Title: What Lies Within Us

Chp. 21 Finally

Disclaimer: Unless I morphed into a Palladino last night, I own nothing. Hell, even the title comes from a quote by someone else.

Intro: If you're looking for this now, I suggest reading some previous chapters.

Rating: PG-13

Author's note: The end! I cannot believe it

Have you ever had a chapter that just did not want to have itself written? That was what this one was for me. The fic just didn't want to end itself.

And, how I said I was going to update Sun night? Sorry, went to a Grey Cup party instead (Canadian equivalent of the SuperBowl). And, for the past 4 days, internet went wonky (aka stopped working and I had multiple angry phone conversations with the provider). My multitude of excuses.

And, totally pimping my new story The Worst Guilt, another Trory even though I thought I wasn't going to go that direction after this fic.

Tristan sat in a chair in the waiting room, breathing deeply. He could see the doctors and the nurses bustling around, but their presence barely registered; he was lost in his own thoughts. The panic was still there, threatening to overcome him, but it was just in the recesses of his mind. He had done the hard part already. The panic could probably overcome him if he let it, but all that kept running through his mind was She's going to be ok, she's going to be ok, she's going to be ok…..Even if that hadn't been confirmed yet, he was willing himself to believe it.

He was giving the Gilmore's their privacy; somehow it seemed right to include Luke in that description. Rory was still unconscious after surgery. The doctors believed that they had done the surgery soon enough, that there would be no lasting damage, but they wouldn't know how well it had gone for sure until she woke up. There had been a lot of blood loss, her spleen had been removed, and there had been a lack of blood supply to some of the major organs. Her body was still sustaining life, but they had to know if she had the strength to wake up; if everything was truly healed. Lorelai and Luke were sitting with her, waiting for her to open her eyes and let them know she was allright.

They had never purposely shut him out, but he had willingly stayed behind, knowing that it wasn't his place to go in. He wasn't party of their little clique, their family. He was here for Rory, but eventually she would wake up and life would go on, and it would be as if today had never really happened. He should go home, leave them to their private family reunion, but he couldn't leave until he knew that she had woken up and all doubt was removed.

There were magazines strewed around the room, but he couldn't bring himself to do something so commonplace as reading as a time like this. He didn't know how other people stood it, sitting here calmly doing mundane things as they waiting for their loved ones to undergo life-threatening procedures. Even now, he couldn't just pick up a newspaper and read, not while there was any doubt.

He should offer to go in there to make the phone calls, take the burden off the two adults in that respect, but in reality it wasn't something he could do. He knew that Emily and Richard had to be called, as did Rory's father Christopher, but neither of the three would understand his voice over the phone, especially Rory's father who he had never met. Lorelai would call them herself when Rory woke up, she was in no state to do it now.

He stood up, needing to be doing something, as he hated sitting around there like a useless idiot. At the very least he could get coffee for Luke and Lorelai, knowing Rory's mother wouldn't budge while she lay there unconscious.

And if he got to check how Rory was at the same time, all the better.

He stood outside the hospital room, holding two cups of coffee in his hand and watched for a moment before going in. He could see Rory, looking so pale and lifeless lying against the bed. Although there were two other people in the room, it was silent save for the beeping of the machines monitoring her.

Lorelai looked like she had aged ten years in the past couple hours. Every time Tristan had seen her before, some part of him had always been shocked that she was old enough to have a twenty-one year old daughter. Now she looked every year of her age, and then some. She was clasping Rory's hand tightly in hers, and rubbing her forearm gently. Luke just sat beside her, looking haggard, running his hand up and down her back every so often.

"I brought you both coffee," Tristan's voice was barely above a whisper when he said it, but it still seemed startlingly loud in the silent room. Lorelai muttered her thanks, even as she looked at him for only a moment to take it before turning back to Rory. She began to talk to Rory, as she must have been doing before, telling her how the coffee in this place was nothing like Luke's, but passable, and if Rory would just wake up she'd get her some.

He handed the second cup to Luke who had stood up to walk over to him, just as he remembered the man's abhorrence of the stuff. But, the elder man took it from him and began to drink, as if needing something to sustain. Tristan was about to turn and walk away, satisfying his need to know her condition for the time being, and was surprised when Luke followed him out into the hall.

Neither man said anything right away, Luke just sipping quietly at the coffee, not even thinking about the fact this was the first cup of the beverage that he had drunk in about five years.

"She'll wake up soon," Tristan felt the need to be the comforter, even though he had nothing to base that on. He could see the expression on Luke's face, and knew the man was worried not only for Rory's sake but for the woman who would be devastated if the outcome of this was not all fine. They all knew what the surgeon had said, that she would likely be fine, but all any of them could focus on was the chance that she might not.

"Yeah," Luke agreed, nodding his agreement, needing to believe the validity of the words.

