Disclaimer: Everyone is property of the WB. Words are mine.

Spoilers: Up to and including Season 5, Episode 14, but with my own twist. You've been given fair warning in the event you'd rather wait for the episode to air.

Enjoy!


He sticks his hands deep into the pockets of his jacket, and wonders for the first time why he doesn't have a real pair of mittens, with the fingers intact so that the frostbite wouldn't burn through his flesh, tingling beneath the skin. The snow in front of her house has accumulated, and he can see the shovel resting against the side of the porch where he last left it.

There is one last chance he has before he reaches the front steps and he thinks about just turning around, but in the end, his basic sense of human decency combined with the familiar warmth that spreads through him whenever he thinks about her wins over.

"Hey." He hears her soft voice greet him and he whips his head around to find her sitting outside on the wooden bench he refinished in the early fall.

"Uh, hi."

She's sitting hunched over, with her forearms resting on her thighs, hands clasped together casually, hanging over the ends of her knees.

"Are you waiting for snow?" He takes his best guess.

"Not in the forecast."

"Oh, right."

"Maybe it'll change."

"What do they know anyway?" He adds. "Weather guys, biggest liars next to used car salesmen."

"It's a guessing game." She agrees as he approaches her and takes a seat next to her on the bench, careful to leave about a foot of space between them. He wanted to touch her before, maybe lay a hand on her shoulder or hug her when she looked so small in front of him, but he's afraid now, afraid she'll burst into tears and that's always an excellent way to ensure he'll no longer be capable of thinking straight.

"Are your eyes bothering you?" He asks, pointing at her glasses.

"Yeah, they're really dry."

This is what he hates about life. Logically, you'd think that if she's saying her eyes are dry, that would mean she at least hasn't been crying about him, and consequently, he hasn't broken her heart. But he knows that they're dry because she's been crying even if it makes no sense to him at all.

"Maybe you shouldn't be sitting out here in the cold air."

"Maybe." She agrees in passing.

"But you're not going back inside?" He guesses.

"Nope." She shakes her head, and he realizes she still hasn't looked at him at all. Not even sideways.

He sighs, feeling very uncomfortable around her. She doesn't seem angry, or even terribly depressed. Just thoughtful.

"I, uh, Lorelai, I know we're in a weird place right now, but I really need to apologize for earlier. I told you once before I never wanted to hurt the most important person in my life, and then I go ahead and do just that."

She rocks her joined hands back and forth, keeping herself busy.

"What are you apologizing for?"

"Hurting you? Making you cry."

"Ah." She adds wisely.

"I should probably go, huh?"

She shrugs and finally glances sideways at him for a split second, if that long.

"You know, when I was 16, I always wanted to get the hell out of my house. It's not that I couldn't put up with my parents – you've seen me go a few rounds with my mother, I can hold my own."

"More than that."

"Yeah. So it wasn't a day to day thing. It was more that I worried, if I stayed there, would she wear me down someday? How far would it go? I'd go to college and meet somebody from their circle. Rory did, you know."

"The blonde guy?" He guesses with a look of distaste on his face.

"Mr. Limousine." She affirms. "Logan."

"Well, at least it's not Spencer."

"Yeah, that's a bad name. Emily would like it."

"She's with this putz? Rory?" Luke clarifies.

"I don't know if they're together. Maybe. She never kissed Kirk that way, so…"

She looks lost in her thoughts and he knows she's battling internally to come to terms with her daughter growing up, making her own choices. He also knows she had started to tell him a story in her own way and he doesn't want her to forget about it midstream.

"I interrupted you."

"Sorry?"

"When you started telling me about being 16."

"Right, right. Well, in short, it's why I left. I thought I had to, before I got trapped there. But you know, I'd go back for Christmas, Thanksgiving, that sort of thing. Rory had a couple of ridiculous outfits for those occasions, we'd rotate them holiday to holiday until she'd grow out of the size, and I'd pack her up into the car and head over there for some stuffy dinner served by a maid from Ecuador. I never admitted why I was there, and I told myself, it's for Rory. Kids love grandparents. They buy them candy and toys and try to find their youth inside this little person."

"They love Rory." He says, figuring it's the least offensive statement he can make about Richard and Emily.

