Title: The Parade of the Peanut Gallery

Description: One shot in the WHW series. Jess-centric, with guest appearances by those that are close to him.

AN: I had this idea a while back, and wrote it when I needed some good, happy, fluffy, one shot goodness. Hopefully that's what you find, too.

He closed his eyes tightly, balled his fingers up into a perfect fist, and drew his arm back. He had no room to gain momentum really, but still he hit his intended target full on.

Jess Mariano had to smile. Fifteen minutes out and already angry at the world. This was definitely his son.

He had never been this tired. Thirty-six hours ago he'd gone on full alert, the moment Erin had stiffened up on the edge of the bed, giving him that look, and told him this was it. She was ready. He'd let her crush every carpal, metacarpal, and phalange—he was sure there was substantive muscle damage too, but he failed to complain as he wasn't the one trying to expel the eight pound, six ounce person from his body.

And he'd seen the kind of treatment that Tristan had received two years ago when Rory really had snapped his pinky finger in the midst of the miracle that was Ella Rose's birth. Leaving to find relief while your wife has none is not an option, turns out it's not just frowned upon.

Erin had been amazing, though. He kept his promise—keeping all well-wishers confined to the waiting room during the long hours of labor, breaking out his patented 'do it again and you'll wish for the pain of childbirth' stare every time the nurse got cheerleadery at his wife.

These things all came naturally to him, which caused him some great level of relief. When he'd imagined this day—and he had to the point of insanity and back since the moment Erin had told him he was going to be a Daddy nine months prior—he'd been mentally trying to prepare for how he'd feel, how he would act, how he would be. Everything ran smoothly, calmly even, in his head, and he could envision nearly every last little detail.

There was only one thing that he hadn't accounted for.

The stunning moment that his son sucked in his first lungful of air and responded with a tremendous cry. He heard someone call him Dad, and in an awed haze he cut the umbilical cord. Moments later this blue bundle was secure in his arms for the first time.

He'd held other babies, even newborns. The years of taking care of Will, the new duties of being a godfather to Ella—nothing in this world could have prepared him for having his son in his arms for the first time and getting to lay him on his wife's chest. Everything was moving around them so fast, but time truly had stood still in that moment.

He found himself now, not resting in the bed they put in Erin's room for him to sleep alongside her in, not in the waiting room with elated family and friends, but in the very sterile hallway outside the nursery, watching every single first thing his son was experiencing.

"Let me guess. The one with his fist in the air?"

Jess smirked. "They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

"Good luck to you. I still have those pictures of diseased lungs if you want to hang him on his crib, start combating the effects of genetics now."

"Don't you have your own child to mold into a tree-bark eating mountain man?"

"We could make them into a mobile," Luke smirked.

"I'm not worried. I don't think just because your father does something wrong, you're doomed to repeat it."

Luke raised his eyebrows. "You weren't always so sure."

"He needs me."

Jess felt a hand on his shoulder. "Damn straight."

"You aren't going to get mushy about your part in raising me, are you?"

Luke blew air through his lips. "You didn't need me."

Jess peeled his eyes away from his son's attempts to break free of the too-tight swaddling that the nurses had imposed upon him to glance at Luke. "I was seventeen."

"You were lucky to have me," he corrected.

"I know," he smiled genuinely, if briefly. "I'm not going to screw this up."

"No one is looking for you to," Luke said with authority.

"Lorelai," Jess said with a lilt.

"Her opinion of you is much higher than you think it is."

"She will always be the woman that walked in on me making out with my girlfriend."

"She didn't see you naked," he rolled his eyes and turned at the lack of immediate response. "Did she?" he demanded.

"No!"

"Geez," he said, and they resumed looking at the baby. "She thinks you're responsible."

Jess snorted. "Now I know you're lying."

"Did she call you once the last time you took Will?"

"She trusts Erin," he said. "And she's probably just afraid I'll turn her granddaughter against her. I have that power as godfather."

"Speaking of which, I wouldn't bring that up. She's been practicing her Marlon Brando impression all night," Luke groaned.

"I wish that surprised me more," he nodded. "How's Lizzie?"

"Bursting with pride. You'd think she'd just given birth."

"You should go tell people to go home, get some rest."

