Running After Kansas by Oregano

There was a lot of sun in California. Global warming had done its part in ensuring the world of darker tans, a heightened sensitivity to skin cancer, and horrible cases of sweat-stained t-shirts. Jess Mariano hated how the heat snuck up on him during days like these. He hated it even more on this particular day, for it was proving difficult to read his tattered copy of The Lord of the Flies without turning into a character of Albert Camus creations. Sitting in the corner of his father's hotdog stand, which had become somewhat of a Venice Beach landmark, Jess felt the weight of the whole six months go by. It had been a while since he had thought about Stars Hollow and of that dark bruise that settled on his arm a few days after his departure. Six months went by and he heard nothing from Luke or Rory or anyone.

Part of him was happy for it, but another part of him was disappointed in the fact that nobody even tried to get a hold of him.

Damn, when did he even turn into this obnoxious ass anyway? He didn't even know why he was expecting them to run after him. It's not like he had the charm of a seventeen-year-old Rory Gilmore, anyhow.

The yellow brick road had to end sometime, and as much as Jess Mariano hated to admit it, the soles of his feet missed the pathways of Stars Hollow that were, in his mind, just as golden.

Regret, just like the California heat, would sneak up on him often, tugging at his heart and mocking him for his choice. He, however, knew that what he did was right. Stars Hollow had no room for a Jess Mariano, and he had enough sense to leave before he had his feelings crushed by stupid people once again.

Oh, he was so disgusted at himself for letting that Goddamn town get to him. It was like this horrible rash that left a scar after you scratched it so much. Stars Hollow left its mark on him, and God help him, he just kept on running his fingernails at it, making it worse and worse after each moment of reminiscence.

He looked up and watched his father create one of his famous hotdogs with the enthusiasm of a young boy (Nicholai perhaps, but Jess quickly shoved that thought aside). The corners of his lips twisted into another one of his sardonic grins as he watched Jimmy put onions on the thing with a magnificent flourish. Jess rolled his eyes. Sometimes it was difficult to believe that half of his biology was due to this man, really.

A customer entered his line of sight, and at first he thought nothing of it. Jimmy, though, as he was always accommodating and welcoming to his clientele, hollered a warm greeting. "Hey there, what'll you have?"

"Surprise me with something special."

The voice rang familiar to Jess, and this resulted in a comical sort of double take. She was the same beautiful lady he had been acquainted with, both long ago and six months ago. Initially he had thought that it was just a trick of the light, or some odd mirage of some sort. Hell, Jess knew it was hot enough for his mind to mess with his perceptions. He thought he'd seen Barbara Streisand at one point, but it just turned out to be an old man with a broken nose. So he had to be forgiven for having to take a bit more time for recognition this time.

When he was sure that it was who he thought it was, he cleared his throat to speak. "Lorelai?"

Lorelai Gilmore felt like a moron. She felt like Juliet's fat nurse. She felt like she was that same crazy woman who had once told a seven-year-old boy that he was going to grow up looking like a gnome when that same boy in Rory's first grade class called her daughter "Ugly McFatface".

She couldn't help it. She was very protective of the people she loved. Luke Danes had rubbed off too much on her—which was, incidentally, the reason for her coming.

Jess had pushed a chair out for her to sit, and after pulling her sweaty hair into a messy ponytail, she sat. They studied each other at this; one wondering what the other was thinking, and the other wondering what the hell the other was doing in California in the first place.

After six months, Jess Mariano had definitely changed. His complexion was a little bit tanner, his cheeks more sallow, and his countenance more gruff that she remembered. His hair was an eruption of dark curls and unkempt volume, his eyes were more glazed, and Self-Destruction oozed out of him even more so than before. California and the past few months had not been kind to this man. And they both knew that it was his fault.

"So, how are things, Lorelai?" Jess asked, with maybe a touch of agitation. They both knew that the situation that this presented, of both Jess Mariano and Lorelai Gilmore being in the same place after all that had happened, it was just awkward and mad.

