Summary: AU, Post Season Three. Connecticut seems like it's not even on the map anymore. Jess. Rory. Oneshot.
A/N: Found this in my documents and decided to finish it. I cannot remember what inspired this, but I can tell you that I finished it while listening to I'll See Your Heart & I'll Raise You Mine by Bell X1. Download it; it's beautiful. Other than that: feedback would be so greatly appreciated. I haven't written Literati in quite a while and I'm extremely rusty.
Summer nights in California are sweltering. The heat is overbearing, suffocating anyone who is trying to live in it, crushing their lungs until they have to stop moving completely in order to breathe the shallowest of breaths. It's more irritating than anything, but he welcomes the heat more than he welcomes his thoughts.
And when the mercury shoots to one-hundred degrees on the thermometer, it's much too hot to think. Too hot to do anything else, either, but exertion of the mental sort is that much worse than exertion of the physical sort. He learns how to read mindlessly.
He adopts the attitudes of the characters as he's reading, lets them take over his mind while the fan in the corner quietly spins dry, dusty air. Jimmy tells him the air conditioner will be fixed soon; Sasha tells him not to get his hopes up.
Jess wants to ask her what hopes she's referring to, but the verbal thing comes and goes.
The phone rings and he ignores it, traipsing out of the house in the direction of the ocean. He wants to get his own place, somewhere on the beach, somewhere he can jump into freezing cold salt water without having to travel more than twenty yards. He wants a lot of things, really, but he doesn't think about that.
It's much too hot to think.
When he finally answers the phone he is dripping wet and shivering. It's a nice contrast to the temperature fog he's been living in for the past two weeks, so he welcomes the chills without complaint. Her voice is soft and he wonders how she got this number, wonders why it hurts so much to hear her speak.
After all, he left her. In his mind he tries to turn it around, but it always plays out the same way. She watches him walk away from her, from them, and they have an awkward conversation on a bus she wasn't supposed to take. He thinks he might bleed, a little, but her words are not made of barb wire and his hands are hardly broken anymore.
Rory doesn't want to close him in. She doesn't want to trap him and Jess won't let her anyway, so trying would be useless on her part. They are across the country from each other, but her breathing is ragged across the miles and his hands shake from the pressure he's exerting on the phone.
"We're leaving for Europe tomorrow," she tells him. He nods; lies back on the bed and lets his clothes transfer water to his mattress. Memory foam stays cold if you let it.
"Off to see the Eiffel Tower," he questions, but his inflection indicates something else entirely. Sadness, grief, apology, ambiguity. She laughs breathily into the receiver and he has to clench his jaw to keep from admitting that he misses her.
It's not his place and she won't have it.
After all, he left her.
Connecticut seems like it's not even on the map anymore. The heat breaks records at the end of July, and from what Jimmy and Sasha say it only gets worse in August. There is no relief other than the beach, and that's filled with people so Jess doesn't go. The air conditioner never gets fixed and eventually he starts taking night classes just to get away from the heat.
Now the faucet drips. Once, twice, three times, four. Water droplets smack against the basin of the sink and if Jess was a different person he would probably fix the damn thing. But he has excuses. He's getting closer and closer to receiving the diploma he never wanted back in Stars Hollow, and the thought makes him smirk but the sink still drips.
It makes him feel ill to listen to the constant tap, tap, tapping. The sound reminds him of the sharp, jagged edges of his heart. There's probably a backflow, now, but he's not ready to find out the consequences of that. Rory has crawled inside of him, rearranged his ventricles to cradle her within their hold. The superglue isn't quite holding, and the drip, drip, drip of the blood in his heart is perfectly in time with the sink.
Once, he thought he might like domesticity. Now, he could care less. The simple idea makes his heart swell, and he can't afford any more damage done so he tries not to think about his future too much.
He might, if she were here. But she's in France, Spain, England, Italy, far away from here, him, them, what they had – have – and she won't be back for another three weeks. He's different, now, and he knows he has her to blame. Thank. Credit. She's different too, but not many people know that.
Part of him wonders if her sheets still smell like his sweat.
The heat dies down and the faucet gets fixed, but he swears he can still hear it leaking at night when he's attempting to sleep. Three days until she returns to the east coast, probably longer until she calls him or he gets up the nerve to call her.
Last time they spoke, she told him she had lied. Last time they spoke, he told her he had too.
Circumstances change, as do people. He's different. It's been four months and he has his GED, a job, a quasi-family unit that he isn't sure he wants to give up. Not even for her. Not even when he watches her walk through the gate, watches her look around the crowd in an attempt to find him.
