Author's Note: Alright, so another oneshot. I have a thing for them. This one isn't angsty, since I think you might start recommending me to a good psychatrist if I continue down that particular path . . . not a lot of fluff, either: I mean, this is Jess we're talking about here.

(I'm so sorry! I fixed the 'Burkowski' reference to the correct 'Bukowski' . . . who the heck is Burkowski?)

Disclaimer: Not mine.

Rating: T. Not as much swearing since we're not in Jess' head this time.

Orange-Striped Sheets

". . . For life is holy and every moment precious."
Jack Kerouac, On the Road

She's been telling him to get a new fan for three weeks. The thwacking noise his current one makes drives her insane. It wakes her now, at six-thirty on a Saturday morning, drying the sweat from a sticky Indian summer night off of her body and chilling her bare shoulder.

He, of course, doesn't wake up. She finds it very funny that a footstep outside of their door will send him skyrocketing out of bed, but the fan doesn't bother him at all. The cheap cotton of their orange-and-white striped sheets sticks to her legs, partially because of static and partially because of sweat. She's exhausted, a little bit disorientated, planning on fading back into sleep despite the irritating thwacking. Her hair is fanned around her on the pillow like some sort of caramel-colored halo.

But for some reason, she doesn't. Dreams still cling heavily to the purple inside of her eyelids, making her see everything in a lavender haze, and yet she does not fall asleep. Rain is pounding on the roof of their apartment, sounding like a chorus of shattering champagne glasses, streaking the windowpanes. Her eyes flutter open, gazing at the phenomenon through the window over the sharp angle of his side, memorizing every raindrop and every muscle.

He's beautiful. She will never tell him this, partially because it sounds weird and partially because he'd hate it, but as she lies there and studies the midnight hair curling around his neck and sticking up at odd angles, the small indent on his bottom lip, the smoothness of his strong-featured face, she lets herself call him beautiful, if only in her drowsy head. She tastes him on her lips still and she thinks it has to work this time and she's forgotten what being bored feels like because he has never heard of the word 'predictable.'

She showed up with her boxes two months ago. He never asked her to explain. She has since then found it a little funny, in hindsight, that he had half of his closet cleared out already.

"Staring is impolite in some countries," he mutters groggily (and despite her jumping roughly three feet in the air from surprise that he's awake, she still can't help but notice he has the sexiest husky-morning-voice she's ever heard).

"So is basking in said staring," she retorts, awake now, amused by the way he tosses a hand over his eyes and his breaths began to even out into sleep-breaths again. She has never forgotten how much of an anti-morning person he is, and hopes vainly that she will never have any serious life-and-death problems before noon.

She watches his chest begin to rise and fall in deep, evenly spaced intervals, each muscle so connected with each other that it seems like one smooth plane of Italian skin and not the layers of tissue, organs, cells it really is. His abdomen ripples as he sighs, and then he is falling back into the realm of exhaustion she will not be able to reach him in. Quite suddenly, she finds that unacceptable.

"Jess," she whispers, a small hand on his upper arm, close enough to watch her breathing stir his black tangle of hair. The rain continues to ricochet off the windows. She waits a second as he manages to open one eye and then shakes his head and rolls over, away from her. He's more tired than he usually is, making her wonder why until she sees Ham on Rye flung over his alarm clock, and she thinks he was probably reading until two in the morning again.

"It's a good book," he mumbles defensively, bleariness making his low voice almost inaudible, and she glances at him in surprise. She should be over this by now; he always seems to know exactly what's running through her head without asking, without studying, without any observation at all, and even in his most exhausted state he is no different.

"Bukowski takes your time away from me." She's whining now (he always says he hates it when she pouts but they both know he doesn't), crawling up toward him and laying half on top of him, tracing his jaw line with an index finger. Her heart slams against her ribcage because even after two months it still feels like a moondust-golden-eternity-pearl-stars dream to be able to touch him like this. He has this way of making her stomach clench and her toes curl.

"Leave me alone, woman," he sighs. She giggles and the lazy word that arcs out of her lips tastes like the sugar she used to sprinkle on strawberries when she was little.

"Never."

He smiles. She can see him trying to hide it underneath sleep and annoyance, but he smiles anyway, and she takes a mental photograph of it to store in the silky folds of her brain. She always does this whenever he smiles, because he only smiles for her and no one else. She complains about it sometimes, but she really likes the fact that she's the only one who can coax it out of him. And to be honest, she'd be jealous if anyone else had that capability.