"Have you not met these people? I think the hospital is charging them all rent by now."

"Even Rory?"

"You didn't tell him?"

The men looked up to see Lorelai coming down the hallway, with Will hanging onto her hand and staring at the floor as he counted on his mother's hand to lead the way.

"Tell me what? Is she in labor?" he asked, suddenly concerned.

Lorelai giggled. "No. But every time she waddles past a nurse to use the bathroom, they try to get her in a wheelchair or ask her how far apart her contractions are."

"She blames me, doesn't she?"

"She has to blame someone," Lorelai shrugged. "And Tristan gets the brunt of it, but you are the reason she's in the hospital."

"I'll offer to pay the kid's college tuition," he assured her, and the three adults looked into the big picture window.

"Tell me you named him Tony Minero," she said as she waved to Baby Boy Mariano.

"It came in third to James Dean and Chachi," he bent down and looked at Will. "Tell them to take you home. You must be beat."

Will shrugged and barely looked up from the floor.

"What's wrong?"

"Daddy said if you look at your shoes, you won't see the blood."

"Blood?" Jess looked up to Luke, who shrugged. "Will, all you're gonna see are babies. You want to see my son?"

Will looked only at Jess. "Really? No tubes with blood?"

Jess crossed his heart. "Promise. Want a lift?"

Will nodded and Jess picked him up to see over the top of the nursery cribs. Will looked at all the babies and turned to Jess. "Those are all yours?"

The adults chuckled. "Just the one in the third row, fourth from the left. Want me to help you count?"

Will stuck a finger out to the left corner, and Jess waited 'til his hand landed on the proper crib. "I like him."

"Good," Jess smiled. "Me too."

"Can I hold him?"

"Maybe later. He needs lots of sleep right now."

"And so does his daddy," Lorelai put a hand on his shoulder and rubbed.

"I'm suddenly not as tired."

"Well, the good thing about being in a hospital is that when you pass out from exhaustion, there are plenty of extra beds around. Of course, there's the extra charge for stitching up your concussion that you wouldn't have gotten if you just listened to your wise aunt in the first place," she shrugged.

"Aren't you supposed to be good at shutting her up?" Jess turned to Luke.

"Ooh, he's opening his eyes!" Lorelai cooed.

All eyes went back to the baby, who didn't seem all too pleased with the experience. A nurse came by to soothe him, and he took a few more swings at the air around him.

"Why's he crying?" Will asked.

"He's had a trying first day," Jess smirked.

"Imagine how his mother feels," Lorelai commented.

"Huh?" Will asked.

"Come on, kiddo. How about we go scout the cafeteria for some food?" Lorelai asked.

Will nodded and hopped out of Jess' arms. Lorelai took Will's hand and turned to Luke. "You coming?"

He nodded. "Congratulations, Dad," he smirked at Jess and wrapped his arm around his wife to make his way with his family down the hall. Jess looked back at his son and sighed. He put his hand on the glass and fought the urge to go in and hold him. He could see that now free of the shackles of blanket, his son was settling down in what seemed like a very restful way. When he caught the eye of the nurse that was moving to re-burrito his child, he shook his head, and she gave him a small smile before sidestepping Ambrose to tend to another newborn.

"Your mother keeps asking me if the name is from one of your books," came the New York accent with the laid-back air that came from the transplantation to California.

"What'd you tell her?" he watched the older man amble toward him.

"I got down on my knees and thanked the universe for public schools and that my good taste was passed on through just my Y chromosome," Jimmy said.

Jess smirked. "I was shocked when I figured out where I got it from. No offense, but from what I'd heard, I didn't think you were a reader."

"You must have been very confused as a young man. What with the Danes clan and their aversion to books."

"It is a glorious absence," Jess nodded and looked back at his son, who was finally asleep.

"I, uh, wanted to tell you," Jimmy shifted his weight as he stood next to his son, watching a child who was as old as Jess had been when he'd fled from his life. "I was shocked, to be honest, but more so, honored," he cleared his throat.

Jess looked over at him and frowned. "Is there a reason for your babbling, or are you just no good at hospitals?"

"I deserved that," Jimmy lowered his head. "The name, Ambrose James?"

