AN: So here it is, the long awaited update... My beloved beta and I are finally getting back into the swing of things after a nice long break. I promise it won't be as long before the next update, I've already started writing it... Enjoy!

Chapter 27

It was obvious to Tristan that he had underestimated just how much Rory wanted to see him. He hadn't expected such a warm reception; hadn't expected her to allow such a high level of physical contact between the two of them. The Rory he remembered had a fit when finding him standing too close to her. Allowing him to hold her hand while walking down the hall was something she never would have considered when he was at Chilton. She'd have never let him drive her home, but it appeared things really had changed for her. For the first time since he spoke to Paris, he knew without a doubt that Rory did have feelings for him. He wished he could say he'd always known the feelings she had were there. He'd claimed to know, told everyone else who would listen that she actually cared about him, but in all honestly it was merely a hope he'd had the entire time he'd known her. Absence had clearly made her heart grow fonder, and for that alone, he was thankful for his father's rash actions.

She hadn't said a word since they walked out of Chilton together, but that didn't surprise him. Rory had always been so private, and regardless of the fact that she was pleased to see him, he'd known that the public reaction would be a concern for her. Quiet smiles and warm looks were enough for him at this point. Still, once they were both in the closed car, no one there but the two of them, he thought she'd speak again. It turned out that he was wrong.

The ride to Stars Hollow was silent with only the sound of the car accelerating and decelerating and the music floating softly out of the radio to keep him company. Rory appeared to be lost in thought and he wasn't sure what he should say to break her out of it. For a brief moment, he wished that he couldn't remember how to get to her house, for no reason other than she'd have to talk in order to give him directions. He pushed that thought away knowing that Rory would be far more impressed with the knowledge that despite the fact that he'd only been there once or twice, he hadn't forgotten.

He passed the 'Welcome to Stars Hollow' sign and smiled before reaching over and placing his hand on top of hers. His heart raced when she turned her attention to him and smiled widely. The way her eyes lit up, the way her smile deepened, and everything that made her Rory, left him speechless. "You OK? You're really quiet." he said once they stopped at a red light. He wanted to be able to look her in the eye when she answered; wanted to make sure she was telling the truth.

Rory nodded slowly. "I'm fine. I was just thinking," she said softly.

"Oh yeah?" he asked while shooting her a questioning look, his eyebrow raised slightly. She nodded so he pressed on. "About what?" It would be fantastic if she opened up and told him about everything now he thought to himself. It was selfish, but he hoped he wouldn't have to admit he knew what happened in his absence; so he didn't have to sell himself and Paris out.

Rory shrugged. "Nothing really,"she said softly before looking back down at his hand on hers. She slowly shifted hers so that they were once again holding hands and sighed happily. "I'm just glad you're here."

Tristan sighed inwardly and smiled widely at her. He noticed the light change to green and pulled back out into traffic before saying, "Me, too, Mary." He squeezed her hand lightly as she smiled back at him. He watched her out the corner of his eye as she returned back into her introspective shell, and decided to try and get the truth out of her one more time. "You sure that's it, Rory?" he asked calmly.

Rory sighed and continued to look out the window. She knew he was going to find out eventually about everything that happened while he was gone. She wished he wouldn't, but he still had some friends at Chilton and surely they'd inform him of her breakdown. Despite knowing that it would sound more reasonable coming from her, she couldn't bring herself to tell him a thing. It baffled her that he still had the uncanny ability to make her nervous no matter how tightly he held her hand. If she was honest with herself she knew it was more than likely that he always would. "Things were weird without you here," she admitted softly, her eyes never leaving the direction of the window.

"Weird how?" he asked.

Rory shrugged. "Just weird," she answered cryptically. She didn't know how to explain what happened, or why it happened, or when her feelings changed. She wanted to tell him that sitting here in his car, holding his hand felt more right than anything had in a really long time, but she didn't; she couldn't. She was still trying to wrap her mind around the sudden physical aspect of her friendship with him. She wasn't sure why she couldn't bring herself to let go of him, but she suspected it had something to do with not wanting him to leave again. "It was different at Chilton. Even though we didn't really hang out or spend any real amount of time together there, I had gotten used to seeing you and having you around making my life difficult..."

