Disclaimer: I forgot my last disclaimer. Sorry. In any case, the characters and such belong to ASP and the WB.

Chapter Six: The Waking Hours

Sometimes people tell us unfortunate things. Truths we would rather not hear. News we would rather not know. Lies we should never listen to. It is a dangerous thing, to be alive in the world. We must always listen carefully to the things people tell us. We must hear what they do say, and what they don't say. What they let slip and what they hide. We must draw our own conclusions, and try to answer wisely.

* * *

She's asleep now. Which gives him time to think. There are lots of things to consider. Like what to do tomorrow. What to decide. Once it might have been easy, but there are so many angles to cover now. They shouldn't matter, but they do. His mind keeps wandering, to this, to that, to so many irrelevant things.

Outside, the city is very bright. He sits on a sofa and stares out the windows. He sees streets, filled with people, passing in and out of shadows, under the glare of streetlamps, past the light of shop windows. The city breathes, and he doesn't remember what the night looks like without the orange glow of light-pollution. Day, night, it does not matter what hour: He looks out on the same view. Red taillights blinking, the white of headlights below. People sitting on balconies, at all-night cafes, individual people he can make out, wandering here and there.

He looks down at the city, and he sees so many things. He sees summer days, and people swimming at dawn. Empty beaches gradually filling, he and Rory somewhere amongst the crowd, together. He sees her laughing under an autumn sky, and he imagines long forest walks beneath a canopy of red and golden leaves. He thinks of a home, a leafy place in a pleasant suburb. He pictures driving home with Rory, to see small faces in the window, waiting for them, and racing her to the door. He thinks of perfection, and he thinks that maybe, it could all be his. He considers for a long while, spinning out the story of another life. He considers, and he sighs, and then he closes his eyes and lets it go. When he opens them again to look once more out the window, there is only the city, glowing and moving. There is only the light of another night, and there is nothing else to see.

The room behind him is dark, Rory a shape somewhere in it. She is a sound of low breathing, a chest rising and falling steadily. She is a face he knows, a heart he has heard beating. She is two hands which moves towards him as he slips beside her, back into bed. She is the warmth he puts arms around, the body he holds. She is a dream made of tears. She is a life he no longer lives.

He lies in the darkness, his arms around her, and the light of the night world streams in through his uncovered windows. He stares at the ceiling, and there is no anger, or hatred, or bitterness. Perhaps there never was. Perhaps he will wake up tomorrow to see snow outside his window, and he will be in New York, and the Rory beside him will stir and say "Go back to sleep, Tristan." Perhaps she has always been here with him.

He lies in the darkness, which is really half-shadow, and finds that he is awake. He is wide-awake, and he loves her more than anything. No more sleeping, and dreaming, because those things he dreamed of are gone. Everything is gone, except the knowledge that he loves her.

* * *

It doesn't feel like her bed, but it's familiar anyway. It takes awhile for her to open her eyes, and then she remembers. She's here, in LA, with Tristan again. She rolls over, and there he is. He's awake too, watching her. It's strange, how comfortable she feels. How sad, too. It's very sad really, how much people need each other.

"Rory," he says. It's hard to know, looking into his eyes, what he's thinking. She's afraid things might get messy, despite her promises to Lane. She's afraid because she's ready to stay. She will, if he wants her, and that means leaving a lot of things behind.

"Rory," he says again, and she thinks suddenly of every happy moment she has ever shared with Jess. She thinks of her daughter, and of how fragile life is. You can upset everything without meaning to. You can ruin people without meaning to. You can be torn in so many directions that you don't want to have to choose.

"Rory," he says gently, "It isn't real."

She turns her head away before he says it, because somehow she's been expecting him to. She buries her face into the pillows and cries. There is sorrow, regret, and perhaps relief; all kinds of things running into each other. She could stop him, if she wanted, lean over and say "I don't care." Except she does care, so she lies silent as he talks, and lets him stroke her back

"We happened a long time ago, Rory. Things were different, and we were different, and that matters whether or not we want it to. I think you loved me once, Rory. Only I'm not who I used to be. You don't want to love me, you want an escape. You want to go back to somewhere that doesn't exist anymore. Rory, you aren't unhappy. You're lonely. You're lonely because you don't feel close to either of the things in your life you think you should feel close to. You feel lost too, because you don't know how to stop feeling lonely."

She listens, and all the time his voice gets softer, and later she thinks that maybe there was something in his voice he was trying to suppress. Later she also thinks that maybe, had she taken her face from the pillow and managed to look at him, she might have seen eyes which were too bright. But she thinks none of those things till later, only wonders if he wants her to go, or if she wants to go and he's trying to help because she's too weak to say so

"I met Jess, Rory. He told me all about his life while he was coming to my club. I know he loves you, and you should know that too. He made his mistakes, Rory, but we all do. Let them go - everything that weighs on you. None of us has the right to condemn. Balance things out, Rory. Tell him about us. About what we were. It's over now. We both know that. He'll understand.

People fall in and out of love all the time. Feelings are fickle. Few people will always be in love. That's why it shouldn't just be feelings keeping people together. That's why it's about the commitments we make. You never promised me anything. There's nothing you owe me, no matter what you think. When you left, it took me a long time to figure out that I didn't hate you, and that you never owed me anything. It took me right up until I saw you again for the first time. That's when I knew.

It's my life, Rory, mine to look after. There isn't any other person who can tell me how to live it, because everyone is busy with their own lives. You helped me when I needed it very much. But you never had any responsibility for me. Jess is different. You married him, and maybe you've regretted it for a long time, but he loves you, and he's been trying to make it work. Not the right way, I guess, but he doesn't know what to do. Help him, Rory, because he needs you now. That's what you did when you married him. You made him the priority on your responsibility list.