"Great," he answers, his voice dripping with sarcasm. He's more alert now, but still not alert enough to move much, and she feels him breathe underneath her weight.

"You sound disappointed."

He blinks for half a second, looking at her through author's fingers, and grumbles in what sounds so much like genuine reluctance she has to find his smirk for assurance that it's not, "I guess you're okay."

"So I can stick around for awhile?"

His eyes become shadowed over, with that deep mysterious look of angles and dark shapes and black flame, all of which speak of seriousness. He is vulnerable and for one of the first times, the shield he always carries lies on the floor next to the bed and doesn't touch him at all. "Yes."
She's gotten quite literate in Jess language recently. What he means is: Stay, don't ever leave me, I want you here forever, I don't give a damn what the books say, we can make it, I swear I won't go anywhere, and she understands this.

It makes her think that she's allowed to envision the word 'eternity' this time.

"We should go to Stars Hollow today." Her changing of the topic is not at all smooth, very abrupt, because what he just said needs no further comment. However, he hears 'Stars Hollow' and immediately groans, burying his face into the pillow again. The rain slides down the window behind his shoulder.

"Nope."

"But –"

"No."

"Maybe if Luke –"

"Don't think so."

"Just for a few –"

"Not happening."

"But we haven't been there for a whole week."

"Hence the light and airy feeling in my heart for exactly seven days."

She blows a piece of hair off of her forehead in frustration, resting her chin on her elbow, recognizing her defeat. If there is one thing they share in common besides a passion for Burkowski and The Ramones, it's their stubbornness. However, his is more practiced than hers, far more silent and successful, and he has the potential to win every single one of their arguments.

Despite this, that's not always how their arguments are won.

"I want to see my mommy," she pouts, sticking out her lower lip. He shrugs.

"Go see the love child of Ted Bundy and Rosie O'Donnell, then. I won't stop you."

She wrinkles her forehead, not sure whether to berate him for his not-so-hidden insult to her mother or correct his reference. She decides the later. "Rosie O'Donnell likes women, Jess."

"More insulted by my misused O'Donnell statement than how I just associated Lorelai with a serial killer?"

"Hey, if you're going to be a jerk, at least do it right."

He smirks.

She decides to try a different tactic as his eyes flutter closed again against the sticky heat and he begins to listen to the rain (she can tell by how all his muscles relax and he looks peaceful, not like the unpredictable halogen bomb he tends to be).

"Don't you want to see your mommy?"

He shakes his head. It needs no further response. They both know he's thinking that he will not be dragged to see Liz and her husband, even with the arrival of his half-sister, without Valium or tranquilizers or massive injections of heroin or something. Of course, his thought pattern probably had a few impressive curses thrown in, but it was basically the same.

She sighs and kisses his shoulder. Somehow, the lightness of her early morning mood has faded when she thinks of how his relationship with his mother is broken forever by things she just can't understand, not in her naiveté. In her heart she hopes he will tell her someday, he will let her touch and feel and heal his past, but so far he has not opened that door to her. Maybe he's lost the key to the lock. Maybe he just wants to.

"Hey, don't feel sorry for me," he whispers, but beneath the gentleness he's serious and she can tell this by the hard look in his eyes. Pity is the one thing he absolutely can't handle, not from her or from anyone else. This hasn't changed since they were seventeen.

She nods mutely. His face becomes solemn, like it always does before sadly kissing her, like he's performing a sacred act maybe. He has many different kinds of kisses, but the sad ones are the ones that break her heart and make her cry because they're so perfect she wonders how long this can possibly last.

He tastes like the rain outside, she decides, and it's her last coherent thought (if it can be called coherent) because she's not very good at thinking when he does this. Dangerous is the one word seared on the inside of her eyelids, even after all this time, and orange striped sheets and sweat and cigarette smoke and leather, and everything I want, where have you been, promise me all the things you never could before, don't promise me and that's enough.

There's a thumb skimming along her spine, underneath her tank top, and she shivers violently. He does not grin against her mouth like he usually would. Instead he pulls her in closer to him, almost like he's afraid of any air between them, like space would cause their lungs to rupture and kill them both (it might).

His lips and his hands and his skin all mix together to form one bitter and shadowy and God, too addictive mixture that clings to her eyelids and her tongue, that she needs, needs, needs, and when he lets her breathe for a second she tells him she loves him. She has told two other men (boys?) this before and it is the first time she's told him. It feels different because it's honest. His dark eyes flicker up to her with all the unsaid things between them and it's so beautiful and so sad she starts to cry. She remembers that she has pretty much loved him forever.

