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Boundaries

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So in typical humble fashion, I have decided to approach the most exalted of Gilmore Girls fanfic categories: the post (original series!) finale reassembling of Luke and Lorelai's damaged relationship and getting them to a place where they can live out their happily ever after.

There have been dozens of iterations of this type of story, and virtually all of them are probably far superior to anything I have to contribute.

However, in a post AYITL world, a lot of us had to adjust our expectations: almost all of the stories out there focus on Luke and Lorelai striving for that traditional life as soon as possible: marriage, babies, the middle. As we all know, those are now officially AU stories.

I love those stories. However, at this point sticking close to canon requires something a little different. We know that Luke and Lorelai's middle wasn't what a lot of people expected or wanted, even if it made them happy. They didn't want marriage or babies in the same way that they had before, but they did want a life together, and they were happy once they got that life.

This story is about how they were able to get there.

Few enterprises seemed to be designed with a specific target in mind quite as much as Facebook was for Lorelai Gilmore.

It caught her a little by surprise. Sure, she knew the basics of using a computer to run her business and control her finances. She could be disciplined and organized when she absolutely needed to be, and there was little use in clinging to outdated technology. Still, she had never really seen the appeal of that slightly dusty black box beyond its more practical aspects. There was a shinier and infinitely more interesting electric device in her household called the television, one that rewarded her with imaginary (well mostly imaginary: who knew about the denizens of that uniquely modern phenomenon called reality TV?) people to simultaneously obsess over and ridicule. The television didn't sit in silence and mock her with empty white space when the words pouring out from her head to the keyboard never seemed quite professional enough or when the number on the spreadsheet didn't balance out in a way that would keep her business and home afloat. It sustained her, it entertained her, and if things got a little too banal or repetitive for her tastes, there was always the DVD player.

Of course, the real life gossip maven that she prided herself on being couldn't help but be drawn in by the charms of what was essentially the modern version of the party line. Somehow she once again had another way to know everything about everyone before it happened, and she loved it. She could jeer at her high school classmates, surreptitiously stalk her middle school boyfriends, and finagle a way to spy on the increasingly sullen teenage girl who resided in the bedroom down the hall from her.

She had also begun to see the appeal of slowly assembling a bloody fake gangland empire in her down time. Who knew those marathon sessions of the The Godfather would end up paying off in something resembling an accomplishment?

After all, she was too old to pretend to kill zombies or jack cars. She had to find a way to amuse herself somehow.

Luke's barely contained exasperation at this latest hobby took on the much same form as it did for all of her pop culture obsessions, which meant that he begrudgingly tolerated it and made it part of his own routine. They shared a home now, and their life had become one of cozy, amiable domesticity. He cooked dinner in the newly expanded kitchen (a man needed space for his expanded oven and mysterious cooking utensils, after all), they settled down in the living room to eat and talk about their days, and the early evenings often concluded with him curled up next to her to watch some TV show or movie he pretended to understand. That routine had been adjusted a bit to allow Lorelai to embark on a not-so-clandestine gossip/spy mission on her laptop while he did paperwork or watched a game, but not much else has changed in their daily lives.

It wasn't a glamorous life, but it was the one they wanted. They'd fought hard for it.

Which is why the notification in the corner of her screen caught her off guard.

Christopher.

Was asking to be included in your (barely) ex wife's daily updates really part of post breakup etiquette these days?

It hadn't escaped Lorelai that her Facebook obsession wasn't at all unusual for a certain type of woman her age looking to relive past connections and romances. However, that kind of person certainly wasn't her. She didn't know why Christopher thought it was her. Hadn't they lived out that particular fantasy to devastating effect a year ago?

It wasn't like Christopher didn't know that she was permanently settled with Luke. Both she and Rory had told him so themselves. And if he somehow felt that the situation had changed, the fact that her profile picture was of them together could leave no doubt in his mind.

She didn't talk to him anymore. He knew exactly why she didn't talk to him anymore.

Part of her considered that the request might be innocent. Conversing with people you used to know behind the safety of a computer screen often made it easier to let things go. She'd been happy to add to her feed the boy who humiliated and dumped her on her thirteenth birthday or the classmates who had made fun of her as a pregnant teenager. She had let the maids who had been once rude to her toddler daughter get a pass, and she had even added the overprotective mom who once chided her for not thinking of her only child and life's pride as a mistake. Maybe she just did it to mock and spy on those people, but she also felt like a bigger person for being able to let such ancient slights go. After all, it wasn't as if she would be spending a lot of time with those people outside of her computer screen.

Of course, she knew by bitter experience that sometimes what had always seemed innocent could turn out to be the one thing that could almost destroy your happiness for good.

Chapter Text

Getting back together with Luke seemed like nothing so much as the fulfillment of an impossible dream.

In the weeks and months beforehand, Lorelai hadn't wanted to admit to herself how much she had wanted it. The past year had been filled with one stupid, hasty decision after another: the ultimatum, the disastrous night after the ultimatum, the decision to jump into a relationship that required her to navigate the gilded circles of a world that she'd spent most of her life escaping. Somehow she hadn't noticed how utterly wrong all of it was before she plunged into what now seemed like the world's most ill-advised marriage. She'd been pretending for so much of that time: pretending that her relationship wasn't worth saving, that she was okay with breaking Luke's heart, that she could walk away from not only him, but all of the good things that had nurtured her for so long and not regret it. She had convinced herself that she could act like she was half of the kind of stable couple who had raised an Ivy League educated daughter together when she knew perfectly well that she had spent most of her life doing it with the help of everyone else but the person beside her. She pretended that she was content to be married to someone who she had always known would never really be there for her just because he had wanted to say yes. It felt so good to stop pretending that she'd almost forgotten how much her own life had gotten away from her, how she had become a person she didn't even recognize anymore.

It wasn't until she finally achieved the goal that had been so important to her – actually getting married – that she realized how out of control things had gotten, and how small and insignificant that milestone was when compared to the rest of her life. She had been so much more before she embarked upon her brief tenure as a wife – a competent business owner who had built her dream out of scratch, an unflagging guide and cornerstone for her daughter, the tolerant yet slight wary confidante for her daughter's friends. She had been a best friend, a neighbor, a tentpole for the bustle and craziness that defined Stars Hollow. It wasn't until she began embracing those parts of her life again that she realized how much of a mistake it was to bring someone who didn't understand those things into the fold and call him her life partner.

It wasn't his world and it never would be. It wasn't until she mistakenly thought he could be a part of it that she realized how futile it had been to strive for this illusory dream of marriage. For so long, she had clung to it and sacrificed almost everything for it, determined that she would achieve it with anyone who was willing to play the part. It wasn't until it was completely over that she had to admit she was at a loss for why she had wanted it so much in the first place.

There was still a certain hollowness in getting back to the person she had been before her life became a sea of emotional turmoil and broken relationships. Lorelai hadn't been able to identify it at first because the other parts came back to her so easily, even before she had been able to admit the truth about her recent life decisions. She could try to make peace with her mother and half-heartedly win her approval. She could be a good example for her daughter again. She could participate in town events and know that this had always been her home and that she had been foolish to try to imagine that she could be happy with any other sort of life.

However, it wasn't until she met Luke at Lane's baby shower that she admitted to herself how big of a part of that old life he had been, and how it never seemed right without him. She'd spent a long time accepting his implied edict that he didn't want anything else from her than for her to accept his stony silence as his customer. She couldn't even commit to that because she knew they had hurt each other too much for either of them to bear it. As with all bitter break-ups, one half of the couple gets to keep the friends, and she let him keep Stars Hollow as long as she could. Lorelai still felt incredibly guilty for her part in what had gone wrong and had been careful not to force the kind of uncomfortable encounter that would cause him more pain than she already had. She felt that all the rage and hurt and loss she felt at being excluded from his life had been somehow expunged due to her actions: she still ached for he hadn't been ready to give her, but she no longer felt resentful about the person who caused it.

Even after everything that had happened between them, she still wanted to give him some of the happiness that he had lost. She wanted to help him retain the family he had chosen. Even if he hadn't chosen her, he still deserved good things. He still deserved to be happy.

In her more hopeful moments, she wondered if she could find a way to be one of those good things again.

Maybe things had changed. Maybe they had both changed enough to let each other in this time.

It was one thing for them to admit that they were sorry for had badly things had broken down between them. She knew nothing else would be possible beyond that point. It felt good to admit her part in it and know he had accepted it. It possibly meant more to her to know that than it felt to hear the same from him. She had known at some level that they'd both been fumbling their way through something neither of them knew how to deal with and they hadn't noticed how out of control it was until it was too late. She knew that he had probably figured that out far before she did, but she'd already enmeshed herself too deep into another bad decision to start over at that point. When it came to forgiving him, she still felt that sting in her gut that reminded her of all the loneliness and sadness that she felt.

But she also knew that she did right away.

It didn't heal anything. It didn't cover up that gaping black hole that existed inside of her. But it was a start.

Coming into the diner was another start. And being friends again? It finally felt like the best part of the old her was back, the part that everyone else saw but him because she had been so afraid to get near him. It reminded her of what her life had been, in the eight years before she was his girlfriend, his lover, the person he was supposed to be with for the rest of his life. Before she had known what it was like to feel so tightly clenched in another person's life that she felt like her heart wouldn't exist without knowing him in that way.

The trouble was that the before wasn't enough. She knew then that she missed him, the whole him, the way it felt to have her heart full. She didn't know if there was a way back to each other, if the forgiveness and the friendship and her usual place at that coffee table was enough to bring them back to each other.

She didn't know if he felt enough of those things that she did to want to try again.

But that's what life was, wasn't it? You took the good parts of your life and cherished them for what they were found a way to find joy again. She'd learned that as the outcast in a home where her every breath seemed like it was never quite good enough. She learned that as a teenager raising her daughter in a potting shed, desperately trying to put enough money to keep her and Rory afloat, grateful for the fact that even if things were rough, her daughter would grow up knowing she was cherished and accepted. Even now, after all she'd accomplished on her own, she could deal with the fact that Luke never fully forgave her, that he'd never be willing to let her in.

It felt a little better to tell herself that it was better off this way. That if Luke couldn't come to her, then she wasn't willing to come to him. If he couldn't find the words to say what he wanted from her, then maybe he didn't really feel the way that she did. Maybe this distance, this hole, was a permanent part of her now. She still had Luke as a friend. She had the before. Sure, she was soon losing her little girl to the real world and would have to face this new stage of her life more alone than she wanted to be, but life had to move on. If it wouldn't be the same as it was before, maybe that was just another consequence of her actions that she had to live with.

The thing she hadn't counted on what that she had underestimated Luke all along. He would willingly sacrifice anything for her. She'd forgotten that. It was exactly the type of thing he would do. He would make some ridiculously elaborate gesture just to give her daughter this final send-off into the world and think of no credit for himself.

That was him. That was Luke.

He had never relied on something so flimsy and so easily faked as words.

This was how he showed her he loved her.

The resulting kiss told her everything she needed to know.

The words came soon afterwards.

I missed you. I love you.

She couldn't believe she had ever wanted to hear them from anyone else.

Chapter Text

So things began for them again, much as they had upon their last painful breakup and reconciliation. There seemed to be an implied understanding between them that they couldn't start over from scratch and date again – they'd long since gone beyond that – but that things also couldn't quite go back to the way they were before, either. Lorelai knew that they both wanted to do something more than merely try again. They had to find a way to heal all the hurt and the pain that they'd caused each other and somehow make this link between them finally become permanent.

She hadn't a clue on how to do it, but she knew that she wanted it. And this time she knew that Luke wanted it just as much as she did.

Luke had told her that he regretted pushing her away, and that things were going to be different. Lorelai in turn told him that she was sorry that she'd let things get so out of control, and that going to Christopher had been a grievous mistake. There was no mention of marriage or moving in together. Lorelai knew that discussion would come in time but it was all too soon at this point. They needed to just exist for a while, and trust that it was enough to patch over the old scars for now.

They settled into a kind of buoyant bliss for a bit. Lorelai felt ecstatic and guilty all at once. How could she not have known how much easier it was to manage things with him around? How could she not have known how much she had missed him? It was like the last mostly miserable year didn't exist.

She wondered if there was some sort of limit on how much make-up sex you could have. They seemed to be passing it quite often.

Lorelai knew they couldn't stay ensconced in this cozy little bubble forever, but she wanted to prolong it as long as she could. Too much else was changing. She had known for the last few years that it would soon be time to send her daughter out into the big, scary world by herself, but she still hadn't quite felt ready once she knew it was happening. It didn't even seem to matter that Rory technically hadn't lived at home in years, that she was old enough to drink beer with her in karaoke bars and set up house with her own boyfriend. This was her girl, the baby she'd carried with her from the darkened corner of a house that was too big for either of them to exist in to a dusty potting shed to a home of their own, who she'd sheltered through midnight feedings and homemade dresses to scabbed knees and first boyfriends. She'd struggled with her through poverty and prep school and college as she tried to grow up herself along the way. All of that was in the past now.

Rory was out on her own, and Lorelai didn't know when she'd see her next, or for how long. She was crisscrossing the country, often too busy for more than a rushed cell phone conversation or an e-mail every other day. Lorelai felt proud but also melancholy that Rory's childhood finally seemed to be over. Rory was no longer a half hour drive away: the years of spontaneous move marathons and late-night consoling sessions were probably gone for good. Her visits home would likely become more rushed and infrequent, and the partnership that had sustained them would never be quite the same again.

Luke was proving to be a very welcome and needed distraction and solace.

So Lorelai went to Friday Night Dinner by herself, and tried to find a plausible reason for why she had such a giddy grin on her face. Everything was still too new to broach this subject with her parents, and even though they no longer seemed to judge her for her personal decisions like they once did, she wasn't going to let them have the chance to tarnish her newfound happiness. They left for a sojourn to Italy after two weeks, and Lorelai breathed a sigh of relief. She could keep that bubble wrapped around her and Luke for a little while longer.

Besides, after all of this time apart the last thing she wanted to do was share him with anybody else. She wanted this stretch of long lunches and lazy Sunday mornings and sweat-soaked nights to last as long as possible: eventually they'd have to face the tougher stuff, but not yet. She knew from the way that Luke clutched her to him at night and let their lunches linger just a bit too long that he felt the same, and was delighted when he suggested that she come along with him on the boat trip that he had planned for himself and April. They needed some time away from the constant din of the town's gossip mill that was currently proving to be much more of an annoyance than an encouragement. She knew that their friends meant well, but there were too many intrusive questions and expectations from everyone around them, and she was a little afraid it would become a threat to the fragile peace that they had begun to establish.

It wasn't until they were out on the water that Lorelai realized that a very inopportune anniversary – or unanniversary – was about to take place.


 

June 3.

It didn't hurt like it used to.

Last year, Lorelai had felt like she was a bundle of nerves struggling to make it through the day and put one foot in front of the other. That black hole created by their separation had seemed particularly cumbersome that week. She hadn't yet begun to look to Christopher as the saving grace that would replace everything that she had lost when she walked away. At that point, she was simply trying to get from day to day and avoid any action that would necessitate accidentally bumping into Luke. It was a far lonelier existence than she had anticipated.

She had been buying her groceries twenty minutes outside of town, careful to avoid both Doose's and the grocery store where she had her last fateful encounter with him, the one where he had essentially told her that their entire friendship and relationship was a mistake that hadn't been built to last. It had devastated her, but she knew then that he was more hurt than angry, and she didn't want to make it worse. She had been ordering in every night and getting her coffee either at home or at the Dragonfly: she knew eventually she'd have to start going back to Weston's every day, but she wasn't quite ready for that.

Still, as with all things Stars Hollow, the latest quirky town festival had drawn her curiosity, and she was finding it more and more difficult to convince herself to stay away from the festivities. That week the town saw fit to celebrate peaches – never mind that the fruit didn't grow anywhere near Connecticut – and the stragglers and sightseers who were showing up at the inn actually seemed intrigued. Lorelai found herself increasingly frustrated by having to talk up the merits of an event that she wouldn't let herself attend. It couldn't hurt to actually let some genuine observation fulfill her professional obligations, would it?

So on the morning of June 3rd Lorelai had trotted out with her thermos full of unfulfilling home-brewed coffee in hand and sat down to quietly watch the festival come together from a distance. She quickly shut down thoughts of what it would have been like to celebrate her wedding reception in the middle of a sea of orange streamers and gigantic anthropomorphic peach balloons, and instead simply tried to focus on the spectacle that was being assembled in front of her. A gigantic farmer's market was being set up next to what appeared to be a neon slushy cart, and Taylor and Jackson could already be seen bickering next to the picnic tables just beyond them.

It was at that moment that Luke appeared with April in tow.

Lorelai felt like she had been pitched headfirst into that crater that existed inside of her.

She knew that she should leave. She didn't belong there. She had made a promise to herself that she would stay away from these types of things, especially if she knew Luke was going to be involved. She should go back to work and take care of her responsibilities. Better yet, she should call in sick to work and spend the day gorging herself on ice cream and watching old movies with Rory. What had she been thinking in the first place, going on as usual on what should have been her wedding day? But she stayed rooted to her spot, unable to move, watching what took place in front of her in a daze.

Luke and April continued to circle around the boxes of peaches as April occasionally poked and prodded at the produce. She could hear Luke chuckling as the strains of April's animated conversation wafted through the air - something about cross fertilization and the different between regular and white flesh peaches. She watched as Luke picked up the pieces of fruit that April handed to him and stacked them inside a crate that Jackson passed to him.

He wasn't wearing the blue baseball cap that she had given him so long ago, a small token of gratitude for his friendship and loyalty when the specter of mortality came her way entirely too soon. He hadn't taken it off of his head for six years, not even when he was married to another woman. In its place was a black hat that already looked horribly ugly and ill-fitting to her even from a few hundred feet away.

I'm supposed to getting  married  to him today. That's supposed to be  my  family. Instead he's there and I'm alone and he's actually wearing a hat of relationship mourning.

Lorelai felt herself start to panic, and wondered if her feet would remember how to work soon.

Patty and Gypsy came up to Luke then and Lorelai could see him begin to shift and shuffle his feet as he worked to suppress a rant. She could hear something about peach cobbler, and felt her stomach start to rumble.

April looked up at Luke then, and she could see him start to nod.

The Rory face. There's an  April  face now.

It hit her in the gut then. She could do nothing but blankly look on as Luke walked back over the town square and disappeared with April into the diner.

None of this was available to her anymore. These town festivals, her friends, the undeniably delicious peach cobbler that Luke was making right that second.

She stumbled home completely unaware of anything else around her and called in to work feigning illness, though she could tell that Sookie didn't buy it. She had planned to hole up in her room and absorb herself in the lives of people with far better relationship outcomes with herself (who cared that they were all dead by now?) but Rory had convinced her that spending the day shopping and snacking in Hartford was a far more productive use of her time. It wasn't until Rory had gone to sleep and that Lorelai was lying on her own bed staring at the ceiling that she let herself think about what she had witnessed this morning.

It had been a perfectly normal, commonplace occurrence: another insane town festival, a normal interaction between a loving father and a daughter who knew his weaknesses. Lorelai had witnessed similar scenes between Luke and Rory for many, many years now. Rory wasn't his blood daughter or even his stepdaughter (and the angry voice inside Lorelai's head reminded her she never would get a chance to be that now) but Lorelai knew he had loved her just as much as if she was. She had known all along that he would love April the same way, even though she hadn't been allowed to see any of it take place.

That wasn't what had pained her so much about watching them. It was that she could sense that Luke was happy, and that she would forever be excluded from what made him happy right now.

At least one of us got to be happy, right?

Lorelai knew that she had chosen this. She had left Luke. She had slept with the one person he hated and feared most in the world. Everything that had happened was a result of her decisions, and she didn't want to take anything else away from him. She wouldn't threaten any happiness that he might otherwise have by forcing her presence on him.

That meant no more festivals. No more town meetings. She'd have to continue ordering in and shopping outside of town. She supposed she could eventually make her way to Weston's and to Al's Pancake World, but they had always been inferior alternatives to the pancakes and burgers that had made up the bulk of her diet as long as she had known the diner existed.

She could never step foot inside of there again.

Seeing him with April had solidified something for her. She didn't resent him anymore for choosing her. She had wanted it to be her walking with them into the diner, but he hadn't wanted that. She had ended things in the worst way possible, and ended up hurting him far more than she had ever intended. And as a result of that, she not only had to give up Luke, but she also had to give up so many of the things that had defined her life for the past two decades.

Would Stars Hollow even feel like home without those things?

Lorelai kept telling herself that that sacrifice was worth it. She had hurt him too much. She had gone way too far. But if he didn't want a life with her, she had to find it with someone else.

