Title: In the Twilight
Summary: Future. Rory & Jess. "Lately, she's been terrified of disappearing." But when she's with him, she's solid. Real.
Disclaimer: I don't own Gilmore Girls. I also don't own the Ezra Pound poem that shows up throughout this fic. Even the title is taken from the poem.
A/N: Thanks to Lizz for the fabulous beta! I really appreciate it. And thanks to Lydia for reading it too because I'm completely insane. By the way, this is a one shot.
…fell from heaven'… Are you listening?" she asks.
He isn't. She can tell from the position of his shoulders, the way they sag beneath the weight of the world as he flips through legal documents. Situated in his arm chair behind the mammoth oak desk, he is omnipotent and too far away to reach.
"I'm dying," she announces as she turns over onto her back. The leather of the couch squeaks beneath her, and she is convinced that it is only this that catches his attention.
"I don't know. When you have no life, it's very hard to have a cause."
"This sounds serious," he says with a grim edge even though he has barely absorbed what she has said. In his appointment book, he makes an important note: Wife dying, tell Craig to buy flowers.
She stares up at the ceiling without bothering to give a reply. The lights are too bright in here, but she lets the glare burn into her irises. She does not mind temporary blindness; it gives her an added excuse to close her eyes. In this room, it is especially useful. This is her least favorite in the house even though this is where her legacy lies. There are shelves and shelves of books across three of the walls, with the remaining one as his side. It is where his desk is positioned alongside his filing cabinets, where his important chair and vital documents live; the place where she catches sparse glimpses of his life.
She would have preferred a separate room for each of them. Together, she thinks the décor clashes and the two of them are stuck with a chaotic silence. He works well in the quiet. To her, the lack of sound is too noisy for her ears; the stillness weighs on her. Tonight, her head is too heavy for her to pick up a book. Instead, she recites from memory.
"Did you hear me before?" she asks. "I was trying to tell you about a poem."
"Not another poem, Rory. I'm trying to get all of this done. Why can't you read to yourself?"
"I wanted to share it with you."
"You know I don't like poetry. They're just words… word after word that mean nothing."
Each syllable, a delicate stab to her psyche. She wonders, do you always hurt the one you love?
"I use words all the time. I make speeches longer than some of those anthologies right off the top of my head! Where's my Pulitzer Prize?"
"They have meaning," she says softly. "They're pieces of people. Of the author's minds and ideas and lives. I have books full of real people, even though they're gone."
"They're made-up, Rory. It's just pretend."
She curls over onto her side, burying her face in the unforgiving leather. A broken bundle of mirrors, she mentally finishes.
Lately, she's been terrified of disappearing.
When she has spare time, she scribbles fragments of lines on any scrap of paper she can get a hold of. She leaves the filled-out pieces everywhere she can, slipping them into crevices near the counter, or in the napkin holder across the informal kitchen table. Later, she finds them again and the words make her frown, make her convinced that there is nothing of value living inside her head.
Still, she writes. They are snippets of undeveloped ideas she can never properly flesh out. But she tries, toying with the distant thought that she can write poem after poem; publish a book. Maybe even a whole anthology if she can only get enough down! It frustrates her, this inability to think of the right words; the ones with meaning.
Sometimes she watches her husband at his desk, going over his current case's material. She watches his lips mumble silent words, the ones that will make the jury ooh and ahh, the judge's eyes widen as if he cannot even fathom why there's a case because the material is so obvious. Her husband does so well with this, putting on his razzle dazzle show. He does not have to strain to come up with the right things to say.
She writes as much as she can. She talks less.
He sits at the table earlier than usual, his breakfast already growing cold. She studies him from the frame of the hallway entrance, hating him the way only a wife can. She is envious of his early mornings and late nights; he has a job to go to. During the day, she is stuck in the house, acting out her role as the housewife. She grows tired of the steady surroundings of their sprawling home. She misses work fiercely, imagining her business suit and briefcase and purpose. Now, she's only breathing in wasted air.