There is no halfway point for them. They've always been on a crash course to nowhere (or to somewhere so dazzling only they can catch glimpses of it?). She kissed him before she said anything when she appeared on his doorstep in June, and they went from zero to a thousand miles per hour in that one second. They've been running ever since, a lazy run, because they've always wanted to run together and have been forced by something bigger than themselves to run in opposite directions.

He presses his lips to her forehead and says nothing. He doesn't need to, never has. She's always known.

Then he's just staring at her, in that way that peels her skin from her body, in that way that screamed something to her before he ever touched her back when they were in high school, in that way that makes her pull the sheets tighter around her despite how she wants him to stare at her like that.

He pulls the sheets back down and kisses her collarbone. She understands he's telling her a lot of things and she whispers again, "I love you, Jess." It's a chant, a Hail Mary, a prayer rolling off of her lips like melted cherry ice. He answers her again silently, far more eloquently than her statement was. He doesn't tell her to stop crying and he doesn't wipe the tears off of her cheek. They're his mark, the affirmation of how he makes her feel, the physical sign that he is here.

She touches his jaw and he lets her, continuing to look at her fearlessly. Then she laces her arm around him and presses her head to his chest.

"I'm not as comfortable as a pillow," he says quietly, but they both know he would rather have her laying on him than beside him.

"You're as soft as one."

There's a moment of silence in which the magical web of lightness is being spun again, despite the seriousness and sanctuary still flashing in his eyes. "Are you saying I've lost my Holden Caulfield image?"

His skin smells like soap and ash. She remembers that from a long time ago. "That's what I was implying."

He scoffs, tangling a hand in her hair, skimming his other down her arm; she knows he's purposely branding her with his fingerprints, and she's glad. "Impossible."

She glances at the pack of Camels by his side of the bed and thinks of him smoking at night on the fire escape. "Impossible," she echoes, and she wouldn't have him any other way than he is, bruised and angles and mysteries.

There's a comfortable silence for a moment and she remembers how he can make her scream in the middle of the night and her body vibrates. The ceiling is a webbed pattern of cracking paint. She can feel him studying each design broken into the plaster, and his heart beats against her cheek. Finally, he says almost nonchalantly, "This took too long."

She feels her throat constrict. "What?"

He doesn't answer for a minute. "This. You. Me." A pause. "Together."

Her eyes close as she feels her veins surge and she's not sure if she'll be able to talk. After taking a deep breath, she whispers, "Yeah. It did." Some people would say that the time they spent apart was necessary, allowing them to grow into mature adults who could truly need and want and love each other, but she looks at the cigarettes and the book on his nightstand again and she doesn't really believe that.

She knows he doesn't, either.

"I'm sorry I waited," she tells him, and she really is. Sorry. She always knew who she wanted and it scared her for years (he's always kind of scared her because he's almost perfect in her eyes and she's never asked for it any other way).

He could apologize, too, apologize for leaving her, apologize for shattering her heart and scarring her and letting her fight it out alone, but he doesn't. He shrugs. They both know that apologies are overrated and there's nothing they can do to change the path they took to these orange-striped sheets.

"I wanted you the whole time," she whispers (meaning through it all, through the bitter winter night he told her he loved her and when he almost killed her at Yale by asking her to come with him and the moment pride suffocated her when she held his book for the first time and the forbidden brush of lips at Truncheon and the million moments in between). She knows he won't answer but that's okay. He nods against her hair.

She moves up his body until her head is level with his and kisses him. Innocent angel Rory, who has always been able to resist temptation, cannot associate the word 'no' with her desire for the soul entwined with hers on this bed.

When they make love, she forgets who she is. It doesn't matter. Whoever she is, she's Jess', in his bedroom that is now theirs and buried in his sheets and making crying sounds into his mouth and he touches her like she is Shiva, or some kind of holy deity, pure and unblemished and far too worthy for him. This is not true, but she doesn't think she has enough breath to correct him, and he is uncoiling her body in great dizzying waves, controlling her completely, thoroughly, foreverly. Her hand knocks Ham on Rye onto the floor but he doesn't even notice (Bukowski was never anything to him compared to her). Neither does she.

Afterwards, their clothes are in a mangled pile on the floor and she is draped across him like a king's cloak, his final victory, his only, always his. She has never really been with anyone else, not in this sense. She always imagined the other hands that have touched her to be his, burning trails down her body, and now that they are it seems that the other hands never existed in the first place.

Did they? She forgets. It doesn't matter. Whatever.

