Author's Note: Oh my gosh, how is it the last chapter already?! *Cries* Thank you so much for all your support, guys. I really didn't expect such an outpouring of interest for a mostly Luke/Emily fic, but I couldn't get the idea out of my head and the scenes kept coming. Thanks so much for going on this journey with me.
Something touches my forehead and it's so clammy-hot I swat it away immediately, groaning. Did Emily push a refrigerator over onto me yesterday? I feel bruised all the way past my skin and into my muscles.
"Luuuuke…" Lorelai sings out.
"I'll make the coffee in a minute," I mumble into my pillow. It's clingy with sweat, and it hurts my head. Need a new pillow. Better pillow.
"You're not going anywhere today," she says. "I had a dream I was being sacrificed into a volcano and one of those pec-a-licious barbarian guys was swinging on vines to my rescue. Then I woke up and realized you were my volcano. You're somewhere between the temperature of Sookie's fancy stove and my mother's eyeballs that one time when I poured my take out coffee into one of her Cristal goblets." She pauses. "Not sure which of those temps you're closer to, though, because I can't find a thermometer anywhere in this apartment that hasn't already been up a turkey's butt."
"Don't need a thermometer. Never sick."
"I know, tough guy." She pats my bare ass, and I remember I was feeling well enough last night to bid her an especially vigorous good night. Maybe that's what's wrong. Maybe I just overdid it. God knows the things Lorelai tempts me to do half the time end with me gasping for air and feeling like I have the fever from hell and it's directly centered in my abs.
"So, I know you're not sick, but can I get you anything before you take a little nap for the rest of the day?"
I crack one eyelid, and there must really be something wrong because she's dressed already—in her clothes, not my blue plaid. I push upward, but my body weighs about two of me and one of Lorelai all put together. Probably her fault. She did that thing last night where she kind of gasped and her breasts jiggled and that always sends me half-crazy. Primordial, as Lorelai calls it.
"Just one more minute," I mumble over my tundra-dry tongue.
"Uh-huh. Want a fresh pillow?"
She handily rolls me onto it before I've realized what she's doing, but I don't mind because this pillow is much better. Refreshingly cool, and sweetly Lorelai's-hair scented. I mumble my approval, but it comes out half like a moan.
"Thought you'd like that." Something rattles and I drag an eye open to see her holding a bag of frozen peas. "See? Vegetables are good for something. All these years you've been telling me, and it turns out you were right after all."
She laughs, low and pretty so it doesn't even hurt my throbbing ears. Fabric tugs and loosens as she gently detangles the sheets from around my ankles, smoothing them away so they can't hold any more terrible heat in.
"Want me to say it again? I think it's really making you feel better." She pats the back of my thigh. "You were right about frozen vegetables," she whispers, all low and sexy-throaty next to my ear.
I almost chuckle, but that feels awful. Her nails pull through my hair, and that doesn't feel awful.
The next thing I know, I'm swinging on vines through the jungle. Steam vents erupt all around me as I get closer and closer to the mouth of the volcano. I drip moisture: sweat and all the humidity. Probably because I'm dressed like always. Jeans and flannel are too goddamn hot for the jungle.
Lorelai looks good, though. She's got on some kind of leather bikini—impractical for swimming, but nice to look at—and she's tied to a great big popsicle stick on top of the volcano, her loosely curled hair blowing in a breeze that never seems to touch me. I take one hand off the vine and try to unbutton my shirt but the fabric slips against my fingers and I can't seem to find the buttons.
A light comes out of the sky like in one of Taylor's diaoramas and spotlights her. Her mouth doesn't move, but her voiceover says, "Shh, hon. Just rest. Everything's okay."
I frown, hanging from the vine as all my momentum is lost. Doesn't she need me to save her? She looks strangely relaxed, all leather bikini'ed and tied to the popsicle stick, but that's just Lorelai. She probably already talked her kidnappers into running out for Red Vines and Chinese take out.
"Shh," she murmurs, her voice all soft the way it used to get when Rory was young and she was trying to soothe her. It makes me sleepy. I slip down the vine to the ground and trudge the last little bit to the volcano. "You're cute when you're sleeping, you know that?" Lorelai's voiceover says, the spotlight coming on again.
I sit down at her feet, because I think she's okay tied to the stake for now. She seems okay. I'm really tired. There's a cool spot at the back of my neck, so maybe I tore off part of my shirt in the trees. But the fumes from the steaming volcano must be really unhealthy, because suddenly my stomach lurches and I get that, "Oh no, it's happening" feeling.
I vault out of bed so fast that one Lorelai's fingernails scratches my back. The bag of frozen peas flops off my neck and onto the sheets. I make it to the bathroom and flip the seat up, sweat dripping off my nose as saliva pools in my mouth.
