A/N: So I found this on my hard drive... Apparently I wrote it in March, and I think at the time I decided not to post it because the ending was a little too similar to the prologue on The Runaways, but the main content is quite different and it takes place later than the beginning of that story. So yeah, sharing now, just because.
Disclaimer: All recognisable characters belong to Amy Sherman-Palladino, and other folks that aren't me.
Everything Back But You
It wasn't weird that they came to a mutual agreement on the end of their relationship, not this time around. They had grown as people, grown up and sadly grown apart. Trying to go back to what they were and what they had, it was a foolish and naive idea. No, the end wasn't a surprise, and the agreeing on it wasn't a shock either. What made Rory's eyes goes wide and jaw go slack was the realisation that Dean's reason for the break up was one she had been denying to herself this whole time, the same reason they broke up the first time - Jess Mariano.
"I'm not going to make a big deal this time," Dean told her as they sat together on his friends couch and agreed this was the end for them. "I mean, there's nobody to blame, it's just... I understand now, you can't help what you feel about him..."
"Him?" she echoed, perhaps more surprised that her less-smart 'farmer' of a boyfriend had figured it out, than the fact he was accepting of it.
"C'mon, Rory," he rolled his eyes, pushed his floppy bangs off his face. "We're both adults here, and I'm pretty sure we both saw this coming from a couple of exits back," he smiled wryly. "You miss Jess. You... you still love him."
Rory opened her mouth to protest and yet had to close it fast when she realised there was no argument she could make that wouldn't be an out and out lie. It was true, everything Dean was saying, more than he was implying. She missed Jess, all the time. Everything was a reminder, and everything that wasn't managed to find its way on a path back to the sulky guy she used to call Dodger.
From commenting that she needed to buy Clara some Ramones when she caught her blasting Avril Lavigne on the stereo, to the notes in the margins of some of her favourite books in handwriting that still made her want to cry and smile at the same time. Everything. Every tiny detail of Rory's life had Jess baked right in. The diner, the library, the bridge over the lake. Movies she watched, so very many books she read, music she listened to, even clothes she wore. Sure, there had been the same kind of memories when she broke up with Dean, but not half so many. Somehow, he always seemed to tag onto things and was more easily detached later. Jess made things his own, whether he meant to or not, and him and Rory having so very much in common to start with meant he infiltrated every part of her life, even Yale. Just driving to and from her dorm reminded her of the distance travelled - 22.8 miles - he'd looked it up. Yale was where he had stood before her, begging her to run away into the night, where Rory had said no so many times the word lost all meaning, except it hadn't really. No meant no. It meant she didn't love Jess and that he should leave and never come back. That's what it was supposed to mean, what he said it was. Only Rory knew the truth, and it had taken her weeks, even months, to realise it, to admit it to herself. Even now her lips twitched with a need to deny it, even as she and Dean amicably parted ways a second time.
"I never told him," she said softly, hardly aware she had spoken the words aloud until Dean asked what she meant. "Um, Jess," she admitted, shaking her head a little to clear out all the jumbled thoughts - God only knew how long she zoned out for just then. "I never told Jess that... that I love him, even though I did, I do, it just...it never came up. How sad is that?"
"I'm probably not the right person to ask," said Dean, shifting awkwardly, as Rory continued to stare off into space, a spot in the distance that wasn't really there.
Maybe he was an idiot. Dean wouldn't be at all surprised if it were true. After all, his parents, his not-quite-ex wife, his friends, they had all told him that was just exactly what he was from the moment he got back together with Rory. Maybe he was a fool. He was certainly wrong to marry Lindsay. It wasn't that he didn't care for her at all, for a while there he believed he really could love her, that maybe he did, but most of his inspiration for marrying her was jealousy. Rory loved Jess, in some small way from the first day they met, Dean was sure on that. He knew it and it hurt like hell, because they were so well-matched and he didn't stand a chance. Jess was into everything Rory was into, plus he had a whole bad boy vibe, a dark humour, a sickle wit. Dean had nothing to compete with all that. That was what irked him most, he supposed, that this guy, this perfect-for-Rory guy, could just swoop in and take his girl. Dean loved Rory and she had loved him too, maybe she still did on some level, but they weren't in love at this point. Too much had happened, time passed, water under the bridge. They needed to make a clean break and it needed to be now, before things got so tangled they couldn't be undone.
"I'm not gonna lie, Rory," he said after a while. "You were the first girl I loved, and I will always care about you."
"I'll always care about you," she cut in, as a Gilmore was want to do. "I never stopped loving you, Dean, I just... it just changed, my loving you changed, and now it's... it's just not the same, is it?"
"No, it's not," he admitted sadly. "Like I said, I'll always care about you, Rory, but we tried to go back when we should have gone forward. Don't get me wrong, I don't think me and Lindsay would've worked out no matter what, but you and me..."
"We can't go back," she finished for him. "We tried and it was nice, fun even for a while, but it wasn't real."
They both knew she was right. It was why they were here, why the end had to come. Try as they might, they couldn't get back to what they used to be to each other. They had both changed, perhaps her more than him, but it wasn't so much a competition to be won. Growing up, moving on, it was impossible to be those sixteen year old, wide-eyed kids that played at The Donna Reed Show and made out at the bus stop before school. Adult Rory needed someone that matched her personality, and held her heart. Adult Dean wasn't sure what he needed exactly, but he wasn't going to find it by playing around in the past.
"You know where to find him?" he asked, and the person they were talking about was obvious enough that Rory didn't even flinch when she replied.
