AU - veers off the canon path somewhere around 5.18/5.19. Rating for non-graphic sexual situations.

Humongous thanks to iheartbridges for the fantastic beta.

Delicate Pieces

Part One: Tonight

Luke's apartment is dark when he steps inside, and for a moment he wonders if she has already gone to bed. Then he sees her– standing at the window overlooking the street, quiet and still and lost in thought or something else. He pauses in the doorway, suddenly unnerved, almost afraid to disturb her.

She is barefoot and clad only in a pair of unbuttoned jeans that sit low on her slim hips, as if she'd been distracted by something outside the window halfway through undressing for bed. The way she is facing the street affords him a perfect perspective of her profile– the delicate lines of her face, the slope of her small breasts, the slight inward curve of her waist. She stands very straight, shoulders squared, fists at her sides, like she is ready to go into battle. She is bracing herself. He marvels at her ability to look entirely vulnerable and utterly impenetrable at the same time.

Yellow light from the streetlamps is spilling in through the pane, bathing her in a harsh, synthetic glow. He thinks she looks eerie and impossibly lovely; the picture of tragic beauty– his very own Helen.

Lorelai turns her head suddenly, a flicker of movement, and catches him staring. Their gazes lock; the delicate pieces that have been lingering all day snap into place.

Her eyes are bright with tears and lamplight, her hair a mess of black curls falling over her white shoulders. His breath catches in his chest because he sees, for an ephemeral moment, what she was like at sixteen, before Rory, before Stars Hallow– a wild, sad, young thing.

He closes the distance between them, and for a moment, stands with her at the window. Its late; the street is barren. From the corner of his eye he sees two fat tears slide down her cheeks. He searches for the right words, for any words at all, but he knows there is nothing he could say that would erase the worry lines from her forehead. Language is her armor, not his, and even she has taken off the chain mail tonight. He's never seen her this way before– upset beyond the point of words. It scares him to see her so fragile. So quiet.

He isn't sure how he's supposed to be reacting to all of this. Should he cry? Scream? Smash his fist through the window? At first he was numb, pleasantly buzzed on denial, but slowly, feeling has begun to seep in, staining his countenance with a dark sort of fear. Mostly, he's just angry and so, so frustrated. This shouldn't be happening now, not when they were really starting to get it right. With all that thickly stuff with her mother and Christopher at the vow-renewal and the four-weeks-of-hell that followed securely behind them, the future was starting to look good again. The summer was just beginning to unfold, fresh and open with possibilities. He'd started making plans. He wanted to take her to his father's cabin and make her s'mores in front of the fire. He wanted to buy the Twickham house and fix it up so that it was theirs. He wanted to ask her to marry him.

Now, their picture-perfect summer is evaporating before his eyes. To Luke, the future looks thin and filmy, like wax paper. He never thought their future would be wax paper. They waited eight years to get to be in love and now that it is finally, finally here, the universe seems to be conspiring against them. Figures, Luke thinks bitterly, staring out at the empty street. He broke his own rule. He planned ahead.

He kisses her then, because he doesn't know what else to do, and because she's half-naked and sad and he loves her. He's dazed by the ferocity of her response, the way her hands come up to grasp his upper arms, the way she presses her lips against his until their teeth clash, the sound she makes when he threads his fingers through her hair– not a moan or a sob but something else, something sharper. His kiss is gentle, but hers is pleading. He is surprised. He didn't think she would want to tonight.

"Luke..." She pulls back a few inches and says his name, her voice soft and sandpapery.

He reaches up with both hands and traces her collarbone with the pads of his fingers, his palms brushing the tops of her breasts. "I want to," he says, surprised to find his own voice hoarse.

She reaches up and begins to unbutton his dress shirt. No flannel today– he felt like he had to dress up when they saw the doctor. He even shaved, as if these small things would somehow steer the course of fate and bring them good news. Now he realizes how stupid that was.

Luke watches as she pushes the shiny buttons through the tiny holes, admiring the nimble way her long, slender fingers work, wanting to feel them against his skin. She slides the shirt off his shoulders and down his arms, and he tugs his undershirt over his head. Both garments puddle on the floor.

Her hands come up, smoothing over the planes of his chest and down his arms. Her eyes darken, and he sees the change in her face as desire attempts to eclipse sadness. It doesn't quite make it, but he knows the two can coexist.

