Summary: If she could set their relationship to time, it would be a waltz. It makes sense, like that, two steps forward and a side-step. (1/1).
Disclaimer: All characters are the property of Amy Sherman-Palladino, et al. No money, no profit, no lawsuit.
AN: Written for the L/L ficathon, for Anna S., who requested angst, mutual physical attraction, Luke's hands, and Jess.
They waltzed on their first date (him: first official date, her: classic non-date-date. We made it official later.) But official or not, she remembers the dance, and his smile, and her laugh, and his hand resting lightly on the small of her back.
One, two, up, one, two, up, one, two, up.
If she could set their relationship to time, it would be a waltz. It makes sense, like that, two steps forward and a side-step.
She smiled, and flirted, and admitted the dance had been her favorite part. Some part of her was just wrapped up in The Moment, some part wanted to step in closer and lean her head on his shoulder.
Things were simple, then.
She sidestepped him after their first kiss. That was simple – there was Rory, which in those days screamed at her in capital letters, RORY, and there was the Dragonfly, and her parents, and somewhere way down the line, off in the distance, was her love life. The one thing she'd never been able to get quite right, and how could she expect to get that down, when everything she'd always been good at had fallen so spectacularly apart?
She lifted her hand to her lips once, to remember what it felt like when it had been him.
He tried to say it once, early on, before the world toppled and everything was broken. They were sitting together on her couch, arms and legs and blankets and pillows intertwined, nodding off through the last third of the movie. She let her head rock back on his shoulder, and he caught the scent of her hair.
She wound her fingers between his and studied his hands, tracing them lightly with her thumb. Kissed his fingertips, one by one, and he reached up to stroke her hair.
He wanted to tell her then, what he'd been thinking. That he didn't know how you got from friendship to this, but he was glad they had, that he couldn't think of anything better than sitting quietly on her couch, watching the evening slip away.
That he could see himself doing just this, sometime a long time from now, with her hand still wound around his and his fingers still in her hair.
He wanted to tell her he was bad with words, worse even than with gifts, but good with her. The truth was, he'd never been better.
I love you, he thought, and wondered how to say it, whether his lips would form the words.
He fell silent a bit too long, because she tensed, twisted her body around to face him, and her fingers slipped from his.
She smiled and laughed and made jokes, kissed him, and what choice did he have?
(It was a distraction, a diversionary tactic – he would realize this later.)
He wondered, later, when he'd seen it the first time: the way she laughed when she was nervous, the way her skin looked, too tight and thin, as if she was holding something inside.
She'd been the one to break the ice, after that night at the Dragonfly.
Weeks, long weeks of confusion where everything was awkward and everything was wrong, and then one morning she walked in to order coffee and Luke wasn't there.
Lane said he'd just gone upstairs for a minute, and Lorelai didn't stop to consider: she walked up the stairs and into his apartment.
He hit his head on the safe-edge when she walked in; he turned around so quickly.
Haven't you ever knocked? he said, and the frustration in his voice was too great, too much.
She reached over and knocked on the doorframe. Luke didn't seem amused.
Lane will get you coffee, he said.
That's not what I came for.
He stood perfectly still as she crossed the room, perfectly still as she reached out and took his hands.
You never did explain, she said, leaning closer.
When Kirk ran down the stairs, you said you would explain later. You never did.
So you came up here to talk about Kirk?
No, she said, and she smiled. I didn't come up here to talk.
She was holding his hands, she remembers now: tracing his fingers with hers, feeling every countour, every crease. It would become something of a habit, later, or a quirk – something she did while they were together, something that was theirs. And later, after it all fell apart, something to remember: in the worst moments, she could close her eyes and remember the feel of his hands, the shape, this one small part of him she'd memorized, a tangible memory to carry away.
Then, it was not memory: she drew herself to him, and he let her come: waited for the right moment, standing still. Waited until she was ready. She drew his hands back, placed them on her sides, on her hips. Let him pull her in again, the way he had that night, felt the warmth of his hands and the press of his lips.
