Title: A Shift of the Stars

Rating: M

Pairing: Lit

Summary: Set during Rory and Jess' senior year, I've tweaked some order of events that may have led to their demise. What it might have been like if Rory had a bit more of a backbone and Jess had a bit more of an idea that sometimes he just needed to be there with her. Complete.

Disclaimer: I don't own GG, or any of the production companies that do.

He silently cursed the cold wind that whipped around his body; it sliced through his clothes and made him feel exposed to the elements despite the layers he sported. He focused on the sound of snow crunching under his shoes. His footsteps were heavy enough to sink through the top layer of fluff and break apart the layers of ice that had formed after a partial day of thawing that had long since given way to the deep freeze of night. And of course, only more snow had come after that. This town would settle for none less than a pristinely fresh layer of icing, leaving everything looking like a damn Christmas card.

He wished it was still snowing; he missed the cloud cover that would keep the temperature from plummeting even further, like it did on these crystal clear nights. No normal person would be out on a night like this. A normal person would be curled up in bed under flannel sheets, enjoying the feel of the soft, thick fabric against bare legs while reading a good book. Maybe a fire would be in the fireplace, just on the other side of the room. On a truly cold night like this, perhaps some hot chocolate would be in order as well.

But he had no hot chocolate, no good book. And it was all his own damn fault. Because he'd never learned to be a normal boyfriend, and for that he must suffer.

He was surprised that she had showed up at his doorstep at all. He figured that perhaps this time he'd pushed her too far. Yet again, he had not called and left her on her own, as she'd ranted at him the last time, to be made to look like a pathetic loser who can't even get her own boyfriend to call her back. She'd been exceptionally displeased, to be sure. She left no doubts about that.

Even her mother had gotten in on the spiel on occasion. A few weeks ago, he'd finally showed up at her door to find not only was she not there (which was fine by him, he tried to convince himself), but that the mother was waiting with an earful for him. She quoted a goddamn Beach Boys song, and told him that if his time was so fucking precious then he should let her go and find someone that wanted to be around her.

Of course, despite her scathing tone, she hadn't used such harsh words. No one in this town does. It was like they all learned to speak by watching Disney movies. It was a land where bad words don't exist and bad people are punished so severely that everyone's afraid to act out of the norm.

In all honesty, he hadn't ever thought that his not calling her was that big a deal. Or at least, with all the other girls it'd never been a big deal. And Rory had way more in her life than all the other girls he'd dated combined. He knew what she would do if he didn't make plans with her—the same things she would have done before he came into her life. She'd read a book. She'd watch a movie. She'd hang out with a friend. She'd do any of these things and have fun doing them, because that's what she did. She made everything fun. She made everything worth doing.

But she didn't want to do just anything. She wanted to be with him. He'd made these unspoken promises of his time, and then he'd let her down. Again. Tonight he'd gotten home and Luke had given him that look—the look of pity mixed with frustration. Luke was good at that look. It was enough to make him go into the bathroom and pop open a vein or two just because he was such a colossal fuck up. He'd hurt her. Again. He'd not called her. Again. The guilt was so apparent on his face, in his eyes, in the slump of his tired shoulders—Luke knew even without having had a run-in with Lorelai to tell him how horrible his nephew was that he'd neglected to confer with her. Everyone knew.

Most of all, she knew. She was dating him, or at least she would be if he didn't work so damn much. He'd tried to make it up to her, with concert tickets and letting her drag him to family dinners (his worst punishment so far) and town functions. He knew this time he shouldn't even bother—she'd been pretty pissed the last time. By the time he got to her house, all the lights were off. Fearing the wrath of her mother at this ungodly hour, he'd snuck around to her window to find her reading under a flashlight in bed. Despite the shame and guilt, he'd smiled. At her: her innocence, her quirky behavior.

Before he knew it, he'd been tapping at her window. She snapped the flashlight up, shining it directly into his eyes and nearly blinding him in the process. Her genius might be initially veiled, but always revealed. He'd sworn loudly until she moved to open the window, chastising him for his attempts to wake up the whole neighborhood. He tried to blame her for her use of torture implements, but both knew she would remain in charge of the upper hand. His arguments weak under the weight of his fouls. He just got off work, he'd told her. If she thought he'd rather be at work than with her, she was nuts. She'd bit her lip and listened, but in the end she hadn't let him in through her window. She never had before, and his behavior certainly hadn't warranted him an invitation now. She'd kissed his cheek and told him she'd see him the next morning, and if he knew what was good for him he'd have the coffee and a plan for the next evening at the ready upon her entrance.

