It was late. Luke knew that. Too late to be out washing his pickup truck. If Taylor caught him, he was sure he'd get some sort of fine. Never mind that he was on his property and wasn't making any noise beyond the sloshing of water in the bucket. He just needed something to do, to keep himself busy. To avoid thinking about the fact that he wanted to be at the hospital instead of here.

The diner was closed. He probably could have found something in there to apply some elbow grease to and clean to a polished shine. The fryer's oil could always use a change. The grill a scrubbing. He'd chosen his pickup truck, wanting the effects of the fresh air to help clear his head. Steer his thoughts away from the direction they'd taken on the way home.

He couldn't stop replaying the brief conversation he'd had with Lorelai's mom at the hospital earlier. She called them idiots when he'd claimed they were just friends.

"What does she want me to do, go out with her?"

He snorted at that, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. Droplets of water from the sponge he held in the same hand fell down his face, dripping onto his shirt. He hardly noticed, just resumed scrubbing one of the bumpers.

"Like Richard and Emily Gilmore would approve of someone like me."

That was the part that confused him. If he didn't know better, she had almost been encouraging him. And, yet, what did he really have to offer someone like Lorelai Gilmore? At least that Max guy Luke had heard about held a job at a prestigious school. That took some brains, some polish. A school like Chilton wouldn't hire the likes of him no matter how many degrees he might hold or letters he had following his name. He just wasn't cut from that cloth.

He wouldn't deny a few months ago he might have thought about asking her out. Thought about it a lot. Okay, thought about it a lot over the years. Until Lorelai had gone and gotten herself involved with her parents again. That sort of ruled out anything beyond friends. Just where would he fit in with a Gilmore lifestyle? He didn't know what that lifestyle entailed exactly, but he didn't need a PhD to realize that it was more than anything Stars Hollow had to offer.

"You wouldn't," he muttered, dumping the bucket and refilling it to start over again.

It was easy to forget before then that she was Lorelai Gilmore, someone so far from his side of the tracks that he wouldn't have rated a first glance back in high school. She'd always just been Lorelai to him, the somewhat flaky woman who drank coffee like it was going out of style. A struggling single parent who'd raised Rory right. And there was no doubt in Luke's mind that there was nothing wrong with Rory Gilmore. She had his utmost respect for going the route she'd gone. It would have been easy, he imagined, to marry Christopher and lead the life expected of her. Give Rory two parents, the opportunity to have anything and everything. Chilton wouldn't have been a problem.

She hadn't, though. Independent even then, and boy was she. Luke smiled at the memory. Her parents must have hated her for doing what she'd done. Not the shame of having a child outside of marriage, but for leaving, abandoning everything she knew. And not just surviving but foraging a life for herself that was good and decent if not slovenly compared to what people like the Gilmore's were accustomed to.

He wasn't sure where that left him. Her mother seemed to think there was more between them. Luke saw it, felt it, too. But, really, he was just happy to have her as a friend. To be there when she needed him. Confident that one day she'd notice that it was Luke who had her back with no expectations.

She wasn't ready for anything serious. He wasn't sure how he knew that and he certainly didn't claim to know when she would be ready. If ever. Not that he was gung ho and looking to settle down tomorrow either. He'd settle for sitting on the other side of his counter with her, sharing a cup of coffee she was so fond of.

He couldn't blame her for wanting to live and cut loose a bit. He didn't understand it necessarily, but then there were those who claimed he was too serious. Having a kid at sixteen, she hadn't had much chance at a life. It wasn't until recently anyone had seen or known someone she might have dated. And she liked Stars Hollow, called it home, had shackled herself to a commitment of dinner with her parents once a week to help further her daughter's future.

Would she come to miss it? That lifestyle? After so many years of living frugally, barely making ends meet - would her parents finally lure her back to the fold? And would the friends and life she'd made here get pushed to the wayside? He could see it happening, not very likely but he was sure it would be tempting to let the struggling end.

Thoughts like those were what had stopped him from doing anything now. Emily Gilmore was right. They were idiots. There was more than friendship between them, but it took two to make that happen. One day, maybe, Lorelai would realize it.

He dumped the bucket of water one last time, having completed his task. He wasn't sure what he'd solved beyond getting his truck cleaner than it warranted being considering how old it was. He talked himself into admitting that her mother was right. He didn't just think of Lorelai as a friend. So what good would that do him? Beyond the fact she'd probably be both satisfied and horrified.

One thing he did know as he hopped into his truck. Friends didn't leave their friends in a time of need. He'd left to give her time with her family, but maybe she needed something more, too. After all, her family hadn't been in her life for years. Luke had and people tended to take comfort from things they knew, that were familiar to them.

Let her mom think he was a fool or an idiot.

"What are you doing here?" Lorelai asked when he made it back up to Richard Gilmore's floor.

"I couldn't sleep, felt bad leaving you here like this."

"We're okay. Thanks. You didn't have to come back."

"I know that."

He handed her the extra large cup of coffee he'd stopped to pick up on his way here.

"Thank you. Just what the doctor ordered."

"I thought it might be better than the stuff they have here."

"You have no idea. That stuff isn't even coffee." She took a sip, regarding him. "Is it raining out?"

"What?"

"You're all wet."

"Oh, I washed my truck."

"Okay," she said, waiting for him to say more. "So, you left here, washed your truck, and came back?"

"Yeah, that about sums up my evening."

"Well, thanks."

"You're welcome. How is he?"

"He's okay. Thanks. You know, it makes me think, though."

"What's that," he asked, sitting next to her.

"I wonder if my mother would have called me. I mean, if I wasn't having dinner with them every week, still out of their lives."

"There's no way to know." And with that line of inquiry he felt her slipping away. Funny, her father's getting ill would be the thing to draw her closer into the web of the Gilmore's lifestyle. If he didn't know better he'd think the old man planned it. Except no one would go to this much trouble for such a risky payoff.

"I guess there's not."

She settled her head against his shoulder. It was late. She was exhausted from both fatigue and worry. He slid an arm around her, eyes falling on her mother who happened to peak out of Lorelai's father's room at that moment. A fleeting look of worry crossed the elder Gilmore woman's eyes and then she looked relieved, glad that Lorelai wasn't alone.

He'd never let her sit alone. That much he did know. So, he supposed it was up to fate to lead them down the path they were supposed to go. He was willing and able to follow, wherever it may lead. He wasn't expecting a quick payoff either, things worth waiting for never were easy to obtain.

"You know what?"

"Huh?"

"Let's go pick up some food for everyone. Get you out of here for a bit. I'm sure your mom is hungry."

Lorelai lifted her head, glancing at her mom who chose that moment to duck inside the room again.

"Yeah, I don't think she's eaten or anything since we got here."

He shifted then, standing from the uncomfortable bench, just grateful for the distraction that doing something useful seeming would provide him.

"Luke?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

"For what?"

"Coming back. The coffee. Offering to do this for my mother."

"Anytime." And he saw in her eyes that she knew he meant it.

The End