The Accidental Romantic

Teaser: Lit, amidst the background of JJ. Set a bit in the future. Because some things aren't to be denied.

Disclaimer: I own nothing, not Gilmore Girls, the rights to any of the books mentioned or read by the characters that I don't own (just manipulate), or the rights to Patsy Cline's Crazy. Though I have an inkling you probably could have surmised as much. No one is paying me to mention any of this.

Rating: PG-13

The reverend was running late. The church was lightly scattered with the immediate wedding party, broken up in small conversations about the upcoming event and other small town gossip. The fact that her mother had wanted to get married in the church was strange to everyone at first. The only time the Gilmore women had ever gone to the small church in town was for funerals, or for Rory's need to rush something to Lane, who'd been stuck here for many hours of her youth. It had never been about worship for them, and Luke certainly couldn't be counted a religious man. This church to them was just another fixture of this town where the crazy people assembled to talk.

Lorelai had explained that this holy building was the place where she'd first admitted to herself that she had more than platonic feelings for Luke, and she liked the idea of sealing their fate here as well. They'd broken into this church years before to re-break the bells that had been repaired after years of disuse, much to the chagrin of all the townsfolk who feared hearing-loss as a result of the glorious noise. By the time they left the building that fateful night, the bells were broken, along with her notion that her feelings for Luke were strictly friendly.

So, here she sat, in the front pew on the 'Bride' side, reading a leather-bound copy of Persuasion, trying to lose herself in the words as they continued to await the beginning of the rehearsal wedding. Luckily the rehearsal dinner was just being held at Sookie's house, and they had no steadfast reservations pending at a restaurant—though Sookie was growing impatient, telling anyone who would listen (and several who simply had no other choice) that she'd planned this whole thing out, and she had a strict schedule to keep, or all the food would be ruined.

It wasn't Sookie she was avoiding, however. Sitting across the aisle, in the front pew on the opposite side of the church, was someone it was chemically impossible for her to ignore. Jess Mariano sat reading a tattered copy of The Alchemist, seemingly oblivious to her presence. It infuriated her as much as it pleased her—she didn't want him assuming the privilege of coming up to her as if everything that had passed between them was just water under the bridge. It was to be kept a barricade, not a bridge.

He had to know she would be the maid of honor at this event. She was her mother's only daughter, her best friend in the world, and had witnessed the progression from hatred, annoyance, indifference, flirtation, and finally clumsy infatuation that had led her mother and Luke to this very moment. She had to be the one to stand up for this pair of lovers. He, on the other hand, had never been anywhere without coercion. He could have cared less about her mother's happiness, and he could take a long walk off a short pier for all she cared.

She watched him turn a page, his interest unwaning, and she let out a huff of frustration. Someone slid into the pew next to her, following her gaze.

"You okay?"

"He's just … sitting there. Reading. Like nothing else in the world is happening."

Lorelai cleared her throat, wondering how to say this diplomatically. "Well, isn't that what you were doing, too?"

Rory's mouth hung open, but at least now she was looking at her mother. "I'm here for you. I'm just killing some time until everything gets started. He, on the other hand, will probably just sit there reading after we get started, disrupting everything," she explained, as if her mother should expect this.

Shouldn't she expect this? Lorelai was no stranger to Jess. She knew he was out to do whatever was easiest for himself only, didn't she? Even Luke knew it, and that was what was so perplexing—why Luke had appointed someone so untrustworthy his best man. How Lorelai could have allowed it at all, knowing the weirdness that had always existed between them since their break up. These were not the questions Lorelai was here to answer, however.

"I know you want to hate him," Lorelai soothed.

"He never gave me any other choice," Rory pointed out.

"I know, but honey, that was years ago. You've both moved on, and you're adults now. And sadly, you're not so different, I mean look at you."

Rory glared at her mother, not wanting to fight on this special night. "I'm fine just ignoring him, thank you," she resigned, opening her book back up to the bookmarked page.

"Fine. I'll stay out of it."

"Good. Now, go be nauseating with Luke."

"No problem," she smiled happily, squeezed Rory's shoulder, and stood up to go rejoin the rest of the crowd.

