Title: Of Trees, Diner Men, and Breaking

Author: Princess Twilite (princesstwilite2@aol.com)

Rating: PG-13

Summary: "She was a tree ready to fall and everyone was listening to the sound of her breaking." (Because sometimes the end of a friendship is the beginning of the something altogether different.)

Category: Angst, near-future, Romance/Friendship

Pairing: Luke/Lorelai

Website: http://thatvisionthing.org/whip [My Fiction] http://shippersunited.com/unrequited [L/L forum]

Updates: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ptupdates

Feedback: Oh yes, indeed. I worked hard on this one and would definitely like some sort of response from the readers :)

A/N: I know, I know - but everyone has to do a fic about the break up of 2002.. Thanks to some of the really great GG writers for being so good. just because I say so. Green Eve, Moswen, Conneticut Junkie and the brilliant author of Hey Mr. Bachelor Man. More of course, but my brain is as dull as a five hundred year old knife right now - you guys are too good to be true.

~*~*~*~

"Milk" - Garbage I am milk. I am red hot kitchen. And I am cool. Cool as the deep blue ocean.

I am lost. So I am cruel. But I'd be love and sweetness. If I had you. I'm waiting, I'm waiting for you. I'm waiting, I'm waiting for you. I am weak. But I am strong. I can use my tears to. Bring you home. I'm waiting, I'm waiting for you. I'm waiting, I'm waiting for you. I'm waiting, I'm waiting for you. I am milk. I am red hot kitchen. I am cool. Cool as the deep blue ocean. I'm waiting, I'm waiting for you. I'm waiting, I'm waiting for you. I'm waiting, I'm waiting for you. I'm aching, I'm aching for you. I'm waiting, I'm waiting, I'm waiting for you.

~*~*~*~

Of Trees, Diner Men, and Breaking 1/1

~*~*~*~

Lorelai tugged her purse strap up her shoulder, holding on tight to the leather of it. It twisted into her skin, burned. She walked firmly toward the diner, feeling the ground keep it's weight beneath her feet. Steady. Dependable. Always there, unlike some people. Well, everyone changed, she could accept that.

She was, after all, the picture in the dictionary about the word UNDEPENDABLE. See below: For anyone but Rory.

The diner loomed closer, if a building could loom. Could a building loom?

The sign swung softly, an irritated fixture in the wind. So much like the man himself. The creaking sound reached her ears, beneath her layers of curled hair. Lorelai froze, staring hard at the window. She could almost see him, standing there with a coffee pot ever ready in his hands. Big hands. Dependable hands.

How could it come down to this? He was more than a caffeine fix and she felt like a junkie, aching for things to go back to a cup of Joe and a reluctant smile. It was as if a childhood friendship had been torn from her grasp after years and years and it just wasn't FAIR.

She couldn't go in. Not today, not when the possibility loomed, yes loomed, that their friendship would never return and she'd be waiting like ether, in the middle of a nowhere.

Ether wasn't anything and she wasn't anything to him.

Did a tree make a noise when it hit the ground if no one was around to hear it fall?

Lorelai's jacket tails flapped out behind her as she pivoted in her heels and walked in the other direction.

The creaking of the sign haunted her, all the way home.

~*~*~*~

It was late, dark and empty like it got every night around closing time. Same old, same old. Nothing really changed in this town. Except it did, but that wasn't something he ever cared to think about. Jess had long since escaped out the door, leaving it to bang closed behind him, echoing with Luke cursing furiously, praying that the glass broke on the boy's head next time.

Or maybe not, because that would mean he'd have to argue the kid into paying for it. Luke thought back to himself as a teenager and still found that he couldn't relate. Not everything was about age, some things were all about attitude and that damn kid had plenty.

Sometimes, when he found himself able to admit it, he loved Jess for it.

The doors were locked, the sign flipped to closed. No crazy woman with crazy talk trying to persuade her way in for just one more cup of coffee. Crazy.

His hands smelled of bleach as he scrubbed out the sink after doing altogether too many dishes. They were lined up on the metal counter now, dried and prepared for the next day.

Same old, same old.

Luke sighed and grabbed a couple small white towels that he always had near by, waiting. Sometimes he had them tucked into his back pocket or his apron if he was wearing one. Sometimes he didn't. Routine rarely shifted, however. He was good at routine.

He sprayed Fantastic onto the surface of counter, scrubbing out the coffee stains that weren't hers. The brown rings disappeared and soon the counter was as clean as it was going to be. Luke sighed and repeated the task on all the tables before putting the chairs up onto them, seat first.

Luke took the broom and the mop out of the supply closet and began yet another nightly ritual. Gotta keep those health inspectors happy. Not that he minded. He like things when they were clean, easily explained, predictable.

Swish, swish.

The sound of the broom lulled him into half awareness and he was done sweeping before he knew it. He pushed the dirt and tracked in mud up into the dust pan and emptied it into the trash can.

Same old, same old.

He liked things in boxes, perfectly square.

Luke went back and grabbed the mop. He pushed it across the floor, hands gripping the wooden handle with casual strength. He twisted it in his fingers, trying to fill a familiar void with the physical level of touch and friction.

Soon the floor all but sparkled.

Except it didn't because he'd already shut the Diner's main the lights down.

Luke glanced at the clock as he was putting the supplies away. It was late still, that hadn't changed. Nearly midnight. The clocked ticked as each second passed.

She'd once wanted to buy him a clock in the shape of a rooster, that would cock-a-doodle its way across the hours.

He'd said no, of course, and actually meant it.

With a sigh he walked toward the door stared out onto the abandoned town streets. Snow fell, stubborn and cold, to the ground. Luke watched and tried not to remember any laughing or dark haired vixens nailing him with hard packed snow balls. Tried too hard.

He stood there for a long time, staring through the door as though it were a cage locking him away from the memories. He'd grown used to the captivity, the point where he'd forgotten or nearly, what it was like to look forward to something beyond these moments of solitude.

And then he shook his head, and tore his gaze away from the yellow and black streets, where the lamps flickered overhead. He had better things to do than wait year after year, watching the snow fall everywhere but on his front step.

God, he missed her.

Same old, same old.

~*~*~*~

Things were said that night, way back when Rory's wrist was hurt and Jess was skulking in the shadows instead of skulking in broad daylight.

And there was no going back.

Sometimes friendship was just not enough to push through something as serious as falling in love with each other and not realizing it.

~*~*~*~

Morning was like a rushing rain, crashing through the windows and shattering sleep with hurried murmurres and rushing about the house, getting dressed.

"Have you seen my earring? The one with the silver, dangly, thingy?" Lorelai called up the stairs, holding onto the wobbly railing.

"It's in the bathroom with me!" Rory called down.

"Bring it down with you when you come," Lorelai yelled back.

"Where's my toothbrush?" Rory responded after a few minutes and Lorelai paused as she was slipping on her heels.

"Oh," Lorelai slipped the other shoe on, tossing her voice up the stairs. "I used it to clean the grout out of the sink when I couldn't sleep!"

"What?!"

"I got you another one, it's still in the wrapper, medicine cabinent."

"Oh. Okay!"

The neighbors, of course, were used to the routine chaos and even set their alarms by it. If there was anything dependable about the Gilmore girls, it was their utter lack of silence.

Lorelai was at the kitchen counter, shaking the toaster when Rory walked in.

She paused, staring at her mother.

Lorelai was glaring at the little metal device as if it were the re- incarnation of all her hates and fears.

"Uh mom," Rory began cautiously, jumping when her mother slammed the toaster down onto the counter a few times. "I don't think that's going to make the toast pop up. It's broken. You can't cook. Get over it."

Lorelai shook her head, glaring into the holes where her bread had disappeared into the depths of nowhere.

