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"You've reached the Gilmore residence. Speak if you must."

 

*beep*

 

"Lorelai, it's Chris. Listen, I know it's been awhile, but I was hoping we could talk. It's, uh — it's been... look, something happened, with Sherry, and I need — God, I feel like such an ingrate even calling, but you're the first person I thought of — this is stupid, I'll try you on your cell.

 

~

 

He was almost asleep; he was tired, bone tired, actually, so falling asleep wasn't exactly a hardship, but all the same, Luke felt a little bad about it. Despite his protests to the contrary, he was not all right with the Chris thing. He wanted to be, that much was true, but he just... wasn't. The guy had been hurting Lorelai and Rory for as long as Luke had known them and that kind of thing just didn't sit well. That wasn't why falling asleep seemed so unfair, though.

 

Luke was feeling a little guilty that he was able to fall asleep without Lorelai beside him.

 

They'd taken to spending most of their nights together, with the exception of the evenings before he had early deliveries. And most of the time, when she wasn't with him, he had no trouble dropping into a death-like sleep; spending the better part of twelve hours firmly on his feet without rest had a tendency to do that to a man. So he did not lie awake at night and long for her to be beside him, or stare at the side of the bed she should otherwise occupy.

 

The mornings, however, were another matter. There were roughly ten seconds of time every morning before he became fully conscious where he had become accustomed to having his oxygen cut off by Lorelai's hair in his face or her body impacting his chest from the haphazard way she'd thrown herself on top of him.

 

He never imagined he'd be sad about being able to breathe normally.

 

It was in the midst of these half-wakeful thoughts that Luke was brought fully to consciousness by someone knocking at his door. One look at the clock told him exactly who it was.

 

"Heya, sailor," she said once he'd dragged himself out of bed to answer the door.

 

"Lorelai." He wiped the sleep out of his eyes. "What time is it?"

 

"About an hour after you left my place. Man, you really do sleep the second your head hits the pillow. Can I come in?"

 

He noted her attire — Betty Boop pajamas and fluffy red slippers — and stepped away from the door. The sooner she was safely inside, the better.

 

"That key is for emergencies," he grumbled.

 

"This is an emergency," she said. "This is an emergency of epic proportions. When you hear this emergency you will panic."

 

"I highly doubt that."

 

"We cannot keep doing this, Luke."

 

Panic, hot and sharp, coursed through his veins. A million of his worst fears asserted themselves in the space between his last breath and his next: she didn't love him. Seeing Christopher made her realize she wanted to try things with him again, now that he was available. Worse still (maybe), it had nothing to do with Christopher, she's just finally realized that things between them aren't right, she isn't all in, and could they still be friends?

 

His brain didn't really begin processing things rationally until he'd been awake for longer than a minute.

 

"What?" he asked dumbly.

 

"I don't want us spending nights apart for stupid reasons," she said.

 

Luke started breathing normally again. If he was lucky, she'd be too wound up to notice the difference.

 

"So..."

 

"I've come to a conclusion."

 

"At midnight, you've come to a conclusion?"

 

"Yes."

 

"At midnight. That couldn't wait until tomorrow."

 

"Luke, when you come to a conclusion as important as this, you do not wait until the morning. You strike while the iron is hot. You make with the striking."

 

"Far be it for me to get in the way of your striking, but have you noticed that you're like an over-caffeinated monkey right now?"

 

"Thank you so much for the imagery. I feel so pretty."

 

"I go to bed at nine," he said. "Every night I have early deliveries, I go to bed at nine. You'll be lying awake next to me staring at the ceiling."

 

"You're missing the key part of that sentence, my friend." She smiled when he looked at her blankly. "Next. To. You."

 

He stared at her. When he spoke, there was the slightest catch in his voice, and he kind of hoped she wouldn't notice it, though from the look on her face, she definitely had.

 

"What side do you want?"

 

~

 

You've reached the Gilmore residence. Speak if you must.

 

"Hey, Lor, it's me. I just wanted to... well, 'thank you' seems like not enough, somehow. You were a lifesaver last night. I don't — I honestly don't know how I would have gotten through it without you. I owe you one, friend. You can add it to my grossly overburdened tab."