"Oh, that," Jess pursed his lips and looked to the boy that would carry that name. He slept, and would continue to for the duration of this conversation, and for that Jess was jealous.

"I will admit, I never imagined that after all that went down with us, that you would ever," he couldn't find the words, nor could he quite meet his eyes.

"I didn't," Jess said quickly.

"What?"

"I didn't. I chose Ambrose, but she wanted James—after her grandfather."

"Oh. So," Jimmy frowned.

"Yeah."

"Do I have to correct people who make the same stupid assumption I did?"

Jess smirked. "I would never stand in the way of any of your delusions."

"Even your mother? 'Cause I really think this is killing her."

"So, this benefits me as well," he shared a moment of evil plotting with his father. One of the few father-son moments he could remember—all countable on his own fingers.

"It's a good name. It fits him. You know, Jess was my idea."

"What?" he asked, his tone incredulous.

"Your mother wanted to name you Leonard."

Jess snorted. "Leonard?"

"You didn't look like a Leonard."

"Does anyone look like a Leonard?"

Jimmy shrugged. "I met a guy, once," he nodded into the rest of the thought.

"Huh."

"Yeah," they fell into a moment of watching the babies as they cried, stretched, and slept.

"I looked like a Jess?"

"Definitely a Jess."

He nodded and sighed. "When you held me," he frowned.

"I was terrified."

"Yeah, but wasn't there anything inside you that made you want to stick around?"

"Yeah. The selfish part," he swallowed.

"Jimmy," he shook his head.

"You're gonna be a great dad. I was never going to be a good dad. I was never even going to be a mediocre dad. I'm glad I know you, though. You didn't have to do that."

"You aren't gonna hug me or anything, are you?"

"Marianos don't hug."

"You wanna stick around and hold Ambrose, later?"

"I'd like that. You should get some sleep. You look like shit."

Jess nodded. "I know."

"I'm gonna go call Sasha."

"Say hi to Lilly for me."

"I will. I know you don't listen to your parents, but get some sleep. I hear you never will again."

He smiled and waved him off, focusing his eyes on the rise and fall of his son's small rib cage. Each breath was perfect, whole, fresh. Everything in his world was in order, nothing had gone so far as to not be repaired. His only problem was a nurse with swaddling issues and the kid one crib over that was in severe need of a pacifier.

"Uncle Jess!"

He smiled at the small feminine voice that greeted him. The only woman that was never upset with him. She was a pink streak, and he bent down to pick her up just before she collided with his ankles.

"Hey, Els. It's past your bed time."

"Tell me about it," Tristan yawned as he stood next to him.

"You guys didn't have to stay," Jess said as Ella scanned the candidates in the room.

"Rory insisted," he shot him a look.

"They're all babies," Ella announced.

Jess smiled and leaned his head in toward hers, ready to be conspiratorial. "Can you guess which one is mine?"

"Mmmmm," she narrowed her eyes. "That one?"

He shook his head. "That's one."

She turned her head back to the window and considered her options. "That one?"

Another negation. "Want some help?"

She shook her head now.

"Rory's been giving her the 'big sister' speeches, she's very into doing things on her own."

"I got a big girl bed," she beamed at her godfather.

"Impressive," he patted her back.

"That one looks like you," she pointed right at Ambrose.

"That's Ambrose," Jess kissed just above her ponytail.

"Amboss?" she wrinkled her nose.

"Ambrose," he said slower.

Ella looked to her father. "We'll work on it at home," he assured her. "Why does that one look like him?"

"He's asleep and the other ones are crying," she explained.

"That's my girl," Tristan laughed. "She has your number."

Jess shrugged. "I hear Rory is being harassed."

Tristan smirked. "The closest restroom is on the other side of the nurse's station. I told her to walk the other way to the far bathroom, but she gave me a half-hour lecture about where my son has decided to sit for the duration of the pregnancy," he rolled his eyes.

"Why do they think we control these things?" Jess asked, still reeling from a very pregnant wife himself.

"Some sort of coping technique. They seem to think we are in no pain whatsoever."

"Clearly they've never had a pregnant woman fall asleep on their arm," Jess snorted.

