A/N: I know, I know! Been a while again. Let me just tell you that I've been in the inspired mood lately, and though this little gem came out of it, I'm light-years behind on my actual book, so it's going to be a while again. That having been said…read, enjoy, and hopefully review. You know how I love pixie stix reviews.

Disclaimer: All I own in this world is sitting in the back of my truck…with the exception of this laptop. I don't own anything related to this show. And even if you do sue me, all you're getting is the stupid, mortally wounded truck because there's still no way in hell you're getting my laptop.

A Whole New World

by Angel Monroe

Chapter 27: Time and Space

"You look tired" were the first words spoken to Lorelai the next morning after Rory had gone to school. They would be repeated several times throughout the day and week, but this morning particularly, they were not the words Lorelai wanted to hear.

"Thanks, Sookie," she mumbled, looking acidly up at her over the rim of her cup. "Why not just come right out and tell me I look like crap. Gets right to the point."

"I've always believed in getting straight to the point." Michel's crisp French accent held his usual wry humor as he passed through the kitchen. "Lorelai, you look like crap."

Lorelai sent him a stare that was both threatening and teasing. "He says to his recently very impatient, trigger-happy boss as he heads to the unemployment office."

"Point taken." He exited in his usual fashion, with an air of bored superiority.

Sookie giggled a little, trying in vain to lighten the mood as she stirred a pan full of something orange and yummy-smelling. "You know I didn't mean it that way. I just mean that you look like you didn't sleep well. I've heard those medicines they give you can give you some really weird dreams."

"Dreams are the least of my problems, Sook. I'm losing my mind." She sat on a stool and exchanged her coffee cup for a bowl filled with some kind of chocolate batter. With many a sign and roll of her eyes, she related the previous day's events to her second-best friend.

"You have been really guarded with your emotions lately," Sookie replied after all was said and done. "Oh, I didn't make it worse when I stole Michel's chair so you could put your feet up on Monday, did I? I didn't mean to coddle you or anything. I just thought you could use a few minutes to relax, and then these chairs can get so uncomfortable in you don't have something for your feet, and then—"

Lorelai cut in, slightly worried for the woman. "Sookie, it's fine. You weren't being too coddling, and I enjoyed mocking Michel when he came in and out every five minutes for an hour, asking if I was done with it. It was better than Showtime, I promise."

"Alright, good." The chef let out a deeply relieved sigh, then looked down at her sauce and let out an exclamation. "Stupid temperamental peach sauce." With a rueful huff, she poured the slightly burnt liquid down the drain and began to start over.

"So what should I do about the going crazy thing?" Lorelai asked. "Rory and I are fine now, but lately we've just been butting heads like crazy."

"You're just tense. Maybe you guys need a day away from each other."

"That's an idea." Lorelai's expression brightened as she took another spoonful. It tasted chocolaty and nutty and heavenly. "Maybe we've just had too much of each other lately. I mean, not in a bad way, but…you know what I mean. Do you think?"

"All I know is that you both need a night off. You've both spent the last few weeks trying to be there for each other. You just need a little fun."

"Yeah." Lorelai stood up, feeling refreshed. "A little fun."

OOOOO

"Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus is said to be one of the—if not the—most disturbing of all his plays. It was his first ever performed on stage, and is said to be more Roman than Greek in theatrical nature, though it can be debated. Can anyone tell me—?"

Before she'd even finished the question, Paris answered, "Greek plays didn't show violence on stage to the extent that Romans did, and Titus has too many masculine, Arnold Schwarzenegger, 'kill now and ask questions later' scenes for Greek theater."

"But—"

"But much of the actual murder and rape and grinding bones to make their pie was done offstage, so it could be argued as having a Grecian style," she finished.

"Perhaps, Miss Gellar, we should let some of the other students participate." Mrs. Jenson smiled indulgently at the blond and turned to write something on the board.

"Like anyone else in this class has read the stupid play," Paris whispered to an uninterested Rory.

"Because you're the only literate person in Connecticut," Rory mumbled.

"What?"

