Author's Note: I got this chapter up as soon as I could, but some days, after spending 8 hours at a computer at work, I just didn't feel like sitting down at a computer when I got home. I hope you all understand, and with a nearly 40 page chapter I think you can forgive me. Now, on to the final installment of BNFD.

Once again, anything recognizable belongs to someone else.

Chapter Nineteen: Someday All The Rules Will Bend

March 2007

It was a misconception that spring break was always parties on beaches and people going crazy, drinking too much, and sleeping wherever they happened to land with whomever they happened to land on. Sometimes spring break was down right boring and depressing. Rory sprawled on the couch in her mother's living room wondering again if she should have gone with some of her friends to Texas or Florida. She'd declined their offers, saying that she just wanted to spend some quiet time at home, forget about school somewhere comfortable where she could relax and not worry about getting tossed into a pool or mauled on a dance floor.

That plan had seemed perfect when she'd said it, but now, after only two days, she was bored out of her skull. Stars Hollow was the same as it ever was, not that it wasn't perfect in its own quaint way, but the bustle of college had caused Rory to become accustomed to some noise, some movement and excitement, even if she wasn't directly a part of it at the time. The quiet in the house was starting to become oppressive, and she had to do something.

"Blah!" Rory yelled as loudly as she could, listening to her voice reverberate in the empty house. It didn't help; it only made her feel more isolated and alone to not have an answer to her grumbling. Shoving to her feet, she wandered into her room in search of something to occupy her time until Lorelai returned home from her day at the inn.

Her fingers trailed idly over the surface of the dresser and the top edges of the drawers. Pulling a few open, she surveyed the books still hidden inside of them. One narrow tome, wedged tightly against the side of one of the drawers, caught her attention, and she pulled it free carefully. A smile lifted the corners of her mouth as she caressed the creased cover and opened the somewhat flattened pages. The familiar words of the main text and the tidy notes in the margins filled her eyes caused the smile to widen. It suddenly became clear to her what she could do to salvage her vacation.

Rory pulled an old book bag from the bottom of the wardrobe and began shoving things into it, packing them hurriedly and probably forgetting more than a few things she might need and including things that she probably wouldn't use at all. Slinging the bag over her shoulder, keys and wallet in one hand, she snatched up her cell phone and scrolled through the memory until she found the number she wanted.

"Dragonfly Inn. This is Lorelai. How can I help you?"

"Hi, Mom."

"Hi, sweetie. How's your day of relaxing going?" Lorelai asked.

"It's okay, but sitting around isn't as relaxing as it used to be," Rory replied. "I'm going to get out of the house for a bit, maybe go into Hartford and do some shopping or something. So, if I'm not here when you get home, you shouldn't worry about me."

"Okay, babe, have a good time. If you should happen to come across a shoe sale, bring me back something pretty," Lorelai said with a laugh.

Rory laughed as well. "All right. I'll see you later, Mom."

"Love you. Be careful."

"I will. Love you, too." Rory switched off the phone as she unlocked the door to her car and slipped behind the wheel, tossing her things into the passenger seat next to her.

An hour later she was at the airport maxing out her credit card.

"It's not normal," Jess muttered for what felt like the millionth time in the last five months. He was thinking of his relationship with Rory again and how he'd seen her once in the last three years, yet she still permeated his every thought. Before he'd met her, he was hardly a fan of long-term, committed relationships; brief encounters and month long flings had been more his speed. Now he found himself being faithful to a woman an entire continent away, a woman he had contact with only through phone calls and occasional packages containing shared books, and . . . he liked it. That was the strangest thing of all to him, the feeling of being content in his life for the first time in very long time. Of course, actually being able to see Rory in person would be even better, but it just wasn't possible right now with her finishing up Yale and him trying to figure out his future. It seemed like as happy as they ever got with each other, there was always something to keep them apart.

A frenzied yapping destroyed the quiet of the night and his thoughts. Jess looked up from his book and scowled at Lily. She only waved dismissively at him without looking up from her own novel.

"I went last time," she said flatly. "It's your turn again."

Jess closed his book with a snap and heaved himself out of the corner of the couch. Sasha's new rescue, a high-strung terrier mix, barked at everything. His tail, his shadow, another dog's tail or shadow, it didn't matter. The little mutt, Lily had taken to calling the thing Pippin because he ate so much, thought everything was a threat. The last time he'd started barking uncontrollably because a withered leaf had blown across the yard and smacked him in the nose.

"What spooked ya this time, Pip?" Jess muttered, pushing through the back door. "A dried up flower petal, or maybe another . . ." The rest of his question died in a strangled breath. He couldn't believe what he was seeing.

Crouching in the yard, patting the spastic dog on the head, was Rory.

"Hey," she said shyly once she noticed him. She stood and shoved her hands into the back pockets of her jeans.

"Ah . . . wha . . . hey," Jess sputtered.

Rory smiled softly at his struggle to find his voice. "Surprise."

"No, shit," he breathed, eyes far too wide and hands trembling before he could bring himself back under control. "What are you doing here?"

"Don't really know," Rory said with a shrug. "It's spring break. I was at home, just sitting there with a book, and I got this sudden urge to see you. So I went to the airport, and here I am."

"Just had an urge?" he questioned. "To see me? Not to, say, run out for ice cream?"

"Awfully long way to come for ice cream. I know it's weird. I'm blaming the book." Rory pulled a slim volume out of the book bag that had been laying unnoticed at her feet and tossed it to Jess.

He caught it and looked down. A smile flashed briefly over his face. "Huh."

"The strangest thing is that I was looking at it when I decided to come see you the last time."

Jess quirked an eyebrow. "Really? You know, people used to try to tell me that stealing stuff would catch up with me in the future. They didn't mention that it would be so pretty when it finally caught me."

"Funny," she said with a chuckle, "but it's actually that best minds of a generation being wasted thing that reminds me of you the most."

"Ouch." He clutched melodramatically at his heart. "Coming all this way to wound me with your barbs? That's harsh, Rory, very harsh."

With a small smile, Rory stepped around Pippin and moved toward Jess. Her hands landed lightly on his waist, and she tipped her chin up to bestow a soft kiss on his lips. "Better?"

"I don't know," he told her with a smirk. "I'm going to need a little more to go on to really make that judgment." Without waiting for her response, Jess wrapped an arm around Rory's back, pulled her firmly into him, and pressed his mouth to hers, kissing her solidly until her lips softened and parted under his. Then he gentled the pressure but deepened the kiss, making both their hearts speed and heads spin.

"Well, that still works," Rory said with a sigh after she'd reluctantly pulled away to catch he breath.

Jess nodded in agreement. "Yeah, that's always worked for us, though."

"And what about the rest of it?"

"That remains to be seen. But you're here now; that makes seeing a little bit easier."

"Yes, it does." She expelled a contented breath and leaned into Jess. "You're so warm. I've missed that, warm and solid."

"You're goofy when your happy."

"I've always been goofy when I'm happy."

He laughed, "I remember. I always liked that about you." He pulled her closer, hand smoothing through her hair. "I like pretty much everything about you.'

"'Pretty much everything?' What don't you like?"

"Your mother comes to mind."

Rory gnawed nervously at her lip. "You have that in common with her, then, because she doesn't like you much either. She's going to freak when she finds out I'm here."

Jess pushed her back slightly and looked into her face. "Lorelai doesn't know you're here?"

"Um, no?" Rory paled at his stern look. "I might have told her I was just going out to relax. It's not my fault that didn't happen until I was somewhere over Ohio."

"Shit, Rory," he groaned, "why didn't you tell her? This is going to be bad." He pulled away from her and paced around the yard, stepping over Pippin as the dog clamored for attention. Suddenly, he stopped, took Rory by the elbow and steered her to the back door. "You've got to call her, right now."

Rory pulled her arm away from him. "Don't tell me what to do. I'm an adult; I do not need to check in with my mother over every decision I make."

"Oh, jeez, did you pick a bad time to realize that. This is Lorelai, Rory," Jess said emphatically. "Do you really think if you don't come home tonight she won't call the police to look for you? I think your grandparents might actually be able to swing an armed forces search party."

She flushed further and swallowed thickly. "Where's the phone?"