Tristan said nothing, but nodded knowingly. "The first time the nurse came at her, we all had a good laugh. The last hour? She had me follow her like the Secret Service," he sighed. "I tried to tell her I didn't need to use the restroom."

"You have some sort of death wish?" Jess asked.

"One more month, and she gets her sense of humor back," he smirked. "Actually, and don't tell her this, but I'm gonna miss the pregnant thing."

"You guys are done after this?"

Tristan nodded. "We got one of each. And she really wants to get back to work full time."

"Erin just wanted one," he said. "She always envied only children. Her sisters drive her nuts."

"They drive everyone nuts," Tristan shook his head. "They were in the waiting room for a while, showing pictures of their own children's births."

"Sorry, man."

"You owe me."

"Soon. We can take the kids to a bar," Jess joked.

"Or a strip club," Tristan did him one better.

"Shooting range."

"No, I got it. Horse track—we can tell the kids it's a zoo."

"Genius," he said jovially, before growing solemn for a moment. "Do you worry about screwing them up?"

"I was kidding about the strip club," Tristan said as he took Ella into his arms.

"What's a strip club?" she asked, her eyes wide.

"It's a club where men get together to take down wallpaper," he said without blinking, looking his daughter full in the eyes before returning his attention to Jess. "What?"

Jess shook his head. "I can't ever lie to him."

"Wait 'til he's two. It's a very inquisitive age."

"I'm quiz-tive. Mommy says so."

Jess had to chuckle. "Yes, you are."

"She gets it from her mother," Tristan smirked.

"Well, what good is an investigative reporter that doesn't ask any questions?"

"I know how babies are made," Ella announced, clearly bored with the other line of conversation.

"Uh," Jess looked at Tristan, in equal parts horror and shock. "Okay."

"Mommy told me."

"This should be good," Jess muttered under his breath.

"Do you know how babies are made?" she asked.

"I just made one," he pointed to Ambrose. "See?"

She looked at him, as if sizing him up for the first time. She'd never really questioned his word before, and he was a little disappointed. He began to wonder if this would happen with his own child. His adolescence flashed before his eyes and a nervous flutter began somewhere in the vicinity of his intestines.

"Mommy says it's like when we made Hattie," she said.

"I guess that's mostly true," he thought a moment, wondering how Rory had come up with the explanation of a trip to Build-A-Bear as a euphemism for the reproductive process.

Tristan cleared his throat. "Maybe it's time for a snack. Or how 'bout a nap?"

"Hattie's at home," she frowned, her bottom lip coming to a perfect halt over her top lip.

"Yeah, but we have your Binky," he said, without the slightest hint of baby talk.

"Can I have a cookie first?"

He nodded. "Just don't tell Mommy," he instructed.

She grinned. "Bye Uncle Jess. You made a good baby."

Tristan had to smile at his daughter's sentiment. "You really did, man. If Rory makes it down this way, tell her we're in the cafeteria, will you?"

Jess nodded as he ruffled Ella's pulled back hair. It was super soft, the way only a young girl's hair is. Her wide blue eyes looked up at him in joy.

"See? It has it's perks," Tristan tossed her so that she was upside down over his shoulder, making her giggle and squeal until they got in the elevator around the corner and Jess was left to the normal hospital sounds of keyboards clicking, monitors beeping, and the faint sound of babies crying through paned glass.

"Mr. Mariano?"

A nurse with a clipboard was coming toward him now, a welcome distraction from friends and family. As happy as he was to have their support, he was feeling stretched mentally; ranging from joy and elation at seeing this child they'd been anticipating and preparing for over the last few months and terror and uncertainty about the best way to be this child's father.

"Yes?"

"I just need your approval on the name, to put on the birth certificate."

"Oh, okay," he took the clipboard from her. "Looks good," he said, signing his name to the document.

"I can get him for you, if you'd like to hold him?"

"He's asleep—they both need their rest. I'll get him when Erin's awake."

She smiled. "Very well," she took the forms back and disappeared back behind the door.

"My baby has a baby!"

He must have dozed off standing up. He hadn't heard his mother come up next to him. Normally some sort of alert went off, self-preservational he was sure, before she got within striking distance. Now he was caught in a hug. A weepy hug. He patted her on the shoulder.