"Nothing." Rory felt a tap on her shoulder and looked back to see a girl named Chelsea holding a note to pass. She took it and was going to pass it forward when she saw that it had her name on it. Looking around and opening it discreetly, she read silently, "You don't look so good today, Mary. You alright?" She smiled appreciatively at Tristan's concern and scribbled a quick, "Bad night. Talk after class," before handing it back to Chelsea.

After class, he met up with her in the hall and she let him walk her to lunch. "So what's up? You've been walking around looking like a zombie all day."

She rolled her eyes dramatically. "Gee, thanks. I can tell why you're such a ladies' man."

"You know what I meant." He combed his fingers through his hair nervously. "Your mom doing alright?"

Damn. Caught. "Her surgery is in three days," she replied heavily. "We're both just really tense about it, so we've been fighting a lot."

"Fighting? You guys are, like, the same person, aren't you?"

She chuckled dryly. "Until recently, yeah. It's just with all this going on, she's been telling me less and less of how she's feeling, and apparently the rest of us in town have been looking at her more and more like an invalid. Thus, fights. I think we're doing alright now, but yesterday was a bad night."

"I'm sorry. I hope it gets better." All he said as he walked next to her, and suddenly the day felt a little less insurmountable. It felt good to get it off her chest without the pressure of being prodded with questions.

"Thanks for listening," she smiled and laid a hand on his arm, just the slightest of touches but comforting nonetheless. "It helped."

"Anytime, Mary." He smiled his usual cocky smile back at her, though his eyes were softer, more human than she remembered from last year. He was a good friend. She decided she'd been wrong about him when she'd thought him shallow. Somewhere in there, he had layers. A nice surprise.

"I'll see you later, Tristan," she said when they reached the lunch room. "And thanks again for listening. You're a good friend."

When she left his side, she heard him say, softly but distinctly in his ironic, teasing voice, "You will remember to send out that memo, won't you, Mary?"

She just laughed softly and kept walking.

OOOOO

Jess stood outside Mr. Matthews' classroom door, debating the pros and cons of entering. He wasn't the pros-and-cons type of person, making lists and weighing outcomes—he left that to Rory. But if he entered this classroom, he knew it would set a standard, an expectation. For once a teacher would look at him and see potential. It was mildly disconcerting.

But he liked Matthews. And he loved Rory. And Rory wanted him here. What was the girl doing to him?

Taking a deep breath and affecting his most impassive expression, he walked in amongst the throng. He didn't make eye contact with the teacher, but simply sat in his seat and pulled a paperback out of his pocket. Needless to say, it wasn't Gatsby.

Class started as normal, and he didn't look up. He knew Matthews had seen him—it's not like he could or would hide—but he didn't acknowledge it. Part of him knew he was being stupid. It was only one class and a class he could possibly see himself enjoying. But what if Matthews let him down? What if he let Matthews down? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

He heard the man ask a question, starting a debate, and another student answer. Then another, contradicting. Might as well get into it some time, Mariano. With a heavy sigh, he opened his mouth and did something he hadn't done since urban schooling had jaded his view of public education.

"The first guy was right."

Suddenly it seemed like the whole world was silent. He looked up from his book to see every set of eyes in the class trained on him. Matthews looked at him with an expression vaguely akin to fatherly pride. Mildly disconcerting, but not entirely intolerable.

"Care to explain?"

He began to speak again, and for the first time unleashed the real Jess Mariano on Stars Hollow High. No turning back.

"Jess." After class, Matthews stopped him before he could hit the door. He wasn't much up for talking. He'd talked more during this class than he had in the last five years in New York. If he kept this up, he'd lose his voice by Friday. "I didn't expect to see you until tomorrow for the quiz."

He ran a hand through his hair uncomfortably. "Yeah, well, I figured I'd try this school thing out for a change. This class seems alright, and since I already read the books, so it's not like you can ruin them for me."

"Thanks, I think," Matthews laughed, leaning back against his desk. "So how did you like this 'school thing' today? Up to your standards?"

Jess thought about it a moment. "It was alright."

"Good." He smiled the same proud smile he did earlier in class, and this time it didn't feel so weird. "I'll see you tomorrow, Jess."

"See ya."

Walking down the hall, he didn't try so hard to put everyone off. He didn't scowl quite so overtly. Maybe this wouldn't be such a horrible year after all.