Jess led her into the kitchen, handed her the phone, and went back into the living room to give Rory some privacy to make her call.

Lily looked up as he sat down again. "What was it this time?"

"Rory," Jess said nonchalantly, picking his book back up and returned to reading where he had left off.

"WHAT?" Lily shrieked. She sprang up to charge into the kitchen, but she was stopped by Jess's arm wrapping around her waist.

"She's got to call home and let her mom know she wasn't kidnapped or murdered," he told the squirming young girl. "You can pounce on her when she's done."

Lily pouted but sat back down next to Jess, and they both strained to her Rory's conversation in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, Rory had dialed home with shaking fingers. She waited, holding her breath, until her mother answered the phone.

Lorelai didn't even bother with a greeting. "Rory, honey, is this you?" She sounded frantic.

"Yeah, it's me," Rory said meekly.

"Thank God! Where are you? It's after eleven! I thought you were just going shopping!"

Rory sighed. "I did, sort of. I just bought something unexpected."

"What?" Lorelai demanded. "Rocket powered roller-skates with no brakes, passage on the QE2, what?"

"A plane ticket to California."

As soon as the first syllable of California left Rory's lips, Lorelai started screaming. Rory wasn't sure what her mom was yelling about though. She'd pulled the phone from her ear to keep her eardrum intact. When she finally dared to put the receiver back to her ear, she winced and wish she hadn't.

". . . thought you knew better than to run off like this again! Don't you remember the problems it caused the last time you disappeared from town to run after Jess?" Lorelai paused to draw a breath and continued with her ranting. "Why do you do this, Rory? What does he say to you to get you to do things like this?"

Rory took a deep breath to keep from yelling herself. "Mom, he doesn't say anything. Jess had no idea I was coming out here. I had no idea I was coming out here until this morning. You have to stop blaming Jess for the decisions I make."

"Sweetie, I just . . ." Lorelai tried to explain, but Rory cut her off.

"I know you just want what's best for me, Mom. Believe me, I know that, but I'm an adult now. It's up to me to decide what's best for me. I know you were really upset when Jess and I got back together, but that's the way it is. And you have to stop waffling on telling me I know what's best for me and telling me that I'm letting other people influence my decisions. It's one or the other, Mom, and I think we know which one is true."

Lorelai seemed to be stunned into silence. She started to speak several times, but she never completed a word, much less a sentence.

"I'll call you back in a few days when we've both had some time to think about this, okay?" Rory asked gently, not wanting to set her mother off again.

"Okay," Lorelai agreed. "Just . . . be careful, honey."

"Always," Rory promised. "Love you, Mom."

"I love you, too." Lorelai hung up without saying anything else, leaving Rory to listen to the soft buzzing of the dial tone for a moment.

She set the phone carefully back into the cradle and looked at it for a moment. Shaking her head clear of the thoughts talking to her mother had left in her head, Rory turned on her heel and went into the living room where she knew Jess and Lily were waiting for her. She'd barely cleared the threshold of the room before Lily was vaulting over Jess and rushing to Rory's side.

"Ican'tbelieveyou'reherethisissoamazingwhydidn'tyouwritemeandtellmeyouwerecomingforavisit?" Lily questioned in an unbroken rush.

Jess laughed and tried to rein Lily in to keep her from knocking Rory to the floor in her excitement. "Jeez, Liliput, calm down. Rory's not going to disappear in a puff of smoke in the morning," he told the exuberant girl. "I don't think anyway." He raised an eyebrow in Rory's direction.

"Nope. I'm here until the first part of next week," she confirmed. "We'll have plenty of time together." The comment seemed to be directed at Lily, but her eyes were locked on Jess.

Lily squealed in delight, and then proceeded to fill Rory in on every event and little change that had happened in the house and yard since Rory had been there last. New dogs were introduced, piles of pictures were hauled out and rifled through, new books where shown and discussed, and before any of the trio realized it, three hours had passed. Only when Jimmy and Sasha breezed into the kitchen did Jess notice the time. He winced immediately as Sasha noticed Lily was still awake.

"Jess," she drawled carefully, "what is my daughter doing up over an hour past her bedtime? You both do remember that she has school in the morning, don't you?"

Jimmy had slipped quietly into the room and taken over the chair Rory had recently vacated to disappear into the bathroom. "You guys are so screwed," he said under his breath to Jess. "I hope you have a good excuse for this."

"I think I can come up with one," Jess mumbled back, watching Lily start to pout under Sasha's glare. Her stern looks had long since stopped having an affect on him, so Jess merely cocked his head at Sasha, refusing to buckle under her growing ire. Besides, as he heard the bathroom door faintly creak open, he knew she wouldn't stay mad for long.

Sasha took a deep breath in preparation to let her daughter and not-quite-stepson have it, but that breath curled into a strangled yelp in her throat when she caught sight of Rory in the hallway leading back from the bathroom. "Oh, holy hell! Honey, you scared me," she gasped, moving to pull Rory into a hug. "What are you doing here?"

"Just came for a visit," Rory said with shrug as she returned the hug.

"Did I pay for this?" Jimmy asked, leaning around Jess to see Rory better.

"No, I did," she assured him.

"Cool. Nice to see you again."

Rory stepped away from Sasha. "Thanks. Lily and Jess have just been catching me up. We didn't realize it was so late. I hope she won't get into too much trouble." She shot a wink in Lily's direction.

Sasha sighed. "I guess I can let her slide this one time, but she has to scram to bed right now before I change my mind."

"All right," Lily sighed. She drug her feet while crossing the room to Jimmy. "Good night," she said, giving him a hug.

"Night, kiddo," he replied and kissed her forehead.

"See ya tomorrow, Liliput," Jess said.

"'Kay," she said and hugged him as well. Lily shuffled back across the room and wrapped her arms firmly around Rory. "Will I see you tomorrow, too?"

"Of course," Rory promised.

Sasha laid a hand on Lily's head. "Enough stalling, Lil. Off to bed now."

"Fine, fine," Lily grumbled, kissing her mother on the cheek. "Thank you for not yelling."

"You can pay me back by getting up in the morning without fussing," Sasha replied and laughed as Lily stuck her tongue out in protest and scuttled down the hallway.

Once Lily had departed, Rory found herself the center of attention. Not that she wasn't before, but it was different now that Jimmy and Sasha were the ones bombarding her with questions instead of Lily's endless stream of inquiries. It was more nerve wracking to think that people her mother's age were judging her actions and possibly finding them at fault. She jumped when Sasha laid a hand gently on her arm.

"You okay?" the older woman asked. "I think we lost you there for a minute."

"Sorry. I'm just really tired." She shot a pleading look at Jess.

He didn't disappoint. "Yeah, we should get going so she can get some sleep. But we'll come back for dinner tomorrow?" he questioned, making sure it was all right with Sasha.

"Absolutely," she confirmed. "I'll be pissed if you don't come back." She gave Rory a friendly squeeze on the shoulder.

"All right, we'll be back then," Jess said firmly, picking up Rory's bag from where it had been resting on the floor near the couch. He stepped across the room and took Rory gently by the wrist. "See you tomorrow," Jess nodded to Jimmy.

"Sure, kid," Jimmy responded. "Be careful tonight, huh?" he added under his breath.

Jess frowned at his father, not appreciating the innuendo, and ushered Rory out of the house quickly.

"Good night!" she called back over her shoulder as the door snapped shut behind Jess. When they were out on the sidewalk, Rory wheeled and slapped Jess harshly on the arm. "Why did you do that?"

"They were making you nervous," he offered in explanation. "When you get nervous, I get nervous. And when I get nervous I run off, remember?"

Rory huffed out a breath. "It was still rude. I'm not just some toy you can stomp home with when you're upset. You're not a three year old."

"I know. I'm sorry." The apology was sincere and heartfelt, and it showed in Jess's face. He found himself blushing a bit, and Rory reached out to trace his warm cheek. He turned his head and kissed her fingers. "And maybe I just wanted to finally be alone with you."

It was Rory's turn to blush. She pulled her hand away from him and looked down at her feet. "Oh," she said quietly. Of course she'd thought about being alone with Jess again, about all the things that could happen when the were finally alone together, but she wasn't sure she was quite ready for them, and that showed in the way she wrapped her arms around herself and became instantly shy.

