Author's note: This is where my brain has taken me in the moments after "Raincoats and Recipes" faded to black.
Disclaimer: The Lorelais aren't mine, nor are their boys, toys, or their various extended family.
By Lula Bo
The forty-five seconds Lorelai paused on the porch stairs were the longest of her life. She saw Rory's shaking shoulders, heard her hiccupping breaths. She ached for her baby girl: she felt a constriction about her heart, pain knotted behind her rib cage.
Lorelai took a ragged breath and stepped off the porch.
"Rory," she said, kneeling beside her daughter.
Rory shrank away from her mother's reach. "Please don't touch me."
"Oh, honey," Lorelai said. She put her arms about Rory and laid her cheek against Rory's hair.
"Mom, no," she said, trying to pull away. Lorelai shushed her and drew her closer. "Mom," Rory said again, her voice choked with tears. "What just happened?" she asked. "I can't breathe," she said between sobs. "It hurts too much to breathe." She turned her face towards her mother's shoulder. "Mom."
"I know, babe," Lorelai said. "Let's get you inside."
"I don't want to stay in that house tonight," Rory said, wiping the backs of her hands over her cheeks. "I can't go back in there!" Her voice had taken a hysterical pitch Lorelai had never heard before.
She took Rory's face in her hands. "Honey, it's just a building. We've lived here for eight years. It's not any different than it was an hour ago."
Rory's lips quivered and she looked down, tears welling over. "Everything's different."
Lorelai sighed and pulled them both to their feet together, drawing Rory to her as she stood. "I know," she said. "Come on inside."
She led Rory in the house and up the stairs to her own bedroom. She then helped her out of the rumpled dress. Rory held her arms over her head and Lorelai bit her lip, remembering her six-year-old baby and dressing her for bed. She slid an oversized tee over Rory's head and settled her under the comforter. Lorelai sat beside her and smoothed the hair off Rory's forehead.
"Tell me what you need," she said.
Rory hugged the pillow, burying her face in the coolness of the cotton. "I don't know right now."
"I'm here, okay?"
They sat in silence a long moment, Lorelai stroking Rory's hair and smoothing the covers. Rory raised herself up on her elbow a moment. Her eyes were puffy and her cheeks flushed with heat. "Mom, the inn."
"Shit," Lorelai gasped. "Rory, hon—"
"You should go," Rory said. "I'll stay here."
"I don't want to leave you alone. Can I call Lane?"
"I'm fine." She looked at her mother. "No, not fine, I know. But I'll be okay by myself."
Lorelai's eyes filled. She kissed Rory's forehead and drew her into a fierce hug. "Thirty seconds."
"That's all I need to get back here. You wake up, you want me, I'm here in thirty seconds."
Rory held her mother tightly. "Thank you," she said.
Once more, Lorelai held Rory's face in her hands. "You never have to thank me for anything, babe. I am your mother."
"I love you," Rory said, her voice faltering. "I do."
Lorelai nodded. "And I would bleed for you."
Rory's voice stopped her at the bedroom door. "Mommy?"
"What's going to happen now?"
Lorelai swallowed over the rock lodged in her throat. "I'm afraid I'm not the one who can tell you that, babe."
Rory nodded. "Thirty seconds, right?"
Lorelai tried to smile. "Thirty seconds exactly."
She hardly paid attention to where her feet took her as she left the house. She could remember nothing about the day that had just passed. All she could think of was her daughter, alone, and hurting. Her daughter, alone, hurting emotionally, maybe physically. She heard Rory again saying "everything's different." She shook her head. It shouldn't have happened this way.
She was back at the inn too quickly. There was a throng of people milling about the lawn. She heard Miss Patty and Babette clearly above the din. She caught the phrases "naked as a jaybird" and "like a little girl" and couldn't help smiling. Stupid Kirk, she thought. What would have happened had he not come barreling down those stairs? Would Dean have stayed? Would he have gone home to Lindsay? What would he have told Rory had Lorelai not come home at the moment she did? Would Rory have told her? She shivered at the possibility of Rory not telling her. But for Kirk, she would not have gone home—she would still be with Luke. Would she still be with Luke?
Luke. The thought stopped her a moment and she absently raised her hand to her lips. If she could shut the image of Rory and her pain out for a second, for a breath, she could still feel Luke's hands at her waist, still see him pulling her towards him the last time. She closed her eyes and saved the memory of the way he smelled and tasted and felt, the crackle and charge of the air when he drew her to him. But the breath was gone and the broken look in Rory's eyes filled her mind. She continued up the walk.
Lorelai stopped at the bottom of the porch stairs. Sookie stood beside Jackson, her hair in pigtails, surveying the scene with dismay. "Lorelai!" she cried. "Where have you been?"
"I, ah, I went home to get the camera," Lorelai said.
"Everything's a mess. Luke finally caught Kirk when he tried to scale the gazebo in the square but with all the commotion and the sirens—"
"I think Taylor called an ambulance," Sookie said. "Last I heard they were giving Kirk oxygen down by the market and they were going to sedate him before they took him home. And now everyone's up and it's crazy."
"Poor Lulu," Lorelai said. "Christ, what a mess."
Sookie looked at her. "Where's the camera?"
"I—I couldn't find it. Lost cause." She sighed and looked around. Deal with this, she thought. She went up and stood on the top stair. "Everyone? Excuse me? Jackson, a little help please?" Jackson put his fingers in his mouth and let out a piercing whistle. Lorelai gave her best crisis-saving-smile. "Everyone, I really am sorry for the disturbance. If you'll all come inside, sit in the dining room, we'll have hot chocolate ready for you in just a few moments," she said.