The fierier part of her conscience tried to remind her that if only she had tried to explain things differently, if she had tried to suggest some sort of compromise, if she had done anything other than insisting that they get married right that instant, if she hadn't run away and done the one thing that Luke could never forgive . . .

But she wouldn't let herself think about that.

It's right. It's right. I did the right thing.

She repeated that to herself until she collapsed into oblivion.


 

Lorelai felt differently about it now. Or at least she thought she felt differently. She'd put so much faith into marriage being her salvation, only to find that it crumbled like a mirage as soon as she actually got a chance to experience it. She knew now more than anything that it hadn't solved anything in her life. It had done the opposite of ensuring her happiness.

She sensed Luke being cautious around her on the day leading up that night: he had sailed down to a secluded spot and parked anchor that night, far enough away from anyone else to be able to see them but close enough to see the harbor lights from afar.

He'd cooked for her as usual: salmon he'd caught earlier, a salad she half-heartedly picked at, wine, a chocolate mousse he had picked up in town while she was sleeping earlier that day. She felt nothing but pure gratitude as she sat beside him in her cutoffs and tank top, twirling the necklace he'd given her the night of their reconciliation around her fingers. It felt good to be away from any expectation of what their relationship might mean, any label or obligation that might bring this bliss to a screeching halt. They needed just to be.

Later on, as her limbs got sleepy with alcohol and contentment, Luke carried her off to bed and made love to her tenderly and reverently, his stubble scratching her neck, her breasts, her thighs. He'd held her to him afterwards as he usually did, twirling her hair in his fingers, gazing at her with sated blue eyes as the moonlight danced on their bare skin.

June 3 was going to be fabulous this year.


 

Lorelai woke early the next morning, her sleep interrupted by the sunlight streaming in through the windows. At home, this sudden incursion of day would be something she'd struggle against, but out here it actually seemed something worth embracing. The blankets were still warm next to her and she could hear Luke walking around outside. Lorelai smiled and got up to fix herself her first intake of caffeine. She toddled outside to join him, gripping a steaming mug of coffee as she emerged from the cabin

Luke smiled at her and looked over his shoulder as she lazily sprawled on the bench just behind him, brushing her hair away from her face. He reeled in his fishing line and sat next to her.

"Morning."

Lorelai leaned over for a kiss, feeling the warmth spread through her skin. "Nothing biting right now?"

"Nah. Maybe we can sail out a little further this afternoon. I think they've caught on to me by this point."

Lorelai placed her hand on Luke's knee. "Sounds good." Luke reached around to toy with her hair, and she breathed a sigh of contentment. She felt Luke's fingers fiddle with the hair on the back of her neck, and looked over at the horizon.

She felt the gulls squeal at them overhead, and unwittingly broadcast her thoughts.

"Today would have been our anniversary."

She felt Luke's fingers briefly pause at the back of her neck.

"That's what last night was all about, right?"

Luke removed his hand, and Lorelai felt briefly chastened.

"I wanted to –" Luke looked at her directly, and shrugged. "I wanted to do something special. I just wanted it to be like if it was. The way we would have celebrated it. If nothing had happened."

Lorelai reached for his hand. 'You didn't have to, you know."

Luke squeezed her hand. "I did."

Lorelai sighed. 'It's not like it was going to be before, you know."

Luke nodded. 'I know. But while we're out here, just you and me, I wanted it to be as close as we could get it."

Lorelai smiled. "I think it was. I appreciate it. I do."

Luke gazed at her with pure adulation, and Lorelai felt a rush of love flow through her veins.

"Good."

She giggled and took a sip of coffee. Coffee, sunshine, and her man. Was there anything better? Could there possibly be anything better?

"So how do you want to celebrate our actual un-anniversary?"

Luke raised an eyebrow. "I have a few ideas."

"How about I sunbathe while you watch, and we'll see where it goes from there?" Lorelai suggested.

"Sounds like a plan."

Chapter Text

This update took a little longer than I intended. I got waylaid by life and I unexpectedly started another series (go and read The Grandparents if you want to hear my take on post AYITL Luke and Lorelai). I still have a lot of things planned for this series, and probably should have the next update posted in a few days.

Eventually, Luke and Lorelai's grand coastal adventure came to an end.

Lorelai knew that her mere desire for this sort of respite would have seemed utterly out of character to the person she was even a few years ago. Lorelai Gilmore doesn't do the outdoors. She likes her air conditioning and her TV shows and her hometown gossip quite close at hand, thank you very much. It hadn't been so long ago that she had banished Luke to his woodsy element, mistakenly thinking that he would be more comfortable indulging in his pre-relationship solitary habits than spending time with her – at least every now and then.

It wasn't until afterwards that she realized her mistake, as Luke snuggled up next to her on the sofa in the home that were making their own. Most of the time I'd rather be with you than by myself, he'd confessed. Lorelai had felt her heart melt as she'd realized how wrong she'd been about the situation. Sometimes even her selfless moments had ended up being all about her.

From that point on, she made more of an effort to be involved in his world instead of the other way around. Luke had known ahead of time she would balk at actually sleeping on the ground, so their version of camping usually involved retiring to his family's rustic yet not completely antiquated cabin, where the notion of electricity, indoor heating (via fireplace) and a working plumbing system hadn't completely been jettisoned. She could make do with a DVD player and Luke's company, and he always cooked from scratch for her. The fishing lessons hadn't gone completely as planned (she was fine with catching the fish, but they quickly found out that she would get sick if she was anywhere near him when he cleaned them) but as Lorelai adapted to this part of his routines she could actually see it being incorporated into their married life, and she liked it very much. She was settling down with a man's man who loved fishing, flannel, and baseball and it felt good to be included in what made him Luke. She loved their life in Stars Hollow, but she was looking forward to spending occasional weekends at the cabin spaced between the glut of movie marathons and hometown shenanigans that made up the bulk of their time together.

That all changed when April came along, and Luke kicked her out of that part of his life. He still spent time with her, but it came to seem like more and more of a struggle, and only April was invited to the cabin from that point forth. She hadn't been allowed to come along.

These days alone together had finally seemed to begin to patch over some of the hurt that had been caused from him excluding her, and to find a space where both of them could start to share what had they had kept apart from each other before. Lorelai still couldn't tolerate being anywhere near fish guts, but she sat beside Luke while he caught the fish and occasionally threw a line herself. He watched movies with her and cooked for both of them, and every two or three days they would dock the boat and make their way into town for some shopping, showering, and meals cooked by someone else, usually retiring to a motel or inn where the bedroom amenities would be put to very good use.

Luke time and Lorelai time was becoming Luke and Lorelai time, and she could see their life together start to take shape again.

However, the real world soon beckoned, and the two and a half weeks they'd intended to spend on this trip had been reduced to thirteen days. One of Sookie's assistant chefs had quit and she wasn't up to pulling in the slack due to her advanced pregnancy. Lorelai thought of begging off for the rest of the week, not wanting to cut her time with Luke short, but at the time she noticed that he was dodging calls from home, too. One of his remaining waiters had been called out of town for a family emergency, and with Zach on tour and Lane on maternity leave, that left way too much work for Cesar to handle by himself. The fact that Lane had called Lorelai with baby emergencies when she couldn't reach her mom three days in a row convinced both of them that they were better off coming back to Stars Hollow as soon as possible.

So they came home, and resumed their routine. Work, movies, dinner dates, the occasional town festival, bed. Rory called and texted a few times a week, and she and Luke shared a moment of pure pride when Rory's first article as a real reporter popped up on the website she was working for. Somehow the fact that her daughter was finally embarking on the life she had dreamed of for so many years was starting to easing the shock of their separation. Lorelai still had her life in Stars Hollow, and she had Luke to share it with now. This new phase of her life hadn't been what she had expected, but she was starting to actually revel in it now that it was here.

She and Luke started spending more and more time with Lane, who was not adjusting well to (temporary) single motherhood. What had seemed manageable when she had a partner around to shoulder some of the burden of caring for two demanding infants had quickly become borderline unfathomable once he was gone. Brian had acquired a girlfriend and an additional day job and was available to Lane less and less. Mrs. Kim still came over every day, but she had a business to run and church obligations to attend to and couldn't be there for every single crisis. Lorelai often dropped in on Lane during her lunch hour and she and Luke usually made their way over to the house in the evenings if he wasn't stuck at work, giving her the chance to shower and briefly eat in peace without being diverted by the boys.

Which is how Lorelai came to a shocking realization about Luke: he was actually comfortable around babies now.

"I've spent a lot of time with Doula," Luke told her. "Liz had a tendency to drop her at the diner or at my place and take off." He shrugged and transferred the baby he was holding to his other side. "Besides, I said I would drop in and help out and I didn't do that too much for the first couple of weeks. It's better that I make up for it now."

Lorelai hadn't seen much of Liz or T.J. since she and Luke had reconciled. She knew that they had spent some time visiting Jess in Philadelphia (Luke dryly remarked that since Jess maintained residence in the hipster enclave where he worked, his baby sister was no doubt being exposed to some interesting habits) and had then ventured to visit some Renaissance Fair friends in Rhode Island. She wondered how often Liz would end up foisting Doula on them once she was back in town for good.

Lane would often end up looking slightly less bleary-eyed and miserable after about an hour, and she and Luke would retreat either back to her house or to his apartment. She had stopped calling for emergency advice quite so often, but Lorelai was very concerned about her. It had been over two decades, but she remembered how hard it had been to be young and alone and dealing with so much newfound responsibility. Lane wasn't much older than she had been, and she was taking care of two babies almost entirely by herself.

She hoped that things would calm down a little for Lane once Zach came home.

Chapter Text

Okay, so I'm back already! I've had this chapter written for a while. It's probably the last of the schmoopy part of this story, as certain subjects are going to have to be discussed very soon. I want to finish the rest of those chapters before I start to post them (and I also want to work a little more on The Grandparents) so the earliest I'll be able to update is probably going to be next week.

So enjoy my awkward attempts at sexytime. Any feedback is always welcome.

It was slowly starting to dawn on Lorelai that there were some things about Luke that were very different than they had been before.

She got the first inkling of that about a week after they got back, when she sauntered up the diner steps with half a banana nut pie in hand, planning to curl up next to her man and watch some late night TV.

Luke's furtive attempts to shield his half of the phone call he was engaged in caught her a little off balance.

He saw on his side of the bed, nervously thumbing the blankets between his thumb and forefinger with one hand while holding the phone with the other. Lorelai settled beside him, quietly moving the spare pie crumbs around on the plate while she tried not to listen in.

Luke finally hung up the phone and carefully plugged it back in the charger. He groaned and settled down on the pillow next to Lorelai.

Lorelai gingerly took a bite of the pie. Late night snatches of these sort of divine confections was definitely one of the things that she had missed most about their bedroom routine. She glanced at Luke, who still seemed to be a bit on edge, and decided to plunge forth.

"So who was that on the phone, Luke?"

"Well, you know –" Luke ran his hand over the back of his neck.

Lorelai looked down at her plate. "April."

"Yeah," Luke admitted.

"Did you not want her to know I was here?" Lorelai asked, feeling a slight twinge of fear settle itself in her gut.

"No, I –"

"Luke."

"It's pretty hectic there at camp," he started to explain. "I usually don't catch her at night, but I call her at dinnertime and I can't hear over the screaming kids in the cafeteria and if she calls me around lunchtime I usually have to hang up the phone because Kirk's somehow managed to break the third plate in as many days –"

Lorelai took another bite of pie. "You're being evasive."

"I don't want to bring things up that might bother her."

"Bother her? Luke, you've already said she knew that we were back together. I mean, does she have a problem with it? Because she seemed pretty friendly the last time I saw her. Overtly affectionate, in fact. Kind of weird, all things considered."

"It's not that," he insisted.

"Then what is it?"

" I just didn't want to –" Luke cleared his throat. "I've never talked to her, you know, with you and me –"

Lorelai felt her stomach start to unclench itself. She smiled.

"Oh, do you mean you've never held a phone conversation with your daughter next to a half-naked woman in your bed before?"

Luke shot her a sheepish look.

"Luke, I totally get that. Why didn't you just say so in the first place?"

"I don't know." Luke replied. "This is new for me. I mean, I want to get used to it. Pretty soon she's going to be going to bed in the same house with us down the hall and it'll be something we're used to. I just didn't want to spring the details on her yet."

Lorelai grinned at him. "Luke, she's fourteen. I'm pretty sure she's aware of you know, the details."

"I'm not entirely sorry I missed having to explain that part." He shrugged. 'Well, all of that part. There have been some discussions."

Lorelai bowed her head. "Some discussions, huh?"

"Yeah."

"Look at you, diving into the hard stuff." Lorelai shoved another bite of pie into her mouth. "Oh, hon, there is no limit to the kind of stuff that a teenage girl is going to throw at you."

"I think I've done okay so far."

"I think you have, too," Lorelai agreed. Not that I have any firsthand knowledge of it, she reminded herself, and inwardly cringed.

She turned to him, determined to chase that thought out of head.

"So, Luke. You and me and her in the same house. Pretty soon, huh?"

"Lorelai, I didn't mean –" He paused. "When you're ready."

"When I'm ready?"

"When we're ready," he corrected himself.

Lorelai felt a wave of warmth and relief start to curl around her insides. "I like hearing talk like that from you."

Luke reached over and laid his hand on her knee. "Get used to it."

Lorelai smiled. Wow, things really have changed, she mused. She cleared her throat.

"So what do you plan on doing with her when she comes back here in a few weeks? You said that she had about two weeks before she has to get back to New Mexico."

"I thought we'd go out on the boat," Luke suggested.

Lorelai grimaced. "You and April? For two entire weeks?" She knew it was selfish, but her first thought wasn't even waiting to get to know April, but how much she would miss him. This is beyond ridiculous, she chastised herself.

"Not just me and her," Luke clarified. "The three of us. Together. I thought it would be nice for us to you know, bond. We really haven't done that yet."

Lorelai felt her eyes start to mist over.

"It's going to be different this time, Lorelai," Luke continued. "We can't start completely over, but – I want things to be the way they should have been in the beginning."

Lorelai didn't think it was possible to feel as downright giddy as she did in that moment.

Could it have been this easy all along?

She shook her head and slowly came back to reality.

"Two entire weeks is a bit of a stretch, though, Luke," Lorelai reasoned. "I know neither one of us can take that much time off again. We can balance it, A little with us, a little you with her. I know you've missed her."

She gulped down one of the last bites of pie as she tried not to think of everything that she was missing right now. She hadn't heard from Rory for three days.

"Hey," Luke said softly.

Lorelai turned to gaze at him.

Luke brushed a tendril of hair away from her face. "Rory will back home before you know it," he whispered.

"I know," Lorelai replied as she resolved to calm herself. "My daughter's out there in the big, beautiful world just like she planned. I'm very glad."

Luke seemed unconvinced.

"I'm fine, Luke. Really," she assured him.

Luke smiled. "Good."

Lorelai shifted in the bed, moving the few remaining pie crumbs around on the plate. Luke's earlier mention of details had brought some unbidden thoughts to the forefront of her mind.

It was stupid to ask him, right? Why did she want to know anyway? No good could come of this.

"So, uhh, Luke?"

"Hmm?

"This situation you were trying to avoid sharing the details of with April. Was there you know –" Lorelai paused. feeling slightly ashamed for needing to know. " -a point in the time that we were apart that it happened with anyone else?"

"Lorelai –"

She shook her head. "It's okay. I probably shouldn't have asked. Considering everything. I just – I want to know. It's dumb of me, but I do."

The silence hung thinly in the air.

"Lorelai, I haven't."

Lorelai didn't know if she was more shocked or relieved to hear it. You've got no right, the angry little voice in her head snarled at her. She ignored it.

"Not anyone, Luke?"

"I went on a date with April's swim coach back in the fall," Luke shyly admitted. "It was stupid. I actually pretended I couldn't swim, signed up for an adult swim class to try to snag a date."

Lorelai was tickled. "Luke Danes. the incorrigible flirt. Who knew."

"That part probably wasn't necessary. Turned out she leeched onto all the swim dads."

"Oh, man."

"She dragged me to a vegan restaurant," Luke continued. "Made me sit on the same side of the table. And rambled on and on about her ex. Another swim dad. I hate dating."

Lorelai wondered to herself if newly openly affectionate Luke could ever be quite as sexy as ranting Luke.

Good thing she had them both.

"So anyway, I kind of gave up after that," Luke explained. "I had April and that was enough. Well, it seemed like enough." He turned to look at her. "Didn't turn out to be."

Affectionate Luke definitely had the edge tonight.

Lorelai giggled. "So it's only been you and me in this bed, then?"

"I let April sleep here when she gets sick." Luke replied. "But other than that - yeah."

He shifted closer to her, running his hand up and down her thigh.

Lorelai felt some of that familiar heat start to spread through her veins.

"You were always good at some parts of that dating thing," she breathily reminded him.

He nuzzled her neck, continuing to inch his hand further up her leg.

"Like that."

He felt him growl as his stubble tickled her neck, causing her remaining self control to begin to unravel.

"Put the pie down, Lorelai."

The plate clattered on the side table as Luke tumbled her down to the mattress.

Chapter Text

And now we get to the rough stuff.

I've had this chapter half-written for a long time because this is the part of the story I needed to tell first. It will be painful for a while, but it will get better.

However, before we get to that part, Luke is going to be less than chivalrous. There's some stuff he needed to say, some stuff that he didn't get to say in the show. It's stuff that I needed to say, too, and hopefully it makes sense to whoever is reading this.

So um, enjoy? I'll probably have a follow-up chapter in the next few days.

It was a particularly unbearable day in July when it all came crashing down.

The air conditioning had broken that morning at the Dragonfly, and Lorelai had spent the better part of her day scrounging up replacement fans to pacify their remaining guests. For the first time in a long time, she was worried about the effect that it might have on sustaining her business. The 4th of July (and the concurrent Stars Hollow festivities) fell in the middle of the week this year, but the turnout had been light for the weekend beforehand, even though the Dragonfly and most of the town were already decorated in exuberant glory for the celebration ahead. She couldn't afford to lose more business at this point.

Luckily, the air conditioning had been repaired quickly (and at the agreed upon price) by early afternoon, and Lorelai could finally stop fretting. Sookie had gone home early, worried about her ability to manage to manage working in the stifling heat while seven and a half months pregnant. She offered to come back for the dinner shift, but it really wasn't necessary with the lightened workload, and Michel seemed content to find innumerable other reasons to complain incessantly while running the front desk. Lorelai holed herself up in her office with paperwork and tried to convince herself that this part of her life would work itself out over the next couple of weeks.

The funny thing was that as harried and overworked as she had been in the year leading up to opening the Dragonfly that it had seemed easier once the inn was actually open for business. She had been doing this job for a very long time now, on a much larger scale, and she was good at it. The increased responsibility of knowing that it was all hers had actually seemed to make things run more smoothly. For a long time, she had needed it. Over the past three years, it often seemed to be the only thing in her life that didn't change. She had lost Rory, which had been horrible, but she still had Luke and Stars Hollow and the inn, which filled in the gaps in her life until Rory made her way back to her. Then lost Luke, and had exiled herself from her community while she tried to make sense of the black hole that become her life, but the inn had still been there. For a long time, she had tried to patch over that black hole and invited someone down there who didn't belong, thinking that she could get used to it and that it could become something that she wanted. It hadn't worked, and she had found that out the hard way. What had made struggling through it and getting back to her old life possible often was the fact that she woke up each morning and went to the same place and put out the same fires, large and small, day after day. Now that everything was back to normal, she didn't want to have to deal with losing this, too.

But it was always something that wasn't going according to plan, wasn't it?

Lorelai told herself she was overreacting and headed for home.


The hole seemed to open up a little more when Lorelai heard the familiar voice on the answering machine.

She heard Luke rumbling around several feet behind her as he chopped up onions and peppers and heated up chicken on the stovetop. Fajitas were one of the few successful ways he had to get her to eat halfway healthy food and not complain. He seemed fully absorbed in his cooking and didn't seem aware of much else.

Still, Lorelai retreated to Rory's room to check up on her via text, and was delighted to receive an actual phone call back from her daughter. She tried to follow along as Rory excitedly chatted about deadlines and soup kitchens and primaries and her lack of sleep, clearly on an extended caffeine high. She was clearly ecstatic, and Lorelai felt a little sorry that she was missing most of it.

Luke called her into the kitchen then, and dinner proceeded as usual. She even ate a few vegetables to humor him (provided they were doused with extra sour cream). Luke harangued her about not getting a second opinion on the air conditioning, while she chided him for not returning her call in time for him to come inspect it himself. She cleaned up while Luke took Paul Anka outside to relieve himself, and settled on the sofa for their usual nightly routine of wine and mindless TV consumption.