Her reaction made Jess speak quickly to try and change the sudden mood change. "Not that I'm expecting anything to happen now that we're alone. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do. I just . . ."

"I know," Rory cut him off. "I know what you meant. Just take me home."

"Okay." He tentatively took her hand and smiled when she didn't pull away. The two of them walked silently back to his apartment, shoulders brushing as they leaned into each other.

Once back at the apartment, Jess set Rory's bag on the bed and sat on the edge of the mattress while she rifled through the bag. Suddenly, she gave a small disgruntled cry and looked up.

"What's the matter?" Jess asked.

"I seem to have forgotten my pajamas," Rory said, frustrated with herself.

He chuckled at her pouting face. "It's not a big deal. I've got more than one t-shirt around here you can sleep in. Just raid the closet," he told her, "and I'm going the bathroom to change."

Rory watched his back disappear into the bathroom and then went to the closet to find something to put on. In the back of the closet, wrinkled and pressed against the wall, she found a faded Metallica t-shirt that she remembered fondly from Jess's first days in Stars Hollow. She pulled it free of the hanger and brought it to her face, breathing in deeply. The shirt clearly hadn't been worn in a long time, but it still carried Jess's sent. Rory quickly shed her own travel rumpled clothing and pulled the age softened shirt over her head. Pulling the blankets on the bed down, she climbed onto it and waited.

When Jess emerged from the bathroom minutes later clad in only in his boxer shorts, he found Rory perched on his bed, pale legs curled under her as she worried the hem of the shirt between her fingers.

"Found something to wear?" he asked lamely, mesmerized by the bare inches of thigh revealed by the short length of the shirt.


"Good. So, I'll just grab a blanket and crash on the couch." He moved to pull a blanket from the box he kept them in under the bed, but Rory's hand on his arm stopped him short.

"You don't have to," she told him quietly. "We can share the bed."

"Rory . . . I don't need . . . if you don't want to . . . there isn't any pressure here."

"I know that, Jess, and I appreciate that because I'm not . . . just yet, anyway. But that doesn't meant that you can't sleep next to me . . . and maybe hold me a little?"

He nodded. "I can do that." He crawled up next to her, waiting for her to dictate the next move. Rory slid down on the bed, resting her head on a pillow, and tugged Jess down next to her. He pulled the blankets up over the both of them and carefully draped an arm over her hip. She sighed happily and pressed her forehead to his chest.

"I love you," Rory whispered, wrapping her arm around Jess's back and burrowing close to him and letting the steady beat of his heart lull her to sleep.

"Love you," Jess whispered back, kissing the top of her head before his own eyes fell shut.

Jess jolted awake the next morning after dreaming that he was carrying something on his back. It wasn't heavy, and he wanted to carry it, but he had to be very careful with whatever it was. He could tell it was fragile, and if he broke it there would be a lot of people incredibly upset with him. The source of the strange dream quickly became apparent when he realized that during the night he'd rolled onto his stomach and Rory had moved to stay close to him. Of course, that meant that she was lying almost completely on top of him. He could feel the worn cotton of the t-shirt she'd liberated from the depths of his closet against his back and the soft skin of her leg against the backs of his thighs. Smiling softly, he reached down and tickled the back of her knee.

"Rory," he said softly, "wake up."

She muttered something intelligible and burrowed closer to him. Her breath ghosted over the back of his neck, and Jess shivered.

He tried again to coax her awake, "Rory, come on."

Her arm flung out uselessly as she tried to bat his hand away from her leg. "Don't wanna," she mumbled sleepily. Realizing that she couldn't deter his tickling fingers, she sunk to his level and trailed her hand up his ribcage making him twitch.

"Angel, please," Jess begged, "you're killing me, here."

That brought Rory fully awake. "What did you just call me?" she asked, her early morning haze bleeding away into surprise. Jess wasn't usually one for fuzzy endearments.

"Nothing," he said quickly and buried his head underneath the pillow.

"Liar. Tell me what you meant." Rory moved off of his back and urged him to roll to face her.

Jess blinked at her owlishly for a moment, feigning ignorance, before crumbling under Rory's pleading eyes. "Fine. Remember the very first time you came out here to visit me?"

Rory nodded, "Like I'd forget that?"

"Right, anyway, I was there waiting for your flight to get in, the sun was starting to set, and you came into the gate." Jess sighed and reached up to play with a lock of her hair. "You had all those windows behind you, and, with the sun going down, you were all backlit with this golden rosy glow. I felt like I was Dante and you were Beatrice. You looked just like an angel."

Rory's breath caught in her throat, and she felt tears prickling at the corners of her eyes. She thought that that was the most beautiful, perfect thing anyone had ever said to her. Sitting up, she pushed Jess onto his back and climbed over him, straddling his hips. Her lips crashed into his, hands balled against his shoulders.

Jess was a bit startled by the ferocity of her actions, but he recovered quickly. His arms folded tightly around her, and he unconsciously pressed his hips up against her. Rory's ragged moan against his lips made his blood run hot. Flipping their positions, Jess pinned Rory to the bed and moved his hungry mouth from her lips to her throat.

She whispered his name, the sound of it strange in her ears after so long, and held him closer until his hand started to raise the hem of the already rucked up shirt she was wearing. "Jess," she said again, louder this time, "please don't."

He stopped instantly, moving his hand down and away from her. His mouth stayed against her skin for a moment longer, breath moist against the heated flesh of her neck until he pushed himself up on shaking arms. "I'm sorry," he said gruffly, still holding his weight above her. "I didn't mean to push you."

"You didn't," she told him as she reached up to cup his face in her hands. "I just . . . not like this."

"I know," Jess nodded. "It's important, this starting over thing. It shouldn't be rushed." He moved off of her and collapsed back onto the bed next to her.

"Exactly." She reached over and gripped his hand. It meant so much to her that he was willing to wait even with her lying next to him. So she couldn't possibly tell him now that it wasn't just starting over that would be rushed if they continued now. There was no way she could let him know that he had been the only one she'd ever been with in that way . . . it would make the pressure on him too much. She'd never told him if she was or wasn't sleeping with Sigmund, but she knew that Jess assumed she had been. After all, he'd been with other people, why on earth would she abstain? It was just a secret she needed to keep, hopefully the only one she'd keep from him for a long time.

On the other side of the bed, Jess was having serious thoughts of his own. He could tell something was making Rory uncomfortable about getting more physical with him, and it wasn't just nerves. As much as she thought she was able to keep things from him, he knew there was more bothering her than just being near each other again. Hell, it was her decision to come out and surprise him; she had to be at least slightly more comfortable being around him than he was her at his point.

Which left him to conclude that he was the problem. Or, more specifically in his mind, his relationship with Dana was the problem. He didn't have any problem believing that Rory knowing that he shared this bed with Dana would be an issue. If he were back in Connecticut in the bed Rory'd probably spent nights with Sigmund in, he'd be uncomfortable too. This was just a situation he had to deal with delicately and try to help Rory over it.

The buzzing of the alarm clock brought an abrupt end to both of their thoughts. Jess pushed up on a elbow with a groan and leaned across Rory to slap the small box into silence.

"Do you have to work today?" Rory asked quietly, swallowing thickly at the sight of Jess's chest hovering so close above her face.

"Was supposed to," Jess said, "but I can get out of it." He bent down and kissed her nose. "Stay here."

Rory sat up as he slipped off the edge of the bed and went to the phone. "I don't want you to get in trouble or anything. You can go to work if you want to; I can find something to do all day."

"Believe me, I'd much rather stay here with you today then sit around a warehouse with a bunch of guys with beer guts who tell the same dirty jokes day after day." Jess picked up the phone and dialed. "Benny? I'm not coming in today . . . Yeah, whatever. You'll survive . . . I got something personal to take care of for a couple of days . . . No, I'm not telling you what . . . Fire me, then. I don't give a shit . . . Uh-huh. Sure, Ben. I'll be back in on Thursday." Without saying another word, Jess hung up and made his way back to the bed.

"Jess, I don't want you to get fired over my being here. Just go to work. I'll be fine," Rory insisted.

