This takes place four days past 5.17. Absolute mad props to two wonderful betas, JeSouhaite and Undisclosed. Seriously, these two women just totally rock, and any mistakes left are mine, because they were amazing.
"Okay, now you're officially scaring the bejeezus out of me," Sookie said, and Lorelai turned abruptly, looking around at all of the assistants in the Inn's kitchen, and then at Sookie with a "who, me?" expression. "Yes, you, Missy."
"Four days since the Emily thing and you're not eating any of the cookies. You didn't even once pilfer the chocolate covered strawberries and I know they're your favorite, and I even put the whipped cream right next to them for you."
"So you were planning on me pilfering?"
"I always plan on you pilfering. I stock accordingly. And now things are overflowing or going bad and you've thrown the whole system out of whack."
"Hey! I am shocked! Shocked, I say, at this here danger right here in River City."
"Now I know you're off your game. That wasn't even a good one."
"My cable's fritzing again. I'm only as good as network TV now."
"I know," Lorelai said, and snatched a chocolate covered strawberry just to make Sookie feel like she'd helped. Sookie beamed, thrilled, and Lorelai made her way back to her desk, stopped from her complete escape by Michel hovering with his natural withering disdain.
"The hamburger man called you while you were spending the vast amounts of time in the kitchen with Sookie," Michel whined, having completely perfected the "over-burdened act," as if the entire weight of the world had not only chosen to thrust itself upon his shoulders, but apparently crimped his nice shirts in the process.
"Hey, Michel, don't blame me because she won't let you back in there."
"I did not insult the pregnant lady."
"Michel, you told her she looked like a minibus about to explode."
"No one appreciates my impeccably dry sense of humor."
"Michel? The message from Luke?"
"Oh, yes, because I live to be your human answering machine. I am sure if I make an effort, I can even learn how to beep at the appropriate times so that there's—"
"Fine. He said he was picking you up at three, and for you to have on jeans and tennis shoes. It must be nice being the dilettante owner who can fritter away—"
"He said 'tennis shoes'? Are you sure?"
"Let me see, have I mastered the ability to parse the English language and understand all of the very, very difficult vocabulary which must be used when explaining that someone will arrive and—"
"Okay, okay, Michel, I get it. Did he say why?"
"Oh, was I supposed to have played twenty questions with the diner owner on the off chance that if I bothered to tell you the message, I would have all of the details at my disposal?"
"Thanks, Michel," Lorelai said, walking toward her office as Michel went to the desk to be condescending to a couple of guests who were checking in.
She had no clue what the jeans and tennis shoes were all about, and she didn't have time to call Luke and try to wheedle it out of him so that she could decide if she wanted to wear him down to go do something else or not. Besides, things had been sort of weird between them since she'd yelled at Emily. Not that he hadn't been incredibly supportive. He had. He'd walked around the counter and held her until Andrew had come in, followed by the evening rush. She'd made it back to the Inn, then home again, and to the diner that night where he'd fixed her favorite brownies and brought her upstairs to enjoy them. The whole time, it was as if there was this odd buzzing in her head that she couldn't quite get rid of, couldn't quite place, and it robbed her of focus, like a low-grade fever.
They hadn't really spoken of it that night. Maybe they should have, but she just couldn't get to the words and maybe he was following her lead on this one. What if it was something that could end up pushing him away again? She didn't know and she didn't want to talk about it without already knowing where they would end up. It was way too scary a prospect and just starting to think about it made her heart ache so much, she thought she was going to break into pieces. Instead, she'd just sidetracked anything that hinted at the remotely serious.
Still, the buzzing in her head had grown, and the feverish tingle to her skin, and the air bothered her, people bothered her, just… everything bothered her. She didn't know why, couldn't place where it was all coming from. It wasn't like she hadn't yelled at Emily before, and it wasn't like Emily hadn't tried to interfere before, and it wasn't like she hadn't left her family before, so she couldn't name it. It was growing and eating at her, but she thought that maybe, just maybe, it was all of the tension from the previous month that had worn her down.
She went home before three to change clothes, and when she hurried downstairs, Luke was just pulling into the driveway at three-fifteen. The perfect man, knowing to give her an extra fifteen minutes without griping at her. He grinned when she bounced out of the door, showing off her new tennis shoes.
"I said "old" tennis shoes," he admonished.
"But I don't look as cute in the old ones," she said, and he rolled his eyes, and shook his head.
"I doubt that, very much." He pulled her into a hug and then a kiss, and she was seriously wondering if she could con him out of whatever this trip was and drag him upstairs instead.