She settled back against the pew, her book open and waiting to be read. She could be as oblivious as he, just sitting there with his hair falling slightly into his eyes. Or was it? Suddenly, she couldn't remember if his hair was quite that long. She felt her heartbeat quicken as she realized she needed to look at him again, to steal a glance to confirm or refute the vision she now had in her mind. She turned her head, ever so slightly, and gasped when she saw him looking at her.

How dare he! He had no right to look at her. It was bad enough that he dare to ignore her, but now as he was looking at her as if studying her profile, his head slightly bent as it had been over his book, she was filled with rage. No matter what she did to him, how much she ran away or told him to leave, he just kept popping up acting as unaffected as he always had. If only she could just get a real reaction out of him, maybe that would satisfy her. Maybe nothing he could do would satisfy her.

"What?"

Her voice wasn't loud; in fact, it was damn near inaudible with the crowd several pews back talking and laughing happily behind them.

"Nothing."

"Not nothing, you're looking at me."

He just shrugged. "You were looking at me first."

"I was not looking at you. I was looking at that window," she lied.

"I didn't realize you had such a thing for stained glass," he mocked her, his tone sarcastic.

"I'm ignoring you now."

"Right. You're good at that."

She slammed her book shut in her lap, and he looked back up at her in surprise. He had expected her to say nothing, and go back to her silent staring between paragraphs. That seemed to be the game she'd been playing. Obviously that was the case no longer.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You've been quite unsuccessful at it since I got here this evening."

"Why are you even here?"

"You're kidding, right?"

"What, you were forced into being Luke's best man?"

"Fuck you," he shook his head, looking back down at his book.

"We're in a church," she admonished him, getting up suddenly and evidently without thought. He thought she looked rather surprised to find herself standing at his side, as if waiting for entrance into his pew. He sighed and slid over, making room for her to be seated.

"I refuse to alter my vocabulary, no matter where I am. I don't dumb it down in a strip club, and I don't suck on a bar of soap before I enter a mosque."

"You were always polite to Mrs. Kim," she said quietly, as if to show his inconsistency.

"Mrs. Kim could kill me a hundred different ways with just her hands. That woman is scary."

Rory smiled. She'd always gotten the same impression from the woman, even in her youngest years. But Mrs. Kim's potentially lethal hands were not the issue here. She would tell him the issue, if only she could remember why she had felt so compelled to come over here in the first place.

He looked at her for a moment, as if waiting for her next jab, and looked back to his book after she remained eerily silent for a beat. She looked down at the pages of text, reading the first paragraph on the page facing her.

"I hate it when you do that."

"I left my book."

"So, go get it. No one's stopping you," he said, not looking up at her during the exchange.

"This doesn't seem like your kind of book."

"Have you read it?"

"Yes."

"Well, then we're even. I've read the one you brought, too."

"You've read Persuasion?"

"I've read all of Jane Austen's books," he said, closing his book when he realized this was going to be a conversation. Sometimes she would just say a few things and leave him to his reading, and sometimes she would get off on a tangent, actually breaking his concentration. They used to spend hours on her mother's couch, at either end reading their respective books. She would sometimes quote her book, sometimes ask what his was about when hers wasn't to her liking—sometimes they'd just switch. He got really good at knowing when she would let him keep reading and when she needed to chat. He usually kept trying to read anyway, though.

"Why?"

"They were there, I was bored."

"You had the whole of the New York Public Library System at your disposal."

"Until I moved here."

"You read Jane Austen in Stars Hollow? Watch it, I'll start to think you a romantic," her voice dripped with derision.

He seemed to look through her at that moment, and she felt a chill run through her. "Think whatever you want."

"I don't have to think, I know you aren't a romantic."

He nodded. "Fair enough. I didn't read Jane Austen to get ideas on romance. I did it more as a case study."

"A case study?"

"To see how women really think. And you know what I found out? It's crazy how man-obsessed you all are. It drives every thing you do. You all think they're all out to get you, trying to entice you into their evil lairs, and you have no idea when one really is honestly interested in you, just because they find you, shockingly enough, pleasant company."

"Were you always like this?" she asked.

"It's true."

"It is not."

"Prove it."

"What do you mean, prove it?"

"When was the last time you went a whole week without your thoughts revolving around whether or not some guy was going to call you?"

"I don't sit around waiting for my phone to ring," she narrowed her eyes at him. "I have a life. A good life," she added.