"Luke?" Her voice sounds close. Then she sighs. "I'm sorry, hon. Is there anything I can do?"
"Call Cesar and tell him we've got to close today." I have no idea what time it is, or even what day. "Can you call Rory to call Emily and tell her not to come in, too?"
I'm teaching Emily sandwiches this week. I can't remember what day it is, but I can remember that for some reason, as I sweat and crouch over the toilet. She sent her cook home and did Philly Cheese Steaks for Richard a couple of days ago. When she's excited about something, you can almost tell she's related to Lorelai. Which I never knew before she started coming in to the diner, because I'd never seen her excited about anything.
"Already done. Well, the Cesar and Lane part. I didn't think to call Mom. Is she coming in, like, every day now?"
I can't answer, because liquid rushes up my throat and pours out my mouth. It feels like it goes on forever, my stomach wringing involuntarily. God, it's been years since I've been sick. I forgot how much I hated it.
"There's some water and a cold rag here when you're done." Lorelai lays them on the tiny ledge by the sink.
I spit into the toilet. "Will you get outta here?"
"What? Do you think I won't think you're sexy anymore if I see you vomit?" She snorts. "Rory vomited on me like a billion times, and worse, and I still love her."
I pant for air, my stomach twisting. "I'm not your kid. I'm your boyfriend. It's different."
She takes up a place leaning against the bathroom door. "Do I need to come in there and pinch your butt to make my point? Because I will." Her shoes click as she shifts her weight. "Remember that one time when I had the flu for a week and you brought me three different kinds of soup because you were convinced we'd starve to death if I couldn't leave the house, since Rory was too young to get take out on her own? And I answered the door in Babette's old sweatpants and a high side ponytail?" She shudders. "Side ponytail. What were the 90s thinking?"
My stomach tries to turn itself inside out and even though I know she's watching, I can't stop myself from retching.
"See, I knew you remembered." Unbelievably, she pats my clammy back before retreating. "I'll finish the anecdote when you're done barfing."
I lay my head against my forearm and wonder how it is humanly possible to love that infuriating woman this much.
This time when I wake up, it's from a dream of Rory bringing home her boyfriends to meet me and Lorelai. I recognize all the dopes, because they've all dated my sister Liz at some time through her long and storied past. I don't remember all their names, but I remember all the ways they left: with her microwave, with her car keys, after breaking her window…
I shudder as I wake, rubbing at my eyes because they feel raw. The light slants through the windows from the west and it makes me dizzy for a second, because I never see the light like this from bed. The apartment's quiet. Lorelai must have gotten tired of watching me dash from bed to bathroom and gone home. Good. It couldn't have been too fun for her, wiping me down with cold rags, telling me stories in her sweet, soft little murmur, none of which made any damn sense. My memory of the stories is all a mix of fairy tale creatures like trolls and celebrity names that are only vaguely familiar. With Lorelai, who knows where they all came from.
My stomach's all wrung out and acidy. Needs something bland to settle it. Toast.
I swing my legs out of bed and find a pair of pants to pull on, and a tee shirt, because even though I told Lorelai to close the diner, the windows will still be open. Out of long habit and health codes, I put on shoes. It's not as sweltering hot in here now, and the sweat on my skin has dried. I need a shower, but I settle for brushing my teeth.
Considering how hard walking was earlier, I'm not too excited about the stairs, but my knees manage them with hardly a wobble. And of course the wobble is the exact moment Lorelai appears at the bottom, eyes wide and brilliantly beautiful as she dashes up to slip an arm around my waist.
"I'm fine. I've been walking on my own for decades. Think I can manage a couple of stairs."
She throws me off balance, trying to steer me into a turn that I resist. Annoyingly, I have to grab the railing to steady my weak legs.
"Hold up. I just need to make a piece of toast. And don't even say you'll make it," I interrupt before she can get started because she's been trying to do stuff for me all day and I don't need anything. I sure didn't need her to stay home from work to be bored in my apartment with me. "That old toaster's tricky and if you don't do it just right, you'll short out the heating element again."
"Uhm, that's really not a good idea right now."
"What did you do? Did you throw out my toaster? Dammit, Lorelai, it's a perfectly fine toaster. If you adjust the wiring every other Tuesday it runs like a damn clock. There's no reason to buy a new toaster." I shake her off and make it to the bottom of the stairs before she catches up, grabbing my arm.
"Don't be mad, Luke."
I sigh. "I'm not mad. I can just get it out of the trash out back and wash it off, like last time."
"No, not about the toaster. I didn't even throw the toaster away. This time."
