A/N I've been a long-time lurker in the Luke and Lorelai thread at TWoP. This was inspired by speculation of what the posters there thought could happen next season.
My thanks to three wonderful betas. This is my first experience with the beta-ing process and it was well and truly worth it. Thanks to NicoleMack, Monnie and Undisclosed for all their editing, advice and comments.
Part One: No place like home
Indigo, cerulean, sapphire, teal. The Cote d'Azur stretched out as far as the eye could see and the Blue Coast was certainly living up to its name as the intense colors of the sea and of the sky stretched out to meet on the horizon. The sun was shining brightly above in the cloudless sky and a light breeze was sending ripples across miles of calm azure sea. In the distance a cruise ship steamed away from the land, and yachts sailed idly across the water.
Lorelai sat at a table under a blue-and-white striped umbrella enjoying the warmth without being burnt to a crisp by the afternoon sun. She was sitting amongst a field of tables with umbrellas that somehow reminded her of a patch of oddly colored mushrooms sprouting up amongst the Oompa Loompas inside Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Although the tables were mostly filled up, the ambience was relaxed, as it usually was during this time when the summer season was starting to wind down. The Cannes film festival had finished months ago and though there were still many tourists remaining, their thoughts were slowly turning towards home and the first days of September when they would go back to their homes and resume their lives once more.
She sat with her customary cup of coffee in front of her, along with the paperwork that she knew she needed to read, but which she had left untouched for the last half hour. Instead she sat, her chin propped up on her hands, gazing out to sea and soaking up the brilliant day. Her thoughts turned to when she and Rory had been on the Riviera on that unforgettable trip two years ago. They'd been lucky with the weather then, encountering bright sunny days in Italy and Greece and only the occasional shower of rain in England.
Unfortunately, their few days in the south of France had been blighted by heavy rains. However, they'd still managed to have a great time, spending long hours at lunch consuming five course meals of rich French dishes with thick sauces and mouth-watering flavors. They'd giggled like schoolgirls over particularly risqué exhibits in the museums. They'd even spent an afternoon at a youth hostel talking until the early hours of the morning with a Swiss couple who'd both won Olympic medals for downhill skiing. Still, they'd never managed to see the Riviera like this. Rory had seen it the following year, but it hadn't been with her.
Rory. Lorelai sighed, a wistful smile crossing her face. She hoped that they could return to some semblance of their former relationship when she returned home. Lorelai had left for Europe following Rory's court date where she'd received a metaphorical slap on the wrist after the twin maneuverings of Richard Gilmore and Mitchum Huntzberger had worked their magic on Rory's and Logan's behalf. She and Rory had been in tentative e-mail contact since that time. To her surprise, a month after Lorelai had left, Rory's attitude had undergone a sea change. Her kid had shown the determination she'd always known she had and had gotten an internship over the summer, on her own merits and not as the result of a wealthy connection. There she'd rediscovered her journalistic fervor and had even managed to have an article published. Lorelai hoped that meant that Rory would return to Yale in the fall, although she was reluctant to bring it up at this point given their current uneasy relationship.
Lorelai sighed, draining the dregs of the coffee in her cup and looked around for a waiter to order a refill. Big surprise, he wasn't in sight. The French weren't known for their overt friendliness and the waiters in Cannes had the reputation for being notoriously aloof. Still Lorelai, never adverse to a challenge, had been coming to this café every day for a month and the waiters were starting to remember her. The service was still slow, but she'd managed to learn enough French to order the coffee and pay the bill without resorting to speaking in the loud-voiced English she had noticed some of the other tourists trying out. In response, she'd received the occasional smile and she often snagged the best table in the house, close to the water and away from the noise of the rest of the café. Besides, the coffee here was wonderful. It was strong and bitter but had a completely different flavor to Luke's, which was exactly why she was drinking it. She had enough trouble trying not to think about home without that constant reminder.
Two tables away sat a man of about her age, wearing a tailored suit, designer sunglasses and sporting a skillfully disheveled haircut. He'd been watching her for the last half hour and she knew that he was probably going to come over to try to meet her, having recognized all the signs. When she'd first arrived in Cannes she'd gone out several times with a group of people from the Durham Group. The group had been friendly and she'd quite enjoyed herself until they were joined by another man who'd spotted her from across the room, and was determined he was going to show her a good time.
She'd been far away from home, lonely, missing Rory, Stars Hollow and Luke so she'd talked to him for much of the night. He'd taken a friendly conversation for a more romantic interest and tried to take it further as their group left the bar. Some quick talking had gotten her out of an awkward situation and she'd been more aloof since then, friendly but never taking more than a polite interest in any masculine approaches. She noticed that Mr Smooth from two tables away was about to make his move. Hastily flagging down the waiter as he finally appeared before her, she paid her bill, gathered up her paperwork and moved away before he could intercept her. She walked across the street to the path that ran alongside the beach and began to walk, her destination unknown, feeling the need to just keep moving.