"No, but Luke will," she nodded, turning to meet Dean's gaze. "The real problem is that after how things ended, I kinda don't think he's gonna want me anymore."
"If you really believe that then you're crazy," he told her with a good-natured smile. "Rory, you were all he ever wanted, and trust me, it's not easy to stop wanting a girl like you."
She couldn't explain the tears that came to her eyes when he said that, when his hand cupped her cheek and pulled her close. Dean pressed a kiss to Rory's forehead, and one lone droplet streaked down her face.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, emotion taking her voice almost completely away. "For everything that went wrong with us, both times."
"It's not all on you," he promised her as they parted for the final time. "Sometimes things just aren't meant to be."
Rory left quickly then, she couldn't stand the idea of a long goodbye. Maybe that was part of the reason she had been so harsh with Jess. Sure, the first couple of times he had gone without giving her a chance for a farewell, but when she was finally granted a choice, it was Rory that had yelled until he finally walked away. That was the moment, the one that she allowed to snow ball into the ridiculous chain of events that she had gone through these past few weeks. Sleeping with Dean, going to Europe with her grandma, shutting out her Mom, letting the town judge her as she took a married man from his wife. None of this was her, not the Rory Gilmore she used to be nor what she aspired to. She had allowed herself to act rashly through a mixture of confusion and desperation, and ultimately fear. To love Jess, to let him back into her life, to be tempted into running from the world she knew just to be with him, it had all terrified her to the point where she headed in the completely opposite direction just to be safe. Unfortunately, it wasn't safety she found, and certainly not happiness. No, Rory had found a mess, formed from childish day dreams and harsh reality.
It would take a week from her final break up with Dean before she was exactly where she knew she belonged. Planning how this would work, explaining to her Mom, and getting the information she needed from Luke all took a couple of days, and then there was the travelling and getting up the nerve to knock on his door.
Jess looked comfortingly the same, and yet different somehow. Not so much older exactly. His hair was still a little longer but neater, his clothes slightly changed in style, but he was still Jess, still the guy she fell for all those years ago and knew she loved now as much as ever.
"Hi," she greeted him simply.
"Hi," he replied in kind, the both of them reminded of a time long ago when they first started dating, when all they could manage was one syllable words, at least in front of company.
Behind closed doors, they always knew how to behave, what they wanted from each other. He had told her once that even if no other part of their relationship worked out, they knew at least that they were good at the physical side. There had been no sex, but there had been just about everything else between kissing and the threshold they hadn't quite crossed. Rory almost blushed remembering it all - almost.
"What are you doing here?" he asked when she was quiet too long.
Honestly, Rory didn't know what to tell him. She did know why she was here, at least she had when she set out on her trip. She wanted Jess to know that she understood now, that she loved him just like he said he loved her. Rory wanted them to be an 'us' again, to walk down the street with his arm around her, to call him whenever there was a good book to debate. She wanted sarcastic retorts, comfortable silence, and that smirk that melted her insides. She wanted Jess, pure and simple, to be her boyfriend, to be her lover, to be her always. For the girl that used to have an answer for everything, vocabulary enough for a thousand grade A essays and papers, Rory was coming up blank right now. She did all she could do, just moved in closer and kissed him.
Jess was stunned, but not enough to argue with what was happening. Rory had been haunting his dreams, day and night, for weeks now, maybe even months and years if he were honest. From the day they met, he just knew she was the one. Rory Gilmore was different to any other girl he had ever known, the one he was supposed to be with, come hell or high water. He was no good for her then, and though he tried in his own way to make her happy, ultimately he always expected to break her heart whether he wanted to or not, and he never, ever did want to.
That day in her dorm room when he asked her to run away with him, Jess had meant every word. He didn't really expect her to say yes, whether she loved him or not, and after everything, he had to doubt that she ever could. Rory was a good girl - despite the times they almost got into trouble together over the years, that was still true. Running out on everything and everyone she knew, it was never going to happen, at least he hadn't thought so until this moment, with her lips on his and her arms around him.
"I love you," she whispered, her forehead still resting against his own and eyes closed even though the kiss was apparently over.
Jess smiled instinctively at the sound of those words. A million times she had spoken them in dreams that brought such pleasure and pain together. He never truly believed he would hear them in real life like this, not after everything.
"You take your time, Gilmore," he told her, holding her close still.
"But I always figure it out in the end," she replied quickly. "Please tell me I'm not too late," she urged him. "Jess, I'm so sorry about before. I was so confused and..."
This time he kissed her, because the excuses didn't matter, the explanation could wait until later, and because there was no way he could have her this close after that confession and not be kissing her.
Here was a moment that had been a long time coming, a very, very long time, that couldn't matter now. In the time they had been apart, Jess had tried to go back to what he used to be, the person he was before Stars Hollow, before Uncle Luke, before Rory Gilmore. It was impossible. Every cigarette he lit up, he heard her voice admonishing him. Every fight he got into he saw the farm boy on the end of the punch, consequently saw Rory frown at him. If she didn't like it, he couldn't do it. Wherever he went, there were reminders of her, of that town, of all they had done and said and been through. Now here she was, telling him she loved him, giving them a chance to finally move forward instead of back. Where exactly they were headed, how it would work, those were details to be figured out later. They were together and that fact alone was all that mattered for now.
A/N2: This is definitely staying a one-shot, since trying to continue it would probably lead to a very similar story to at least the early part of The Runaways, but I hope you enjoyed this one-shot as another alternative spin on how Rory and Jess got back together ;)