It wasn't until Luke sat down beside her with his own glass of wine that things really started to come apart.

"That was Christopher on the phone earlier, wasn't it?" he asked quietly.

Lorelai gulped and attempted to pause the remote control. I haven't actually turned the TV on yet, though, have I? she tried to remind herself. She felt it drop from her hand to the floor.

Luke reached down to pick up the remote control and calmly placed it on the coffee table.

"I heard the message when I was in the kitchen," Luke said evenly. He placed his wine glass down on the table next to Lorelai's. "I saw you erase it. You went into the other room to text Rory, didn't you?"

Lorelai closed her eyes. The hole had completely opened back up. She wasn't even looking for it, and it had returned to swallow her entirely.

She picked up her glass of wine and gingerly took a sip, trying to calm her nerves.

"I wasn't trying to hide it from you," Lorelai maintained. She turned to look at Luke, and saw him grimace, his jaw set in a rigid line. She felt her stomach drop.

"Do you still talk to him?" Luke asked.

Lorelai set her glass back down on the table. "I haven't heard from him since Rory graduated," she replied.

"Why was he calling tonight?"

"I think he was just checking in," Lorelai insisted.

Luke ran his fingers over his stubble. "Hmm."

"I don't want you to talk to him." His voice was quiet, steady, but not yet angry.

"Luke -"

"This isn't a demand, Lorelai. I'm not trying to force you into anything. It's not an ultimatum." Luke practically spit out the last word, and Lorelai shuddered. "I'm not telling you what to do. I'm just telling you what I want and what I'm comfortable with. And I'm not comfortable with you continuing to talk to him."

Lorelai reached out for her glass of wine and gulped down another mouthful. Clearly she needed it to prepare for what was next.

"It's not that easy, Luke," Lorelai argued. "I can't just cut him off like that. We have Rory. We'll always have Rory. I have to keep the lines of communication open."

Luke guffawed bitterly. "You have to keep the lines open, huh?"

"Y-yes," Lorelai replied tremulously.

"Were you just keeping the lines open when you spent all night drinking with him when we were together and then lying about it? Were you keeping them open when you asked him to be your date for Lane's wedding when we were engaged? Were you just keeping them open when you went -" Luke stopped himself. "I know I don't have to finish that sentence."

"Please don't," Lorelai said in a small voice.

"It comes back to him," Luke ranted. "It always comes back to him. You didn't even think about those things, Lorelai. You just did them. Like it was second nature to you. You didn't even think about me."

"It's not like that," Lorelai insisted. "No, I shouldn't have spent all night drinking with him and then hiding it. I know that was wrong. But nothing happened. You knew about him taking me to the wedding while you were out of town. I told you about it when you came back home and you were fine with it! Because nothing happened then either -"

"Please stop it when the nothing happened spiel," Luke retorted. "We both know things didn't stay that way between you and him. And if I hadn't been so stupid at the time I wouldn't have been fine with it. I should have known what was going on."

He shot her an angry glare, and Lorelai was transported back to that horrible day a year ago when he was standing next to her in the street, bragging about punching Christopher in the face and pretending that he didn't care about what had happened.

I expected this from him back then and I didn't get itI deserved it more than anything and I didn't get it, Lorelai thought. Why does it have to come rearing back on us now?

"Luke, it's not like that anymore. I took our relationship as far as it could go. It wasn't enough. It was never going to be enough. Anything between him and me is just about Rory at this point."

Luke sighed and leaned back against the sofa. "I don't know if I can believe that."

"I thought you'd understand this at this point," Lorelai tearily argued. "Luke, you're raising a child with someone you used to be in a relationship with. You should know I can't just refuse to talk to him anymore."

Luke shook his head. "It's not the same."

"How is it not the same?"

"Because Rory is an adult now, and she doesn't need you like she did," Luke replied. "Because I didn't look at or touch or even think about Anna for thirteen years after we broke up. And even if I knew about April from the beginning, I wouldn't have wanted to do those things. I didn't run to her two minutes after begging you to marry me. I would never have done to you what you did to me."

Lorelai looked down at her hands, and felt her anger start to surface and take over her guilt.

"Maybe not, Luke, but don't act like you're clean in this. You've got your own special way of hurting me."

She turned to look him in the eye, remembering everything he had put her through. It wasn't just me that destroyed the two of us, she thought. It was never just me.

"You kept your own kid a secret from me while I was making wedding plans, and then I was forbidden from meeting her. For months! You let everyone else be around her but me. Do you think that stuff doesn't still matter? That it doesn't hurt? I would never have pushed you away like that, Luke. Never."

They stared blankly at each other, suddenly aware that they had become what they once were: two stubborn combatants, neither of them willing to let go of their hurt.

Luke sighed. "I thought this was going to be easier. I thought that we were over all of this."

"Me too," Lorelai replied wearily.

"I trusted you with him, Lorelai. I trusted you. I know I was a jerk earlier. I know this little incident with the answering machine happened before. I was wrong back then. But I got over it. I thought you could talk to him and take care of Rory and that it wouldn't be a threat to you and me. But that isn't the way it worked out."

Lorelai could hear the devastation creep back into his voice, and it nearly ripped her heart in two. That pain never went away, did it? She thought. It didn't for me. How could I expect that it did for him?

"Luke, I can't change what happened. You don't know how much I wish I did, but I can't. I can't change that Christopher is Rory's father. What you're expecting, what you're wanting - I don't know if it's possible."

Luke rubbed his hands together and let his gaze meet Lorelai's. He looked almost as worn down as she felt that she was.

"I just want you to be faithful," he said.

Lorelai felt like she had been pitched into that black hole headfirst. It had swallowed her whole, she had clawed her way out of it, and then she'd been pushed back in.

She fought to find her voice.

"Luke, are you saying you want to end things between us if I keep talking to him?"

Luke shook his head forcefully. "No, Lorelai. No. I'm not saying that. I'm definitely not saying that. But I think we need - I think we need to clear the air. We've gone long enough without talking about it."

Lorelai sniffled. "Can we get a little less sober first?"

Luke groaned. "That's definitely not a good idea. Let's get some water."

He hauled himself off of the sofa and collected their wine glasses. Lorelai nervously wrung her hands as he disappeared into the kitchen and returned with two large glasses of water. He placed them next to each other on the coffee table and turned to face her.

"I'll go first."

Chapter Text

So this is the big one, guys.

Back when I started putting this story together months ago, this was one of the first things I wrote. More than anything else in this story, this is the chapter I needed to write, and it's a little crueler and harsher than what other people have taken away from the situation.

It's my interpretation, and not anybody else's, but it's what I needed to say. I know a lot of people won't really agree with it, but it had to be put out there before anything else can happen in this story.

One last thing I want to say here is that I know Luke is being not entirely reasonable about the situation as I've written it so far. He's angry and he's hurting and as much as he wants things to work, there's a lot of things he never really dealt with. So if he acts like a jerk, there are reasons for that: there's going to be a way out of it, but it maybe be a little rough getting there.

That said, um, enjoy? And thanks to everyone who's read and commented so far.

"Why did you go to him?" Luke asked.

His voice was quiet, almost quavering. Lorelai's heart felt like it was sinking in upon itself.

"Why, Lorelai? Why?" His eyes bored into hers. The pain in them was almost too much for Lorelai to bear. She turned her head.

"Do we have to start there? The absolute worst part?" She forced herself to look at him again, and she saw the same look of despair and betrayal that she'd seen when she first told him the news. "Please, Luke. Please."

"It's the only place to start."

Lorelai gulped, and took a swig of water out of her glass. "Okay."

"It started after April's birthday party. You told me you didn't want me there, that you were afraid that April would like me better." Lorelai stopped, reliving his abject cruelty briefly, and then continued. "Then you called because you needed me, and it turned out great. I let myself believe things were actually going to be okay."

"I was a jerk," Luke replied. "Things were so much better once you showed up. I don't know why I was so afraid of that."

Lorelai shuffled her hands in her lap. "Yeah."

"Then you came home and told me that Anna didn't want me around April. Everything I'd hoped for, everything that I thought would make things better, it was all gone." Lorelai practically spit the words out, and Luke cringed. "If you wouldn't even let me see her on your own, I knew you'd never budge if Anna was against it, too. You and her had your own thing with her and I wasn't allowed to be a part of it."

"I was so afraid of her, Lorelai. I was terrified." Luke shook his head. "It's no excuse. One wrong move and she'd -" He lifted his glass to his lips. "Anyway."

"Once you told me that, I had to go see her. I knew I couldn't change your mind, but maybe I could change hers." Lorelai looked down at her hands. "She said that she couldn't let April be around someone who wasn't going to stick around, and that until we were actually married, there was no guarantee that I wouldn't be gone the next day." Lorelai closed her eyes, willing the tears not to come spilling forth. "She was right, Luke. She was so right. Any possible in I had to work things out just disappeared when she said that. You'd never let me be a part of it on your own, and I knew we couldn't get married until that came first."

"She wasn't right," Luke insisted. Lorelai turned her head to meet his gaze. "We could have talked about it, found some way to figure things out with her." He folded his hands over each other. "You didn't give me that chance. You just disappeared. The next time I saw you, you were screaming at me in the middle of the street about purple wallpaper, insisting that we get married right then or else. What the hell happened to get you to that point?"

"You wouldn't have listened," Lorelai quietly argued. "You already said you didn't want me around her. You already said it couldn't happen because it would upset Anna. What use was it pleading my case again? You already made it clear that you didn't want it."

"You could have tried, Lorelai," Luke maintained. "There's no way to know I'd say no to working something out with her unless you asked. You didn't ask. You just went away. It's like you gave up."

Lorelai rubbed her finger over the inseam of her pants. "Maybe I did, Luke." She shrugged. "I met my mom the next day. Her eyes had been damaged during surgery and she needed me to drive her around." She tucked a strand of stray hair behind her ear. "She wanted to buy a house for us. We were in the real estate office and I told her it was -" She stopped and bit her lip. "That the wedding wasn't going to happen. I couldn't see any way to get around what Anna had said."

"You could have talked to me," Luke insisted again. "I know I was an idiot about all of this, but we didn't have to let Anna have the final word. We could have tried to work something out."

"Luke, I know that now, but I wasn't thinking straight at the time. I just couldn't see any way around it. I'm just trying to explain myself, I guess."

Luke nodded, giving her space to continue. Lorelai took another sip of water.

"I went to dinner at my parents. Christopher was there. My parents were trying to set him up with a therapist. Eventually she and I got to talking. Talking about you. I told her how miserable I was, how I was tired of waiting for this life that we planned for that you didn't seem to want anymore. I told her that I wanted to move on and get married. That I loved you, but I was afraid to push you, because then it would be over."

Luke remained quiet.

"Then she said -" Lorelai's voice broke, but she willed herself to go on. "She said I needed to think about what I wanted. That I'd never get what I wanted unless I asked for it. And if I asked for it and didn't get it, that it wasn't meant to be in the first place."

Luke looked up, stunned. "She - what?"

Lorelai paused. She hadn't been expecting this reaction.

"This woman - she didn't know you, right? You'd never seen her before?"

"No," Lorelai admitted.

"Have you seen her since then?"

Lorelai sighed. "No."

Luke rose up off of the sofa and began pacing. "So, this woman who you've never met before, who is not your therapist, who didn't know anything about me or you, tells you that unless you get exactly what you want from our next conversation, that we're resigned to the dung heap of never meant to be? Is that even ethical? Or legal? Aren't therapists supposed to help you talk about your problems instead of encouraging you to give up on them?"

Lorelai looked up at him. "I don't know, Luke. I don't know."

"What kind of therapist prattles on about things being meant to be, anyway?" Luke asked.

"I don't know," Lorelai said again.

"I mean, why didn't she ask you to meet her at her office or something? Wouldn't that have been the professional thing to do?"

"I don't know the answer to those questions, Luke!" Lorelai cried.

"You let this woman resign our relationship to a battle of wills. Like it was a contest between us to see who would win," Luke retorted bitterly. "Did she tell you to go to me that night and insist that we get married right away? Did she tell you to go sleep with Christopher if I didn't give you the answer you wanted? That I deserved to be punished if I didn't pass this test?"

"No," Lorelai insisted. "Maybe it wasn't the right advice, Luke, but I was melting down anyway. She just kind of pushed me in that direction." She closed her eyes. "I shouldn't have taken things so literally. I think she just wanted me to think about what I wanted for a day or two and then sat down to talk to you about it."

Luke sat down on the sofa and turned to face her. "I wanted to do that, Lorelai. I had been looking for you for days. I was worried about you. I wanted to talk things out."

Lorelai buried her head in her hands. "I know. I know."

"I couldn't run off and get married right then," Luke explained. "Things were still so unsettled with Anna. I didn't know what she would do. I thought if we did go off and get married that she'd cut me off, that she'd think that someone who would do that on a whim couldn't be trusted with her daughter. And where would April stay? Where would she sleep? We never even talked about that. I kept thinking of those things."

Lorelai opened her eyes and looked up. "But Luke, those things are temporary. I know I should have thought it out first, but I was giving you a final chance to save our relationship and you still wouldn't budge. Those small things shouldn't have mattered more than losing me." She quit fighting it and finally let the tears flow. "It didn't matter to you a day later, so why did it matter then? Why did you let it stop you from coming after me?"

Luke gave her a minute to calm down before he answered. "I didn't think either of us was in a state to make any rash decisions right then. I thought I'd give you a little time and then we could talk about it." He ran his fingers through his hair. "I didn't think you'd go to him right afterwards."

Lorelai took a deep breath and looked away.

"We were together for two years, Lorelai. Two years." Luke's voice finally broke, and Lorelai felt her heart start to get squeezed into a vise. She didn't think she'd ever heard Luke cry before. At least not because of me, she thought. "I know I screwed up on a lot of things, but we were going to live together. We were going to get married."

Lorelai turned her head to look at him, and immediately regretted it when she saw the tears swimming in his eyes. She had never seen him like this.

"You picked me up from jail after I found out Nicole cheated on me," Luke continued. "You knew how much it tore me up. You told me that I didn't deserve it. And then two years later, you do the same thing. You insist that you love me and then you climb into his bed five minutes later. You knew how much I hated him. You knew how much it would hurt me. Were you trying to do that, Lorelai? Did you do it on purpose?"

"I'm sorry," Lorelai sobbed. "Luke, I'm sorry. You don't know how much I regret that night. I've wished so many times I could take it back."

The silence hung thickly in the air between them. Lorelai wished that she were capable of some sort of witty comeback or remark that would shatter it, some sort of inane reference to House or Lost or even that insane TV show with the lie detector that would take them back to a time before this whole wretched conversation.

Right now, those things seemed to belong to a different universe.

"I know you're sorry, Lorelai," Luke said softly. "But I still want you to answer the question."

Something cold and hard snapped within her then. It was a familiar feeling, and Lorelai knew that familiar feeling was what had gotten her into this situation in the first place, but her brain couldn't seem to get to her mouth in time -

"Yes!" Lorelai answered sharply. "I did it on purpose. Does it make you feel better to know that?"

The moment the words escaped from her mouth, she regretted them.

Luke wiped his eyes. "No."

He looked downright despondent, and Lorelai felt the guilt start to wash over her, wave after wave after wave –

She shook it off, and began the seemingly futile process of trying to explain herself to him.

"I thought I'd lost you, Luke. I gave you a final chance to fight for me, and you said no. You didn't need me anymore. You didn't want me. All I could think about was me and my pain. I wanted to punish you for pushing me away. I wanted you to hurt like I did."

Luke remained quiet.

"I woke up the next morning and I knew how badly I'd fucked up. I was still – I hadn't changed my mind about wanting to move on if you didn't want to get married. But I knew going to him had been the absolute worst thing I could do. I knew how much it would devastate you, and I knew then how horribly, horribly wrong I had been."

Lorelai forced herself to look Luke in the eye. He still stayed quiet, as if the mere act of breathing in and out was all that he could manage right now.

"I never wanted you to find out this way, Luke. I never even wanted you to know. I had to tell you because you wanted me back and the only way I could get you to give up was to tell you the truth. But it was one of the most horrible moments of my life."

Luke still remained quiet.

Lorelai started to panic.

Luke reached for his glass of water and took a long swallow. He carefully placed it back on the table.

"I knew," he said in a small voice. "As soon as you told me, I knew."

He cleared his throat.

"I don't know if it changes things to hear it from you," Luke continued. He looked off into the distance. 'I'm thinking it probably doesn't."

"Would it have made a difference if it had been an accident?" Lorelai asked quietly.

"No," Luke responded. He sighed sadly and turned to look at her, the weariness in his blue gaze reflecting hers. "I think you know that, too."

"The thing about all of this, Lorelai –"Luke paused, and Lorelai shifted uneasily. "I didn't want to give up. When you walked away, it wasn't final for me. I just wanted to give you some time. I thought both of us needed that. But I'm not sure it even matters that much at this point. If what we had meant so little that you could do that -"

"That wasn't it at all," Lorelai insisted. "I didn't go to him because I loved him or even lusted after him. I was so torn up over you that I let myself do the most damaging thing possible. I was out of my mind, Luke. I wasn't thinking straight." She stared at her hands. "I used Christopher. I put my daughter in a horrible position. And the next morning, I knew." She turned to look at him. "If I had known what it would be like to have to look at you when I told you, I never would have done it. I wasn't thinking about what it would feel like to see that look in your eyes."

Luke bit his lip and nodded.

"I just wanted to stay out of your way afterwards. I thought seeing you be angry would make me feel better. But it wasn't like that. All I could think of was how you looked at me like that." Lorelai stared up at the ceiling. "And then you weren't even angry anymore. You just said the entire thing between us was a mistake. That you were just the person who poured me coffee. Like it was nothing, the whole thing between us was nothing." She sniffled. "And I kept thinking how stupid it was, that I was mad at you for not hating me more, when I was the one who set out to make you hurt, and I got angry when I couldn't hurt you like you hurt me." Lorelai looked at him. "But then I thought about it and I knew that wasn't even right. I'd given you every reason to regret getting involved with me. I couldn't really blame you if you didn't want to ever be around me again."

Luke was silent once more.

"Luke, please say something," Lorelai pleaded. "Tell me I was wrong about all that. Please."

Luke sighed. "You weren't wrong. Liz and TJ - they let me believe it had been a mistake. They kept going on and on about how we never could really work things out and it was just easier to convince myself that. Just knowing you had done that, Lorelai -" He shook his head. "It's like none of that between us mattered to you. And I had to think that you were right. I couldn't keep fighting it. I knew I'd never be good enough for you. Not good enough to stop you from running to him."

"But Luke," Lorelai argued. "The past two years, the engagement, the house - how could you think I didn't want you? I only gave up because you didn't want those things with me anymore."

Luke nodded. "That part's my fault. But it didn't stop you from running to him when things went wrong."

"Luke, I didn't want him like that," Lorelai insisted. "I know it doesn't sound right after I went out and married him, but I didn't. I used him. He shouldn't have let me, but I knew he wouldn't turn me down." She stopped, and made herself carry on. "Part of me really wants to tell you that it was all his fault, that I let him manipulate me, or to blame it all on the therapist, or to tell you I really believed that none of it mattered in the same way because I thought we were broken up. But none of that is true, Luke. No one is responsible for my actions but me."

She forced herself once again to look him in the eye.

"Christopher was weak, and selfish, and he wanted me. I knew I could count on him for that." She shook her head. "Believe me, at this point, I know that's the only thing I can count on him for."

"It wasn't all your fault, though," Luke replied. "He should have said no. If he had any real respect for you, he would have said no. I'll always hate him for not doing that, Lorelai."

Lorelai looked at him sadly. "Not like you hate me. though, right?"

"I don't hate you."

Lorelai felt the tears come forth again. "But you did."

"Lorelai, I -" Luke paused. "I was angry. I couldn't stay angry. I had April. I couldn't let her see me like that. I had to move on. I had to pull it together for her." He shook his head. "I couldn't be around you, though. You're right about that part."

"You didn't even seem sad, Luke," Lorelai whispered. "It's like you had all these people to replace me, and you were happier that way." She sniffled. "I know I've got no right to resent you for that. I was stuck in my own little corner, and you got to keep our old life."

"You found other ways to occupy your time," Luke replied.

Lorelai was the one that remained quiet this time. Part of her wanted to snap back at him, but she couldn't muster the energy right now, and he didn't deserve it anyway.

"I wasn't -" Luke began. "Believe me, happy is not the right word. I was dealing. I just couldn't really think about it for a long time."

