Author's Note: Certain lines were borrowed from Let The Games Begin. Please allow me some poetic license (e.g. the paperback that will appear in Rory's hand); I had to improvise a bit for the sake of the plot.

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His plunder down the stairs leading to the diner was noisy and a bit uncharacteristic for Jess Mariano, but now routine and expected by his uncle and the regulars at the diner for the six-thirty shift. His freezing at the bottom of them, however, was not.

Nevertheless, on Luke's side of the counter, Jess stood, frozen and wide-eyed, without a sardonic remark to atone for his shameful body language, only being able to mutter a choppy "hi."

Now, the last time his blood had pounded this mercilessly in the part of his head above his ears was hard for him to remember. Had it been that time when he'd heard sirens after him as he sped on the highway an hour or two late for curfew? (though he'd never admit this had actually affected him) Or was it that time, that time, with Shane?

Internally, he shook his head. What did it matter? What did Shane matter? He had Rory now. Or, at least he hoped. If he didn't, he was acting like a nervous middle-school aged boy for something that would result in nothing but strict embarrassment. (as opposed to strict embarrassment, plus a brush of those pillowy lips, or two.)

Speaking, or, rather, thinking, of those pillowy lips, he glanced up at the young(er) woman in front of him.

The pale-rouge color that was painted on her cheeks, he knew, could not be make-up. She was deathly pale (how could she maintain normal color, dancing for twenty four hours straight?), but girlishly smart enough to know not to fabricate such a contrast on her usually make up-free skin. A few of those morose and masculine moths in his stomach went back to their respective intestines, or acid baths, or wherever they resided when nothing life-threatening was occurring.

An equally unsure "hi" (but this time, a few steps up on the octave scale) met his ears, followed by a confused quartet of the greeting.

Then, from the blue-eyed torturess of Jess' tough and unaffected façade, "I have to get to school."

Him, an agreement. Followed by another confused chorus, this time chirping "bye" at one another.

What an intelligently rousing way to start the morning.

Following the draped plaid that swung before him a little lower than his own waist level, he listened to the ring of bell above him. Leaving the diner, he could make out the words between his out-of-the-loop uncle and his he-didn't-know-what's mother.

"Rory and Jess are together now."

Beautiful.

Preserving his "cool" attitude, he walked a few steps behind her. No need to look interested. No need to look like a Dean. Nope, not at all. He was Jess Mariano, cool, calm, and ready to bite your head off the minute you challenged such a statement.

Huh. Now, how to approach her, again, with the "cool thing" going for him? Should he bump into her and knock the binder she was carrying out of her hands? Use a PG version of The Stretch? Sneeze, maybe, and see if she willed God upon him? Get Kirk to dress as one of those little dancing monkeys and grate for money? Pull said money out of her ear?

Just one would do, he realized. And besides, she had forbidden the latter, quite adamantly, in fact…

"Hi." Again?

Oh, right. Again. Rory. Again. Rory, in front of Jess, again, saying "hi," again. At this rate, Jess would be able to comprehend See Spot Run by August.

"Miss Gilmore," he nodded.

She pressed her lips together, as if to suppress a string of her usually multi-syllabic words, and offered him a smile instead.

"What'cha got there?" he asked, jerking his bare chin towards the paperback resting upon her binder.

"Oh. Amerika. For school," she clarified.

"Brushing up on your German ink slingers," his head found itself, again, in motion. "Always good."

"Yep," she agreed.

They looked anywhere but at each other, until he cleared his throat, and she let out a nervous laugh.

"This…is a bit ridiculous."

"Standing on a street corner, waiting for someone to take you where you want to go? Yeah, it's pretty stupid. But this is America. A bunch of dependant, pro-Bush, morons."

"You do realize you just called yourself dependant, and pro-Bush, yes?"

"I'm not waiting for some heavy-set bald guy with no personal hygiene skills to drive me into Hartford," he defended.

"Then what are you doing?" she smiled.

The tone of his voice changed, ever so slightly.

"Did you know that that weird-looking chick on 7th Whatever is actually older than the hot one that posed for Gear?"

The whole situation; his abrupt subject change, especially to one involving a WB drama, manipulated her face into showing pure amusement.

"Is that so?" she said, with a coy inflection on her words.

He looked down for a millisecond, and when he brought her face back up to hers, he was smirking at his own ridiculousness.

She hadn't seen his lopsided grin in months, she realized, and her cheeks parted under this thought, like the Red Sea under Moses' staff.

Blue on brown (like an Almond Joy, her food-lacked brain realized), their eyes met, and then quickly flew from one another, their smiles disappearing with embarrassment.

They heard the bus nearing, and he, trying to sound confident, said, "I'll see you later?"

Her hair brushed against her back as she answered with, "sure", in a disguised nervous way.

"Be smart and confuse the masses in class today," she said, mock seriously.

"'Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them,'" he returned.

Here, you drive, I'll read you Othello. Won't that be fun?

She caught his reference and headed to the bus, trying hard not to feel giddy.

Her never-spur-of-the-moment brain raced.

A nervous, timid glance back and she drew her heel towards the curb, turning a slight degree, and reaching up to grace his cheek with her lips.

Then, with a wave, she redirected herself toward the bus.

He sighed, trying to think, think of something, and cursed to himself when nothing but Cummings, Austen, and Neruda came up. (if he were a ditsy and misdirected girl his age, it'd be Bloom)

He stepped down from the same slab of concrete she had ascended from, heading to Stars Hollow High.

Damn it.

The moths were back.