He just shook his head and pulled her back down to lie next to him. "Ben threatens to fire me at least three times a week. If he hasn't done it yet, he won't do it now. I know as well as he does that I get more done in that place in one day than anyone he could find to replace me."

Apprehension continued to creep across her face. "Are you absolutely sure you're not going to get in trouble?"

"The only reason Ben is my supervisor is because I refused to take the position."

"What?!" Rory pushed away from him and sat up rigidly next to him.

"I was offered a supervisor position about six months ago," Jess said with a shrug and propped himself up on an elbow.

"Why didn't you take it? Wouldn't it have meant more money?"

Jess's eyes narrowed slightly and grew dark. "Yeah. It also would have meant accepting a career in driving a damn forklift. That's not what I want." His tone was sharp and warned against starting an argument, but Rory rarely paid attention to that.

"You wouldn't have needed to make it a career," she protested. "It could have been a good opportunity to have some responsibility that future jobs could build on."

"Shit, you sound like a guidance counselor," he grumbled. "If I'd taken it, I'd have gotten lazy, complacent, and not tried to move on. This way I feel like I have to go somewhere else . . . so I am."

Rory's eyebrows lifted in a graceful but surprised arch. The question was asked solely through that action.

"I'm moving this fall, leaving California."

Tears welled at the corners of Rory's eyes. She refused to lose Jess again, not so soon after getting him back. "Where are you going to go?" she asked, the cracks thick in her voice.

"Going back to New York," Jess revealed quietly. "I got accepted to a couple of universities in the city. I just have to decide which one I can afford."

Trembling lips turned to a smile, but the tears still fell. Rory wiped them from her cheeks as quickly as the fell. Sitting up, Jess helped her clear the tracks of moisture from her face.

"What's wrong?" he asked. A horrified look crossed his face. "Don't tell me you've taken a job out here after graduation or something."

"No," Rory replied quickly, shaking her head emphatically even as Jess held it cupped in his hands. "No. I applied to graduate programs at NYU and Columbia. And other places too, but I wanted to be in New York more than any of the other places I applied, and that was before I knew you were . . ."

The rest of Rory's rambling was cut short as Jess's lips crashed into hers. He started to push her back on the bed but remembered her earlier reaction and checked himself, pulling away carefully and sliding back a bit on the bed. "Sorry. Got carried away."

"S'okay," she mumbled through swollen and tender lips. Despite her assurances, her eyes were far to wide to be believable.

Jess shook his head. "It's not okay; I scared you. I can tell."

"You were happy, you reacted. I can't get mad at you for that," Rory paused for a moment and hesitantly continued, "but there is the possibility that I won't get into either of the programs in New York, you know. I don't want either one of us to get our hopes up too soon."

"Don't think like that," he said softly. The emotion was raw in his voice, the heartbreak he would feel at being denied a true chance to finally make things work between them, and it startled both of them into silence.

Rory suddenly shook her head and clambered off the edge of the bed. "Let's not think about it at all right now. Let's do something else completely."

"Like what?" Jess questioned, catching Rory's sudden burst of enthusiasm and turning on his knees on the bed to face her.

"Let's go to the beach!" she blurted with an excited bounce on her toes.

His enthusiasm waned, "The beach? The water's going to be too cold this early in the year."

"I don't care about the water. I just want to go sit and watch the waves . . . spend time with you like at the bridge in Stars Hollow."

"Oh." Jess got off the bed and stood in front or Rory. "That sounds nice." He tipped forward and brushed his lips across her forehead. "You wanna shower first?"

Rory returned his affectionate gesture by lightly kissing his throat. "Do you mind?" she asked as she stepped around him in the direction of the bathroom.

"Nope." He swatted her playfully on the butt as she moved past him. "Take your time. I'm going to run out and grab some breakfast. What do you want?"

Feeling suddenly wicked, Rory decided to take Jess's question and run with the unintentional innuendo. She looked at him slyly over her shoulder and arched an eyebrow. "Wouldn't you like to know."

"Don't play with me, Gilmore. I've only go so much restraint around you . . . plus these mood shifts of yours kinda freak me out."

"Good," she giggled and disappeared into the bathroom.

Jess waited for the door to snick closed before sinking back down onto the edge of the bed. Then he buried his face in his hands and let himself grin like a giddy little boy.

Forty-five minutes later, Jess stepped back into the apartment, large paper bag in hand, to find Rory sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by his CD collection. The bag hit the floor with a crackle and a splat.

"What are you doing?" he asked incredulously.

"I got bored, so I'm reorganizing your CD's," Rory replied primly.

Jess moved into the room, leaving breakfast forgotten on the floor, and stood over Rory. "There was nothing wrong with the way they were. I liked them arranged by genre."

"And you'll learn to love them alphabetically." She looked up at him as if to challenge him to disagree with her.

"This is unbelievable. I leave you alone for less than an hour, and you're already taking over." He sank down to sit across from her. "Have your fun now, Ror, 'cause you are not getting your way over everything in New York. You can organize you stuff however you want, but you leave my crap alone."

Rory stopped in mid-motion, CD case hanging limply from her fingers, and stared at him. "I . . . are . . . are we going to be in a position where our stuff is mixed together so much that we'd need to decide how it's organized?"

"At some point, yeah," Jess replied matter of factly. "You hadn't thought about that?"

"Well, sure . . . but, not for, you know, a while. And, I mean, I've only known that we might both be in New York together for about an hour and a half." Rory dropped the case, and her hands fluttered helplessly. "It's just too much . . . I don't know how to respond to that, and I . . ."

Jess reached out and grabbed her hands. "Rory, calm down. It's fine if you don't want to live together. Like you said before, we don't even know if you'll get into a New York program. And if you do and you want to live in school housing or on your own for awhile, that's fine. I won't get mad; it's not going to change anything." He pulled her to her feet and guided her to the couch. "Come on, now. I got you pancakes that are almost as good as Luke's. We'll eat and go to beach like you wanted. No more thinking for at least twelve hours."

Rory let him sit her down and waited while he retrieved the momentarily forgotten take out bag. The box he placed in her lap was comfortably warm on the bottom, and when she opened the lid, she was met with the buttery smell of fresh pancakes. She smiled gratefully at Jess and tucked in hungrily. He returned the smile and started to eat his own breakfast.

The meal passed silently, and when they were both finished eating, Jess took the empty boxes to the kitchen and tossed them into the trash. Still without speaking, he took Rory's hand and didn't let go of it until they had reached the soft sand of the beach near the Inferno. He sat down and pulled her down in front of him, settling her between his knees. Rory sighed contentedly and leaned back against his chest, her hand coming up to comb through the long hair at the nape of Jess's neck when he rested his chin on her shoulder.

"When was the last time you cut your hair?" she asked idly after a few minutes.

"Sasha came after me about six, seven months ago and hacked at it. Why?"

"Just curious. I kind of like it when it's shaggy like this. All thick and wavy."

He laughed against her neck. "I'll keep that in mind. And since were making non-conversation about hair, I like that you've kept yours shorter."

"Why is that?" she asked quickly and then back-peddled. "Not that I care . . . just keeping up the absence of serious talk, you understand."

"Absolutely," he replied. "It never crossed my mind for a moment that you might be vain concerning your hair. And I like it shorter because it makes you look older, less little girl perfect, so I feel just a little bit less like I'm ruining you."

Rory craned her neck back. "You've never ruined me, and you're not about to start now."

"I can think of more than a few people who disagree with you," Jess scoffed.

"Stop that," Rory admonished with a slightly less than gently tug on his hair. "I've told you more times than I can remember that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, only what I think. Besides, we're venturing into serious talk, here. That's against the rules right now."

He nodded against her shoulder and searched for a subject to change to. It seemed that at that moment his best course of action was to fall back to their old standby. "Ayn Rand is still a political nutcase," he whispered into her ear.

Rory's laugher burst out like a ringing of jubilant crystal bells. She pitched backwards, knocking Jess over onto the sand. They playfully shoved each other back and forth, laughing and tickling each other until they forgot that there was anything serious on either of minds in the first place.

The day passed quickly in that fashion, the two of them talking about books and music while wandering the beach and the boardwalk, pausing whenever the mood struck them to exchange kisses on street corners or in the middle of the sidewalk. Eventually, they made their way to the Inferno, still laughing and bickering.