"We're in public," he reminded.

"This is a maternity ward, you're supposed to hug and cry," she protested.

"I thought you were supposed to scream and push," he scratched his head. "At least, that's what my experience has been."

"When did you scream or push?" she tested him.

"At the nurse. She started baby talking to Erin."

"Oh, Jess," she ignored his comment, and he supposed she thought he was kidding. "He's just perfect. He looks just like you, and you were perfect."

"Did they give you too many drugs?"

"Stop it! You were perfect. Even Jimmy said so. Luke wouldn't admit it, but he did say you were all right."

"Did he sound surprised?"

"And your grandfather? He was sure you were going to grow up to be something great. And he was right," she tried to hug him again.

"I didn't grow up to be anything special."

"I think so," she corrected him. "And he thinks so," she pointed to Ambrose and tapped at the glass lightly.

"He seems to like me. Unless all that crying isn't normal," he joked.

"He's gonna think you are the greatest, smartest man who ever lived."

"Okay, I get it," he shook his head.

"No, I can see it already. You're good with him."

"He's forty-five minutes old."

"He knew your voice," she pointed out. "Erin said so. She said he stopped crying when you spoke to him."

He shrugged. "I've been reading to him since he sprouted ears."

"That's called being a good dad."

He nodded. "It's easier not to argue with you."

She smiled. "I know. It's a gift."

He groaned. "You staying in town long?"

"Nah, I left TJ alone on the circuit to come out here. But he could manage a couple of days without me if you need me to stay around."

He grimaced. "You really think your booth will be there if you stay in New York for two days?"

She appeared pensive for a few moments. "He means well."

"So you've said."

"I won't say how you should give him a chance, again."

"Good."

"But I will say that he's made me very happy."

"I'm glad," he said with genuine sincerity.

"He's made me happier than any man ever has before," she kept on, with an increasingly dreamy look in her eyes.

"Okay, stop," he raised his hand. "Or I'll revoke any rights you have to visit him or any future grandchildren."

"You think you'll have more?" she squealed.

"I don't know, maybe," he said, looking away from her and into the nursery. His son slept on. "Guess I should see how this one goes first."

"I'm not leaving 'til tomorrow afternoon. Can I bring some bagels by for you guys in the morning? Best on the West Side," she smiled.

"Thanks, Mom," he turned and hugged her, not looking so comfortable but doing it nonetheless. She returned the gesture and told him, of course, to get some rest. He held in his sigh and wondered just who would be next in the long line of well-wishers. Mainly he was thankful that Erin's parents claimed to like him just enough to tolerate him at family functions that he couldn't manage to get out of, but would never spend time alone with him without coercion. He appreciated that about them and was happy to let them have their time with their unconscious daughter, and he'd swoop in to drive them out when she just couldn't take any more. She didn't like hearing about how far behind they were in planning their retirement or saving for college for the four hundredth time any more than he did.

Eighteen years and counting until he would pack up all the crap his son would collect in that same time and send him off to an institution of higher learning. Before then, he'd have to sit him down and explain the concept of responsible sex and how to put up for himself in a fight. He'd sit up all night monitoring high temperatures and be there to celebrate successes of the small and large varieties as well as the disappointments.

He looked around for a chair to sit in.

"Can't they put more chairs in this place?"

He looked up to see his conscious and found her holding her back as she shuffled toward him. He smiled and walked toward her. "You shouldn't have stayed this long."

"Well, if he'd taken after Erin, maybe we wouldn't have been in for such a long wait," she smirked.

"Are you calling me stubborn?"

"Just a little," she laughed.

"And some say you've lost your sense of humor," he shook his head.

"Tristan's been by?" she asked knowingly.

He bit his bottom lip. "You might want to go a little easier on him. He is dealing with a pretty feisty two-year-old."

She smiled maniacally. "She does keep him on his toes."

Jess raised an eyebrow. "Wait 'til she hits high school."

"I'm not allowed to joke about that. It's one of the little things I do, just so he'll tell me I'm beautiful when I weigh five hundred pounds."

"You have that pregnant lady glow," he put a hand on her shoulder.

"So, have you realized that this is never gonna end, yet?"