It was only a moment before he finished his coffee and crushed the cup, sending it flying into a garbage can not a few feet away. It was then he seemed to snap out of his mindlessness and really look at Tristan. "If you want to take the truck and go get some sleep…." He began, but Tristan cut him off, shaking his head. None of them would be leaving until she woke up, whenever that was.

"I'm staying," was all he said, even as he had the slight feeling of the hospital's walls closing in around him, but he pushed it back.

Neither had said anything to each other up until this conversation since entering the hospital, and Luke gave a bit of a helpless shrug, "About before, when I came out to get you, I wasn't thinking clearly when I just ran back into the hospital."

"It got me in, didn't it?" Tristan replied wryly, leaning against the wall behind him. Being deprived of news of her had done it in a way nothing else could. That fear was still there, but now that he was in the hospital it didn't choke at him the way it had before. Somehow he knew that if he had to walk into a hospital again, while he may hesitate at the doors he would never freeze in fear again.

"She'll be glad to know you're here," Luke told him, as if secure in the knowledge she would wake up any minute.

"I know," Tristan sighed wearily, knowing that asking the two of them not to tell Rory he had come was a lost hope. He wouldn't belittle her either in pretending that she wouldn't care about his presence. This was the girl who had been professing her love for him not that long ago.

It was almost instantaneous in the way that his weariness caught up with him. He hadn't slept since those scant few hours with Rory after her grandparents' party, and they seemed a lifetime away. This wasn't the exhaustion that came like it had in the army, with physically demanding tasks. This was the bone-deep weariness that came from a lack of sleep, emotional upheaval, and no end in sight. He felt like he was an old man trapped in his young body. He wanted sleep, but he knew there was no way he could rest peacefully until he knew she was going to be completely allright.

And, he had nowhere to go. Outside of these three, there was nobody at this point who cared if he lived or died.

"I'm going to go back in," Luke finally said. "You'll be in the waiting room?"

Tristan nodded, but even as the two men started to turn away, Lorelai rushed out of the room.

She grasped onto Luke's arm, and for the first time in hours her eyes were filled with their usual light. "She's awake," her voice giddy from happiness and lack of sleep. "Get the doctor."

In the end, there was no need for Luke or Lorelai to tell Rory that he was there, she saw for herself. Even as Luke rushed to get the doctor, he poked his head into the room after Lorelai to assure himself that she was awake and fine. After all this worry, after all the stomach churning stress, it was hard to believe that it was all over, that she would live. But somehow he hadn't equated her being awake with her leaning up in bed, her eyes wide open, staring straight at him.

He had left immediately.

The doctors hadn't come in all ER-style, racing and shouting codes. Apparently the three of them had been the only ones in the hospital truly doubting her ability to wake up. The doctor had simply come in, checked some vitals, smiled, and told Rory that everything was going to be just fine.

He was now sitting here in the waiting room yet again. Itwas as ifhe had formed his own little nest here. It seemed his own little domain despite the others in the room with him. He wasn't one given to exuberant grins, but he couldn't stop the slight upturn of his mouth as he sat there. It seemed wrong to show signs of happiness, not when he was sure most of the others still here were waiting on news of their loved ones, but his relief went beyond that concern.

It was hard to keep his eyes open, but he couldn't leave. He told himself it was because he had to wait for Luke, all his possessions were in the man's truck. That was all he was waiting for. He wasn't waiting to see Rory, it would solve nothing. It would just make his walking away that much more difficult.

He leaned against the back of his chair, settling in. It was hard to stay awake, and he felt his eyes droop wearily.

When he snapped them open again, Lorelai was standing in front of him. "You awake?" she asked shortly, snapping her fingers in front of his face, and he nodded dumbly.

She slid into the empty seat beside him. "She wants to see you," her words were cautious.

Somehow he had known this was coming. Something he had hoped for while at the same time praying it would never happen. "I shouldn't," was all he replied, not knowing how to explain.

"Yes, you should," and Tristan began to see the will of steel that resided in the elder Gilmore, something he hadn't been exposed to before. "It's tempting for me to pull out the argument that she's sick, and that being upset might damage her somehow, but that's a tactic best left for soap operas. You should because you can't just pretend you weren't here Tristan."

"I should go…" Tristan began hesitantly, knowing it had been like tempting fate to stay this long.

"But you didn't, did you? You stayed," Lorelai was forceful. "There's no denying you care Tristan."

"That was never a question," he reminded her, rubbing his hands over his face, "Caring was why I was leaving in the first place."

