Disclaimer: Don't own Gilmore Girls or the quotes.
A/N: To Arianna. She is simply the best.
This was the part where he contemplated his existence and finally reached the enlightened level of thinking the faithful craved. He was supposed to come to terms with the failings of his lifetime – god knows he had enough of them – and the regrets that still ate away at him at an unconscious level. He could feel them specifically now, the tiny teeth in his gut, flanking him on all sides. When they examine me, he thought, they'll see I'm full of holes. They'll wonder – how did I survive this long?
He didn't know.
The epiphany he was supposed to have refused to come. He wasn't surprised. After all, it was hard to concentrate on anything but his hands and the difficult task of trying to hold himself in. He was spilling all over desecrated earth. There was comfort though. This all – all – would be over soon. There was no help on the way, no worried significant other anxiously awaiting his return home. There was only the low noise of his periodic gasps buried beneath the clamor of city life.
Then there was something else.
A woman – no, girl. Someone pretty, or with a pretty voice. Melodic, he thought. Dizzy.
"It was a bust," the girl said. "I need you to pick me up." A pause. "You can't leave early? I'm in the city! I – I'm alone." Another pause for the asshole. "Who else can I call? No, I just – of course I want you to do well, but… I'm scared." Seconds later he heard her swear, and the conversation end.
"I'm going to die out here," she mumbled. "I'm going to get attacked. And I'm going to scream rape and no one's going to come, and –"
"Fire," Jess said from the alley. With great concentration he produced a miniature orange and red image in his head; something he could mentally grasp. But the small bonfire rapidly turned into a conflagration and he had to relinquish his control. "You're supposed to yell fire," he explained, wondering if the flames would consume him.
At his first word, the girl stumbled several steps back. Her hands began to shake and she dropped her cell phone – once, twice.
"No one," Jess called, his voice hoarse.
"You have to be someone," she logically returned, her hand gripping her phone tighter and tighter. She blindly pressed 9.
"I'm nobody." There was a split second of complete blindness, and he choked, remembering fear. Then, just as quickly, he was fine. Even the fire was gone. He said, "'Are you nobody, too?'"
This made the girl pause. He could tell from the silence that followed over on her end; there were no footsteps either way. She was contemplating the fact that he had just recited Emily Dickinson, something he hadn't consciously realized. There were words in his head, too many. They were mostly fragments of things he had read, and things he had never said, and he could not tell what was what. He simply spoke, hoping for an ounce of clarity.
Any second now that epiphany would come.
"Where are you?" She craned her neck as if trying to peer over the darkness. She saw nothing.
"Alley," Jess replied helpfully. "I'm on the ground. I don't think I can walk, so you don't…" he paused, losing the mental thread he had been clinging to. "I can't walk," he repeated.
She pressed 1. Can't walk? she thought. Please.
"Why can't you walk?" she asked to be polite. She took another step back, wondering how fast she could run if the voice jumped out at her. She should just leave now; it was the logical choice. But she had nowhere to go, and maybe she had a death wish. That would show her boyfriend; it'd be all his fault.
She was a bit self-involved, this girl.
"Bleeding," Jess answered neatly. "A lot."
This new bit of information intrigued her, and she decided to step a little closer. This was probably just what he wanted. She was going to get grabbed! What kind of revenge was this if she was going to get hurt?
A car came then, barreling around the corner. This was a side street where no vehicles were allowed through. The road was too narrow, especially with parked cars lining the sidewalk. Nonetheless, the vigilante tore by, and for a moment, everything was lit up. The girl saw the surrounding cars to her left and right, and the mossy color of the two buildings that formed the alleyway, and the head of a dark-haired boy too close to the ground. Most of his body was obscured by trash, but his pallor was clear enough. She thought he was a ghost.
After the world was thrown back into darkness, she entered the alley, pausing before she could be completely swallowed up. Then she decided it was now or never, and ran a few steps in until she was standing in front of the ghost boy.
