A/N: Most of this chapter was collaborated on with the amazing Angeleyez (Elise! Me loves you!). For reasons her own she has decided not to continue with it, but gave me the go-ahead to try and write the rest... so... here goes nothing!
A/N #2: This is set two years into the future... and thanks to Lydia for the beta!
Disclaimer: Not mine! Don't sue!
Summary: A loss. Luke and Jess deal
Rating: PG-13 for grow'd up things!
Smoke and Steel
It's been four weeks since he's heard anything from his younger sister, and it's been driving him out of his mind.
Is a phone call every couple of weeks too much to ask? Jess can manage it. If Jess can manage to stay in touch, anyone can.
He's finally gotten so fed up and worry that he makes his way to her apartment, mostly to yell at her for not calling. Really, it's not so hard.
He climbs the rusty staircase of the old Manhattan apartment complex, and his worry gets worse. He's never liked visiting Liz. He always has the over-powering urge to throw her over his shoulder and carry her all the way back to Stars Hollow.
He knocks on her door, the noise sounding oddly hollow in the empty hallway. This time, he thinks, maybe he will just grab her. He is her older brother, and with that status comes certain power. And if he wants to drag her back to Stars Hollow, then god-damn it, he will! She can pout and whine and fight him all she wants. It's time she got her life back on track.
When no one answers, he knocks again. Louder. Faster. Checking his watch, he wonders if maybe she's at work. If she's even been going to work these days.
Out of his back pocket, he pulls out the spare key to the apartment. The one that used to belong to TJ. He unlocks the door and slips inside, and calls out her name.
The stench is overwhelming; so sick and stale that he almost loses his breakfast.
The apartment is a mess; so much worse than he's ever seen it. Clothing, old food, dirty dishes and empty beer bottles are strewn about.
"Liz?" he repeats, more quietly this time. He walks around the small living room, and slowly wanders into the kitchen.
His attention skips over the overflowing sink, bursting with used glasses and empty beer cans. He never notices the open boxes of cereal lying turned over on the counters, or the ants that are feasting on the unexpected treasure. Even the flipped over kitchen chair stays just out of his field of vision, as his gaze lands on the middle of the kitchen floor where his only sister lies.
Liz, he tries to say one more time, but the word never makes it out of his throat.
He climbs a different set of stairs in a different apartment building in the same city the next day.
God, he hates this city.
The apartment building is a tad nicer; the stairwell not so rusty. He reaches his destination and takes a deep breath. What to say? What to do? What to say?
This time he really just doesn't know.
He's given this kid every lecture in the book, but he's never been the bearer of bad news before.
Jess has always found out about bad news on his own.
He knocks, hoping for a fleeting moment that Jess will not be home. This can all be delayed - pushed off to some distant day. A day far into the future. Any day that is not this one.
Inside, there are footsteps, heavy and irritated. Jess looks through the peephole, very much surprised to see his uncle standing on his door step. He flings the door open, but immediately bites back his sarcastic remark when he sees the expression on his face.
Something cold and unnerving twists within him, and he pauses, waiting for Luke to speak.
"Can I come in?"
At first, the question does not register. Then, Jess gives him a curt nod and takes a step back, allowing his uncle room to enter.
Luke surveys the small apartment. It looks the same as the day he'd helped Jess move in; cluttered and messy, with books and videos lying about, but by no means disgusting. The trash obviously makes its way to the trash.
Jess watches him. He wants to cut to the chase, but he feels awkward. He's not used to guests. Most of the people who visit come by so frequently, that they help themselves to whatever they like. "Do you want anything...? Or..."
Luke shakes his head and looks the younger man over. "How are you?"
"Fine," Jess replies slowly. He crosses his arms. Now it's time to cut to the chase. "What are you doing here?"
On his way over here, Luke had tried to formulate the right words. He knew what he had to say, the bare facts that he had to tell him. But he could not get the order right. In his head, it all seemed wrong. Nothing fit together. Liz. Too much. Liz. Gone. Sorry. Right, he is supposed to say he's sorry.
"Jess, when was the last time you talked to your mom?" The question comes out all wrong. He cannot ask about Liz now. This is not how he's supposed to lead up to it!
"Like, a month ago, I think. Maybe a little longer. She was crying about that asshole on the phone... why?"
And it just... comes out. Like vomit. "Because she's dead."
Jess blinks and stares blankly.
"She uh..." Why is this so hard? "She had too much to drink... and... I found her..."
Jess expression stays the same.
Still, Jess says nothing.
"I have to go to work," he says, fighting to keep his voice even.
Luke watches him with both horror and wonder. "What?"
"I gotta go to work," Jess says again.
"Jess, did you hear..."
"I'm gonna be late. I'll see you later."
"Jess," he tries one last time.
Jess walks to the door and opens it, a stubborn move to show Luke out. Unable to think of what to say, he follows his nephew, pausing at his side. "You need to call me," he orders before disappearing into the hall.
Jess slams the door, and unconsciously leans against it as his head begins to swim. It feels lighter, almost as if he is floating. The color begins to drain from the room until the point where he sees everything in grayscales. He pushes himself away from the door, and heads for the bedroom. Halfway there, his vision turns completely black. And he panics.
When his sight returns, he is kneeling over the toilet bowl, emptying his stomach. He chokes on the acid taste.
He finishes up, and calls in sick to work. He then spends an hour in the shower. He gets out, gets dressed, and proceeds to sit in his tiny kitchenette and stare at the phone.
He doesn't know what to think. His whole body feels numb. He thinks he should be more upset by this, and finds himself feeling extremely guilty about his detachment. Then again, Luke didn't seem too blubbery, either...
But Danes men have never been known for showing their emotions.
He picks up the receiver and then puts it back down three times before giving up, shoving some clothes into his old duffle bag, and grabbing his keys.
A day later and there is no word from New York. No phone call, no abrupt visit and words of "I'm staying here." Nothing.
Luke runs the diner as usual, earning him piteous stares. Everyone knows, of course. Of course! He lives in Stars Hollow, for god's sake.
He fills a few cups of coffee and feels a rush of frozen wind as more customers pile in from outside. It's been snowing since his return from the city.
"How did he take it?"
Luke takes a deep breath and looks his girlfriend in the eyes. "He didn't."
Lorelai Gilmores blinks, a little confused. "What?"
"I told him, and he told me he had to go to work," Luke explains, filling her mug with coffee.
She takes a hurried sip, swallows, and still looks confused. "That's it?"
Luke nods numbly. "That's it."
Lorelai shakes her head and takes another sip from her mug. "That kid needs help."
"Says the woman who drinks around eight cups of coffee every day."
The two look over to the door, and lo and behold, Jess stands, one hand shoved into the pocket of his jeans, and the other gripping his old duffle bag. Snowflakes melt into his hair, and his brown eyes give them a blank stare.
"Hi," Luke says bluntly.
Jess nods. "I'm staying here."
Luke nods back. "Okay."
"I'm gonna go put my stuff upstairs," Jess says.
"Okay," Luke repeats.
"I'll come down to help out in a minute," Jess goes on.
"Okay," Luke says once more.
Lorelai watches as Jess makes a hasty exit up the stairs to the apartment. "Are you okay?" she asks Luke worriedly.
He nods and keeps his eyes on the door to the stairway. "Yeah."
She takes his hand and squeezes it gently.