"I still can't believe after all this time you won't give Hemingway even a small chance," Jess griped, shaking sand out of his hair, "but I will agree that Steinbeck can cure insomnia."

"Or give you nightmares," Rory said, helping him brush the sand from his shoulders. "The end of The Grapes of Wrath? Still gives me the shivers."

Jess nodded in agreement and then sighed as more sand fell from his hair. "Tell me again why you dumped three handfuls of sand on my head?"

"Because the look on your face was priceless."

"I see. Glad I could be of service then." He moved up to the empty Inferno counter and hopped halfway through it, supporting his upper body on the meager shelf. "Jimmy!"

Given the small space inside the stand, it only took a moment for Jimmy's head to appear from around the opened refrigerator door. "What do you want? And get off the counter!"

Jess dropped down. "I want what everyone standing out here wants. Quick food served by an obnoxious staff."

"Sorry, we've only got that when you're working," Jimmy replied with a shrug. "You'll have to just settle for the food. And you know where that is; come back and get it yourself if you're in that much of a hurry." He moved up to the counter and looked out at Rory. "Hey. I'm supposed to ask you what you want for dinner if I see you. So, what do you want for dinner?"

"Please make a decision," Jess said as he rounded to the back of the stand. "Sasha's liable to make something involving tofu if you don't."

Rory turned wide eyes to Jimmy and winced when the older man nodded. "All right," she sighed. "I don't know . . . can't you just decide what you want, and tell her I picked that?" she asked Jimmy.

Jimmy grinned down at her. "Excellent idea! Bacon burgers it is!"

"Oh, jeez," Jess groaned from the back of the stand. He appeared next to his father a second later. "Those things are going to kill you someday," he muttered, "which means Rory'll love them."

"Hey!" she cried, reaching forward and swatting Jess on the head. "Not everything I eat is unhealthy."

"Sure it's not, Miss Chili-cheese onion rings. You want mustard?" he asked, shaking the bottle over the pair of hot dogs he set on the small service counter.

Rory nodded affirmatively, "Yes, please. And I seem to remember you liking those onion rings just as much as I do."

"I never said I didn't, but I didn't eat them every day for a month either. Towards the end I could even watch you eat them with out getting queasy."

"Poor baby," Rory pouted for him. She reached through the window and snatched the proffered hot dog from his hands. "If watching me eat upsets you that much, maybe I should take this and go home." Turning her back, she started to walk away.

Jess blinked, speechless for a moment. "I will never understand how she can shift moods so fast and not go crazy. This morning she was practically crying she was so nervous around me, and now . . . it's bizarre."

"And so the son surpasses the father in knowledge," Jimmy said with a false tear in his eye. "I'm so proud of you." He moved to wrap Jess in a bear hug.

"Get off me," Jess growled. He picked up his own lunch and spun on his heel to leave the stand and follow Rory.

"Dinner's at six!" Jimmy called out as Jess rounded the front of the building again.

Jess flipped Jimmy off without turning around as he caught up with Rory. The two of them walked side by side and ate in silence. Every so often Jess would look over and watch Rory chew for a few moments. It wore on her eventually, and she gave him a shove with her hip.

"Quit it," she told him between bites.

"What?" Flashing a lopsided grin, Jess shrugged. "Just proving it doesn't always turn my stomach to watch you eat."

Rory swallowed the last bite of her food and swatted at him. "Gosh, don't you just know all the things to say to turn a girl on."

"I try." Jess wadded up the remains of the hot dog wrappers and tossed them into a nearby garbage can as they passed. "Is it working?"

"Not so much."

"Guess I'll have to keep trying then." He slung an arm around her shoulders and pulled her into his side, kissing her temple. Her arms wrapped around his waist, and she snuggled into him, giving each of them a very comfortable sense of deja vu.

The remainder of that afternoon rushed by too quickly, and that evening's dinner seemed to drag on interminably. Bacon burgers did in fact turn out to be exactly the kind of food Rory loved, hot, greasy, and guaranteed to shorten your life expectancy by a few hours. Sasha raised an eyebrow at Jimmy when the take out boxes were opened and the burgers emerged, as though she knew they were his idea, but she didn't say anything. Not that she could have with Lily talking nonstop about wanting to spend Saturday with Rory and all the things they needed to do together. By the fifth thing on the list, Rory's eyes had glazed over. She liked Lily, possibly more than she liked her own sister, but vacations were supposed to be relaxing and not nonstop running around with a hyper pre-teen. This vacation in particular was also supposed to be reconnecting with Jess, emotionally and physically, and that was going to be hard to do with Lily hovering around constantly all weekend.

Jess noticed Rory's overwhelmed expression, and reached over to tap Lily on the nose. "Hey, take a breath, okay? And remember that you're not the only one who wants to spend time with Rory. You have to share."

"But you got to spend all day today with her while I was at school," Lily protested. "I think you're the one who has to share."

Finally growing tired of being pulled around like dog's chew toy, Rory spoke up. "I think I'm still jet lagged and should get to sleep in tomorrow. And it's my vacation, so I should get to decide what I want to do . . . who I want to do it with."

Lily made to object and pout, but Sasha cut her off. "Rory's right, Lil, and you know that. You don't like it when someone tells you where to go and what to do. If Rory wants to spend some time with you tomorrow, then she'll come over and do that."

"And I will," Rory promised the quickly crumbling girl, "but maybe we'll spread some of those things out over Saturday and Sunday instead of doing them all in one day."

"Okay," Lily responded sullenly. Her talkative mood ceased as well, lapsing into brooding silence. "Can I be excused?" she asked softly and got up before receiving an answer.

"Lily . . ." Rory called after the girl's retreating back.

Raising a hand to signal for Rory to stop, Jimmy shook his head. "Don't waste your time. She's not hearing anything right now. Give her time to sulk; she'll be fine tomorrow."

"And don't worry about it," Sasha added. "She's eleven. This is what she does."

"But I just feel so bad for stomping on her plans," Rory sighed and got up from the table to help clear plates to the sink.

Sasha rubbed Rory's shoulder. "Don't feel bad, honey. Lily'll understand, maybe not right now, but when she's got a boyfriend of her own someday, she'll get it."

"Lord help us all when Lily starts dating," Jess mumbled. He shrugged when everyone turned to look at him. "What? You know she's gonna bring home a guy like me or Jimmy. It'll be a disaster."

"Hey!" Jimmy cried and cuffed Jess on the head. "We aren't that bad!"

Jess rubbed the back of his head. "Do you honestly want her dating someone like you?"

Jimmy's expression fell immediately. "Good point. We are heartbreak waiting to happen."

It was Sasha and Rory's turn to protest. "Thanks," they echoed each other dryly. "And," Sasha continued, "would it really be that terrible if Lily turned out like Rory?"

Cheeks flaming red, Rory looked down at her feet and whispered a thank you. She shied away from Sasha when the older woman pulled her into a hug. Jess got up from the table and crossed to replace Sasha's arm around Rory's shoulders with his own. He tipped her chin up with the knuckles of his other hand.

"Thought you'd be used to people being proud of you by now," he said to her. "The entire population of Stars Hollow practically throws you a monthly parade, and one little complement out here flips you out?"

"It's different," Rory replied with a shrug. "I've never seriously been a role model before."

"I hate to break it to you," Jess said with a laugh, "but you've been one since the first moment you set foot in this house." He sighed when Rory curled in toward him and burrowed against his shoulder. The motion of Jimmy's head gesturing toward the door caught his attention, and Jess cocked his head. Leaning down toward Rory, he whispered, "Did you want to leave?"

She shrugged again and refused to raise her eyes. "I don't know. I don't know what's wrong with me; I'm just being silly."

"It's okay," Sasha said, lightly touching Rory's arm again. "We'll just find something else to talk about. Like . . . what are you plans once Yale is done?"

Rory's head snapped up at that, and she and Jess exchanged wary looks. They'd been holding true to their deal to not talk about the future all day. Changing that now, in front of other people, was not an option either one of them wanted to consider.

"Next subject please," Jess said with finality.

Sasha rolled her eyes and folded her arms, leaning next to the sink. "Okay, then. So . . . how 'bout those Yankees?" She smirked when Jimmy, Jess and Rory all stared at her blankly. "What? It was that or the weather."

