Author's Note: This is just a oneshot I threw together when I was supposed to be working on other things (the story of my life). It takes place after Season 4 and assumes that Rory said something different to Jess when he came to her in her dorm. Yes, it's been done sixty-million-and-five (or whatever) times but hey, I thought why not once more, kind of like a billion served in McDonald's? A billion served in the redux of the dorm scene?

Rating: PG-13, but some swearing.

Disclaimer: Self-explanatory.

A Ritual Cleansing

"There is no one else for miles,
and even those people far away are deaf and blind.
There is no one to bless this.
There are the dark trees, and just beyond the trees.
- Matthew Rohrer, Epithalamium

She is, he knows, the most beautiful thing he has (or will ever hope to) see.

The light is red, thousands of reds, broken reds, he decides. It's like a glistening, bloody sunset spilling as shards of splintered goblets, flung across the canvas of the horizon that's framed in their windshield. He glances over to her sitting next to him, hair tangled around her face, golden freckles and electric eyes and lips, legs, torn jean shorts, silhouetted against the blood of the sky. He is reminded painfully of the towering stain glass windows of sacred cathedrals in Brooklyn; she is the Virgin, and she looks over at him and smiles. His fingers tighten around the steering wheel.

They have not spoken a word since they entered New Mexico an hour and a half ago. She studies the wine-colored nail polish on her toes while he watches how the slices of sun thread through the amber streaks in her hair. He licks his dry upper lip as wind whipping in from his rolled down window sears the left side of his face.

'You saved me you saved me you saved me' he says silently, but she smiles and he thinks she understands. A feeling of contentment is mixing with the restlessness in his stomach. It is the first time he has ever felt contented and, quite frankly, it is scaring the hell out of him.

He feels her studying him, the scar on his chin, the unruliness of his hair, the dark, flickering quality of his eyes. He wants to ask her what she's thinking, but he already knows, and the silence is holy and he cannot break it.

He is fucking terrified because he knows that he will. Break it. Everything. Eventually.

It has been two months and he still can't remember if she actually said yes or not. It's all a whirlwind; he has no idea what possessed him to go to her dorm that night, what possessed her to look at him with fissured eyes and forget how to lie.

He remembers waiting, his whole life suspended and gambled on that one moment, realizing how it really wasn't much to gamble, anyway. I hate you, she finally whispered, and he felt his insides collapse a little, because he knew she didn't mean it. Then she kissed him and she was crying. She screamed at him for leaving and he took it all, sad and sorry and lonely. She unbuckled his jeans and she said I hate you for taking so much of me, and he silently told her the feeling was much reciprocated, and she murmured into his neck, I'm not the same when you're not here.

The mattress was cold and bare, but they didn't notice because he remembers kissing her bare shoulder and looking at her and silently telling her the million things he had never been able to tell her ('I need you I want you I came back for you I found you you're mine I need you I want you I came back for you I found you you're mine I need you I want – ) and she sobbed and she told him she loved him and she let him know that she was his and they were bound by thick cords of some sort of always, always, always reaching and that would never change. She watched him smoke his cigarette after and she said, I need to be near you, and he looked at her for a moment and then kissed her so hard that her books on her shelf rattled and the next morning she took one of the boxes from her dorm and packed it with clothes and CDs and paperbacks and she asked him not to leave her this time, please, and he zipped up his jacket and put the box in his backseat.

Take me somewhere, she demanded and he didn't know what to say so he closed his fingers around On the Road and he gunned the engine and decided to chase the sun. It wasn't like he hadn't been west before because he had just a few months ago but he felt the need to take her far, far away before she changed her mind and the sprawling continent beckoned and she did not say no. He remembers the sex in North Carolina and the three A.M. coffee run (after much complaining from him) in Indiana and more sex in Denver; the bookstore they found in Chicago, the way she looked at him like he was Jesus in Arizona when she found the manuscript he started to write a few months ago that he had been trying to hide from her in his trunk and how she kissed him and she cried and she told him she was proud and he had to go and pretend to buy a pack of Camels so she wouldn't see that he was almost crying, too. He remembers how her mother called and how she tried to explain and how he could hear the frantic exclamations on the other end of the line and he remembers how she threw her phone out the window in Oklahoma and looked at him in silent gratitude when he said nothing.