She wondered, then, what she'd been waiting for.
Jess was back again, and that was as good a reason as any for a fight. Not that she needed a reason, really, but she needed something to justify the throbbing in her heart, off-kilter beats that came in threes, the fear strangling up inside her.
He was too close and too much and all too soon. She needed to be her; she needed to be free; she needed to run.
She needed a reason. And Jess' standard growl and bad manners and general annoyance factor were enough to get her going, enough to start the fire.
I don't see why you put up with him, she said.
He's family and I'm going to be there for him, he said, incredulous.
He needs to fall on his face for once and find out what life's like when you're not around to catch him, she retaliated.
And you'd do that with Rory? He asked.
And on it went.
She slept alone that night, arms pulled tight around her chest.
Score one for Lorelai.
He looked up and saw Jess sitting in his hallway, and wanted to embrace him and wanted to curse.
It's about time you got off your ass, Jess said. Luke didn't ask about what: he'd seen Lorelai.
You ought to get off yours, Luke answered. You're in my hall.
Caught that, Jess said, and smirked. Always with a smirk.
Are you gonna talk to her? Luke asked later, and Jess stared at the table. He never did answer.
He's gone again, later, leaves town and Rory with the barest of goodbyes, a sideways acknowledgement to Luke, to all he's done.
He wonders, sometimes, whether they're so different. Whether he'll ever be able to get it right.
He knows this: things are unsettled, upset, strange. He feels them shuddering and feels them spinning and doesn't quite know how to stop them, how they got out of hand.
Lorelai smiles at him that night, kisses him half on the lips when she sees him, doesn't say goodnight when she leaves.
He leans against a window, wonders whether she'll come back at all.
Wonders about people and relationships that can't be fixed, how they walk around the world half-broken.
She came to see him on a Friday, and if he'd looked closely he would have already seen that she was breaking.
He should have seen it before, really, cracks around the edges, spider-webbed and thin like veins. He should have seen, and that let her blame him, let her say he was the reason it all went wrong, that it was all sure to slip away.
She told him this at the diner, sitting on Friday night over coffee and pie, side-by-side at one of the tables, because this was the way they ate now, one of the long list of things that had become unsettled now that they were together.
It couldn't work, she explained, and it was stupid even to try. Stupid to dream. Stupid to take a chance on someone who had always been a constant, a blur, a part of the background, anyway.
(Stupid to take a chance on herself, that she could learn how forever worked.)
He sat and listened with his hands clenching in his lap; clenching into fists, and his jaw was tight.
He was angry, like she'd predicted, and argued, like she predicted, and accused her of being afraid, which she didn't have much of an answer for. She said she needed to do this, to get away, to stop pushing and pulling and working on something that was never meant to be.
He sat seething at the table, shoulders hunched, and let her leave.
One, two, up, one, two, up, one, two, up.
She drove on their first (second) date, and he fiddled with the automatic windows. She could tell he was nervous, as nervous as she was, and she made bad jokes and he pretended to laugh, and it was all too nerve-wracking and all too serious and all too much, and when she tumbled over a parking barrier and landed on her knees, he lifted her up and half-supported her while they laughed and laughed. Her knees were still too sore to walk, and bloody from the fall, and he ran across the highway and jumped a concrete barrier to make it to the pharmacy.
He came back with a box of band-aids and a bottle of rubbing alcohol; she sat on the parking barrier and he knelt beside her, hands resting just above her knee, and she shivered at the touch. He dabbed her knees with alcohol and she pretended to cry over the sting; he promised her a lollipop if she was good.
He didn't even get a 'dirty' out of that one, because she fell silent when he leaned in close and blew on her skin until the stinging stopped, still silent while he smoothed a plain beige bandage over each cut. No Hello Kitty, she said accusingly, and he said it was plain or Scooby Doo. Always plain since the movie version, she told him, and he smiled and rested his hand again just above her knee.
