return.

"A good story's a good story." He shrugs.

After a few moments Luke bursts through the door, muttering to himself.

"Awaiting your orders, sir." Jess says.

Luke turns and glares at him.

"Thanks." He says caustically.

"Hey, that guy is the personification of 'asking for it'."

Luke ignores the comment and steps into the role of chef instead. He points to Jess.

"You get started on the potatoes," he gestures to Rory, "and you can set the tables."

"Ay-ay, sir." Jess goes without missing a beat. She stifles a giggle and salutes Luke.

"You're a handful today." Luke sighs.

"I'm a delight." Jess retorts and winks at her as she exits the kitchen, still smiling.

She goes over the guest-list, moves tables together and sets them, folds napkins and places the cutlery next to each seat, polishes the glasses and pushes the chairs all the way in. When she gets back in the kitchen Luke is prepping the first course while Jess is sliding plates of different potato-dishes into the oven. The radio is on and turned to the local station claiming to feature classic rock - the term applied generously as the selection is way wide and what normally would be considered classic rock has just been banished, possibly to plain classical. The songs range from eighties punk and nineties hair-rock as well as the popularized subgenres of art rock, mostly ballads, and they insist on playing Don't Stop Believing every hour on the hour. She makes eye-contact with Jess who shrugs.

"Don't look at me."

She turns to Luke.

"It's your mother's station of choice!" He goes, hands up.

She smiles.

"Fair enough. What's my next mission?"

"You're on salad."

She gets the ingredients from the fridge and starts chopping.

Lorelai arrives, already in her work clothes. She pecks Rory and Luke on a cheek each and pats Jess on the head after a second of hesitation. Rory chuckles silently and her mother shoots her a defensive look before strapping on an apron and disappearing into the dining room.

Rory's worked these types of events before with her mother and is aware of the rhythm; The busiest time is up until the main course gets served, then it slows down. They load the entrees onto the plates while the president of the presidents holds a welcoming speech, and Lorelai serves them on her own. Luckily the main course will be served as a buffet, so it only takes them a few minutes to get it ready once it's cooked. They all help preparing the deserts, but it's at least an hour before they're bound to be served, so Lorelai goes to clean out the reception and Luke to feed the horses. Rory does the inventory in the kitchen - any excuse to make a list - and Jess chops fruit for the desert.

Joan Jett's Crimson and Clover comes on the radio and he actually starts humming along. She folds over in laughter.

"What!?" He protests. "Philly-pride!"

"Wynnewood!" She laughs.

"Exclusionist!" He sticks out his tongue at her. He goes back to chopping, but she keeps looking at him with a broad smile.

"You’re in a good mood." She says.

He freezes for a moment before putting down the knife and turning to her, guilty expression.

"I’ve been grumpy." He slowly goes.

She doesn't lose her smile but shoots out her chin and steps closer to him.

"Grumpier. And only for the better part of a year." She says lightly. "It’s okay, though. It’s understandable. And I didn’t choose you for your sunny demeanor.” She reaches out and briefly strokes his hand.

"I’ve been worried." He admits.

"Really?" She's trying not to be sarcastic, but it is sort of their thing.

He doesn't seem to fall into that trap today though.

"Afraid, really." He expands. "Still am. But, I’ve been sort of ignoring it, like, taking one day at the time, trying not to think about what’s at stake."

"Everything, all the time." She fills in, earnest by now.

"Right," he nods, "and that’s been my tactic since we got together." He pauses. "But it hasn’t really been sustainable since Will was born, so I’ve been looking for something different, some way I could be braver."

She smiles, tender at once.

"You’re funny."

"I assume not as in ha-ha?"

She takes another step towards him.

"You know what they call people who go around doing stuff even if they’re scared to? Brave."

He chuckles.

"Well, maybe I'm shooting for a more professional bravery, getting so used to it that I don’t have to ignore it."

She tilts her head.

"Get to the point."

"Fine." He looks her in the eyes to hold her attention, then diverts his gaze, like he does when he has to focus on the talking thing. "I stopped ignoring it. Since Jimmy died. I'm talking to Will about it."

Her smile is broad and unstoppable.

"You talk to Will?"

"Just a little. A few minutes a day."

"You talk to Will?"

"He doesn’t seem to mind either way."

"You talk to Will?"

"Stupid, I know, I should probably talk to the plants instead, give them a boost." He talks quickly, probably hoping it'll be over sooner.

She puts a hand over her mouth, not sure why, then starts gesturing to emphasize her words.

"Okay, first: that is the most adorable thing I’ve ever heard, and second: It’s good that you’re talking to our infant. He may not get it yet, but he’s gonna-" She pauses and tries getting rid of the smile, so he'll take her seriously. "Communication is important. He should get the boost." She finishes.

He sighs with a slightly relieved smile and turns back to his task. She's about to get back to hers when she notices he isn't getting started. He bites his lip and she looks at him searchingly for a moment. Then he turns back to her, opens his mouth and speaks.

"Why did you?"

"Why did I what?"

He swallows.

"Pick me. You could’ve had someone else. Anyone else.”