The light's wrong. Not dark enough. I take one more step and look out into the diner—which is packed with people, some of whom pause to glance over at me. What?
Emily bustles over, appearing too close to my face, the fluorescent lights glaring. "Luke! Should you be up? Did you eat the soup?"
I blink. "Soup?"
Emily frowns at Lorelai. "My cook sent along precise re-heating instructions. It shouldn't have been difficult, and I know very well that you can operate a microwave."
"He was sleeping, Mom," she protests. "I was going to ask him if he was hungry when he woke up, but I just came down to get coffee, and then you made me eat, and I was just going back up, so clearly I haven't had a chance to set the building on fire with my inferior microwaving skills yet."
"I—" Emily visibly checks herself. "I didn't mean to appear derogatory about your cooking skills, Lorelai. I was just worried and I believe it made me sharp for a moment." She turns to me. "I didn't make the soup myself, Luke, so there's no need to be concerned. I didn't think you'd appreciate me trying the recipes before we got around to soups next week."
"I wasn't worried about the soup." I gesture at the diner. "What the hell is this? I told you to close the diner. Cesar is only really solid on breakfast. He can pinch hit for lunch and dinner, but there's no reason for him to work doubles."
"He's not." Emily lifted her chin. "I am. Cesar went home after breakfast. Lane and I have been keeping up just fine. I'm serving everything but soups. I realize sandwiches are a bit of a stretch, as we haven't really gotten through all of them just yet, but there have been no complaints, except for that awful man who was so upset that I'd put pickles on his hamburger, which of course I would not have done if he'd been kind enough to explain to me that he had an objection to them." She shakes her head. "Honestly. The rudeness is astounding. I don't know how you put up with it."
The bell rings as Lane puts up a new order, and Emily smiles at me, her genuinely excited one that always throws me off my game a little.
"I have to get back to it. I'm glad you're feeling better, Luke. Let me know if you would like something to drink, or to eat. When Lorelai was small, and she was sick, she'd ask the cook to make her garlic knots with extra cheese and bacon bits."
I shudder. Lorelai laughs, breaking off when she realizes her mom is laughing, too.
"Yes, well," Emily says, with a quick little glance at her daughter. "Not everyone has Lorelai's strong consitution, of course. Oh! That reminds me, Kirk came by and tried to order two of everything, but don't worry, I cut him off before he made himself sick. And he asked for a discount since you weren't cooking, but I did not allow it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I don't want to get behind on the orders."
Lorelai waits until she walks away, then she turns to me, all apologetic big blue eyes. "Are you mad? I had Rory call her to stay home, like you said, and when she showed up, I tried to throw her out and she started babbling about spoilage and ordering schedules and profit margins. It was like she was speaking in tongues."
"What are you talking about? You deal with all of that stuff at the inn. We were talking last week about what it was doing to your profit margins to have Sookie toss out every piece of produce that wasn't spotlessly perfect."
"Yeah, it's not foreign language to me, but this is Emily Gilmore we're talking about. Finishing school doesn't include crass discussions of business. It's all ribbon tying and the most ladylike way to put on a set of Spanx."
I decide I do not want to know what Spanx are. I head back behind the counter and Lorelai follows me.
"What are you doing?" She grabs my arm, tows me out the far side of the counter, around my dad's cash register, and pushes me onto her normal counter stool. I feel oddly short right here, but it gives me a clear view of the kitchen, which might be good in case of emergency. She snatches up an order pad and one of my pencils. "What do you want? Tea? Broccoli? I can put on that maid costume to bring it out, if it would perk you up a little."
I'm a little more interested in the maid costume than I should be, because that thing doesn't have a back, but then Babette pipes up from the next table. "You guys are role playing already?" She smiles at Lorelai. "Best way to keep the spice in a marriage, that's what I always say. Good for you, sugah, keeping your man hooked like that."
I turn on the stool to stare down Babette. "She doesn't need to 'hook' her man."
Babette giggles. "Sure, sure. But it doesn't hurt to keep the old Willy waxed, you know what I'm sayin'?"
I turn back to the counter and start massaging my temples. "Toast."
"Toast and two aspirin, coming right up. I'll make it myself."
I look up at that, worried, and she straightens her shoulders. "Don't worry, I am a toast master. Get it, they make the speeches? And I can make the speeches, so I'm a master, a toast master!"
I nod, even though I have no idea what she's talking about.
"You want wheat or white? You probably want wheat, huh? Because when Rory and I order white, you make that face like you're trying not to make a face."
She dashes into the kitchen, and I watch while Emily gets out some bread and passes it to Lorelai, who puts it in the toaster before coming back out to me. I motion her a little closer and drop my voice. "How's she doing?"