She steps into his arms then, hugging him tightly around the waist. He pulls her closer still, realizing for the first time how cold it is in the apartment when he feels the gooseflesh spread all over her pale skin.

This could be the last time.

The icy thought registers in his head and sinks to his chest, chilling him in one shuddering second. He pulls back to look at Lorelai, at the slight furrow of her brow, the purse of her pink lips. A sick feeling curdles in the pit of his stomach as he realizes that she's thinking it too. He feels it in the press of her fingers against his skin. Desperation.

Make it count. The words thrum inside his head. Make it count.

Tamping down the sudden frantic feeling, Luke takes a small step backwards. Lorelai takes this opportunity to slide her jeans down her legs and step out of them. She reaches for his belt and soon, his jeans join hers on the floor.

He kisses her mouth softly, then her jaw and down her neck, pausing at the hollow of her throat, where her low, appreciative hum vibrates beneath his lips. He kneels, and his mouth maps a trail down her chest, landing at the soft skin of her stomach. He pauses, wondering at what might never be. At all they never got the chance to do. Luke kisses her there, letting the tip of his tongue dip into her navel. He feels more than hears her answering gasp. Her hands find their way to his hair, fingernails scraping gently over his scalp. Luke shivers, breathing in the heady smell of her skin.

He needs her. Its simple and obvious and something he realizes now in a new, sharp way. His life before her was dull and monotonous. After Rachel left, after his dad died, there were a few years when everything was dark. He went through the motions of life, eating, sleeping, working, seeing the same people every day, all the while plagued by the sense that it all meant nothing. He was an automaton moving through a grey world. And then, one day, there was Lorelai, and she was loud and bright and fun. The color came back in big, splashy bursts. Even before he loved her, he needed her.

What would he do without her? Alone, his mind answers his own question. But even more than alone, he'd be without her. The fear that thought incites is a prickly knot at the back of his neck, a palpable thing.

"Luke?" He looks up at the sound of her voice, his cheek still pressed against her flat stomach. She looks worried. He realizes that he has stopped participating, his mind drifting.

"Sorry," he murmurs. She strokes the back of his neck in response.

On any other night she would be teasing him about his short attention span and skillfully redirecting his focus. Tonight she is silent, her usual happy chatter replaced with a look of solemness and obvious adoration that both scares and moves him.

He'd grown used to the fact that she talks while they make love. It isn't in the usual way, not with the raunchy, tactless words he's heard the moldable women of hazy late-night shows and nine-hundred numbers use. With Lorelai it isn't a dirty, desperate thing, a whispering of lewd suggestions into ears in the dark– it is simply that there is, on a normal night, a perpetual stream of words leaving her mouth. She quips and giggles, and tells him how she feels, and makes him laugh at times he never thought it would be appropriate to laugh, and that is something new and sweet for him.

At first, accustomed to Nicole's persistent habit of firmly shutting her lips and eyes in intimate moments, he thought that Lorelai was using the words to distance herself from him, trying to undo the moment, to keep him at arms length. But Luke soon realized it was exactly the opposite- talking is just her way of grounding herself, the way she connects to the world, and thus, to him. He found he likes being able to direct the path of her words with his hands and lips– to change her tone from teasing to pleading. More than that, he likes the low, honeyed timbre of her voice when they are wrapped up in sheets and sweat and each other.

Now her animate chatter is gone, relinquished to the demons of the day. Luke finds that he really misses it. This heavy silence is almost suffocating.

"It'll be okay, Luke" she finally says. "It will be." He lets her have the lie.

Luke stands. Lorelai balances on her tiptoes, kissing him until their lungs ache and the cadent roll of her hips propels him toward the bed. Unwilling to disentangle, they make it there in a few, fumbling steps and slip under the sheets. Her hands find him in the darkness, reaching through the sadness and the dread, leaving him panting with want and grasping for her.

His fingers search out all her softest places. He knows her, knows what she likes, where and how she wants to be touched. He wants to make her happy. He wants that more that anything else in the world.

Before long he is above and she is below, and Lorelai is reaching down to guide him in. She sighs softly and he closes his eyes with the good of it.

They've always been good at this, the give and take part of it, the rhythm of their usual verbal banter echoed in the rhythm of their bodies. Tonight, they find themselves moving with a new, desperate kind of heat, unable to get close enough, holding on so tightly they leave tiny crescents of indentation where fingernails cleaved to flesh.