She creeps up behind him with a sense of renewed morning hope, and slips her arms around his shoulders. She nuzzles his neck, kissing him there. He tastes like fine wine.
"Morning," she mumbles, lips tenderly brushing against the lobe of his ear.
There are notes in his lap, she finally notices; it's a court day.
"I'm trying to read, Rory. Go grab some breakfast, okay?"
She steps back, the tears already forming. It's just this one time, added to thousands of others. Looking down at her hands, she can almost see through them.
She heads back up to bed, deciding she is not hungry.
One Friday, she decides to do the shopping. She is restless inside their static home, and heads to the nearby grocery store that she hasn't visited in years.
This is where it happens.
They meet again in Aisle 12, when she reaches for a can of tomato soup, and he nearly hits an elderly gentleman with his cart after staring at her instead of watching his path. The man swears at him and threatens, causing a ruckus that attracts only Rory's attention. Jess, unfazed by the loon he nearly ran down, sidesteps him, and travels the few feet to where Rory stands, clutching the soup.
"Hi," she says once he stops.
"You nearly killed that old man."
"He nearly killed me," he amends. "Did you see the way he shook his cane? There was malicious intent there."
"He could come back."
"You're right, he definitely presents a source of imminent danger."
"Did you finish your shopping?"
"No, did you?" he asks.
"No," she shakes her head. "But I'm not sure I even wanted to come in the first place."
He pauses, eyeing her nearly empty cart. His looks similar. A familiar smirk appears on his face, and the rush of the past makes her shoulder blades tingle.
He taps the soup she still holds tightly. "Do you want to go somewhere?"
She orders a cheeseburger with every possible accessory on it. She asks for crispy cheese fries, and two coffees, and an entire cherry pie for later. Jess watches her in amazement, and she blushes.
"I haven't had a cheeseburger in forever," she explains.
"You crawl into a hole somewhere?"
"Lost at sea," she says. "I got married."
"What's his name?"
"That's not funny."
"Taylor?" she tries.
"You'd immediately eliminate anyone with that name."
"Incest by the book. Why the guessing game?"
She shrugs. "I'm in a playful mood."
"Yeah," she responds, not telling him that even though she's only been married for two years, it feels like so much longer. That it's like a lifetime has passed, bringing with it the usual marital downfalls. He works too much, she doesn't say. Sometimes, I can't speak at all.
"What about you?" She changes the subject swiftly.
He raises an eyebrow. "Can you imagine me married?"
"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
"You asked! I was honest."
"Girlfriend," he admits. "Ten months."
"Is that like your longest relationship?"
"Are you unusually cruel all the time or just for me?"
"Just for you."
"It is," he finally says. "We're living together."
"I suppose if I asked for a name, you wouldn't be kind and just tell me?"
"I can be unusually cruel too."
"I know," she replies. "You always were."
Their food arrives, and between bites, they fill in the gaps of their years apart. It's surprising how simple this is when she thinks about their turbulent past. Maybe enough time has gone by, and that's that. Besides, she owes him an apology just as much as he owes her one. It is better to let the past lay quiet, buried under shy smiles and happy conversation. She finds that with him, the words come easily.
"Turn here," she points to a side road. "This is my street."
"Shit, Rory, these are all mansions."
"He's a lawyer."
As Jess drives further on, she eyes her neighbors' houses. In the front of each home is a manicured lawn with expertly trimmed bushes to line the edges. Smooth stone paths connect the driveway and the porch, so no one ever has to step on the manufactured perfection of the grass. Children don't even get to play in their front yards, but they're all too busy at boarding school to complain about the injustice.
In the distance, she sees her house fast approaching. Suddenly, she doesn't want to go home. For what? Dinner by herself and a late night stretched out across the couch in his study while he reminds her to be quiet? Getting pitiful looks from the maid with the rosy cheeks and the brand new engagement ring on her finger?
They pass her home, and she says nothing. Jess is clearly growing uneasy; his knuckles are white against the steering wheel.