"That's what worries me now, Luke", Lorelai replied. "You put all this aside and it isn't until now that you're really dealing with it. It's like you never processed it. I don't know how it's going to be possible for us to move on if you haven't dealt with it." She pulled on her shirt sleeve. "And maybe you don't really want to. Maybe you can't let it go."

Luke reached out and put his hand on her leg. It was the first physical contact he'd initiated since they started fighting, and Lorelai let herself feel a glimmer of hope. "I want to."

"Luke -"

"I do," he interjected. "And I have thought about it. Every time I saw you with him, I couldn't stop thinking about it. And I know it wasn't just you. I let things get bad." He rubbed her leg almost affectionately. "I was wrong, what I said to you that day after you told me. What happened between us was never a mistake, and I shouldn't have let myself believe that for so long. I want things to be better. I want things to be good between us again."

Lorelai smiled.

"I just -" Luke grimaced. "I just have to know you won't go running to him if things get bad again. I have to trust that you won't do what you did before. That you won't use him to get back at me."

"Luke, I married and divorced him," Lorelai countered. "And I know that hurts you, too. But I only did those things because I couldn't have them with you, and I really wanted them with you. He was always my second choice." She sighed. "A really, really crappy second choice, as it turned out."

Luke rubbed his hand over his eyes. "I don't know what to do with all of that, either, Lorelai."

"I know," Lorelai replied.

"I'm trying," Luke told her. "I am. I just don't – I don't know how to fix all of this. I really don't." He put his hand down and gazed at her again. "Maybe knowing the truth about it all will help."

"I still don't think I can completely stop talking to him, though," Lorelai said. "I know I put us in this position, Luke, but there's only so much I can control."

"I'm not sure I even –" Luke paused. "I just need to know some limits exist between you and him, Lorelai. I don't think that's too much to ask. I don't know how that would work, but it's got to be –" He sighed. "It's got to be different than it was when we were together before."

Lorelai nodded. "I know that, too," she said softly.

"We hurt each other a lot tonight," Luke replied. "I started it, I – " He turned to gaze at her again. "I'm sorry."

"You didn't start it," Lorelai replied wearily.

Luke reached for her hand, "Yeah, I did," he responded.

Lorelai felt ridiculously grateful for him, in a way she knew she'd never be able to come close to expressing out loud.

"I'm exhausted, Luke," she whispered.

"Me too."

She looked at him hesitantly. "Are you staying tonight?"

"Do you not want me to?" he asked softly.

"I want you here, Luke." She smiled at him, hoping that despite all the harsh truths shared between them tonight, he would know half as much as she did how much she meant those words.

"Then I'm staying."

Chapter Text

Lorelai was slightly amazed that she and Luke ended that night in the exact same way that they had almost every night for the past month.

Luke went back to the kitchen to rinse out their half-empty glasses and place them in the dishwasher while she took Paul Anka out for his last trip for the night. They shuffled around in the bathroom like they usually did as they prepared for bed. Lorelai adroitly removed her makeup while Luke brushed his teeth. Neither of them went out of their way to either avoid or seek out the other.

It was as if the emotional bloodletting between them tonight had virtually no impact on their domestic routine. Could this be part of their new normal? This same debilitating argument, night after night, repeating the pain they had caused each other on a continuous loop?

Fortunately, Lorelai felt too wrung out to even begin contemplating that right now.

Luke reached out to kiss her and turned out the light, crawling into bed next to her as he usually did and curling up around her side. Lorelai felt part of her should protest this but what exactly was there to protest? She had wanted him to stay and he had. She settled down next to him and prepared to succumb to a fitful sleep.

It didn't happen.

She kept repeating the words he had spoken to her in her mind over and over.

I don't want you to talk to him.

I would never have done to you what you did to me.

I wanted to talk things out.

Every time I saw you with him, I couldn't stop thinking about it.

I couldn't be around you.

So much for not contemplating it.

She tried to remain quiet as Luke shuffled in his sleep, flipping over from his side to his back as he lightly snored. She was jealous that he'd been able to snatch a tiny bit of that oblivion that had eluded her overburdened brain. She had expected that being this emotionally spent would be able to drain her mind of all this negative energy and finally let her rest, but it really wasn't happening tonight. Those same awful thoughts kept running through her mind, over and over, and she couldn't seem to make it stop.

It all kept coming back to the same thing. Had she been wrong to come back to him in the first place? Had she made things worse for him by making him relive all of these terrible things tonight? Was there even a way to make him stop reliving them?

Even if the conversation hadn't been her idea in the first place, she had known for the past couple of weeks that it was coming. It had to come eventually and she had always known that. She just hadn't expected it to hurt this much for both of them. It wasn't until tonight that she had begun to ponder how much he had been trying to overlook all of the pain that he still apparently carried around with him.

Luke had his own black hole, and maybe he was doing the same form of pretending that she had done in the past year without him. Maybe being with her was his own way of patching over it, and she was only making it wider by forcing their relationship on him. She had been incredibly happy for these past few weeks, but had it really been the same for him? Had all of this hurt been at the forefront of his mind all along, torturing him as they resumed the old patterns of their life together?

Maybe he never really forgave her after all. Maybe it wasn't possible for him.

Lorelai choked back a sob. Then another one. Then another.

Luke jolted awake at that, and Lorelai could feel him shift to turn on the lamp on the bedside table.

She turned away from him, desperately trying to keep her emotions in check. "Luke, go back to sleep."

"Lorelai, no."

Lorelai could feel his arms around her, stroking her midsection, his hand reaching around to brush her hair away from her face.

"Lorelai, don't do this. Please."

She turned over to see him looking down at her, his eyes shining full of love and concern in the dim light.

"I don't like seeing you like this."

Lorelai felt like screaming and laughing at the same time, half guilty and half incredulous that he was comforting her in the midst of all of this.

"I don't like seeing you like you were tonight", she told him.

"It was a lot," Luke replied. "I'm not – I'm not good at this stuff sometimes." He laughed bitterly, and ran his hand along her bare arm. "Well, most of the time."

Lorelai sighed. "I've never seen you like that, Luke." She shifted in his arms, and he reluctantly loosened his hold on her as she sat up. "I just don't like thinking – that I'm responsible for making you feel all of that. That you've been remembering it that way while we've been together. That I've made things worse for you by being around, maybe."

"Oh, Lorelai. It hasn't been like that." He reached out for her hand, and Lorelai took it. She looked back at him, slightly relieved to see his returning gaze was soft and almost hopeful.

"But it has, a little bit, at least," she said softly. "I know it has, Luke." She pulled out of his grip completely, and leaned against the pillows. "I know that I hurt you. I didn't know how badly you were still hurting."

"It isn't like you're thinking," Luke protested. "I'm not saying I don't think about it, because I do. But it hasn't exactly been a constant thing, either."

"But Luke, all of those things you said tonight –" Lorelai gazed back at him. "You're still feeling all of this in a way I thought you didn't anymore. And I don't know what to do about it, or how to get beyond it."

Luke remained quiet.

Lorelai sniffled. "Luke, you said you forgave me." She closed her eyes, fighting to keep the tears from coming to the surface again. "Well, you didn't exactly say that. You said it was okay, though." She opened her eyes and turned her head to look at him. "Did you not mean it?"

"Lorelai -"

"You're still so hurt. You're still so angry." Lorelai wiped her nose. "If I knew that you still felt that way, I wouldn't have started to come into the diner again. I wouldn't have tried to be your friend again. I didn't want to make it any harder on you then I already had." She closed her eyes. "I knew all along how bad it was for you. I know you don't believe me, but I did."

Luke reached out for her hand again. "I did mean it, Lorelai. I did."

"I don't know how much I believe that, Luke. You still don't trust me." Lorelai wiped her eyes with her other hand. "I don't know what I can say to make you understand how sorry I am. Everything you said about how much it hurt you is ripping me apart, Luke. And the worst part is that I don't even blame you for it. I don't know why I thought it would be easier."

Luke rubbed his thumb over her palm and threaded his fingers through hers. "Do you remember when April got sick with appendicitis and you came to the hospital?"

Lorelai shut her eyes, remembering the look on Luke's face when he realized she had married someone else. She knew they hadn't even begun to penetrate the depth of the pain he'd been through in the past year. "Yes."

Luke brushed her hair back from her forehead with his other hand. Lorelai opened her eyes and forced herself to look at him. "The moment you showed up in that emergency room, I knew that I forgave you. The fact that you came there after everything that happened with April - it made me believe that we could be friends, that we could start talking again. I wanted that more than anything. It wasn't until I saw your ring that I knew it wasn't going to happen that way. I wouldn't have kept going to you for help if I couldn't let go of it at least a little."

"That's the thing, Luke. Even after everything with April that drove us apart, I still forgave you. I know April's your daughter, that we're going to have to deal with her without me getting scared you're going to keep me away from her." Lorelai bit her lip and half considered reeling herself in. "And that hurt me, too, Luke. Maybe not the same way this hurt you, and maybe you don't understand that, but it did. And I still trust you not to do the wrong thing again."

Luke sighed. "I don't know how to explain it. Maybe it's not fair. Even me forgiving you, it doesn't mean that everything that happened just goes away. I wish that it did. I wish that it was as easy for me as it was for you."

"It hasn't been easy for me, Luke. Not at all." Lorelai choked back another sob. "But I wanted to be with you again more than I wanted to let that keep hurting me."

Luke ran his thumb over her fingers, and remained quiet. Lorelai could see him struggling to come up with some kind of answer, and felt a paralyzing stab of guilt that he didn't appear capable of it.

"I'm trying," was all he could manage to say.

Lorelai nodded. She knew the truth of it, even if it if was all he could give her right now.

"I want to be with you just as much. Maybe it doesn't seem like it after tonight - but I do."

Lorelai squeezed his hand. "I know."

Luke leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead, running his stray hand through her hair. Lorelai felt herself start to soften.

She cuddled against him for the remainder of the night, letting the silence wear away the lingering bitterness bit by bit.


Lorelai woke to a note propped against his pillow the next morning.

Lorelai -

I'm sorry.

I am trying.

Come by the diner for breakfast?

- Luke.

She hauled herself up off of the pillows and prepared for the day ahead.


By some small stroke of luck, the diner was starting to empty out by the time Lorelai strolled up to the counter an hour later.

She halfway wondered if her possible business woes were starting to bleed over to Luke's, and chided herself for being so self-deprecating. This constant martyrdom isn't me, she reminded herself.

Luke strolled out of the kitchen, loaded down with plates full of breakfast food.

"You're here," he said, in a voice half full of wonder and surprise.

"I'm always here," Lorelai replied.

"Hold that thought," Luke responded, as he strolled around the diner to wait on his customers.

"I almost didn't think you'd come today," Luke admitted as he poured her coffee.

"Well, I did," Lorelai replied as she took a sip of coffee and looked at him quizzically. He seemed to be radiating a kind of nervous energy that seemed a bit foreign to her, almost as if he were working overtime to assure her things were okay.

"Bacon and pancakes?" he asked her.

Lorelai shook her head, and stood up to take a doughnut from the pastry bin. "Business has been a little slow lately. I'm going to go in a little early and see what I can do to move stuff around."

"I'm sure they'll all be back for –" Luke motioned to the outside of the diner, where Taylor was assembling what appeared to be a disorganized group of teenage band members, decked out in Fourth of July attire. And Kirk.

Lorelai nodded. "I hope so." She took a bite of her doughnut.

"Look, Lorelai –" Luke began.

Lorelai looked up.

"I hated seeing you like that last night. I hate that you thought for even a moment that things were better off without you and me together because I can't get over what happened in the past. I don't want things to be like that, Lorelai. I don't."

"Me, neither," Lorelai agreed. "I just – I don't know how to fix it, Luke."

"I overreacted with the voice mail," Luke admitted. "I need some – well, a compromise, I guess. But I hate that I made you so upset."

Lorelai finished off the last bite of her doughnut. "I understand that part," she conceded. "But that's hardly the first time I've been that upset over you."

"I hate that, too," Luke said softly.

"I want that compromise between us, Luke," Lorelai replied. "But I think before we get there -" she sighed. "We need to talk about April."

Luke nodded. "Tonight," he promised.

Lorelai smiled, wondering if telling her side of it would help them climb out of this relentless cycle of angst. "Tonight," she agreed.

She leaned forward to kiss him good bye and retreated to work, hoping that the rest of her day would proceed a little less emotionally.

Chapter Text

The Dragonfly's restaurant seemed slightly busier than usual that morning, much to Lorelai's astonishment. She had checked the guest register when she first came in, relieved to see that no other guests had canceled and that they had actually picked up some new reservations for the holiday celebrations in a few days. She had asked around and found that Weston's was running some sort of special on Fourth of July themed pastries and that Jackson had been raving about his wife's equally delicious watermelon chia seed muffins in there this morning. That mostly accounted for the increase in their business, as well as providing the reason why the diner wasn't as busy this morning as it usually was. Lorelai briefly wondered if the universe was aligning a little bit in her favor after all. The last thing she had needed this morning was for the town to get more involved in her relationship than they already were.

Lorelai strolled into the kitchen for a coffee refill and found Sookie plopped on a stool behind the counter, dramatically fanning herself. "I'm not making those muffins anymore," she proclaimed.

"We need it, Sookie," Lorelai reminded her as she reached for one of her taller coffee cups. Last night's lack of sleep was beginning to catch up with her.

"Maybe we can scale back," Sookie muttered. 'Like do watermelon sorbet, or something, or maybe Luke can make one of those watermelon pies and chase some of the locals out of here, since we're getting some of the holiday guests in a few days –"

"Yeah, sure," Lorelai replied distractedly.

"Are you okay, sweetie?" Sookie asked.

Lorelai sighed as she took a sip of coffee. "I guess." She paused. "Luke and I sort of got into it last night." She looked up. "Over Christopher."

"Oh, boy."

"He left me another voicemail message," Lorelai continued. "I mean, I haven't talked to Christopher in weeks – or wanted to, really. I guess it was innocent." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Luke didn't really see it that way."

"I bet," Sookie replied.

"He doesn't want me to talk to Christopher anymore," Lorelai revealed. "Well, he kind of backed off of that later on, but he did say he wanted there to be limits. I don't even know what he means by that. What kind of limits?"

Sookie shrugged. "We-el . . ."

Lorelai glared at her. "Sookie."

"There have been a lot of incidents between the two of you over the years, that's all," Sookie said. "I mean, a lot of things that were maybe a little friendlier than your typical co-parenting couple. There was my wedding –"

"You cheered that on at the time," Lorelai reminded her.

"I was trying to be supportive," Sookie replied. "And then there was Lane's wedding –"

"I didn't plan that," Lorelai contended.

"I know, sweetie," Sookie said. "I mean, just those two things, and then with you going to Christopher right after you broke up with Luke and then marrying him, I can just see, you know –"

"It's a pattern," Lorelai conceded. She picked up her cup and took another sip.

"I'm not trying to make you the bad guy here," Sookie reassured her.

"I know," Lorelai replied. 'And you warned me about how messy this could get when I started dating Christopher last year. I got myself into another bad situation, and then I made it worse. But I thought Luke was okay with it. She paused. "I don't think he ever really dealt with it, Sookie. Not the way he needed to."

Sookie bit her lip.

Lorelai looked down into her coffee cup and absently ran her fingers around the brim. "I don't know why I thought it would be easier this time. He's not going to forget. How could I expect him to forget about all of that?"

"Oh, honey."

Lorelai looked up at her friend, tears spooling out of her eyes. "I cheated on him, Sookie." She let them fall, heedless of who else was around to see her like this. "I never said it like that before, but I did. I did."

"That's not quite what happened -"

Lorelai shook her head. "It felt the same way to him. I knew that it would. Sookie, the whole time I knew -" She put her cup down on the counter. "I can't keep doing this. I can't keep saying I'm sorry over and over again, like I'm resigned to relationship purgatory or something -"

"Did Luke say he wanted to end things if you keep talking to Christopher -"

Lorelai sniffled. "No. Maybe that's the worst part. He says he's trying. I just can't stand seeing him look at me that way."

"What way?" Sookie asked.

"Like he did right after I told him I went to Christopher. Like I took whatever was left of his heart that didn't belong to April and smashed it into a million pieces. I didn't think there was much left at that point, but I was wrong. I was wrong. And then I had to destroy the rest of it." Lorelai attempted to rub her eyes, scoffing at the residue of mascara that had spread over her fingers. "One of a million stupid, callous decisions right after the other."

Sookie slid off the stool and attempted to waddle to her friend's side of the counter. Lorelai caught her right before she stumbled.

"Look at you, seven months pregnant and nearly risking your life over my relationship trauma."

"Kid'll have to get used to it," Sookie answered.

Lorelai rubbed at the edges of her eyes with a napkin. "I'm a mess."

"Yeah, you are," Sookie agreed. She rubbed Lorelai's back as Lorelai wondered how many times Sookie had caught her in this position in the past year and a half. "You do still realize that it wasn't all you, right?"

Lorelai nodded. "We're going to go another ten rounds over April tonight." She looked down and fingered the crumpled napkin. "Maybe that's a good thing. I just want to put all of this behind us. It's been so good for the past month, you know?"

Sookie smiled. "You seemed happier."

Lorelai stood up and straightened her shoulders. "I was," she admitted. A sea of memories washed over her, and she blushed. "I am."

She reached for another napkin, and began to clean up her makeup-stained hands. "The thing is that all of this started because I wouldn't speak up for myself. I let Luke make all of these decisions about April, about our engagement. I let him keep me away." She tossed the napkin in the wastebasket, and turned around to look Sookie in the eye. "I kept quiet for so long, through all this ridiculousness, that eventually it blew up in all of our faces because me being me, I had to top him. Then I let Christopher do the same damn thing."

Sookie sighed. "That's not what you said at the time, though."

Lorelai nodded as she refilled her coffee cup. "It didn't seem that way at first. I mean, I was the one convincing myself all those months that hey, it doesn't matter if it's not true love, this is technically what I want, right? It's good enough." She paused to take a sip from her cup. "Then I let him talk me into getting married. Without my daughter there. And sure enough, a few months later I'm the person sitting in my living room begging him. I'm the one telling him should be more sensitive after he gets into a fistfight with Luke. I mean who the heck is that? It's not me. And then I'm standing in this kitchen with you, having the same damn conversation about cutting one guy out to please the other and it seems like nothing's changed." Lorelai shook her head. "It's not me. It's not what I taught Rory. How did I become that person?"

Sookie reached out to still Lorelai's hand. "Back then, you said Christopher wasn't worth it no matter what. Is Luke?"

Lorelai clutched the edge of the counter. "Yes," she admitted. "Yes. He is."

"Can you kind of understand why he feels this way? Especially since he doesn't want it to be that drastic?"

Lorelai nodded. "I do. That's not even -" She sighed. "I know how much all of this devastated Luke. I just don't know how far to let him take this. Maybe it's the best thing for everyone involved. I just don't know if it's right."

"Well, maybe the ten rounds tonight will help."

Lorelai nodded. "Maybe." She stood up."Well, enough caterwauling for today. I've got to get myself cleaned up." She brushed imaginary lint off of her skirt. "Where is Michel today, anyway?"

"I think he caught on to what we were talking about and is steering clear of us," Sookie replied.

"Well, tell him he can stop avoiding me, okay? We do have a business to run."

Sookie smiled. "Will do. And Lorelai?"

"Yeah?"

"Don't be afraid to yell at him tonight."

Lorelai nodded as she walked off to find her recalcitrant desk clerk.

Chapter Text

So this story finally makes a return.

I've taken my time writing this because I really wanted to get Luke's season six issues right. The season 7 writers went into this (very) briefly, and I've found that I've not really found a lot of answers for his behavior in some of the other stories I've read, as good as they are. Why did Luke need to make his relationship with April absolutely perfect before he was ready to be with Lorelai? Why did he have cold feet in the first place? And how exactly did that go away completely by the time of the revival?

I've kind of gone out on my own in trying to explain a lot of it. So this is going to be split up into several chapters, but I thought I'd drop the first one now.

Any comments or reviews are appreciated.

The scene was almost the same as the night before.

They had polished off the leftover fajitas and the peach pie that Luke had brought home for dinner and had retreated to the living room. Paul Anka had been let out and had retired to the safety of Lorelai's bedroom immediately after returning to the house. Lorelai had changed into sweats and washed her face free of makeup, and Luke loitered on the opposite end of the sofa from her, his hat sitting on the end table next to him. Two glasses of water sat before them, next to a box of tissues Lorelai was sure would be empty by the end of the night.

Luke glanced in her direction and ran his hand through his hair, seemingly unsure of how to proceed.

Well, it had been his turn last night, and now it was hers.

Lorelai shook off the nervousness that was encroaching upon her and took a tentative sip from her glass. She shifted closer to him on the sofa and began.