"The Yankees are cocky bastards, and we haven't had rain in three months. Next," Jimmy said and tipped back in his chair like a little boy.

"Was I talking to you, fathead?" Sasha asked with a playful glower.

A grin spread across Jimmy's features. "Do I care, snowball? I'm just trying to move conversation along."

Hand flying self-consciously to her hair, Sasha tossed the wet sponge from the sink at Jimmy. They continued to snarl at each other as Jess and Rory watched, heads swinging back and forth like they were watching a tennis match. Eventually, Rory leaned up to speak quietly to Jess.

"What's going on? I didn't mean to come over here cause everybody to start fighting."

Jess looked at her oddly. "You didn't. They're tying to take focus away from you to make you feel better. This is affection through insults. You used to be really good at this."

"I guess I'm out of practice," she told him while still watching the older couple continue to spar verbally. "It's been a very long time since I had someone to do it with."

"I can fix that . . . brat."


"Thatta girl." Jess tugged her in close and kissed her squarely on the mouth. He'd intended it to be a perfunctory kiss, more playful than passionate, and he was startled when Rory pressed her full weight against him and wound her arms around his neck. Her weight tipped him backwards, his hips colliding with the counter next to Sasha as he and Rory forgot that there was anyone else in the room . . . until icy cold water hit the side of Jess's head.

"Hey!" he spluttered. Jerking his head sideways, he discovered Sasha smiling and holding the hand sprayer from the sink. "That was uncalled for."

"So is foreplay in my kitchen." She squirted him again.

"Cut that out!" Jess snatched the sprayer from Sasha and turned it on her. Unfortunately for him, she reached out and slammed the sink off before he could soak her in return.

Rory had started blushing when she realized that she had forgotten any sense of decorum in front of Jess's family and had nearly mauled him right there on the kitchen floor, but the sight of Jess and Sasha tussling over the sink made her giggle. The giggle melted when Jess turned on her with an evil glint in his eye. The water hit her in the face, and Rory brought her hands up to shield herself from the frigid shower.

"Jess!" she howled, batting ineffectually at the broad spray.

He stopped spritzing her abruptly. "Yes?"

Gaping at his sudden turn for the innocent, Rory stood there dripping and at a loss for words. Jess sensed that he might have crossed a line and dropped the nozzle. He took a tentative step toward her with his hands stretched out in a mix of apology and surrender. Rory continued to stare at him as he advanced on her, or at least that's what Jess thought. He didn't notice that Rory's eyes were actually on Sasha behind Jess until the sink rushed back to life and water started streaming down the back of his neck.

"That's it," he sighed gruffly. "I don't have to take this." Turning, Jess smoothed his wet hair back, making sure to get the kitchen floor as wet as possible, and strode into the backyard.

"I should probably go after him," Rory said after watching his back retreat toward the outer gate.

"Probably," Jimmy agreed. He followed Rory's progress out the back door with his eyes and then turned to Sasha. "Do you think I should have reminded her that the hose is on that side of the house?"

Sasha cocked her head to the side and listened. When Rory's piercing shriek filled the air, she shook her head. "Nah." She turned back to the sink. "Help me wash these. Those two aren't coming back in here tonight."

Jimmy wondered what made her say that but did as she asked anyway. He'd long since learned to stop questioning Sasha's judgment about certain things. He hoped Jess would learn that more quickly than he did.

Meanwhile, Rory was standing around the corner of the house absolutely saturated as Jess leaned against the wall with his arms folded.

"Payback's a bitch," he quipped as a few of the dogs came up to lap at the puddles forming around Rory's feet.

"Mmm-hmm," she mumbled and reached down to rub Jerry Lee around his ears. Then, without any advanced indication, she rushed Jess and pinned him to the side of the house. She shook her hair out in his face, wetting him as much as she could with her dripping hair. Jess laughed but didn't try to stop her. He held her almost at bay while still letting her wring her hair out on his neck and chest. Eventually, Rory stopped squirming and trying to soak him and was just leaning against him.

"Wanna go?" he asked her.

"Yes," she answered sleepily. "We should go say good-bye."

Jess wrapped his arms around Rory and steered her toward the gate. "We'll say hello tomorrow instead."


"Remember who you're with."

"Right," she sighed, catching the gate closed behind the two of them. "My mistake."

"Don't let it happen again," he teased.

"Not a chance." Rory's tone was far from serious, and it made Jess smile in spite of himself. He half led and half carried her back to the apartment. She spun away from him to flop down on the bed once he'd unlocked the apartment door, but he grabbed her by the back of the shirt and held her back.

"No way," he informed her. "You are not getting my bed all soggy."

Rory whimpered but let him tug her behind him to the bathroom. A worn but soft towel was placed into her hands, and she used it to rub at her hair. While her face was buried in the terrycloth, Jess stripped of his wet shirt and tossed it into the pile of dirty clothes in the corner of the small bathroom. Rory looked up from the vigorous drying of her hair to find him toeing off his shoes and unbuckling his belt.

"What are you doing?" she asked, only a slight tremor of surprise coloring her voice.

He arched an eyebrow at her. "Taking off my wet clothes. And so should you, you know."

The small bathroom didn't afford her a lot of room to let Rory follow that suggestion, and after a moment of nervous edging back and forth she escaped into the main room of the apartment. Skirting the coffee table while hopping awkwardly on one foot, she pulled off her left shoe and collapsed onto the bed to remove the other. The softness of the mattress enticed her to stay horizontal, and she attempted to peel the wet denim of her jeans off without getting up. When she heard Jess come out of the bathroom, she'd only managed to wiggle them off of her hips.

"You want some help?" he asked from across the room, only half hoping she might say yes, so when she did, he almost fell over.

"Yeah, come here," Rory requested, kicking her feet ineffectually in the air.

"Wh . . . What?"

"Come help me." More feet wiggling followed, "Please?"

Moving cautiously, Jess crossed to her and knelt at the foot of the bed. The denim clung to Rory's skin, but he managed to peel it away and leave the jeans crumpled in a pile on the floor next to him. His eyes bounced around, trying not to linger on any area that might make her uncomfortable.

"Thank you," Rory said, raising her head off the bed to look at Jess sitting on his heels at her feet. She let out a small giggle as she saw how he was trying so hard not to look too closely at her.

Jess took her giddiness as fatigue and touched her ankle lightly in concern. "You tired?"

"Kind of." She sat up and looked at him. Their heights were so close that she didn't often get a chance to study him from above . . . at least not while he was awake. Looking down at him made her realize how many times she thought that he needed someone to take care of him, even if he wouldn't admit that. The thought made her smile softly at him and stroke his shaggy hair back from his face. Cupping his chin carefully, Rory drew Jess forward and kissed his forehead.

"What was that for?" he asked quizzically.

Rory shrugged. "Seemed like the right thing to do."

Leaning up off his heels, Jess moved towards her, watching her face. She laced her hands with his, and he felt an overwhelming sense of deja-vu, mind flashing back to another time in a kitchen rather than a bedroom. Actually, in several other kitchens . . . and a bedroom if he really thought about. But there wouldn't be any interruptions or arguments this time. As their lips met he pressed her backwards toward the bed. His heart lifted as playful laughter bubbled from her throat. She landed on her back on the bed with a soft thump, hair fanning out around her head in a chestnut halo. Jess stared down at her for a moment, not quite believing what was happening. At her quizzical expression, he broke into a sly smirk and crawled onto the bed with his forearms supporting his weight over Rory. She blushed prettily and pulled her lower lip between her teeth. Jess bent his head to coax the captured lip free with his own and slowly lowered himself to press her against the bed. Rory sighed into his mouth, pulled him closer, and tangled her hands in his hair.

Jess pulled away reluctantly and looked down at her again. "You're sure?"

"Would I be letting you do this if I weren't?" Rory asked in response.

"I hope not," he said, brushing her nose with his.

"I'm positive," she assured him and tipped her chin up to kiss him. "I love you, Jess."

He sighed and dropped his head to the curve of her neck, hiding his face. "I love you, too," he whispered, his lips brushing against her earlobe. A smile spread across his face when she shivered against him. He kissed her ear and the side of her neck again and again while she murmured nonsense and arched against him. The time for words was over.