He nodded, the sense of awe still overtaking him. "They really just let you leave the hospital, just like that?"

Rory laughed. "That's what Tristan asked."

He rolled his eyes. "Great."

"Don't worry. You're great with kids. And they tell you what they need."

"He has two levels—on and off," he pointed to the nursery of screaming and sleeping babies.

Rory shook her head. "He has about a million different cries. And really there are only like five things he is trying to tell you. At least until he learns his first word, then it just starts getting silly."

Jess had to smile. "So I've noticed."

They watched Ambrose stretch, yawn, and fall back to sleep. "You should go home and rest. I don't want to be responsible for your preterm labor."

Rory rubbed her protruding tummy. "He's not going anywhere yet."

"Got a name picked out?"

She eyed him. "We can't all be as literary as you are," she jabbed.

"You love it," he extracted.

"I thought you'd lean more toward Oliver," she admitted sheepishly.

"It was in the running until she mentioned that people would call him Ollie. You really don't have a name yet?"

She fidgeted. "Well, we're having a bit of a disagreement on the name thing."

"Tell me he doesn't want a junior situation," he shook his head.

"He's mad that I won't even consider it," she sighed.

"What do you want?"

"I like Jacob," she looked up at him. "Evidently the Dugrey men get family names. But, as much as I love him, I don't like any of the family names."

"Old money names don't tend to go well on a playground."

She shook her head. "I just don't want to be yelling things like Aloysius and have a toddler come running."

"I think he'll come around to your way of thinking."

She gave him a side-long glance. "Why?"

He smiled. "He always has."

Her lips curved upward. "He has, hasn't he?"

"Just don't let him know you know. It's better if we think it's our idea every now and then."

She nodded and studied the babies. "He's easily the best-looking baby in that bunch."

"Did you see the nose on the one in the back?"

She peered and drew back. "Oh, poor baby."

"Some people shouldn't reproduce," he corrected.

"Or factor in much-needed plastic surgery into the budget," she giggled.

"Can I ask you something?"

"He'll get less red," she assured him.

"No," he looked down. "It's about the whole godparent thing."

She looked up at him. "Oh?"

He nodded. "Erin mentioned having one of her sisters doing it, but only one is married, and we hate her husband. The other one, she's…" he searched for a diplomatic term. "Very focused on herself."

"I've noticed," she gave a huff of distaste. "Last night she kept whining about if Erin took much longer she was going to lose her dinner reservations. She was on the phone at eight this morning trying to reschedule her manicure."

"Sounds about right," he cleared his throat. "So, once we got the mandatory discussion out of the way, I threw your name out there."

"Oh yeah?" she smiled.

"And for as much as we tried, we could find no fault with you or Tristan."

"I can probably give you some unsavory qualities of his, if you really want something for your con list."

"I'm afraid I'd see too much of myself in that list. What do you say?"

"Well, I guess the four of us can never be alone in a car ever again."

"Why's that?"

"Because if we all four died, no one would be around to take care of our kids," she leaned in to bump elbows with him.

"Thanks," he said.

"Mr. Mariano?" the same nurse came out in the hallway. "Oh, do you need a wheelchair?" she asked Rory, who let out a low growl.

"She's just visiting," Jess piped up quickly.

"Oh, sorry," she blushed. "The lactation nurse is ready, if you'd like to take your son to your wife."

"Oh, right," he nodded and turned to Rory.

"Go get 'em, Dad," she beamed with pride.

"Tell everyone I'll bring him out when we're done," he asked more than told.

Rory nodded. "You better. I need to have a few words with my godson."

He smiled as the nurse reappeared with a half-swaddled newborn in her arms. He was awakened, apparently by the jostling, and had worked up a good scream. His arms went out and gathered his son and the superfluous blanket toward his chest. The tiny baby covered such a small portion of his chest, just over his heart, and he looked down at him as his cries faded to a whimper. Father and son looked at each other for a moment until the nurse cleared her throat.

"Ready?"

Jess bounced his son a couple of times, but he never even blinked to break the eye contact. He looked so expectant, so trusting, so ready to see what he had to offer. Ambrose nestled into his shoulder and Jess looked up at the nurse.

"Yeah. I'm ready."