Title: The Slowest Form
Disclaimer: No. That's all I need to say, right? You know what I mean. I'm broke. So, no. Just...no.
Summary: "Is it worth it to stay?" She told him he needed find out for himself. So he did. He stayed. [Literati.] Set in Rory's freshman year of Yale.
A/N: The prologue includes actual dialogue from the end of "Say Goodnight, Gracie". (Yes, I rewrote the episode AGAIN, but it was necessary for this story. It seems that I really didn't like that episode, huh? To be clear, this fic is completely separate from my ficlet Ambiguity.) It starts off just like the end of the episode, but think that Rory had more time before her stop came up. Yes, this is a multi-chaptered story. By the way, huge thanks to Melissa. Thanks for being a queenly beta and for the encouragement—to write this down, lol. And as always, to Mai: you're my motivational art goddess. And no matter what you say, you rock (my socks).
Feedback would be much appreciated.
"Can I sit?" She was surprised at her own question. When did she have to start asking if it was all right to be near him?
"Uh, sure, sit." He paused. "I thought you took an earlier bus."
"My first class got cancelled today."
"Oh. So what's been going on?"
She suppressed a sigh. Was this going to be another conversation skirting around their issues? She had grown dizzy from dancing in these circles. It seemed like with each passing day, their relationship was worsening, and avoidance was getting them absolutely nowhere. "Nothing much. Fran died."
"I went to
her funeral yesterday."
"Luke went too."
"I saw him there."
"He was in the back," she added needlessly.
He gave a slight nod, then, as if cutting right to the chase, "I can't go to prom. I couldn't get tickets."
She grimaced at his words. Was that just some asinine excuse for something else? "Oh."
She turned her head to face the window next to her. The world passed by in a blur of colors, and for the first time in her life, she began to feel the effects of motion sickness. Her eyes closed for a brief moment, and she tried to calm her tumultuous stomach. Next to her, he was shifting positions, his shoulder bumping into hers. Was he fidgeting?
"I'm leaving," he blurted out.
She blinked but remained silent. Her mind was trying to process his words, but somehow, they weren't registering. "What?" She finally asked.
"I…" He paused and looked away from her before facing forward. "You weren't supposed to be on the bus this morning."
"I'm… sorry?" Her voice held an incredulous tone. Did she just apologize for running into him?
"I'm leaving," he repeated, his gaze finally falling on her face. This time his voice held a sense of finality.
She stared back, hoping for some kind of clue. "Leaving?"
Her mouth opened then closed, and she looked down at her lap. Her mind was reeling from this new realization. Somehow, she still didn't comprehend. His words were echoing through her head, but it wasn't clicking. He was leaving. California? Across the country? 3000 miles. Leaving. Away.
"You're leaving?" She asked, this time turning her entire body to face him. "Going… just like that?"
"Rory…" He began.
"California? What did you pull out a map and say, 'Okay, what's the farthest I can get away from Stars Hollow without traveling outside of the forty-eight consecutive states?'"
"How can you be leaving? Are you running away?"
"I'm not running away," he insisted forcefully, his train of thought landing on his father.
"Things get too hard for you, so now you're going to disappear?"
"It's not exactly like that."
"Then please, explain it to me!" She almost yelled, causing quite a few passengers to turn their heads. It felt as if her throat was constricting, and her stomach flipped as the bus hit another bump. She tried to swallow, but her mouth was bone dry, and she wondered if she was going to be sick right here.
"Then un-complicate it. Break it down for me. Please."
He sighed, and kept his gaze on his lap. His refusal to look at her was irritating, but not as much as the tense silence that had now settled over them.
"This isn't fair," she choked out, and she wanted to curse the tears that were currently forming in her eyes. She blinked rapidly, and once again, she tried in vain to swallow.
It wasn't so much her words, as the way she said them that caused him to respond. He heard the tears in her voice, and he internally flinched. He had grown tired of making her cry.
"I can't stay here anymore. I'd try to explain, but you wouldn't get it."
It was a struggle to keep her voice steady, and her grip on her emotions was loosening. She feared she'd lose control soon. "What kind of excuse is that? How do you know I wouldn't understand? You haven't told me. You haven't even tried. You never try!" The knot in her throat continued to tighten, and it was a wonder the words even came out.
Once again, he said nothing, and her frustration began to boil over. "You can't just do this," she insisted. "You cannot just give up and leave. You weren't even going to tell me! How could you leave without one word to me?"
"I'm telling you now."
"I'm not supposed to be here, remember?"
"I'm sorry," he said, his eyes finally meeting hers. His tone wasn't one asking for forgiveness. His words weren't soft or hopeful. They were just out there and final, as if he was already long gone.
"Don't go," she pleaded, hating that her angry demeanor was rapidly melting. An intense sadness was replacing it, and she hated that he made her weak. She hated that he could make her cry. But most of all, she hated that she didn't want him to go. He wasn't good for her. This wasn't good for her. But the thought of him becoming nothing more than a fading memory was making her heart ache, and her stomach twist and knot and…
"I love you." Now where had that come from? She could barely believe the words that had just tumbled out of her mouth. It was a lie, she thought, she wasn't in love with him. Was she? No, no, no. They were made up words that rang false, she was trying to get him to stay. Anything to keep him here.
His head was turned away, but she knew he had heard her. Half of the bus had heard, as most of the passengers had been tuned into their conversation. She slowly turned back to her former position of facing forward. Nothing was resolved, nothing was different, and he hadn't given her one solid reason for his leaving. But she could fill in the blanks. He was tired of all of this, of the two of them not working, and instead of trying—he gave up. He left. She should have realized from the beginning that he came stamped with the word TEMPORARY. Okay, time was up now, and no half-baked love confession was going to change that.
The bus slowed and with a horrible pang, she realized it had arrived at her stop. At least this time she would get a goodbye out of him.
"This is my stop," she said in a small voice.
"There's nothing for me here," he responded. His jaw was clenched, and he seemed dead set on this thought.
"I think you're wrong," she mumbled before standing up. Her earlier thought of a goodbye rushed out of her head as she took a tentative step forward. She wouldn't say it. Couldn't say it. Oh god, he was leaving. Going, going, gone, out of her life.
"Is it worth it to stay?" His words stopped her in her tracks, and she paused to look back at him.
"You'll have to see for yourself." With those parting words and a heavy heart, she was off the bus, the doors closing behind her. No goodbye ringing in her ears, only the question of him. The same old question, nothing new.
He remained on the bus, hating that he was now reconsidering decisions that had seemed so final the night before. This was why he hadn't wanted to say goodbye in the first place. Somehow, he knew that she could convince him to stay. Her voice, her tears, and suddenly, he was rethinking everything. Looking down at his duffel bag, he felt a twinge of regret at the hastiness of his packing, at his thoughtlessness of leaving without a goodbye. What about his fight with Luke? How about the compromise he would have to make if he did head back? Repeating senior year, quitting his job… two things he had refused to do. Was he now suddenly ready to give in?
But this didn't occur to him, his mind was still on her. Of the disastrous turn their relationship had taken. Of how maybe, just maybe, they could fix that. Was it worth it to stay? Was she worth it?
He couldn't help but think that yes, she was.