Before they can reach the end, which curves into the main road that leads into the city, she tells him to take a right, onto another side street.
"I thought you said…"
"Just keep going," she tells him.
After another few feet, she asks him to stop. He pulls over.
"I can walk from here." Maybe she won't go home. She can take a stroll through the neighborhood, sightsee. Had she ever even been down this road?
"I can drop you off if you tellme where you live."
"It's fine. Thanks for today, Jess."
She makes no move to get out, but instead continues to wring her hands in her lap. Her palms sweat, and she feels close to tears.
"Rory?" He isn't blind.
She looks over at him, her expression young and frightful. He doesn't understand. "We should have lunch again," she suggests. "Can we?"
She nods. "Okay. I'll look you up."
"I'm not in the book. I'll just…" He trails off as he reaches over her legs to the glove department. He pulls out a pen and an old receipt from Borders, and flattens it on his pant leg. She inches across the front seat until they are side by side, touching. She watches his hand as he writes the number, even giving her an address beneath it.
"Thanks," she says quietly, taking it. "I'll call."
She doesn't move away. He keeps their eyes level, trying to predict her mood. Right now, she looks sad, but he has no idea what to expect.
There are no hands or words as she leans forward, planting a feather light kiss on his lips. He shivers inwardly as he watches her eyelids flutter closed and then open again, waiting for his reaction. She leans again, and this time, he returns the kiss, draping a hand over her cheek, his fingers curving around the back of her head. Seconds later, he feels the change in her as she becomes more wild, pressing her entire body into his. He hears the receipt crumple in her hand, as she grabs for his back, clinging to his shirt.
He moves his hands all over her, remembering things, inconsequential things about her. Favorite books, the way she takes her coffee, how she smiles with the left side of her mouth. He's taken back to years ago with a simple flick of her tongue against his.
He finds that the past tastes like dated cherries, sweet to the point of spoil inside his mouth.
Her delicate steps are swallowed up by the large hall. As she passes the living room, she peeks in, only to find the lights off. Looking toward the stairs, she wonders if maybe he is in bed – having a nap? Often, court tires him out, and he claims he needs to recharge, laughing about how he may be a robot. Sometimes, he makes her laugh too.
For a moment, she stands completely still and listens. The house is too big for her to capture all the sound, but she tries, straining her ears. She detects no heavy movement from the downstairs; no clinking of silverware as he takes a late dinner, or the padding of a keyboard as he types up his reports. There is silence.
Quiet and small at the bottom of the stairs, the guilt finally begins to seep in. She reaches for the banister, startled by the thick wave of black that outlines her limbs. The hallucinatory trick makes her shudder.
She will apologize, she decides. She will ask if they can eat dessert together, two bowls of mint chocolate chip with shots and whip cream. Whatever ingredients they don't have will be bought by a maid, and then they'll sit in front of the fireplace, where he can tell her about his day. After, they'll make love.
She feels better as she climbs the stairs; lighter. Her muscles relax as an easy smile takes form. She reaches their bedroom, and hops inside, wanting to startle him. The maid, returning clothes to the closet, jumps at the noise.
"I'm sorry," Rory stumbles. "I thought you were…" She stops. "Is he not home?"
"No ma'am, he hasn't come home yet."
"Did he call?"
"There haven't been any calls."
"It's late," Rory says absently. "It's dark."
"Would you like some dinner?"
Rory steps toward the bed, sitting down. The disappointment rocks her hard; her hands shake.
"No," she mumbles. "I'd just like to be alone."
"Jesus, Rory, if you want some of my soup, just ask. Stop eyeing it like a starved animal."
"You think so highly of yourself," she tells him. "I do not want your stupid soup."
"Oh, it's stupid now? How articulate," Jess counters. "I had no idea we were measuring the intellectual level of my appetizer."
"Go to hell."
He mimics her look of irritation, only causing her to scowl further. For a quick means of redemption, he reaches over and steals her spoon, dipping it into his bowl. Then, he offers it to her.