I don't want to preach at you, Ror, but before you, I thought marriage was a joke. And then I started thinking, after I got to know you, that you, of all people, would take it seriously. It wouldn't be a joke to you. You'd think about it carefully, because that's the kind of person you are. You care. You care about your actions and what they say about you. I told you that right now you're lost. It's because you don't remember what you're like, but I do. You're kind.

I know it's a lot to ask, but Rory, if you can stay with Jess, only for your daughter's sake, it'll mean a lot to her. I know you and Jess could live together as friends, even if you felt like you could never love him again. And that's all your daughter will want. Parents who are friends. Having parents who at least respect each other, it could change the way your daughter sees the world. She could see it the way you saw it once, and she wouldn't be wrong. If you could bring up some one else like you into the world, it would be a lighter place. You told me last night that you think you've done too many wrong things to ever make them right. You can make them right. You have the courage and patience, even if you've forgotten you do. People think they want to hate, Rory, but they don't. They want to love and be loved. Don't hate yourself, Rory. I don't, and I couldn't, even when I wanted to. I love you."

Then he's done, his voice is silent, and it's like floating away. She's somewhere very quiet and very still. Maybe she loves him, maybe she doesn't it. Maybe she wishes she and Jess had never fought, so that they could be leading their happy, innocent lives. Maybe she loved Tristan once, but he's right, those days are gone. Maybe she still does. Maybe sometimes there are right and wrong choices, and he is trying his best to be the Tristan she knew back then. She's been with Jess six years. That's a lot to throw away.

Honour. Fidelity. Old fashioned words. She thinks them anyway.

It's funny, how Tristan's right. She wants to be here with him as much as she wants to be home again. She only wants things to be simple again, and they are. He's choosing for her, because she can't. He's choosing, and she wants to hate herself for leaving it to him. For letting him give her the easy way out. Except he loves her. He still does, and it's as natural as breathing. He loves her, even now, and there's nothing to forgive. He loves her, and she's leaving in the afternoon. That's how it's decided, just like that. She sits up, and picks up the cell phone by the bedside, and phones the airline.

He heads into the bathroom during her phone call. She's lucky. She gets booked on a two p.m. flight for San Francisco. Two p.m., which is almost like fate. When she hangs up, she notices it's already noon. He comes out of the bathroom and smiles at her, and she smiles back, and her heart constricts. He tells her they can go out to lunch and then head to the airport after. She showers, and when she's done, she finds he has assembled her belongings for her.

They head out to a nice place a couple of blocks over. They talk easily, about city life, she asks about the nightclub. It isn't strained or odd, only sort of quiet between them. They're both thinking. Perhaps it's the finality of the decision, the ease with which it was accomplished. There's nothing to talk about, because they've discussed it already. It's nice between them, but in a good friends way. Which they are, she supposes. Friends again, things are straightforward again, and all the agony is gone, evaporated.

They drive to the airport after, he walks with her to her gate and then it's goodbye. Their first goodbye.

"May I?" he asks, and she's not sure what he wants, but she nods. He puts his hands on her shoulders, and then he kisses her. It's slow, but warm. Her arms lock around his neck, and his left arm snakes down around her waist, and his right hand cradles the back of her head. It ends, she's not sure when, and he only holds her tightly, her head on his shoulder.

Then he kisses her forehead, and lets her go. She walks through the gate, and looks back, and he's standing there watching. Blue meets blue, and then she turns her head and moves forward. That's how it ends. Softly.

It's only when the plane is in the air, and the seatbelt sign is off, that she makes her way to the bathroom and sobs silently. So stupid. He loved her, and she's gone. He loved her, and they both have to go on with their lives, and she never said it back. He loved her, and they can't live happily ever after, because it's the real world. Too much time passed between them, and responsibilities they do not share. Lifestyle differences, and promises made, and morality, and trying to make one's way in the world. Little things, things that could be overcome? Sometimes we forfeit our right to try. She will be happy again, just not with him. The past has streamed on, and we must live in the present.

She drives home from the airport, and unlocks her front door, and there is Jess at the kitchen table.

"Hi," she says. "I'm home." There is a world of meaning in those words, and he nods, because he is not a fool, and he knows she has not been in New York with Lane. Who knows where she has been? Not him, and yet she's home.

He makes coffee, and they sit down to talk, and they have a lifetime ahead of them to figure themselves out in. Together. Who does she love most? Does she know? Only it doesn't matter, because this is the life she has chosen, and she will make do. There are few absolutes in life. We all learn to muddle along somehow.

* * *

After she moves on, and he can't see her anymore, he leaves the airport. He gets into his car, and he drives along the coast for several hours. He pulls over, eventually, on a small backwoods road. The dusk is falling, and the Bombay will soon be open for business, but for once he won't be there.

He turns off the engine, and pauses for a moment. Then he covers his face with his hands, and sits, body shaking. He stays there for a long time.

* * *

On very foggy days, everything disappears outside my windows. If I try to make out any shapes, there's only my reflection, peering blindly back at me . When it's foggy, you can open the windows, and stretch your hands out, and imagine you are touching nothing. Streets, buildings, the entire city vanishes. Like the images in your head, right before you wake up. You know they were there, but they're gone suddenly. That's how I see her. Only a glimpse, before she fades away, but in that instant I see her again, waving goodbye. Always from somewhere just out of reach.