 

~

 

"Come on, Luke."

 

"There aren't enough ways to say no. Besides, I like the view."

 

Lorelai made an ungraceful circle around the rink and flung herself into his arms on the sidelines.

 

"I'll do a Tonya Harding impression," she coaxed, then pushed away from him in what she surely thought was a seductive manner, but given her instability on the ice was more 'baby duck learns to walk' than sultry beauty.

 

"Tonya Harding is not getting me on that ice."

 

"Easy white trash doesn't do it for you, huh? Fine, then how about blackmail? Skate with me or I will tell the whole town about your predilection for dressing up in black spandex and treating me to a Lambada."

 

"I do not Lambada."

 

"That's not what Miss Patty will believe."

 

"I do not Lambada, and I do not skate unless there's a puck and a ref involved. Besides, it's dangerous out there with you — five minutes on the ice together, you'd probably break my nose for the third time."

 

"You hold a rose between your teeth," Lorelai continued. "I've told you a hundred times the thorns chafe, but when you set your mind to something you will not be deterred."

 

"I wonder to myself sometimes, does she actually believe the things she says, or does she only do it to make that vein near my temple throb."

 

"Speaking of things that throb, who knew you had such great hip action? Standing up, I mean, because I'm very well aware of–"

 

"That's it, rink's going back."

 

"Oh, Luke, come on, please dance with me."

 

"I'll dance with you," he said gruffly. "I'm just not going to skate with you."

 

"Haven't you heard? It's like dancing on the ice. All the cool kids are doing it."

 

"I will not dance on ice."

 

He snagged her arm the next time she came close enough and pulled her to him. She regarded him with a big smile, love of snow and life embodied in her pink cheeks.

 

She laughed. "What?"

 

"Your headache," he said. "Come inside, I'll make you some hot chocolate. The rink will still be here later."

 

"Luke, it's okay, you don't have to–"

 

"Let me take care of you," he said softly. A look passed over her face and he wondered at it, but before he could come to any conclusions, she smiled again and wrapped her arms around his neck. Soon, he was supporting her weight as her legs bent at the knee to avoid injuring him with the blades of her shoes.

 

"You do take care of me," she whispered. "Better than I deserve."

 

"I don't–"

 

"Better than I deserve," she said firmly, then kissed him, and floated back out of his arms onto the ice.

 

He tried not to miss her so much when she was still right in front of him.

 

~

 

You've reached the Gilmore residence. Speak if you must.

 

*beep*

 

"Come on, Lor. Twenty-five years of friendship plus one amazing kid has to count for more than one stupid, drunken night. Okay, a stupid drunken idiot, namely me. You can't shut me out forever. How am I supposed to say I'm sorry if you won't even let me grovel properly? Rory won't talk to me, she'll barely answer my emails, and I know she's doing it out of loyalty to you, so come on, Lor, if you won't do it for us, do it so I can make things right with our kid. You've always put Rory first, that's all I'm asking for now. Please."

 

~

 

She thought it was the perfect excuse. They hadn't seen a lot of each other lately, not since the school play, and it was killing her. It wasn't that she was deluding herself into believing they'd get back together, that everything would suddenly be okay between them. Lorelai knew she'd screwed up, screwed up so bad that he was never going to look at her the same way again. They weren't going to have a middle, or an upper middle class, or anything else, but maybe, if fate was extra kind and on her side, she could see him again. The few painful minutes they'd spent together had gotten her hungry for the sight of him, the way he looked just like he was supposed to, like Luke, who was more dear to her than anyone but Rory had ever been.

 

The invitation had come from Liz several weeks before, when everyone had assumed Luke's dance card had been filled, and probably for the rest of his life. Lorelai certainly had. She wasn't sure when being with Luke, really being with him had become a foregone conclusion, but she knew when she'd realized it, just barely after it was too late to count, like so many other things done and undone in her long (getting longer every second) life. Lorelai pictured the invitation in her mind, along with the special note Liz had included.

 

Huzzah!

