A/N: This chapter is dedicated to Eve for the support and insight, Beth for the beta and laughter, Rez for the literary device this story needed ("Rory Gilmore. Not in the plan." is a variation of her own brilliant hook, which she graciously gave me permission to borrow), and the reviewers for the motivation to keep writing.


~ * ~



The word had just washed over him like a benediction, like honey, warm and golden and deep enough to plunge both hands into all the way past his elbows and still not hit bottom. He wants to dive into it. Dive in and sink and sleep there and live in the sweet, dark, warm sanctuary of her words.

She had called him beautiful and he had soared.

Fucking soared.

He had broken too, to be perfectly honest.

And - he thinks - healed, maybe a little. He isn't sure because, God knows, he has no idea what that feels like.

Healing, breaking, soaring - all things he isn't good at. Because, in order to heal, break, or soar, you first have to care which, incidentally, he isn't good at either.

What he's good at is stocking storerooms.

He reaches for another jar of pickles and puts it on the shelf. The repetition of the work provides mild relief from - from what he isn't sure and he needs to just get through two whole minutes, surely not impossible, without trying to figure it out or else he really will lose his mind.


What was he doing? Pickles. Right.

It's a repeating pattern of boxes to the storeroom, razor to the box's top, items to the shelf, razor to the box's bottom, collapsed boxes to the pile, pile to the garbage bin in the alley. Glory hallelujah for easy, mindless, blessed manual labor and for empty storeroom shelves that make it necessary.

Unlike the rest of his day, this, at least, is simple. He puts pickles or soup cans or ketchup or macaroni or flour or whatever it is that Luke has bought this week on the shelves and it stays there (stays there!) until he, or someone else, moves it.

World without end, amen.

He briefly thinks that he should have gotten out of Stars Hollow while he still had the chance. When he was fresh and raw and angry and unaware of girls with eyes, blue like the sky, and soft, warm, porcelain, velvet skin that smells like lavender and tastes like rainwater.

He should have stepped off the bus, grabbed a shower and a quick meal, and escaped with all the pieces of himself in tact. Assuming, of course, that he could have scraped together enough of himself - 'in tact,' so not a phrase that applies to him - to make it worth the effort.

He could have just left. Should have.

He always wanted to see the Southwest - full of red clay dirt and snakes and flat treeless land and old men with leathery tanned faces - just for the novelty of it. He'd wander through Texas or Arizona and make a big long list of things that were different from his real life, the one he left behind in the city, so he would know exactly what they were - those missing things. He could find them and name them and write them down and fucking alphabetize them if he wanted to because it would be his goddamn list.

He could just sit on a rock in a canyon near a cactus and write until his life made sense.

He pictures miles and miles of nothing but open fields, endless vistas of horizon beyond which is only more horizon. Enough space to get lost. Maybe enough space to forget.

But of course, that was before.

Thinking back on it, he understands the tactical error of staying in Stars Hollow.

Rory Gilmore. Not in the plan.

Denver would have worked too, he thinks. The romantic lure of Sal Paradise searching for Dean Moriarty plays across his mind like a black and white movie reel, like a siren call. Yes, Colorado would have been different enough from New York with its pine trees and mountains and clean air and people with skis strapped to the roofs of their cars. It would have done the trick.

'The air in Colorado is clean, isn't it?' he wonders briefly.

Reaching into the box to grab another jar of pickles he stops briefly to laugh at himself. A smoker searching for clean air? Who is he kidding?

When he stacks the pickles, he lines them up in straight-arrow rows and turns their labels to face the front because - shaking his head - he doesn't know why he does it. Luke and Caesar just put items on the shelves and how they land, sloppy, crooked, and pointing in all directions, is how they stay. He looks around the storeroom and sees evidence of items unpacked by him - cans, jars, and boxes standing like soldiers at attention, neat and facing forward, amid the other haphazardly placed goods. Maybe that's why he does it - to provide tangible proof that he was here, is here.


She called him beautiful.

That wasn't even two minutes, he thinks, groaning inwardly.