OOOOO

"So," Rory stepped off the bus and into the arms of her very own diner boy, "how was it?"

He kissed her and handed over her cup of coffee. "Wasn't terrible," he replied vaguely.

"But did you go? Did you talk? Were you incredibly bored?" She was so worried that he hadn't liked it, that he'd been bored out of his mind. It would be her fault for guilting him into going.

"I went, I debated, I talked more than I felt comfortable with, and I wasn't completely bored," he smiled reassuringly.

"So you're going back?"

He put an arm around her, ushering her back towards Luke's. "I'm going back. I may be crazy for passing up a free ride, but I think I can live with that."

"Good," she hugged him tightly, careful not to spill her coffee, and kissed him on the cheek. "I'm glad it worked out for you."

"How was your day?"

"More of the same." Her step was bouncier than it had been all day. "Paris was Paris. Tristan was Tristan. The first Franklin meeting is tomorrow, so that should be interesting."

The bell rang above them, and Rory looked up to see a smiling Lorelai. Really smiling. "Mom, what's up? You look…happy."

"Oh, offspring!" She jumped out of her chair and ran to her daughter. "I had the best idea today."

"Call the National Inquirer," Jess quipped, and Rory hit him. "What?"

Lorelai sent him a look and turned back to Rory. "We're going to spend a day away from each other."

"You don't want to see me?" Rory was confused the first second, and then hurt. "I thought we were okay about yesterday."

"Oh, we are," Lorelai said quickly. "It's not that I don't want to see you, it's just that we've been spending so much time stressing over each other. You've been worried about me and I've been trying not to worry you, and then you're trying not to be too smothering and then I try to make you feel included…It's just getting to us both, you know? I think we need to take a day and not think about acting any kind of way for anyone else. Don't you think?"

Rory thought for a moment, trying to get past the feeling of being pushed away. "I think you're right."

That night, they made arrangements for an entire 24 hours apart. Lorelai would sleep at Sookie's and go into work with her in the morning. Rory would stay at the house and go to school as usual. Lorelai wouldn't go to Luke's until Rory's bus was gone and would steer clear in the afternoon until Rory was finished and back home. In the evening, they would reconvene for a movie night.

It seemed a lot of work to be putting into not seeing each other. A little overkill. But then, in a tiny town like Stars Hollow, it was harder to avoid people than to run into them.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Rory asked as she watched her mom put together an overnight bag. "I mean, do you think it's going to help anything?"

"I think we're both really stressed," she replied tiredly. "I think we're feeding off each other's stress, and it's not good for either of us." She stopped and turned to her daughter for a moment. "You know this isn't some malicious ploy to get rid of you, right? I mean, you know I don't blame you for anything, that there is nothing to be blamed for, right?"

"I know, Mom." Rory smiled softly, leaning back against the doorframe. "I just…I don't' want to waste any time."

"We've wasted enough of it arguing recently," Lorelai pointed out, turning back to her bag. "Again, my fault as much as yours, but we need to get our heads on straight."

"Yeah."

Rory watched her mom throwing things unceremoniously in the bag, only stopping to fold her work clothes lest they be wrinkled. Why she needed so many clothes besides those was beyond her, but Rory didn't question. A Gilmore girl learns not to question insanity, only smile bemusedly and enjoy the show.

OOOOO

Later that night, Lorelai lay in bed in Sookie's guest bedroom, staring up at the ceiling. They'd sat up and done girl things, watching Nick at Nite and painting nails. The mud masks had come out in force, as had the gossip and anecdotes. She and Sookie had chittered and chattered like teenagers. Lorelai had talked about Luke and Sookie about Jackson. Cancer had not been mentioned, nor had surgery or treatment. Rory had come up in reference to how much she liked Luke, but that was the extent of it. They'd agreed to stick to keep things light and worry-free.

Now, she stared up at the ceiling and tried to make herself tired. It wasn't working. It felt weird not to be at home in her own bed. In London it had taken her weeks to readjust to the unfamiliar surroundings. Her entire sleep schedule had suffered until finally she'd gotten used to the stupid hotel room, and even then it was only because she'd washed the sheets herself with her old fabric softener. These sheets didn't smell like home. They smelled like Sookie's home.

