Fire and Ice – Chapter 1
Standard Disclaimer applies – I don't own them, blah blah.
Summary: When a freak accident puts Jess' life in jeopardy, Luke is unaware that this is going to prove to be the least of their problems.
Hey again, guys. So this is another Luke and Jess fic (again, not a Rory one, I'm afraid so if you've tuned in looking for a Lit fic then I'm sorry to disappoint you). But if you're after some more Jess angst and Luke bonding then this is for you! ;-) It's kind of based after Watching the Watchers but you don't strictly need to have read the first one if you don't want to.
At the moment, I have a vague idea where this is going but I would REALLY appreciate any ideas you'd like to see included with Jess and Luke – I know it would help with the inspiration and motivation to keep writing as I've been struggling like mad with plot bunnies lately. So please, if you have any suggestions at all, please let me know!
OK – I hope you enjoy. It's rather slow to start but I promise it will pick up.
"Goodnight now, folks! See you soon." With one last nod goodbye, Luke finally ushered the last lingering customers out of the diner's door and shut it firmly behind them, breathing a weary sigh of relief. Closing time had never seemed so long in coming. Jess rolled his eyes, finished wiping the down the counter, wrung out the dishcloth and hung it out to dry.
"Folks?" he questioned with amusement, switching off the kitchen light. "My, aren't we suddenly Bugs Bunny?"
His uncle's eyes narrowed in response as Luke snapped up the lock. "I'm not taking people skills critique from the boy with three different glares in response to a coffee request."
"Critique? That Word of the Day toilet paper's really working out for you, huh?" Jess grinned as a box of napkins was suddenly hurled his way. He evaded the missile easily and bent to retrieve it from the floor behind the counter. When he looked back at his uncle, as expected, Luke didn't look cross. The bantering insults exchanged between he and his nephew were commonplace now and mainly dealt and taken without malice.
"And anyway," Jess continued, "I'm working on my range. By the time this endless winter's thawed, I intend to have perfected my long-distance withering glare for all those who think nodding at me from the other end of the diner, will get them a refill."
Luke groaned. "Can't wait for that one." Jess chuckled to himself. "Jess?" Luke asked. "Did it ever occur to you to, well I don't know, be nice to the customers?" His nephew merely stared, incredulously at him.
"What? Like you are?" He watched Luke's baffled expression for a moment before folding his arms across his chest and explaining. "Like when Mrs. Standage insisted she asked for blueberry pancakes not chocolate-chip?" Luke opened his mouth to protest but Jess simply swept in before he could utter a word. "Or when that old guy spent seven and a half minutes trying to order a cup of coffee? Or how about when you bodily threw that kid with the cell phone out when he tried to take the call inside?"
"I did not," Luke started to protest, finger raised in a warning, but he promptly cut himself off. "Just get upstairs, Jess."
The boy laughed and sidled past his burly uncle, through the curtain and up the staircase to their apartment. As Luke followed him up, switching off the diner lights as he did so, the older man continued to lecture his nephew.
"You know what else I learnt from that toilet paper, Jess?"
"Thrill me," he called back, letting the apartment door swing open with a careless bang.
"Indefinite sentence." Luke crossed the threshold and gently kicked the door shut.
Jess looked at him and scoffed, not appearing especially concerned.
"You said a week." A haphazard pile of hardback books lay on top of the side table. Jess now moved to them and picked one, seemingly at random, from the middle of the pile. Like some bizarre tablecloth party-trick, the rest of the stack merely wobbled precariously for a moment before settling back into a stable position.
His uncle shook his head. "I reserve the right to alter the time-frame."
Jess flopped down on the couch then proceeded to kick off his shoes. He opened his book and started to read. Without looking up from the page, Jess continued their conversation. "That wasn't even categorically proven it was me."
The old fridge door swung open as Luke snagged a beer from the shelf and popped the lid. "Taylor receives a phone call from a national newspaper saying he's being awarded Citizen of the State for outstanding humanitarian contributions? Who else is it going to be?"
"Admit it," Jess goaded. "You found it funny."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"When he put the flyers up all over town? Don't tell me you weren't laughing."
"I wasn't laughing."
"You suck at lying."
"Yeah? And you're still grounded so I still win."
Jess muttered something under his breath that Luke was rather glad he couldn't quite make out.
"So what are we watching?" Luke asked, coming to sit down next to Jess. Jess glanced at him, irritably.
"I'm reading. Watch what you like." But his uncle shook his head.
"We agreed, Jess."
Jess sighed, loudly as Luke continued. "We agreed that Sunday nights were movie nights or at least time we'd spend hanging out together."
The teenager shook his head. "You so need to get laid," he muttered. Luke slapped him sharply round the back of the head.
"Hey!" he cautioned. His nephew rolled his eyes but begrudgingly closed his book, leaving it resting on his lap.
"Fine," he grumbled. "You choose." And so Luke thought.
"What have we got?" he finally questioned. Jess stabbed an accusatory finger in the direction of the meagre pile of films.
"What you can see!"
His uncle scanned the pathetic collection for a second before he sat back and folded his arms. "Well then you need to go to the store," he announced.