And he had.

But that was last weekend. All progress had been broken with this promise. He had resigned himself to trying to make it better in the morning, and moved to get ready for bed on the other end of the apartment from Luke, who was watching a baseball game he'd taped on television—until a knock came at the diner downstairs. It was loud enough to startle both men, and Luke had hurried down in just a pair of flannel pajama pants to get the door. He looked just as surprised as Jess was to return with a smiling Rory in tow. He wasn't sure if it was her presence or her smile that freaked him out more. He stood there, in his boxer shorts, just staring at her until Luke had thrown pants at his head and told him to get dressed. Rory had laughed softly, letting her eyes travel over the length of his body before turning modestly and staring at the television instead. He wondered if she'd ever seen a baseball game on television before. He couldn't picture her watching a baseball game. Unless forced, with a guy in a ski mask holding a gun to her head.

She'd shaken her head when he stood before her in jeans and a T-shirt, telling him he was going to die from exposure if he didn't bundle up before they went out. He did as she told him, willing to stand on his head and sing the National Anthem backwards for her at this point, if it got him back in her good graces. And now, he was crunching through the goddamn snow, and wishing he had a cigarette. At least it would have provided momentary warmth. And maybe it would have calmed the nerves that grew as she continued to lead him farther across town, gently pulling as she held hold of his hand the entire way, her pace only expediting with each step.

When she finally stopped, he was glad to at least recognize his surroundings. They were at the bridge—their bridge, as he'd come to think of it. Not that he'd told her such things. He could hear the relentless teasing she'd subject him to if he admitted that he'd begun to think in the royal 'We'. Using pronouns like 'Us', 'Our', and 'We' was something that he'd never been comfortable with. His life was enough for him to handle—not that he felt like he was doing such a stellar job with that anyhow. No one had attached his welfare to theirs yet, and he didn't see the point in dragging someone else down with him. Certainly not her. She didn't need him to label her by his experience.

Nevertheless here he stood, with her, on their snow-covered bridge. She let go of his hand, allowing the cold to seep through the warmth she'd provided him during the walk. And then, she lay down in the snow.

"Rory, get up. It's freezing, and you're getting all wet," he said as he put his hand out to help her up. Instead of using his weight as leverage, she yanked hard, sending him flailing down, landing on his back next to her.

She giggled.

"How nice of you to join me," she said, her giggles softening.

He let out a sigh and remained still for a moment. He let the feel of the snow seeping into his formerly dry jeans overtake his thoughts. She let out a sigh as well, but hers was of the contented, happy variety. He almost never gave one of those up. He turned his head against his pillow of snow and looked at her. Her eyes were sparkling as they caught the reflection of the stars. She reached out a hand toward his, and she interlaced their stiffening fingers.

"What are we doing?"

"Looking at the stars."

He sighed again. "Look, Rory, I'm sorry that I—," he began, but she turned her head to look at him now.

"I don't want to talk about that right now."

"But you're upset."

"Maybe you should spend some more time with me before you presume to know me and what I'm feeling so well," she said simply before she turned her head back up to the heavens.

He felt her words somewhere deep inside him. Somewhere deeper than where he felt the gnawing of hunger or the stirrings of lust. He turned his head back to mirror hers and stared at the stars.

He couldn't ever remember staring at that stars. They were always a fixture in his world, something constant—always there whether he could see them or not. He supposed he should have paid more attention to them before, after all what else in his life had been so reliable?

He felt her squeeze his hand.

Something inside of him shifted. A surge of warmth, impossible as it was in the bitter cold environment he was subjecting his body to, flooded over him at the thought. Maybe that's how he knew it was real. He would have choked on the words should he try to convey them to her. He had no such means to tell her that that's what she was to him—something he never took time to study as she was his constant. Always there whether he could see her or not.

He squeezed her hand back.

"I'm in the running for valedictorian."

He swiveled his eyes in their sockets to see if she had turned her head again. She hadn't.

"That's amazing."

She didn't want to her him say of course she was. She didn't want to be made to feel that these things were expected of her—she wanted to feel special because of these great heights she'd accomplished.

"It's not official; it's too soon to know for sure who'll be chosen. Paris told me today."