"I've missed you, too," he told her knowing that's what she was trying to say.

"You say that but..."

"But nothing, Rory," he said while pulling into her driveway. He turned the car off and turned to face her. "I do miss you. There hasn't been a day that I've been gone where I haven't thought about you," he admitted.

His expression was more serious than she thought she'd ever seen it. There was no way she could deny he was telling the truth, it was more than obvious. She hung her head slightly for a moment before looking back up at him. She hadn't been prepared for what she'd seen in his eyes; the same affection that she was sure was mirrored in her own at that very moment. She opened her mouth to speak, but quickly shut it, unsure of what to say. She feared that she would spill everything, every emotion that she had bottled up over the last six months, right into his lap.

"Say something," he said gently, prodding her to speak; but instead, she remained silent. He knew he'd pushed her too far. He hadn't meant to scare her, but she needed to know that he wasn't lying, that he really did care about her more than she knew. From the look in her eyes, it was clear that same went for her as well.

Rory took in a deep breath preparing herself to speak, even though she had no clue what she was going to say. Her mouth opened, and she was convinced nothing would come from it. She was surprised when she managed to produce sound, even though it was unintelligible.

Tristan smiled slightly before reaching over and grabbing her hand gently. "It's OK."

Rory shook her head. "No, it's not," she said softly.

Tristan nodded. "Yes, it is. I caught you off guard. I shouldn't have expected you to say anything."

"But..." she started again only to be interrupted by a loud knock on the passenger side window. Startled by the noise, they both jumped and turned to look out the window. Rory gasped softly before rolling down the window. "Mom..."

"Kiddo," Lorelai said calmly while eyeing Tristan, "Tristan."

Tristan's mouth fell slightly in shock that Lorelai even knew who he was. "Ms. Gilmore..."

"It's Lorelai," she said immediately before smiling. "I have to admit I'm surprised to see you."

Tristan nodded. "It was a kind of a spur of the moment decision to come home for the weekend."

Lorelai nodded understandingly. "I can understand that. So, what made you decide to come home?"

"I had something here that I needed to take care of," he said looking covertly at Rory.

Lorelai smiled. Suddenly, she realized that Rory hadn't said a word other than acknowledging her presence since she'd shown up. "Well kiddo, are you going to invite him in or are the two of you just going to hang out in the driveway?"

Rory shot her mom an annoyed look before turning to Tristan. "You wanna come in?"

Tristan smiled. "And get the full Gilmore tour? How could I miss that?"

xxxxxx

If there had ever been a doubt in Lorelai's mind that Rory's sour mood had been about the loss of Tristan, it was erased now. She watched Rory lead him around town, her eyes sparkling with happiness, her voice full of joy, and a spring in her step. She hadn't seen Rory frown once since Tristan got there. The tour of the house had taken as much time as could be expected considering the modest size of it; and before Lorelai knew it, she was accompanying them on a trip around town. Despite his Hartford upbringing, Lorelai found herself genuinely liking Tristan. From all the stories Rory had told about her over the first year of Chilton she expected him to be pompous and arrogant. From all the stories she'd heard from Dean she expected him to be elitist and possessive. He could have been all of those things, but around Rory he was the complete opposite. In fact, he felt like a kindred spirit, a male version of Lorelai at his age.

She smiled as she watched Rory pull Tristan into Luke's. So far, everyone in town had been receptive of Tristan, welcoming him into the town and into Rory's life, but Luke was going to be different. It was no secret that Luke didn't approve of any guy in Rory's life. He'd been the first one to tell Jess, his own nephew, to stay away from Rory, and there had never been anything more than platonic feelings between the two of them. The way Tristan was looking at Rory, the way Rory was looking at Tristan, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that there was something between the two of them, and it most certainly was nothing near platonic. Luke was going to eat him alive.

Ever since they left Patty's, Rory had been giving Tristan instructions on how to stay on Luke's good side. She hadn't worried about the rest of the town's reaction to Tristan. She'd known that one look at his blond hair and blue eyes would have the women of Stars Hollow throwing their approval at him. Rory led him over to the counter and sat down "Just don't pay an excessive amount of attention to me," Rory warned, "and no physical contact, Luke won't like that."