That sounds like him and she smiles.

"What's so funny?" He asks lazily. It's eight now, and she can hear the city of Philadelphia boiling outside the window, but the rain hasn't stopped. She traces the line of a muscle on his abdomen. He catches her hand in his and interweaves their fingers.

"Just . . . nothing."

He accepts her pathetic answer and shifts to look at the clock again. Unlike her, he has to go downstairs and work in a half hour. She feels him beginning to get up and pushes a sweaty strand of hair out of her face.

"No," she pouts insistently, grabbing his arm to stop him from leaving, and he lets a mixture of a smirk and exasperation cross his face.

"You know this whole apartment thing we have going on? I only keep it as long as I show my face downstairs every once and awhile."

She's always a little scared that he'll walk down those steps and not come back. "Jess . . ."

"It's only until noon," he reminds her, pulling on his boxers and making a motion as if to move toward the jeans thrown across the back of his chair at his desk. She sees eternity dancing in the faded white curtains.

"But that's too long . . . and I don't want to be up here for almost four hours by myself!"

He hovers over her and kisses her and she falls silent.

An idea occurs to her while he's in the shower. She shrugs into one of his T-shirts and listens at the door carefully for any sign of Matt or Chris in the hallway. Having a woman suddenly room upstairs with three guys wasn't the optimal situation, but she has nothing to complain about and she has a haven as long as she's in this room. Besides, Jess has crusaded for her rights with the other guys, and they (without fail) give her an hour of uninterrupted bathroom time every morning and half an hour every evening. Jess is strict about this. She finds it amusing that his co-workers are kind of scared of him and kind of admire him at the same time.

However, her hour starts at seven on weekdays but not until nine on weekends, so she's not sure how clear the upstairs will be, and the idea of appearing only half clothed in front of either Matt or Chris is not appealing.

There's silence. They're probably still sleeping, or maybe downstairs already, and she creeps out onto the rough beige carpet that is pasted all across the second floor to another door by the stairs. Rain falls softly on the roof, no longer a heavy crashing, but more like divinity's feet swirling on shingles. She reaches for the doorknob and finds it locked.

He knows how to pick such a lock, and he even tried to teach her once, but she has never been able to master that particular skill. She hears the hissing of the shower (but no singing; she wishes he sung in the shower, it would give her something to mock him about forever) and, more aware than ever of her abbreviated garb – why didn't she throw on a pair of jeans before she left the hallowedness of their room? -, she beats on the door with a small fist.

"Jess!" She whispers harshly, not wanting to arouse any other person's attention. A horn blares outside. She curses it for interrupting her and shivers as she stands there despite the sticky heat, her bare feet cold against the carpet.

"I know you can hear me!"

Nothing.

"Do you want someone to walk out and see me half-naked?"

She smiles to herself when she hears a click, but manages to hide it before opening the door and closing it behind her.

The whole bathroom is swimming in steam. He has already disappeared behind the shower curtain again, and she stands in front of the mirror that has beads of water racing down it, falling with a rounded sound against the ancient porcelain of the sink.

"Nice outfit."

His face shows briefly around the corner of blue plastic and he's smirking at her. She looks down at the word "Hardcore" stamped in smeared red across the black of his T-shirt and blushes.

"I . . . I guess I could have waited until you got out of the shower," she admits when he doesn't stop looking, twisting her hands in the hem, and he finally vanishes. She wonders how she'll get back into their room without being seen again.

"An epiphany," he answers dryly, his voice distorted by water.

There's the sound of a faucet being turned off, and then he's standing in front of the sink with a towel wrapped tightly around his olive waist and black hair dripping into black eyes. She looks up at him and doesn't understand how she's affecting him with the bluest stare he has ever seen.

"What was important enough to make you risk a Tara Reid moment out there?" He asks, not bothering to shave because he shaved yesterday, but he already has rough stubble and she thinks it's one of the sexiest things about him.

"I've come to offer a compromise."

He cocks an eyebrow and stops his search for hair gel.

"Compromise? Uh . . . what are we fighting about, exactly?"

Their real fights are no joking matter. She has almost always cried when they've fought over the years. It's not because he ever says anything to hurt her, but because of what he doesn't say, because he closes himself off. It makes her angry sometimes, which in turn frustrates him, and they both refuse to give in until someone (always her) eventually weakens. This has happened twice since she has moved in with him. The fights remind her that there will never be anyone else.

"You working today! When I want you to be with me! Remember?"