He didn't want to hear about her life. He really didn't want to hear about her current boyfriend or glamorous job. He definitely didn't want to know where she lived, that never led to a good outcome. He needed the damn reverend to get a move on and get this show on the road. He turned in the pew, looking to the back of the church.

"Looking to leave already?"

"No, just checking to see if we're starting anytime soon," he explained, turning back around and shifting uncomfortably in the hard wooden pew.

"You can't rush the people in this town."

"Funny, they sure are in an all-fire hurry when they're hungry."

She shrugged, and turned around past him, to look at the crowd—namely her mother and Luke. Lorelai was hanging onto Luke's arm, tugging on it slightly as he talked. She was laughing, waiting to add her two cents on his version of whatever story he was conveying. They shared stories, making each more complete for their unique views. Each remembered precious details, ones that would never even enter the other's consciousness, but made it all the more sweet to hear the recanting from the mouth of their better half.

She smiled, loving that her mother was so happy. She knew that her mother was harboring a secret—something she'd only confided in Rory about. Luke and Lorelai, deciding that since they'd been together for so long and they weren't getting any younger, had been trying to get pregnant for the last few months. Lorelai had just confirmed their success with both two pink lines on a stick home test, and a trip to her OB-GYN in Hartford two days prior. She was waiting to tell Luke on the wedding night, as a wedding gift.

"What?"

She looked to Jess, trying to hide the joy that had graced her face. "Nothing," she turned it back on him.

"Why were you looking like that?"

"Like what?"

"Like you did when you first decided you were going to Yale."

She was taken aback, that he remembered something like her expression from years ago. "You remember things like that?"

There was no change in intensity of his gaze, as it pierced through her in his steadfast manner.

"I'm cursed with a photographic memory."

The smile on her face faded at the pain he allowed to seep into his voice. Every revelation he offered was meaningful, as she knew, as he had the ultimate in poker faces.

"I'm just glad to see two people who obviously belong together make it work."

"Slipping a ring on someone's finger and repeating words doesn't make a relationship work. That's why pawn shops and law firms are so prevalent."

She wouldn't entertain the notion that her unborn sibling would grow up without a father, as she had. Her mother had it all now, and this was made to last. She was surer of that than anything in her life.

"You're right, it takes faith."

He looked at her as she realized that she believed whole-heartedly in the words she'd just spoken. It appeared to be a surprise to even her.

"Alright everyone, sorry I'm late. The Stars Hollow Religious Faith Alliance's, uh, er, meeting, it ran long this evening. Let's all assemble, shall we?"

The two looked back at each other, knowing it was the Alliance's weekly poker game that had held up the good reverend. Rory's eyes seemed softer, wider—full of melancholy. He knew the expression she held was for him. She had no faith in him, believing he couldn't find any in himself. He stood up, and moved as her mirror image, stopping as instructed just on the other side of Luke as she moved to stand next to her mother.

XXXX

Metal clinking on glasses chimed loud enough to be heard for blocks. Sookie and Jackson's entire backyard was filled with half-drunk well-wishers, who were assembled under strung lanterns, balloons, and streamers. It as the kind of hoopla that Luke normally grunted and grumbled about. Tonight, however, his trademark scowl was replaced by a genuine smile as he watched his bride-to-be stand to make the gushy, silly version of their 'thank-you' toast.

After dinner was served and even more alcohol consumed, the dancing began. Couples swayed and twirled along to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Patsy Cline, and Ella Fitzgerald. As dusk surrendered to night, the stars and lightening bugs added their own magical glows to the mix.

Rory sighed dreamily, thinking how perfect an evening it was turning out to be as she swirled her wine about in her glass. She looked around, realizing Jess hadn't returned since he excused himself when the music first swelled in the background. It was just as well, she didn't really need another run-in with him tonight. Their earlier encounter had left her drained enough, and she wanted to be as refreshed as possible in the morning. She decided then and there to snag her mother after enjoying the music for a while longer, to say she'd see her back at home. She could take the long way home, and continue to enjoy the way the music would drift through the trees as she walked the familiar path home.

"Would you like to dance?"

His voice was as soft as the warm summer breeze that had been wafting through her hair just a moment before.

"No, thank you."

She didn't turn to face him, and he put his hands on her shoulders, resting them for a moment. She swirled her wine and took a sip.