Jess sighs and leans back against an obscenely red wall, blocking half of one of the letters in the airport's name. He taps his novel against his leg, nervous even though he knows he's hallucinating.
He does that now that he can't escape the heat. He hallucinates. Now is no different than all those other supposed sightings of her.
Shoving his other hand in his pocket, he assumes a bored expression and slouches against the solid plaster wall just a bit, just enough to make the casual passerby believe that he is waiting to pick up his girlfriend from work or his brother from a trip to summer camp. Just enough to make himself believe that he isn't seeing her for the first time in four months.
After a moment she sees him and he watches her push through the crowd to reach him, a million butterflies suddenly swarming and nipping at the lining of his stomach. Certain that he will pass out from the combination of nerves and internal bleeding, he smirks slightly and pushes off the wall, stumbling slightly when Rory drops her bags and throws her arms around his neck for a hug.
"I missed you," she breathes. He hesitates and then wraps his arms around her waist, tangles his fingers up in the hem of her blouse, closes his eyes and sighs heavily against her shoulder.
Even then, the words still refuse to fall from his mouth.
"You seem happier," she comments. Jess shrugs, pulls a pen from his pocket and makes a note in the book he's reading. He chooses not to respond otherwise. "Are you?"
He sighs and lowers the novel, staring silently at her. Rory doesn't return his gaze until he crawls across his bed to her and lifts her chin with his hand and it only takes him a moment to realize why. Tears brim on the edges of her eyelashes and he sits back, just a few inches separating them now.
"Maybe," he nods and then furrows his brow slightly. "Probably not."
She laughs shakily and wipes her eyes, shaking her head back and forth. "I'm sorry. I'm being stupid; it's none of my business."
Running a hand through his messy hair, he looks around the small space that is his bedroom. There is a long, pregnant pause as she stares at him and he stares at the wall opposite his bed and then he can't handle the silence anymore. "It isn't home," he tells her, more honest than he's used to being.
"What is home, Jess?" she repeats, her voice almost falsetto in the dusty air. Jess sighs heavily, harshly. "Tell me," she whispers, "Please."
Drip, drip, drip. He locks eyes with her, leaning forward slowly so as to give her the opportunity to pull away if she wants to. Her eyes widen slightly but Rory doesn't move, and when he kisses her he can feel the shudder that ricochets down her spine just in the way she breathes into his mouth.
It isn't an answer, really, but for now it will have to do.
She drags him to the beach with her in the middle of the afternoon and somehow, they find a spot that isn't swarming with people. Jess refuses to help her build the world's largest sand castle and Rory pouts until he sees no choice but to throw her in the water.
Ten minutes later, she is wrapped up in a towel sitting on his lap on the sand and he thinks that maybe she knows the answer to her own question. Maybe she knows that he can feel his pulse racing every time she smiles or laughs or touches him. Maybe.
He kisses the back of her neck softly and murmurs the words in her ear anyway. Just in case.
The air conditioner randomly kicks on in the middle of the night, just hours before her flight leaves. Jess rolls his eyes and comments on the fact in the margins of Adam Bede, perfectly aware that it has nothing to do with the plot of the story. Rory stirs next to him and he glances at her out of the corner of his eye. Her eyes peek open after a moment and she smiles softly.
"Can't sleep?" she asks throatily. He nods a little and folds down the corner of the page he's on without really thinking about it, tossing the book to the floor. She props her head on her hand and traces a pattern on his arm that he can't decipher. "I don't want to leave," she admits.
Jess sighs. "Don't think you have much of a choice," he returns. She abruptly stops tracing patterns and he closes his eyes tightly. "Me, either," he whispers.
Rory tugs him down to lie next to her and he runs his fingers through her hair, kissing her softly. A cold chill washes over the room that he isn't used to and he pulls her close, selfishly absorbing her warmth as she breathes against his neck.
A week passes before she calls and the conversation is short, to the point, too abrupt for his liking. She's already in love with college life, she tells him, and the fact doesn't surprise him in the slightest.
What does is the way she ends the call by telling him she loves him before abruptly hanging up. Ten minutes later, he calls her back and gets her voicemail. Jess keeps calling until she answers, and then he smirks and flops back on his bed as he returns the words.
For once, the honesty doesn't terrify him.
Connecticut slowly crawls back onto the map and his heart slowly stops killing him from the constant ache and drip. Rory calls. Jess visits. It works, though the distance is unfair and he does his best not to think about the miles between them.
Lucky for him, the heat builds back up come spring. After that, it's too hot to think.