Sighing deeply, she pulled back the covers and threw on a pair of jeans, tying up a pair of gym shoes without bothering with socks. She scribbled a note for Sookie and threw it on the pillow before creeping stealthily out the front door. She didn't bother taking her car but walked through the abandoned streets of the town. When the door of Luke's came into view, she wasn't the least bit surprised. She saw Jess sneak out the diner door towards the bridge, a paperback in his back pocket, and let herself in through the unlocked door.

The stairs up to the apartment didn't creak like she'd thought they would. She thought she remembered them creaking, but tonight they were accommodatingly silent. Part of her knew exactly what she was doing, and part of her had no clue what had brought her up these stairs to this door at 11 o'clock at night. Still, if she didn't know, she probably wouldn't have knocked.

And then knocked again.

"Jess." Luke's gruff voice was almost a shock in the silence between the raps of her knuckles on wood. Solid wood that belonged in a hardware-store-turned-diner. "Damnit, Jess, how did you manage to lock yourself out? I thought you could pick locks in your—" The door opened, and the shock on Luke's face was more than a little amusing. "Lorelai."

The shock on Lorelai's face must have been equally amusing when she saw him, clad in sweatpants and no shirt. Any viable excuse she had been trying to think up evaporated and the lame truth spewed forth. "I couldn't sleep."

He again looked surprised, and then understanding. "Come in. I don't know where Jess went, but—"

Before he could finish, her lips were on his and finishing the statement seemed inconsequential. They stumbled back, into the apartment, and he had the brief presence of mind to close and lock the door again. Then in a flurry of lips and tongues and clothes and sheets, all presence of mind left the building.

OOOOO

Rory sat at her computer, trying to find something useful to do. Sleep hadn't come easily, and when it had it brought with it dreams that she didn't want to relive. So she'd gone into the living room to watch television, but it had yielded nothing of interest. Leno just wasn't doing it for her tonight. So she'd tried reading, but the words blurred beneath tired eyes. So she'd opted for typing. It couldn't hurt to start on an article for the Franklin. If she met with Happy Paris the next day, she would be praised for her initiative. If she met with PMS Paris, she be seen as a dangerous contender ready to stage a coup and would be no worse off than before. Either way, she didn't need to be able to see in order to type, so it served as a distraction.

When she heard a tap at the window, she didn't start. She didn't grab an umbrella or bat or lamp to defend against phantom attackers. She simply went to the window, pulled back the curtain, turned the lock, and returned to the computer. Jess had not been a so infrequent visitor to her window as Lorelai knew or would have liked. But what she didn't know couldn't hurt her. It was all innocent anyway.

"Your mom is at Luke's." Jess's first statements, before even a greeting, snapped Rory out of her sleep-deprived stupor.

"Luke's? I thought she was at Sookie's."

"Not anymore," he shrugged, sitting on the edge of her bed. "I saw her go in just after I left. I don't know if she's still there, but I'm not taking the chance of going back." The grimace on his face made her laugh, and then grimace in turn when she thought too long on it.

"Seems a safe plan. Feel free to hang out here. I just got this idea for an article for the school paper and decided to get a jump on it."

"No sleep for the Gilmore girls tonight?" He looked mildly confused and more than a little concerned. "I thought this day-away plan was supposed to be good for you."

"It will be," she shrugged absentmindedly, the click of her fingers on the keyboard louder than her voice. "I just need to get this down article down before I lose inspiration. I don't know what it is about insomnia and creative genius, but I'm not going to question it."

Jess sat watching her for ten minutes, lying back on the bed and retreating into his own head. He could tell that Rory hadn't just been struck with some idea. She had been looking for a distraction and stumbled onto it. It seemed she and her mother suffered the same illness tonight.

"Finished," she said triumphantly as she typed the last sentence and saved it. "God, I love when that happens."

"Three cheers," Jess sighed, sitting up again. "So do you plan to sleep tonight or do I need to go make coffee?"

"Bad dreams," she admitted with a slight rise of one shoulder, a half-shrug meant vainly to minimize the significance. "Didn't feel like sleeping."

"You wanna tell me about it?"