The irony of life giving him exactly what he wants before he's actually equipped to deal with it is not lost on him.

If only he had left Stars Hollow on that first or second day, he'd be done with his list by now. He could have been out west or up north or wherever it is that the lost parts of him live with The List of Missing Things in his hands. The list would whisper secrets, tell him what he needs to know about how to live without pushing everyone, everyone, everyone away.

Then, mysteries understood and necessary paths walked, he'd come back for her.

He would come back to Stars Hollow and everything would fall into place, perfect and orderly like the pickle jars in the storeroom. Seriously. He would have come back - 'I would have,' he tells a bottle of doubtful looking Aunt Jemima syrup - armed with whatever it is that he needs to be the kind of person she could love.


Oh, God.

Eyes close, heart pounds.

Not in the plan.

He would seek her out, first thing. Find her and tell her about the leather-faced cowboys, the density and color of Utah snow, the ghost of Jack Kerouac who bummed a cigarette from him on Colfax Avenue, his magic List, and how he got his shit together. She'd ask to see the list because that's the kind of person she is. He would show it to her (alphabetized even!) knowing that she would understand and recognize that he isn't the kind of person to be abused or threatened or (worse) ignored or thrown away.

He sighs heavily rubbing his beginning-to-fatigue shoulders and neck while the visions of Texas and Wyoming dissipate, as they should really, like fading carnival music.

Honestly, flight is no longer an option. It's way too late for that.

The real question is - if he's not going to run, what is he going to do?

The pickles are almost unpacked. They're large economy sized jars and he has to make sure he's got a good hold on each one before he lifts it out of the box.

Because, they're made of glass and things made of glass break when you drop them.

He found that out the hard way his third week here in purgatory. Not that he didn't know it before but, spend a full half hour cleaning up tiny shards of glass and pickle juice that has splattered absolutely everywhere and, man, that lesson is learned.

It's a little known fact that you have to mop a floor twice a day, for three days in a row before you finally rid a poorly ventilated area of the smell of smashed pickles. Just another useless piece of information to add to his collection. File it next to everything he learned in the city that doesn't matter for shit here.

Like how to protect yourself in a knife fight (not that he always walked away without cuts) or how to sleep in a park and not get rolled for cash (not that he never got rolled). The point is that there are calculated risks involved in every activity and he always senses when he's in danger and about to get hurt.

Except not here.

Here, he knows nothing about the danger that comes packaged in silky brown hair and a prep school uniform. How danger can grow two (gorgeous) legs, walk into a diner, sit on a stool, order coffee, and study him silently while he works. If she'd come with a warning label, he could have protected himself better.

Except that isn't entirely true.

Because, he sensed she was dangerous the first time she smiled at him.

And he felt she was dangerous when she knew as much about literature as he did.

But he knew she was dangerous when she accidentally grabbed his hand - her skin like moonlight - instead of the coffee mug he had offered her and he felt like he'd been struck by lightning.

Heat lightning, if you want to know the truth of it. The kind that flashes on summer nights when there isn't a single raindrop in a 400-mile radius but the sky is too hot and too humid and too angry to let the moment pass unnoticed, unsung.

Her quiet danger was recognized too late. He had been so stupid.

Except that it really wasn't his fault. Had his world been filled with Rorys instead of Shanes he would have known to be wary. He could have been more careful. He would have known what she - this golden child, chosen one, innocent - was capable of doing to him.

He could have prevented this unbelievable mess.

Yes, knowing the risks certainly would have helped.

Except - here's the real brutal truth of it - he probably wouldn't have done anything differently, even if he had known.


The word escaped from her lips - pink and delicious, covering perfect straight white teeth, surrounding her soft warm tongue - like a prayer and went straight to his core using one of the tunnels she carved in him herself with her hands, her laugh, and her words.

Rory Gilmore.


Not in the plan.

~ * ~

He turns to find her standing in the doorway and he jumps, caught off guard.

"Hey," she says to the sacks of sugar on the shelf behind his right shoulder.

