A/N: I have readers! Lots of lovely readers AND reviewers! Thank you so much, lovely people. Now, did you really think I was going to waste too much time before the good stuff happened? ;)
(For disclaimer, etc. - see chapter 1)
Jess had just got done with a very long day of working, but for once since getting his new place he wasn't exactly thrilled at the prospect of getting home. Not so long ago, the idea of coming back to an apartment of his own and finding Rory there waiting, that would have been Jess' idea of heaven. How things changed. Of course, his feelings hadn't altered at all, he loved Rory as much now as he ever had. The problem was what she was feeling, and he doubted at this point if even she knew for sure.
Sleeping with Dean. Of all the God forsaken things his Rory could've done, sleeping with that stupid, farmer type, married idiot! He wasn't good enough for her, and though Jess knew he wasn't exactly Mr Reliable back in the day either, he could be what she needed now. He loved Rory and he could be everything she ever wanted, if she just gave him the chance. Now she was here, and it seemed as if he was finally going to get his chance, except she hadn't run into his arms for love and a future together. No, Rory was here because she had nowhere else to go, because she was on the run from the life she knew. Jess couldn't help but wonder if she really came looking for him so much as she just had to escape somewhere and he was an easy choice. He wouldn't turn her away or give up her location to anyone who came looking. Jess didn't want to be wanted for his ability to lie and deceive. He wanted Rory to love him like he loved her, like she had once upon a time in Stars Hollow.
Shaking his head as he trudged up the last flight of stairs, Jess knew he was fast coming up on his own front door, and the young woman in question who was hidden behind it. After a shift at the nearest Walmart, running all over Manhatten with messages right after, and heading across town to pick up a late paycheck for some ad-hoc bar work last weekend, Jess was exhausted. Working three jobs would kill him if he wasn't built to be as resilient as his childhood had made him. All he wanted now was food and sleep. What he was going to get was awkward conversation and a crappy night on a solid floor, with a beautiful woman in his bed that wasn't his to have anymore. Yeah, he was really looking forward to this.
Taking a deep breath, Jess shoved his key into the front door and then swung it open. He was stunned to realise that the place was mostly in darkness save for his one lamp shining in the centre of the floor. The bed had been shoved over some, and what looked like a picnic set-up was in the floor space that was left. The only two plates he owned, some mismatched cutlery, and half a large size bottle of soda was set out, and the second Jess came in the door, Rory dashed towards the stove like a woman possessed.
"What's going on?" he asked, glancing between the floor and Rory, his key still in the open door, and his hand still on it.
"I'm cooking dinner," she said quickly, concentrating hard as she lit the oven and waited for it to get warm.
Jess was frowning so hard he felt the pressure of doing so and made a conscious effort to stop. He realised he hadn't moved out of the door way and quickly removed his key, closing said door at last.
"You don't cook," he said pointlessly, since they both already knew that.
Sure, he had been gone from Stars Hollow a while now, but he couldn't imagine Rory had bothered to learn to cook food for herself. She had Lorelai as her main influence and that woman could burn water. The Gilmore Girls relied completely on the kindness of others for their food, be it Sookie, Luke, or Al's Pancake World when they were feeling brave. They just didn't cook.
"I, er... I got it from your neighbour," Rory admitted, tucking her hair behind her ear and barely looking at Jess as she continued to remove the foil from a large dish on the counter. "I was just going to the bathroom, and this woman appeared with this huge dish of lasagne. She saw me coming out of the apartment, so she knew I was staying with you."
"Mrs Rossini misses nothing," Jess rolled his eyes, though he was smiling all the same as he wandered over, peering over Rory's shoulder at the lasagne. "She's also one of the greatest Italian cooks I ever met in my whole life," he said, taking a deep breath of the good-smelling food.
"From what I've seen so far, you're right," Rory smiled, looking back at him, marvelling a moment at the closeness.
They hadn't gotten this close since the night she arrived and pretty much threw herself into Jess' arms. The past three days, he seemed to be deliberately keeping her at arms length. Rory supposed she could understand that. He didn't know what she wanted, and maybe he just didn't want her anymore. After all, she had shut him down so completely that night at Yale when he asked her to leave with him, and then she went ahead and slept with Dean. The fact Jess was even letting her stay here was a miracle. Maybe friends is all they could ever be now.
"Um, she's a really nice lady," she said awkwardly then, anything to break the odd tension that seemed to have settled in. "Like somebody else's grandma."
"Mrs Rossini never had kids," Jess explained, moving away when he too realised how close he had been to Rory.
He leaned back against the wall near the stove, watching her open up the oven door and carefully shove the lasagne inside.
"She had this big love story with a guy, proper true romance stuff, only real," he said with a hint of a smile that he just couldn't help. "They got married, but he was in the army. Pearl Harbour."