"Luke, why didn't you tell me about April when you found out about her?" she asked.

"I tried, Lorelai," Luke attempted to explain. "I tried."

"When? When did you try?"

"Thanksgiving," Luke admitted. "You came and told me that Christopher was going to take responsibility for the rest of Yale, I told you that he was finally doing a good thing, but then I -" He bent his head down. "I knew I hadn't done anything for April or Anna since I found out. I went to the closet and tried to dial their number -" He shook his head. "I chickened out. I couldn't even push the buttons. I was going to tell you after that, but -" He looked up at her, pain and regret evident in his eyes. "I'm a coward."

Lorelai nodded, and Luke looked down. "Hey," she protested softly. "Were. You were a coward."

Luke took a sip of water. "That doesn't excuse it," he replied.

"No, it doesn't," Lorelai agreed. "Was that the only time, Luke?"

"No," Luke said. "I was going to tell you the day I saw you in your wedding dress. I'd finally gone to Anna, told her I wanted to be part of April's life. I was going to go home and tell you, but -" He cleared his throat. "You looked so beautiful in that dress, Lorelai. You were so happy. I didn't want to ruin it. I couldn't take that moment and ruin it for you."

Lorelai closed her eyes as she remembered those blissful few months after her daughter had finally made her way home and she had started to plan her wedding to Luke. It had all seemed too wonderful at the time to see her daughter settled and accomplished and to be on the cusp on finally getting ready to embark on her future with the man she loved. For the first time in a long time, her life had finally felt complete.

She had spent most of the past year and a half just wanting to return to that period of her life, to ensconce herself in that bubble and never get out of it.

But it hadn't been real.

None of it had been real.

Lorelai opened her eyes and focused on Luke.

"Thanksgiving," she began. "How long had you known by that point?"

"Three weeks."

"Didn't you think you should maybe share something like that with me, Luke? Three weeks. Three weeks and nothing. You don't reach out to Anna, you don't tell me, you just keep it bottled up -"

Luke guiltily met her gaze.

"You told someone. Just not me."

"Liz," Luke admitted.

Lorelai squeezed her eyes shut, willing herself not to start crying yet.

She collected herself and opened her eyes. "Did you think it was something that wouldn't affect us, Luke?" she asked.

Luke nervously ran his fingers through his hair. "I told Liz -" He paused and met Lorelai's stare. "I told her I wasn't going to do anything about it."

Lorelai was momentarily dumbfounded.

"That's not me, Lorelai," Luke continued. "I know it's not me. I feel worse about that than almost anything. I had this great kid that was out there, this kid that was mine, and I almost let her completely exist in this world without ever knowing her. I'm not that guy. I spent my entire life not being that guy. I'm the guy that cleans up after the Jimmy Marianos and the Christophers of the world. I'm the guy that takes care of their kids. And I was going to do the same thing to mine."

"Luke, it didn't have to be that way," Lorelai argued. "I know you're not that guy. I love that you're not that guy. I could have helped you. You didn't have to put either of us through this. All this guilt that you're carrying around right now wasn't necessary. I could have helped you."

Luke nodded. "I know." He took another sip of water. "I just thought - that Anna was right about me. That if I wasn't worthy of knowing that I had a daughter, that I wasn't in a position to help raise her."

Lorelai shook her head. "Anna was wrong, Luke. She was wrong. She never saw how great you were with Rory. She didn't see how much you tried to help Jess. She never even gave you a chance. She took all those years away from you. I know you would have been there for April at the beginning of she had only let you."

"Lorelai -"

"That's what I don't get about all of this, Luke," Lorelai continued. "Well, there's a lot I don't get. But Anna does this horrible thing to you and you defend her at every possible point. You let her control everything. What made you think she was right in keeping your daughter away from you? What happened with her?"

"Lorelai, me and Anna - it was a long time ago."

"I need to know," Lorelai insisted. "I deserve to know. You didn't tell me anything. All you said was that you dated for a year and you never saw her again."

Luke ran his hand through his hair again. "There's not much to tell. Rachel had left about a year before we got together. I was busy putting the diner together. I didn't really have a lot of time for her. She was supportive, but we argued a lot. She was pretty controlling." Luke shook his head. "Maybe I didn't mind as much because it was better than having a girlfriend who was always itching to leave the country."

"Patty said you were serious about her. "

Luke shrugged. "Maybe she thought that because she was always around. We broke up a few times. We'd always end up fighting about something she'd want to change about the diner, I would tell her no, and we wouldn't see each other for a few weeks. We'd always end up sleeping together and starting things up again."

Lorelai nodded, starting to assemble a picture in her mind. "So you weren't exactly together continuously."

"There were other guys in between, I guess," Luke continued. "That's why my picture wasn't the only one on that poster."

"So you weren't upset, then –"

Luke turned to look Lorelai in the eye. "No. I didn't love her. I didn't even think about her after we broke up for good. And then Rachel came back not long after that, so –" He shrugged. "I meant what I said last night. Whatever was between me and Anna went away a long, long time ago."

Lorelai smiled. "I really wasn't worried about that part of it, Luke."

He reached out and put his hand on her knee. "Good."

Lorelai took a sip of water and put her glass back on the table. "I guess I just don't understand how you could forgive her that easily, though, Luke."

"Because I had already failed," Luke replied.

"But Luke you did step up eventually," Lorelai contended. "Maybe you didn't call her right away and that was wrong but -"

"I didn't mean that, Lorelai. I was talking about Jess."

Chapter Text

Lorelai was taken aback. Jess? That was an old subject.

"You didn't fail Jess," she told him.

"I did," Luke insisted. He removed his hand from her leg and fingered the edge of the sofa.

"He was already messed up when he came to you, Luke," Lorelai argued. "I saw it. Everyone here saw it. I know how hard you tried with him."

"But I didn't, Lorelai. I didn't –" Luke folded his hands over each other. "I know this isn't going to make things better between us, but I shouldn't have sent him back to New York after he and Rory got into that car accident. I did it because you wanted me to, because it made it easier for everyone at that point, but –" He turned to look at her, regret and long-ago turmoil beginning to surface in his eyes. "I shouldn't have done it. I should have found another way to make things right."

Lorelai reached out for his hand. "I didn't make things easy for you," she said softly.

Luke sighed and placed his hand in hers, running his thumb over her fingers.

"I understand it more now, what you were going through," he replied. "I knew that Jess was fine, that he hadn't been hurt, that he was just hiding away somewhere. But when April got sick and I didn't know what was wrong with her, or how to fix it – I guess I kind of got it." He squeezed her hand. "And you were there for us, despite everything."

Lorelai smiled. "That was a big day for you."

Luke scoffed and looked away. "Yeah."

Lorelai bit her lip, starting to feel that now-familiar wave of guilt start to wash over her again. Only now she didn't feel willing to give into it.

"One thing at a time, okay, Luke?" she asked.

He nodded distractedly. "Sure."

"I shouldn't have taken everything out on you, " Lorelai told him. "Rory had never really been hurt like that before. And all this time I could see Jess heading her down this path, the same path that I had been on, and it ended up with my little girl in that emergency room." She stopped and took a breath. "I could see it in front of me, physically in front of me, and it scared me. I couldn't stop it, or protect her from it, and I blamed you because you brought him into our lives."

Luke turned his head to look at her.

"I overreacted, " Lorelai continued. "I just saw it as my perfect daughter being broken, and you were an easy scapegoat. But I get it now, Luke, especially after the past few years. Rory didn't stay that perfect little girl, and I couldn't control everything that she did. I know how hard it is when your kid is lost or confused or messing up and you don't know what to do about it, and she won't listen to you. And you weren't prepared for any of that. You were just thrown into it."

"I should have found some middle ground," Luke maintained. "I should have been able to find some way to be there for you like you were for me, and found a way to help Jess. I couldn't do either of those things."

"Luke-"

"And even after you came to me and tried to apologize, I held it against you and wouldn't talk to you. I blamed you for putting me in that position, even though I was the one that sent him away. I didn't do any of it right."

Lorelai felt really confused. All of this talking in circles – over Jess? And a car accident that really hadn't been anyone's fault. It seemed so silly, years after the fact.

"Luke, I" – Lorelai began. "I really don't think there was any right way to deal with that situation. If you hadn't sent him away, I would have been even angrier. And I know that was wrong of me. He was your responsibility, you were the one taking care of him, and looking back on it –" She took a deep breath. "What happened wasn't that big of a deal."

"We didn't talk for four months," Luke reminded her. "It was a big deal. For both of us."

"And I hate that something that small caused that," Lorelai replied. "Not talking to you led me into some really stupid decisions, and I regret all of it."

She looked down at their hands threaded together, his calluses rubbing against her palm, wondering if Luke even remembered what else had happened that summer.

"Hey," Luke said softly as she gazed up at him. "One thing at a time, right?"

So he did remember.

"Yeah," Lorelai replied. She reached out with her other hand and took another sip of water.

"There wasn't any way you could be there completely for me and Rory and Jess," Lorelai continued. "We can keep talking about it over and over and it won't change anything. There wasn't any right or wrong way for you to fix it. It's done."

"Maybe," Luke conceded. "I should have tried harder, though."

"You didn't stop trying then, Luke," Lorelai reminded him. "You took him back and you kept working at it."

"He didn't come back for me," Luke replied. "He came back for Rory. I didn't have a lot to do with it." He let go of her hand and reached out to take a sip of water.

Lorelai remained quiet, giving him space to continue.

"I tried again. But I still failed. I couldn't make him go to school. I couldn't make him pass his classes when he did go. I couldn't stop him from fighting with Dean and causing trouble around here." He shook his head. "I end up stealing his car because I didn't realize – again – how much trouble he was in because I figured he'd have to do the right thing at that point. I mean, he was eighteen years old. It's not like he wasn't old enough to find another way to pass his time or another way to get around like he always had. I mean, that was the grand solution right there?"

"Luke –"

"I end up kicking him out because I can't think of anything else to do, and he ditches this town – and Rory – to go hang out with the guy who abandoned him. I tried and tried and then I gave up on him because I couldn't think of any other way to fix things."

Luke looked down at his feet. "I should have realized things were going sour and found some other way to work it out. I should have done something else."

Lorelai sensed they were heading farther and farther away from what they were actually planning to discuss tonight. Or were they getting closer to it? She didn't know. She shifted on the sofa and reached out for his hand again. Luke wearily turned to face her, and once again threaded his finger through hers.

"Luke, I know you've been beating yourself over this for a long time. But I told you then and I'll tell you again now. It wasn't your fault. Jess was seventeen when you got ahold of him. I'm not sure there was much you could do, especially near the end. You gave him chance after chance, and he didn't want to take most of them. You did what you could."

Luke remained quiet, and Lorelai bit down some of her remaining pride and continued.

"I've never really forgiven him for the way he hurt Rory or the way he hurt you. But from what Rory's told me, he did get himself cleaned up and he's doing okay now. He published a book, he has a business, he found a place for himself away from here. And I don't even think his rap sheet is even as long as hers." She squeezed his hand. "I'm right about that, aren't I?"

Luke sighed. "You're right. I know you haven't seen him in a long time, but he's actually doing great."

Lorelai wearily smiled. "I guess I don't see what a lot of this has to do with April in the first place. Jess had already cleaned himself up by the time you found out about her. Didn't that prove that you'd done some sort of good with this parenting thing?"

"Maybe," Luke replied. "I just couldn't – well, I couldn't take the chance that I would screw up again. And it's not that I don't care about Jess, but he wasn't completely mine. April was mine, and she'd been kept away from me because Anna thought that I wasn't good enough. I had to prove to her that she was wrong so that I could keep April in my life."

"I just don't see why you had to do it by yourself, Luke," Lorelai said softly. "If anyone could have helped you out with this, it should have been me. I mean, I had raised a daughter. I know things weren't perfect by that point, but things had gotten straightened out. Yeah, Rory stole a boat and dropped out of school and sure, she lost her virginity to Dean when he was married, but –"

Lorelai inwardly flinched, but Luke's hand remained enclosed within hers. His blue gaze wasn't shocked, but knowing and understanding.

"I never told you that before," Lorelai admitted. "I probably shouldn't have."

Luke sighed. "I kind of knew."

"That double date –"

"Not then," Luke told her. "I put things together later. Back when I was trying to get the Twickham house, I ran into him in the street and he said a lot of things to me about how getting involved with you would only lead to ruin, that Stars Hollow wasn't enough for you or Rory, that you'd always want more –" He shrugged. "I've always been afraid of a lot of those things. But I began to understand why he was so bitter."

Lorelai smiled. "He got married again a few weeks ago."

"Lane showed me the announcement in the paper," Luke replied. "This one might stick. The first one – he came into the diner the night before, drunk and rambling about Rory. I let him sleep it off upstairs. I probably should have told him not to do it, but –" He ran his thumb over Lorelai's fingers. "He got married on the rebound. He was too young. I'm not surprised things ended up like they did."

Lorelai sighed. "I wish you would have told me about all of this instead of just mysteriously telling Rory she shouldn't go to the wedding."

"Would you have tried to stop it?" Luke asked.

Lorelai shrugged. "I don't know. I think they were still teenagers, playing at grown up things, and maybe I know just a little about that. At least enough to kind of warn them not to do it if they didn't have to." She let go of his hand and took a sip of water from her glass. "We probably should have talked about this at some point."

"I'm not sure it would have changed anything."

Lorelai shrugged. "Probably not." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Luke, do you –" She cringed, not wanting to ask him, but needing to. I never thought he would think these things about me, she mused to herself. But I didn't think a lot of things before last year.

"What?" Luke turned to her, his eyes warm and questioning.

Lorelai took a deep breath and steeled herself for his reaction.

"All that stuff that happened with Rory that you knew about. Dean, stealing the boat, dropping out of Yale, everything with Logan – it all happened since we were together. Did it make you not trust me anymore?"

Luke reached out for her hand again. "Lorelai, no."

Lorelai felt a slight twinge of relief.

"I know she screwed up, but she got herself together and went back to school. She graduated on time. She got a good job –"

"Lorelai, that was never it," Luke assured her. "I love Rory. You know that. I'd never think less of her because of any of that. I only ever wanted to be half as good at all of this as you were.

"Then why?" Lorelai angrily asked. "Why did you keep me away? I don't get it. Please explain it to me." She let go of his hand and gulped down some more water from her glass.

"I had to prove to myself that I could do it," Luke responded quietly. "I couldn't let you see me screw up again. You did such a great job, all by yourself, ever since you were a kid. You came to this town and started from nothing and built this great life for Rory. I wanted to do that for April. As much as I could at this point, anyway."

Lorelai placed the glass back down on the table.

"I don't know how to explain it," Luke said, avoiding her gaze. "Somehow I helped create this genius daughter, this brilliant kid who had nothing to do with me, who had been raised without me. I didn't know how to live up to that. I didn't know how to figure it out. I just wanted to be able to do it like you did it, and I felt like I had to put everything else aside until I convinced myself I was going to be good at it." He reached for his own glass of water and took a long sip.

Lorelai took a deep breath and reached for his hand again.

"Luke, do you really think I wouldn't understand all of that?" she asked.

"No, I –"

"I didn't know I was doing, either," she continued softly. "They put that baby girl in my arms when I was sixteen and I knew right away I'd never be good enough for her. I made my way here because I knew as much money and as much prestige as my parents had, it still wasn't good enough. I put us at a lot of risk to do that, and I got lucky and found this town by accident. I raised my kid in a potting shed because I knew even though we didn't have a lot of money, it was better here than where we came from. And there were a lot of times when I questioned that, especially when she was young."

"You were always good enough," Luke interjected quietly. "Everything that you gave Rory is because of you."

Lorelai felt a rush of love for him bubble up in her chest. I'm supposed to be yelling at him by now, she reminded herself.

"I've screwed up a lot, Luke," Lorelai maintained. "Maybe the little things got easier over time, but I had to learn them. And it was difficult. I had to keep us fed and sheltered and clothed on a pittance of a salary and somehow convince Rory that all of it was normal. And even after things got better for us, I still made mistakes. I kept my parents away from her because it was easier for me. I never was really honest about what kind of person Christopher was. But I kept trying because I had to. I'm not the perfect role model that you think I am. I put everything I could into it because it was my life, too, but there were plenty of rough spots along the way."

She glanced over at Luke, wondering how he would react to the mention of Christopher. He didn't seem to react: his fingers remained curled around hers, his gaze steady and understanding.

"I didn't see any of that, Lorelai," he told her. "All of the things you're talking about – you took them and made them better."

Lorelai shook her head. "I'm proud of everything I built for her, Luke," she replied. "But the reason I chose this place and I worked so hard to make a home here is because I knew I wasn't alone. I didn't raise Rory by myself. I had Mia and Sookie and the rest of this town. And after a while, I had you."

Lorelai turned to meet his gaze straight on, and tried to keep the tears at bay.

"I meant everything I wrote in that letter for your custody case, Luke," she continued. "You were always there for her. And I knew that no matter what happened between you and me, that wasn't going to change. I knew that April deserved to have you in your life just as much as Rory did. Even if I couldn't be a part of it, she still got to have you, and I wanted that for her. Because I knew eventually you'd be where I was, and this town would be here for you."

She sniffled and took another breath before she went on.

"You weren't raising her alone, Luke. You were only raising her without me. I've seen you at the festivals – the pickle stink cookout, the peach festival. And those are the only ones I've happened to pass by. You took her to town meetings. She hung out at the diner and met this entire town. She knows Kirk and Lane and Patty and Gypsy and everyone else. I know that all happened long before we broke up, when I started forcing myself to stop spending any time around here. I wasn't allowed to go to those places if you were going to be there with her. We had a life together, Luke, and you kicked me out of it."

Luke remained quiet.

"Do you really not have anything to say to that, Luke?" Lorelai asked.

Luke threaded his fingers through hers. "I'm sorry," he replied. "I didn't know what I was doing. I let it build and build and the longer I convinced myself it was okay the easier it got to let you not be a part of things. I guess I felt if I changed things that I would start screwing everything up again. And then Anna came and took it out of my hands."

"You didn't defend me to her," Lorelai pointed out. "She just made it easier for you when she insisted that you keep doing what you were already doing."

Luke sighed. "I know it probably doesn't seem like it, but by that point I didn't want it that way anymore. Not after I saw you with April. I could actually see things coming together, and I knew I had been stupid to be so scared of letting it happen."

Lorelai looked back at him. "What if I had come to you instead of going to Anna and ask that we go and talk to her together? Do you think we could have fixed all of this then?"

"I'd like to think so," Luke replied. "But Lorelai, this whole time – I didn't know how unhappy you were. I know it was wrong to keep it from you for so long after I found out about her and was figuring out what to do about it, but you forgave me. I told you I needed some time with her and you said you understood."

"But I did tell you how I felt," Lorelai insisted. "Remember when we went to the Vineyard? I asked you right then if you really wanted to get married, and you told me you did. I let myself believe that you actually wanted to fix things. Then we came home and you sent me home when you found out April was coming over the next day and told me you couldn't see me until after she left! And I spent another night at the house that was supposed to be ours. Alone. Don't you understand how much that hurt me? I laid it all out to you and you ignored me."

She started to sob despite herself. Well, these tear ducts put up a good fight, she thought. She felt Luke put his arms around her shoulders and finger the hair on the side on the other side of her head in a futile attempt to comfort her.

Somehow, it only made her sob harder.

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry,” Luke whispered to her over and over.

Lorelai calmed herself and reached for a tissue. Luke let go of her and chugged some water.

“I’ll be so relieved when these pathetic displays of emotion are behind us,” she remarked as she dried her eyes.

“I really am sorry,” Luke said softly.

“I know,” Lorelai replied as she turned to look at him. She knew from the regretful look in his eyes that he truly felt it, and wasn’t just trying to deflect from the situation

“You forgot Valentines’ Day,” she whispered. “You were horrible to Logan that entire weekend. You were almost as horrible to me. The only reason you gave me anything was because you bought something off of my daughter’s boyfriend. Don’t you know how that felt, Luke?”

Luke looked down at his hands. “Being around Rory’s boyfriends doesn’t really bring out the best in me,” he said softly.

“Don’t make this about that,” Lorelai retorted. “It didn’t start there. We went to see my parents, and you couldn’t even remember that we once had a wedding date. It’s like you couldn’t stand even being around me anymore.”

“That wasn’t –“ Luke began.

“I know you didn’t mean it like that, Luke,” Lorelai replied. “And I know it’s stupid and that missing one stupid holiday doesn’t count for a lot, but it wasn’t only that. You just seemed to forget all about me and it went on for months and months. And I didn’t know how to stop it or confront you. I’m over a lot of it, because I think we both know how wrong it was at this point. I just want to know why.”