Another half-shrug. "I was walking down the street and saw Luke. He looked at me sadly and walked away. I saw Miss Pattie, and she did the same thing. Sookie, Babette, Andrew, Taylor, Kirk…all the same expressions." She smiled softly, sadly. "I could tell it was Mom. Even in the dream I knew what it meant. So I went home and looked in the mirror…and Mom's face looked back at me. I wasn't me; I was her. And I didn't understand all the sad looks until I walked into my room and saw a coffin where my bed was. 'Here lies Rory Gilmore.'" She looked at him, waiting for something, expecting something. "Pretty weird, huh? Doesn't take Freud to figure it out."

"You're not dying, Rory," he said softly. "And neither is she."

"She will." She smiled again, that wistful sadness. "If not Saturday, someday. She'll leave me one day, and even if it's not for another 20 years, I don't know how I'll live through it."

"You don't have to know yet." He took her hand and pulled until she was sitting on the bed next to him. "When it happens, we'll figure it out. Everybody does when it's time, don't they?"

She bowed her head, knowing he was right but not trusting the hope in the sentiment. If Lorelai died on Saturday, she wouldn't be able to figure it out. She would break, and not even he would be able to put her back together.

Waving her hand dismissively, she sighed. "Let's not think about it, alright? Can you just tell me again that everything will be fine? Can you make me forget about mom for a while? That's what tonight is supposed to be, right?"

"Everything will be fine," he assured her, pushing the hair from her eyes and tucking it behind her ears. Her eyes were tired and irritated, but she didn't miss the look in his. It was so solid, unwavering. When he kissed her, it seemed to be with everything in him, and it touched everything in her.

When she let out a soft sigh, which turned to a whimper involuntarily, Jess stilled.

"Rory, if you don't tell me to—"

"I'm not going to," she answered before he'd given the choice.

He smiled against her lips. "But isn't there a house rule?"

"Yeah," she admitted, though it didn't stop her from running her nails temptingly over his scalp. "There is, isn't there?

"Rory—"

Whatever he was going to say was interrupted by a sharp ringing.

Jess growled low in his throat, pulling away. "That must be my conscience calling."

Rory couldn't help but laugh as she kissed him softly and quickly before going to answer the phone.

"Rory?"

"Sookie?"

"I lost your mom."

Rory put her head down on the phone table, trying hard not to laugh. "She isn't lost, Sookie. She's at Luke's."

"Luke's? Why would she be at Luke's?"

"Is something wrong?" Jess asked, stepping out of Rory's room.

"No, keep your voice down!" Rory whispered with her hand over the receiver. "Because Luke is there," she answered Sookie.

"Did I hear someone there? Oh, is Jess there? Did I interrupt something? Oh my gosh! Your mother—"

"Sookie, relax. I don't think Mom is worried about where Jess is right now." She sent a 'now look what you've done!' look. "And you didn't interrupt anything."

"Are you sure, sweetie? I mean, it's none of my business."

"It's fine, Sookie. Go back to bed."

"Okay. Goodnight."

"Goodnight."

Rory hung up the phone and turned back to Jess, who was looking more than a little uncomfortable. "So how long will it take for your mother to put bars on your windows?"

"Who says I didn't let you in the front door?" she asked, her eyes the perfect mask of naiveté while she tried to hide a mischievous smile.

He smiled too. "Good point."

"So…" She stepped towards him. He stepped back. She stopped, confused. "So…"

"If I touch you right now, it'll all be over." She didn't know what she heard in his voice, but something told her not to push.

She sighed, frustrated, and looked around. "So…Monopoly?"

OOOOO

"Wow."

"Yeah."

"That was…"

"Uh-huh."

"And you were…"

"Thanks."

Lorelai lay in bed, flustered like she hadn't been in years, her head rested on Luke's chest. "Why had we never done that before?"

He smiled, playing with a wild lock of curly hair. "Beats me. I guess I didn't know if you were up for it."

"Well you sure were."

Neither missed the double meaning.

"You are alright, aren't you?" he asked, suddenly aware of the risk. "I mean, you're feeling okay? You aren't really supposed to exert yourself like this."

Lorelai laughed, high and melodic. "I think it's a little late for that, don't you? But yes, I'm okay." She smiled wider. "I feel better than I have in a long time."