"Later," he said, seeming to read her mind.
She gave him a mock affronted expression, as if he'd insulted her by implying she was easy, and he laughed and opened the truck door for her.
"Where are we going and… oh! My God, what is that wonderful smell?"
She started to lift the lid on the picnic basket placed between them, but it was tied – firmly tied – closed.
"Not for you," he said as he climbed behind the steering wheel.
"Oh, this is soooo for me," she said, fiddling with the knot, still unable to break into the basket.
"What makes you so sure?"
"Well, there's pie," she said, breathing in the scent, "and coffee."
"How can you possibly smell the coffee? It's sealed in a thermos."
"This nose, mister. It's been known to pick up the scent of coffee a few miles away. There was this one time, when Rory and I got lost in the new mall—"
"You," he interrupted, "actually got lost in a mall? How would you know?"
"And I knew we'd entered right by the coffee kiosk," she continued, ignoring his smirk, "so I just smelled our way back to it, all the way across the crowded mall."
"Because looking at the maps they put up in the mall would be too difficult?"
"Where's the fun in that?" she asked, loving watching him grin. She breathed in the basket scent again. "Ooooh, I think there's cheesecake, too!"
"Only if you're a good sport."
"A good sport."
"I'm sorry, there's this word in that sentence I don't understand."
"There's new… apparel… involved," he said, giving her that patented mischievous smirk which made her heart race and her hands itch to unbutton his shirt. Instead, she grinned at him, delighted. Confused, but delighted.
They bantered all the way out of Stars Hollow and into Litchfield, but she didn't quite recognize where they were going, and he was so smug that she'd given up asking him. Well, after the thousandth time and when he'd started threatening the cheesecake. She pictured all sorts of places for a picnic dinner, but as they drove through town, nothing seemed very picnic-y. And then he pulled into some sort of… sports place.
She looked at him, her jaw dropped, at a complete loss for words.
"It'll be fun," he said, laughing at her shocked expression.
"Oh, don't tell me you're going to go all Life or Something Like It here, where you go out on the mound and pitch me the ball and I'm supposed to figure out that there's really no meaning to life or something and—"
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"Keep up! Angelina Jolie, when she was the reporter and she was supposed to die and—"
"But you liked that movie," she exclaimed.
"I did not like that movie."
"But we watched it three times."
"You watched it three times. And if you start singing "Satisfaction" out here, you don't get the cheesecake."
"You loved it when I sang that."
Luke raised his eyebrows, and then Lorelai remembered exactly what she'd been wearing, how very skimpy it was, and how he'd been extremely determined to erase the "I don't get no" part of that song from her repertoire. She was pretty sure she'd just turned crimson, since he was now smiling.
"But Luke! There are actual batting cages here."
"Yes. I know."
"Batting cages, Luke. Where you're supposed to do something like hit things. Probably."
"That's the general idea."
"Hi, may I introduce myself? I'm Lorelai Gilmore, sworn enemy of all things sweaty and allergic to anything remotely energetic."
"Oh, no you're not," he growled, and she laughed, realizing he was right.
"You cannot seriously think—"
"I seriously think. Quit arguing, or the cheesecake goes to Miss Patty."
"Ha. You give that cheesecake to Miss Patty, and I'd have to be your armed guard for the rest of your life."
"God help us all."
Luke had already come around and opened her door, but instead of moving out of the way so she could step out, he held her, and kissed her. As she melted into him, he growled into her ear, "Behave and you can have Bull Durham when we get home."
"Mmmmmmmmmmm," was all she managed, as he kissed her again, pulling her into him, and making her completely forget where she was.
He broke away abruptly, helped her out of the truck and reached around to the truck bed, pulling out an old satchel of baseball gear. It was when he reached inside the satchel and pulled out a small gift-wrapped package that she squealed, ripping into it before he even had a chance to speak.
"Pink! You got me pink gloves?" she said, loving them, but not understanding.
"Pink batting gloves," he explained.
"You. Bought pink batting gloves?"
"Well, you like pink. And gloves. It seemed like a good choice."
"Luke, it was a perfect choice." She slipped them on, feeling the expensive, supple leather. "These are very nice," she said, leaning into him to kiss him. "I bet pink batting gloves were hard to find."
"You have no idea."
"Are all your sporting buddies going to make fun of you now?"
"So, where do I stand?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know, to watch."
"You're not watching."
"I'm not batting."
"You're wearing the gloves."
"But but but…"
"No batting, no gloves."
She stuck her bottom lip out, pouting, and he laughed.
