Title:  Breathing

Author:  Angeleyez

Summary:  Literati.  Future.  "He has settled into their home of quiet solitude; he enjoys it."  But now the apartment seems too still.  She cries, he works, and it's something like loss.

Dedication:  My usual beta, Melissa, because she's the queen (of everything).  And my fill-in beta, Mai, because she's an amazing loon, not to mention a motivational genius. 

A/N:  This ficlet is named after "Breathing" by Yellowcard.  It's not exactly a song fic, save the few lyrics in the beginning.  This takes place in the future, some years after college.  No particular time is specified.  This is a one parter.  Complete.  Feedback would be much appreciated. 

Eyes are feeling heavy but they never seem to close

The fan blades on the ceiling spin but the air is never cold

And even though you're next to me I still feel so alone

I just can't give you anything for you to call your own

And I can feel you breathing and it's keeping me awake

Can you feel it beating my heart sinking like a weight

He's watching her sleep again.  It's a queen size bed, and her upper body is curved towards the center.  Her face is barely inches from his, and yet she's completely out of his reach.  His hand moves forward anyway and brushes her hair back.  It's always falling forward, and she likes to say that she will cut it one day.  He knows better though.  She likes her hair long, strands coming loose from a messy bun, getting in the way, and he's always there to tuck it behind her ear. 

His fingers move to her cheek, and dance lightly across her face.  The area under her eyes is dry, but he knows if were to touch her pillow, it would be damp.  Wet from tears that are always falling, ones he can't keep from coming.  He's supposed to be the hero of the story.  He's supposed to be able to stop her sobs with soft words, butterfly kisses on her hair, a hand on her shoulder.  But they keep coming.

Maybe he's not as strong as he thought.

Suddenly she flinches, and her hand reaches up and swats his away.  She rolls over, her back to him now.  He takes in a sharp breath and hopes that she is still asleep. 

He doesn't think they will survive this.

They have already been through much together.  Nonsensical fights over everything and nothing.  There had been one in particular that now seemed too fuzzy.  It had either been about his working too much or not enough.  When it comes to his job, his memory becomes conveniently cloudy.  The work week is too monotonous to him, and the weekdays have a terrible tendency of bleeding into one another.  Tuesday becomes Thursday, and often Wednesday never comes.  Other times, Monday is everyday until finally Friday hits, signaling the beginning of the weekend.  Two days that never slip away from him, ones he always wished would arrive sooner.  They are almost always spent with her, and therefore are unforgettable, winning a special spot in his memory. 

But there had been some kind of fight, and he had then proceeded to go out and cheat on her.  One kiss with the redhead who worked only three cubicles down from him.  It was under the mistletoe at the holiday office party—one Rory was supposed to attend in the first place.  Unfortunately, he couldn't blame the alcohol because he had had only one beer and wouldn't even qualify as tipsy.  It was pure anger motivation—with a hint of sadness—and he was making out with the self proclaimed office bicycle.  (Everyone has had a ride.)  His ride was almost nonexistent, however; it never went farther than the French kiss in the doorway.  Still, he was found out thanks to the grapevine.  Rory didn't speak to him for three days. 

Later, during one rather vociferous fight, she had thrown a book at him.  It had missed his head by a mile and instead went sailing out the window.  She had then shut herself in their room, and he had tried his best to keep from laughing too loud.  An hour later she had come out, and had asked in a timid voice if she had injured anybody during her bout of insanity.  He had told her she had killed the nice old lady downstairs, and she had then hit him in the arm.  Minutes later, they had already moved on to the make up sex.

There had also been the temporary breakup between them that went on too long.  A four month separation where he learned the real meaning of misery.

At some point, although he could never pinpoint exactly when, he came to trust that four letter word whose existence he had once doubted.  He began to use the word always in reference to their relationship, and forever rolled off his tongue easily.  Now it seems as if the end is near, and he wonders how he let himself become so foolish.

He rolls over.  They are back to back, not touching.  He wonders why he still hasn't cried.  He figures she has done enough for the both of them.  His eyes close.

Sleep is nowhere to be found.

--

The alarm screams, and his eyes snap open.  The night before seems fuzzy to him, but he vaguely remembers a time lapse.  It feels like he hasn't slept at all.  Maybe he hasn't.

Slowly he sits up and rolls out of bed.  She is still asleep, he notices.  It's not surprising.  There is a week left for her leave of absence from work.  He knows that if she wants, she can get more time off.  Before this extended vacation, she has never taken a sick day.  Not for his lack of trying of course.

She is already up and dressed, standing in front of the mirror.  Putting on earrings, and he is watching her from the bed.  He is half dressed, yawning and stretching—never a morning person.  He falls backwards onto the mattress, and she comes over to him to kiss him goodbye.  He thinks he may be late again this morning, but he doesn't like to leave before her.  She never questions this.