"Oh god," she whispered when she saw it: her foot in a pool of blood. "Oh god," she said again, tears stinging her eyes as she studied the boy's face, her sight slowly readjusting to the night. She pressed 1 again.
"I'm calling an ambulance," she announced, kneeling down.
She hesitated with her finger hovering over send. "What?"
"This is it."
"What is it? I'm getting you help."
"No," he snapped. "I don't want your help."
"You going to help yourself? This is not the time to be self-reliant. You're bleeding everywhere!"
"I don't … help." Damn it! Too many words that didn't connect, that lost of track of their counterparts. Why hadn't he spoken more when he was alive?
"I don't want help," he managed to say. "I don't want to live through this."
The girl became very, very sick. Jess couldn't tell as she had become perfectly still, but if it had been lighter out and his lucidity hadn't been trickling through his fingers, he would have taken this as a bad sign. He didn't notice the change in her breathing or the slight twitch of despair that made her avert her eyes down to his chest, and then further down to his wound.
"Oh god." She was a broken record. She reached out and touched his hand before quickly recoiling. "You need help." She spoke slowly, drawing each word out. "I know you're in pain, but – "
"But it'll be over soon. You can go."
"Go? You need medical attention. Do you not understand?"
"You need to go," he said, surprisingly clear. "I don't want to see morning. Understand?"
"But," she began but didn't finish. This time she touched his face, grazing his cheek and bottom lip. Her hand was slow and careful, treating him like fractured glass. He crossed his eyes to follow her movements as she traveled over the rough stubble on his chin, but the task was too tiring. Instead he closed his eyes, hoping it would help speed up the process.
"I'm not leaving."
He stared at her, trying to make out her facial features in the three foot span of darkness that separated their faces. Only her outline was clear: the slope of her neck, the curve of her shoulders, and her arms crossed at her chest, hugging herself. Her cell phone was no longer visible.
"If you're worried about guilt, don't be," he said.
"Are you crazy?" And the girl paused, thinking he might be. "I cannot go home, sleep in my bed tonight, knowing that there is a boy hemorrhaging to death in an alley!"
"What if he asked you to go?"
"It doesn't matter."
Jess just wanted some peace. A quiet passing. When he breathed his last, he didn't want some girl hovering over his body, crying because she felt bad. His death was supposed to be quiet and unimportant. He should never have spoken to her. Let her go; let her find her way home.
"You can go and pray for me. That'll make you feel better?"
She was silent for a few seconds, suddenly ashamed to admit this now. "I'm not religious."
"Are you an atheist or just too busy?"
"I don't believe in anything."
"A nihilist?" she asks softly.
"Think Palahniuk," he agreed. "Always liked him."
"Oh." She sounded sad. "I never knew."
A new wave of pain hit him before he could speak again, and he let out a groan. The girl became tense and was back on her knees, peering close at the bloody chaos of his abdomen. She frowned, watching the crimson soak his pants and the surrounding garbage. The blood looked like part of the night, something natural and earthly zigzagging a path toward her. The tops of her shoes were stained.
She thought about running. Speeding out of this alley and finding a taxi even though she didn't have any money. Or she could call her boyfriend over and over until he finally came to pick her up. Then she could crawl into bed in her nice warm home, and turn tonight into a fabricated illusion she read about in a book.
No matter how much you think you love someone, you'll step back when the pool of their blood edges up too close.
The quote sprang into her mind without warning, leaving her imprinted with a searing form of guilt. She was branded by past regrets. She had to stay.
She slipped off her sweater. Jess watched closely: it was white – probably soft and cashmere. She had pale hands that disappeared in its fabric. He was mesmerized.
She applied pressure to the wound and he let out a howl.
"Sorry," she whispered as she used her sweater to mop up the blood that caked his clothes, pressing harder to cover it up. She took his hands and positioned them over his new bandage and made him hold it down as hard as he could. He complied.