"Paris? How does she know?"

"She has contacts deep within the guidance department. There are bounties and dirty dealings all over this knowledge."

He smiled. "So, when's the party?"

"Party?" she now turned her head, he could tell from the sound of snow shifting under her scalp.

"Your mom must have gone crazy when you told her. She isn't shutting this town down with a 'My Daughter's the Valedictorian at the Hoity-Toity School' party?"

She rolled her eyes at his choice of party description. "It's not that big a deal."

Now he turned his head. "Yeah, it is. It's incredible. Hell, even I'd be willing to throw you a party for this."

She smiled at him, and he felt the warmth surge over his body again. "I always suspected that you secretly loved those parties."

"Hardly," he scoffed and watched as she turned her gaze back to the stars.

"I haven't told my mom yet."

Now he felt dizzy. Was he worthy of such exclusive knowledge? Did he deserve to be privy to her secrets? Evidently it wasn't for him to decide.

"Why not?"

"She'll get all excited, and it's not for sure. We still have two more rounds of exams to get through, and there are all other sorts of considerations."

He nodded. "It's going to be you."

She turned her head to look at him again. "You should charge for the use of your crystal ball. We could get you your own 900 number."

"I have my own 900 number," he teased, causing her to punch his arm lightly. He swept it out underneath her shoulders and pulled her in toward him, so that her head was now resting on his coat-covered shoulder rather than the wet, snow-melted patch of bridge that her body heat had dissolved down from snow and ice into a puddle.

"Why should I deserve it? Paris is in the running too, and it's way more important to her."

"You're like the great, white hope."

She shifted to balance her head on her chin, and he relished in the sweet pressure of it digging into his shoulder. "Excuse me?"

"Rory, people don't want to hear about the rich kid that had every privilege in this world succeeding. They want to hear about people that came from nothing and triumphed over evil to make their way to the top. Don't you read?" he teased.

She laughed into the still night air, puffs of warmth floating up from her mouth. "Yes, I read. And they aren't going to name me valedictorian because we have no money. My school frowns on that, it lessens their donation amounts."

"Besides, Paris owes you. Making you get dragged off to Washington last summer, putting up with her all year in Student Council. She owes you."

"Yeah," she said, laying her head back down on his chest.

"You really aren't mad?"

He was pushing his luck. He knew this. But having her in his arms like this made him crazy, and in his insanity, he wanted to talk about it. He wanted her to tell him that no matter what he did, she was going to be there for him, always willing to keep going. Even if he didn't believe it himself.

"I said I didn't want to talk about that tonight."

"Rory, come on. I fucked up, I should learn to use a phone, I don't deserve you—any of this ringing a bell?"

"If you know all this, why should I tell you?" she asked, now sitting up to look down at him. He would have sat up to be on an even keel, but as always, she had the upper hand. There was no use in fighting that.

"Why'd you want to come out tonight, Rory?" he asked softly.

"Because I'm not going to sit idly by."

Even simple words from her packed a whollop. He could only wrap his arms back around her in compliance as she nestled down against him. He felt her start to shiver in his arms and he could hear her teeth chattering. He wondered how far below freezing the temperatures were dipping tonight as he could feel her ice-hardened hair sweep past his chin. Normally the soft strands of her hair got caught like Velcro against the short stubble of his chin, but the now icy coating was cold and glided over his skin with ease.

"Come on, let's go," he said, sitting them up before pulling her to her feet.

"Jess," she protested, but he shook his head.

"I'm walking you home. I can't have you die before they name the valedictorian, can I?"

She shivered and huddled under the crook of his arm, complying with his demands as they began to walk slowly toward her house. She shuffled her feet, kicking white powdery bursts up with each step, causing him to smile. He had been right before. She made everything fun. Everything was worth doing. Even walking her home, despite the fact that it meant an even colder walk home for him in wet clothes. By the time they reached her front door, she had a good grip on his hand, and pulled him into the house as she deftly unlocked the door with one hand.

"Rory, hold up," he whispered.

"Jess, you're all wet. You can't walk home like that."

Her voice was shockingly loud for the fact that it was now after one in the morning and her mother wasn't that heavy of a sleeper.

"I'll be fine, I don't want you to get in trouble," he whispered again, moving to kiss her quickly in parting.

"She's not here, Jess. Now go in the kitchen and get out of those clothes."