"Good." He rested back again, pulling her closer. She didn't resist. "So did you come over here for some reason, or was this it?"

She laughed again, and he knew he would never get enough of it. "This wasn't enough?"

"Not that I'm complaining," he added quickly. "Feel free to come over for that any time."

She took a moment to answer his real question, not sure of what to say. "I don't think I knew what I was doing here," she told him honestly. "When I came back from London, I felt like I never wanted to leave the house again. It was home base, you know? So when I couldn't sleep at Sookie's, I think I just needed somewhere where I felt…at home."

The expression on Luke's face was indescribable, beautiful. His eyes lit up like topaz gems. "I'm glad you feel at home with me. It's exactly how I feel when I'm with you."

Lorelai felt her stomach drop like a kamikaze dive bomber. It left her unbalanced, unresponsive, but not in a bad way. More like a bungee jump, when adrenaline is pumping a hundred times more than is healthy and the high makes you shake straight down to your soul. For a moment all she could do was stare at him in wonder.

When she came back to herself, she could feel her cheeks burn. "So, am I going to have to worry about Jess coming in and embarrassing us all irreparably?" she asked, remembering where they were. Remembering that there should, in theory, be another resident in the apartment.

Luke tensed for a moment, remembering too. He had no idea how much time had passed since the boy left. "God, I hope not. I was asleep when he left."

"I saw him leave just before I got here," she told him. "He had a book. He looked like he was going to the bridge, but that was…" She looked at the clock. "…a while ago."

"I wonder if—"

Lorelai knew the second that the idea crossed Luke's mind because he shot up into a sitting position, inadvertently pushing her off of him.

"Oh, I'm going to kill that kid." He moved to stand up but caught his legs in the blanket and instead tumbled out of bed. After a few soft curses, he stood up and looked around. "I'm going to kill him, and then I'm going to ship his ass back to New York and let his mother kill him again."

"Luke," Lorelai tried, but he was already pulling on his pants. "Luke!" A shirt pulled on hastily, inside-out. "LUKE!"

Finally he stopped and turned back, one shoe in his hand.

"Get your ass back down here. I'm cold."

"But Jess is with Rory; I'm sure of it." He sat down and began tying a shoe. "They have the house all to themselves. Nothing good can come from that. God knows, after what just happened here, you know what could come from that. I warned that kid—"

"Luke, relax."

"How can you possibly tell me to relax?" he demanded, turning to her almost angrily. "Why are you so relaxed? I mean, my nephew—not the most flattering background, let me tell you—could be at this very moment doing things with your daughter that I will not say and can't even make myself think about because it's just that wrong. And you're just laying there, all naked and looking at me like I'm a crazy person, instead of yelling and storming over there like any normal mother would."

She put a hand very gently on his arm, and his angry expression softened. "Luke, relax," she repeated more firmly. "Rory is sixteen years old. She can make her own decisions when it comes to Jess."

Though it killed her to say it. It wasn't that she didn't like Jess. Nor was it that she didn't trust Jess with her daughter's heart. She just knew that if they took that step—if they were at this moment taking that step—her daughter would be giving away a huge part of her heart. She would be irreversibly tied to him: mind, body, and heart. Triple threat. It was a scary concept for a mother to handle.

"But—"

"And she's my daughter," she continued, in spite of her inner dialogue. "She knows what she's doing. She's got a better head on her shoulders than I ever did. I trust her decisions."

Luke slumped a little, defeated. He knew she was right. And more importantly, he knew Rory. If he couldn't trust her judgment, he didn't know whose he could. "Alright. I give. So what now?"

Lorelai grinned, slipping an arm around his neck and whispering provocatively in his ear, "Now, you come back to bed. You have far too many clothes on."

OOOOO

"Three of a kind, baby!" Rory slapped down her hand triumphantly and gathered her M&M pot. "Didn't I tell you I was a great poker player?"

Jess chuckled, rightly chastised, as he collected the cards. "Yeah, yeah. You're just far too good at distracting me."

"A girl does what she can," she winked playfully, popping a couple M&M's in her mouth. She'd been trying every dirty trick in the book, which included breaking the 'no touching' rule when she realized that she could reach him under the table with her foot. He'd very quickly moved away, making her pout prettily. That hadn't helped either.