"I still don't want your healthy, inedible soup."
"You're regretting your choice not to order the mozzarella sticks. You're starving. Just try the damn thing."
She rolls her eyes and leans forward, whisking her hair back behind her neck with her right hand. He watches in amazement as she lets him spoon feed her the first sip. She smiles in appreciation, and grabs the silverware away from him, helping herself to more of his meal.
"Good?" he asks.
"Of course. I forgot I had awful taste."
"But I was moments away from collapsing from lack of nourishment. Otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered."
He nods in agreement, letting her win.
An hour later, night has finally begun to break through the afternoon light, and he has her pressed up against his car. She fits tightly against him, a barrier between the icy metal of his Chevrolet and his leather jacket. She keeps him warm.
In an isolated area of the parking lot, their show goes on without an audience. She is practically whimpering against his throat as his tongue traces her own. Key facts of time or place become insignificant, removed details, stored away safely with her wedding band and the hickey on his shoulder from his long-term girlfriend.
His hands find their way underneath her coat. She purrs in his ear.
She saunters down the hall in a pink negligee, the material so thin it feels like dust. It is almost as if she wears nothing at all, and the sensation makes her self-conscious, vulnerable to the empty rooms she walks through. Paintings line the walls she passes, and the eyes follow her, accusing. She tries to make herself small, imagining her diminishing size and transparent skin. Blinking quickly, she tries to fade.
Once she reaches his study, she gets onto her knees outside the closed door. In her right hand, she holds a scrap of paper filled with her neat cursive handwriting:
"Love, and I love and love you,
And hate your mind, not you, your soul, your hands."
She slips it beneath the door for her husband to find before heading back to the dark safety of her bed.
He doesn't notice.
One Wednesday, her lunch with Jess passes unusually quickly, and they find it too cold to linger outside. She sits with him in his car, watching the frost on the windshield thaw as he cranks the heat up. She removes her coat, relaxing into the warming interior, and watches him fiddle with the radio as he looks for an appropriate station. She decides she likes his mouth the best, with his eyes in a close race behind. She likes his skin too, its olive appearance, and his almost delicate frame in comparison to other men she has met. She likes that with him, she never feels completely overwhelmed.
"I want to get a room," she says.
Off the radio goes as he turns to her, unsure if he has heard her correctly. "A room?"
"I want to go to a motel," she clarifies. "With you."
She looks at him in earnest, desperately wondering what is going through his mind. She has no idea how he feels toward what has been happening between them. They never discuss their significant others, never complain about them, or mention what this sneaking around is doing to them. Is he just playing? she wonders. Is this too far for him?
And the great wheels in heaven bore us together, she thinks to herself, surging and apart… "'Believing we should meet with lips and hands.'"
She doesn't even realize she has said the last part out loud until he reaches for her, pulling her into a kiss. The spark that runs through her is so intense, she has to hold back delighted tears.
Her husband is practically sleeping at the office with his hours lately, so finally she decides that he will not miss her for one Thursday night. She packs a light bag, and drives to a motel located on the outskirts of the city.
Jess already has a room, and is waiting for her. He's made himself at home within its walls, opening a drink from the mini-bar, flipping through the channels of the television despite the awful reception. His nonchalance terrifies her; she can feel her entire body shaking underneath her coat.
"Hi," she says, her voice pathetically childish in the barren motel room.
"C'mere," he responds.
She steps in front of him where he sits on the edge of the bed. Without a word, she unbuttons her coat, throwing it onto a nearby chair. He takes her hands in a delicate gesture before pulling her roughly into his lap, so she straddles him. The move gives her confidence, even reminds her why she is here, so very carefully, she leans down and kisses him.
One by one, articles of clothing hit the floor until both are left down to the bare minimum. This new position with him intimidates her; she hasn't been naked in front of any man besides her husband in years. It is stimulating and frightening all at once; she almost climbs off his lap to get dressed and hightail it out of there.