He faltered—the new knowledge mixed with an almost exact phrasing of the words he would want to hear from her lips. If only she hadn't thrown in the word kitchen. Not that the kitchen wasn't as good a place as any to get naked . . . .

He moved past her, and began taking his clothes off in layers. First he pulled at soggy shoe strings and slid off his dampened jacket to survey the underneath damage. His socks and shirt were relatively damp, but his pants were soaking wet and slightly hard in the back. He got down to his boxers and was looking for a teapot when she came into the kitchen, still shivering, but loaded down with blankets.

"Here," she said as she offered one up to him, which he took thankfully. "We don't have any spare men's clothes lying about."

He was suddenly struck at how odd that comment might be to other people, but not to them. They held this in common, never having stable, older men in their lives, in the comfort of their homes. A man had never stayed in this house to protect them from intruders or soothe their bad dreams. They were the intruders and causes of those bad dreams.

"This'll do just fine. You should, uh, change. I'll start some hot water for tea."

She nodded and disappeared into her room, shutting the door behind her. She emerged in less time than he'd mentally allotted for her to get undressed. Though in his mind she wasn't in quite a hurry to expel her clothes. In his mind, she was a lot of things.

"You should probably wrap up in a blanket, too, it'll speed up the warming process," he motioned to the stack that sat by her door when she got back in from the back porch, where he'd heard her turn the dryer on after taking their wet things with her. She nodded and pulled one around her sweat suit-covered body. He sat two mugs of water on the table while she pulled down a box of peppermint tea bags. They sat at the kitchen table as they dunked the white bags into the mugs of steaming liquid.

"So, where's your mom?"

"New York, with Alex. Her boyfriend?" she asked, unsure if she'd mentioned Alex by name to him before.

"Right. Alex. Her boyfriend."

"They go into the city a lot. He really likes New York."

"There's lots to like," he nodded.

"Do you miss it?"

"Parts of it."

"Like what?"

"Like being able to get on the subway and be somewhere interesting in a hurry. My friends. Not having a guardian watching my every move."

"I thought you lived with your mom?"

Jess let out an amused, yet strangled, laugh. "I did."

Rory looked down into her darkening water, but didn't bring the mug up to her lips. It was fine where it was, acting as a heater for her hands as she kept them firmly wrapped around the cylinder.

"Oh."

"Of course here I have things that I appreciate as well," he offered, not wanting to bring down the perfectly pleasant conversation they'd begun now that they weren't risking catching pneumonia.

"Oh, really?" she glanced up at him, a smile already playing at her lips. She assumed he was going to make some smartass comment about liking his grass cut at a certain height or the ability to summons the entire police force with a piece of chalk, some warning tape, and a half hour's worth of work.

"I came back, didn't I?"

"Do you know why I kissed you?"

Her question wasn't completely out of the blue. If you were talking on a word association level, that is. He had spoken of coming back, and in her mind, it was directly linked with her kissing him. As it was in his mind as well.

It's just not the question he'd been expecting. Not to say it wasn't one he'd asked himself in the past. Certainly there was a good solid week that he'd thought of nothing else, just following the first occurrence. He'd never broached the topic with her since they'd become an official couple, lest she realize there was no good reason to be entangled with him and leave him again.

"I have no fucking clue," he answered honestly.

She stood up, leaving both her warm mug and blanket behind, and moved to sit on his lap. He opened his blanket, wrapped it now around the two of them, and breathed her in as she snuggled against his bare flesh.

"There are some things that you can't say. They're too hard or no matter how you try, they won't come out the way you want them to. But you can't not say them, you know?"

He nodded into her neck as she spoke, knowing that even she wasn't sure of how she was going to convey her feelings to him even now. He just held the blanket tighter around her with one hand, using the other to slide up under the back of her sweatshirt, warming her skin more effectively with his palm, still artificially warmed by the mug of hot water turned tea.

"And I'd spent so much time talking to you, before you left, but never saying the things I was really thinking. When you came back, I thought that maybe you understood, without my really saying anything, and I was so happy to see you. But I felt like saying that I was glad you were back wasn't enough. It didn't cover it, how I was feeling. That's why I kissed you."

She craned up and brushed her lips against his then and began testing the weight of her lips against his and his reaction to her touch. Her fingers danced over his chest, following the spreading heat down to its source as she encouraged him to delve deeper and tug harder. It's not that she'd never kissed him like that. It's that she'd never kissed him like that in an empty house, in the middle of the night, as she sat on top of him while he was only wearing his underwear.