She laughs, somewhat tensely.

"You're full of it! Anyone can fit with anyone if you cut off enough pieces." She shrugs. "Besides, there's not one answer to that question."

He nods. Looks back to his chopping board. She tilts her head closer to his to regain his attention. Doesn't want to lose the connection. It's the first time he's actively asked for any kind of affirmation, confirmation, and she likes that he did, likes getting asked by him instead of a myriad of skeptical minds. Likes that he's asking for what he needs. He's the only one she feels she wants to convince, to tell, anyway.

"I could still try to answer, if you like me to?" She offers.

He doesn't respond with words but puts down his knife again and turns to her, expression tentative.

"I went to the lake so I didn't have to adapt what I felt to anyone, thought I had to be alone for that." She starts. "But I wasn't. And it was you who were there, like you'd been waiting for me. And maybe I got ready then, because someone or anyone weren’t offering what you were.”

"Which was?”

She thinks about it for a second.

"All of it. All of you. I didn’t want bits and puzzle pieces anymore. And I wanted to be intact. Not sure I knew that then, but I do now." She pauses. "I want the whole enchilada." She laughs a little to herself. "Hardly surprising, but I think I deserve it." She looks at him and he smiles at her when she does, takes a step closer to her, and she gestures to show she's not finished. "But listen, the truth is that it didn’t really feel like a choice. And that was sort of what I liked about it.”

He smiles, eyes warm.

"Thank you." He puts an arm around her, pulls her closer. Their lips are an inch apart when Can't Fight This Feeling comes on the radio. He lets go of her and winces. "Ah geez! Top five musical sins of the eighties."

"Not that bad." She objects.

"'Throw away the oars, forever'? Come on!"

"Aw, you know the lyrics."

"Nice spin, you should work for Trump."

She gapes at him, eyes wide.

"Take that back! Immediately! Or we’re breaking up!"

He winces.

"Alright! That was taking it too far."

She shakes her head at him.

"Too scary... oh, listen, the drums!"

She hits air drums with some pretty impressive accuracy if she may say so herself, but fumbles with the pen and it drops to the floor. He gets down to get it, and then, sort of freezes in the moment.

"Hey." He reaches for her hand and she provides it, grabbing his as if to help him up. He doesn’t make any attempt at getting up, however, but puts her hand to his forehead. "I'm sorry."

"Oh, come on! I was just kidding before!" She laughs. "Well, not about working for Trump, I’d rather peel off all my skin and jump into The Dead Sea, or attend anger management with Paris, or coach debutants for the DAR, or give up coffee, or, you know, be dead, but I wasn’t gonna break up with you over a stupid joke.”

She smiles triumphantly at her own wittiness. He chuckles, but stays where he is, doesn't let go of her hand. She frowns.

"What do you have to be sorry about?" She says, tilting her head.

"About the wedding, how I asked you." It takes a couple of seconds for the reference so sink in, and by then his expression is serious. "It wasn't honest."

Her heart starts pounding hard.

"Jess-" She starts without any clear direction, but he obviously has one.

"Like an idiot I've been racking my brain, trying to think of a way to prove to you- and that was it, and I couldn't even do that properly. So, you were right to turn me away 'cause I offered it up like it was some favor when it should've been what it is."

She’s thirty-two but there’s no way she’s not thinking about when she was twenty-two right now. Comparing notes.

"Ror, I love you." He lets it hang in the air for a second and she's unable to think of a response that makes any sense when he's on his knees in front of her. "I keep doing that, every version of you, I haven't stopped since I started and that's a long time ago. So, maybe that means that it was made for people like me. And I don’t need you to marry me to keep it up, I lived without you for so long and still did, but I do need to ask so that you know that it's not some sacrifice or some convenience..." He takes a breath. "It's how I feel."

She's thirty-two and the father of her child, not like any father she's known before, actually asks her to marry him, no weapons of any kind involved. No plurals except duos. There’s no way he planned this because then he wouldn’t be on his knees on a greasy kitchen floor with no ring and the possibility of his uncle or her mom walking in at any moment and she wouldn’t be dressed in jeans and t-shirt. But he did ask before, sort of, they did graze the subject, so he has thought about it, without telling anyone, probably.

"So, I'm gonna ask you, and it doesn't make any sense. But I think that's exactly why I should." He looks at her shoes. "Because I know you've been scared too, 'bout me leaving and I could insist all I want that I won't but as big as you are on words I don't think they're enough, for neither one of us. And this thing, this unpractical, stupid, symbolic, thing -" He looks back to her face. "- it's as close to an action that I'm gonna get."

She's thirty-two and some might argue the love of her life proposes in front of no one. Not because tradition demands it, or to save the relationship, or to build something new. Because of what they already have.

"This is it for me. I'm yours. And if you don't wanna, it changes nothing for me, but if I'd had half a brain I would have asked you before, one or two years ago, or earlier even, and I wouldn't- Because that's what I've always felt. That's what I meant when I said we're supposed to be together."