As if sensing the discomfort, he becomes slower, gentler with her. He treats her like her pale skin signifies porcelain. This added attention makes her tingle, overtaken with this new awareness and tangibility. God, she feels so there.
He presses his lips to the space between her breasts, tracing a line to where her heart is. She shivers, making her final decision. Reaching behind her, she unclasps her bra, slips it off her shoulders. She leans forward and cups Jess's cheek, resting her head atop his.
Okay, she thinks, taking a deep breath. Yes.
They pass each other in the hall like perfect strangers. She does not look up from her book; her husband is preoccupied with his thoughts about the upcoming trial. It is not until he is several steps away that he turns back to look at her. Something faint tugs at his heartstrings, a mix of guilt and loneliness. He reaches into his pocket to touch the scraps of paper he has been collecting around the house. They're not appearing as often as they used to.
"Rory," he says.
She almost stumbles from the surprise of hearing the sound of his voice. Shutting her book, she looks over her shoulder.
He gives her a private smile. "You look nice today."
Her eyes widen but she does not return the gesture. She opens her mouth to respond but finds it hard to breathe let alone speak. By the time the tingling leaves her, he has walked away, back to work in his office.
"Jess," she whispers. "Jess," she says again when he does not move. She kisses his shoulder blade and runs a finger down his spine. He shudders in his sleep, and she smiles, pressing her face into his neck. His skin tastes sweet, like opportunity, and maybe something more. In the darkness of the motel room, she clings to his side, surprised at how solid she feels against him.
"I think I love you," she mumbles into his hair.
She's late meeting him. She cannot call to tell him due to their unspoken agreement to never phone each other. The only thing she can do is hurry into the restaurant and hope he is there, waiting for her.
As she rounds the corner into the dining area, she lets out a sigh of relief to see Jess in their regular booth. A few steps later, she is close enough to realize he is not alone. Next to him sits an attractive blonde with her hand over his. The pair looks comfortable together, not like they're waiting for her to arrive. An intense pressure builds behind her eyes.
"Hi," she says, reaching the table.
Neither smile. The blonde stares up at her, tearing her apart without saying a word. She is studying Rory hard, trying to figure out why she is so different, so special.
Jess looks uncomfortable as he greets her. "Hey, Rory." She slides into the booth and waits for an explanation. "This is my girlfriend, Hailey."
"It's nice to meet you, Hailey." Inside, her heart breaks just a little.
"It's nice to meet you too, Rory." It's obvious she doesn't mean it as she clutches Jess harder. She is sad and beaten down, sick to death of Jess coming home, smelling of Rory's perfume. "Jess has told me absolutely nothing about you."
"I'm married," Rory immediately defends as if that absolves everything. "And I live about a mile outside of the city." The last part is meaningless information designed to fill the dead air.
"Where's your ring?" Hailey asks, her voice steady.
Rory glances down at her left hand and at her bare fingers. "It's at the jewelers." She makes eye contact with Hailey, daring her to challenge the excuse. "A diamond fell out, and it has to be replaced."
Jess clears his throat. "I think we should order."
But Rory continues. "His name is Brian." She chokes on his name, the syllables rusty from disuse. Right now, she feels fragile; too much wind and she'll disintegrate into dust. "He's a lawyer for his father's firm. He's amazing at it. He – he has this great speaking voice that commands attention. You should see him in action."
"I believe you," Hailey replies. Jess leans forward to rest his elbows on the table before burying his face in his hands. Hailey slides closer to him, so she can rest her palm on his back. She looks at Rory as if to say, Well
"I'm sorry but I can't stay," Rory announces, standing up so fast her knees hit the table. "I just remembered I have errands to run." She hurries away without saying goodbye, and disappears around the corner.
"She's pretty," Hailey says blankly.
"Oh?" Jess asks. "I hadn't noticed."
