A/N: Beware the time jump.
Rory made her way down the dimly lit hallway, her high heels muffled by the worn rug that lined the center. With a curious and somewhat critical air, she studied the walls as she passed, looking for discolored stains or enlarged cracks. While this place was by no means a luxurious steal, it was at least neat and comfortable, perfect for people with a low budget and normal standards. It made her feel better. She didn't want Jess to be unhappy.
Once she reached the door, she immediately went for the key in her purse. It had only been a week since she had received it and already, she had made herself at home, using it whenever she wished. But today was different. Typically, all days following one of their fights were. Somewhat guilty and nervous, she knocked on his door. She did it lightly, as if unconsciously hoping he wouldn't hear.
Pausing, she listened for movement inside, but heard nothing. He had to be home. She had seen him only a couple of hours earlier. He hadn't seen her though as she had nestled herself in the throng of people in the back of the gym. But she had been there.
She knocked again with a renewed strength. Be here, she silently ordered. Let's fix this now.
Once again, there was no answer. She felt her heart do a funny hop, skittering within her chest. Briefly, she wondered if it was possible for it to detach and sink away.
She pulled her key out and fit it into the lock. Stepping inside the apartment, she looked around, her vision stretching beyond the miscellaneous boxes and the furniture that still wasn't properly arranged. She searched for him.
Shutting the door quietly behind her, she crept further in, past the brand new couch Luke had bought as a house warming slash congratulatory gift. There were other things from Luke here, too. A secondhand desk, a microwave, a couple of mismatched kitchen chairs. A brand new toaster.
Finally, she detected movement coming from the bedroom. She slinked over to the threshold, not wanting to startle him. Sure enough, there Jess stood, half dressed, hair wet, rummaging through a box for a presentable shirt. He had been in the shower, she realized. He hadn't been ignoring her visit.
"Hi," she said.
He looked up from his fruitless search, giving off no evidence that he was startled by her abrupt appearance. "Hey."
"I knocked and no one answered."
"You have a key."
"I know. I just… don't want to overstep my boundaries. You've only had this place for a week, and do you really want me to just barge in without notice at all hours?"
"I gave you the key," he said slowly. "You can come whenever."
"What if it's the middle of the night?"
"Especially if it's the middle of the night."
She blushed, averting her gaze. He had yet to find a shirt to cover himself with.
"Does this visit have any particular cause?" he asked.
"No." She shrugged, not moving from her spot in the doorway. "I was just in the neighborhood, and… Well, it would have been rude for me to pass your apartment and not stop by to say hi."
"You were in the neighborhood?" he asked, arching an eyebrow. She frowned, growing uneasy, so he decided to play along. "You're right. It would have been very rude not to stop by."
He took a step forward but then stopped, waiting for her to move closer. Wringing her hands together, she nearly turned and bolted, before coming to her senses and walking into the room.
"I wanted to say congratulations," she admitted. Meeting his eyes, she smiled. "I'm so proud of you."
He felt her sentence more than he heard it. It brought a deep pressure within him, a surge of adrenaline through his body. It took all his willpower not to gasp out from the lack of oxygen reaching his lungs. He almost couldn't breathe.
"You looked so… I don't even know! You were just up there and it was amazing. You did it."
"On my second try," he finally managed.
"You were there?" he asked, suddenly remembering her empty seat next to Luke, four rows up from the stage.
"In the back. I was late."
"You weren't going to come."
"No, I wasn't. But then I remembered how much I hated you not being there for mine, and… I had to go. I wanted to see it."
Another step forward, closer now. He was able to reach out and grasp her elbow; he pulled her toward him. Instinctively, her arms went around his neck. His skin was soft, still warm from the shower.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
He kissed her sweetly, enjoying the taste of forgiveness that came with their contact. It always hurt when they fought. But it always felt amazing when they made-up. Like the first breath of the beach air after too long beneath the surface.
He meant to say he was sorry too. A simple apology that she would know he meant, and one that she would accept. It would bring everything back to normal, to their usual playful dynamic. But instead of pulling away from him, she pushed herself closer, letting her purse drop from its place on her shoulder to the ground.
She was as tall as him today, dressed in high heels to match her thin summer dress. She had wanted to look nice for his big day, look nice for him. Now, she kicked her shoes off, and let her flat feet rest against the carpet. He had to lean forward a bit more to keep her close.
In the next room, the phone rang, its noise both shrill and unexpected. Jess knew it was Luke calling to see if he was ready yet, because both he and Jimmy were waiting to head to the restaurant, and he swore to God he would take Jimmy's head off if Jess did not get there soon. Jess broke the kiss, but made no move to answer the call.
"Someone's trying to get in touch with you," Rory pointed out.
"Luke's trying to get in touch with you."
"He can wait."
"You're a huge jerk," she went on. "Very sarcastic. Surly, too. I kind of want to kill you most of the time."
"Yeah, well, you're kind of spoiled. Wait, you're completely spoiled. Bossy, too. Just the other day you ordered for me at the diner because apparently, I don't know what I want."