"Besides, if you don't stop eating the poker chips, you're going to lose anyway."

"Small details," she laughed, but it turned into a yawn.

It was 1am, and they were sitting on the floor in the living room, the coffee table between them serving as a card table. Both were getting tired. Jess was more used to the late nights than Rory, but even he had to concede that it he would kick himself if they didn't get some sleep soon.

"You need sleep," he said, putting the cards back in the box and taking her hand. "And even if you don't, I do. Come on, off to bed."

"But I don't want to go to bed," she pouted juvenilely. "I was so close to wiping you out. Two more hands, if that, and I would have had the whole bag of M&Ms to myself." She smiled teasingly at him. "I promise I'll share."

"No more poker!" he laughed as he pulled her to her feet and began to usher her, locked in his arms, towards her room. "You're going to kick yourself tomorrow—" He looked at the microwave clock. "—or rather later today, if you don't get a few hours in. And I am not going deal with you tomorrow morning in the throes of a real caffeine craze. You're bad enough when you've had a full night."

"Hey!" She tried to turn to face him, but he held her tightly, her back against his chest. "You're mean when you're tired."

He smiled, trying not to be patronizing. "No, I'm forceful when I'm right." She snorted in a very unladylike fashion. "Besides, I'm looking out for you. You have that newspaper meeting tomorrow, and you know you're going to need the strength for Paris."

"Okay, you're right," she conceded, making a face at the idea of seeing Paris without sleep. "Take me to bed."

Jess stopped suddenly and raised an eyebrow, amused.

"You know I didn't mean it like that!" she laughed. "Though I wouldn't be opposed…"

"Sleep!" he insisted, pushing open the door and falling, with her in his arms, onto the bed. "Come on, I'll be here if you have another dream."

"Fine." She turned to face him, his arms still around her. "Are you going to sleep in all your clothes? That can't be very comfortable."

"Rory, if I take anything off, neither of us will be sleeping tonight." His eyes smiled, but she could see the truth in them. How frustrating it was to be so close, and yet so far. She wanted him more than coffee right then.

"I guess," she sighed, unconvinced, and nestled closer to him as he pulled a light blanket up over their shoulders. He put his arms around her again, and she felt the tremor in his hands. Yeah, he was feeling it too. "You know, one of these days there won't be anything between us."

"I'm looking forward to it," he replied, his voice deep, hoarse. He ran a finger delicately over her jaw and watched her smile tiredly. "But not now. Not tonight."

She curled his shirt in her fists, breathing him in. The little sound she made when she breathed out again was wistful but content. It made him think so many thoughts he knew he shouldn't and feel so many things he wanted so badly.

"I know," she said, her voice like that sound. "I just don't know how long I can stop myself. I don't think I want to stop myself."

"I don't want to stop you either. Trust me on that. But when you're ready—" She looked up at him expectantly, and he continued before she could interject, "—and when we're both not sleep-deprived, we won't have to stop."

"I do love you, you know," she whispered, smiling as she closed her eyes and leaned against him. "You make me happy. Did I ever tell you that?"

"I don't know."

Her voice was soft and sleepy now, already half-gone. "Well you do. You make me happier than I thought I could be. And one of these days, you're going to let me show you that."

"You don't have to prove anything to me, Rory," he said, his brow creasing.

"That's not…" Big yawn. "…how I meant it." She looked like she was trying hard to think of what she did mean. "I just mean that I want to be everything with you." Another pause. "Or maybe that I just want to show you…" Little lines of concentration broke across her forehead as she tried to fight the cloud of sleep in her mind. "You know what? Never mind. I just love you."

He sighed deeply, and then felt stupid for it, and then didn't care. "I love you too." He kissed her forehead and closed his own eyes, knowing exactly what she meant. "And ditto on the rest of it. There aren't words to explain how happy you make me."

"Yeah there are." Even as she was drifting off, he could hear the teasing lilt in her words. "I'm sure the French have some kind of word for it. They're always been good at those kinds of things."

He chuckled, though it was barely audible. "One day I'll find it, Rory. I promise you that. But tonight…"

He didn't finish the sentence. They were both already dreaming.