She suggested they name the parking barrier, since it was clearly a magical jumping parking barrier to be responsible for her fall, and he smiled again and told her to stop talking, and there was no sting in his voice. He leaned forward and kissed her, balancing against the parking barrier, hand still resting above her knee.
She held his face close to hers, pulled him back in when he tried to pull away. Then she kissed him a third time, and he kissed her a fourth, and when she finally drew back he stumbled off-balance over the parking barrier and fell back into the car behind him, setting off the alarm. Lorelai threw back her head and laughed; he said he had a few names for the parking barrier, too.
It seemed so simple, then.
He left her standing in the snow. She'd never been crushed in the snow before, but she felt it this time, cold that flaked around her shoulders and stuck in her boots, that melted and seeped into her clothes until she thought she would never be warm again.
The town was dark, and the snow was white, and she walked across the square in her slippers and into the diner, where he stood holding a dishrag.
His whole body tensed when he saw her, like he was preparing for a blow.
I made a mistake, she said, before he could say anything else. He stopped wiping the counter, stopped moving altogether.
So she plunged ahead:
I thought I could just walk away from you and make everything stop before it got too serious and too hard, and I couldn't. I don't want to.
He was frozen, still.
And I don't know how we put everything back and how I undo everything I was stupid enough to say, but it can't be harder than the way things are now.
He swallowed and lifted his eyes from the counter. They were dark, shadowed, flat.
She heard the words even before he said them:
He didn't say another word, and, for once, she didn't argue. She'd seen him angry, seen him happy, seen him sad, but she'd never once seen him empty. His eyes were dark, and empty, and void.
She swallowed over the lump in her throat, blinked over the tears in her eyes. And she backed out of the diner, and into the snow, where it caked in her slippers and seeped in her clothes and froze her feet, until she thought she would never be warm again.
He didn't know what to say when Rory walked into the diner. She seemed tense and tight and older, somehow.
She still loves you.
She said it as he poured her coffee, after she ordered pie.
He froze, still half-bent over the table, not certain he'd heard what she just said.
I don't know what happened and I know it's none of my business, but she loves you and if you went over there, I know she would say yes. I know she would.
He wanted to say many things, to tell her she didn't know and it wasn't her business and how the hell could she still love him when she never had in the first place?
But this was Rory, and he couldn't find a way to yell at her. So he said, Oh, and stood half-bent over the table while she slid a ten beneath the cup and buttoned her coat and walked back out the door.
It snowed in April, when the trees were supposed to bloom. Everyone commented on New England weather and gray skies and what a pain it all was, and Lorelai scowled through the gray windowpanes and claimed she'd always hated snow.
She curled up in the dark house when she finally made it home, holding a cup of homemade sludge (substandard coffee mixed with three packets of hot chocolate) and the remote for the VCR. She cursed at the gray sky and the HBO schedule and the doorbell when it rang. She thought up a long list of names for Kirk and while she walked to the door, took a deep breath and opened her mouth to say every one of them.
Then she opened the door and saw who was on the other side, and all the words went flying out of her head.
I'm an idiot, he said.
We agree, she said, and her voice was low and bitter.
I don't know if you still want to hear this or if I even deserve it, but I screwed everything up.
She didn't speak, didn't move, didn't respond at all, and so he went on:
I love you.
He stopped, and she stared, so he drew in a shaky breath and finished:
And if this can work, I want it to. And if you can forgive me – his voice wavered – I want you to.
And she blinked and all the tears came at once and he just stood there, three feet from her, hands jammed in his pockets, watching her tears fall.
Well, she said, when she found her voice. Are you just going to stand there?
And it dawned on his face, slowly, like awe. He crossed the distance between them with one step and then she was in his arms, again, and his hands were in her hair.
She buried her face against his neck and wrapped her arms around him so tightly she wondered if she would leave finger-marks on his back. And he stood without moving and cradled her head in one hand and rubbed her back with the other, and her tears fell against his neck.
She whispered something then, so muffled the words came out thick, but he must have understood, because something like a shudder ran through him and he held her more tightly, until she thought he might leave finger-marks on her back, too. She didn't think she'd mind.