"Besides," he said, "I'm going to teach you."
"Ooooh, is that where you stand behind me and put your arms around me and help me hold the bat?" she asked, doing a little half-wiggle, half-dance in his arms.
"Dirty! And jeez!"
"These cages might just be too far from home."
She grinned, and he picked up the satchel and grabbed her hand, pulling her towards the closest batting cage.
Lorelai wasn't sure just exactly how it happened, because she'd been pretty focused on the fact that Luke had, indeed, stood behind her with his arms around her, showing her how to hold the bat, but at some point, she actually hit a ball. Okay, it wasn't going all that fast, since he'd set the pitching machine on the slowest speed, and it didn't go very far (and she later made him go get it so she could keep it for a souvenir), but she hit it and promptly dropped the bat and leapt in the air, woohooing and shouting, and he was laughing. My god, she loved his laughter.
"Oooh, ooh, do it again!" she said, and pointed at him to prevent him from saying, "Dirty!" He handed her the bat and stepped back a little to watch her this time.
"Hey, where'd you go?" she asked, certain she'd only hit the previous ball because he'd guided her hands.
"I'm right here. Just swing level, follow the ball with your eye."
Lorelai did, and it took a few more pitches before she hit another one. This time it went a little further, and she could have sworn that she was Babe Ruth there for a moment.
"Did you see that?" she asked, knowing Rory was never going to believe her unless Luke confirmed the story.
"I did indeed, Slugger."
"Oooh, I get a nickname now."
She actually hated to leave when she was having so much fun, but he reminded her of the pie and cheesecake and coffee in the truck about the same time the light was fading into twilight. At that, she reluctantly agreed to go, but only after he promised that she could keep the bat and the first two balls she'd hit.
Thirty minutes later, they were sitting on a blanket near the lake, where the stars were starting to glitter in the night sky and one by one, the gas street lamps surrounding the little lake flickered on. She was sitting cross-legged, facing him, and he was sprawled out on his side, braced up on his elbow, watching her eat, as usual. Lorelai was half-way through the cheesecake before she stopped, mid-bite, and looked at Luke with a shocked, amazed expression.
"Something wrong with the cheesecake?" he asked, rising up a little, looking worried.
"No… Luke. You did it. The buzzing's stopped. And I feel…" she set the cheesecake down and stretched her arms out, feeling alive and free and able to breathe deeply. "I feel good."
"The buzzing, my friend, is gone."
"Do I want to know what was buzzing? Are you like, on a timer or something?"
Lorelai chuckled, scooting closer to him. "You made me forget all about Emily for a few hours and have real fun. I can't believe you did that, but you did."
"Glad to help."
Luke moved to sit behind her, letting her lean into his chest. They both looked out over the black lake reflecting the indigo sky, the fire dancing in the gas lamps, and a sliver of moon rising above them. She felt him pause a long time, holding his breath, and she knew it was the question he'd been needing to ask her all day. Well, make that four days, but she wouldn't have been able to put her jumbled thoughts into words earlier. She realized just how well he knew her, that he understood that. So she waited.
Finally, he leaned forward a little, kissing the top of her head, and then quietly asked, "Are you sorry about Emily?"
"No," she said fiercely, emphatically, and she half-turned so she could look into his eyes. "Not in a million years." She stared down at her own hands, because the words were hard. Being open was still… scary.
"I'm extremely sorry that she hurt you, and I'm angry that she doesn't know what an amazing man you are."
She stopped talking then, feeling the lump in her throat, feeling the abysmal weight of fear from everything which had come between them before, and she didn't know what to say to make him understand, fully, truly, understand.
"It makes you sad, though," he suggested, and she shrugged. If she spoke, she was afraid the tears would start. "You've lost a lot because of me," he stated simply, and it took her by such surprise, she gasped.
"No! Never, ever think that."
"You and your mother were building a bridge back toward something," he said, unable to look at her.
"I'd have to be Indiana Jones to get across the kind of bridge my mother was building. I was on one end, thinking the boards were safe, she was on the other, setting it on fire…"
He still didn't look at her, and her heart was seizing up with worry. But she waited for him.
"I watched you over the years, Lorelai. There wasn't a bad Friday Night Dinner that you didn't come into the diner and have to decompress. But it had gotten a little better lately. And then you and I—"
Lorelai put her fingers against his lips, shushing him, shaking her head, "No. It's something I should have done a long time ago, Luke. Stand up to her, tell her that she couldn't interfere and mean it. Instead, I ran away. It's easier, it's safer to just hide from them. Even when I'm there, I'm keeping a lot back, because if you give them anything, they'll try to take everything else you've got. Instead of just confronting that head-on, I took the easy way out – I left. I stayed gone, even when we had to go back. I always felt less-than. Never enough. Never, ever, ever enough."