 

Tidings of great joy beckon!

 

Fair Liz and fine T.J. have been wed 365 moon cycles.

 

Join them at their home for general merry making.

 

15th April.

 

Offering not required.

 

Punch and pie.

 

(Lorelai, I'm sending this to you because I wouldn't put it past my big brother to pretend he never got it. I don't know when the two of you actually got yourselves together, but I get the feeling it had something to do with my wedding, and that makes me happier than I can say, so please, please come. And make Luke come. Love, Liz.)

 

Make Luke come. Lorelai wanted to cry when she thought of how, just a few short weeks ago, she would have had just that much power over him, and now, they were back to somewhere they'd never been before, worse than when they'd been fighting in the past, worse than anything, because even then, there'd still been hope. She knew, absolutely knew, that if she needed him to, he would see past his anger and be her friend, and now, while she knew he'd always be there for her, always willing to rescue her if she needed it, she'd broke something inside him, the part of him that had loved her so well, and she didn't know how to make it better.

 

It was foolish to think a dance would help, but she was wearing her pink dress, and she never liked to wear dress clothes more than once, but she was doing it, because she thought that maybe it might make a difference to him, might remind of a time when he'd wanted her. Of course, for any of it to be possible, he would have actually had to be there, which was the problem in a nutshell.

 

"Hey, hon," Liz said quietly.

 

"Hey, Liz, congratulations," Lorelai said in too-bright tones; she winced at just how bad she'd gotten at faking it.

 

Liz had a sympathetic look on her face. "He'll come around. He's stubborn, not stupid."

 

Lorelai gave a sad little smile in response, which was all she could really manage.

 

"Okay, so he's a little stupid," Liz continued. "He may be my hero of a big brother, but he's still a man."

 

"Sure, allowances must be made," Lorelai agreed, then smiled tightly. "I don't know how you seem to have found one that isn't stupid," she lied.

 

"He's an idiot," Liz said, fondly looking over at where T.J. was holding court around the apple bobbing table. "But he's my idiot, and in case you're not aware, Luke is your idiot."

 

"You sure about that?" Lorelai sniffed, horrified to realize how close she was to tears; how close she always was to tears lately. "He's not even here today, on your anniversary, because he doesn't want to see me."

 

"He isn't here today because we have a jester," Liz noted dryly. "You, he wants to see. Trust me. He misses you."

 

"I miss him," she whispered, then cleared her throat. "But it's — it's not up to me, you know? I can't turn into that girl, the one that goes all Fatal Attraction on her boyfriend. I won't do that to him."

 

"It'll be okay," Liz said quietly, reaching out to squeeze Lorelai's hand. "I've had dreams about you two, about you being together, and my dreams are never wrong. Not ever."

 

"Thanks," Lorelai said, then complimented Liz on the flowers, and zoned out a little while they made small talk.

 

All the while, she kept scanning the yard, hoping to see Luke, hoping he'd remember that this wasn't just his sister's anniversary, but also their anniversary, in a way, his and Lorelai's, because they'd danced her, and had their first date, even if Lorelai hadn't realized it was a date at the time. This was the day she'd found out Luke could waltz and that maybe, just maybe, he might love her a little bit.

 

Lorelai thought that maybe, on this day of all days, she might find that same truth out all over again. Apparently, like most things in the big book of her life, she just wasn't on the same page as everyone else.

 

She left after giving T.J. a kiss and confirming he should wear tights more often, which seemed to brighten his mood considerably. Lorelai avoided crazy Kerry as she snuck out the back way and walked around the town in shoes that weren't made for walking around the block, let alone the whole town. She passed by Luke's and saw him inside, yelling at Tom about something, arms flailing as he geared up for a good rant.

 

It actually made her cry, and she hurried home. This called for drastic action. She was going to have to become a spinster, and there would be no two-ways about it. When Rory came home next they'd have to rent A Star is Born — all of them — and have a good, old fashioned bitter party.

 

Maybe, if she could just get bitter enough, she wouldn't feel so sad anymore.

 

~

 

You've reached the Gilmore residence. Speak if you must.