He is not a dreamer and he is not a romantic and he knows that he is desecrating her and being a selfish bastard and he understands he should not have the right to scrawl his signature on every centimeter of her body but he has given up the illusion that he can stop himself and she has given up the illusion that she wants to stop him and they have finally closed their eyes and stepped off the cliff and it's nothing but finally, finally, finally and wind searing the left side of his face.

They are not on a highway but a lonely, dusty road in the middle of nowhere. A red traffic light flashes ahead of him despite nothing but wasteland, orange wasteland ('We are the hollow men, the stuffed men, headpieces filled with straw, alas! Our dried voices, when we whisper together, are nothing but the wind in dried grass, or rats' feet over broken glass, in our dry cellar.')

He puts on the breaks. She looks over at him again. It makes him want to kiss her but he doesn't.

It is twenty minutes later when she says his name. He is glad that she is the first to talk because it doesn't seem as much of a desecration when she does it. The red is being watered down to purple while lights from Albuquerque are on the horizon, sick and hot and yellow. Mosquitoes slap against the windshield but he ignores them and glances at her.

"My calves hurt," she complains, stretching like a little girl.

He rubs the back of his neck, thinks of making a lewd comment, and decides not to. His fingers dance on cigarettes that he can reach on the dashboard but he doesn't take one.

"Kerouac said that standing on your head every morning can relieve that problem," he comments dryly, referencing The Dharma Bums but thinking of many other things.

"You've seen my coordination skills. Do you really want me to stand on my head?"

This time he can't help it. "I don't know. It sounds like a pretty weird position, but we can try it next time," he suggests innocently, smirking. She blushes and he feels a little bit of redemption again, coming in one quiet, hissing wave over the aching desert of his heart.

"Why do you always insinuate?" She asks with mock annoyance, flipping the hair that has grown long over the past two months behind her ears. He grins.

"Because you like it."


It is the end of July and her new term starts in two weeks and they have not talked about it once. He cannot bear to think of losing her but he cannot bear to think of holding her back and he thinks of the hot grass and dark road and his car and he tries to pretend that she won't sweep away this cacophony and all this night, ecstasy, eternity into a neatly marked box that she will store somewhere in the back of her brain, somewhere between a file marked 'What-should-have-been' and a file marked 'What-will-never-be' and below the heading of 'Mistake.'

"Hey, Jess?"

He inclines his head in an answer.

"I do like it. The insinuating."

She glances down into her lap. He turns away form her and smiles (a real smile).

- - - - - -

Their motel room is sleazy and cheap like all the other ones have been and there's a green neon sign right outside of their window and when they turn the lights off it makes things look a little more like hell, but they don't mind. They're low on money so they stopped at a convenience store earlier and bought a loaf of bread and peanut butter and now they're eating in silence, listening to two people argue heatedly in Spanish outside their window.

He watches the way she moves, how she crosses and uncrosses her legs, how she wraps her arms around herself, and he knows what she wants and he gives her two quarters. She cries because he doesn't even have to ask, but he gives her the gift of pretending he doesn't see.

There's a payphone outside their door. She leaves it open so he can hear her half of the conversation, an open-handed offering to him of I-want-to-hide-nothing-from-you. His throat tightens a little bit but he just finishes his piece of bread and takes a drag off of a freshly-lighted Camel.


The long silence makes him clench his fists, reminding him of everything he has ruined and all the white he has made grey and the dead cockroach in the corner and the Ivy League university she belongs to.

"Mom, please, I'm good, I'm really good. We're –"

He closes his eyes.

"We're in New Mexico, and I –"

There's a click as she hangs up without saying anything else. She walks back in and shuts the door with her hip, lighted awkwardly by nothing but green neon against the white tank top she's wearing, her feet bare. He slides off the bed and onto the floor and she sits next to him. There are no tears on her face. He can't decide if this makes the weight on his chest lift a little or if it has just been there so long that he doesn't notice it anymore.

"She's right. You did break me," she says matter-of-factly as she peels her tank top from her body and his hands start to shake when she moves to sit in his lap. "But I wanted you to. I want you to."