"It can't just STAY down there. I mean - it has to pop up sometime right? Stupid thing, it's Water Gate all over again."

Rory shook her head, crossing her arms. The clock ticked on the wall, reminding her of the ever moving time and her hectic schedule. And she still had to go to Luke's for coffee, because well, that was one of the musts in her life.

But this was her mom, and something was very, very wrong.

"The toaster is not out to get you, mother."

Lorelai turned, eyes wide on her daughter. As if she'd just seen a ghost, or worse, was one.

"Don't ever call me that." She demanded.

"What?" Rory's brow wrinkled in confusion before she smiled slyly.

"Mother." Lorelai replied, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at her child.

"But you are."

"Are not."

"Yes, you are."

"Then so are you."

"What?" Rory's mouth hung open, unsure of the score.

They stared at each other for a second before each smiling a little. Lorelai gave her daughter a warm hug and a waxy kiss on the cheek, wiping the lipstick print off Rory's skin quickly.

Lorelai leaned back, still smiling a little. But it didn't reach her eyes, not nearly. It was as if half of her face functioned with the motions of happiness, but the circuit to her eyes had been fried.

They were a dark blue that rivaled a storm. Hectic, lost. Telling her to get lost so she could be alone without meaning to.

"You go have a good day babe. Doing all those things smart people do. Me, I'm gonna have a Clint Eastwood Moment with dear old Bruce."

Rory raised an eyebrow and glanced toward the mangled toaster. It stared pathetically back at her, yelling: Help me, help me! Rory shook her head clear of The Fly images.

"Don't tell me your naming appliances again."

Lorelai shrugged innocently at Rory's accusation. Rory raised her other eyebrow, so that it matched the first. Damn, the kid would make a great Lawyer, Judge-Judy, or actress. Maybe all three.

"What?" Lorelai asked defensively. "Naming the curtains got boring. You can only talk to them so many times before watching Mr. Rogers becomes the next natural step."

Rory laughed, forgetting for a moment that Lorelai looked like she'd been on the wrong side of a Mike Tyson fight.

"Okay. mother."

"I have an evil child. Go. Shoo. Off with you and your head."

Rory nodded and moved toward the door. She quickened her pace when her mother pushed on her back pack. She had the urge to point out that this was really a 'Get out! Get out! Get out!' moment.

"I'm going, I'm going. Geeze." Her mother gave a smile that said: Have a good day. Then took a seat at the table, staring dejectedly at the toaster across the room. She set her head in her hand, tapping her fingers against her jaw as if she was counting or waiting on something. Rory stopped, glancing back. The words left her mouth before she could stop them "Are you sure you don't want to come to Luke's with me? It's Danish day and everything."

The effect was immediate. Like someone had stepped into a church holding a service and screamed, "Jesus Christ! God dammit!"

Lorelai shrugged, but her back was stiff and she'd sat up straighter. The position was reminiscent of Rory's grandmother. The air was suddenly comparable to a Bristle pad. Lorelai didn't turn around. Rory watched the back of her mother's head and waited for the inevitable response.

The same as always.

"No. I'm good. I'll pig out on Tortilla chips and be fine." Lorelai began fiddling with her nails as she answered, like she wanted to say more but couldn't find the words to do so. Which was odd, to say the least. Lorelai always found the words, the words were always there, hopping off her tongue like a person on a trampoline.

Now, she just sat there tugging on her fingers instead of talking as Rory stood behind her silently. Worried.

"You know, this really has to stop." Rory told her mother gently. Lorelai flinched anyhow. "Just apologize again, maybe he'll."

"Throw it right back in my face. Again." Lorelai turned to face her daughter finally, arms resting on the back of the chair. Expression speaking: Who's the mother here?

The winter sun was on her face, highlighting the ever-darkening circles beneath her eyes. Rory's fingers bit into her palms in sympathy, wanting nothing more than to open and give comfort to this woman who couldn't admit to aching. "Look kid, I'm okay. I've said sorry so many times all ready. it's time to let it go, because nothing is changing. It's the same old, same old. It's like picking at a dead rat too much. Every time you do it just smells worse."

"Uh, Mom - anyone ever tell you you're kind of, well, morbid?" Rory questioned in a monotone voice, clearly looking for some sort of positive reaction. Lorelai waved her hands imperiously, nails ruby red.

"Everyday," Lorelai smiled, her eyes sincere. "Now scoot."

Rory did, but her mouth was made of plastic, enveloped in unsaid things and her heart was heavy. It was getting more difficult, day by day, to watch her mother walking around pretending like everything was okay when it wasn't. When it couldn't be worse. And she JUST WOULDN'T open up about it.

Rory felt the door shut at her back and sighed. It was a nice day, season- wise. The sky was clear and sun fell onto the snow, casting glares of light in every direction. Rory couldn't bare to look at the beauty of it. Her mother's silence broke her heart.

Lorelai sat back into the chairs cradle when she heard Rory's foot steps move down the stairs outside, closing her eyes. Alone. At last. It was something she was getting better and better at. She felt guilty for it at times, how she'd avoid Sookie's inquisitive gaze and sometimes her phone calls.

Deep breaths. That's all it took to get back to the status quo.

Maybe slipping into the safe place.

There was a place from childhood that she often fled to in her mind. It was secret, secluded, and empty of all those hurtful things.

Mother. Father. Christopher. Rory. Luke.

Though she'd never admit that most of them had hurt her, at one time or another. Okay, so she wouldn't admit to the last two. It was almost natural, the way they did it without meaning to. Her parents and Christopher were just certain knife wounds, startling her in the dead of the night. She'd learn to expect the pain from them, if not when they would strike.

Always when she thought it was done and over and she could move on.

In this place, trees surrounded her and she was in absolute acceptance, forgiven. Green washed behind her eyelids, painting scenery of vast plains of grass that weren't really a part of her memories, but what she liked to think of as that special place. Green and yellow. The sun was warm on her face and her bare feet and she'd just lay back against the grass.

Wait forever out on that green grass and stare at that yellow sun.

And then she'd open her eyes and see Rory watching her curiously from the kitchen table, a book suspended in her hands, waiting.

"Just tired," she'd tell her daughter.

And she was, Lorelai thought now, pulling her heavy eyelids open. So very tired of this avoidance game. Avoidance: The act of avoiding.

She forced memories into her head so that the pain was forced to slam like a closed book back onto the shelf.

"I love you mom." She could hear Rory's five year old voice speaking.

And it was enough. Like before Stars Hollow even crossed her mind. It had to be.

~*~*~*~

Rory's stomach fell when the Diner door closed behind her with the solid sound of doom and Luke lifted his gaze to her face. For a second, an almost imperceptible instant, his gaze flickered past her, over her shoulder. A ghost haunted his eyes. There was only the door and the snow littered streets to see beyond her.

His face tightened briefly, like the stretch of yarn in a quilt, before he could fix the careful mask back into place and finished pouring Kirk's coffee with his head ducked down.

"Hey - that's too full. I need room for the sugar and cream." Luke grunted and ignored Kirks complaint.

Rory frowned and wandered toward the counter as if she had forgotten how to navigate the room, taking a seat at. Luke waited on two more tables quietly and then stuck the pad and pen into his apron tie, heading behind the counter and grabbing a travel cup for Rory.

He smiled when he filled it full of steaming coffee and handed it to her.

"Thanks Luke," Rory tried to curl her lips back at him and he shrugged, saying nothing. They hadn't spoken much for months, besides the basic need for coffee and caffeine. Not that he was ever cold or harsh with her, just uncomfortable. It made urges bubble up inside of her, to throw things or ram the newest version of her car into a snow back, point at it and say: See? I can do it too! Considering she was NOT the type of person to do such things, Rory just squeezed the cup between her gloved hands and let the heat soak up most of the anger.