Over the last few months, she'd become good friends with Amelie, a bouncy French woman with an English husband who was involved in promotion for the Durham group. She too loved to travel and Lorelai had found herself with her own personal tour guide on the weekends. With Amelie as her guide, she'd seen the grandeur of the Alps and the villages of Provence, enthralled by the sights of both. However, the work had been challenging as well. The first month she'd traveled to Venice, Prague and Rome before spending the next month in Cannes. She'd offered a fresh American perspective on the hospitality industry and found that her experiences from opening the Dragonfly were valuable commodities. She should have been having the time of the life, living the high life that people seemed to think she'd longed for. But she wasn't.
She'd loved the travel, the opportunity to see the people and places so different to what she'd been accustomed. She'd even liked having a glimpse of how other people in her industry worked; about how much easier tasks could be accomplished with the sort of wealth controlled by the Durham Group. And she thought that once or twice a year she would still like to consult for them. But the last two months had proven that this wasn't the life for her.
Lorelai stopped walking now as she noticed an ice cream vendor ahead of her. Ice cream had been one of the first French words she'd learned. A girl had to have her priorities right after all. She bought a cone of chocolate ice cream and sat down on a seat over looking the beach to consume it. As she sat there, she became entranced by the people in front of her. A woman, about her age had been reclining on one of the many deck chairs that were set up on the beach. Seemingly alone and carefree she was reading a magazine and basking in the afternoon sun when suddenly a man, wet from the water, appeared next to her, dripping water over her magazine. They appeared to argue before the woman grinned and wrestled playfully as he caught her up to carry her to the water's edge and dunk her in.
Another man and woman were strolling at the water's edge, holding between them the hands of a tiny child who was taking its first tentative steps. Almost directly in front of her was an elderly couple. They were slowly walking down the beach hand-in-hand, barely noticing those around them, as they were instead absorbed in each other. Lorelai felt a wave of loneliness wash over her. She missed Luke. Although she and Luke talked every couple of days, the conversations were usually on neutral topics, each of them willfully ignoring anything emotionally fraught. Lorelai knew she'd shocked Luke when she proposed almost three months ago. She had been hurt when he'd walked to the door, locked it against the intrusions of Kirk or Taylor or a horde of cyclists and sat down at the table beside her before telling her he didn't think they were ready. She'd been ready to run then, but he'd stopped her and they'd talked instead. He'd been worried that she'd proposed out of fear, out of desperation. She'd tried to explain that instead it had opened her eyes. That even with all of the other things going on in her life, she'd wanted him, with her everyday. That it wasn't out of fear, but as a result of the realization that this was what she wanted, and that Luke was as much her family as Rory.
But she knew he'd been afraid, that if he said yes, she'd eventually find an excuse to run. Somehow after their reconciliation, they'd forgotten to discuss the most important element for an enduring relationship: the possibility of a future together. So after her proposal, they'd talked about their future seriously, for the first time ever really. They'd discussed the possibility of selling the Inn, the pregnancy scare, Twickham house and the possibility of kids, about Rory and her future.
But Luke had asked for some time, asked for her to seriously think about their future. He told her he didn't want her to spend her life regretting a missed chance, to turn down the possibility of consulting. To spend her life regretting a question he still believed was a reaction to the actions of Rory and her parents, however much she denied it. So she'd phoned Mike Armstrong and asked for a two-month trial going to Europe as a short term consultant. In her heart, she knew that she wanted to marry Luke but some time away from her parents, from Rory and Stars Hollow had probably been a good thing. She needed to gain some perspective and in her time away she certainly had.
She knew it sounded corny but it turned out there really was no place like home. She wanted to go to her beloved Dragonfly Inn and gossip with Sookie in the kitchen or find new and strange ways to torture Michel. She wanted to sit in the town square and laugh at the people getting drunk on the Founders Day party punch at the Firelight Festival. More than almost anything she wanted to talk to Rory for hours on the phone about everything and nothing, not having to hang up until her daughter had to rush off to another lecture at Yale. But what she wanted most of all was Luke.
She wanted to walk into the diner and listen to him grumble about this being her fifth cup of coffee for the day and that chocolate chip pancakes really shouldn't be her breakfast choice for the fourth day in a row. She wanted him to rant and rave at Taylor about another madcap town festival. She wanted him to sit on the couch with her at home, his arm around her shoulders as they watched another B grade movie that she had conned him into seeing. She wanted him to fall asleep in her bed, his arms holding her close. She knew she wanted this for the rest of her life.
Lorelai noticed she had finished her ice cream long ago and had been staring off into the distance for some time. She stood up and began walking quickly back along La Croisette to the hotel where she was staying. She barely noticed the brilliance of the water and the sky now. She was tired of waiting. Though she'd loved her time abroad, she'd also been waiting for the day she could go home since she'd arrived. She had another few days left here, but thought that perhaps she could get away by tomorrow. She was eager for her future to start and she wanted to go home to her family, to Rory and to Luke. Her pace quickened as she entered the hotel where she'd spent the last month. She'd known all along what she wanted. Now she was going to go home to get it.
Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.
- John Howard Payne