"What?" The scathing, incredulous look Jess shot his uncle would have caused lesser men to back down in submission. But not Luke Danes. Trial by fire had been his initiation into parenting a teenager but he'd learned his lessons well.
Levelling him with an unwavering gaze, Luke continued. "We've seen all of these a dozen times and most of them are yours and therefore, rude and violent anyway." Jess threw his hands up in the air in frustration.
"You are unbelievable!" he declared. "And anyway," the boy interjected, finally seeing a way out of so boring an errand on so freezing a night, "I'm not allowed out of the building – remember?" Luke merely smiled and patted him on the shoulder.
"Then you should savour the opportunity for fresh air. A growing boy, such as yourself, should take all the exercise he can." Heaving a great sigh, Jess ignored his uncle's sanctimonious advice and hauled himself up off the couch, placing his book back on the pile on the little side table.
"Fine!" he huffed, stomping to the door. "But whatever I choose is going to be rude and violent so you're just going to have to live with it!"
Luke simply smiled. "Whatever you say, Jess." The kid scowled as he opened the apartment door, stuffing his wallet in to his jeans pocket and wrestling his feet in to his sneakers. "Put a jacket on," Luke commented. "It's like a sheet of ice out there."
His sneakers on, Jess stepped through the door and banged it shut with his foot, calling out as he did so: "Don't need it." And with that, he was off, leaving Luke to shake his head fondly at the retreating footsteps, padding down the stairs.
It had taken all of five minutes to select The Texas Chainsaw Massacre from the store's somewhat abridged selection of titles and Jess intended to take every opportunity of his temporary freedom to stretch it to and beyond its limits. As he walked his rather extended and winding route, Jess turned his thoughts to his uncle and Stars Hollow. Over the past few weeks, since Bracebridge, his life seemed to be getting a little more bearable. He wasn't exactly doing back-flips or struggling to contain his daily excitement but his relationship with his gruff, well-meaning uncle was steadily growing. It hadn't been easy but over time, Luke's persistent attempts to break down his barriers with subtle, non-intrusive affection were starting to tell.
Liz hadn't called, not since the recent disastrous Christmas but Jess didn't mind. Actually, the teenager suspected that maybe she had called, just not to speak to him. Even if she had wanted to, Luke wouldn't let her. More than once, Jess had walked in to the apartment to hear the tail-end of a heated phone conversation and each time, Luke would shoot a glance at Jess before hanging up, displaying more calm control than he would have given him credit for, given the irate body language and angry tone of voice. Some day, Jess knew, he would speak to his mother, but right now he had all the family he needed with his uncle.
For the past ten minutes, Jess' feet had been taking him on a journey his mind was not connected to and he now looked up to take stock of his surroundings, suddenly aware of his oblivious ramblings. He was by the lake, frozen solid several inches thick, like a sheet of misty glass. The odd reed poked through the very edges near the bank where some of the ice was thinner than elsewhere. Jess stopped to admire it for a moment. Though he hated the cold in general, he did love natural wonders such as frozen lakes – maybe it was the artistic brain inside his head?
When Luke had eventually relaxed his mother-henning long enough to let him outside to enjoy the rest of his Winter break, Jess had often come down to the lake to read, ending up spending hours watching the skaters wobble precariously round in a vaguely elliptical pattern. It was always amusing when they fell – both the painfully bad ones who propelled themselves along by paddling their arms by their sides as if using the wind to push them along and the skilful show-offs who misjudged their manoeuvres and tumbled and skidded in a graceless tangle of arms and legs.
But now, at this time of night, the lake was deserted. The snow and ice on the ground and water, blanketed and muffled the every day sounds of the world and Jess allowed himself to get a little lost in the eerie silence it created.
Silence, however, never seemed to last very long around him. The overly cheerful exclamation of, "Hey! You!" broke the spell of the moment. Inwardly, he groaned. The bright red scarf and woolly hat, instantly recognisable as the attire of the crazier of the Gilmore duo, caused him to wince. However, he dutifully slowed up and allowed the gently jogging Lorelai Gilmore to catch up with him. He'd never hear the end of it from Luke if he walked away from his quasi girlfriend in public.
Though the look he gave her on her approach – a mixture of bland indifference and mild annoyance – was not what one would call welcoming, Lorelai merely ignored it. As her daughter had urged her to do, she was starting to look past some of the young man's more abrupt, offensive mannerisms. And after the Christmas fiasco, she was starting to realise that what she had originally taken for offensive was in fact, more defensive. Jess, for his part, was starting to tolerate her presence with a little more ease. Sometimes she pried too deeply but mostly the elder Gilmore was aware of his boundaries and stayed within them.
"So," she started as she drew level with him.
"So," he nodded in return, continuing to walk along the riverbank. If she wanted to talk, she was going to have to keep up.
"What did you get?" She nodded to the video case in question. Silently, he held it up for her to inspect and she grimaced at the title.
"Ah, I see. Planning on torturing Luke some more?" Jess shrugged.
"If he was that bothered, he could have got it himself. Besides, given the astounding choice available, he was lucky: it could have been worse."
"Really," he confirmed.