"If you don't believe in anything, what happens next?" Her question was made up of one part distraction from the pain, two parts curiosity.
"That's…the… good thing." Stumbling over words again. This time from a light head. "I can't be sent to a place I don't believe in."
"You catch on quick."
She sat back on her heels, feeling a deeper sadness than she knew existed. It resounded within her, sticking to her insides. It prodded her repeatedly as if to say it was here now and never leaving. This was a forever kind of emotion.
"I still wish you'd leave," he tried again.
"Death shouldn't be done alone."
"'From the time when one is sick to death, one is alone, and he dies more alone.'"
"Are you going to tell me about how friends make pretense of following to the grave next?" she snapped. She shoved her hair back behind her ears with an angry jerk. Stray strands remained stuck to her cheek, drowned in her tears. "I'm trying to help you! I'm not leaving, okay? If you're unhappy enough to want to bleed to death in some random alley, then fine! But I'm not going to walk away now just so I can read about your death in the paper over breakfast!"
He sat up straighter, pushing himself away from the brick wall. His voice was harsh and low, snaking its way inside her head. "I won't get a mention. They're going to write me off as a drug addict shot by his dealer." He paused, sucking in a ragged breath. "They'll identify me by my empty wallet and add my name to a list of statistics." He fell back, unable to control his erratic breathing. His heart slammed against his ribcage, trying to escape his blackening body.
She wiped her eyes as a fresh batch fell. Drug addict? God, she hoped not. She had to resist the urge to shove up his sleeves and inspect his skinny arms for track marks. "What happened?"
Under normal circumstances he would have made up some bogus story simply because he was so used to lying, he had forgotten how to tell the truth. He preferred deception anyway. The truth was too personal. Tonight though, he had stopped caring. He would tell this girl all his secrets if she asked. Tomorrow, he wouldn't have to look at himself in the mirror.
"Friend of mine owed some people money. I took the fall for him."
A terrible flash of the earlier scene that had taken place here played out in her head. She saw the boy standing in front of two men – both huge and beefy, clad in leather coats. One had long hair that covered his face; the other had dark eyes and a thick mustache that give him the classic black & white villain look. The barrel of the gun was invisible as they aimed it. As she envisioned the latter pulling the trigger, her stomach betrayed her. A shot of nausea raced up her throat. She swallowed immediately, tasting hot embers.
"Your friend's going to feel horrible."
"He'll get over it," Jess snapped. More guilt. He was tired of making others feel it; experience it himself.
"You don't get it, do you? When someone dies, it affects people."
A lightning quick tremor twisted through him like smoke and steel. Ring one bell for me, he thought. Or ring no bell at all. "I won't affect anyone."
"Your friend? Do you have roommates, co-workers? Your family. God, you think I'm fine with this?"
"I'm just someone you stumbled over," he explained, shifting positions. The girl's sweater was completely soaked by this point. His hand no longer had its original color; it looked as if it had been rubbed raw. "You think you'll be wondering about me a week from now?"
"I will," she promised.
"You won't," he promised right back. "I don't have anyone." A personal truth. On any other day, he would have flinched.
"That's bull. If you didn't have anyone, you wouldn't be here right now." She moved closer to him, trying to make a point. "Your friend? If he didn't mean anything to you…"
"Better me than him."
"How noble of you," she said sardonically.
"Look," he growled, once again pushing himself away from the wall. He seemed to regain any strength he had previously lost as he stared her down, glaring. "You don't know me. You don't know what I've done or how I lived or how much I fucked everything up. So just leave it alone."
"Tell me what you screwed up."
"A last minute confession?" He fell back against the wall. This time, he hit his head. "No, thanks."
"You hurt your family?" she prodded. "Because they always forgive you."
"They're the ones you can always count on."
"No matter what you do, they'll always be there for you." She went to lay a hand over his but he swatted it away.
"Not my family, alright? My parents don't care because they can't, and the one guy who does give a shit, I can't seem to get things right with."