"We both know you want to dance. You love these sappy songs."

His warm breath tickled her ear as he continued to speak into it. "One dance."

She turned to face him now, setting her glass down on the table, running her fingers along the stem before she completely let go. He wasn't sure what exactly she was looking for, but she stared at him for a moment before nodding wordlessly. He pulled her chair out, and she took his hand as he led them to the make-shift dance floor.

Rory looked only at him, not wanting to catch questioning glances from any onlookers; she could barely believe this was the man that was leading her around the grass. He held her waist firmly, confidently, with one hand, pulling her just close enough to his body without being overly presumptuous. She offered her other hand, which he took in his, and they began to move together as Patsy Cline's lamenting ballad filled the space between them.

Crazy, for feeling so lonely

Poetic justice, she thought, and she felt his grip get more solid, as if trying to fuse his hand to the fabric of her thin summer dress. She smiled, as if acknowledging the absurdity of the current situation.

I'm crazy, crazy for feeling so blue

At any other wedding, the maid of honor and best man dancing was just a normality, a nice tradition. She suddenly wished she'd had an extra glass of wine.

I knew you'd love me as long as you wanted

"How've you been?"

Worry, why do I let myself worry?

"You know, busy."

Wonderin', what in the world did I do?

"What's keeping you busy?"


Crazy for thinking that my love could hold you

"New York Times. International Politics Division."

"So, you made it."

"You had doubts?"

I'm crazy for trying and crazy for crying

"About you? Never."

And I'm crazy for loving you.

She suppressed all implications that his words may hold past her ability to be hired by one of the finest news organizations in the world.

"Luke says you work at a major publishing house."

"Random House."

"So, you are in New York."

"The Big Apple," he smiled, reminding them both of her first and only visit to him in the city.

"I know where 44th is now."

He just nodded, knowing that she learned her way around, independent of him, while he roamed the same streets. They could have passed just moments too late thousands of times. It was no easier to realize here with her in his arms that it was in his empty apartment. The outcome would be the same.

"But I'm gone a lot on business. New York is just my base office."

"Right. New York isn't very international."

"Well, in a lot of respects it is."

"True."

She shouldn't have thought about how easy and flowing their banter was. How good it felt to have his arms supporting and guiding her. Most of all, she should have not thought about how easy it would be just to rest her head on his shoulder for a moment, letting everything else melt away.

He felt her tense in his arms, and he fought the urge to pull her closer. It always worked in the past. Her second guessing was always alleviated by his proximity. She pulled herself a little closer to him, surprising him, and he closed his eyes when she pressed her warm cheek against his.

"I wanted to hurt you."

The raw words were spoken like they were made of flower petals instead of razor blades. They settled upon him as such, cutting him only after he was first lulled into a peaceful wonder. He'd been expecting this, but he wished he couldn't smell her sweet scent as she sliced through him.

"I know."

"I didn't have a choice."

He couldn't go as far as agreeing with that, even though he knew in his heart that she believed her own words. He just kept moving, turning them slightly to dodge those around them that had lost the ability to judge passing distance.

"It hurt me too much, wanting you. I couldn't do it anymore."

Her hand slid around from his back to rest on his chest. He couldn't let her push him away. He took their joined hands, and pulled them in to his chest, holding on as hard as he could without crushing her hand. She let her other hand rest lightly on his chest, and he slowed their movements to the beat of the next song.

"And I wanted to hurt you, to make you feel the way I did. Every time you came back—not for me, but to make it harder for me to forget you. . . I wanted to hurt you. To make you stop coming back."

"It worked," he kept the rhythm of the music in their movements.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be."

She wanted to explain that it had been a mistake—it hadn't worked at all; it'd just provided a false close to an unfinished story. She'd always believed that in parts of her mind that she could never share with anyone else. These were the recesses of her mind that she kept safe, and that she only allowed herself to enter in the depths of night. There she was free to think about being in his arms, her cheek pressed into his as they moved together. How his lips would feel as they brushed her cheek, encouraging her to turn to meet him in a passionate kiss. The way the rest of the crowd would disappear into the distance, joining the stars that shone upon them as his tongue caressed hers.

"Jess," she whispered, longing for him to do something she might regret later.