"So how much worse? What are we talking about here? When Harry met Sally? The Remains of the Day? Species?"
She gasped. "Wow. You're right – much worse." He nodded, silently as they continued their journey.
"So," she suddenly started, excitedly. "Want to know where I've just been?"
He stared straight ahead. "I've been told it's not polite to ask."
"To pick up these!" she continued, as if he had never spoken. He spared her a sideways glance. Lorelai held in her hands a sheaf of photographs and waved the stack in front of his face. He narrowed his eyes.
"Don't you normally gush to Luke about stuff like this?" he questioned, irritably. "Or to Rory?"
With a triumphant smile, Lorelai countered. "Ah, but you were the nearest unfortunate Dane's clan member that I've come across tonight and I can't show these to Rory because they're a surprise for her." Jess finally gave in and looked at the damned photos.
A freakishly bright-eyed baby stared back at him in a variety of poses and outfits. "Huh," he commented, neutrally. He may find the girl attractive but the baby did nothing for him.
"I found the old negatives in a drawer ages ago but I'd lost all of the actual photos so I've just come back from the store where they've blown them up and done all these wonderful things to them and I'm going to put them in an album for her and…"
"Please breathe!" Jess commanded, interrupting her mid-flow. It was making his lungs constrict, just listening to her.
She stopped and grinned at him. "Sorry," she apologised. "I get a little carried away sometimes."
"No kidding." He attempted to smile back but the conversation had now been going on for longer than his comfort zone allowed.
"Oh but just take a look at this one," the woman enthused, passing through the pile of pictures until she found the one she was looking for. She slid it out of the pile and held it up for him to take. At that moment, however, a sudden strong, chilling gust of wind swept across them, tugging the collection of photographs out of her loosened grip.
With a cry of dismay, Lorelai watched the pictures flutter on the currents, like a wild flock of birds before finally scattering over the lake and bank.
Hastily, she scurried as best she could across the snow, snatching up as many as she could, but the wind had picked up and they danced, tantalising just inches out of her reach, brushing her fingertips for a moment before flitting away.
The crestfallen expression on the elder Gilmore's face and the frenetic dash across the snowy ground, quickly softened Jess' heart as well as his resolve to remain uninvolved. Wordlessly, he walked past Lorelai, handing her the video as he passed and headed over to the frozen lake.
"What are you…?" she began as he had thrust the video into her hands. But when it dawned on her where he was going, she beamed. "Like uncle like nephew!" she called out after him, causing him to scowl and roll his eyes. "You're my knight in shining hair gel!" she declared.
"Please stop talking now," the teenager tossed over his shoulder but she only smiled.
Cautiously, aware that balance had never been his strongest suit, Jess picked his way over the dark ice.
"Careful," Lorelai warned, coming to stand a little closer to the edge. Vaguely, Jess nodded. The ice was thick beneath his feet but, if you listened carefully, you could still hear the wild flow of the water beneath the surface. The currents were strong and fast that night.
He bent to scoop up one picture and stuffed it down his shirt, for the first time wishing he had listened to his uncle and brought a jacket. It still had holes in it and was still threadbare but it would have taken the edge off the biting cold, stabbing at his cheeks and ears and nose like knives and covering his lungs with a layer of frost. Well, he amended, it wouldn't do much good for his face, but his lungs sure could use the respite. His ribs had finally healed though the lancing pain he still felt when the weather was this cold, was a keen reminder of his most recent adventures.
From the bank, Lorelai watched, grateful to her rescuer. Though she doubted she and Luke's nephew would ever be friends he was definitely growing on her – slowly. It was as Jess reached the second photo – the one with Rory in the sky-blue baby-grow – that it happened. The sound was sharp and loud, like a crack of lightning and amazingly fast. One minute, Jess was standing there and the next, he wasn't.
The splash of the water was the first real indication of what had happened. His startled, painful yell had been the second.
"Jess!" she screeched, stumbling forwards on to the ice. He didn't answer and in the moonlight, she could just about make out his head and shoulders, barely poking out of the dark, freezing water, chunks of ice floating on the surface. He was gasping, harshly against the cold, arms frantically trying to cling on to the edge of the ice hole and push himself up, the strength in his muscles all but sapped out from the shock of the cold.
"Jess!" she called again, edging closer but on alert for the weaknesses of her terrain. Silently, she cursed herself. She never should have let him walk out there – Luke was going to kill her!
"I…I can't," the boy began to stutter, struggling and scraping madly with his frozen hands, fingernails clawing the ice for any kind of resistance, for any kind of leverage.
"Hold on," Lorelai urged, terrified by the increasingly stark white pallor of his skin. If she could just get close enough, she could pull him out. In the back of her mind, Lorelai knew this wouldn't be enough: she wasn't going to be much help. But she had to try!
However, even as she thought this, Jess breathed in deeply, his face in the water, gulping down the frigid water into his lungs. He choked, his grip finally failed and he disappeared from sight and into the inky depths.
Ok – that wraps up chapter 1. Like I said, I'm sorry if this part was slow but there will be much more Luke/Jess later and I'm taking suggestions for ideas – willingly!
Please let me know what you thought of the chapter :-)