Lorelai shakes her head. "She's burning everything and they're eating it up."
"Must run in the family."
She bats her eyelashes. "You mean the charm?"
"Something like that." People like Lorelai, and apparently Emily, never have to cook because there is always someone else to do it for them.
In the back room, the toast pops, and Lorelai runs to get it, smacking her mom's hands away when she tries to take it out and butter it first. I can't help the smile that creeps onto my face. I've always had to cook for myself. Except, apparently, for today.
Lorelai brings my toast back. "I put butter on it. You better have wanted butter because if you eat dry toast that's so disgustingly healthy I can't even watch you."
I take the toast, watching over her shoulder into the kitchen. "You're right, she's burning everything."
Lorelai leans her elbows on the counter, dropping her voice. "It was the weirdest thing, though. She made me a rare burger, barbecue sauce on the side, cheddar cheese and a side of sautéed carrots and it tasted…"
I grimace. "Do I want to know?"
"It tasted just like you made it for me."
I look up at that, but Lorelai's already headed around the counter so I can't gauge her expression.
She takes the stool next to mine. I take a bite of my toast and wait, because she's got that look.
She tucks her hands under her legs, twisting to bump her knee against mine. "Luke?"
"Yeah." It comes out gruffer than I meant it to, because I'm still not quite recovered from the burger thing. Or Lorelai and her bag of peas and her weirdly soothing, nonsensical stories and fresh pillows. Or Emily in my kitchen, cooking horribly so I don't lose revenue.
"I'm going to Friday dinner this week," she says quietly, not looking at me. "But you absolutely don't have to go."
I put my toast down. "Yup."
"You're going to go anyway, aren't you?"
"Good." She rebounds with a smile, though a little vulnerability still lurks around her eyes. "I can't wait for my dad to see that look you give her that shuts her up mid-sentence. He'll be practicing it in the mirror all week long."
"Now that, I'd like to see." I take a big bite of toast. Lorelai's stopped twisting her stool, her knee resting warmly against mine.
"Ready for the kicker?" she says.
"Friday night dinners are at my house now."
I choke. "What are you gonna eat, Cheez Whiz?"
"Mom says she wants to teach me to cook." Lorelai shrugs a little too casually. "And since I'm well versed in the whole drink-martini-and-nod bit, I bet I can do it leaning against my kitchen counter as well as perched on her horribly uncomfortable couch. Plus, this way I don't have to drive home, so I can get smashed." She pokes me in the leg for emphasis and I nod along, even though I know the only time Lorelai gets actually drunk is when Founder's Day punch is involved.
"Talk about the blind leading the blind. If you were trying to quell my nausea, this wasn't the way to do it."
"She uh"—Lorelai glances at the kitchen—"actually said she failed me as a mother." She pauses. "With the cooking thing, I guess."
I fight the urge to rub the center of my chest, because it feels funny all of a sudden. Probably from whatever bug has had me laid out all day. I rip the remnants of my toast in half, but then just tap it against the plate instead of eating it. "If you learn to cook, what do you need me for?"
"Orgasms," she says instantly. "Movie tickets. Reaching that one place way far between my shoulder blades that itches sometimes."
"Be still my beating heart."
"Ooh, talking about it is setting it off." She swings around on her stool until her back's to me, and squirms all around until I give in and scratch her back.
When I finish, she slips off her stool and drops a soft little kiss on my stubbly cheek.
I give her a suspicious side-eye. "What was that for?"
"That was a thank you." Her voice is so quiet now not even Babette could listen in, and she looks oddly serious when she takes a breath to go on. "I never thought my mother could be part of my actual life. I sure never thought I'd want her to." She nods toward the kitchen. "Pulling this off must have taken the heart of an elephant and the patience of a saint."
"Eh. Wasn't that hard." Normally, I'd leave it there, but her bulletproof confidence has a real structural weakness where her mother is concerned, so I say the rest out loud. "It's kind of impossible for anyone not to love you."
I wait for the flip deflection, or for her to tease me for going all sappy the first time I get the flu. Instead she leans into my side, something changing inside her expression as, quietly, she watches her mother cook.
Author's Note: That's it! But hey, if you guys are liking the way I write Luke and Lorelai, I have a couple of one-shots queued up. One expanded moment from their first date, so we can see how they got from the restaurant to naked in bed, and one of The Moment, when the moon is full and Luke gives her the engagement ring. If you have a preference of which I should post first, please leave it in the reviews. And make good use of that author follow button because I'll be posting those very soon.
Also, if there are any Walking Dead fans out there, I'm churning out romantic fanfiction for that fandom at the moment as well. Feel free to have a peek and see if it's to your taste.