A smirk crosses his face and she knows some smartassed comment that would inflate his ego is crossing his mind about now, but she doesn't care. "Ah." He turns away. "You know, you could get dressed and come downstairs with me."

She smiles behind his back and moves a little closer to him, messy chocolate-colored hair splayed across her shoulders. "That's a start. But I have another demand."

"Sounding a bit too much like you should be chomping on a cigar for my liking," he mutters blandly, refusing to look at her again. She studies the calluses on his hands (she's always liked them for some reason).

Understanding that the allusion to Al Capone is all the encouragement she's going to be getting, she continues, "You can work until noon –"

"Why, thank you!"

His sarcastic interjection doesn't bother her in the least. "If we go to Stars Hollow afterward and stay overnight."

She watches as his fingers brace on the sink. "No."

"Seems pretty fair to me."

"You must be stoned, then."

He's being stubborn again, and he always wins if he wants to, and she's well aware of that.

"We can rent a movie and watch it at Luke's place after we have dinner with my mom. You know he'll be staying over there."

"So not the mental image I need right now," he says shortly, his teeth gritted. She knows he always feels like he's being suffocated in that town, but he knows that she is a package deal and Stars Hollow comes along with her, and she thinks he's glad it's back to being that way despite everything. Wisely, she refrains from mentioning Liz or his half-sister, whom he's afraid of becoming attached to.

She remembers once again she doesn't know anything about his childhood.

"Please, Jess, just until tomorrow."

He glances at her once and that's all it takes for her to know she's won. She smiles, which irritates him, and he turns back to the mirror. "If your mother comes at me with flaming swords –"

"I will be the first to take a stab for you."

Rain, rain, go away . . . or stay, actually, she doesn't care, either way is fine with her when he looks at her like this, like he can't help loving her and he doesn't want to and she is all he sees. He's willing to brave Kirk, Taylor, his tight-loving stepfather and his commitment-fearing uncle, her mother with a death wish for him even after all these years, everything, for her. She shouldn't enjoy the sacrifice so much but she does because it's a tangible something.

"Get dressed and come downstairs."

He moves to the door. She puts a hand on her hip and feels the slickness of moist tile under her toes. "Why?"

"Hey, annoying or not, you need to be fed, right?" He flashes her a grin, letting her know he's not really mad, and she thinks he's like her Jack Kerouac, almost celestial but not quite, but she likes to think that, unlike Kerouac, she will always be able to make him stay.

"You have to work."

He shrugs. "Not until nine."

Confused, she tucks her hair behind her ear and crosses her arms. "But you said –"

"They can do without me for a half hour."

She smells his aftershave and his soap and she thinks of getting old with anniversaries and soccer games and piano lessons and photo albums. "You do care," she tells him, half teasingly, half seriously.

His solemn nod is a thousand-worded-letter sent straight to her heart, but then he smirks and says, "Don't be too flattered. My mother bought a gerbil when I was eight, and I despised the damn thing, but I fed it, too." He pauses for a moment of reflection. "Most of the time."

"Whatever you want to say to make yourself feel better about acts of kindness."

He steps closer to her, his breath stirring her hair, his damp skin pressed against hers. "It's just pancakes," he brands into the shoulder of his T-shirt on her body. She leans against him and searches for the lips he won't give to her.

"What could be a kinder act than pancakes?" She whispers dully, not really understanding what he's saying. A laugh vibrates in his stomach, working its way up through his chest, a true laugh like the kind that makes him ache, the kind she missed so much it made her head hurt when they were apart.

"And they said you were high maintenance."

"Coffee and pancakes and I'm ready to go."

He touches the small of her back as gently as if she is a ethereal Mayan temple. "You keep saying you want to get new sheets, though."

She thinks of the orange-striped sheets. She thinks of the fan. She thinks of the cracks in the ceiling plaster and the torn carpet, of rooming with two other guys and the take out and the stressful job in Philly and not being able to go to Stars Hollow enough. She knows he's asking her if he's worth it by the lightning flashes in his eyes. And she knows that the answer has always, always been the same. "I'm fine with the sheets."
He does not smile. He brushes his lips across her nose.

"Jess, I'm fine with the sheets," she insists, breathing the words against his teeth. He tells her he knows that and then she's kissing him and cramming the five years they've missed into five seconds. He has never been one to back away from a challenge.

A few minutes later, as she herself turns on the shower, she knows that she will not always win these debates and she will not be able to see her mother every weekend. He's not used to giving in, ever, to allowing any ground, and she can't expect all of this change just because she's taken up half of his closet.

Of course, he has an Achilles' heel (her).