 

*beep*

 

"Look, it's been weeks. I've talked to Emily and I know you're back with him. I get that I messed up, but this is important, Lor–"

 

The extension is picked up for a moment, then replaced again with a calm 'click.' Christopher is somewhat heartened that she is, at least, unable to ignore the sound of his voice.

 

~

 

It was different. He hadn't really thought it would be, but somehow, it made all the difference in the world.

 

He'd spent a lot of his life wondering if the person he was with really wanted to be with him, first with Rachel, and now, for so long, with Lorelai. With Rachel, he knew exactly where she'd rather be — out there, seeing places, discovering herself and all the mysteries of the human condition, or whatever it was she did with the pictures she took that made them so damn good. Lorelai, however, brought about a different sort of ennui in him — he loved her, the way his father had loved his mother, maybe more, though he felt disloyal even thinking it, and he wanted nothing more than to believe she loved him the same way. But there had always been this question mark, this 'what if' in the back of his mind.

 

What if she realized he just wasn't good enough for her, the way her parents did?

 

What if Christopher crooked his finger and said he wanted her, after all, to be a family with him and Rory?

 

What if Lorelai plain got bored of him and his flannel and his diner and ran, the way she always did, refusing to speak to him ever again?

 

And, worst of all, what if she stayed with him forever and he always felt this dread sitting right on top of his gut, threatening to choke him?

 

"I'm sorry," she whispered, and pressed hard, fast kiss after hard, fast kiss to every part of his face, neck, and shoulders she could reach.

 

"No, I'm sorry," he muttered, trying to get the damn shirt she was wearing off her head without detaching his mouth from her neck, which seemed an impossible task. "I didn't — Jesus, Lorelai, I never meant for it to... I never wanted to–"

 

"I know," she said, and broke away from him to whip the shirt off herself. She took a second to get rid of his, as well, then stumble backwards up the stairs, arms around his neck.

 

They were probably going to kill themselves, but he couldn't stop kissing her long enough to do anything about it. He'd been starved for her longer than he cared to remember, and these past few weeks had been like full sensory reminders of exactly how long he had been aching — not pining, not hoping, not wishing, but aching -- for her.

 

Somehow, they made it to the bed alive, and when they were skin against skin, when he looked into her eyes and she stared right back, daring him to see anything inside her he didn't like, he felt it, a shift of his whole world tilting on its axis, the way he saw her, the way he saw him, the way he saw them. She's said the words to him before, that she was all in, but he hadn't believed her, not really, and believing her made all the difference in the world. It took what had already been good and made it indescribable.

 

Leave it to Lorelai, of course, to try and describe it anyway.

 

"Okay," she said, once their breathing had returned to normal and they rested against each other in her bed, "either it's been awhile since I've had make up sex, or that was a religious experience."

 

He made a sound between a laugh and a grunt in response, but he knew his face was serious by the way she looked at him. She looked scared and he winced.

 

Luke pulled her closer, pressed a kiss to her temple, and waited until she'd relaxed against him.

 

"This is it for me," he said quietly. "You know that, right? You know that's why I was so damned hurt, and pissed, and–"

 

"This is it for me, Luke," she interrupted, and her voice was firm and left no room for argument. "You're it for me. I knew it, but I didn't let myself know it, and that makes no sense at all, but I think that's something you're just going to have to live with about me."

 

"Okay," he said, and he was smiling against her head like he'd never stop.

 

"Okay," she agreed, situating herself against him more comfortably.

 

She was flung half over his body and her hair obscured most of his face. They were both exhausted, worn out, physically and emotionally, he knew she was close to sleep, and yet she was still talking. She would probably figure out a way to talk after she was dead.

 

"We should have a date," she slurred.

 

"We'll have lots of dates," he said.

 

"No, I mean a real date, a back together date."

 

"You don't think that's a little moot at this point?"

 

She somehow found the strength to smack him.

 

"When?" he gave in.

 

"Busy," she mumbled.

 

"How about Sunday?"

 

"Lord's day," she said, and then was asleep. Luke couldn't quite contain a grin. She was gorgeous and insane and she was his and he was never letting her go again.