Tristan smiled. "I can't touch you at all?" he asked smiling widely.

Rory shook her head fiercely. "No. Not at all."

Tristan sighed before reaching out and pushing a stray stand of hair behind her ear. "What happens if I do that?"

"Then you run the risk of losing your hand," Jess warned from behind the counter.

Rory laughed as Tristan jerked his hand back away from her ear. "Be nice," she directed at Jess before pointing to Tristan. "This is Tristan."

"I assumed as much," Jess said smiling before reaching out to shake Tristan's hand. "I'm Jess."

Tristan nodded. "Luke's nephew right?"

Jess nodded. "The one and only," he said before turning his attention back to Rory. "Nice to see you smiling today. It's certainly an improvement on yesterday," he told her before walking off to help customers.

Rory looked down at the counter, while making a mental note to smack Jess. She didn't look back up until she felt Tristan touch her hand.

"What happened yesterday?" he asked curiously. This was the first time he was asking a question that he actually didn't know the answer to, and her silence didn't sit well with him.

She shook her head and smiled widely at him. "It doesn't matter now," she said softly before squeezing his hand reassuringly.

Tristan smiled. "Of course it matters," he replied gently before squeezing her hand back. He expected her to pull away so when she simply held onto his hand he'd been puzzled. "I thought I wasn't allowed to touch you."

Rory shrugged.

"You said this guy would kill me if I touched you," he reminded her.

She smiled. "I'll protect you."

xxxxxx

Lorelai had seen Luke come in right after Rory had introduced Tristan to Jess and immediately swooped in to distract him. Luke had barely gotten in the door before Lorelai was pushing him back out and onto the sidewalk.

"Lorelai, what are you doing?" he demanded.

"I wanted to warn you."

"What happened? Did Jess break something? Did he try to sell the diner to Taylor again..."

Lorelai shook her head quickly. "No. It's nothing like that," she said trying to stop him from worrying. "Wait, did you say again? Jess has tried to sell the diner to Taylor more than once?"

Luke nodded his head impatiently. "Yeah, a few times, I've always managed to come in and stop it before Taylor tried some kind of verbal agreement, lawyer crap..." he told her getting sucked in for a moment before shaking his head "What did you want to warn me about?"

Lorelai sighed. "It's just that Rory's in the diner..."

"Is she still in one of those moods?" he asked concerned. "I really hoped she'd start getting better. I'm really starting to worry about her, Lore."

"She's in a mood, but this one is completely different from any we've seen in the last six months," she said smiling widely.

"You're smiling," Luke finally noticed. "She's in a good mood?"

Lorelai nodded emphatically. "Yep."

"So then why did I need a warning before entering the diner if she's in a good mood?" he asked confused by Lorelai's behavior.

Lorelai sighed slightly and absentmindedly played with a strand of her hair. "Thing is, she's not alone in there."

Luke's face paled. "Oh God, it's not Dean is it? I had really hoped we'd dodged that bullet."

Lorelai laughed slightly while shaking her head. "No, it's not Dean," she reassured him. "It's Tristan."

Luke looked confused for no more than five seconds before realization set in. "Tristan?" he asked, "The same Tristan that turned Rory into a pod person when he left?"

Lorelai smiled. "Pod person? Really Luke, I didn't even know you knew what a pod person was," she joked.

"Hey, I watch movies," he said defensively.

"And yes, it's the same Tristan, but in his defense I don't think he knew Rory was a pod person. At least not until Paris called him and told him."

"Paris called him? I thought you said that no one knew where he was," he asked confused.

Lorelai looked down at the ground anxiously. She knew Max was a sore subject for Luke. The two of them had never gotten along and she had never understood why. "Well... I talked to Max... and he agreed to help so he used his contacts and located Tristan."

Luke nodded. "Oh, of course. I don't know why you didn't go to him sooner," he said despondently. He allowed himself one more moment to sulk before looking back at Lorelai and smiling. "I guess we should head in there."

Lorelai nodded. "Probably."

Luke nodded again. "I mean how's this kid going to know he's not nearly good enough for Rory if I'm not there to tell him."