He wishes there was something for him to say but there isn't and there's the unzipping of clothes and the choked sobs and the yes, this is it, colors-shrieking-souls-melding-I-knew-we-could-find-it-aren't-you-amazed-we-found-it-we-have-to-keep-it, the cries into an empty motel room and her hair and her, her, her, and when he tells her that he's sorry she whispers, "Don't be. Please."

He smokes again once she falls asleep. The sheet slides from her shoulder and he pulls it back up.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

He knows that she hasn't failed to notice how he never sleeps next to her. They have sex and then she falls asleep and he crashes in the dirty, ragged armchair that is always standing in the corner, no matter what state. He doesn't understand why he can't make himself stretch out next to her when she looks so peaceful and innocent and pure, when she seems celestial in the neon light as she sleeps, or maybe he does understand and that is why he can't do it. It makes him want to pound his fist into his head but all he can do is light another Camel, disciple, another one, and pretend it doesn't kill him.

He's dreaming about nothing when he jars awake later that night, his neck hurting from being at an odd angle for a few hours against the side of the chair. She's standing in front of him, wearing his T-shirt, for the first time silently telling him that it is not alright with her when he sleeps on the other side of the room. He looks at her (she seems like a ghost, a vision, an apparition).

"Stop protecting yourself from me," she whispers.

He remains silent. He can't help it and they both know it.

With the large eyes of a little girl, she reaches down and takes his hand. His muscles all seize up but she doesn't care and she pulls him and he stands. She leads him over to the musty bed. He lies down next to her, smelling the shampoo in her hair and the smoke on his shirt and the I-don't-mean-to, I-wish-I-wasn't-like-this.

"Be still for just a little while," she begs.

He silently tells her okay.

And eventually, after she is asleep again and even though she can't hear him and he has whispered to her that she is his salvation, he falls asleep, too.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It is ten the next morning and he finishes filling up the load of crap he calls a car with gas that costs way too fucking much before climbing into the driver's seat, turning the keys, and gunning off to more, more, more west. She sits next to him with her eyes big and bright.

"I've never been out here before, ever, not in my life, not even once, not twice, not ever, I mean, we wanted to go, but we never did," she rambles. He can see excitement flashing in the way she pushes her hair hurriedly behind her ears.

"Are you sure? Never? Not even once, not twice, not ever?"

She glares over at him. "Cruel boy," she mutters under her breath.

"Not in previous lives? As a reincarnated truck driver crossing the continent? As a tree on Route 66?"

He watches her fold her arms as her lower lip sticks out in the pout he will always say annoys him but really doesn't. "I'm not speaking to you now."

He smirks. He can tell she is waiting for an apology even though she knows she will not get one.

Finally, she says, "I've seen pictures of California, though. You sent me a postcard."

It's not as if he has forgotten this since he still mentally beats himself up for it every time he remembers it, how he stared at blank notebook paper for weeks and how he was silent on the phone and how he finally found a picture of water, nothing but water, that kind of reminded him of her a little (it was her eyes, the death of him). He wrote nothing on it except for four words: 'I didn't want to,' in black pen with a Spanish Heritage stamp stuck up in the right hand corner.

He says nothing.

"I still have it. In my car. Back . . . just back."

It does not escape him that she doesn't use the word 'home.'

She laughs a little, and it's not a sad laugh but at the same time it is. The skin on his palms sting against the steering wheel. "I used to think of you standing on white sand somewhere, in your leather jacket with your Brooklyn touch-me-and-die face and your messed up hair, your boots leaving big prints next to barefoot ones, a book in your jean pocket. I used to think of you glaring at the blonde-from-a-bottle valley girls and hating them because they didn't know who Ginsberg was. It made me feel better."

There's a moment of silence and he would like to be able to wash her and make her what she used to be, but he, of all people, obviously can't.

"I think," she continues, a trace of dawning in her voice, "I didn't want you to fit in anywhere. I think I thought that maybe, if you didn't fit in anywhere, you'd come back to me."

"I would have come back anyway," he says suddenly.


"I would've."

She glances over at him, a flickering glance. "I'm glad," she says, before turning to stare at the sky that is so blue it hurts.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

That night she asks, as he stands a little away from her looking out the Motel 6 window, "Why did you give up before?"