Steam rose and tickled her nose pleasantly. The air in the Diner was unnaturally stiff and scratchy, making her skin flinch away from the implications of such a tension. Luke was in love with her mother, that was a fact. Luke also hated her mother, that was the newest definition to be added to her dictionary of Oxymoron's.

Her mother had broke Luke's heart - more than once.

Rory didn't want things to be like this. With the anti-comfort and the Dawson Creek like drama, but staring at Luke's distracted face as he worked behind the counter, she realized that maybe her mother was right. Ouch, now that hurt. Maybe too much time had passed and it was just time to forget about the years her mother had been friends with the quiet, occasionally grumpy man from the diner.

Damn it, it was always like that. ALWAYS too late. For her father, for her grandparents, for Jess and now this.

This strange, gray emotion no one would speak to her about, not even Lorelai.

It was hard, because she wanted so badly for her mother to be happy and hated that part of the reason, most of the reason she wasn't. was simply because Rory had let herself make a bad decision, and gotten into the car with Jess.

Of course Lorelai would never see it that way.

There was nothing worse to Rory, than being wrong or guilty or hated. It was a punishment in itself. Even as a child, when she had done something wrong (and that had been rare) - Lorelai had barely punished her, knowing that Rory would do it herself. Over and over again.

The cup burned hot against her fingers, even through the gloves. Almost hot enough to burn. Too hot to sip from. Rory took the cover off and blew gently over the liquid, stirring up waves in the dark brown.

The most tragic part was the fact that Luke was irrevocably in love with her mother, not just a day by day thing, it was something engraved into the very lines of his face as the years went by. Rory had seen it then, when they would banter and pick at each other and he'd just get this - LOOK - on his face, but now. now it was even worse.

He looked sick at heart. Like his lungs were choking on the very cigarette smoke he claimed to blame for the decay of America.

Luke was always claiming something like that.

Rory took a sip of her coffee, testing it carefully. Perfect. As always. It soothed her tight throat, and she blinked, tearing herself away from her thoughts.

It wasn't any of her business.

But when he looked again, over her shoulder and toward the door, something inside of her just snapped. Like the crack of ice falling from the roof, shattering to the ground, she was torn in two and so SICK of the battle and everyone's prying eyes, waiting to see how broke first.

"Look!" She all but yelled and his vague gaze jerked to hers, sharpened. He dropped his pen and cursed, ducking down to grab it. He narrowly missed banging his head off the edge of the counter. "She's not coming in," Rory told him through clenched teeth, when he was standing again. "Not again, not ever. So if you can't handle that, if you expect her to come crawling back in here again, to say she's sorry, maybe you should think again. She's done enough apologizing in her life time, she's not about to spend another four years trying to get it through that thick, stupid-hat covered head of yours that she's not perfect, only human. Maybe Joan Crawford sometimes, but at least she goes after what she wants, or did. So stop acting like a kicked puppy already! It's annoying!"

Her chest hurt from the rant and she realized she hadn't taken a single breath. Rory gulped in air greedily, feeling her cheeks burn with shame as she looked for the first time, at Luke's horrified face. It was pale, features drawn back toward his skull.

"Sorry." Rory blurted out in a rough burst of air and slowly stood up, putting the coffee cup back onto the counter. God, she'd known Luke for as long as she could REALLY remember, in true-color. it was like losing an Uncle. Luke watched her closely, like she was an Anaconda, waiting to strike. "I'll go. I'm s-sorry. Bye!"

She turned and was about to run out of the diner, her shame flooding behind her boots when Luke stopped her with two simple words.

"It's okay."

She froze, turned uncertainly.

Luke's expression was tired and regretful. So much like the picture of his father he'd once shown Lorelai. He twisted a cloth in between his fingers for a moment, before setting it down. "I understand why you feel that way," he continued, pushing the cup back at her.

"Good." Rory blew out a breath and took the cup back into her hand, grabbing for some change with her other, digging through her jacket pocket. Luke raised a hand.

"Don't worry about it. Rants and Coffee are free. Gilmore special."

"Okay," Rory replied softly, but still felt sick to her stomach. It was the type of feeling that you got after you had made your mother cry or kicked a man when he was down and only digging his grave deeper.

She spent the rest of the day with the nagging feeling that she had done just that.

~*~*~*~

Lorelai rushed through the kitchen with the sharp tapping of her high heels and the plastic sound of Sookies shoes hitting the floor. Sookie had a wrestler's hold her shirt, pulling it tight across her throat as the cook was dragged behind her.

"Can't. Breathe." She croaked out, stopping finally and making choking motions on her throat. Michel smiled condescendingly and passed her by. Sookie immediately let go, face wildly stricken.

Around them, a few employees laughed and a couple about to check in suddenly changed their mind, grabbing onto each other and veering toward the exit. Lorelai sighed, watching them go.

"Sorry!" Sookie cried, patting Lorelai's shoulders like they were on fire. "But you can't leave me here! Michel is going French-crazy, which is worse than crazy-crazy, because French people have Les Miserables - or whatever. Stay! Please! I can't pull off this dinner without your moral support!" Lorelia groaned, face scrunching up. Sookie took a look at her face (the nearly giving-in face) and begged one more time, "pleeeeeaaaase!"

"Fine." Lorelai waved a resigned hand, but tried to put a smile onto her face for the sake of Crazy women everywhere. After all, it had been her idea in the first place to make the town dinner an annual affair. But that had been before and this was most definitely NOW. "I'm sure the dinner will be lovely honey, the town will definitely appreciate it and as hoped, come here again and again. and actually PAY! What a nice thought."

Sookie nodded eagerly, the buttons of her chef uniform straining from her ample bosom. Lorelai laughed and hugged her friend quickly before pushing her toward the kitchen doors.

"Thanks tons, you won't regret it." Lorelai rubbed a hand across her temple, pausing mid-massage when Sookie spun back around. Her eyes were earnest and clear like they always were. "I'm sure he won't be here. He doesn't like big social events like this. You know that."

Something inside of her rebelled at these words, stretched tight - near the heart. Lorelai stilled it by pressing an absent hand there. Maybe she had an ulcer. Wouldn't that be peachy?

Yes, said that nasty inner-child.

That was rhetorical, said the much wiser middle-child.

Lorelai snapped out of it and nodded, breaking the cardinal rule of denial. Never nod when you mean to say no.

"I don't know what you're talking about," she replied softly, gut twisting when Sookie's face filled with pity. The embarrassing kind that could be seen by everyone in the room. Acid filled the back of Lorelai's mouth.

"Okay honey," Sookie murmured and patted Lorelia's cheek with her powder covered fingers, "whatever you say."

Exactly. Lorelai had been telling people that for years. Finally someone had gotten the hint. It was whatever SHE said. Right.

Lorelai watched Sookie go, the kitchen doors swinging shut behind her with a strange, creaking sound. Damn friends, always digging deep inside of you to make sure you're as okay as you say you are.

Minutes later, she sat in her office. Her seat was made of black leather, the smooth, often polished kind. The kind her mother might ACTUALLY be proud of. Just once. It was a spinning chair, the type she'd always wanted just for the purpose of twirling around in it, like a toy top. Her mother wouldn't be so proud of that.

Lorelai pushed it side to side, propelling it by pushing her feet more firmly against the floor and pressing her side against the chair arms. It moved gently and Lorelai took a deep breath as the room spun.

Just outside her window, the day peered back at her through the crack of the blinds. The color of the sky was sick, a listless gray color that always depressed her. Ennui, but don't tell Sookie that. A feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction. Lorelai had drawn the blinds down, unable to bare it.