The two words were enough to make Rory shudder. She just knew from the way Jess said it and the way he looked at her right now that Mr Rossini died in that place. She felt a little sick, and yet she wanted to hear the rest of what Jess had to tell her about the kind old lady she met this afternoon.
"No kids, no grandkids. Once her parents were gone, Mrs Rossini was pretty much alone in the world," he explained. "She was a teacher for a while, and a governess, plus a cook. All kinds of jobs, all over the place. She has just enough money to get by, and she cares about everybody else a whole lot more than she cares about herself," he sighed. "Apparently I remind her of her husband," he smirked then. "Good looking Italian stock, y'know?"
Rory giggled at that, mostly because she felt stupidly nervous right now. Here she was cooking dinner, or at least warming it up, for her man that had come home from work. Sure, he wasn't her man exactly, not right now, not anymore, but it was awfully domestic and sweet. Besides, hearing that the old lady downstairs had a crush on Jess was a little funny, even if she shared said crush somehow, even after everything.
"Does she cook for you a lot?" asked Rory, maybe just to take the attention of any other topic. "From what she said, it seemed that way."
"Sometimes," Jess shrugged easily. "I don't like her spending all her pension money on feeding me, so once in a while a few bucks end up in her mail box. You can't tell her that though, if she knew it was me, she'd never take it."
"Who does she think it is?" asked Rory, all curiosity as ever.
"Guardian angel," said Jess as if it were nothing.
He pushed off the wall and muttered something about washing up for dinner. A few minutes later he was back and immediately moved to grab a towel he could use to get the lasagne out of the oven. Rory moved aside to let him do so, still marvelling at the concept of Jess as an angel of any kind. Most of Stars Hollow would be more likely to label him the devil than a heavenly creature, but Rory always knew how sweet he could be, how helpful and kind.
Rory's mind was soon back on the task at hand when the lasagne emerged, hot and bubbling from the oven. She was hungry, and hadn't really noticed until her stomach made an effort to rumble. Thankfully she was pretty sure Jess hadn't heard. She served the food onto their plates, and both sat down lotus style on the floor to eat. Conversation dried up, not just because they were eating but because talking was just awkward most of the time. When they got onto books or movies, even music, it was fine, but somehow every topic seemed to segue too easily into the past, memories of sweet kisses, well-chosen gifts, and promises that had been too easily broken years ago when they were just kids. Most people would say they were still that now, but it wasn't true. Rory and Jess had both grown up so much in the past couple of years, more than they ever thought they could or needed to. Still, somehow right now it felt good to be here, in a comfortable silence for a change as they ate good food by the mellow light.
"This is nice," Rory blurted out the moment she had swallowed a mouthful of delicious pasta.
"I told you Mrs Rossini is a good cook," Jess reminded her, shoving another forkful of lasagne into his mouth without looking up.
"Yeah, but I didn't mean the food... or not just the food."
So much for conversation, Rory's confession seemed to have struck the both of them dumb the very next second. They continued to eat in silence until both their plates were almost cleared. There was the option for second helpings, but that meant moving, getting up out of this almost intimate situation they seemed to have gotten into without hardly trying. Jess felt as if he were stuck to the floor at first, but when Rory spoke again he started getting that old familiar urge to run.
"Did you mean it?" she asked, eyes to the floor at first and then coming up to meet his when she clarified what she meant. "When you said you love me?"
"Geez, Rory!" he groaned, dropping his fork down onto the plate with a clatter. "You think I'd say it if I didn't?" he asked, clearly affronted by the question.
Rory looked as guilty as she obviously felt. She hadn't meant to be so stupid. All the effort it took, all the time, there was no way that Jess would have said he loved her if he didn't. Maybe she was just fishing for him to repeat it somehow. Even Rory wasn't sure.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly, putting her own fork down.
She rubbed her hands together as if dusting something off. There was nothing there, it was just something to do with her hands right now.
"I'm sorry too," admitted Jess then. "Telling you that and bolting? Not my finest hour," he shook his head sadly.
"Agreed," Rory nodded once, making herself meet his eyes again when she felt his gaze on her. "But I get it now. You couldn't deal. It was a big step for us, for you," she explained the facts as she saw them and was glad when he agreed.
"Biggest. Ever," he nodded definitely. "Well, at least up until I asked you to leave Stars Hollow with me."
The tension was back, the air in the room suddenly so thick, Rory couldn't breathe. Finding her voice to speak was tough enough. Knowing what to say when she did was even harder.
The verbal thing, it comes and goes.
Jess' voice was so clear in her head, she almost thought he had spoken just now, but it was only a memory of a day long ago, before they were even dating. She would smile or even laugh about it if things weren't so serious. Jess had asked her to run away with him and she had said no, so definitely in fact that she was pretty sure she broke his heart. Truth be told, she broke her own too.