Luke reached for her hand again, and brushed the hair away from her face with his other hand.

“I didn’t mean to ignore you,” he whispered, squeezing her hand tightly.

Lorelai felt herself soften.

 “I know it’s not an excuse, but I wasn’t really connecting things at that point,” he continued. “I just couldn’t put together you not wanting to get married with you being unhappy about being kept apart from April.”

Lorelai sighed. He really didn’t get it.

“You’re not that dense, Luke,” she replied. “I told you I was unhappy about April a few weeks later, when we were getting ready for her party. I told you I wanted to be there. You said it was too soon.”

“I was wrong,” Luke replied quickly. “It definitely wasn’t too soon.”

Lorelai shook her head. “You compared me to a cartoon character,” she said bitterly. “You said you couldn’t take the chance that April might actually like me better than you. It certainly didn’t seem like you thought I was this perfect parent. You just seemed so jealous and territorial. Like if I spent one moment with your kid, I would try to take her away from you.”

Lorelai felt herself start to cry again, reliving all of the rejection and humiliation she had felt back then. “I just can’t understand how you could say those things, Luke,” she managed to say. “I never would have taken her away from you. I knew how much she meant to you, and I wanted to share that with you. But you wouldn’t let me.”

“I’m sorry,” Luke whispered.

 Lorelai dabbed at her eyes with her free hand. “I just felt that you thought that I wasn’t worthy of sharing your daughter, your life, with you. Any of it. That you already got the family you wanted through her and you didn’t need me anymore.”

Luke reached for her hand again. “Lorelai, that wasn’t it, he insisted. “That wasn’t it at all. I was just so worried about screwing up the tiny bit of success I’d had with April. I’d finally made it to a place where she considered me her dad, and I couldn’t –“

“You couldn’t what, Luke?”

“I don’t deal with change well,” he continued lamely. “I didn’t want to change what I had with her, and letting you in felt like such a big change. I should have paid more attention, I should have thought about what it felt like to you –“

“But you didn’t have to,” Lorelai said softly. “Because Anna gave you an out to keep pushing me away.”

“I didn’t know it at the time,” Luke replied. “I didn’t realize any of this at the time.”

Lorelai rubbed her thumb over his fingers. “I know,” she said softly. “But that wasn’t all it was about, was it, Luke?”

Luke rubbed his eyes with his other hand. “No.”

“You were afraid,” Lorelai told him. “You’ve already told me that. You were afraid of getting married.’

Luke looked away. “Yeah.”

Lorelai let go of his hand and rested her hands on her knees. She closed her eyes.

“It doesn’t mean the same thing to me that it used to, Luke. It really doesn’t. I’ve been through it, and well – it wasn’t anything close to what I thought it would be. But I still really, really wanted to marry you, Luke.”

“I don’t understand it, “ she continued as her voice started to crack. “Why didn’t you want to marry me? Why didn’t you want to live with me? What was so horrible about me that made you feel that way?”

She reached for another tissue and sank back against the sofa cushions.

Luke gingerly reached out his hand for hers and she took it.

“Nothing is the matter with you,” Luke insisted. “Nothing, ever. It was me, Lorelai. It was all me. And I didn’t know. I really didn’t know. It took me a long time to figure it out.

He sighed and rubbed his thumb across the back of her hand.

“I failed at parenting. I failed at marriage. And suddenly I had the chance to figure one of those things out, and I had the other one standing in front of me and I couldn’t handle it,” Luke continued. “I finally had you, forever, and you were the one who asked me to marry  you, and I was just so scared I would screw it up.”

He paused and took another sip of water from his glass.

“I think, maybe –“ Luke stammered.

Lorelai gazed at him while he attempted to put his words together.

“I think I thought it was just easier to push you away while I tried to figure the other part out,” Luke continued.

“That doesn’t make everything okay, Luke,” Lorelai replied.

“I know,” Luke told her. “I really didn’t figure things out until you showed up at the hospital when April got sick and I saw that ring on your finger. I could – I could stay in denial until then.”

Luke ran his thumb over her fingers in concentric circles, as if the motion itself would lead to some sort of answer.

“I kept telling myself that the whole thing between is had never worked out because it wasn’t supposed to,” he spat out. “I was so convinced that it could never go another way because if it had, you wouldn’t have done what you did. I wouldn’t have to think about how I had screwed up, too.”

 Luke paused and took another sip of water from his glass.

“It was different once I found out you were married.  I had to think about everything I could have had and didn’t have anymore. And I was losing April at the same time. Or at least I thought I was.”

Luke turned his head so that his gaze met her own. His eyes seemed drained and despondent, yet half determined to find a way out of this mire they had found themselves trapped in.

Lorelai squeezed his hand, silently imploring him to continue.

“I had to fight to April in a way I hadn’t fought for you,” Luke continued, his voice finally caving in on itself. “And even though it killed me to see you with him, I tried to find some way to make things right between us as much as I could.”

Lorelai smiled, reaching out to finger the curls at the back of his neck. Part of her wanted to still be angry at him, for not being able to give her this one thing he still couldn’t explain. But he looked so sad and defeated, and she knew that he was giving her all he was capable of right now.

She just wasn’t sure how much it made up for what he hadn’t been able to give her in the past.

“I’m not sure that’s really an answer,” she replied.

“I screwed up with Nicole,” Luke admitted softly. “I didn’t love her. I shouldn’t have married her. I was lonely and I’d failed with Jess and we were in this romantic situation where it seemed like a good idea. And when she wanted to try again, I felt that I owed it to her to put some sort of effort into it. But I never really tried.”

“You never moved into that apartment,” Lorelai said softly.

“I didn’t,” Luke conceded. “I had my life with her in Litchfield and I had my life in Stars Hollow, and I did the same thing with you. I had my life with April and I had my life with you, and I never moved into your house, either.”

Lorelai felt the tears sting again at the back of her eyes, and tried to fight them off. She removed her hand from the back of his neck.

How could she really be no different than Nicole?

Luke noticed the change in her right away, and reached out to rub her arm.

“Lorelai?”

She momentarily froze before shaking it off. She reached out for her glass of water, and swallowed carefully before responding to him.

“It was supposed to be different with me,” Lorelai replied. “I wasn’t the person you got married to accidentally because you were lonely. I was the person you loved and waited for. You were supposed to do better.”

She paused to catch her breath, only to have her next words come out in a strangled sob.

“You said you loved me, Luke,” she managed to get out. “I know you loved me,” she corrected herself.

“I did,” Luke insisted. He squeezed her hand. “I do.” He sighed. “That’s what made it harder. I was so scared of screwing up with you that I let myself make the same mistakes.”

Lorelai reached out for a tissue to wipe her eyes again. The coffee table sat littered with tissues, both of their glasses nearly drained of water. They had both been stripped bare of all their defenses and inhibitions, and she felt raw and exhausted in a way she didn’t think she had ever felt before.

And Luke was still sitting her beside her. He had barely let go of her hand all night.

For the first time since this started, Lorelai began to feel that things could finally be all right.

They could fill that hole inside her – no, inside them both - with the refuse from their emotional rubble, and it would stay covered up this time.

She turned to him and squeezed his hand again.

“Things have got to be different this time,” Lorelai insisted. “We talked about living together. You still want to do that, right?”

“I do,” Luke responded instantly, and Lorelai felt herself start to warm up once again to the idea of their future.

“I’m not saying tomorrow, or next week, or even next month,” Lorelai told him. “But I want that to happen, Luke. I want us to be ready for it, and I want us to start getting ready for it soon.” She looked him in the eye pointedly. “I need to be a part of April’s life, Luke. I need to start sharing that with you.”

“I want you to be a part of her life,” Luke agreed, bring his other hand to cover the two that were already clutched between them.

“I don’t want to get between what you and Anna have already decided on,” Lorelai said. “You guys will still be making the big decisions for her, and that’s the way that it should be. But if I’m going to be a part of your life, then I need to be allowed to spend time with April and get to know her. I’m not going to sit here and say that I know how all of this is going to work, because I don’t, but it’s got to start somewhere.”

“It will,” Luke assured her.

“Luke –“

“It will,” he repeated, this time with absolute certainty. “I’m picking my daughter up from the airport in a week and half, and I want you there with me when I do.”

Lorelai could remember a time when she would have almost have made a blood sacrifice to get him to promise something like this so easily.

“I want us to go on that boat trip together like we talked about,” he continued. “I think we can both manage to get away for three or four days. Maybe we can go to the cabin, too. We haven’t done that at all since we’ve gotten back together.”

Lorelai patted his arm. “I think she’ll get sick of me pretty soon if we spend that much time together,” she admonished him. 

“I want her to get to the point where she’s sick of you,” Luke responded warmly.

Lorelai smiled. “I appreciate that, Luke, but let’s start small,” she replied. “It’s one thing to have all these huge plans, and it’s another thing to actually incorporate me into what you two have.”

“It’s not –“

“I know, Luke,” Lorelai replied. “But the next time she calls, even if it’s late, I don’t want you to pretend that I’m not sitting next to you. She’s used to dealing with you and just you, and I want her to get used to the fact that I’m a part of that, too.”

“You are,” Luke assured her.

“In a lot of ways I can’t even blame you for all of this,” Lorelai admitted. “You were trying to protect your kid, and Anna was trying to protect her, and even if a lot of other stuff was mixed up in it and it went all wrong, I can’t say I didn’t do the exact same thing for Rory.”

She squeezed his hand and looked at him warmly.

“I was so determined that nothing would get in the way of our life together that I didn’t let her know anything about my love life,” she told Luke. “And it was what we both needed, for a long time. I couldn’t have accomplished what I did for us if I let anything else get in the way. And we made it.”

Luke reached out to rub her knee, and Lorelai felt her heart swell when she saw the sheer pride on his face that she knew was reflected on her own.

She forced herself to keep to the point.

“I was just a kid, though, and I was figuring things out as I went along,” she continued. She paused to look him in the eye again. “You didn’t have that kind of excuse, Luke. We already had a life together and it was April that walked into it. And I know I was too hard on you that last night, Luke, by insisting that I come first before her. I know I would have been furious if anyone had asked that of me when Rory was growing up. But our situation is different, and you’ve got to make room for both of us.”

“You weren’t wrong to ask that of me,” Luke replied. He looked down and traced his finger over the stitching on the inside of Lorelai’s pants leg. He took a deep breath. “I shouldn’t have said no that night. I should have taken the risk.”

“Luke –“

“There shouldn’t have been anything that got in the way of risking me losing you,” Luke said in a strained voice. “I’m sorry.”

“Luke, no.”

He gazed up at her, and Lorelai’s heart nearly broke in two at the anguish in his face.

“You weren’t wrong, Luke. I asked something crazy of you, and as messed up as everything was by that point, running off and getting married wouldn’t have solved anything.” Lorelai took her other hand and placed it on his nervous hand still running itself over her leg. “Those things you were concerned about that night were real. We hadn’t talked about any of the details of the living situation with April. Anna probably wouldn’t have reacted well to any of it. I just couldn’t see any of that at the time.

“I should have gone after you,” Luke insisted. “I should have tried to explain all of this instead of just saying no.”

“I really want to tell you I would have listened,” Lorelai said softly. “But I just don’t know, Luke.”

“We both made a mess of things,” Luke replied.

“No argument on that one,” Lorelai conceded. She took a deep breath and steeled herself for the next part of their conversation. “Luke, about what started all of this, with Christopher - ”

Luke’s hands stiffened at the mention of his name.

“I need to know what you want from me,” Lorelai continued. “I need to know what you mean by the limits you say you want between me and him.”

Luke sighed and looked directly in her eyes. “Lorelai, what happened that night between you and Christopher –“ He grimaced. “It can’t happen again. With him or anybody else.”

Lorelai bit her lip and nodded.

“I know it sounds patronizing that way, but I have to know that you know where I stand on this,” Luke continued. “And I don’t want you out drinking all night with him, or taking him as your date to weddings. Those things cross the line with me, and I have to know that you know where the lines are.”

“I do,” Lorelai replied, and reached out to stroke his arm. “I didn’t plan the wedding thing, Luke. I only took him because he happened to be in town and Mrs. Kim wouldn’t let me go to the wedding without a date. I didn’t even find that out until right before.”

Luke nodded. “I know,” he said softly. “We probably should have planned that out better,” he added. “I could have come back early.”

“I had a horrible time, if it makes you feel any better,” Lorelai replied. “I gave this horrible drunken speech about how bad I felt that you had pushed off the wedding and how it was impossible to be happy for Lane because I was never getting married, ever. She’s never brought it up with me, but I’m sure she still kind of hates me for that. Patty convinced the entire town to say that I just warbled Endless Love, but –“

“Hey,” Luke interrupted, squeezing her hand. “I knew. Lane told me about all of that after we broke up, and I know she doesn’t hate you for it. I hate myself for all of that. The last thing it does is make me feel better.”

“I would have much rather gone with you,” Lorelai said softly. “You do make for a pretty dashing wedding date.”

Luke smiled back at her, and she felt the silence soften the air around them as she was lost in memories of their unofficial first date so many years ago. She knew Luke was lost in the same reverie.

Lorelai cleared her throat. “Okay,” she clarified aloud. “No drinking, no wedding dates. What else is off limits?”

“I’m not really comfortable with you dropping in and checking on him like you used to do,” Luke said. “And if you want to have lunch with him, I’d like to know about it.”

Lorelai smiled. “Luke, I have absolutely no desire to do those things again,” she replied. “I spent a long time trying to fix his problems, trying to get him to grow up, and I found out the hard way that it’s pretty much never going to happen.” She rubbed her thumb over his fingers. “I don’t see any need to involve myself in his life like that.”

Luke squeezed her hand. “Good.”

“There’s not any reason for me to be around him that doesn’t involve Rory,” Lorelai continued. “But if she ever gets married, or has a baby, or she gets sick, or we have to all attend the ceremony where she receives her Pulitzer Prize together, and trust me, I really hope that last one happens before all the other things, I am going to have to be around him. I need to know that you’re going to be okay with that, because I can’t avoid it.”

“I don’t have a problem with any of those things,” Luke said quietly.

“I want you to be beside me for all of those things, too,” Lorelai said. “I hope we’re on the same page when it comes to that.”

Luke laced his fingers through hers. “Always,” he promised.

Lorelai felt another surge of love for him flow through her.

“There is one other thing, though,” she said, and shifted uncomfortably next to him.

“What?”

“You have to forgive me,” Lorelai replied tremulously, half wishing she had bit down the words before she let them escape her mouth.

“I already forgave you,” Luke insisted, and Lorelai could tell from the earnest gleam in his gaze that he already believed it.

“Not completely,” Lorelai countered. “I know you want to, Luke. I know you’ve been trying. But I need you to accept it completely. That’s the only way that you’re really going to be able to trust me. I need you to know that I know I did something terrible, something that really hurt both of us, and I’m sorry, and I won’t let it happen again.” She squeezed his hand again as she felt her eyes glisten with tears. “Never again,” she whispered.

“I do,” Luke replied softly. “I need to know that you forgive me, too,” he said as he brushed the tears away from her face.

“That’s never been a problem,” Lorelai whispered. “And I do.”

And with that, she really felt the hole inside both of them start to fill up and be replaced by something far better.

Chapter Text

Short update this time, guys. I know it's been a while, but I continue to plug away on this story when I can.

The next time April called, Luke handed the phone over to Lorelai almost right away.

Lorelai hesitantly took the receiver from his hand, trying not to pay attention to where he was chopping up vegetables on the kitchen counter behind her, seemingly unconcerned about this sudden change to their routine. April's voice sounded a little halting and unsure as she asked Lorelai about Rory and briefly drifted into a discourse on scientific experiments Lorelai knew she would never come close to understanding. Lorelai handed the phone back to Luke and listened to him clarify the arrangements for picking April up at the airport the next week.

It was a small gesture, but Lorelai was grateful for it. She suspected she still might be on shaky ground when it came to actually interacting with April. The girl's demeanor seemed a lot different from when Lorelai had last seen her, and she wondered if what she was picking up on was typical teenage moodiness or an indication that April really wasn't comfortable with Lorelai and her father getting back together. There still might be some hurdles for her and Luke to overcome in that department.

What was different was that Lorelai didn't fear that any of those hurdles would be placed there by Luke. He was finally making room for both of them in his life, and it didn't seem half as difficult and scary as it had in the past. Things were coming together for them, and Lorelai had come to believe that it was actually going to work out this time.


 

It turned out that Lorelai's worries about her business's bottom line were very much unfounded.

She had worried that the sudden influx of business the other day was a fluke – and more to the point, that the downturn in Luke's business that same morning hadn't been a fluke. Their life together didn't need to start with their livelihoods in question. Luckily, she had been completely wrong on both counts. She had booked a handful of surprise tourists – both families and curious couples – and the inn was actually close to full capacity by the time that the 4th of July festivities were set to commence. Sookie baked extra batches of her watermelon chia muffins and whipped up some raspberry-watermelon terrine with blueberry sauce to entrance their new arrivals, and Lorelai breathed a sigh of relief. Across town, Luke – who had seemed unusually cheerful over the past few days, to the befuddlement of the rest of Stars Hollow – had given in to Lorelai's pleas to bake watermelon pie for the occasion, and the diner was bustling with even more activity than usual.

Whatever lay ahead for the two of them would definitely not involve financial disaster for the foreseeable future.

Somehow they managed to drag themselves away from work to actually enjoy the spectacle. They missed most of the afternoon parade, mostly because Kirk spent much of the same afternoon nursing his woes through the remainder of pie that remained after he was kicked out for picking a fight over bugle song selection with a seventh grader. Lorelai finally managed to drag Luke away as night began to fall.

Maybe it was the red white and blue daiquiris that they were nursing throughout the night (courtesy of Lorelai, who had swiped them from the inn's kitchen when Sookie wasn't looking). Maybe it was the fact that Lorelai knew she had a second watermelon pie sitting in her fridge at home that Luke had baked especially for her, something that was becoming more and more of a frequent occurrence. Lorelai felt it was something more this time, though – she wasn't just hiding them away in a bubble before their pasts and the things they didn't want to talk about had come crashing down on them. They had fought it and come out on the other side knowing that they not only still liked each other, but that had found a new resolve to face their future as a couple.

That felt even more real and satisfying than their honeymoon period of a few weeks ago.

The rest of the town seemed to sense the change in them, and had taken tonight as their cue to start interfering in their relationship again. Lorelai wasn't even sure she would have minded so much this time if the questions hadn't all been the same. She still had no answer for it, and she wasn't sure how Luke felt about it.

When are you getting married again?

Patty. Babbette. Gypsy. Taylor. Kirk. Even Mrs. Kim had asked.

Luke seemed more exasperated by the fact that no one would leave them alone as he was by the actual question they were confronted with again and again. He didn't seem perturbed or anxious about it, and Lorelai wondered exactly what that meant. She didn't know if the topic still scared him or if he felt that it really just didn't matter at this point.

Lorelai didn't even want to think about it. If Luke's feet still remained on the chilly side, hers seemed to be permanently encased in ice. The absolute last thing that she wanted to repeat was her former obsession with the subject.

It was better to focus on the things that she knew she could count on, the things she wanted to count on – the house that was coming to feel more and more to feel like theirs, the tentative plans made with April, the simple domestic routines that were beginning to take shape once again. She felt it in Luke's heartbeat thumping behind her ear as they watched the fireworks display, his gruff voice warning Kirk and Taylor to stop pestering them and give them a few moments to enjoy themselves. She felt it on his rough hand creeping closer up on her thigh, those same hands threading themselves through her hair, across the small of her back, over every square inch of her body as they waltzed across the yard and inside the house as Lorelai wondered if they would manage to actually make it upstairs this time. She felt it in the heat running through her veins as their lips and tongues fought a furious battle – first sparks, then brushfires, then conflagrations, finally a freaking inferno - as they fought their way to the bedroom, his skin, his limbs, his strength conquering hers as she melted into him.

It wasn't until afterwards, as they lay sated and exhausted, the breeze from the open window stirring the hair on their arms, sleep slowly beckoning, that it occurred to Lorelai that she could ask Luke that dreaded question herself. It didn't have to be something that defeated them by a 'yes' or a 'no' or a 'not yet'. They'd moved beyond the fear of it, if not the reality of what it might someday mean.

She didn't plan on it tonight, not while sleep was beckoning her with this sort of sweet, lazy effortlessness. Maybe after April's visit had come and gone . . .

She felt Luke's voice rumble through his chest before she actually heard it.

"What did you think about what they were saying tonight?"

Lorelai groaned and cuddled further up on his chest.