Somehow he couldn't decide whether Lorelai's voice was empathetic or cruel when she continued. "Grow up Tristan, and get in there. You want to debate this issue with me? Fine, I think you're being a chicken shit. The biggest coward I know. But, guess what, no matter what I think about your choices, all of them, my opinion doesn't matter. You stay on the boundaries, discussing this with Luke, discussing it with me, when you should be in there having it out with her. You really want to leave Tristan, don't just run away. The lack of closure merely postpones the confrontation. You want to know why you should go see her now? Because you owe it to her."

Tristan wanted to curse her bossiness, tell her to mind her own business, but he knew he couldn't. Knew that it wasn't an option with this woman. But he asked the question that had been at the back of his mind all this time, one that he had asked Luke, but seemed that much more pertinent with her, "Why are you allowing me within 10 feet of her?"

He could have phrased it more clearly, but she seemed to know what he meant. "I've seen my daughter decimated in so many ways today Tristan, all related to you. It's tempting to throw you out of this hospital, trust me. But I'm not the one who's in love with you, she is. Even if I've come to like you these past couple days, it's not even the point, not even that I witnessed how you overcame your greatest fear to be here for her. It's all about her. I trust her judgement, often above my own, and she has the certainty about you that I never had about a man until Luke."

He hated these endorsements of his character, the constant assurances that Rory loved him. He wanted her to reaffirm his decision, wanted her to rail at him and tell him that he wasn't worthy, that he would just hurt Rory. It made the walking away that much harder when he was literally the only person who believed it was the right decision.

He walked down the short distance to her room, but the hallway seemed endless before him. It was illogical, the slight fear that lay underneath, but it was there all the same.

When he walked in the room, she was propped up against the pillows in bed, and she opened her eyes when she heard him enter the room. "Hey," she replied softly, adjusting herself against the supporting pillows, more alert and with it than anyone who had just had their spleen removed deserved to be.

Her body was covered partially by the hospital gown and the bedcovers, but he could still see the bruises on her face, on her shoulders, the cut running down her forearm, and all he could think about was how much worse it must be underneath the covers.

"Hey," was all he replied, content to let her lead the conversation.

Rory looked at him as he stood there, obviously ill at ease. She loved this man more than she had ever thought was possible, more so even now, and she didn't know what to do about it. Not when he wasn't giving an inch, not when he was under his delusions of leaving. She didn't know how to make him understand, not right off the bat, so she stuck to the direct approach.

"I love you," she infused the words with the certainty she had in the emotion, hoping that it also passed for confidence.

This conversation was what she had been driving to Yale for. This conversation was what she had been unsuccessfully practising in her head when the car had slammed into her.

And it hurt, even though it was expected, when he flinched at her words, "Rory….."

"No, listen Tristan. We haven't talked, not really. That emotional trainwreck that was our morning after doesn't count. I was coming to Yale to talk to you Tristan, to make you listen to me. You're running away, and I won't let you," she was determined to feed on anger and determination rather than sadness.

"You're making this harder," was all he said, but he sat down in the chair beside her bed, hearing her mother's words condemning him for discussing the subject with everyone but her.

"Ok," Rory began, almost nervously when it became apparent he was simply waiting for her to continue. "I don't know what to say, how to make you truly believe what I'm telling you. I told you this before, and I'm going to tell you again; I love you Tristan, and nothing, absolutely nothing, will change that. Okay, maybe if you decided to sleep around, or…..allright, I'm babbling, I've got to stop. It's just I'm scared. Not of you, or because of you, but because of me. I don't know how to do this; I don't know how to convince you when a simple 'I Love You' isn't enough.

"Rory, listen to me," and she wanted to, but it was hard to focus when he took her hand in his without even realizing it. "This isn't about you having to prove anything to me. There's no point in denying at this point that I care about you too, but there's more to it all than that. This isn't about my being some self-sacrificing hero, it's simply about acknowledging that you and me would be in neither of our best interests."

"Yeah, denying something we both want is really in our best interests. This is us, trying to form a relationship, not solving world peace. It's not as complicated as we are making it. Boy likes girl, girl likes boy, they date, and life goes on." She tried to hold onto the irritation to keep her sane, but it was hard.

"If this were only about 'like', none of it would be like this," Tristan chided, still holding on to her hand absent-mindedly.

She wanted to scream, she wanted to throttle him, and she wanted to cry, all at the same time. "Stop being an idiot! I understand the logic you threw at me before, at least intellectually, but that doesn't make it right. I'm not asking you to promise me forever Tristan, I'm just asking you to give us the chance to try."

"I'm not strong enough to handle you walking away," he had to be honest, as much as it made him sound like a weakling.

She wanted to reassure him she would never leave, even if it was a promise she couldn't honestly make. But she knew that she would never leave him for the reasons that he feared. She wanted to reassure him that he was the strongest person that she knew, but that wasn't appropriate either. She wanted to say something, wanted to stop him even as he slipped his hand from hers and stood up, even as he walked towards the door, but somehow every thought she wanted to say would just make it worse.