And only one of them had enough sense to actually deal with it straight on:

"Cut the crap, Jess. I'm still angry at you for letting me down. I actually defended you to Luke and you go and do something insane and so Goddamn teenage melodrama as what you did. You leaving like that was not only the most irresponsible thing you've done to date, but it's also the most insensitive. All the bad vibes just—gah, you don't want to be fake-polite to me, Jess, because I am so close to punching you in the face."

Her dialogue didn't really catch him by surprise, but he was glad for her frankness. He hated wasting time. Jess closed his old book and pushed it aside, offering Lorelai his full attention. He rested his elbows on the table and scratched the stubble on his chin. They made his fingertips tingle. "So why are you here?"

Lorelai looked at Jess at that question. She had replayed this scene in her head over and over, and she thought she knew what she was going to say once they were in the same general vicinity, but it was proving more difficult in execution than that of theory.

Without much more ceremony, Lorelai decided to just let it out. "Luke's had a heart attack."

"Order's up for the lady who wanted a special surprise! And I didn't mean to make that sound as dirty as it did, I swear!" Jimmy cried out from behind the counter.

Despite numerous attempts to convince Lorelai Gilmore that he didn't care, Jess found himself speeding towards Connecticut like a madman. He gripped the steering wheel and cringed at the realisation that he really did care. Ugh.

The worse part was, Lorelai Gilmore was sure of his reaction because the woman didn't even buy a ticket back to Connecticut. She knew that Jess would race back to Stars Hollow, and she knew that she would be sitting next to Jess in his red Goddamn Mustang.

"I knew it," she said, with an impish grin playing at her features.

"Oh, stop that," was her companion's only reply. And after a few kilometres' silence, "How bad is it?" Lorelai could have sworn Jess seemed not only worried, but afraid.

"He's doing pretty well, but it's not the best I've seen of him." Lorelai let a few more seconds pass by before she added her confession. The wind blew at her hair, and she was pretty sure that she would need a hat of some sort when they got out of the car later on. "Luke doesn't know I came to see you."

Jess only rolled his eyes and let out a breath that sounded a lot like, "Puh." He looked to his side for a moment and gave Lorelai an ironic raise of his brow. "Of course he doesn't know. Where do you think Rory got that thing she does where she does something insane without telling anyone?"

"I resent that."

It was Jess's turn to grin. "That whole coy defensiveness is another thing. Don't try to seduce me with your charms, Miss Gilmore. You Gilmores may have gotten me once, but I'm not falling into that trap again."

"So you admit it—Rory left an impression on you."

Jess was silent for a moment, a little embarrassed at his sudden candidness. His brows furrowed and he focused his eyes on the road, watching the bits of gravel fly up and against the side of his car. He had no intentions of letting the conversation go this way at all. Lorelai didn't either, but now that they had suddenly ventured down that road, she felt the responsibility to keep the ball rolling.

"I'm not going to make googly remarks about it, Jess."

He pressed his lips together, moistening them with his tongue from the inside. "How can she not, Lorelai?" he asked quietly. "Ever since she came all the way to New York to see me when we were kids." A picture of Rory in her uniform and plaster cast entered his mind, as well as the surprise he felt as soon as her fingers tapped him on the shoulder that day. It had been too surreal, to say the least.

Lorelai nodded, remembering that same night. She had been so disappointed. Instead of a funny image of Rory, she saw her daughter's eyes welling up at the realisation that she had just missed her own mother's graduation for a stupid boy and a reckless impulse. "Monumental shock for both you and me, Buster."

"I didn't mean to corrupt Rory, you know. She already had a penchant for corruption."

She looked at Jess then, her eyes glittering in the sun with fondness. "She has my eyes. Of course she's had a penchant for corruption."

Author's note:

OMG Oregano! Yes, children. The blue moon's back, and so am I. Well, for this chapter.