Rory had first met Grant Whittaker on her second undercover assignment. They'd been masquerading as a married couple in order to dig up information on a tax fraud ring.
Rory had found the assignment boring, until Grant came along with his charm and his accent, his devil-may-care smile and his mentoring attitude toward her. As always when someone proved their own intelligence at the expense of her own, Rory had fallen hard for him within days.
The night their story ran top billing was the first time one of her pieces made it to air. She'd let him take her home that night.
The next morning, he'd coolly informed her reporters – particularly ones who had their career at heart – couldn't afford to get caught up in emotional entanglements. She'd agreed; it was the only thing she could do when he phrased it in those terms.
Apparently, though, the same rules didn't apply to sex. Sex was different. Sex didn't have to do with emotion. It had to do with physical need.
He'd explained it all very rationally, in the tone which made her nod along, even as she thought back to the first time she'd slept with someone. There had been need there, yes, but there had been more. Through all the wrongness of circumstance, there had been something right. Something real. Something that was all about emotion.
She'd voiced none of this, though. She'd given Grant a key to her apartment, told him to make use of it while she was gone, and they'd see each other whenever their schedules allowed.
That had been four years ago.
It was the longest-lasting relationship of her life. Never mind that he still didn't refer to it as a relationship, or that in those four years, they'd probably spent less than two months of it together. It was four years, and that had to count for something.
She held out for two days before she called. Two wonderful days full of Stars Hollow in all its glory. Preparations were in full force for Taylor's latest brain child, a Stars Hollow New Years Extravaganza. Lorelai took great delight in informing her Kirk was to portray the New Years' Baby.
Dean asked her to go with him.
She froze when he asked. "As friends?"
"No." And his heart, wholly broken, wholly hers, was in his voice.
"I…I'll have to think about that."
Something flickered across his face as he heard her answer, but she couldn't diagnose it. "I figured," was all he said.
And then she went home and called Grant.
"Hey, it's me."
She hated being called baby.
"Where the hell are you?"
"Never mind. I convinced Martin not to fire your pretty little arse."
"Told him it was all too much for you, putting you in a war zone like that. He's finally ready to put you on a home beat."
"I'd mentioned it before; he didn't believe me. Now he sees my point."
"What point?" She went numb. No feeling left in her.
"Haven't you been listening?" He sounded annoyed. "You aren't cut out for this kind of work. You never were…"
"Just sounds a little too rough for you."
Long ago spoken words echoed in her head, drowning out Grant's continuing monologue.
"I have to go, Grant," she said suddenly, emotion rushing back to her in all its Technicolor glory.
"Okay. How long will it take you to get back?"
"I'm not coming back."
"Rory, I told you already, I've smoothed things over. You're—"
"I'm not coming back to you, Grant. I'm through turning right."
"Turning right. All it really does is lead you round and round in circles. You end up back exactly where you started. Luckily, for once, that's where I want to be."
"Rory, you didn't hit your head when Darryl knocked you down, did you?" There was finally real concern in Grant's voice now.
"No, I think I hit it in a car crash when I was sixteen, but I'm better now. I'm finally better now. And I have to go."
She hung up the phone, feeling lighter of heart than she had in ten years. The weight of a million bad decisions was off her shoulders, all because she had finally made the right one.
She stood there on his front doorstep, as she had so many times before, only this time there was a kind of manic energy inside her, dying to find release.
He opened the door, as she had known he would, and he seemed surprised to see her. "Rory? I thought…never mind. Do you want to come in?"
"You thought what?"
Dean shook his head. "Nothing. It's not important. Come in, it's freezing out here."
"It is important. You thought I was going away, didn't you? That's what you thought. That's what you thought today when you asked me to the New Years' thing, too, isn't it?"
"No. I might have been earlier, but now I'm not. I finally figured it out, Dean."
"Figured out what?"
Apparently realizing this wasn't going to be a short conversation, Dean grabbed a jacket from the coat rack and wrapped it snugly around Rory's shoulders. He joined Rory on the porch and shut the door behind him. "That's some task for one afternoon."
"Actually, it turns out I'm not quite as complex as I thought I was. Which you already knew, because you've always understood me, haven't you?"
"Now there's a question that could trap a man quickly."
"I'm stupid. That's what the problem with me is; I'm just so damn stupid. I've been going round in circles since I was sixteen, and it's taken me all this time to find the way out."
"And that would be?"
"I'm pretty sure I'm part of that same circle, Rory."