He had no intention of giving into the wine that she'd had with dinner. He heard the second song winding down. This had gone on too long already.

He stilled their sway to an eventual stop with the music, and Lorelai's voice came over a microphone.

"And this, ladies and gentleman, is a tribute to my soon-to-be legally bound husband. A glimpse of what your life would have been if you hadn't been smart enough to keep me around," she winked at him and motioned to cue the music.

Bob Marley came over the speakers, and Luke's face turned several shades of red. People looked to one another in confusion, as Lorelai and Rory giggled, the only other ones getting the joke.

"I know Luke has no musical taste, but reggae?"

Rory looked back to Jess, whose arm was still lightly around her waist from their completed dance, her eyes dancing with laughter.

"It's an old joke. They broke up a few years ago, and on their first date back together, Mom found a reggae CD that Luke had bought. He bought it, trying to branch out, to try new things."

"Let me guess. Until he listened to it?"

"Mom wouldn't stop playing it. She played it for a week straight, mocking him, until he broke it in half."

"Smart man."

She nodded, looking back at the DJ station, where Luke was arguing with Lane to remove the Marley and put on something that wouldn't scare the hell out of their guests. Lane was offended at his choice of words and told him to wait until she found a suitable replacement. Lorelai placated him with a kiss. "Unchained Melody" began, sending everyone back out onto the floor.

"I should get going. It's going to be a long day tomorrow."

"Can I walk you home?"

She looked down as he withdrew his hand from her side, the final loss of contact.

"I'd like that."

He nodded, and walked towards the house as she moved further into the crowd to alert her mother to her departure. She was the consummate good daughter, and she was about to leave with the son that had never purchased a Mother's Day card. He didn't believe in pretenses.

He poured himself a glass of water in the kitchen, trying to ease the heat as he waited for her. She found him there, by the sink, the clear liquid flowing into his mouth. She watched his languid movements, and the normality of it struck her. He placed the used glass in the sink, a routine he'd learned early in life, and turned to face her, still leaning on the sink with one hand.

"Ready?"

She nodded. He put the other hand on the sink behind him, and pushed himself up and off, finding his balance and falling in step with her. True to her imagination, the music followed them home, seemingly behind and ahead of them during their measured walk.

XXXX

It was like a scene right out of her memory, them standing before the steps of her mother's front porch. The difference was that there was no adult ready to turn the porch light on, officially ending their evening together. It was just them and the weight of too many years out of practice with each other.

"Did you honestly think this would ever happen?"

"The wedding?"

He nodded. She wondered if the wedding was all he had meant, but she decided to answer his question without tossing one back at him.

"Yeah, I mean, it was more like a matter of when. And it's fortuitous timing. Can you keep a secret?"

"Better than anyone I know."

"You have to swear."

He crossed his heart with his right index finger, and she giggled. "I'm serious."

"I can see that."

She leaned in conspiratorially, despite the fact that the rest of the town was still drinking the night away at the Melville residence.

"They're going to have a baby. Mom's telling Luke tomorrow."

Her soft voice, the joy mixed with excitement, filled him. He wanted to swallow her words. He ached to feel her same sense of what was to come—to be able to think of the good and happy surprises that life could bring.

"He doesn't know?"

"She just found out—she's surprising him."

"You'll have a brother or sister."

She nodded, her smile growing wider. "I will."

"Luke with a baby, now that's an image."

"He used to baby-sit you a lot."

He looked at her strangely, wondering how she could have such personal information about him that even he was unaware of. "How did you … ?"

"He used to talk about you, sometimes. I'd come in, to wait for you to get back from work, and he'd tell me stories about when you were a baby while I helped him close the diner."

"He made you help him close?" he groaned.

"I offered. It was like payment for the stories. He dropped you on your head, you know."

He furrowed his brow, trying to ascertain whether or not she was kidding.

"I don't expect you to remember, it's normal in cases of blunt trauma to the head."

He smiled, and nodded, encouraging her to continue.

"Actually, he watched as you rolled off the bed."

"You're enjoying this way too much. He probably scarred me for life."

She raised an eyebrow, and cocked her head to the side slightly.

"What?" he asked, stepping closer to her.

"Nothing," she whispered, shaking her head defiantly.

He stepped closer yet again, causing his chest to press lightly into hers. She took in a deep breath of air, looked up from their new place of meeting, and then up to his eyes.