Later, they laid on the bed in a tangle of sweaty limbs, rumpled blankets, and matching ear to ear grins. Rory was idly tracing circles around Jess's navel with the tip of one of her fingers and giggling when the muscles underneath jumped and twitched.

"I'd forgotten how good at that you are," she said quietly but full of mirth.

Jess chuckled causing Rory's head to bounce lightly against his chest. "We've been together a total of twice. You still don't have any idea how good it can be."

"Really?" she asked, sounding both intrigued and nervous. "Jess?"

"Hmmm?" He shifted to look down at the top of her head.

"How did you . . . no, I don't want to ask like that . . . where did you learn how to . . .?" Rory realized she didn't know how to properly phrase her question and let it drop off unfinished.

Jess knew what she was trying to ask anyway, and he answered her, "Just around."

She hummed, and her hand stilled against his stomach. "Can I ask how many girls there have been? Will you tell me?"

"If you really want to know," he said after taking a deep breath.

"I do," Rory replied, shifting to look up into his eyes. "Tell me."

"Okay." Jess thought for a moment and found he couldn't answer with her boring holes into him with her eyes. He turned his head to the side. "Including you there's been eleven."

She drew in a sharp breath. "Oh. That's . . . how old were you when you first . . .?"


"Fifteen," she repeated. "That seems young."

Jess only shrugged in response, afraid to look back at her, to see what was happening behind her eyes. "I suppose it was," he said eventually. "It averages out to less than two a year." It was a stupid thing to say given that she knew how many girls there had been while he was living in Stars Hollow and California. She could do the math and easily figure out that that meant in two years in New York there had been eight different girls. It hadn't seemed like a big deal at the time, but now that he was older he knew it was too many far too quickly.

Rory reached up and turned his chin, forcing him to look at her again. "It's okay. I'm not mad or anything, you know. It's just a bit surprising, but it's who you are." She chewed at her lip again and was bothered by his silence and blank expression. "You can ask me the same question if you want to."

"I don't want to know," Jess said softly, reaching down and running a hand through her hair . . . he was fairly sure that the answer would be two, which would leave her with less than a fifth of the experience that he had, and it would have just ratcheted his guilt back up. "You're here with me now. That's all that really matters."

She pushed herself up and kissed him sweetly. "You're right. No one else is important now." Rory snuggled into Jess's side, her head pillowed on his shoulder and her arms around his waist. Jess slipped one of his arms under her shoulders and the other over her hip, turning her to face him slightly and watched her eyes flutter closed in the dim room. He smiled down at her and marveled, not for the first time that night, at how lucky he was.

The next morning they both woke feeling playful and silly, and it was quite late in the morning before they let each other out of bed. If Jess had gotten his way, they wouldn't have gotten up at all, but the incessantly ringing phone made Rory nearly push him onto the floor to go and answer it.

He picked it up with a grumble when he saw that his absence gave Rory an opening to sneak into the bathroom. "Yeah?"

"Where are you?" Lily snapped in harsh inquiry.

"At home, genius. Where are you?"

"Jerk. I'm waiting Rory to come over."

"She'll get there when she gets there, Liliput. Relax."

Lily's pout was audible. "Can I come over there instead?"

Jess listed to water hiss on in the shower, looked down at himself wearing only his boxers, and then glanced over at the rumpled bed and clothes surrounding it on the floor and winced. "No way, Lil. Not right now."

"You never let me come over!"

"There's nothing here for you to do but go through my stuff and make a mess."


"So . . . no," Jess reiterated.

"You suck," Lily huffed.

The events of the night before and that morning brought several double entendres to mind, but Jess wisely decided that they weren't meant for Lily's eleven year old ears. "Yeah, I know."

"When will you be here?"

"When we get there. It's Saturday. Don't you have cartoons or something to watch?"

Lily scoffed. "Cartoons are for children. I am not a child."

"Funny, you still look liked one last night," Jess told her, biting back a laugh at her imperious tone.

"I hate you," she sighed and hung up.

Leaning back against the counter, Jess clicked off the phone and laughed freely. He was still laughing when the phone rang again. "No, Lily, you can't come over now because I'm naked," he lied. "Now stop calling!"

"If you're naked, you better not be anywhere near my daughter."

Jess thought he was going to swallow his tongue. "Lorelai," he gulped, "hey. I'm not actually naked . . . I swear."

"Good to know," the elder Gilmore replied. "Where's my offspring?"


"As much as I don't want to tell you to do this," Lorelai sighed, "go get her out and put her on the phone."

His brow furrowed, and he scowled even though she couldn't see him. "Why?"

Lorelai huffed in frustration. "Damn it, Jess. I'm giving you permission to bust in on my naked daughter, and you're asking me questions? Just do it; it's important!"

"Rory's already given me permission to see her naked pretty much anytime I want to." Jess paused to let Lorelai finish gagging and the continued, "If I go in there she's going to want to know why, or she'll kick me out 'cause there's really not room for two in there. If there were, we wouldn't be talking right now."

Lorelai gagged quietly again. "Don't ever say anything like that to me again. And tell Rory the letters she's been waiting for came today."

"Fine. Hang on." Jess covered the mouthpiece of the phone. Knocking on the door first, he entered the steamy bathroom. "Ror? Your mom's on the phone, and she really wants to talk to you."

Rory's wet head appeared around the edge of the shower curtain. "Can't you take a message? I'm all soapy."

"She's pretty antsy about it. Says the letters you're waiting for came."

Squealing, Rory ducked back into the shower and within seconds had flipped the faucet of and emerged from the tiled cubicle. She wrapped herself in a towel and ripped the phone from Jess's hand. "Mom?"

"Sweetie, they're here! Both of them from New York!" Lorelai said giddily.

"What do they say?" Rory was bouncing on her toes in the middle of the bathroom.

Jess was watching her and reached out to steady her when she bounced into a puddle. "What is going on?" he asked and had to duck when Rory swatted at him. "Okay. Shutting up."

On the phone, Lorelai was wrestling with a pair of envelopes. "I didn't open them. I didn't know if you wanted me to read them or not."

"Of course I do! Tell me!"

"Okay, wait . . ." A rustling of paper filled the silence, and then Lorelai let out a jubilant shriek that even Jess could hear. "Yes! Both of them are yes!"

Rory screamed and flung herself into Jess's arms. He had no idea what was going on, but he started laughing along with her. Eventually, Rory sobered enough to speak to her mother again. "I did it! Mom, I did it!"

"I'm so proud of you, sweetie," Lorelai gushed. "We all knew you'd get in."

"Get in where?" Jess wanted to know, trying to get Rory's attention.

On her part, Rory finally seemed to notice he presence in the room again. "Oh, Mom," she sighed dreamily, "I have to go. Jess . . . I need to . . ."

Lorelai cut her off. "I so don't want to know, babe. Do what you have to do. We'll talk when you get home, but just know that I'm so so happy for you."

"I love you, Mom."

"Love you, too." Lorelai hung up after kissing the air next to the phone loudly.

"Are you going to tell me what's going on now?" Jess asked, trying to be stern and upset about being ignored for the last few minutes.

Instead of answering right away, Rory planted a deep passionate kiss on him. "I got in," she whispered. "NYU and Columbia. All I have to do is pick."

His breath left him in a shudder and a smile. "Huh."

"Yeah. Huh."

He kissed her again. "You know, Lily called right before your mom. She wants to know where we are and when we're coming over."

Rory seemed to mull that over for a moment and then wrapped warm fingers around his wrist to lead him out of the bathroom and back to the bed.. "She'll have to wait."

"Patience is a virtue," Jess agreed with a shrug and followed Rory as she crawled up on the bed.

Two hours later, they finally made it back to Jimmy and Sasha's.

Lily was waiting in the yard, tossing a ball to the dogs and scowling. "You are very late," she snapped.

"I didn't realize we had an appointment," Jess replied with mirth and surprise in his voice.

On her part, Rory was more apologetic. "Sorry, Lily," she said with a blush, "we got distracted." In Jess's ear she whispered, "Wow, puberty does not look good on her."