"And cookies!" Sookie cried. "I've got cookies!"
"Hot chocolate and cookies all around, then," Lorelai said. "We've got books as well, if you'd rather go back to your rooms and have some quiet. Please, come back inside. We have a fabulous morning planned for you tomorrow," she said. As the guests filed past her and into the inn, she mumbled her apologies to each and gave pained smiles to those clucking in sympathy. As Sookie and Jackson passed her, she saw Luke rounding the corner towards the main building. He had his head down and his hands in his pockets.
"Hi," she said, remaining on the stair.
He looked up. "Hey," he said.
"Kirk all settled?"
Luke nodded. "Lulu's with him, at her place. He's under some heavy drugs."
"I hear you caught him on the gazebo. Naked?"
He swallowed thickly. "Let us never speak of it again."
Luke opened his mouth, to say what, he wasn't sure. He stopped short when he saw Lorelai's face wilt, crumple under a sudden flood of silent tears. "Lorelai?"
She stumbled down the stairs towards him, burying her face in his chest, gripping the front of his sweater tightly in her fists. He put his arms around her, cradling her head with one hand. He shushed her gently as she cried in great, shuddering bursts.
"What's this about?" he asked, at length.
She pulled back to look at him, still clutching his sweater. "Something bad happened tonight," she said.
"What, Rory? Is she okay?"
The panic in his face loosened her grip slightly. "Oh, she's—she's not hurt. I can't explain," she said. "If I could tell you—I just, I can't."
She bit her lip, shaking her head. "Not Jess, this time. God, Luke, I'm—I'm sorry. You've been running after naked Kirk and now this—this is a mess, I'm a mess—"
"You're not a mess," he said, raising one hand to her face, lightly brushing his thumb over her cheek. "And no apologizing. I'm here, tell me what you need."
Lorelai leaned against him, settling her hands in the crooks of his elbows. "Can we just hang out here for a while longer?"
"I think we can do that."
"Thank you," she said.
"That's why I'm here."
They stood there in the silence, Luke holding Lorelai, asking no questions. Lorelai shut her eyes and listened to the sounds of his breathing, settling into the hollow of his shoulder. She felt guilty no one could offer the same comfort to Rory.
She heard Jason before she saw him. He called her name as he came up the walk, and Lorelai lifted her head, looking at Luke in horror. "Shit," she murmured. "Holy, holy shit."
"You want me to go get rid of him?" Luke asked.
"You're not going anywhere," she said. "And I'm staying right here."
"Lorelai," Jason said again. "I've been looking everywhere for you."
"What do you want, Jason?"
"There was this whole thing before, you were gone, I couldn't find you, I was worried," he said. He looked at Lorelai, still leaning against Luke. "What's going on?"
"Jason, why are you still here?"
"I wanted to talk to you. I repeat: what's going on?"
"I asked you to leave," Lorelai said. "This has been—a rough night. You're not making it easier. Go home."
Jason shifted on his feet. "Lorelai, I need to talk to you."
"Jason, please, just go." Lorelai could feel Luke tense up, tighten his arms about her.
"What, are you with this guy now? The diner guy?"
It was Lorelai's turn to tighten her grasp, holding firmly to the backs of Luke's arms. His breathing was coming hard now—she imagined she would hear him growl. "Jason, nothing about my life is any of your business anymore. It's done. Go home."
"Answer me this, Lorelai," he said, stepping forward.
Luke pulled back, ready to stand between them, but Lorelai kept her hands firmly where they were. "What, Jason?" she asked, her voice weary.
"Would you have ended it if I hadn't sued your father? What if I took it all back?"
"Oh, Jason," she said, exhaling. "It's over. It's at an end. That's all. You need to go."
"And you're going to be with this guy now?"
"Okay, seriously?" she said. "Go."
Luke cleared his throat. "I will remove you," he said, "if you don't remove yourself."
"You're making a mistake, Lorelai," Jason said. He turned and began to walk away. "You're making a big mistake."
"That's it," Luke said, dropping his arms.
She reached for his hand. "Luke, please stay." He looked at her. "Please?"
Luke brought her to sit on the porch stairs. He put his arm around her and rested his cheek against the bright top of her head. "This is going to sound like a really inappropriate question," he said.
"Are we still on for tomorrow night?"
He felt her stiffen slightly. She looked up at him. "Oh, Luke," she began.
Immediately, he went into defense mode, pulling back his arm, shrugging and shaking his head. "No big deal, I was just, you know—"
"I want to—"
"—checking, just checking—"
"Luke," she said, putting her hand to his face. "Shut up."
She smiled and was silent.
"I'm just enjoying the moment of you shutting up when asked," she said, grinning. She dropped her hands to her lap and stared at her rings a moment. "I would love to go to the movies with you tomorrow, I would. I just don't know if I can."
"Rory," she said. "Can I call you? Tomorrow?"
Luke nodded. "We should go back inside."
Lorelai reached for his hand and pulled his arm about her again. "Just another minute," she said. "I'm too tired for the circus clowns. If they're going to talk, let them talk," she said. "I just wish I knew what would happen next."
"It'll all turn out all right," Luke said.
"I don't know," he said. "I don't know what happened."
Lorelai looked at him, her eyes bright. She tilted her face to his and regarded him a long moment. "Me neither," she said. "Me neither."