"You don't. You're indecisive, careless, and have no direction. It's pretty sad."
"Isn't this how our last fight started?"
"No, it started with going to the movies. Then it became a difference of opinions. Next thing you know, we're yelling at each other in the middle of a town meeting. How lucky were we that Kirk had chosen this week to become a photographer?"
Jess nodded gruffly, feigning seriousness. "It was fate."
"We made the front page of the Stars Hollow Gazette."
"It's wasn't the first time."
She laughed and kissed him again. "Luke wanted to tell you something."
"He wanted to tell me to hurry the hell up, he doesn't have all night."
"You're going out to dinner with him?"
"Him, Jimmy, Sasha, Lily… you're still invited."
"I'll have to check my schedule."
"You've been off from school for nearly a month, and so far, all your plans have been with either me or Lane."
"Go put a shirt on. Your bare chest disgusts me."
Jess rolled his eyes and returned to the Great Search of 2004: Mission Dress Shirt.
"I saw Lane today," Rory said. "She caught me after your graduation or else I would have been here sooner. She was so happy she did her little drummer dance."
"Drummer dance?" Jess asked, pulling out a halfway decent top.
"Imagine the snoopy dance but with drumsticks."
"Dave's transferring to a college in Connecticut."
Jess turned around as he buttoned his shirt, looking rather surprised. "I thought he loved it down there."
"He did. I guess he just loved Lane more."
Jess paused, unable to find words as Rory held his eyes with her own. Something passed through the air between them. Something good. "I'm happy for them."
"Me too." She gave him a wistful smile. "I'm really happy."
No sooner had he finished buttoning his shirt then Rory was against him, kissing him with a fervent need. He turned the two of them around, so he could angle her toward the bed. She let him.
This was how it had been for the two of them since she had finally forgiven him, and he, in turn, had forgiven her. They worked together now, still fighting often, but never something they could not handle. That was just what they did. They had a difference of opinion; they clashed. But they always made up. After everything they had been through, neither of them would allow something as inconsequential as an argument end their relationship.
She found herself lowered onto his bed, and she had to stifle a laugh as her feet became tangled up in his sheets. He hadn't made the bed today. Right now, she was glad he hadn't.
She tugged on his shirt, bringing him roughly down the rest of the way. His sudden weight startled her, but she did not try to push him off; she liked the way it felt. It was a reminder of his solidity, that he was real. They were real.
It was like certainty.
Drops of water from his hair slipped across her face, onto her lips. He tried to wipe them away, leaving damp streaks across her cheek. She wanted to tell him to leave it alone, not to worry, but it came out more like a moan. He understood.
His hands wandered from her face down her body, a tantalizing path that he purposely slowed. She arched against him, and he moved faster, finding his way beneath her dress. Soon, the both of them would get too carried away, and the next hour would slip by in the rustle of sheets if she didn't stay something. He had places to be.
"Jess," she tried. It came out as a broken gasp.
"Jess." She no longer had any idea if she was trying to stop this.
"Yeah?" he asked, knowing that she was beyond an understandable response.
But finally she grasped a word, a singular phrase that would snap him out of this. "Luke."
And it stopped. "If you're picturing Luke right now, I question your mental health."
"Luke's always waiting for me."
"You don't want to keep him doing it forever, do you?"
He gave her one last brief kiss, and sat up, pulling her into a sitting position.
"We should get going," she suggested, letting her head fall on his shoulder.
"Yeah, I'm right on that."
Both were still and silent, eyes on the window across from the bed. It was darker now; the light outside had faded. Their images were reflected in the glass. They saw the view of the city through the dim outline of themselves.
"New Haven looks nice at night," she whispered.
"Yeah," he agreed.
She picked her head up to look over at him, a small smile playing at her lips. "I love you." It wasn't the first time she had said it. It wouldn't be the last either.
"I love you, too."
"You're happy here, right? Here… this place… this city?"
If taken at face value, he knew she was referring to his new apartment. This new place he had saved for, a place he had chosen so he could be closer to her. But there was something more there, too. Sometimes, she still became worried over whether there was regret. Whether this was all worth it.
"I am," he promised.
He took her hand in a surprisingly tender gesture. She leaned closer to him, resting her forehead against his. Closing her eyes, she let out a small breath, dizzy from the torrent of feeling that had sprung up within her.
"Hey," he said quietly.
She opened her eyes. "Hey."
For a few moments more, they sat quietly in the dark, the only sound their breathing. Gently, she kissed the side of his mouth, brushing a hand down the front of his shirt. Then, both stood and left the apartment together, heading for his graduation dinner.
A/N: And that's it. Thanks for sticking along for the ride even when I began to drift with the updates. Thanks to the Lit thread and especially to Becka, Mai, Marissa, Lia, Arianna, and Lee. Becka, I love you babe, thanks for all the kind words and encouragement. You are a wonderful friend. And to M and L, awesome girls who get awesome nicknames, heh.
I've been getting much busier lately due to school and college preparation, and there is a good chance I may not get to finish my two remaining stories. I'm very, very sorry for that.