"And then somehow," she continued before he could say anything, "there was you. I don't really understand it, you know."
"Well, everything we have, everything we are together, makes me happy. This world, this is what I wanted. It was like I was always on the outside, looking in, my face pressed against the window, and my mom was jerking my hand away and pulling me back to a prison cell. And then you were there. First, as my best friend and my serious coffee pimp,'
"I am not a pimp. You are simply an addict."
"Yeah, well, for more than just your coffee, Luke."
"Yeah. I… I wish I had the words to explain." She looked around, gazing at the stars. "It's like… it's like you give me all of this, every day and every night, in my heart." She took his face in her hands, because he needed to understand this. "I've never, ever felt this way. About anyone. I didn't even know I could feel this much. It's wonderful and soft and sparkly and funny and good and there's so much of it, it's overflowing. I just… I don't understand what you get out of it. I mean, besides great sex," she chuckled, a little uncomfortable, drawing back away from him, dropping her hands to fidget in her lap, "but you have to put up with my mother and then I'm sure while I am perfectly amazing, I'm a lot of work and—"
"I get you, Lorelai," Luke said, so low, she almost didn't hear him at first. She reached up to touch his face, now nearly indiscernible in the shadows, and realized there were tears on his cheeks and everything that had ever scared her about maybe him not being around, maybe him getting fed up again and leaving… melted in that moment. "I get you," he said again, pulling her to him. "You're everything in the whole world, everything I ever wanted."
She kissed him, then whispered, "I love you, Luke."
"I love you, Lorelai."
He pressed his forehead to hers, and they sat there for a long time. The quiet around them felt warm and safe and as if the world was theirs alone.
"I know," he said finally, "that it was really hard on you, what you had to do with Emily. And I know it makes you sad."
She nodded. "I don't think she's ever going to be capable of knowing me or accepting me. And I'm so sorry that she stood there like that and you were so… graceful, Luke. I don't see how you didn't want to shout back."
"Oh, I did, believe me. Especially when she was insulting you." He held her chin so she'd look him in the eye. "Because I want nothing to ever hurt you again, understand?" She nodded. "But I'm not letting her goad me into saying something and then using that later as a weapon."
She started to argue, to tell him to please say whatever he wanted, she'd stand by him, but he stopped her, and said, "Lorelai, she's your mom. One day, maybe a long time from now, maybe next month, you're going to hope that the two of you can find some common ground. I don't want to be in the way of that."
"I'm not going to look for that – ever – Luke, if it means I run the risk of losing you again. I couldn't…" she stopped, and now the pain in her chest was so great, she couldn't get the words to form.
He pulled her close.
"Never again, Lorelai. I'm not going anywhere. Ever. Do you understand?"
She nodded, throwing her arms around him and holding him as tightly as she could.
He kissed her, long and hard and she didn't know how, but she realized a little while later, that they were standing, and swaying, and Luke deepened the kiss, rocking Lorelai into him and she had never known such happiness. Never even known it was possible. There was no music, just the two of them and the sounds of the night, and after a while, Lorelai's brain, working the way it tends to work, scampered around and she giggled.
"What?" he said, leaning back to look at her.
"I am sooooo going to have to rewrite the lyrics of that song."
She smiled at him, and he grinned back, his eyes mischievous and twinkling.
"Yeah?" he asked.
"Oh, definitely, mister." She kissed him, slow and sweet.
"Let's go home," he said and she loved how that word meant wherever they were, together.
They packed up the picnic things, stowed them in the truck, and Lorelai taunted Luke most of the way home with a very naughty rendition of "Satisfaction." When they finally arrived at her house, Lorelai dug out a set of keys she'd had for a little while, waiting for the right moment, and handed them to Luke.
He looked at them oddly. "This doesn't have your fuzzy Hello!Kitty whatsit thing on here."
"Well, if you want one, I can get one for you, but I thought maybe all the guys would make fun of you if you're carrying around a Hello!Kitty keychain."
He held the key a moment before bringing his gaze to hers, and she hoped the fear she was feeling wasn't showing, and then he grinned.
"Probably a good idea then."
He put the key in the door, opened it and then put the key back in his own pocket. Lorelai couldn't contain her happiness. As she pulled him into a fierce kiss, he picked her up and carried her through the door.