"Everybody have fun tonight," she sang softly, trying to cheer herself up. The drab office wasn't helping any. Not with it's office-y colors that resembled the inside of a cardboard box, not even the outside, because at least the outside had markings on it. "Everybody Wang CHUNG tonight."

It wasn't working. More over, it was doing the opposite, dragging her further down.

Lorelai shoved out of the chair, sending it spinning back across the carpet. It rammed hard into the wall, just beneath the window. There was some satisfaction from the thump of impact, but it was fleeting and she found herself stalking the room with clenched fingers and long strides.

Long legs gave you the advantage to REALLY eat up a carpet and do it RIGHT.

She was so sick of feeling like this.

Guilty. Haunted. Like she'd forgotten something really important. It ate away at the lining of her stomach as if she really did have an ulcer and maybe she should get it checked by a doctor. Then again she could just see herself sitting in that sterile room, up on the table wearing nothing but a patient's smock with her thighs and ass sticking to the leather. Doctor Mo would come in, clicking his pen and reading over her file while going: Uh huh. Uh huh. Now open wi-ide. Then he'd poke her and prod her and look at her with serious eyes before speaking softly, so that only she heard, well she and the nurse that stood like shadow in the corner.

"It is the grief of a broken friendship and everything else is merely a symptom. I prescribe plenty of time on your knees begging and NO time drinking that dreadful coffee you just can't seem to give up. You're stomach can't take any more abuse or guilt."

No, Lorelai thought, that wasn't something she'd look forward to.

She continued pacing, wishing she smoked for some odd reason, if only to look cool while she went a little insane.

A friendship, the doctor might say, a friendship she'd took in her hands and broken.

Or maybe he wouldn't say that. Dougie Howser never did and what DID happen to that boy-genius? No one had seen him since.

Lorelai paused and ran her hands carefully over her hair, checking to make sure she didn't look like the wild women she was feeling herself to be. Nope, good, because there were preparations to be made and jobs to do that no one else would.

She could do it alone.

It doesn't always take two, not with Lorelai Gilmore. She'd been proud of that before. Now.

Well now she was just a tree that had fallen and everyone was listening to the sound of her breaking.

~*~*~*~

Patty tapped her foot impatiently as she waited for Taylor's attention. He was staring hard at the side walk, glaring down at the cement as if it were a criminal.

"Aha!" Patty hopped at Taylor's eureka moment and watched bemused as he jumped a little and pointed at the ground. "There it is! I told you! Luke put that crack there PURPOSELY to make me trip! Doesn't that look like a hammer made that crack?"

"No sweetie," Patty said not unkindly, patting Taylor's shoulder. He sighed and drooped a little, nose red from the cold. "It really doesn't. Now, onto more important matters. Luke and Lorelai-"

"Not this again!" Taylor complained, eyes glittering as he glared toward the Diner where Luke was setting a dish on the table near the window, avoiding conversation with an elderly widow. "Is that ALL this town talks about? Don't we have more important things to speak of? Like the decay this town is going to go through if Luke doesn't begin making SOME sort of effort to grow as the population demands!"

Patty waved a thick hand in front of her mouth as she yawned wide and loudly, stopping Taylor's tirade. When it was finished, she blinked her watery eyes clear and coughed delicately.

"I'm sorry, Taylor, were you speaking?" When he would have answered: Why yes, Patty, I certainly was - Patty interrupted him by continuing. "I would think you'd be more concerned about this, after all, it's disrupting the natural flow of things."

Taylor shook his head, grinning and rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. Snow crunched beneath his boots. Patty glared at him sullenly, waiting for him to speak.

"Luke's loss is my gain," Taylor explained at last, still smiling. "What Lorelai spent in his ruse of a restaurant is now being put to a much better use in my fine establishment. She comes in nearly every day to buy those froze dinners that the town went crazy for last season and then suddenly lost interest it."

He realized Patty wasn't listening and looked into her saddened eyes. Her gaze was over his shoulder so he turned, facing what had caught her interest.

Luke was stepping out the Diner door, wearing that irritating baseball cap and vest. He closed the door and looked around warily, definitely for someone that had a seven lettered name, and taped up a sign. Bold, black words were written across it. Dark and large enough that Taylor could read it, even from across the street. It read: Back In Ten Minutes.

Luke shifted his hat more firmly on his head and stuffed his bare hands in his jacket pockets. He tossed a look in their direction, and then glared before stalking off down the street, boots clunking. He looked exactly like what he was.

The town loner.

It broke Patty's gossiping heart.

Of course that didn't mean she wouldn't tell the next person she saw just how bad a mood the Diner man was in, like a dog with his favorite bone taken away. Even after all these months, Luke and Lorelai were still the hottest topic in Stars Hollow.

~*~*~*~

Luke was reluctantly searching Taylor's shop for sugar when something in the window caught his eye. As he moved closer, drawn undeniably toward the window, the apology letters he always carried weighted the pockets of his jacket down like stones.

It was a flyer, covered in glitter and red marker.

The second annual dinner feast given by Sookie and Lorelai.

The first still shimmered in his mind, dream like. Riding in a sleigh with Lorelai had been one of the high moments of his life. Too bad he couldn't think about his high moments very often, because nearly every one of them included that raven-haired, fast-talking woman in some way.

The letters were burning a hole near his side, like an ulcer might. Or a personal invitation would. if he had gotten one, if he might have just FORGIVEN her for things said in the heat of a the moment. Not blamed her for forcing him to make some sort of decision where Jess was concerned, making the decision that had torn him in two with pain.

Just. forgiven.

NO!

Luke jerked himself away from the window and left without buying anything. He cursed himself all the way back from the Diner, ranting loudly and abruptly on the street in a way that only Luke could get away with.

"I'm not giving in!" He declared to a young girl that immediately ran away, screaming. "Not ever. I ALWAYS give in. Not this time, Lorelai Gilmore. If you think you can drive me crazy with your stupid, glittery, UGLY flyers than you've got another think coming. Not like you asked ME to hang one up in my window."

An older man, in his sixties, with graying hair and a pleasant smile that fell from his face, stared at Luke oddly as they passed at each other. "Nope. Not falling for it, or your stupid hair that's always disappearing around every damn corner. And your perfume? I don't like it! It makes me sneeze! I'm freakin' allergic to you!"

Patty was still across the street with Taylor, and they both stood wide eyed and Luke lost it.

"I hate knowing that it's you everywhere and inside of me!" Luke muttered, face red with rage and cold. "I'm so SICK and TIRED of being in love with you and you playing around this town like it's your own personal dating game. Dream boat. whatever! Like I'm nothing more than the guy who makes your coffee, or just a stupid, fricken friend. I'm so SICK of being your friend."

Luke stopped so suddenly he almost slipped. He caught himself at the last moment, gasping for breath. Heatedly embarrassed, he looked around him. Of course there were people on every corner, watching him eagerly.

God, this town needed some serious privacy lessons.

And Lorelai, well she didn't look at him like a friend anymore either, so he wasn't quite sure what he'd been screaming about - but it must have been bad because Patty was looking at him with pity.

Goddamit!

No, wait, damn Lorelai.

His heart was pounding, with shame and hurt, as he tore down the 'Back In Ten Minutes' sign from the Diner door and pushed himself back inside, no matter how much he wanted to crawl under a rock and go to sleep until eternity was over.

~*~*~*~

She wore an ankle length, black velvet dress with a red Santa Clause belt. Green Christmas tree shaped earrings hung from her ear lobes. Yay, Christmas. Lorelai tried for cheer as she swept through the Inn, speaking encouragement toward the men and women that were dressed as though they were really from the days when the New world really was NEW.