She leans down and he grabs her wrist, pulling.  She allows herself to land haphazardly on top of him.  He gives her a small grin, wondering if maybe he can finally convince her to play hooky today.  She warns that he'll mess up her hair if he's not careful.  He tells her that's the point.

He heads into the kitchen, barely missing the box that is kept in the hallway.  It is too large, and takes up much more space than it should.  He stubs his toe on it more often than not, and some day soon, he may take his anger out on it.  But he is determined to leave it alone, because it shouldn't be there.  The box should be gone, its contents set up in their bedroom.  Instead it remains there, collecting dust because the company has yet to send a truck to pick it up.  He wonders if maybe he should call again today at work, because it is one of the reasons Rory won't get out of bed.  Once he considered covering it in a sheet, but then it would have had the appearance of a ghost.  That would be worse.

There are a small stack of clothes on the chair next to the table.  They are pink, green, blue, and yellow, all soft colors.  There are three bottles sitting on the counter, and he knows that if he turns around he will find a rattle on the other counter top.  He wonders why he still hasn't gathered everything, to shove into an unmarked box, and either be thrown out or secretly stashed in the closet.  He thinks back to the hallway box.  Always tripping over it.  He wishes there are toys strewn about the apartment to fall over, step on.  There should be clothes on the floor, and wailing, and Rory complaining, and he would be smiling, explaining he'd love to help but he must get to work. 

The apartment is too quiet.  He wishes he at least watched TV, but the idiot box remains silent, rarely disturbed.  He considers turning it on to fill the rooms with soft noise.  The news is on, but he does not feel like listening to the depressing stories void of hope.  He still cannot find the radio, and he thinks that it has been thrown away or sold accidentally.  Much has changed in the past few months.   

He starts to make coffee, although he doesn't really have a taste for it.  Old habits die hard; the coffee is for Rory.  She won't drink it, hasn't touched the stuff in the longest time.  Before she was forbidden to, but now, she is free to drown in it, yet it will remain in the coffee pot until he comes home to pour it out in the sink.  It's brewing; even the machine is peaceful.

The silence didn't used to bother him.  The both of them are people of few words.  He has a tendency to be monosyllabic, and surprisingly enough, she doesn't speak much either.  He never noticed it before with Lorelai there, always filling the gaps.  Rory sometimes falls into a fit of rambling, but usually, she is pleasantly silent.  He has settled into their home of quiet solitude; he enjoys it.

She steps out of the bathroom, holding the stick.  She smiles; there are two lines.  He thinks he can't wait to fill their apartment with beautiful noise.

And colors.  He arches his eyebrow, and she explains that there is so much to be done.  Moving, redecorating, buying, selling, and painting.  Blue for a boy, pink for a girl, he says.  She wants green.  She laughs, but he doesn't get the joke.

It hurts.  It is a sharp pain ripping right through him, and he feels dizzy.  He grips the table in front of him to steady himself.  He is afraid he may fall over, although he is already sitting.  The last half hour is a blur to him.  He is already dressed, ready to go.  With his eyes closed, he takes a deep breath and stands up.  Then he is out the door.  She is still asleep in bed.

--

Luke thinks it was divine intervention.  He loves the idea of Rory and Jess, but he doesn't like thinking of RoryJess, between the sheets.  He actually grimaces at the news—well, more at the thought—and Rory lets out a giggle.  Lorelai herself is laughing because she finds his theory incredibly funny; neither she nor Luke is particularly religious.  Rory asks her mother if it happened the same way for her.  Lorelai nods and insists she is still a virgin.

Lorelai hasn't been around the apartment.  In fact, she hasn't visited in a while, and she won't for at least another three months.  Maybe even after that, she'll keep her distance.  She doesn't want to upset her daughter with her swollen belly.  Mostly she calls, and sighs at the sound of Rory's voice.  It's sad and almost as thin as she has become.  They both cry.

Jess comes home an hour early.  He doesn't know why; there's nothing to come home to, it seems.  He opens the door, shuts it behind him, and immediately he knows.  Something is different.  He doesn't notice the empty chair besides the kitchen table or even that the counters are visibly bare.  No, he freezes because he hears something.  The shower is running.  He wanders into their bedroom, and is surprised to find their bed empty.  This is major progress.  For a moment, he listens to the water run, a strangely comforting sound.  Then he gets an idea.  Quickly he strips the bed and finds fresh sheets to remake it.  This is the only thing he can think to do to help.  He hates how awkward and unsure he has become, but for now, he ignores it.  The bed is made, the shower is still going, and he changes her pillowcase to a new one—it's blue like her eyes.  He reaches for his own pillow, but then stops.  He switches his for hers. 