He wants to say he didn't. God, he wants to say he didn't and he almost does but he is not brave enough so he retreats to silence.

"You can't shut me away in a glass house and take me out whenever you want me again," she whispers. Her voice breaks and his skin breaks as he presses his fingers too deeply against his palm.

"Jess, please, say something."

He bends down beside where she is sitting on the bed and kisses her knee, her shin, the instep of her foot. It's the only way he knows. Her tears roll onto his arm.

- - - - - - -

She's picking at her thumbnail twenty-four hours later, sitting cross-legged on the passenger seat. They're parked at a rest stop because they could find no place to stay and she is not pregnant with the Messiah and there is no stable to sleep in.

It's a little past midnight. He's offered her the backseat, but she hasn't taken him up on it yet. He studies the dark pool of asphalt beneath them out of his window, his forehead pressed against the glass.

"You didn't say it again," she tells him suddenly as she unwraps a Three Musketeers bar he bought for her earlier.

He looks over to her with a raised eyebrow, unsticking his shirt from his back, where it is plastered with sweat.

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman?" He guesses, only half-jokingly.

She continues to carefully unwrap the bar. Behind her, the red lights from an eighteen-wheeler glow and scattered fragments of stars are strewn on a sky blacker than he feels his hands are. Or maybe not, he thinks a little bitterly.

"Do you even know what I'm talking about?"


"Do you care?"

His silence answers yes.

"That you love me. You never told me again. After you threw it at me the first time."

He closes his eyes for a second as he remembers another screw up in his list of thousands, the screw up that nearly killed him because it would have been easier to die than to tell her what he did. Little pinpricks, hot and tired, boil at the bottom of his ribcage. He sighs and tears a hand through his hair. "What? Do I have to tell you again? Renew my subscription every six months?"

She says nothing.

"Come on Rory, you brought it up for a reason. Do you want me to scratch it into my back until it scars? You can see it all over me, Rory. You can see it everywhere. What the hell else do you want?"

Very slowly, she lifts her head from where she has lowered it. "You just told me again."

He shakes his head angrily, the trapped animal in the corner, inhaling sharply the smell of burnt rubber and a thousand travelers wandering across the groaning continent.

"I'm going to go smoke. I'll be back," he mutters, feeling for the door handle. Her voice stops him.

"Jess loves me." She's talking to herself, quietly, processing, soaking it in like she refused to allow herself to do last winter. "Jess loves me."

His fingers tighten dangerously around the door handle.

"You never had to tell me. I kind of knew."

He stops reaching for the cigarettes in his coat pocket.

"I love you. I loved you. And I love you."

He kisses her.

- - - - - - - - - - -

The ocean is not the same ocean he stood at before. Or maybe it is, but he hopes to God not. They aren't in Venice Beach. They are outside of Santa Monica. It smells the same, though. It makes him think more of her and the hole he developed without her than his father.

She kicks off her shoes. She lets her toes sink into the sand. He stays leaning against the car, but she pulls him along with her and he finally relents. He leaves the prints of his boots next to the ones of her slender feet.

They are at an isolated cove. A few kids are looking for shells further up the beach, but other than that there is the relentless, windswept loneliness which graces both desert and ocean; the sun they were chasing that now continues to slide past their reach towards the horizon. He puts an arm around her waist, holding her back, half afraid she will try to follow it.

"This is all I wanted," she muses against his shoulder, her forehead cool in coming night despite the sweat on both their bodies. "To stand at the sea with you."

There is an inexplicable sadness in her eyes as they stare at indigo waves hissing up to them, threatening to touch them, and pulling back at the last second. As a little girl down on the beach shrieks in delight from finding a glittering shard of sea glass, he realizes why: they have been running, running, running, trying to escape, and now they have hit a barrier and they can run no more.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

He doesn't want to run anymore. He has tried that before.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

New York is an hour away from New Haven.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

She tries to speak when he asks if he can come see her on the weekends, but her eyes and her heart are so full that she cannot. All she can do is nod.

"Okay," he says. "Okay."

(He goes back to his manuscript, crosses out 'The End,' and leaves room to add on another chapter. Or two.)