"That they do."

"But?"

"I love them." She shrugs and that's when he sees the defeat in her.

"They're family." That much he can understand. And the price of it too.

"I hate them too. They've taken more from me than anyone else. But if I didn't love them, I'd never have gone back. And now it all just hurts like hell."

"I'm sorry." He's quick to apologize.

"You don't have to say it anymore. I wasn't talking about you."

"But that's the point, isn't it? I can't ask you to choose."

"Why the hell not, Luke? I already have anyway."

"Lorelai." He states her name, but doesn't go beyond it.

"I'm hurting because I was smarter at 16 than I am at 36. I knew then what would happen to me if I stayed. And then I went back and what do I have to show for it?"

He's pretty sure it's a rhetorical question, and even if it isn't, he's treating it as such since he has no idea how to respond to that.

"I'm not smart enough, Luke. I don't know what I can do to get you back. I don't know how to even talk to my mother about this without grabbing one of your aluminum baseball bats and just flat out assaulting her. Can you imagine that? Stupid, it's not like I can even get the bat from your place anymore."

"Lorelai." He says again.

"Fine, you're right."

She knows he doesn't want her pushing the issue. Nevertheless, he's surprised when she stands up next to him, sticks her right hand in her jeans pocket and produces a Spongebob keychain with his apartment and diner keys dangling from it. She places it wordlessly on the bench next to him and finally meets his eyes.

"I like that keychain, but you can keep it. He's quite controversial now, you know. A gay sponge, who ever thought of that?"

Luke's always been a man of few words, and now he's truly stunned into silence. He doesn't want to take the keys, but he wraps his hand around them and finds them warm. They were in her pocket, warmed by her skin, and nothing has stung him this badly tonight as holding the keys he gave her, warm from her touch, and he wants to stick them back where they were immediately. He puts away the thought neatly when he realizes she's already standing at her front door, twisting the door knob.

"I wanted you." She whispers. "I always wanted you. Back when you brought two bags of ice for Rory's 16th birthday, I wanted you. Maybe I walked all over you. Maybe I brought this all on myself and now the shit luck's caught up with me. Who knows. I don't know anything anymore."

"It's not forever." He throws it out desperately.

She shakes her head at him, confused about what he's saying, although she is acutely aware of his body language. His broad shoulders are slumped forward, angling towards his chest. This is not new, it's a position he'd assume on her couch on Saturday nights when the diner and life in a small town had worn him down to the bone and he was silently asking for some comfort from his lover. There are dark, puffy circles under his eyes, screaming out for a couple of cucumber slices or tepid tea bags. This is also not new. He never gets enough sleep and if his sleep pattern the last couple of days is anything like hers, they were turning out into a fine, matching pair of insomniacs.

But it's the way his neck is pushed forward, his chin hanging heavily in the air. The way his eyes scan across her face quickly, unsettled, but then spend most of their time concentrating on the specks of dirt flecked over the old planks of wood of her porch. The way she can't hold his gaze. She could always do that, at least. Having him look away first was something new.

"No." She shakes her head erratically. "No, no, no."

"Lorelai, come on." He implores her softly. "It's hard enough as it is. For both of us."

"It's feels like it's forever, Luke." She says sadly.

"I'm sorry."

He doesn't know how to explain it to her. He's never been able to stay away from her, he's never been able to not forgive her, and he knows he'll wake up tomorrow feeling like the world's biggest bastard, but he just can't go into her house right now and climb into her bed and hold her and tell her they'll be okay and that he loves her more today than he did yesterday and that he'll love her even more tomorrow. In a matter of days, he's become the devil in her life, the one who might permanently cause a rift between her and her mother, and hell, even that whiner on the shitty radio station is singing about mothers and fathers and how they should be good to their daughters. Luke's got two headstones on the outskirts of town and a big fat hole in his heart and a dark day every year and how could he ask her to hurt that bad too?

"Don't sell the diner. Don't leave. Don't make it forever."

He watches her disappear inside her house and after a moment, angrily kicks at one of the thin bars of her porch rail until it cracks along its length, and splinters off into pieces.

"I'll fix it on the weekend." He say out loud, to nobody in particular.