She brings home a short, fat bottle.  It's a spray for the linens, she explains.  He likes the smell, and she smiles.  For the first few nights, she dusts their blankets and pillows with the scent.  Then after a while, he notices that the smell is fading.  He finds the bottle in their bathroom closet, untouched for days.  That night, he gets into bed and finds that she has switched their pillows.  She later tells him that she prefers the smell of his cologne.  The spray never moves from its spot.  He wonders if she falls asleep thinking about him.

The shower continues to provide background noise as he begins dinner.  The soothing art of cooking, he thinks.  He likes making the meals, and she wants him to teach her.  She can only make macaroni and cheese, and he says it's delicious.  His mind snaps back to the task at hand, and he likes to think that cooking takes an immense amount of concentration.  It's like chemistry, carefully measuring, mixing, and stirring.  It makes him think of science class in high school—a class that he almost never skipped.  Now he is remembering biology, and the study of genetics.  He is inwardly cringing, thinking of the lessons taught, the trihybrids figured out.  Back then, words like trisomy and monosomy were just scientific definitions memorized for a test.  Now they hold real meanings, startling truths and it's all too real.  He wishes he skipped the class more.

He moves away from the stove to the cupboard.  He opens it up, and immediately forgets what he is looking for.  There is a sippy cup inside.  It was a premature purchase, and he feels the room slowly slipping away.

They are walking through a small grocery store, miscellaneous goodies already in their basket.  Suddenly she stops, her eyes light up, and she swipes the cup from one of the lower shelves.  She spins around to present him with the treasure she has discovered.  A cheap sippy cup that will no doubt fall apart after two trips to the dishwasher.  (Good thing they wash by hand.)  It is in the shape of a cow which, to her, is the selling point.  He fixes her with an odd look when he sees it, and she moos.  She's mooing and she's glowing, and it's very hard for him not to grin.

Then he pauses, waiting for the inevitable connection.  She is holding a cow and soon enough she will look down at her stomach, and think herself too fat.  Women are sensitive enough, but pregnancy makes them outrageously emotional.  He has quickly learned the delicate art of thinking before speaking.  But she keeps on smiling, her eyes laughing, the cup held tight in her hands.  He tells her to get two.

He grabs it quickly, treating it as contraband.  He moves into the hallway and opens the closet door.  Funny, the thought of throwing it away never crosses his mind.  He prepares to shove it into the far corner when he notices a new box on the top shelf.  He pulls it down, and the first thing he sees is the twin cow cup resting on a pile of softly colored clothes.  He numbs his mind and places the cup he is holding inside.  Then he returns the box to its place and closes the door, pretending nothing has happen.  It is now that he notices how large the hallway is.  Something is missing.

--

He has set the table—for two.  He does it consciously, wondering if maybe she'll come and eat with him.  First step shower, second step, speaking to him?  He watches her step into the kitchen doorway.  Her hair is brushed, but still wet, and the back of her T-shirt is soaked through because of it.  She is too thin, he decides.  Months before she was convinced she would never return to her normal weight.  She has, and then some.

She takes a seat at the table as if it is the most normal thing in the world.  He sits across from her.  He studies her face, forgetting what her eyes look like.  He is used to seeing them closed.  They are a dull, icy blue; they're frowning.  He inwardly flinches.  She doesn't smile.  They both begin to eat.

"They picked up the crib today," she says after a moment.

He looks up at her, and wants to celebrate the sound of her voice.  He wants to cry because of what she says.  He settles for no reaction.  He barely nods, but she gets it.  He understands too.  He is the only one who does.  The rest of the meal is eaten in silence.

--

She is already in bed, and he silently slips in beside her.  She is awake and facing him.  Her eyes are dry.  This is something new.  The room is mostly dark except for the moonlight that seeps in from the window.  It provides a dim nightlight for the two of them.  For a moment, they stare at each other.  He isn't sure that she really sees him.  Maybe she's looking right through, thinking of something else, somewhere else.  He doesn't know what to make of this thought.

Then she turns.  Instead of right, she goes left, and rolls into him.  Her back is against his chest.  Her head is tilted forward, so her hair just brushes his chin, and he leans in as close as he can.  She smells like summer rain, and he recognizes the shampoo scent.  He slips his hand over her side and rests it on her stomach.  Immediately he regrets this, thinking he has done the wrong thing.  He has reminded her; she'll turn away again.  Instead, she remains still.  He nearly speaks, but then chokes on words that he'll never say.  The silence isn't so loud right now, and he likes the way it sounds.  He chokes again, and this time he knows what's coming.  He thinks that it's his turn.

She reaches up and brings her hand to the side of his face.  He closes his eyes, and when she draws her finger across his cheek, her thumb ends up damp.  She turns again, this time burying her face into his chest.  Then she pulls away slightly to look up at him.  He leans down and kisses her hair.  Summer rain, summer's coming.  He thinks maybe they'll start up their weekend expeditions again.  He finds her hand in the darkness and squeezes it.  Her tears slip over her lips. 

She smiles.