"Luke –"

"I know you're still awake," Luke said softly.

Lorelai rubbed her face against the smattering of hair underneath her, not wanting to give up her comfort position.

"I don't think either of us are too good at that sort of thing," she murmured.

"Huh," Luke responded, his hand starting to thread through her curls again.

Lorelai forced herself to change position just long enough to look him in the eye. She didn't seem hurt or frustration or sadness gazing back at her – merely a mild sort of curiosity.

"I like where we are, Luke," she told him honestly. "I don't see the need to put any pressure on it. It's enough for right now. More than enough."

Luke nodded slightly before bending down to kiss her on the temple.

"I agree," he said softly.

Lorelai lay her head back down on his chest as his arms surrounded her a little more tightly, glad that the question had been settled for the moment.

Chapter Text

Fair warning: I am going to portray April a little differently in the next couple of chapters than most post-OS stories do.

I'm keeping Luke's custody agreement as it was specifically outlined in the show. I know it's ridiculous, and it would not work very well in real life, but Luke fought hard for the ability to see his daughter on a regular basis and I want to honor that.

I kind of wanted to go back to what Bimadabomi mentions in First Nine Years of Marriage (Before Marriage): that when Lorelai encounters April for the first time after she and Luke reconcile, April is very protective of Luke and that Lorelai feels like she's the new girlfriend of a father who had raised his daughter from the beginning. I think that's closer to how things would be at first instead of April warming up to Lorelai right away: remember, the first thing April does when she learns of Luke and Lorelai's break-up is offer to set him up with her teachers. She doesn't know Lorelai and has no loyalty towards her, and why should she? Lorelai threw her a great birthday party, broke up with her father, married someone else, divorced him after a few months, and then got back together with her father. All within a year's time. April has every reason to be wary of her.

So, that said, it will be a little awkward at first, but it will get better. On with the story!

Any reviews or comments are always welcome.

"So tell me again why we're picking your daughter up at the airport instead of driving into New York?"

Luke gripped the steering wheel as he navigated between lanes on the interstate. April was coming to stay with him for two weeks before she flew back to New Mexico to get ready for high school. This was the first time Luke and Lorelai would see her as a newly reconciled couple, and Lorelai could feel the nervousness radiating off of both of them.

"I want her to get used to flying regularly before me make this a monthly thing," Luke said.

Lorelai wrinkled her nose. "So exactly how is this going to work? She's going to fly in once a month to see you?"

"That's the plan," Luke said as he glanced in the rearview mirror before he turned off on the exit to Hartford.

"That's what? Four hours each way? That seems like a lot for a fourteen year old girl to handle once a month," Lorelai remarked.

"April's on this advanced math and science track at her high school," Luke explained. "She goes in an hour early twice a week and gets two half days off twice a month. So on one of the half days, she leaves school early so she can get fly here and we let her take the other half day off because she'll be getting back a little late."

"And you and Anna don't think that's going to cause her to get behind on everything else?"

Luke grimaced as he switched lanes. 'She's got to keep her grades up to a certain level to earn those half days off. That's never been a problem before, so we're hoping that it stays that way. If it doesn't work out –"

Lorelai turned to look at him, letting him continue.

"Then we go back to my original plan. She flies here once every two months and the other month I go in to see her."

Lorelai's heart did an unfamiliar flip flop as she pondered the implications of that.

"Where would you stay when you went to see her?" Lorelai asked.

Luke shrugged as he turned into the parking lot of the airport.

"Would you stay with Anna?" Lorelai asked indignantly.

"Lorelai –"

"I'm not comfortable with that, Luke. Not at all," Lorelai blurted out. "I let you say what you weren't comfortable with when it came to Christopher, and I get to say the same thing. I don't want you spending a weekend in your ex girlfriend's house every two months. I don't think that's -

"I wouldn't stay at Anna's house," Luke interjected.

Lorelai softened. "Where would you stay?"

"An inn or a hotel or something," Luke said. "Maybe I would only go for a day, take April out to do something on Saturday, and fly back home."

"Well, that sounds reasonable," Lorelai replied, feeling silly for jumping to conclusions.

Luke turned into a parking space and switched off the ignition of the truck. He sighed and turned to face Lorelai as she raised her eyes to his.

"Even if you and I weren't together, Anna and I have no business staying under the same roof," he said softly. "We aren't exactly getting along these days. It's probably good that we have a few thousand miles between us."

"Oh, hon."

"It's fine," Luke continued, clearly trying to shake off her concern. "We're going to work it out. We have to. But we don't really like each other. I don't like that she tried to take April away and she doesn't like that I went to court to stop her."

"I didn't know it was that bad," Lorelai told him, feeling at odds with how to comfort him. This was so far outside of anything that she had faced with Rory.

"We'll deal with it," Luke insisted. "Not a new story, anyway. Let's go in and find my kid."


April emerged from the airport gates tanned, exhausted, and exasperated.

She appeared visibly relieved to see her father, and shy and stilted around Lorelai. Luke grumbled about the fact that she appeared to have grown half an inch over the past three months while April regaled him with stories about camp. Lorelai interjected every now and then, but she felt a little displaced. Luke and April clearly had their own dynamic, and she was still looking in at it from the outside.

Things brightened a little once they returned to Luke's apartment and he cooked lasagna for the three of them. April asked about Rory and Lorelai told her what she knew about Rory's life on the road from the updates she received every few days. Still, the hesitant way in which April interacted with her worried her a little. It wasn't as if April was rude to her, or that Luke didn't try to include her in on their conversations. It was more as if the nervousness that she had felt emitting from Luke's direction on the way to the airport had been replicated by April and by herself and had slightly congealed around the three of them. They could fight their way through it bit by bit, but it wasn't going to be easy.

Lorelai went to the diner every day for breakfast, and she usually met Luke either for lunch or for dinner. April was rarely around in the mornings, but she usually joined them for dinner either at Luke's apartment or at Lorelai's house. She still seemed wary around Lorelai and seemed to view Luke and Lorelai's interactions with extreme caution. It was almost as if she viewed herself as the sole protector of her father's heart and was unsure if she should trust it around this strange woman who now had the audacity to call herself his girlfriend.

Lorelai was frustrated by the situation. She was even more frustrated by the fact that she knew she didn't have anyone to blame and that there was no simple way to fix it. She didn't even have anything specific to complain about. April answered all of her questions when they were together and occasionally initiated small talk, and the conversation ebbed and flowed as it would between any two people who don't really know each other.

Still, Lorelai knew that April acted very differently around her than she did Kirk or Lane or Gypsy. The girl who excitedly shouted out arguments during the town meeting became almost a different person in the few moments that she and Lorelai were alone together. Luke tried to help, but this wasn't his strong suit, and he couldn't force it any more than Lorelai could.

April just didn't trust Lorelai yet. Lorelai wondered just how much she had picked up about her and Luke's breakup from everyone else in Stars Hollow. She also wondered how much she knew (or suspected) about Lorelai's subsequent disaster of a marriage to someone else.

Meanwhile, she returned to sleeping alone, and mused on when she and Luke would have some grown-up time together over the next two weeks.

It came to her slowly that this is what it felt like to date someone who has a child, particularly someone who shares a small open floor space with that same child. She had never really stopped to consider this problem in the decade she had spent living in the potting shed with Rory. Even if she had wanted to take anyone back to that shed, she would never have dreamed of letting her sex life invade the sanctuary she had created for her child, and she had no intention of letting anyone get close enough to her for it to be an option. The rest of it was equally foreign from her perspective: respecting Luke's boundaries, fighting for time alone with him, trying to find a place for herself in the bond that Luke and April shared as she fought to gain April's trust. She was now realizing what all of her boyfriends had faced as she had carefully shielded Rory from them, and she felt a little guilty for never thinking about it much before.

The only person she had ever dated with a kid had been Christopher. That had felt very different. Gigi was a small child who was used to people flitting in and out of her life and sudden, abrupt changes to her routine. There wasn't an equilibrium to upset, and even if there had been, it wouldn't have mattered. The bedroom arrangements had been outlined almost as soon as she and Christopher moved to that part of their relationship, and Gigi was much too young (and much too used to instability) to know that anything had changed. It wasn't until Christopher moved Gigi into her house for the last month of their marriage that Lorelai had learned that he didn't even spend that much time with her himself. Gigi had spent much of what time she wasn't with the nanny with her grandmother, and whatever contributions Lorelai had made as a stepmother hadn't made much of a difference to her life.

Lorelai remained conflicted, even as she spent time with April daily and tried to prod things along. She could resent Luke for pushing her away while he was building the relationship he now cherished, but that wouldn't change the things the way things were now. April had walked into the relationship that she and Luke had shared, but she hadn't known that. Now it was Lorelai's turn to walk into Luke and April's relationship, and try to mend the fractures that still existed.

She only hoped it wouldn't take too long.


Except for a stolen afternoon when April and Kirk had engaged each other in an epic chess tournament at the gazebo, Lorelai hadn't found the chance for any adult time with Luke during the first week of April's visit. Her frustration with her new circumstances had migrated over to a frustration of an entirely different kind, and she sensed that Luke was having the same problem. The kisses over the diner counter each morning started to linger, as did the way Luke grazed his hands over her knee under the kitchen table. Sometimes when she felt his shoulder brush hers, he let loose a grunt that was a little more strained than his customary one.

When Luke mentioned that April was spending Saturday night at a friend's house, Lorelai pounced on the opportunity.

Three seconds after he entered her house, he pounced on her.

This time they didn't make it upstairs.


"Rory's doing a feature article on her website," Lorelai mentioned to Luke later that night, cuddled up underneath the covers as he got ready for bed.

"What does that mean?" Luke asked as he emerged from the bathroom. He crawled into his side of the bed and collapsed beside her.

"I don't really know," Lorelai confessed as she shifted to get closer to him. Luke sighed and reached around to toy with the ends of her hair.

"April wants to go to some sort of lizard thing at the science museum in Hartford before she goes home," Luke said. "Said she learned about biodiversity at camp, a bunch of other words I didn't understand."

Lorelai patted his shoulder. "You guys are on your own for that one."

"I was hoping you could translate for me," Luke replied as he turned to gaze at her.

"I can't translate for my own kid," Lorelai told him. "What makes you think I could do it for yours?"

"You'd do better than me," Luke countered quietly. "Besides, I thought maybe it would help with –"

Lorelai looked at him in mock admonishment. "With –"

"I don't know, maybe you guys could use it to bond or something," Luke suggested. "I know she enjoys lecturing me about stuff I don't understand."

Lorelai reached out and took his hand, threading his fingers through hers. "Hon, I know you're trying to help," she said softly as Luke's patient gaze met hers. "But it's not going to happen overnight. It's going to take some time for her to be comfortable around me."

Luke sighed and clenched his fingers within hers. "I know."

They lapsed into contented silence.

"How did we end up with such brilliant kids anyway?" Lorelai asked after a moment.

Luke chuckled. "I have no idea how April came out of someone like me."

"Rory was beyond me by the time she was seven," Lorelai remarked. "I wasn't there to teach her. She was there to teach me. I just tried to play along."

Luke sat up and brushed the hair away from Lorelai's face. He leaned in for a gentle kiss.

"I'm sure she was never beyond you," he said in a low whisper.

Lorelai cuddled into his side, feeling warm and joyful. Luke continued to thread his fingers through her hair.

"So what time do you have to pick her up tomorrow, anyway?" Lorelai asked. "I was hoping we could sleep in. I know Cesar is taking the morning shift for you tomorrow."

Luke didn't answer her, and Lorelai felt her stomach clench.

"I'll stay for a while, but I should be back pretty early," he said after a moment. "She's getting dropped off."

Lorelai shifted to face him as Luke looked at her guiltily.

"You didn't tell her where you were, did you?" she asked.

"Lorelai, I don't –"

"Luke, I listened to you when you said you didn't want me to sleep over there," Lorelai reminded him. "You said you didn't want her walking in on us. The least you could do is to let her know where you actually were. Do you really think she's unaware of what goes on between us?"

"I know she's not," Luke insisted. "I'm not getting up and leaving you to go back to the apartment, Lorelai. I don't do that anymore. I won't do that."

"This isn't about that, Luke" Lorelai retorted. "This is about you being honest with your daughter, who is not a little girl anymore, and letting her know that you have a grown-up relationship with your girlfriend, and that sometimes when you aren't with her, that you're with me."

Luke sighed. "I already checked in on her," he said. "She knows to call me if anything goes wrong. I wouldn't let her go back to the apartment by herself."

"Whether you are a responsible father or not isn't the point here," Lorelai replied. "I know that you know how to take care of your kid, Luke. I've always known that. But things aren't going to get better between me and April unless she knows that I'm really a part of this. That includes not hiding this stuff from her."

"I don't –" Luke began. "This stuff isn't easy for me," he admitted.

Lorelai reach out to rub his arm. "I know, Luke," she said softly. "I went through it myself. Rory didn't even know the names of anyone I was with until she was almost grown. But this is part of making it different for us. So that it isn't the way it was before."

"It is different," Luke insisted. "I don't want it to be that way again."

Luke reached for the cell phone on the end table and quickly dialed.

Lorelai felt her stomach unclench.

"April . . . I just wanted to let you knew where I was. Yeah, nothing's wrong . . . I'm spending the night at Lorelai's. If you can't reach me you can try her cell phone . . . yeah, I know that you've already got it in your phone. I'll probably be back home around ten . . . yeah, bye."

Luke placed the phone back down on the end table and lay down next to Lorelai. Lorelai sighed happily and shifted until she was curled up inside his outstretched arm.

"That wasn't so hard, was it?" she asked him.

"She already knew where I was," Luke said.

Lorelai smiled up at him. "I figured," she said. "But thank you."

Luke placed a nervous kiss on her temple as he held her closer.

Lorelai hoped that the next couple of hurdles they had to clear would go down just as easily.

Chapter Text

Warning: this chapter includes some semi-graphic descriptions of some of the more unpleasant aspects of catching and eating a fish.

I may have taken some liberties for dramatic effect, but this kind of thing can be gross if you don't know what you're doing (or of you do know and maybe are a little too into it).

So that said, read, enjoy (or don't), and leave a review if you so desire.

The mid-week boating trip was not off to a great start.

Luke had originally planned it towards the end of the week in the hopes that it wouldn't interrupt his work schedule or Lorelai's. Lorelai had quickly pointed out to him that giving them half a day to get back to Stars Hollow and pack April off for her return to New Mexico wasn't a feasible option. Besides, there was another festival planned for this weekend – this one was celebrating berries of various flavors – and Lorelai was needed at the inn to introduce her guests to the eccentricities of their town. She was also worried about Sookie holding up under the stress, as he due date was a little over a month away and she was becoming even more harried and irritable than she had been during her previous pregnancies. A few days off during the middle of the week would have to suffice.

So Lorelai placed Michel in charge during the Tuesday-to-Thursday lull and crossed her fingers that no unexpected disasters would encroach upon her business as soon as they were out on the water. Luke opted to leave Cesar in charge instead of shuttering the diner completely, and they descended for a quick trip off of the Connecticut coast. Lorelai hoped that their renewed maritime tradition as a couple would work even better with a third person onboard. Maybe this would finally be what was needed to help April trust her a little more.

It was overcast during the first morning, and Luke had barely had time to dock the boat a few miles up the coast before the inevitable downpour descended. Luke dug out the battered chess set he kept around for such occasions, and they took turns challenging each other. Lorelai was a novice at the game – she had played a little as a child but had mostly forgotten the basics until Luke re-taught her during their first boat trip – but Luke wasn't, and it was one of the first things he had taught April after being introduced to her. As Lorelai listened to Luke grumble and April giggle every time she beat him or Lorelai at the game, she began to believe that things were really beginning to turn around.

Then the sky lightened up, Luke drove the boat a little further out into the water so that they could fish, and April proceeded to clam up again.

So now Lorelai was struggling to bait her hook without calling for Luke to come assist her as April started to reel in the first of their take for the day.

"That one's pretty sizable," Lorelai remarked as April expertly plucked the fish off of her line and plopped it the white bucket they used for such purposes.

April shrugged. "It's not as big as I'd like," she said.

Luke strolled over to the side of the boat and looked down at the fish. "Do you want to keep that one?" he asked.

April sighed. "It's already pretty late in the afternoon," she said. 'I don't know how many more we're going to get."

"I think I can do okay once I get out there," Luke remarked as he and Lorelai shared a sly smile. "Good job, kiddo."

"Thanks, Dad," April replied as she reached into the bucket to string the fish up. She knelt down to place the fish on the tarp and tore into it with gusto.

Maybe a bit too much gusto. Lorelai felt herself begin to sway.

"Luke, I –" Lorelai began.

Luke nodded and gestured towards the cabin. He knew that Lorelai couldn't bear to be around when they bled and cleaned the fish, but usually he was subtler about it than April was being right at that moment. Lorelai gingerly placed her rod back down on the floor of the boat and winced as she returned the worm to the bait bucket.

Lorelai glanced over to where April was gleefully gutting the fish and scuttled out of sight.

Two hours later, they had captured two more fish (and let one go), and Lorelai was becoming slightly annoyed. When she and Luke fished alone together, he either let her go elsewhere while he was cleaning the fish or tried to be as discreet as possible. They had learned the hard way that she had a difficult time following through with the process if she had to see everything, and usually preferred to simply sometimes catch the fish (and of course, consume if afterwards).

It was different this afternoon, especially when she was sent to the cabin for the third time. Sure, April was insisting on making the entire process as much of a horror show as possible and this kind of thing had made her violently retch in the past if she got too close to it, but she was used to this sort of thing. There was no need for her to be completely out of sight while this went on, was there?

Maybe that wasn't it at all. Was she being banished again because she was getting too close to April? What was the real reason for April's cautiousness anyway? What exactly had Luke told her about their relationship?

Lorelai's head spun while she paced around the small cabin. It was so hard to know how to deal with things now that she wasn't being completely shut out. That small voice at the back of her head that doubted whether Luke was serious about having changed was rising in volume bit by bit, as her impatience drummed a steady backbeat louder and louder inside of her head.

Fish guts or not, she wasn't going to let Luke push her away. Lorelai approached the deck of the boat, steeling herself for a confrontation. She fought away the other voice inside her head that was telling her she was overreacting.

She poked her head out of the door just as April tore the kidneys out of their latest catch, slathering herself with black juice all the way up to her elbows.

"That was unnecessary," Luke grumbled as April cackled. 

Neither of them were aware of Lorelai's presence.

"Try to control yourself next time," Luke told her as he reached for a knife to cut the meat.

The din of insecurity inside of Lorelai's head ceased as she stumbled back down to the cabin, fighting to keep the contents of her stomach stay where they were.

Maybe Luke had known what he was doing all along.


The rest of the evening went by uneventfully. Luke froze one of the fish and fried the two that were left while Lorelai and April cleaned up for dinner. By the time they sat down together, Lorelai's nausea had thankfully abated, and the discussion turned to April's enthusiasm for fish dissection.

"I can get a little too mad scientist about it," April admitted as she tore into the results of her catch.

"Yeah, she got a little too Ben Linus out there," Luke remarked as he stirred the fruit salad.

Lorelai raised her eyebrows.

"I remember stuff," he reminded her.

"Dad says Lost is an embarrassment to the legacy of sci fi television," April said as she plopped a helping of fruit on her plate.

"And yet he remembers references from it from last year," Lorelai remarked in between bites of fish.

"There's no logical consistency to any of the plot in that show," April said. "Jess said that wasn't the point, but it was kind of the fun of watching it."

"Including the love triangles?" Lorelai asked.

"Especially the love triangles," Luke grunted.

"I wouldn't imagine Jess would want to watch something like that," Lorelai replied as she took a swig of beer.

April shrugged. "He says as long as he's not debasing himself to watch the one with invincible cheerleaders, he can take the hit to his street cred."

"But he's got a doppelganger on that one and everything!" Lorelai claimed.

"That show makes even less sense," Luke remarked.

"I like it," April said. "It's more basic superhero stuff, but at least it's entertaining."

Luke shot Lorelai a knowing look as he heaped a helping of fruit onto her plate.

"I'm not going to eat all of that," Lorelai reminded him.

Luke pushed the small cottage cheese container which doubled as the boat's sugar bowl to her side of the table.

"I brought some apple pie for later," he dryly remarked.

"That's not the same as this," Lorelai argued.

"Based on the way you're gulping down that fish, I think your iron stomach can handle both tonight," Luke remarked.

Lorelai dramatically doused the blueberries and raspberries on her plate with three tablespoons of sugar.

"Happy?" she asked him.

April giggled before coughing and hiding her smile as she took a sip of juice.

Luke looked around at his girlfriend and daughter and chucked to himself.