"Do you think my resolve is this strong?" he asked her as she leaned her determined forehead against his, now having the opposite problem as when they'd first come into the house.

"No," she breathed, leaning in to kiss him again, before he could protest or emit any surprise at her response. He kissed her back with increased fervor, stepping into this new territory while trying to ignore the one nagging question that was embedded in his brain. She slid off his lap, and pulled him to his feet. The blanket slipped off of them without mention as she once again had hold of his hand, and was leading him to the threshold into her room. The threshold to what felt like the unknown. He paused, pulling her against his heated skin and backing her into the moulding. He took the time to look at her, to study her freckles that were scattered across her nose like an astronomer learns the constellations in the night sky. They were fewer, lighter now, than they would be again in summer—much like the visible stars shift in the sky over their part of the world with the seasons. Given time, everything changes, he supposed, even the constants.

"Jess," she breathed, taking his hand that was lightly tracing unknown lines over her face, and brought it to her lips.

He smiled and caught her lips against his again, picking her up at the waist and lifting her over the barrier, he moved slowly over to the bed. He noticed that it hadn't been made. He wondered if she'd gone to bed angry before, cursing him for not calling her, deciding that she deserved more than this before flinging the covers back and making her way out into the cold night to find him.

The nagging question in the back of his mind fought to the front as she slipped her sweatshirt up and off her head, letting it drop quickly to the floor next to the bed. She lay there underneath him, clad only in sweat pants. She didn't want his questions. She wanted him. His attention. His affection. It was a constant.

He obliged, dipping his head down to give her what she wanted. He attended to her with teeth and tongue, causing her to begin to slowly shift under him, and he stopped when he felt her foot running up and down the length of his calf. Her hands were practically securing his head in its current position, but he tipped his forehead down to rest between her breasts.

"Why me?" he spoke into her skin.

"It's supposed to be you," she said, reaching down to touch his face and tip his gaze up to meet hers. "It just is. I realized something earlier. That if it was hard for me, to tell you things, that maybe it wasn't always so easy for you either. That maybe you assumed that I understand more than you tell me. That maybe it's easier for you to show me how you feel about me," she brought his face down to hers, cradled in her hands.

"There are other ways for me to show you how I feel about you. We don't have to do this," he assured her, feeling the guilt of the increasing lust fill up his body. He wanted this more than anything he'd ever wanted in his life. But he knew he'd upset her. He knew he owed her more things before he deserved to experience this. He didn't deserve to have all he wanted handed over to him if it wasn't something that she wanted.

"This is what I want," she said shakily. She'd been right—asking things of him wasn't her forte. It was easier to go along, taking what he gave and trying to be okay with it. But it wasn't getting them anywhere. He realized she was stepping up to the plate, and asking him to do the same.

He slid his hands up her body lovingly, tracing the curves and contours, firmly squeezing and setting a pace.

"Don't you?" she asked hesitantly.

He nodded, unsure if speaking was in his best interest right now. He moved his head back to resume his prior actions, before his fear had stilled him. She went back to coaxing him with her body, in the only way that she knew how. She moved whatever parts seemed to jump to life under his touch.

In the end, he had talked to her, helped her stream through the act with the words she needed to hear. He spoke of how beautiful she was. How she felt against his skin. How he would crave her taste until the day he died from this night on. These are the things he did for her. In return she let go of all the inhibitions she might have held at a time like this, the insecurities that might have lessened this experience were forgotten as she focused on the hoarse sound of his voice.

He lay in her bed after they'd wound down, holding her with one arm while the other hand busied itself by winding strands of her hair around two fingers before letting them slide free and starting all over again.

"Mom's supposed to be gone until Sunday night, if you want," she began, leaving small kisses on his chest. "I'd like you to stay," she finally said, looking up at him.

"Okay," he complied softly, kissing her forehead tenderly.

For once the cat and mouse game that they played so reluctantly had taken pause. He wasn't sure what had led her to take him on tonight. Perhaps she was tired of being less than she knew they could be—he knew he was. He knew that without her he'd be stewing in his own misery, hating his inability to trust what he wanted. He knew she trusted him, and that was more important to him than what had just transpired, if only even just. She was his and he was hers, for as long as she would have him. He didn't have to know why she wanted him. He just had to trust that she did.