Luke dips his head to press his lips to her neck, just under her ear, and settles there, nipping her lightly and then letting his tongue salve the reddened skin. He can feel the delicate pulse of her heartbeat surging beneath his lips. Alive, he thinks.

Reality is a sharp edge they move to avoid, but even with careful dancing Tomorrow looms above and around them, a thick and choking reminder that tonight is the only certain thing. He has to resist the urge to grasp her hips in his large hands and pound into her until Tomorrow wavers and disappears.

Instead, shamed by the thought, he bends his head and kisses her deeply, allowing himself to be soothed by the hot, sweet slide of her tongue and the circular movement of her hips. There is comfort in the familiar motions, in the heat of another person. Even though their small, safe world is unraveling, they still have this.

When he feels her reaching, he slides a hand under her back, lifting her a few inches off the mattress, and pushes a pillow under her hips, changing the angle in a way he knows she likes.

She gasps, then moans deeply. Without warning, her eyes fill with tears she can't blink away. They slip past her eyelashes and roll down the sides of her face to pool in the delicate hollows of her ears. Dismayed, Luke stops moving. He has to work to slow his breathing, the sound of his frantically beating heart pulsing in his ears.

"No, I'm sorry, don't stop..." she whispers, but she's still crying.

Luke closes his eyes against the sight of her tears. He wants to scream with the unfairness of it all; he wants to stomp and cry and break things. Instead he leans down a few inches to kiss her forehead.

She shakes her head slightly, angry at herself. "Luke, I'm sorry, I'm making this harder. Dammit." She takes a deep, shuddering breath and swipes at her cheeks. "Everything's going to be fine. I'm just scared about tomorrow."

He opens his eyes so that she can see what he doesn't know how to put into words. His voice is heavy with honesty. "Me too."

For the first time all day he lets himself really look at her, right into her wet, blue eyes. He stares until he feels a lump form in his own throat, and it's too much, too real, and she takes his face in her hands and kisses him fiercely.

He moves again, and she moves with him, and eventually, Tomorrow begins to fade away.

Her climax is quick and hard, and through slitted eyes he watches her face, awestruck, as she splinters like a mirror knocked off the wall, falling into a thousand glittering pieces and reflecting light into all the dark corners. The sweet, keening sound she makes and the way her fingers clutch at the muscles of his back push him over the edge, and he shudders, groaning endearments he won't remember into her shoulder as she strokes his hair.

For a moment he lets himself rest on her, his head pillowed on her breasts. She holds him there firmly, her breath coming in warm, quick puffs against his forehead. But he is afraid to hurt her, so he turns onto his back, bringing her with him.

Lorelai lays her head on his chest, pressing her cheek into his warm skin. After a minute, she reaches out and gently places her hand on his side, just above his waist, directly over the place they were told the tumor is. The site is marked by the tiny, pink wound left over from the biopsy he had three days ago. 'X' marks the spot, he thinks, but this is no treasure.

He feels her breath hitch in her chest, and knows she's remembering that horrible day the biopsy was taken. He lays a hand on her head and strokes her hair, trying to memorize the way it feels between his fingers. "Rory's still going to meet us at the hospital at 9:00 tomorrow?"

"Yeah," she says, not lifting her head from his chest. "She's bringing Parcheesi for us to play in the waiting room." She offers a half-hearted laugh that sounds more like a sob.

"I feel bad about her missing a day of classes, but at least you won't have to wait alone."

She nods against him. Silence folds over them for a moment, and its something he's getting used to. The quiet was a luxury he figured he'd have to give up when they started dating, only to find that it wasn't such a luxury after all. He never counted on this. Now he has to learn to like the quiet all over again.

"You're going to be fine, Luke," she says. Her words are solid and brave, but she's pressed up so tightly against him that he feels the telltale tremor in her hands and lips and chin.

"I know," he agrees quietly. Maybe he won't be fine. They both know that. But he also knows that there is more than just Tomorrow– there is tonight. Tonight she's here, warm and soft beside him, and that's something. For Luke, that's everything.

Even though he has to squint to see beyond the wax paper windows, the lamplight finds it's way through, and he can just make out the blurry, pretty shape of her. In the silver moments before he falls asleep, drifting in that bleary place where dreams imbue thoughts, he watches as the scattered shards of mirror glitter in the yellow glow, so many delicate pieces dancing in the dark corners.