"You have no idea," he informed Lorelai.


April excused herself to bed early with a new book – from the looks of it, it was a suspiciously heavy tome with indecipherable symbols on the front, so Lorelai knew better than to ask questions – and Lorelai looked forward to some quiet time with her man. Luke pulled out a few blankets and laid them out on the deck (which had been thoroughly rinsed down from the fish massacre that afternoon) and settled on his back, Lorelai curled up in the middle of his chest.

If not for the knowledge of the teenager huddled a few feet away from them, Lorelai felt they could have been the only two people in the world. This was the bubble they returned to again and again, and even if Lorelai didn't want to reside there permanently, she always forgot how much she longed for it until they returned to it. There was nothing here but Luke's heartbeat under her ear, the waves crashing against the boat, and the pinpricks of light in the night sky shining down on them as Luke distractedly ran his fingers through her hair.

There had been nights like this during the early, blissful part of their engagement, when they huddled together on the front porch of the cabin or out on the dock. Lorelai had felt that she had almost everything she wanted during those moments – and as soon as things were straightened out with Rory, she would have everything she wanted. Her life had seemed less an endless pushing off of the things she didn't yet have that it would be a few months later, and more an inching close to something resembling completion.

She felt that now, but part of her still didn't really trust it. She'd done that before, and it had blown up in her face. She still didn't know if it was safe to believe in it again.

She shivered slightly, and she felt Luke tense at the same time that she did.

"What's wrong?" he asked her as Lorelai shifted to sit up.

She shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I'm thinking too much about things." She reached for her bottle of beer as Luke pulled himself up to sit beside her.

"April?"

Lorelai sighed. "I guess."

"Things went better tonight," Luke said he turned to look her in the eye. "Bonding over useless pop culture, isn't that your thing?"

"Not just my thing," Lorelai reminded him. "You seem to have developed quite a few opinions on it as well, my friend."

Luke shrugged. "My daughter likes certain things. So does my nephew. If they weren't around I probably wouldn't bother, but I like being able to talk to her about it. That will probably help a lot when it comes to the both of you."

"I know," Lorelai agreed. "I guess I just don't understand how it would get to this point, that I would need it in the first place. I know April doesn't know me, but last spring, at the town meeting, she came out of nowhere to hug me. She was so excited, Luke. So friendly."

Luke remained quiet as Lorelai took a deep breath and continued.

"I wasn't even thinking about you and me yet, Luke. I mean, I missed you and I wanted things to be right between us but I'd just gotten divorced and I didn't know if you even wanted to bother with me again. But when April came up to me and you seemed so okay with it I was thinking that whatever happened before maybe didn't matter when it came to her. Things could go back to the way I wanted them to be if we worked things out. But It hasn't happened that way. I'm not that hip woman her dad used to date. I'm the evil ex who broke his heart."

Lorelai sighed bitterly as Luke reached around to toy with the ends of her hair.

"April doesn't believe that," he said softly. "I know that she doesn't."

Lorelai shifted to look him in they eye as he frowned, seemingly at a loss to reassure her.

"What does she know about our break up, Luke?"

"Nothing," Luke insisted. "She's a kid – I didn't really see the need to share all the details with her."

"She must have asked you something," Lorelai prodded him.

"I told her that things sometimes don't work out and that she didn't need to worry about it," Luke said. "It's my job to take care of her, not the other way around."

Normally Lorelai's heart would have melted at that, but she knew that wasn't even close to the whole truth.

"I couldn't really think about it for a long time," Luke continued. "I had to not think about it so I could pull it together for her sake. She didn't seem that concerned. She tried to set me up with her teachers."

Lorelai nodded and bit her lip, wondering what snap judgments April had formed about her to lead her to believe that Luke dating her teacher would be something she actually wanted to happen. She chuckled to herself as she remembered what a mess she had made by dating Rory's teacher so long ago. How dim could April's opinion of her have been?

"Did she think I didn't want to meet her, Luke? That I didn't want to spend time with her?"

Luke sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I don't know, Lorelai. I don't think so. She never said anything like that to me."

"Did you not –" Lorelai stopped, not wanting to pull up this part of their history, but still needing to. "Did you not try to explain that to her? Did you not want her to have a bad opinion of you?"

"I didn't, but that isn't why," Luke replied. "I didn't trust myself on the subject of you for a long time. I didn't want her to have a bad opinion of you."

Lorelai took another swallow of beer as she fought off another stab of guilt.

"I guess you mean the stuff that's my fault," she said softly. "What happened the night we broke up."

"I don't want her to know about that," Luke said forcefully. "She's a kid. She doesn't need to ever know what happened that night."

The bitter silence descended around them as the waves splashed against the boat.

"There's a very small circle of people who know about that night, Luke," Lorelai said. "There's Sookie and there's Rory and that's it." She turned to look at him, the hurt in her eyes reflecting his own. "I don't want to expand it."

"The rest of it's my fault," Luke told her quietly. "I wish I had been different. I wish I could go back and change things, but it is what it is. I don't really know what else to do, but I don't think telling April the rest of it is going to help."

"It won't," Lorelai replied. "I wish I hadn't told Rory."

"You tell her everything," Luke reminded her.

"I didn't really want to," Lorelai said. "Christopher left a message on the answering machine and she found out by mistake. She yelled at me, told me how selfish I was, how I had screwed up things for her and Christopher." Lorelai took another swig of beer. "She wasn't wrong. I needed to hear it."

Luke remained silent and continued to thread his fingers through her hair.

Lorelai knew she couldn't expect any argument from him on that particular point.

"Rory's been maybe a little too involved when it comes to that part of my life," Lorelai continued. "It wasn't always that way. I tried to protect her when she was younger. Lately I'm thinking maybe it was better that way."

Luke scoffed. "Most of the time I still don't have half a clue what I'm doing."

Lorelai reached for his hand, feeling calmed by the feel of his grasp clutched within hers.

"We're very different as parents," she told him. "I'm laid back and you're protective. I share everything, and you hold most of it back. I don't think either of us is wrong, but if it had been just me all of this time, I don't think Rory would be who she is. Both of us needed you to help look out for her."

"I've missed her this year," Luke admitted.

"Rory wanted to take my side in all of this," Lorelai said. "I don't know if ever really did, but she wanted to. I put her in the middle and I don't think that was the right thing. She felt awkward reaching out to you because of me, and I think she lost out. She needed that balance."

"April needs it, too," Luke said. "Believe me, I figured out the hard way that I can't do it by myself. I only screwed things up more when I tried."

Lorelai clutched his finger within hers and smiled up at him. "You're a lot better than you think you are," she told him.

"I love you," Luke said softly.

Lorelai's heart fluttered in her chest as she leaned in for a kiss.

"I love you, too," she whispered back as they parted for breath, his forehead resting against hers.

Behind them, they heard rustling inside of the cabin.

"What do you say to me getting that big sleeping bag from the back and sleeping out here?" Luke suggested.

"I guess we won't be as unencumbered by clothing this time as were a few weeks ago," Lorelai slyly remarked.

"Pants should probably stay on for tonight," Luke replied.

Lorelai smiled in response. "That sounds perfect," she told him.

Chapter Text

I didn't intend to start writing this story again so soon, but it was calling to me and I couldn't resist. We're close to the halfway mark and I'm hoping to get this done by the end of the year because there's definitely some elements it shares with Full Circle, and I want to finish the canon story first. So if anyone out there is still enjoying the updates, stay tuned, because there will likely be a lot more of them over the next few months.

The first day of August debuted in the midst of a spotless blue sky.

Luke had gotten up early to prepare breakfast for his girls, and Lorelai was greeted with a scorching sun bearing down on her and the smell of newly brewed coffee and scrambled eggs drifting in from the open door of the cabin. She clutched her side of the double sleeping bag to her chest and lazily rolled over to Luke's side, still warm from their embrace from the evening before.

At that moment, the man himself appeared with a cup of steaming coffee and a smile, leaning over to greet her with a kiss.

"Morning," he whispered as they parted, handing over the coffee cup to her grasping hand.

"Morning," Lorelai repeated blissfully as she breathed in the familiar smell of Luke and her requisite liquid energy, with an undercurrent of the ocean air mixed in. Such things could even make being awakened before eight AM on a day off bearable.

At that moment, they heard a loud clattering echo from a few feet beyond them, accompanied by a high-pitched shriek from April.

Luke sighed. "I left her to finish stirring the eggs before I cut up some of that trout for breakfast. I'm afraid we're not progressing very far when it comes to passing down my cooking skills."

"It's early," Lorelai remarked as she took her first sip of coffee. "I'd been on my own for quite a few years before I finally figured out that I was no good in the kitchen.

Luke smirked. 'You have other skills," he told her softly as he leaned for another kiss.

Lorelai was about to deliver a saucy remark back when they heard yet another thud behind them.

"I better get in there," Luke said, reluctantly standing back up. "Are you going to try to eat some of the fruit I put on your plate this morning?"

Lorelai giggled and happily trotted after him. "I make no promises," she told him.


The second day of the fishing excursion started off a lot more smoothly than the first one had. After cleaning up after breakfast, Luke had steered the boat a little further up the coast before the three of them pitched their lines out yet again. The sky remained cloudless and both Luke and April seemed in a pleasant mood, even though the ocean's offerings remained a bit more elusive than they had been the previous afternoon.

April caught the first fish of the day, and proceeded to clean it right next to Lorelai with a lot more subtlety than Lorelai had witnessed before. She noticed that she was using the knife sparingly to clean the fish and was mostly removing the guts with her fingers. Lorelai sent a quizzical look in Luke's direction.

"What is it?" he asked, momentarily concerned.

Lorelai gestured in April's direction, making elongated sweeping slices through the air.

"I have no idea what you're trying to tell me," he told her.

Lorelai sighed, exasperated. "Why is April using her bare hands?" she asked.

April looked up from where she was flinging the last of the discarded fish guts into the bucket. "It's less messy," she explained. "Dad said I need to be less graphic about this kind of stuff if I can avoid it."

Lorelai guiltily met Luke's gaze, remembering how her insecurities had quickly bubbled to the surface the previous afternoon when she had been tucked away from the piscatorial slaughter. "Is it –"

"It's not a big deal," April said as she tossed the remainder of her prize into the cooler, sounding uncannily like her father.

"I can go inside for this part," Lorelai insisted. "It's not like it hasn't happened before."

"I don't feel comfortable leaving April alone when she's doing this completely with a knife and I don't like you being separated from us when we're in the middle of it," Luke clarified as he gestured for April to wash her hands at the pump and basin at the back of the boat. "This is the best compromise. For all of us."

"But don't you want to –" Lorelai held up her hands.

"I keep them short," April said, displaying her fingernails for Lorelai's perusal. "That way, no fish innards run the risk of getting lodged in there."

"I understand the strategy," Lorelai conceded. "Though I'm also grateful that this means that I am permanently excused from handling fish guts due to the need to maintain my pretty, pretty fingernails."

"Like I ever made you do that part anyway," Luke remarked as he handed April her fishing rod.

"I offered," Lorelai reminded him.

"Yes, you did offer," Luke clarified. "But as soon as you figured out what this part of the job actually entailed, you made it clear that you wanted no part of it."

April suppressed a giggle as she watched them banter, but quickly cleared her throat and concentrated on throwing another line in.

Feeling buoyed by this indication of teenage annoyance, Lorelai continued on. "You should have told me about this part when you first taught me how to fish," she told him.

"I wasn't really going to pull out all of the stops so you could impress some other guy," Luke replied. "Especially back then."

"When did this happen?" April asked, suddenly curious.

Lorelai turned to April. "Years ago, before your dad and I were ever together, I asked him to teach me how to fish to impress someone I just started dating. We did in my front yard. It didn't go very far." She shrugged, shooting a glance in Luke's direction, unsure if this topic was uncomfortable for him, especially in front of April. "Neither did that relationship. I don't even remember his name."

"His name was Alex," Luke chimed in, shaking his head.

"Well, it doesn't say much for him that I can't remember his name and you can," Lorelai replied.

Luke smirked. "Guess not," he replied.

April alternated her gaze between the two of them. "Dad was jealous," she surmised aloud.

"Of nothing," Lorelai clarified, catching the glint in Luke's eye as they shared a smile. "Besides, he started dating his wife around that time, so I was feeling a lot of the same thing."

April's jaw dropped open. "Dad was married?" she asked incredulously.

Lorelai was mortified. She had no idea that Luke's marriage to Nicole had been anything resembling a secret. After all, it had only happened four years ago.

It seemed like almost a lifetime at this point had passed between them and now. At least in terms of the life events they'd experienced since then.

Luke seemed unfazed by Lorelai revealing this information. "It didn't last long," he informed his daughter.

"When did it happen?" she asked.

"Right after your cousin left Stars Hollow," he replied. "We'd only been dating for a few months. I thought someone in town would have mentioned it by now."

April furrowed her brows, obviously trying to rack her brain for information. "Miss Patty said something about a Nicole once. She never mentioned that you were married, though."

"Nicole didn't spend a lot of time in Stars Hollow," Luke explained. "We had an apartment in Litchfield. I guess she's still there."

"Is it a secret?" April asked, shifting her gaze to Lorelai. "Or something people don't like to talk about –"

"It's not a secret," Luke clarified. "We didn't have a lot in common, and we didn't think it through ahead of time. End of story."

April shifted nervously, once again alternating her gaze between her father and his unusually silent girlfriend. "So I guess it's a good thing that things ended up the way that they did, then?"

"It is," Luke affirmed as his warm gaze met Lorelai's, and she felt a shimmer of warmth come over her. "It really is."


"I didn't mean to bring Nicole up," Lorelai remarked later that evening, after dinner had been consumed and cleaned up and she and Luke were once again relaxing on the deck of the boat while April read her book inside the cabin.

Luke shrugged and took another sip of his beer. "It's not a big deal, Lorelai. I didn't know that April wasn't aware of it, actually. I guess there's not much to tell."

Lorelai smiled, her thoughts drifting to rambling answering messages and anguished kicks to abandoned car doors as well as insecurities that had only been intensified by her own actions a few years later. "Not that she needs to know about anyway," she remarked.

"Did you tell Rory?" Luke asked quietly.

Lorelai turned to face him. " No, I didn't, Luke" she assured him. "Not the jail part. That's what you mean, right?"

Luke nodded. "Yeah."

Lorelai put her hand on his knee. "That's the stuff you don't want getting out of that small circle, right?"

"No one knows but you and Nicole, as far as I know," Luke affirmed. "I don't want to change that."

Lorelai curled up beside him and reached for her own bottle of beer. "It's not changing," she assured him.

Luke let his hand cover hers. "Good."

The night fell into relaxed silence once again.

"Does April know about Rachel?" Lorelai asked after a moment.

"We've met her," Luke replied.

Lorelai turned to face him once again. "When did this happen?"

"We saw her at a Flyers game in Philadelphia last winter," Luke said. "She was doing an assignment up there before she went back to Texas. Jess really enjoyed sharing as many details as he possibly could with April."

"I didn't know that Jess even met her," Lorelai remarked.

"He stayed with us for a few weeks when Liz was between husbands when he was a kid," Luke explained. "Plus, you know, the writer's brain and all. They stockpile information like an elephant."

"Did I come up?" Lorelai asked.

"Nah," Luke remarked, taking another swig of his beer. "I wasn't very good on that subject at that point. Jess understood that much."

"Do they get along? Jess and April?"

"I think so," Luke said. "April doesn't have any cousins on her mom's side and there's no one on my side but me, so it's good for them to have each other. I don't understand half of what they talk about, but we bonded over the Flyers. It probably shouldn't surprise me that the only sport Jess took an interest in was the one with the most potential for shattered teeth."

"So the Flyers are –"

Luke looked over at her, a grin appearing on his face as Lorelai tried to guess the sport.

"Hockey," he said after a few seconds.

"You enjoyed that, didn't you?" Lorelai admonished him.

"Just a little," Luke said, reaching over to kiss her briefly. Lorelai smiled and cuddled up against him as he placed his hand on her bare leg and began lightly stroking it.

"I always wonder how it happened," Lorelai mused. "You and Nicole. I mean, I kind of get it, but –"

Luke's hand paused, and Lorelai felt chagrined.

"I was lonely," Luke said softly. "Things weren't happening with us, and Jess was leaving soon. I just needed something else. I needed someone else. She was there."

"I didn't know you felt that way, Luke," Lorelai replied, turning to look at him. "Everyone always said you had feelings for me, but you never acted on it."

"I don't think it was a good idea for us to get together while Rory and Jess were dating," Luke admitted.

"You're probably right about that," Lorelai said. "Still, if you would have asked me, I definitely would have considered it. We could have gotten this whole thing between us started a lot sooner. It just always amazed me that you would go for Nicole, though. She was so different from you. And even if it hadn't been irrational jealousy on my part, she never really fit in with us in Stars Hollow."

"I think she only saw this place as some sort of idle curiosity," Luke remarked. "She always wanted us to go and spend time somewhere else. I kept trying to do the things she liked because that's what you're supposed to do when you're in a relationship, but it never felt natural to me."

"You do the things I like, though," Lorelai pointed out. "You go to town meetings with me. You go to festivals and to the movies. I come on these fishing trips with you and to the cabin, even though I never even thought it was something I would like before. That doesn't seem so strange to me."

"It's different when we're doing something in the town where we live," Luke said. "Everything with Nicole was such a damn production. We had to go to the city four or five times a month, or skiing, or we had to get on a boat and go on a cruise to some godforsaken Alaskan wilderness –" Luke sighed. "That's not the life you and I have. We stay where we live because we like it there. Right?"

"Right," Lorelai concurred.

"I know you like going to New York every now and then and I want to take you there when April goes home," Luke said. "But I don't want to make it an everyday production. I don't think you want that, either. That makes sense, doesn't it?"

Lorelai's heart fluttered at these off-the-cuff promises, but she wanted Luke to stick to the point. "But you proposed to her, Luke. If you thought she was always forcing you to do things you didn't like and never the other way around, why did you do that?"

"I don't know, Lorelai," Luke said, and Lorelai thought she heard a twinge of hopelessness in his voice. "I don't know."

"Did you want her to move to Stars Hollow?" Lorelai asked.

"I knew she never would," Luke said. "I didn't want to move away, either. We didn't want anything close to the same kind of life. That's why we broke up the first time, and we should have stuck to it." Luke took another sip of beer. "We never should have gone on that cruise. I know it's unfair to put it on you, but I wanted you to talk me out of it."

"I just wanted you to be happy, Luke," Lorelai said in a small voice. "I didn't know it at the time, but I did kind of feel for you what you did for me. You just –" she sighed. "You never asked."

"You were in a relationship," Luke replied. "I wasn't going to interfere with that."

"I wasn't in a relationship, though," Lorelai reminded him. "I don't think Alex and I even made it to ten dates."

"I didn't know that," Luke said. "Look, I just felt kind of at a loss when Jess left town. I didn't deal with it in the right way, but once the two of us were isolated from everything else I guess I just looked at her and figured it was the best I was going to get."

Lorelai remembered sitting in a restaurant in Paris and looking at Christopher and not wanting to let him down. Thinking that as much as her heart was still broken, that she was getting some of the things that she wanted and that would have to be enough.

"I understand that more than you know, Luke," she told him. "I did the exact same thing."

"I don't want to talk about him and you tonight," Luke said. "Not with April around."

Part of Lorelai felt a little indignant, but she knew Luke had already done enough emotional bloodletting for the night. Her turn would come, and they would survive it.

It had happened before, and they had made it through. They'd make it through this time, too.

"I get it," she told him, as his hand ran up and down her leg again. "I do."

She cuddled back against him as they let the silence overtake them once again.


"I'm done with fishing for this trip," Lorelai declared the following morning as she stretched out on a towel on the far side of the deck. "I'm going to lay here and let you guys do the hard work, and later I will partake of your efforts."

Luke continued to gaze at her as her readied his fishing line, and Lorelai turned her head to look at him after a few moments. "What?"

"I'm just . . . appreciating the view," Luke said. "Though I did like your other suit better."

"I'm not wearing that bikini around your kid," Lorelai said. "You'll have to do with what I'm putting on display today."

"Oh, I will," Luke said as he put the fishing line down and crawled down to meet her for a kiss. "I definitely will."

April groaned as she emerged from the cabin, a look of teenage disgust on her face.

Lorelai turned her head, glad to see that April seemed to be acting more and more like a normal teenager in her presence.

"Fish guts are all yours, milady," Lorelai told her. "I do request that you keep them to that side of the boat."

"I'm fine with that as long as you guys tone down on the PDA," April remarked. "Please."

Luke and Lorelai shared a grin as the sun beat down on them from the summer sky.