 

Though they did spend the entire night together, through unspoken agreement, they did not engage in more than their patented diner banter until Sunday. It was almost old fashioned, like not looking at the bride before the wedding day even though you'd been looking at her every day for years and she wasn't going to look any different all draped in white satin or lace or whatever her thousand dollar dress she couldn't wear more than once cost...

 

All internal rants aside, Luke was happy with it. Satisfied. It made things seem more real this way, like they'd really earned being together. They would spend these few nights apart, and they would be the last nights they would ever spend without each other. It was corny, but Lorelai turned him into a corny guy and some things just couldn't be helped.

 

After their big dinner, he shared ice cream with her while she shared her world with him. He chased Kirk around the block, saw him tucked safely back in bed, then did the same for himself and Lorelai.

 

He stayed awake for a long time that night, listening to Lorelai snore softly, the house settle, and began to plan the rest of his life. He would never say it out loud, of course (he was corny now, not mentally ill), but when he looked into the future, he saw things he never had before. He saw less time spent at the diner and more time spent watching bad movies. He saw jam hands and school plays and a million crazy town events he would have no choice but to attend, dragged along unresistingly by Lorelai and her second mini-me.

 

He could see driving Rory home in the summer and back to Yale in the fall. He could see holidays and Sunday mornings in bed and, with time, the occasional Friday Night Dinner.

 

Lorelai's hair threatened to choke him, and he coughed a few times until it settled in a more manageable position. Lorelai's hand curved around his ribcage in her sleep and he felt her, just where she'd always been, with a tight, strong grip around his heart.

 

He liked it that way.

 

Now, all that was left was to nail down the details.

 

~

 

You've reached the Gilmore residence. Speak if you must.

 

*beep*

 

"Rory dropped out of Yale? Jesus, Lorelai, I know you're mad at me, but you don't think that was something we should have possibly discussed together? I know you pride yourself on being able to do everything alone, but I'm her father, for God's sake. I should be involved in the major moments in my daughter's life. You have no right — no right at all — to keep me out of it. I wouldn't even know now if Rory hadn't emailed me. Call me back, we need to talk about this."

 

~

 

Coffee. Mashed potatoes. A caterpillar's funeral. Ice. Santa Burger. A closed diner. A hospital waiting room. A baby chick. A cake and balloons. A Chuppa. Knowing when to talk and taking the time to listen. Mattresses. Fishing lessons. Golfing with Richard. Thrity-thousand dollars. Flowers. A waltz. Standing still. An ice rink. CDs, but no pirates. Chasing after Kirk. Ducks.

 

And this. How amazing that it took one last rant to make everything so clear she could see straight down to the bottom of her heart — damn. She never would have imagined it happening like this.

 

"What?"

 

"Luke, will you marry me?"

 

And it wasn't a beautiful moment with a thousand yellow daisies. It was better.

 

It was a life.

 

~

 

Christopher picked up the phone, feeling guilty. He hadn't been fair with his last call to Lorelai. She'd returned it a couple of days later to explain Rory's situation and to tell him that if he wanted to co-parent with her he should do whatever it took to get Rory back in Yale, and that she was done conspiring with people. She'd sounded bitter, and he didn't think he quite deserved all of it, and figured Richard and Emily were responsible for the rest. Whatever the case, he'd given her space, and Rory space, and now he felt enough time had passed that they ought to be able to speak rationally about the subject.

 

Her phone rang and rang, and finally, he heard her recorded voice.

 

You've reached Lorelai, Luke, and during the summer and holidays, Rory. Lorelai is probably searching for caffeine. Luke — where are you, Luke?

 

I'm not participating in this message, that's where I am. Why do two otherwise rational people have to put both their voices on a damn answering machine message, anyway?

 

That'll do, pig. Obviously, Luke is out somewhere ranting, and Rory — Rory's at Yale. Behold my motherly pride with awe and admiration. Also, tell us what you want.

 

It was the first time in a long while Chris hung up without leaving Lorelai a message.

 

~

 

END

 

~