Rory watched him hesitate at the door, and she knew at this point that this wasn't how this was supposed to go. This wasn't how she was supposed to have handled it. It was easy to be confrontational, to act as if irritated. She was trying to convince him with intellect when that wasn't what it would take, what he needed to hear. This wasn't the throwing her pride to the wind she had sworn she would do when she reached Yale.

So, she did what to her was the most humbling thing, and she uttered words she had never even admitted to herself in terms of anyone before. "I need you," her voice was strained as he paused, his hand on the doorknob. "I need you, Tristan."

He didn't say anything, but turned to face her, unable to leave at the naked plea in her voice. "I'm not proposing marriage Tristan, but I need you in my life. I am the inherently weak one, not you. Maybe you have it twisted around; maybe I'm worse for you than you think you are for me."

Tristan gave a weak laugh, "Rory…."

"I'm asking you, no let's make that begging you, to let me be a part of your life. Maybe it's co-dependency, maybe not, but I can't just let you go." She didn't know how to adequately express how much she felt.

"Rory," he voice seemed so gentle, "You know you are about one of the people furthest from being in a co-dependant relationship. I'm not doing this to cause you pain, I am doing it to save you from it."

Where before she would have cursed, now she cajoled, and played what she thought was the trump card, "You were here for me."

"Pardon?" obviously he was here at the hospital, his presence made it self-evident.

"Luke, he told me," Rory explained, "About you…outside….and you came in."

He didn't react in the way she thought he would, but if anything looked more forlorn. He himself wished Luke hadn't brought it up. "Yes, I had…..a moment." Tristan didn't know how to explain. "But, it's not like this makes me all better Rory. The only reason I could even overcome this fear is because I didn't have time to think when I rushed in. You want to know how many hours I paced out there Rory? Knowing you were in here, possibly dying, and I couldn't make myself come in."

"But you did," she tried to make him focus on the important part.

"It doesn't change anything," he tried not to get frustrated, but had the wind taken out of him when she interrupted.

"I know your fears, your memories, your scars, your nightmares are all things you are going to have to live with for the rest of your life. That wasn't my point." She itched to touch him in some way, but he was too far from the bed. "My point was that we overcame the hurdle. Allright, maybe that wasn't the right choice of words, I was unconscious. But what I'm trying to point out slightly less than poetically is while that this 'disease' as you call it is a part of you, it doesn't define you. You sitting here, in the hospital, is proof of that. I'm not saying you can overcome it all, you can't, but there will be ways to make it work."

He could feel himself caving at her words, despite them being not far from what she had uttered earlier. Their discussion, going around in circles, wore him down. That was the most apt description. It was hard to listen to her entreaties; he could only imagine how hard it was for her to plead with him that way. In all this, he had never had to put himself out there like that, she had taken the emotional first steps. He didn't want to keep denying what he wanted so much.

At her words, "Just give me a chance Tristan," he broke completely.

She had closed her eyes in defence, having nothing else to give him. She couldn't watch him walk away again. So it was with surprise that she shot open her eyes when she felt a hand graze her cheek.

"I might hurt you," his voice was more boyish and scared than she thought it had ever been in his life.

"I might hurt you too," was her gentle rejoinder as he leaned forward and brushed his lips across hers quickly before leaning back, their comments a short summary of the angst that had settled in since they had slept together, "But that's always the risk."

He could taste salt from tears she had shed as he pulled away from her, and simply settled her hand once again in his. He flashed back to that first, although meaningless at the time, kiss so many years ago. He wanted to ask again if she was sure, but knew she would answer in the affirmative no matter what. He didn't know if this was the best choice, he knew it was the most selfish one he could make. He wanted her to be there to share good news with, he wanted her to be there when he had the nightmares, and he wanted him to be the one she saw when she woke up in the morning.

So, he was willing to take the chance, God help them both.

He looked at the girl who had more courage in her pinky finger than he had in his entire being. He, who had given into his fears, because concern for her well-being had coincided so well with running away. He wanted to give her that final out, to let know that she always had the option, "If it ever becomes too much…."

"It won't," this time, she was the one who leaned forward and kissed him, wincing slightly at the pain.

And he just nodded, knowing that maybe it would, and maybe it wouldn't, but it wasn't something he could control.

"So," he felt his lips curving slightly as he squeezed her hand a little harder, "You wanna get a cup of coffee sometime?"

And she just laughed, tears glistening in her eyes.

Ah, the end. Long time in coming. I could have kept going for awhile, but it seems appropriate to end it here. Dealing with them, together, would be like a whole separate fic. It was a hard write, mostly because I've been writing this fic for so long I think. To me, the end seems so anti-climactic.

I hope you all enjoyed the fic, I enjoyed writing it even when it frustrated the hell out of me.