"Hey," he greets in return.

He curses himself for not knowing she was there while she grins shyly (at the salt shakers), a blush rising prettily in her cheeks.

He watches as her eyes drift around the room, from the salt to the mustard bottles to the cans of tomato sauce to the pickles. She looks everywhere but at him.

'Seen enough of me already today, Rory?' he wonders.

He watches her fidget in the doorway and wants to speak to her - feels like he should - but for the life of him, he can't think of one single thing to say.

He had been unloading cans of peaches before turning to find her watching him. Now, he places the can that's still in his hand on the shelf, spinning it so that it, too, faces forward. He leaves the other hand lingering on the cardboard box while he stares in the corner of the room, past the hamburger buns, trying desperately to think of something to say.

It's ridiculous.

It's not like he's never been naked in front of a woman before.

He needs to just relax and talk to her about it. She probably needs to. Talk, that is.

But he can't because there's something about this woman - this surprising and crystalline girl - that makes it all feel new and different and - God, just different.

Inhaling deeply he looks at her and begins speaking at exactly the same moment she does.




"Go ahead," he urges, motioning with his hand.

"You first," she counters.

"I was just going to say that you look nice," he finishes, weakly.

And she does. She's wearing a blue dress, ethereal and filmy, which seems to just flow over her body, skimming her limbs in a way that's achingly sexy. She probably has no idea, he thinks. The fabric looks thin and he imagines her body just beneath it. There's a white cardigan unbuttoned over it but it doesn't spoil the line.

"Oh," she replies, obviously not expecting that comment, "thank you."

When he remains quiet, she continues, "I was at my grandparents. You know, Friday night. Dinner . . ."

Her voice trails off as she tucks her hair behind her ear. A nervous habit.

"Oh, right," he says. "How'd that go?"

"No drinks were spilled. No blood was shed. Considering my mom and my grandparents were in the same room, that's a quiet dinner for us."

He smiles.

Silence again.

Somehow the only comments that pop into his head are wildly inappropriate. 'You saw me naked.' 'I was hard.' 'I've thought about this morning every two minutes, all day long.' 'I wanted to fuck you so bad my hands shook for an hour after you left.'

He knows better than to say any of those things to this girl.

She too, seems to be casting about for some way to start the conversation. The one they both know they need to have.

"Jess-" she begins, moving towards him.

Automatically, he steps backwards away from her.

'Idiot!' and 'What the hell is wrong with you?' shoot through his head like bottle rockets.

She freezes, unsure of what to do now, startled by his retreat.

Sighing, he rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands.

He thinks about his friends at home and what they'd say to him - especially Sean - if they could see him now. Wow. Thank God they can't.

Suddenly, it's funny, hilarious even, and he laughs. It starts out small and self-effacing but grows to a full-grown, regulation laugh. Jess Mariano, afraid of a girl. He runs a hand through his hair and looks at her. She is laughing now, too.

Tension broken, he watches her visibly relax. The room is suddenly warmer, safer.

"OK, tell you what," she starts, "let's draw an imaginary line down the center of the room. That can be your side," she indicates the area where he's standing, "and this will be my side."

"Fine," he grins, walking towards her anyway.

Stepping right over the imaginary line, he stops about a foot from her and reaches out his hand to run his thumb across her cheek. Soft and smooth ivory. She takes his hand in hers and pulls it in between them.

"I think this is the part where I'm supposed to say I'm sorry," she tells their interlocked fingers before looking up, "except that would be hypocritical because I'm not. Sorry I mean."

He waits, without benefit of the List or any other instructions about what to do next. Uncharted territory, this.

"I wanted to see you. All of you," she clarifies as though he needs it.

He says the first thing he can think of - "The male body is a normal thing to be curious about."

It's a thought that's been humming through him all day; he's the first naked man she's ever seen. His body. Her first.

She nods, colors, and looks down again.

"It was . . . you were . . . are . . ." she stumbles.


She said he was beautiful.