Jackson looked particularly uncomfortable in the Squire's outfit, but made do. It appeared he was to be the Squire every year unless he lost or gained weight. Knowing his luck, they would make him do it anyway.

The music was ready, the eggnog poured. The ceiling was decorated with garland and the smell of cooking turkey hung deliciously in the air.

Maybe she COULD do this. If only for the sake of her stomach and the temptation of that bird. Wow, Friends flash back. Okay, better now.

Lorelai was about to go to the bathroom to touch up her lipstick when a shrill scream burst through the rooms of the Inn. She jolted, dropping her small handbag and ran in the direction of the screaming.

She wasn't surprised to find herself pushing open the kitchen doors not a moment later.

Sookie had her back to Lorelai and was yelling like a Banshee in mating season, except not as quietly. She held her hands up toward the ceiling and screamed some more.

Lorelai inched her way forward as the other Cooks cowered against the wall.

Weapon? Did she need one? If so, Sookie would be running in the other direction and a big guy or woman with an ax would be trying to kill them. So no, she didn't need one.

Lorelai gently grasped Sookie's shoulders and turned the woman around.

Sookie stopped screaming and started crying, waving her hands in front of her face, trying to breathe.

"Calm down, calm down, c'mon honey, it's okay." Lorelai murmured, stroking Sookie's back and pushing her chefs hat off. "Tell me what's wrong. What happened to make you scream?"

"The."

"Yes?"

"Cake."

"Cake?"

Lorelai rolled her eyes. This was why Sookie was her best friend. She was even more crazy than Lorelai.

"Is."

"Hmm?"

"Flat!" Sookie wailed and threw her hands over her face, great sobs shaking her shoulders. "The cake went flat! It's ruined, all of it, the entire dinner!"

"Oh, Sookie." Lorelai murmured tenderly. "It's okay honey, I'll send Michel into town to buy one from the Bakery. Okay?"

"No!" Sookie said petulantly, ducking her head down. "It's not okay. I did something wrong with that cake and I don't know what it is and Michel will buy the worst cake ever. I wanted this to be perfect for y-"

Lorelai sighed, tugging her friend into a hug.

"It is perfect for me." She assured, squeezing Sookie tight enough that squeaked. "All my friends are here. I have Rory. Even my mother and father came again, may the peace be with us."

Sookie nodded, the tremor of her sobs slowly quieting into silent hiccups inside her rib cage.

"I'm fine," Lorelai said again and stepped back, away from Sookie. She was acutely aware of the other people in the room. Lorelai lifted up the curtain of her hair to show off her earrings. "See? Christmas spirit and all! Tonight is going to be great, cake or no cake."

Sookie nodded, face streaked with drying tears.

"Okay," she whispered. "Thanks Lorelai."

"No problem," Lorelai replied, grinning. "Us crazy women MUST stick together. Either that or pay Barbara Striesand a visit."

"Hey," Sookie tossed back as Lorelai exited through the kitchen doors, "either way!"

Lorelai shook her had, mumbling about insane, tone-deaf fans.

~*~*~*~

The door bell rang. Lorelai hopped a little, even though she had been waiting impatiently for the sound. She wiped her nervous hands on the velvet of her dress, pressing on her stomach for a quick, courage-building moment.

She pasted on her widest smile and opened the door.

"Taylor! Welcome!"

Lorelai opened her arms wide, greeting him warmly.

Taylor frowned at her, covered in flakes of freshly fallen snow. It was beginning to come down heavily. Perfect. or not, depending upon how bad the roads got. He mumbled something about eggnog and after slamming the door behind him, he slipped past her, handing her his large coat carelessly.

"Where's the food?" He called out, already headed toward the dining table.

Lorelai blinked and stared down at the jacket in her hands, before sighing and stalking toward the coat room. Tonight was going to be a long night, and she had a Mulder-esque hunch that it wasn't going to be nearly as pleasant as last year's festivities had been.

A migraine was already slamming into the back of her scalp with the strength of a sledgehammer.

~*~*~*~

Luke dug through his closet, mumbling, "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon," under his breath. Jess sprawled on the couch, feet hanging over the end, a thick book in his hands. Occasionally, when objects started flying out of the closet: a shoe here, a belt buckle there, Jess would glance up at his Uncle and shake his head.

Luke took his cap off and dragged a frustrated hand through his disheveled hair. He stood there for a moment, half in the closet, tapping his hat against his thigh.

"Um, Luke?"

Said grumpy male turned around and glared at Jess.

"What?" Luke growled.

"Did you get a sex change recently that I'm unaware of?" Luke stared at Jess blankly, the sarcastic words hardly registering through the haze of panic. Jess raised his eyebrows, and set his book down onto his chest so he could gesture toward the closet. "What with all the 'does my butt look big in this?' moments that you've been having." Luke's gaze narrowed to thin, black slits. "I mean, I'd completely understand. If you feel the need to experiment, I want you to know that I'm behind you one-hundred percent."

"Shut up," Luke muttered before turning to face the closet again, a weary expression crossing his face.

"Just pick something," Jess said.

"Anything?"

"Preferably nothing flannel."

Luke looked toward his nephew curiously.

"I LIKE flannel," he argued.

"Riiiight," Jess said slowly, discarding the book and sitting up and leaning his elbows on his knees. "No ones arguing that point with you. But you're not exactly gonna win her back by wow-ing her with your ever wide selection of blue-red-green-look-I-never-change shirts."

Luke sighed, rubbing a hand over his brow.

"Why SHOULD I have to change?" He demanded. "She knows who I am, and if she can't accept me - hey, wait! I'm NOT trying to win her back. I just want to go out tonight."

"Yeah. Okay." Jess smirked, not bothering to hide it.

"Didn't I tell you to shut up?"

Jess merely shrugged and leaned back against the couch, arms riding the back of the cushions.

"Suit yourself," he said to his Uncle, "but if hypothetically, you were trying to mend a friendship or maybe something more - wouldn't you want to shock her a little bit? Throw her off-kilter."

Luke frowned.

"I have a very bad feeling about this, but - exactly how would I go about that?"

Jess grinned slowly and for a very serious moment, Luke feared for his life.

Half an hour later, Luke stood inside his bathroom, staring into the mirror at a stranger. His hair was combed back, gelled. He wore that simple black outfit Lorelai had bought him so long ago and he had never had the heart to return.

He'd kept it. because she'd liked it on him and he'd thought, one day - no, he wouldn't think about that. Not when he wasn't even sure how he'd managed to talk himself into going.

There had been a lady with long red hair that came swinging in with a wild looking skirt and a wilder smile.

She'd flirted like crazy with him and he'd flirted back, but there had just been - something - missing. He hadn't been able to put his finger on it until the woman left, slipping a scrap of paper with her phone number on it, into his front shirt pocket. Even then he'd only grasped the edge of what was missing. But whatever it was -

January, the red head, was without.

Lorelai was with.

That's all there was to it and he was SICK of fighting.

~*~*~*~

Lorelai took a small bite of Turkey, chewing it thoughtfully as she watched Sookie and Jackson laughing together. Maybe it was something in the air, the glint of gold, red, and green Christmas lights that hung from the ceiling. Maybe it was layers of silk that Babette work, which caught the eye and drew it to the miles of beads that layered her breasts. Maybe it was the background music, playing softly and stirringly.

They smiled, holding hands and speaking in a low voice. Sookie blushed apple-red, skin flushing from her forehead, down to her neck in the low-cut festively-green shirt. Jackson trailed a finger down her cheek discreetly and tapped her chin before turning back to his food.

Sookie just looked at him for a moment, a look of total and utter adoration on her merry face.

Cake or no cake, Lorelai had been right, everything was perfect.