She's learned by now that the storybook endings aren't endings but starts of new chapters in the same old story, and if she'd known that when she was twenty-two she might have answered differently, but she's far from sure it would've made a difference in the long run. During the years before her grandfather died, she thought about saying no, a lot, regretted it sometimes. Now she's happy, because she gets to have this instead.

She gets on her knees too, twisting her hand from his grip and grasping his wrists instead.

"Don’t do this to me!" She says, voice shaking.

"What?" He looks distinctly vulnerable.

"Don’t make this stupid song part of the record."

He laughs in a breath, smiles broadly going on wicked.

"It’s to REO Speedwagon or not at all."

She laughs too and looks at him, searching.

"Wait, I’m confused. Was this you asking me now or-"

He drags a hand through his hair, shaking his head.

"I suck at this. I should've planned this better, laid better groundwork."

"Isn't that why you’re on your knees?" She jokes.

He looks taken by her words.

"Sure." He laughs and is about to speak again when footsteps approach.

He gets up quickly and pulls her with him and they're on their feet just as Luke enters the kitchen again. They look at him and he looks back, frowning. She smiles, a bit too broadly at him, but when she turns to get back to work catches the same smile in Jess's face. And it doesn´t go away. She feels it the remainder of the evening while they work. And every time she looks at Jess it's back with him too. His eyes are shining, and she feels her cheeks ache a little.

Even as they head home it stays: an electric thread between them. They stay close to each other while they walk, while they thank Liz and Doula for their help and send them on their way, and when they check on a contently sleeping Will. She's aware of their shoulders against each other as they brush their teeth and she feels like a cat, stroking herself to his side. She slips in between him and the sink and starts unbuttoning his shirt with breaks for pushing her face against his neck, he strokes her hair. When she looks at him her chest aches, but it's from happiness this time, from feeling in sync, open, and knowing the feeling is mutual. In bed they lock together firmly and softly at the same time. Entwined, they face each other. He's hard against her thigh, and she feels her pulse like lapping waves between her legs, but there's no haste, nothing veiled between their gazes, they're still all there, and the smile keeps travelling from one to the other. She finds herself thinking that she's safe. And it's his words that have made her feel that way. They're invincible right now, and maybe even from here on out, so she asks.

"Since when have you loved me?" She whispers through a giddy smile and feels both exhilarated and vulnerable at the same time. It takes him a second to respond, his eyes glittering in the murky room.

"Uhm... early. Probably started the moment you called me Dodger." She smiles and feels slightly dazed while his expression gains resolve. "But I didn't know it then, I just felt it. Then after the Basket-thing I'd feel it when you weren't around and then-" he pauses. "When you asked me to make friends with your mom I knew what it was and after the accident I admitted it and when you came to New York I... accepted it." She's taken by the words, feels out of breath. "When you stepped out of that car at the lake-" He smiles and shakes his head. "I thought I was hallucinating." She wets her bottom lip and swallows. "And now I'm gonna do you a solid and not ask you the same question." He finishes, and if she didn't know better she'd say he was blushing.

"Would you settle for knowing that it was early for me too?" She says on a breath.

"I'd settle for anything you." He whispers. He puts his forehead to hers. "Do you wanna know something weird?"

"Yes."

"You know I'm happy, right?"

She chuckles.

"I figured."

"Well, even now, I sometimes dream about then. We'll be eighteen and I'll stay, talk. I'll wake up feeling hoarse from all the words. Or we'll be nineteen and you'll come away with me, we'll just drive. Or we'll be at Truncheon that time you came, and we'll kiss, and we won't stop. And it's like, those dreams were part of me for so long I can't shake 'em even when I don't need 'em anymore. And now I'll wake up and you'll be here and Will and I'll have to realize that none of that happened. This happened."

She thinks about it for a while.

"Oh, I don't know. I certainly imagined those things happening too. So maybe they're real. In a way. Maybe that's the truth. Maybe them not happening is just a technicality."

He shakes in a quiet laugh.

"I love you."

She's surprised at feeling happy at the simple words, after everything, and at once an equally devilish, dangerous and exciting impulse fills her up.

"Hey, Jess?"

"Yeah?"

"I'll marry you if you want me to."

He kisses her before anything else, nodding.

"I do." Not even one second has passed, and his answer is spoken in the motion he makes against her lips, mouth shaking. "But..." His breath is sharp through his nose. "You couldn't wait for me to ask you properly?"

She laughs into his mouth.

"Since when are you the guardian of propriety?" She pushes back in the kiss. "And no. This happened instead." His lips tighten as he smiles. "Besides, who does the asking at this point is nothing but a technicality."

"Somehow I think Emily might disagree."

"Well, we don't have to tell her how it went down. We could make up some crazy story about you asking me on the dirty kitchen floor of the Dragonfly, stained by food, with no ring, no witnesses or preparation."

"Touché. And taken."

They fall asleep just a little while later and before she drifts off she thinks how she didn't have the chance to say an actual yes, how no has always been her word of choice, but also that sometimes actions speak louder than words and that she can hold on to this new word of hers and use it well in the next chapter, which by the way is part of the same old story, so the transition is simple.