She looks in his eyes and can't finish it. Can't finish the thought and he doesn't care because her eyes are guileless and watery and a shade of blue he's never seen anywhere else and he thinks, idly, that God must have created this color just for her.

"It's OK. I'm not upset, or mad, or . . . whatever it is that you think you need to apologize for. I was" - he grins broadly - "surprised."

"Well," she says quietly, "I'm a little bit sorry for that."

He laughs softly, deep in his throat. "Don't be."

'The female body is a normal thing to be curious about, too' he thinks, looking at her. Blue dress that's barely there and her lithe body underneath it and her so intoxicatingly close.

Air. He needs air.

Stepping back without releasing her hand, he pulls her into the diner's deserted kitchen.

"Water," he explains as they walk to the sink.

Taking down two glasses, he fills both and hands one to her. Grateful, she accepts it.

The water is cool as it slides down his throat. He watches her watch him and words, long forgotten, pop into his head. Before he can filter it, he says.

"Here's to opening and upward, to leaf and to sap and to your- in my arms flowering so new -self whose eyes smell of the sound of rain.'"

Her eyes dance.

"Who wrote that?" she asks, voice hushed.

"You don't know?"

She shakes her head.

"You'd only need the next line to figure it out," he assures her.

"So give me the next line."

He regards her for a moment and says "'and here's to silent certainly mountains; and to a disappearing poet of always-"

"Cummings!" she interrupts, triumphant. "It's e. e. cummings. I don't know the poem but he writes like that."

Her face glows with a flattered smile and she says, "I can't believe I reminded you of an e. e. cummings poem."

Deadly, this girl.

"You remind me of many e. e. cummings poems," he admits.

"Ooh, is one of them 'Anyone lived in a little how town'? Because I've always wanted to remind someone of that poem."



He laughs at her, at himself. Quoting poetry - God, what next?

"Tell me another," she urges.


"Oh, c'mon."

"I can only quote one poem per day. I have my reputation to think about."


'Jesus Christ, Mariano,' Sean's voice floats across the distance to slap him across the back of his head, 'stop being such a pussy and tell her the real poem you're thinking about.'

-Which is exactly why it does no good to think about his friends during times like these.

Jess places his now empty glass on the counter and settles his hands possessively on Rory's hips, the feel of her under his hands still so new and so right.

She lifts an eyebrow in silent question as if to say, 'well?'

He leans over and smells her hair. Citrus.

Rory Gilmore, standing in the half-light with hair that smells like an orange grove and the face of an angel.

Not in the plan.

'While we're young,' Sean grunts impatiently.

He begins-

"'Come a little further - why be afraid - here's the earliest star, have you a wish?'" he says into her hair.

Fingers now in her hair, which is like silk - a mild thought about how cliché that sounds but it really is true - thick and strong, and sliding so nicely between his fingers and then-

"'Touch me, before we perish, believe that not anything which has ever been invented can spoil this or this instant,'"

His mouth inches from her ear now - "'kiss me a little, the air darkens and is alive. O live with me in the fewness of these colors,'"

And finally, lips on her temple, "'alone who slightly always are beyond the reach of death.'"

He lifts his head to look at her and his eyes lock on hers.

"How much further?" she asks, breathless.

Excellent question, Rory.

By way of answer, his hands find her hips again and he walks her across the kitchen until her back hits the wall. His mouth covers hers and the resulting kiss, while not ferocious, isn't gentle either.

'Do you have any idea how good I can make you feel, Rory? Do you?' he thinks.

Her mouth opens greedily, urging him forward.

It's all he needs.

His body presses against hers and he learns that her dress really is as thin as it looks. He's instantly reeling because she's warmer than he expected and small and fits so perfectly against him. And he can feel her, really feel her body through the thin material; chest heaving, heart pounding, stomach pressed to his, an involuntary thrust of her hips - sweet lord he's reeling again.

He knew how it would be.

And he knows what she needs.

Sliding his leg between hers, he presses the swollen part of himself against her and, for the first time, lets her feel the extent of his desire for her.