"Nope," he whispered back, "and to spare me her wrath, I'm leaving you with her and going inside. Sasha's scary, but I've never been worried about her pummeling me." With that, Jess disappeared into the house sticking his tongue out childishly at Lily when she glowered at him.

Rory giggled at his display and then found the laughter melting away as she watched the swagger in his stride and the easy roll of his hips. Watching him walk when he wasn't aware of it had been something of a past time of hers years ago. Back then the way he moved on his feet had made her wonder how he'd move in . . . other situations. The aftermath of their first time in one of those 'other situations' had been awkward, and they'd both been jittery around one another, nervous and angry with each other but not wanting to voice those feelings. She hadn't taken the time to really look at him after that. But now, after last night, Rory realized that when she'd watched Jess in high school she didn't realize half of the potential stored within him, physically, mentally, or emotionally. A soft smile drew the corners of her mouth up, and a contented sigh escaped from her lips.

After tilting her head to catch the last sliver of his back before he house swallowed him up, Rory turned to look at Lily. The younger girl was staring at Rory looking far more bemused than she should have a right to. Both girls shrugged and then started to laugh at each other realizing how silly they had both been acting. Lily stepped into Rory and hugged her, muffling her laughter against Rory's side until they were both gasping for air round their giggles.

Hearing their mirth echo in from outside, Jess looked out one of the kitchen windows and saw the two of them holding each other up as they laughed. It brought a genuine grin to his face to know that two of the most important people in his life liked each other so much.

The remaining days of Rory's visit passed in a haze of languid afternoons around Jess's apartment or the boardwalk, frenetic dinner's at Jimmy and Sasha's, and sensual nights tumbling in Jess's bed. But before anyone wanted to admit it, it was Wednesday morning and Jess was lying in bed watching Rory spin around the apartment like a dervish as she attempted to pack.

"Hey, Rory," he called as she ducked in and out of the bathroom for the fourth time, "we don't have to leave for the airport for five hours. Relax and come back to bed."

She stopped dead in the middle of the living room and looked at him like he'd sprouted another head. "No. No, no, no. If I go back over there, we won't get out of bed for another two hours, at least. Then we'll both have to shower, I'll have to finish packing, and we'll be incredibly late. And I can't be late. I have to get back and do all the work I was supposed to be doing over break when instead I was here with you. So, no way . . . not relaxing, and definitely not coming back to bed."

"Then at least take a deep breath and stop running around like a headless chicken. You're making me dizzy."

"No, I want to get this all done and make sure I'm not forgetting anything," she protested and dashed back into the bathroom.

Jess drug himself out of bed, pulled on the pants that were balled on the floor, and went to stand outside the bathroom door. He leaned against the frame and watched Rory pack, unpack and repack her toiletries. "You know, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were anxious to get away from me."

Rory's back stiffened and her flying hands froze in mid-movement. "Don't be stupid," she tired to joke but her voice broke. Silent sobs took over her body.

"Oh, shit," Jess sighed. He stepped into the room and wrapped his arms around her from behind. "I was kidding. Don't cry like this."

"I know you were kidding," she gulped. "That's why I've been running around like this. To stay busy so I don't have to think about actually leaving."

"Isn't packing just reminding you of what you're packing for?"

"I didn't say it was a perfect system," Rory replied, snuffling and bringing up a hand to wipe at her nose.

"It's only for a couple of months, and then we're both in New York. And we'll both be so busy it'll just fly by . . . no time at all."

She sighed, "You make it sound so simple."

"It is that simple," he confirmed. "You just have to let it be that simple."

Rory slowly started to stop crying and nodded her head. "Okay. I'll try. That's all I can promise."

"That's all I can ask," he agreed. Giving her another squeeze, Jess let her go and left her to finish her packing. He resigned himself to sitting on the couch and watching her dart back and forth around the apartment. It didn't escape his notice when she snagged of his shirts off the floor at the end of the bed and shoved it deep into her backpack. Jess elected not to say anything about it; the fact that she was stealing his clothing was actually kind of sweet in a way that he completely understood given that he was prone to stealing sentimental items too. That's why he had one of the sweaters she brought with her balled up in the back of his closet.

Eventually, Rory's repetitious packing slowed to a stop. She set her overstuffed backpack next to the door with finality and then crossed the room to join Jess on the couch. She slipped sideways across his lap and rested her head against his shoulder. The bare skin of his upper shoulder was warm under her cheek and his chest and back solid beneath her arms when she wrapped them around his torso.

"Done?" he breathed into her hair, brushing a hand down her back to rest on the curve of her hip.

"Done. Are you going to shower?" she wanted to know.

He shrugged the shoulder she wasn't leaning on. "Sometime in the next four hours, yeah. I'd kind of like to stay right here for now."

"Good," Rory said happily, nestling closer to him. She sat quietly, timing her breathing with his, and trailed her fingers up and down the ridges of his spine. "Come to my graduation in May?" she asked suddenly.

Jess squirmed uncomfortably. "I don't know, Rory. Do you really think that's a good idea? I mean, Lorelai and your grandparents . . . not my biggest fans. You should enjoy that day, not spend it worrying about separating fights."

"I won't be able to completely enjoy it if you're not there," she countered. "Please come, Jess. Please?" She punctuated her last 'please' with a kiss to the hollow underneath his ear.

A tiny groan slipped up his throat, and he leaned into her. "I'll think about it. That good enough?"

Rory pulled away and grinned. "Thank you. I'm going to shower now." Jumping off his lap, she skipped to the bathroom where she paused in the door way. "Wanna join me?"

Jess's eyes widened, but he grinned back at her. "I thought you didn't want to get that close to me this morning. It'd take up too much time."

"That was in the bed. We can't stay in the shower for too long. The hot water'll run out eventually. We'll still have plenty of time to make it to the airport."

"Good point," he said with a nod. Jess shoved to his feet and was across the room in seconds, his lips crashing down onto hers as he guided her back into he bathroom. The door was shut with a quick backward snap of his foot but their laughter still echoed out into the apartment, and if Jess had had any neighbors to hear them, there would have been no question as to how happy they made each other.

The loud speaker above their heads announced again that Rory's flight was boarding, but she stubbornly pressed closer to Jess. He held her close for another long moment, pressed a kiss to the side of her head, and then reluctantly released her. Rory blinked at him with wet eyes but nodded slightly in agreement with his actions.

"I have to go," she said hoarsely, her fingers plucking delicately at the collar of Jess's shirt. "I can't miss my plane."

"Nope, can't have that," he agreed in what he hoped was a light mood. The last thing he wanted was for her to start crying again the way she had on the freeway when he'd signaled for the airport exit. It became clear he wasn't going to be successful when her eyes started to mist over. He brushed softly at the skin beneath her eyes and cupped her cheeks in his hands.

Rory tried to offer him a smile as he wiped away the small tears that were starting to fall, but the quivering of her lower lip made that impossible. Instead, she threw herself against his chest again for another tight embrace. Her lips sought his fervently as yet another announcement for her flight echoed around them.

"Rory," Jess urged her softly, "it's really time to go."

"Right, right," she sighed. With a resolved nod, she picked up her backpack and pecked him on the cheek. "I love you."

"Love you, too." He watched her start to walk away and suddenly came to a decision. "Rory! I'll see you in May!" he called after her.

She spun around and gaped at him. "You'll come? To graduation?"

He nodded. "I'll be there. Promise."

Smiling broadly, her entire face lighting up, Rory blew him a kiss. "I love you, Jess," she called back to him one more time.

Jess only offered her a wave as the growing airport crowd consumed her. He stayed riveted to his spot until her could no longer see the back of her chestnut head bobbing within the mass of people. Only then did he turn and realize that instead of envying the other people in the airport around him, he was now receiving some envious glances of his own . . . and he found that he didn't mind that at all. With a renewed smile, he sauntered out of the airport with the air of a man who had everything going for him. Jess knew that that was far from the truth, but now, with a future with Rory on the horizon, it felt incredibly possible.

Author's Notes the Second: Well, that's the end. I thank each and every one of you for taking the time to read, and extra thanks to the many of you who have left reviews. It means a great deal to me to know that I've given some enjoyment to others through this story . . . and before anyone asks, there is a sequel in the works. Just give me a bit of time to get my inspiration back.