Still, she sighed wistfully and watched the pair in envy.

How had Sookie done it? Found THE ONE who would share these holidays for the rest of her crazy, chaos-addled life? It was. almost a miracle.

Tears blurring her eyes, Lorelai glanced away, down at her unfinished plate.

When her eyes were dry again, she looked up, searching for Rory. Only to find her and Dean kissing beneath the Mistletoe. Lorelai smiled a little bit, but it felt like plastic cracking. There was still so much tension in that relationship and it made her worry for her daughter. Jess? Well, he was still in the picture. New-girl-Shane or no, Rory and Jess set sparks off each other whenever they were in the same room.

Hopefully it would blow over, but Lorelai was doubtful that it would.

Dean wasn't going to let go without a fight though, so there was hope.

Not that she didn't LIKE Jess - okay well, she didn't. But it didn't mean she hated him or wanted him to be hurt, just. he was dangerous some how, and she got a bad feeling in her stomach that he could take her daughter away.

Forcing her gaze away from the nearly-inappropriate in public kissing session, she made herself eat. Everyone else was, while laughing and talking of course. The snow as coming down faster and frost was glazing the windows. The fire blazed in the hearth, casting the room in a healthy, golden glow.

Somehow though, with all the commotion and Nick At Nite-ish warmth around her, she felt disconnected. Like she was an outsider, staring in through the window while it slowly glazed over and shut her out.

The food tasted like ice in her mouth.

Putting her fork down, Lorelai excused herself from the table. No one really paid attention, more focused on their companions than the woman that somehow managed to eat alone in the middle of a full dining table.

She was about to head toward the kitchen to see how dessert was coming when a thick hand grasped her shoulder and stopped her. Lorelai sniffed the air. The perfume was strong and almost irritating thought it smelled sweet. Patty, who else?

Lorelai smiled tightly and turned around.

Patty looked as concerned as ever, eyes heavily shadowed like a dancer on the Las Vegas Strip.

"It's a lovely party doll," Patty murmured, voice gentle. "But it'd be better if maybe that cute young man from the diner was here to keep you from looking like an orphan of the holidays."

Oliver Twist much?

Lorelai sighed and waved Patty's concern off.

"I'm fine!" She said brightly, with that same, bright grin that she'd worn all day and all night until her jaw throbbed in rebellion. "Now, I think I hear someone crying: Murder! Gotta go!"

"Not so fast," Patty said firmly, gripping Lorelai's forearm so that the younger woman couldn't rush off so fast and leave Patty in the dust as she often did. "I need to speak to you."

"Patty," Lorelai groaned but a quelling look from the dance teacher stifled her complaints. "Okay, spill, but have mercy, please."

Patty nodded, loosening her grip on Lorelai's arm.

"You have to give Luke a break honey," she began gently, "you've made him wait all these years. He's hurting. You know how to make it stop. All you have to do is walk up to him naked and all will be better. We can stop watching you two shimmy around each other faster than my libido."

Lorelai's mouth fell open and she sputtered, trying to find something to say in rebuttal. Patty shook her head and continued earnestly, "just think about it, you know the truth. You know how to make everything better, you just have to admit it to yourself."

"I-" the doorbell rang. Lorelai threw a prayer toward the ceiling, "have to get that door."

Patty nodded as Lorelai bolted past her.

"Think about what I said," she called after the retreating brunette. "By denying it you're not only hurting yourself, but him as well. Sometimes friendship isn't enough - that's your problem!"

Lorelai scrubbed her hand down her face when she got to the door, having escaped narrowly before the last words reached her ears. There really WAS a God or SOMETHING up there, looking out for her.

Lorelai opened the door with her customary greeting: "Welcome to-"

Okay, so she'd been wrong. Very, very wrong. So wrong she was Robin Hoods: Men in Tights.

"Luke."

He nodded shyly, hair slicked back, dressed to kill.

She stood there, blocking his entry, unsure of how to take his outfit or his arrival.

"You're here," she said at last, eyebrows pulled together.

"Yeah. Looks like." He waited for her to step aside, but she seemed dazed, unable to comprehend what she was supposed to do next. "Uh, can I come in?"

"Of course." Hastily she stepped out of the way, in fact, she stepped behind the door, keeping it as a barrier between this. He caught it and his eyes darkened slightly before he could help it. Her gaze met his and she flinched, realizing what she had done.

Lorelai forced her death grip off the door and stepped out from behind it, closing it behind him. When she turned back around, Luke was still standing there, shifting from foot to foot. He had his hands stuffed into the black trousers, pulling the belt low on his hip bones. The tucked in black sweater stretched over his stomach, tight across his abs.

"So?" He said, uncomfortable as hell. The sweater made his neck itch like a son of a bitch.

Damn Jess and his wise-ass ideas.

"You're probably hungry!" Lorelai blurted out, smiling brightly and walking quickly toward the dining room, expecting him to follow. "I mean, why else would you be here?"

"I wouldn't."

Well, Lorelai thought, he was his same, laconic self.

How. comforting. Except not. If he started grunting at her, she was seriously gonna hit him and hit him HARD.

"Right." She smiled and gestured toward an empty seat at the table. Her empty seat. Luke thought she looked as jumpy as a Mare right before mating season. Then again, that really wasn't an image he could afford to think about at the moment. There were more important things to consider, like the fact that she seemed very eager to get away from him and with good reason. He would have behaved just the same, not hours ago. Before his little epiphany. "Right. Of course. Thanks for coming. Happy Holidays. Yule Tide. Whatever."

With that, she hurried away, toward the kitchen doors.

Luke watched her go, disappointed.

Maybe it wasn't worth it, maybe this was stupid, maybe - hey, did that Turkey just grin at him?

~*~*~*~*~

Rory stood in the entry way from the lobby, having witnessed the entire scene. It was voyeuristic in a way, but when she'd seen the look on her mothers face as she opened the door, she hadn't been able to tear her gaze away.

She'd looked like someone had slapped her, with a glove no less.

Sad thing was, a duel between Luke and her mother would be an improvement upon the status quo. Anything was better than nothing. And this was certainly a anything moment. Luke had come.

No one, Rory included, had even considered the fact that he might.

It was out of the question. The only reason he'd come in the past was because Lorelai had prodded him into it. He hadn't even enjoyed himself, or acted like it had at least, which was another matter altogether.

Rory watched Luke watch her mother walk away and SWORE if he hurt her again, however fair it may be payback wise - she would tear him apart. Very slowly. Limb by limb.

Satisfied with her violent promise, Rory pivoted on her heel and went in search of Dean.

~*~*~*~

Deck the halls with sadistic torture, fa la la la la, la la la la!

Luke hung in the background as everyone sang loudly, mostly drunk. Sookie was spinning with a plastic Santa Clause. Rune, the jerk, was yukking it up with Lorelai's mother. Lorelai's mother was trying to discreetly escape before Rune said something even more embarrassing.

Oh god, there went Jackson with the spoons again.

Please, Luke begged silently. Make it stop.

He was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. Frowning. That was nothing too out of the ordinary. You can dress a wolf in Sheep's clothing but that didn't mean it was gonna suddenly go: Ba-a-a!

Patiently, he waited.

And waited.

The night spun on with it's glass decorations and musical light bulbs, revolving like a thick headache, dead center of his forehead.

Babette's husband suddenly began hopping into a lively Jazz dance to, "Rudolph the Red Nose Rain Deer."

Oh sweet Jesus, did this function get more crazy each year? He couldn't wait until year three. Sarcasm, hello friend. Luke shook his head, glancing casually around. Of course, Lorelai was just slipping away. Figured.