"Tell me."

She shook her head again, as if to dare him closer. He complied, putting his hands on her hips and tugging gently, joining them at a second juncture.

"Still nothing?"

She shook her head, "You think I'm so easily manipulated?"

Her tone was coy, and he knew what she wanted. He knew her so well.

He moved his hands up from her waist, sliding them up her arms before coming to rest gently on her cheeks, barely touching her as he brushed his thumbs over the hollows under the cheekbones. He leaned down, unable to get any further into her bubble of personal space. There was nothing else to do but kiss her.

His lips traced hers, brushing over them in a circular manner before centering in and applying the sweet pressure that neither realized they'd missed so much until that moment. Her hands went to his hair, their favorite destination of all time, and weaved in like extensions. She opened her mouth, allowing him to taste the red wine she'd had just minutes before. His tongue swept over her teeth and just as she began to deepen the kiss, he pulled back, hooking her bottom lip with his teeth and scraping along it all the way until it eased out of his grasp.

Her mind was still lost in the kiss. She needed that not to be the end as he pulled back just enough not to be in reach if she leaned again towards him, but she knew that kiss was more than she could have hoped for. Reality seemed subjective in their world right now. What was and is interchanged in her mind like two sides of a coin she tossed in the air, as she was willing to let another kiss like that change her world completely.

"I was just thinking, you've never seemed damaged in any way to me."

And with that, the distance was bridged, not barricaded, yet again. His lips descended upon hers without hesitation, this time with a fervor that he'd never allowed her, or anyone else, to feel.

Perhaps knowing how much passion he quelled inside of him, and the rarity of its exhibition, was what made her pull back suddenly. She looked at him, and noticed the biggest change in him of all. What she saw in his eyes was something she'd only seen a brief flicker of years ago—faith.

"This is crazy."

"Rory, don't do this."

"Don't do what? Stop this? We can't do this, not now, not like this," she shook her head.

"Rory, stop."

"I need to go. There's a lot to do tomorrow," she apologized, taking a step onto the porch.

He nodded, and let her take another step away from him. "Is this about hurting me?"

She stopped edging away from him. "No. This is about not hurting me."

He stood in shock, watching as she retreated into the safety of her childhood home.

XXXX

Her stomach tightened to an almost painful point as she saw him began to descend the aisle, ready to come join her halfway. It'd been her mother's idea, something she'd thought was lovely at some wedding she'd planned. The groomsmen were to walk halfway down the length of the church, meet their bridesmaid, and escort them to their spot. She saw Sookie smiling back at her from the front of the sanctuary, having left a good two minutes before Rory took leave of her mother—the only one left standing in the back of the church.

He looked resistantly handsome. He hated tuxes and suits, and dressing up in general. The men wore nice black suits, though Lorelai had insisted they wear ties as well. Jess wore a dark blue tie that matched her dress perfectly. His hair was pushed back, secured by gel no doubt, and now he was offering his arm to her. Her mouth had gone dry between taking her first step onto the carpeted aisle and now. There was too much symbolism in this moment for her taste. Especially considering the prior night's activities. She took her small bouquet in her left hand and laced her right through the opening he provided with the crook of his elbow.

"You look amazing," his words were nary a whisper, for her ears only.

"So do you."

This was the longest walk ever. She was perfect in her knee-length navy gown, her hair pulled up out of her face. Her trademark feature, her eyes, was all he could see as she approached him. He could now smell the flowers in her clutch, gardenias. It only added to his unraveling.

He bid her leave, and moved over to pass Luke as he went to meet his bride. They looked on, unable to take their eyes of the miracle that seemed to be happening in the church. Luke and Lorelai were truly a vision of joy as they made their way together to the front of the church. There was a faint rustling as the crowd obediently took a collective seat, settling down to bear witness. Lorelai handed Rory her bouquet, and they shared a knowing smile. Jess realized that they hadn't discussed the last moments of his evening, as there was no hesitation in their brilliant blue eyes.

He couldn't blame her. She wanted to focus on the wedding and the good things for her mother. She'd always been that way, one to leave out any offending details, her efforts pure to keep the peace. He'd always wanted to coax the whole gritty truth out of her in the beginning, but came to realize that it would shatter her naïve look at the world. He didn't want to be the one to damage her.