A few days later, she goes to meet him at the motel, in their usual room, at their usual time. His expression is so serious that she freezes in front of the closed door, fighting the urge to flee. In an effort to keep from running, she removes her jacket and folds it over a nearby chair.
Her lower lip trembles. "Hi."
She walks over to him and touches his shoulder. When he doesn't respond, she climbs into his lap and kisses his mouth, desperate for him to kiss her back. His hand goes to the back of her head and pushes her harder against him; she begins to unbutton his shirt.
"We should leave together," she says, nipping his neck. "Travel through Europe. I'll show you everything." She runs her fingers down his chest, lingering over his heart. "We can tour Versailles Castle, sip wine in Bordeaux…" She trails off as she nibbles on his ear. "We can do anything."
He grasps her wrist to stop her. "Rory, you know we can't."
"Yes, we can! We don't have to work. I have money, Jess. My own money. Do you know how much I inherited from my grandfather? Brian can't touch it."
"Rory." He sounds stern now. "We can't do that. We can't just disappear."
Her eyes plead with him to reconsider. Please, she wants to say. Please, let me disappear with you instead of by myself.
"I want to go away with you," she whispers. "I think – I think I'm falling in love with you."
"No." He shakes his head. "No, you're not."
"Yes, I am! Don't tell me how I feel! Jess, I just want –"
"I don't love you."
She can only stare at him, stunned into silence. Her hands begin to shake as she tries to climb off him, and get away. He wraps his arms around her to prevent her from moving. He mumbles words to her, something soft and meaningless, but she cannot hear. She is too busy watching the color drain from the room, leaving a stark scene behind.
"Let go of me," she snaps, suddenly regaining her voice. She thrashes in his arms, finally stumbling onto the floor.
"No. Rory, don't do this." He stands and follows as she backs herself into a wall. At this point, he spots the tears leaking out of her eyes.
"Leave me alone." She covers her face as he grabs her elbows, trying to get her to look at him.
"Oh god, Rory. What am I going to do with you?"
"Nothing." Her voice is breathy, barely breaking through the wall of tears. "I'm not your responsibility."
"You don't love me," he insists. "I know that that isn't it. You know this is about something else!"
She says nothing.
"I'm sorry," he tries.
Instead of replying, she closes her eyes and tries to wish herself away.
Her entrance is quiet and unnoticeable; she doesn't want to disturb his work.
Brian is so involved in reading he does not notice his wife until she stops in front of his desk, and begins to fiddle with the straps of her nightgown.
"Rory," he says in surprise. "I thought you were in bed."
"I couldn't sleep."
He folds his hands and leans forward in a businesslike manner. "Is there something you need?"
"I, uh," she pauses, unsure of why she is here. Nervously, she pushes a strand of hair behind her ear. "I just wanted to say goodnight."
"Oh. Goodnight, Rory."
"Night." She forces a smile before turning away.
"Wait. Rory." He stands up but does not go after her. He has no idea what to do here, how to salvage the situation. "You don't have to leave."
She falters at this suggestion, but then walks over to his desk. He sits back down, and gestures for her to come closer. After a moment's hesitation, she drapes an arm around his neck and settles into his lap. He scoops up her knees and pulls her closer. Affectionately, she kisses the side of his mouth, the bridge of his nose. He stares intently at her, studying her eyes. He notes their red tinge, and the phrase 'bleeding cornflowers' flies through his mind. He recognizes the words as something he has read on the scraps of paper she leaves around the house, nestled into hidden corners. Sadly, he grazes her cheek.
"'I loved a woman," he whispers. "'And always our two natures were in strife."
She is taken aback. Amazed, she kisses the words from his lips, remembering intimacy, the way he used to touch her. "The stars," she tells him. "You forgot the stars." She almost laughs even as the familiar sting of tears tries to blind her. She quickly blinks, needing to see her husband and the way he looks at her. He sees her.
"'I loved a woman,'" he says again.
She rests her head on his shoulder, and takes hold of his hand. "'The stars,'" she begins. "'The stars fell…