And since when was Rudolph a custom from the past? Rudolph as just a made up story for the toy industry, peddled toward children so their parents could shut them up and Kay-B could slick a few bucks out of the grand- consumer crazy-pay check.

Oh yes, he was having the time of his life. Did NO ONE notice that his eyes were glazed over? Oh wait, that was the side effect of Patty's perfume. His bad.

Next time he pushed Jess off the bridge, he'd be sure to make it stick. Brat could at least have come and given him back up but NO, he had to stick his nose in the book and generally be what young pains in the ass were: a pain in the ass.

To be pushed into an early grave was NOT his reason for coming. Neither was being annoyed by Patty as she hung on his shoulder most the night, like a wilting, Southern female with feathers.

But he hadn't been able to get Lorelai alone. To explain that she was forgiven. God dammit, she was gonna be forgiven if he had to shove it DOWN HER THROAT. He wanted his friend back. Life was. colorless without her. And in a room like this, that was saying something.

Did their HAVE to be so many decorations? And so many JOLLY people?

"Grinch," Babette muttered at him, poking him in the side as he passed.

Dressed up or not, Luke was Luke.

Same old, same old.

Luke was about to give up the chase, sadly literal, that had been wearing him ragged all night. It was nearly ten o' clock and she'd somehow managed to avoid him the entire night. It was depressing and after the last seven months, he wasn't so sure he was willing to take another night getting his heart torn out and ripped to shreds.

Contrary to popular belief, he hadn't been in love with Lorelai since the day he met her. He'd been waiting to fall in love with her, had known unconsciously that she was IT and anything else would be settling.

Even Rachel, of all people, would be less than what he wanted.

And then one day, wham - she slammed into his heart like a Mack truck dead set on a hit and run. Broke his heart every time she looked at him. Not that he was totally blameless, after all if he'd been less of a coward, said something --- maybe. But life wasn't built on maybes.

He'd hoped that tonight would be different, that he might at least salvage the embers of their unique friendship and have her in that way, in the only permanent-Lorelai way that there was. As her friend.

Friend.

No, he wasn't bitter.

Luke was about to throw in the metaphorical towel when Patty latched onto him again.

"Look," Luke said firmly, disengaging her claws from the arm of his sweater as he marched toward the lobby. All eyes were on his retreating form as he dragged Patty along behind him. "You're nice, but I'm not interest!"

"Why you!" Patty giggled outrageously, pecking him on the cheek.

"Again with the kissing!" Luke squirmed away. "What is it with this stupid Holiday?"

"Cheer, darling. But I'm not after your cute buns tonight." She shimmied her shoulders and winked. "I just happen to know where the belle of the ball happens to be hiding."

Luke paused as he was about to go off in one of his patented rants. She smiled and nodded toward the coat room. Luke glanced at the door then back at Patty, raising a single eyebrow. She nodded, looking too naughty for comfort.

He moved quickly away.

~*~*~*~

Lorelai took a bite out of the Snickers bar, because HELL, she had nothing but time. She tapped her fingers nervously to the beat of Jackson's stomach without realizing it.

Mother. Father. Luke. Rune. The four horse men foretelling the end of the world.

The coat room was sweltering, already she felt drops of sweat slithering beneath the heavy, constricting dress and soaking into her bra and panties. WHY had she worn velvet, again?

Oh yeah, it was part of the Holiday Cheer.

Go Santa Clause. No seriously, go.

Lorelai snickered to herself, seated on a milk crate against the far wall (as if there was such a thing in this tiny space), surrounded by the furs and wools of the winter season. There were so many coats on the wrack that they bulged out, brushing against her elbow in the small confines. Lorelai itched her arm absently, waiting for the tell tale stomp of shoes as Luke got fed up and left.

Why was he still here? He couldn't stand these social gatherings.

She felt giddy and sick to her stomach, hopping between rooms every five minutes. Like a butterfly, not even a social one, she wasn't in one place for long. Avoidance was a game and she'd mastered it.

The ceiling was beige and a single light bulb swung over head, back and forth.

Lorelai gazed at it, blowing out a heavy sigh that tossed up her curled hair. It floated back down gently, thanks to the new line of Pantene Hair Spray.

Hair can be soft and still retain the staying power of evil chemicals. Who would have thunk it? Certainly not Dennis Rodman on his wedding day.

Ick, she was playing Trivia of the 20th century WAY too much.

She'd been in there for over twenty minutes, but it felt more like a couple years. A couple very LONG years, Luke-absent years.

Lorelai was humming Christmas songs to herself to keep herself busy, making up the words when she couldn't remember them, when the door was pulled open and the small room was flooded with seasonal cheer.

Luke stood there, knob gripped in one palm, the other hand on his hip. And of course, he was glaring at her. Pleasant as always.

She must have been a very bad person in a past life.

"Oh god," she groaned, putting her head into her hands. "What did I do to deserve this?"

"Moved to Stars Hollow." Luke replied and stepped into the room with her, closing the door firmly behind him.

"Right," Lorelia smiled bitterly up at him. "Shoot me next time I come up with a stupid plan like that. Wait - not something I should say to you." She stood up when he just stood there, looking at her like there was something stuck in HIS teeth and she was a tooth pick.

Her heart picked up speed, thumping achingly against her ribs. Caged in, locked away. She stared at him uneasily, feeling like she was at a Friday diner with her parents and suddenly she had to tell them she was going to Prison for laundering money from the New York Mob.

She really had to stop watching so much television.

Lorelai moved to go around him.

"I'll just get out of your way," she said quietly. Before she could pass, he took hold of her hand, stopping her with that simple touch. His palms were callused against hers, warm, slightly damp. His face was tight when she glanced up at him in question, struck to the spine by the feel of his skin against hers. Foreign, but undeniably familiar. Like a child hood friend, lost and found again.

Tension flowed between them, like a circuit began with the connection of their palms, life lines perfectly matched together. A puzzle piece locking into place.

He swallowed and the spell was broken.

Lorelai blinked and stumbled back, right into the grips of the angry coats. She felt smothered by them, choked by all the fabric. And embarrassed, did she mention EMBARRASED?

Luke was again her savior, grabbing her around the waist and dragging her free from the scary coat-monsters with big mothballs and their sharp teeth. Lorelai tried to catch her breath as he stood her up right again, hands resting briefly on her waist before he stepped back and went back to looking at her again.

She smoothed down her hair, her skirt, anything she could get her hands on.

What the HELL was going on?

"Your coats over there." Lorelai pointed toward his dress jacket, but Luke didn't bother too look, eyes dark on her, unreadable.

"I know."

Again with the laconic.

This time she was the one to grunt. Lorelai crossed her arms over her chest, then uncrossed them and smoothed down the front of her dress again.

The light continued to swing above them, casting light crazily around the room, in patches. Flashes of brightness that changed the shadows of his face from sharp to dull and back to sharp.

"Okay then," her voice was clipped as she turned to leave again. "We'll just try to avoid situations like this in the future." Lorelai nodded as if to answer her own decision, but again, Luke stopped her, this time with a tired sigh. "What?" She asked, turning around.

He looked sick, like he wanted to just lay down and not get up.

Someone ran past the door, squealing like a pig.

Lorelai and Luke met eyes.

"This has to stop," he said, red flags painted across his cheek bones. "It's gotten way out of hand."

Lorelai shrugged casually.

"I have no idea what you're talking about." She held up her hand, apparently much more interested in her nail polish than she was in him. He wouldn't put it past her.

"Yes. You do." Luke growled, stepping forward. She moved away, pressing her back against the door. Contact with him was just. too much. It was different now, without the boundaries of friendship, it wasn't safe. "Remember the poor Cheese Girl you knocked over last week in your rush to get out of Taylor's store before I could see you?"