The moment of truth—the kiss—came as a relief. No one had stormed the sacred event or objected. They were now joined, no one able to put them asunder. The promise of love they made today was heartfelt and in a way needless. They'd made their promises to one another in so many ways over the years. Rory handed over her mother's flowers, and watched as the now joined partnership made their exit amidst cheers and applause. He was there again at her side, his arm extended to help her make her way. She smiled, the feeling of celebration coursing through the air.

They got out of the showering of rose petals, as he pulled her underneath the cover of a nearby tree. It was cooler there as well, the leaves shading them from the summer sun. She giggled from the frenzy and idea that she needed to be rescued from rose petals. He reached a hand up, and she felt his fingertips brush against her scalp. Her giggles subsided, and he held up the petals that had collected in her hair.

"Unless you were going for a certain look?"

She shook her head, and returned the favor. His gel had been a magnet for the soft pink and crème colored confetti. She combed her fingers through his hair, the most efficient way to accumulate the roses, and he watched her face intently as she worked.

"Thanks."

"You've never been a flower guy."

He nodded, and she released the petals to the ground with a flick of her wrist.

"There, all better."

"All better," he agreed.

She smiled as her breath hitched. He knew she wanted to say something, but no words came to her lips. She knew she didn't have to—at any rate she owed him nothing. He reached out and took her hand in his, not wanting her able to flee when he managed to speak for the both of them.

"I wouldn't expect it to suddenly work now."

"Jess," she shook her head, willing him not to do this.

"It never worked in the past, because it was never the right time. I just always thought the time would come that all the bullshit would fall away. You never judged me. You never did anything but take what I gave you. You never had to ask what I wasn't telling you, because you knew, right?"

She nodded, willing the tears to stay at bay.

"But I can't expect you to want to give this the try we never allowed it. Just because you're in New York now," he held her hand more tightly. She squeezed his in response.

"I travel too much," she offered.

"I can be anywhere that had internet access." He couldn't just let her agree with him. Not at a time like this.

"I'm not good at relationships."

"You're good with me."

"You know something about you and romance?" her voice broke, and he pulled her closer, willing her to fall apart in his arms.

"What's that?" she could feel his lips at the lobe of her ear, barely moving as he spoke softly.

"You don't even have to try. You just seem to do it accidentally, effortlessly, and in the most bizarre of ways. It's in the tone of your voice, and the way your eyes penetrate my skin. It's infuriating."

"Do I make your blood boil? Your knees go weak with want?"

She whimpered against his chest, her forehead now leaning against his shoulder for support. He'd moved his hands up to her back, just above where the fabric gave way to the expanse of milky white skin.

"Don't run," he whispered finally before he tipped her chin upwards, making it possible to kiss her once more. She responded immediately this time, and he didn't pull back. He made her feel every last grasp of his hands, every caress of his tongue. He wanted to drown inside of her, and there was no holding back this time. Suddenly neither could breathe, nor willing to be separated. The gathering crowd, which had just seen the happy couple off towards the reception, gasping and pointing as the pair clung to one another didn't even register. He moved his hands down the side of her body, feeling her for the first time in years. A sweet relief washed over him as she pulled herself closer when he broke the kiss, hugging him fiercely. It was her way of showing him she didn't want to pull back.

"Hey."

"Hi," she smiled, finally moving back into his arms just far enough to see the smile on his face.

"Rory, we should," he sighed. He hated these talks, and knew it had to be done. She pressed her lips to his to silence him. She pulled away, shaking her head.

"I don't need you to promise me anything, Jess. I never needed that. I just want you to be there."

He nodded. "Then I guess I should start by escorting you to your mother's reception."

She smiled, her whole face lighting up. "I guess you should."

"Think she'll tell Luke before they leave?"

"Well, we'll know for sure if she does."

"Think he'll yell or pass out?"

"My money's on a combo."

Jess laughed, and released his grasp on her waist to hold the car door open for her. "I like how you think."

He closed the door after her, moving around to the drivers' side door. It seemed the most natural thing in the world, to be here with her now. He knew as well as she did—they'd given up the fight. The struggle over who hurt more, who could run the fastest and furthest; it faded into the story of their past. As he drove off towards the party, all they could see ahead of them was the future.