"All those 'no's and look where I am now," she said aloud, though neither of them were entirely sure the thought was meant to leak out into the open like that.
"I'm lookin'," Jess confirmed, staring at her with that dark, intense gaze of his again. "Why'd you really come here, Rory?"
There was no answer to that, nothing she could think of in this moment that would make any sense. The decision to run away had been rolling around in her head since Barcelona and Paris. Two stops into their Europe trip and she had to tell her grandma she wanted to go home. All that time, she wasn't entirely sure where she would go, though a voice in her head repeated Jess' name over and over until she just couldn't ignore it anymore. He was the one she could safely run to, always. Rory tried to tell him that when she first got here, tried to make him understand, but all words eluded her, all powers of persuasion or explanation just evaporated.
"See, you say you're here 'cause I'm the one that gets you, and that's fine," he said then, as if he read the thoughts clean out of her head. "But what I can't figure is whether you're running toward me, or just away from Dean and your Mom and whatever else is tough in your life right now."
Rory twisted a paper napkin around and around in her hands. She was better than this, smarter than this. She had words enough to say, she was sure she did and yet...
"Do you even know?" Jess prompted her again for an answer, one she clearly either couldn't or wouldn't give.
When she shook her head in the negative, he just couldn't take it. A part of Jess so wanted to walk out right now, slam the door, go get drunk or just get lost in the dark. He wouldn't do it of course, not least because leaving Rory alone like that wasn't an option, not here. In any case, wasn't he the one who told her she could depend on him now? Just because maybe she didn't want as much from him as he'd like to give, Jess would not walk out on her, not again, not after everything. He got as far as standing up and turning away but that was all.
"You're right," said her cracking voice behind him, and Jess closed his eyes at the sound. "I am running from tough choices and bad decisions, but I told you before, there were other places I could've run to. My grandparents, my Dad, friends from Yale even, but I didn't. I chose you," she repeated, appearing at his shoulder, but Jess didn't move at all. "Yes, I chose you because you always understood me, but also for a million other reasons that it would take me all night to explain and even then I'd probably screw it up," she admitted, as the tears started to come. "Mostly, I... I just miss you, Jess," she cried, putting her hand on his shoulder, hoping he would turn around but he didn't yet. "I suddenly realised that I'd been so unfair to you, so... so judgmental, when you never really judged me. Don't get me wrong, you were no saint when we were dating, you made bad calls too, but you always loved me for who I am, and in spite of who I am sometimes," she went on, and that seemed to be enough to get his full attention. "Trying to go back and be with Dean, it just reminded me why we broke up in the first place, why I had to move on with you. I love you, Jess," she said as definitely as she ever said anything.
There was a moment of silence when she feared he was going to turn away again, tell her she was too late maybe. Rory was pretty sure she wasn't breathing, and then suddenly Jess was kissing her and the world fell away.
Somehow she had been waiting for this moment, not just since she got here to this apartment, not even since Jess said he loved her. Rory had an idea in her head that from the second they parted she was waiting for Jess to come back, for their beautiful reunion with exactly this kiss that was making her knees want to buckle in a second.
It felt different, always had with Jess. Not that she was exactly thinking of her ex right now, but Dean could never make her feel this much. She had sex with that man, and she had regretted it. She had no problem with letting Jess take away the awful memory of her first time. Making believe that this was where her virginity would be lost, that was a better plan for Rory. She leaned into Jess embrace and his kiss, not at all worried when they ended up with their legs hitting the end of the bed. They sat down more out of necessity and momentum than design.
His hands in her hair and his lips on hers took everything else away. The state of the apartment, the string of mistakes and fights that had almost torn them completely apart. They were here now, together, as they always should've been. Everything else was a blur, water under the bridge, just didn't matter, at least not tonight.
"Rory," he whispered her name, very deliberately putting her at arms length even when she made a noise of protest and struggled to get close again. "Rory, we can't just..."
"Yes, we can," she told him definitely. "I want to. Don't you?"
Of all the stupid questions in the world, and they both knew it too. When he kissed her again, Jess decided it was time to give in. This was what he had wanted for so long, for Rory to admit she loved him, for them to be together. She just said she wanted this and he didn't doubt her. At least a part of it was probably trying to wipe out the memory of what happened with Dean. She certainly seemed to regret that, and Jess wasn't sorry to know it. Right now he wasn't giving the farmer guy any thought at all. Everything was about Rory, and the fact that he loved her, and she loved him. He laid her down on the bed and she didn't seem to be changing her mind. He gave her every opportunity, but Rory was definite in what she said and as into this moment as Jess was. Right now, it felt nothing short of perfect.
To Be Continued...