Lorelai's lips flattened, cheeks red.

"Well," she tilted her head, trying for Jessica Rabbit, "she was in my way."

Luke nodded, a slight smirk spreading across his face.

"Uh-huh."

"Shut up," Lorelai bit out. She wrapped her arms around herself, glaring up at him.

"Oh that's rich," Luke muttered, "coming from you."

"What's that supposed to mean Oz?"

Luke wrinkled his brow.

"What?"

"Buffy."

"O-kay." He shook his head, reaching up to rub his temples. "Damn it, do you always have to be this difficult?"

"About WHAT?" Lorelai yelled even as he stepped forward, closer. Too close. She couldn't breathe. "You're cold and distant and you look at me like I'm something you wouldn't even bother to STEP ON! Whenever your in the room I feel like your tearing me up in your head, whispering to your cohorts about that evil woman who made you send your nephew away and I'm so damn SICK OF IT! And damn it, BACK UP - I can't breathe with you this close."

With that, Lorelai shoved her palms against his chest and sent him sprawling into the coats. "Ha!" She screamed, shoving her middle finger in the air before whirling in a cloud of perfume and velvet cloth, prepared to shove the door open and escape.

Luke's hand caught her roughly around the waist, spinning her back around like a child's play thing and into him. She landed roughly against his chest, his arms banded around her like steel beams, crushing her lungs.

Shocked, she stared up at him with wide eyes and an open mouth.

His face was twisted, furious, sparkling with sweat and flushed with color. His nostrils flared with every breath and his hands flattened against her back, moving slowly up to cup her shoulder blades, tugging her closer. Her hips fit against his, against HIM.

This wasn't platonic she thought suddenly, with a flare of panic. Not if that was what she thought it was.

Realization was blinding, absolute.

It felt like glass had shattered inside of her and all she could do was wait to be bled out across the shirt she had hand picked for him. Hands which were trapped between them.

His gaze locked on her open lips and he licked his own as if in hungry anticipation.

Lorelai was stunned, knees weakening. God, knees really got WEAK?

This wasn't happening.

It couldn't be. If she repeated it to herself enough, she could make it true.

Luke must have seen the brief flash of fear in her eyes because he immediately released her, sending her reeling back against the door. Her back connected with it roughly and he stared at her, horrified.

"I'm sorry," he whispered. "There's no excuse."

"Shut up." She growled again. "Just shut up."

Lorelai wasn't quite sure where the anger came from inside of her, where the bubbling fury rose from, but she wanted nothing more than to take her nails and use them on his face. The anger was months deep, like a well surrounded by the days on a calendar. Counting down.

What had he DONE?

Luke sighed, closed his eyes for one long, terrifying moment. Lorelai found her own gaze raking over him, as though she had been starving for the sight of him and was only now seeing him. His hands, hanging at his sides, they caught her gaze, burned her. He had blunt nails, clean, rounded. Long, tapered fingers with small, golden hairs on the back.

She could become obsessed with those hands.

When he opened his eyes, she felt as though she'd been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

Anger had drained away, now she thought she might be sick.

What had SHE done?

"This wasn't how I wanted this to happen," he began, looking green. "I just wanted."

"What Luke?" Lorelai asked desperately, unsure of the ground beneath her feet. The rug had been slipped from beneath her and she was still falling. "What, after all this time, did you think could happen?"

He shrugged, shoulders lifting beneath that black sweater. It was obvious now, why he had worn it. The blinds had been lifted and now she could see everything clearly, but it was hard to make out the truth from the images in the magazine.

Thank you, Val Kilmer.

"I forgive you," Luke whispered, just barely above the sound of a whisper. More of a croak really, pulled from somewhere deep, dragging everything up with it.

Lorelai blinked back tears, fighting them with everything she had. She would NOT cry.

"That's it? You forgive me and everything is just gonna go back to the way it was before? You've spent MONTHS torturing me and I've spent MONTHS torturing you. Three words and POOF, somehow it's all magically better?"

Luke swallowed and lowered his eyes. "Well, I'm sorry." Tears clogged her throat, cracking her voice. "Truly Luke. But this isn't some happy ending. I don't even know if those exist anymore." He lifted his chin, gaze earnest.

"They do, Lorelai. I have to believe that."

Something inside her stumbled, fell short.

This was not the same old, same old.

"This coming from a man that barely believes in marriage. Why, can you tell me that much? Why do you need to believe in that so much?"

Luke opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He lifted his hands, palm up, toward the dangling light. Something glimmered, maybe a tear, on his eye lash. His adam's apple bobbed. Up and down.

He didn't have to say it, not really.

She already knew. And it terrified her. She could deal with cold Luke, distant Luke, and even cruel Luke. She wasn't sure if she could deal with Luke in love.

"Do you. want to dance?" He asked, startling her. Lorelai glanced around, almost laughing.

"Here? There's no music."

Luke nodded, laughing himself. AT himself. This brought back unpleasant memories of asking girls to the school dance when he'd been nothing more than a Jalk that cheer leaders played with.

"That's a good thing," Luke pointed out. "Beats always screw me up."

He raised his hand to her, fingers open. Lorelai eyed it warily, before cautiously placing her palm on top of his. His thumb curled over the top of her hand, pressed. Pulled her close, again, but the heat was now quiet warmth and not so terrifying.

"I guess you're right," she whispered as she slid one hand to his shoulder and the other was squeezed between his. "You're not really much of a dancer are you? No wonder you never would dance with me when I asked."

"Shut up."

Lorelai complied, having nothing to say anyway. For a moment there was a silence that was only disturbed by the brush of velvet against his pant leg and the scuff of shoes against the floor.

He was nervous, trembling a little as she leaned forward and pressed her cheek against his shoulder. Then he seemed to still, breathe, and pull her closer. Lorelai kept her eyes open as they danced between the coats, the fabrics dragging along their legs and arms as Luke's heart throbbed in her ear.

Unconsciously, they began to dance to the beat of it.

Thump-step-thump-step-thump-thump-step-step.

"This isn't going to fix anything," she said after long minutes of silent dancing, tilting her cheek so she could feel the skin of his throat, hot on her flesh. He smelled good, like soap, steaming coffee and faded cologne.

Lorelai found herself drawing in long breaths of him, inhaling him into her pores.

"I know." Luke's chest pushed out on a huge, shuddery sigh and he tugged her as close as he could, releasing her hand and wrapping his arms around her waist, dragging her torso up against him. He buried his forehead into the crook of her neck. His hair tickled her nose. "But let's not stop yet. I've. missed you. A little. I want to be friends again."

Lorelai nodded, bringing her arms up around his shoulders, stroking a finger along the nape of his neck, where the hair curled wildly.

"Me too."

"Is it that simple?" He asked.

"Nothing's simple," Lorelai replied and they stopped dancing and starting just holding each other. He throbbed, low against her stomach, but she pretended not to notice and he pretended not to notice that she had noticed. "But I can't hate you Luke. It's just not in me."

In fact, it seemed just the opposite was true. She was melting inside, turning hot liquid in his arms.

He nodded as if he understood, squeezing her briefly.

Lorelai bit her bottom lip and stared at the wall.

It always came back to this it seemed. To holding each other as tight as they could. Pretending friendship was enough. To Diner men looking for the perfect baseball cap.

Did a tree make a noise when it hit the ground if no one was around to hear it fall?

Lorelai didn't know the answer to that, but she knew that now, when she was falling to the ground, cracking right down the middle - only she, Luke, and Patty peering through the keyhole could hear the sound of her breaking.





End 1/1

A/N: Purposely open ended, because messy endings are so pretty. Feedback and maybe I'll write another story, not a sequel, but certainly more L/L. Did I mention that I love you G/Gers?