Rory shook her head, grabbing both his hands in hers as she closed the distance between them. "No, you're not. You're a destination. You're the destination. When I'm with you, I feel safe and whole. I always have. And then, I let myself get carried away with the idea that because life is an adventure, love has to be dangerous, too. But that's not love. What I had with Jess wasn't love. It was the excitement of something I didn't know. Something dark and…and unhealthy, though I couldn't see it then. Every other man I've been with, I've been repeating the Jess mistake. I didn't understand then – how could I? – that sometimes you don't have to experiment, sometimes you get lucky enough to find the real thing the first time around. You're it, Dean. You always have been. You're the one I want."
"Until you get bored and are ready for the next adventure." There was no mistaking the cynicism in Dean's voice.
"That's not going to happen."
"Everything we've ever been through points out what you just said is a lie."
Rory bit her lip, struggling to keep the tears at bay. How could she make him see the truth when he had every reason in the world to doubt her? "I want adventure in my life, Dean, you're right. It's part of the reason I became a reporter. And I intend to continue reporting, no matter what some people say."
"Huh? Is 'some people' supposed to be me?"
"Of course not. You've never told me not to pursue my career, and you never would." She paused for a moment, struck with sudden insecurity. "Would you?"
"Highly unlikely. You wouldn't listen to me even if I did."
"I'm still not getting where you're going with this, Rory."
"My point is I know how to do this now. You are safe to me, but that doesn't mean I'm hiding from the world when I'm with you. The first time we were together, I was too young to realize all we had. The second time, we were at the wrong places in our lives; we screwed up and hurt too many people. But I know what you're worth now, Dean. I know what I'm worth. And I want our third chance."
Dean's eyes searched her face for countless moments, and Rory began to fidget awkwardly. She was afraid it wasn't enough. How could there ever be enough said after all she'd put him through? All they'd put each other through.
But when he kissed her, Dean said everything left to say.
"So you're leaving me again."
Rory zipped her suitcase closed and glanced up at her pouting mother. "A very wise woman once told me when a man offers to take you somewhere, always say Italy."
"True, but did she neglect to mention you're supposed to insist on taking your mother, too?"
"That part must have slipped her mind."
"You could smuggle me out in your suitcase."
"But then who would Luke have to play with?"
Lorelai sighed. "Fine. If you put it that way."
"You could always come visit me, you know. I'm not entering a war zone this time."
"Not yet, but I'm sure you'll stir one up in no time."
"What can I do? It comes with the job description."
Last week, Rory had accepted a position at the Associated Press office in Rome. Print media would get her far away from the mess she'd left behind her with Grant, as well as giving her a chance to once again use her sorely neglected writing skills. Being in Rome, well, the benefits there were all personal. Dean had taken the job in Italy.
"Although, if you can delay any serious military conflict for the next six months or so, I might, by that time, talk Luke into taking a vacation for a week or two."
"I say a month. Reach for the stars."
"Right." Lorelai nodded, valiantly fighting the tears. "I'll remember that."
"And if all else fails, pout."
Lorelai laughed. "I've taught you too well."
"Your knowledge does stray across the lines of fair play from time to time," Rory admitted.
"And again with the sports metaphors."
"Guess that means it's probably time to shut up and hug then, huh?"
Rory fell into her mother's arms for one last, long embrace. Lorelai stroked her hair and held her tightly.
"I am happy for you, you know. Did I tell you that?"
Rory pulled back slightly, so she could see her mother's face. "Really? You're not just saying that, to play the cool mom, so you won't alienate me?"
Lorelai shook her head. "No. I mean it. I think this will be incredibly good for you."
"Thank you, Mom." Rory felt the final seal had been added on her happiness in her mother's approval…well, almost the last one. "I wish Luke felt the same way."
Lorelai's mouth tipped ruefully. "I'm afraid that one might take more than endless wheedling and a few pouts."
Rory nodded sadly. "I know."
"I mean, that might take the whole contents of my dirty drawer."
"Hey, I do it all for you, honey, all for you."
Dean shut the trunk of the car and turned to her. "That's everything?"
"Yeah, that's it." She turned for a last look up at the house which would always be home to her.
Dean put his arm around her shoulder, turning her toward him. "You ready?"
Rory slipped into the passenger seat and, hand firmly wrapped in Dean's, watched contentedly as the sights of Stars Hollow drifted past. When the last beloved town landmark had receded into the distance, she turned her gaze forward. The road stretched straight ahead.