"Hey, calm down." She sounded worried. He was gasping again, holding her sweater tighter against his abdomen. He blinked quickly as his surroundings melted together, turning his vision into a blur of grainy black. Abruptly the pain stopped as if a switch had finally been flipped. He knew what was coming.
"You ever been in love?" he asked.
"I – I don't know."
"You don't know?"
"Maybe," she admitted. "Once."
"I never had a lot of good things. But what I did have, I screwed up."
"Are you punishing yourself for it?" She sounded desperate. Weak.
He was quiet. He didn't know how to have this conversation. He didn't want to. At this point, there was no way it was worth it. That epiphany wasn't coming.
"You don't have to do that. Everyone messes up, Jess."
His name sounded sweet coming from her mouth. Soft and meaningful – like more than he was. It brought a flash of the past, a whirlwind of scenes in his mind held together by one word. Redemption. It flitted through on delicate wings, breezing through the turmoil. If he didn't believe in anything, how could he believe in this?
Without warning, the numbness disappeared, and everything exploded within him. The shards cut into his heart, deflated his lungs, so that they collapsed within his chest. They fell lower into his kidneys, following the trail of tiny holes so they could find their way.
He pushed himself away from the wall for a third and final time. There was no conscious reason as to why he did this or how it would help. He felt all the life leaving him and he had to move.
The girl's eyes widened and she rushed forward, catching him in her arms before he could fall face first into his own blood. She called out his name as she carried him down, helping him rest gently on a dry spot of the pavement. A spasm tore through him and he groaned, closing his eyes.
"Jess," the girl said again. "Look at me. Open your eyes." Her hand was on his cheek, caressing it softly. She felt so awful, so guilt-ridden that no tears came. Nothing was enough.
He finally heard her. His eyes fluttered opened and he looked at her, really looked at her for the first time since she had rushed to save him. He opened his mouth but said nothing.
"Yeah," Rory whispered, seeing the familiarity register on his face. "It's me."
He slipped away again and she let out a startled yell. She touched his face, mouth, chest, and pleaded for him to look at her. Nothing worked. Averting her eyes, she fumbled for her cell phone, kicking herself for not making the call earlier. He hadn't been in his right mind! She should have helped him no matter what he had said!
Seconds later she had an ambulance on the way and she was back to hovering over him. The correct CPR procedure left her mind as did any tips to take care of someone injured. She could only watch the rise and fall of his chest, mentally begging him to wake up.
"It's okay, Jess," she said. "I promise it's all okay."
She had blood on her shoes. It was caked across the tops and heels. There were drops on her dress pants and stains across her palms too. She kept staring at her hands as she wrung them in her lap, waiting in an all white hall. Even the doctors wore white. She thought she stuck out like the guilty party.
An hour passed before someone came out to see her. He introduced himself but didn't shake her hand; she didn't notice.
"I'm so sorry," the doctor began, explaining how they did all they could.
Everybody was sorry, Rory thought. Life was just full of regret.
"He didn't make it."
Rory nodded at the news. She wanted to ask the man if it would have made a difference if she had brought Jess in sooner. Five minutes, ten minutes, a full half hour? She had been chatting with him, asking why he wanted to die while his life had been ebbing away.
"I have to make a call," Rory explained and the doctor nodded, patted her on the shoulder.
"There's a chapel on the next floor," he said softly before going on his way.
"Oh," Rory said to no one.
She found a pay phone. Her hands shook as she put in change a nurse had offered her moments earlier. Halfway through dialing Luke's number, she was sobbing. She dropped the phone; it hit the wall before beginning to swing back and forth like a pendulum. She watched it oscillate, feeling time move around her as she sank to the floor. She vaguely wondered if she should pray, but she had no idea where to direct it. If it would even make a difference. It wouldn't save him.
As the dial tone hung above her, she buried her face in her hands and wished with all her might for redemption.