We can't do this again, she said later, when she was able to speak. It's too hard.
He simply nodded, rubbed one hand across her shoulders.
She fell asleep on his chest that night, wrapped around each other on the couch, just talking, whispering, trying to erase the last four months and somehow make everything right. She rested her head over his heart and heard it beat, and thought the rhythm was all wrong: it should come in threes.
One, two, up, one, two, up, one, two, up, one, two.
And she wondered where they were, then, at one or two, not at the sidestep any more. She closed her eyes, just for a moment, and drifted off with the rhythm running through her head.
She insisted he dance at Emily's Christmas party, and he refused, and claimed he couldn't remember how. She plied and bargained and pleaded, and in the end he waltzed her around the living room, and she taught him a box step. They stumbled over the rug edge and she laughed and asked if he remembered her bruised knees and their first date.
Second date, he said, and she laughed again.
He took another look at her skinned knee, and sighed, and went for band-aids. She leaned against him while he smoothed on one of her favorite Hello Kitty bandages, and with her head against his shoulder, he stammered and stuttered and told her what he was thinking: that he'd like to sit beside her and bandage her knees when she was too old to waltz around the living room.
Can I foxtrot? she asked, and he laughed nervously.
Okay, she said, and put her arms around him and pressed her face against his neck. He held her, as tightly as he could, and wondered whether his lungs would ever fill again.
She said: this means you'll have to do it right with the flowers and the ring and the dancing midgets, and he said he'd do it all except for the dancing midgets. Any maybe the flowers.
She squeezed him more tightly and then pulled back. She jumped up again, offering him her hands.
This means you have to learn to foxtrot, she said.
He smiled at that, and let her teach him.
He asked her again on Christmas morning, which was a only little bit romantic and not at all surprising. He put the ring inside its box inside another, just so she wouldn't guess, and she opened it in her Johnny Bravo pajamas with Rory looking over her shoulder, eyes blue and round and wide.
Her hands slipped when she reached for the bow, and he thought she might have guessed, but he sat frozen and still and found he couldn't breathe. And she saw the ring and asked, where are the dancing midgets? And she told him there weren't flowers, and he pointed to the poinsettias, and then she wrapped her arms so tightly around him that all the air rushed out of his lungs. And she cried and Rory cried and he shut his eyes, and thought he might never breathe again, and knew he wouldn't care.
And so he held her hand when they walked to her parents' that evening, her right hand, because she kept lifting the left one up every few minutes and pretending it was a mirror, or signal, or turn light, in that order. And she made him dance around the ballroom, in the Christmas party that was held on Christmas for once. She twisted her fingers between his as they danced, tracing their edges, the way she always did. He rested his head against hers and caught the scent of her hair, and he thought about perfect moments, how few life has, and closed his eyes so he could memorize this one.
She said they should get married in the snow, and he thought that was silly. Her: it's romantic. Him: it's cold and the guests' feet will freeze.
You're no fun at all, she says, and he tells her she loves him because he's practical.
She says it's more of an in-spite-of-thing, but she'll marry him anyway.
She tells him they have to dance at the reception, picks out the song. She takes his hand and makes him practice:
One, two, up, one, two, up, one, two, up.
And the rhythm makes her think of them again. Things aren't so simple, now. Now that she knows where the pain is, how hard things sometimes are between them.
But the decision has been made, and she wouldn't trade this moment for anything she has, or even anything she's imagined.
Her head rests on his shoulder and his hand rests on the small of her back, and she thinks it just might be perfect.
This is a sad song, he says, when he listens to the lyrics.
But you're dancing with me, she whispers, as if that's all that matters.
And he feels her breath against his neck and her hand resting on his shoulder, and the even rhythm of their steps: one, two, up, one, two, up, one, two.
He realizes, then, that it does matter. That she is here and she's with him, because it's the choice they both made.
It does matter. Maybe it's the only thing that ever has.