An answering gasp escapes her and she spreads her legs a little to give him more room.

It's shocking, her movement. How she knows what to do, he has no idea, but he's not one for overanalyzing gifts when they present themselves.

Repositioning so he's right there, he presses himself against her most sensitive area and smiles when he hears a small airy moan escape from her. A thick sound.

It feels so incredibly good that he keeps doing it. He wants to rock her into that place of mindless earth-shattering glorious oblivion.

Peace be with you (and also with you.)

He feels fistfuls of his shirt tangle in her hands and hears his name (his name!) sail from her lips, half whisper, half moan.

If she was anyone else, he'd fuck her right here standing up.

But she's not anyone else.

Instead, he moves his hand to her breast and drags his thumb across her nipple. She shivers and tries to un-tuck his shirt but he can't allow that. If her hands find his skin she'll be looking at the business end of a Jess Mariano self-control meltdown.

And if she was anyone else that wouldn't be a problem but his release is, alas, not on tonight's agenda.

'Didn't you read your syllabus, Rory?' he thinks. 'The lesson for today is Understanding Your Own Needs and Finding the Rhythm. The Do's and Don'ts of touching me come later. Please stay on topic and raise your hand if you have questions.'

Speaking of rhythm-

"Rory," he says.

She opens her eyes - pupils dilated - and looks at him. His hands slide to her hips.

"Move with me," he whispers.

With his hands he shows her how to move her hips in time with his to increase her pleasure.

"Yeah, just like that," he responds, bracing himself against the wall as she begins moving on her own.

Suddenly, he's grateful for that wall. It will help hold her up when he's too weak to do it himself - and weak he will be by the time this is over.

Her hips move haltingly at first, almost timidly.

The play of emotions across her face is incredible and he watches as she falls under the spell of it. Under the spell, as old as time itself, of bodies coming together and moving as one.

In the beginning, there was light.

He'd be content to just watch her make these new discoveries - her face open and expressive - but she has other plans. Her hand moves to the back of his head and pulls his mouth to hers, sliding her soft tongue inside him, hungry and wanting.

Thin is the dress and flushed is the face. He feels her (breasts, stomach, legs, hips, sex) so clearly that it's almost painful.

She finds her rhythm - oh God, yes, she does - and sets their pace.

He moves with her, against her, mumbling mostly unintelligible words. He thinks he says 'beautiful' and 'feel you' and 'so good' but he isn't sure because she takes his words and swallows them like honey.

His hands continue their exploration, each touch freeing a part of her from the place she has hidden for so long.

Absolutely amazing.

He's been wanting to touch her like this since morning, since she took his towel.

Except - here's a shock - that isn't entirely true.

He's been wanting to touch her like this since he first laid eyes on her - incandescent, unspoiled, beloved. He should have left before want became need, need became ache, and ache became burn. Today, the burn became liquid and poured through him like lava. If she hadn't come to him tonight, he'd be nothing but a pile of ash.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Her breath is quicker and she moans softly with each exhale now. The sound of it is has him hanging by a thread and dying for her. Dying to bury himself in her and, if she was anyone else - literally, anyone else - he would.

But she isn't anyone else.

She's the special girl.

She of sunlight. She of rainstorms. She of life.

The girl he actually - God help him - loves.

Her head is thrown back and her body is suddenly taut like a bow.

She's close, he realizes. He moves a fraction faster and presses the place he thinks will make the most difference for her.

And it does.

The wave hits her like a force of nature and she cries out (his name) while he watches it carry her away. She sails into this uncharted ocean on the back of a blue whale that has been waiting, rider-less by the shore, for her.

His embrace (hands, arms, body) steadies her as she takes the journey. He finds he can hold her up better than he expected.


She called him beautiful but what could be more beautiful than she, right now?

He watches her - soaring and in his arms - and knows the Southwest holds nothing he needs.

More waves take her as she calls for him again. His only answer, whispered against her ear-

"I'm here. I'm here."

~ * ~

A/N: Like most fic writers, I live for feedback.