Author's Note: If you're wondering what in the world this could possibly be, allow me to explain. I started this as a oneshot a few months ago and then abandoned it. Recently, I returned and I liked the plot so I kept going . . . and going . . . and going. Thirty pages later, I realized that if I were to post this all as one chapter, I would either be ignored or crucified. To solve that problem I'm making it a . . . triology, I guess. Three chapters.

Also, thank you for all the reviews on Penance Definitive and immortal stars awry! They're possibly among my favorite pieces. After immortal stars awry, I discovered a new love for dialogue, so this story will have a lot of it. Now keep your fingers crossed because I'm trying to accurately depict like eight or nine characters . . . let me know how I do, I hope nothing is too out of place.

Thanks for reading :)

Summary: Jess grits his teeth and shoulders his firearm and dares to brave a social function of Richard and Emily Gilmore.

Rating: T, language (this is Jess we're talking about).

"Do not tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."

She looks very nice and he's pretty sure that might be the only thing to get him through this night from hell. Focus on her collarbones, he tells himself. Her collarbones. Right. Delicate, smooth, graceful collarbones that are his salvation at the moment because if he focuses instead on the dread and irritability in the pit off his stomach he might bail and that just sounds like it would turn messy.

Of course, studying her collarbones is also taking his concentration away from the road, which is not the most advisable situation when he's the one driving. Besides, you never know when another rabid possum-like-thing might suddenly decide to jump out at your pile of crap car (which he loves, despite the backfiring engine). He tears his eyes away from her and hones them in on the roaring, spinning spool of silver asphalt spilled out before them, glimmering in the darkness beneath periodically spaced streetlamps and headlights.

Some of the tension coiled in his muscles easies a little. Driving does that to him.

Apparently, she's not getting the same calming reaction. He watches her nervously twist her hands in her lap.

"So I've met some of Grandpa's co-workers and they'll talk to me because that's what you're supposed to do at these things, I think, when your office throws these huge-"

"Pointless," he supplies.

"- social banquets. And that means they'll see you -"

"No way," he deadpans.

"- and they'll want to know who you are, and you have to at least be civil-"

"I guess that means the whole prostitute ring shindig I was going to put on will have to wait."

"- and you can't just hide in a hole somewhere and read all night-"

"No Nemo-esque tendencies, got it."

She looks at him levelly and he falls silent, smirking, knowing that he has just pushed the line a little and liking the feeling of her mounting frustration being toppled over by her amusement. In the end, she gives in and manages a wavery smile. Score: one for Jess and zero for Rory (neglecting the ten thousand she automatically receives for being the one to have broken him, which he kind of hates her for).

"Jess . . ." she abruptly whines, drawing out the syllable into two and trying to wipe any traces of said wavery smile off her face. "Just . . . please don't do anything . . . that . . . please, just try."

He sighs and exhales. "Rory, I got it. Jeez. I'll only speak when spoken to and at no other time."

She shakes her head and stares out the window while mumbling, "That's what I'm afraid of."

He grins.

It's a fundraiser dinner. He hates fundraisers. They're simply occasions for the upper-class to assuage their racist guilt by stuffing their faces with duck pancreas and talking about how generously they're going to spend the millions of dollars they never generate. He doesn't voice this, though, because it's a tad bit cynical.

"I still don't know why Mom wouldn't drive with us," she says suddenly, staring ahead at the little tan Jeep they're following behind whose wheel Lorelai sits.

He scoffs.

"What?" She asks. Seeing the look on his face, she waves her hand in dismissal. "No way. That was a long time ago."

His eyes darken as he watches Lorelai turn and, a few seconds later, does the same. "Not so long ago."

"She's over it. My wrist's all better. See?" She holds her arm out for him to inspect, which he does out of the corner of his eye and he feels a pang when she reiterates with a childishly certain voice, "All better."

Oh Rory. Rory, Rory, Rory.

The ache slides over him like water, and the intensity with which he examines her makes her cheeks glow in the resemblance of carnations until he turns away back to the road. In a moment he can speak normally again. "It's a shame," he tells her, "that cast was kinky."

He presses his lips together as she shyly meets his eyes instead of turning away. She has become braver and he likes it.

Again he switches his attention to asphalt. Tree shadows dapple the grey night with opaque and remind him of New York, somehow. She rearranges her hair delicately on her shoulders. She's wearing a dress that's black and white and nice. He secretly wants to crush her sometimes for doing these things which destroy him piece by piece, such as the way she's currently crossing her legs.

His hands start to buzz (like little magnets right beneath his skin are pulling him in to touch her). With a smoothly coordinated glance, he sees Lorelai has gotten a good fifty yards ahead of them and is currently about to pass through a stoplight.

He deliberately slows down without glancing at her.

"That light's turning yellow."

"So that's what that color is."

"You're not a slow driver. Why are you suddenly a slow driver? This is not a good time to decide to be a slow driver! Jess, we're following my mom, and we're going to lose her when we get stuck behind this light!"

"You don't say," he says unperturbedly, coasting to an easy stop just as the light flashes red. He then turns to her with his face deadly serious and she knows. Her mouth rounds a little in surprise.

"Oh," she whispers as he reaches out for her. She willingly presses herself against his gear stick.

"Yeah, oh," he echoes, pushing a strand of hair from her (symmetrically perfect except for the smallest bump on her mid-jawbone) face. He kisses her experimentally on her bottom lip, and then her top.

"You . . ." He kisses her neck and she emits a tiny squeaking noise that makes him grin. "You-timed-this-on-purpose," she hisses, all in a rush, afraid that she will not be able to find enough breath to speak. His lips find her earlobe. She tastes a little bit bitter, almost like she has pressed bourbon onto her skin.

"Huh," he breathes against her temple.

A silent moment passes as she releases little fluttering sounds that result from his skilled and focused work on every inch of her (redeeming) collarbones. He might not be good at talking, but he would like to show her that he is better at doing other things with his mouth.

And he needs to be near her (I-want-nothing-between-you-and-me).

Her eyes cloud over and glass and pool and she is the most beautiful thing he can remember seeing as she presses eagerly and unsurely against him in the torrent of these new emotions he is slowly and carefully unfolding from within her ('here, look, this is yours-mine, and this, and this, and this, and that, and this'). She tangles her fingers in his hair and he begins to slide a hand cautiously across her thigh, under her dress, as she pulls at the edge of his shirt.

At that very second, he sees the brightest green of the stoplight reflected in her irises, but he is transfixed by her and he waits until a car horn blares from behind them. Then he jolts away and eases his foot onto the accelerator.

No one speaks for a couple of beats.

Finally, she sighs. It is a shaky, contented, but still wanting more sigh. It makes his ribcage tighten with anticipation. He looks over at her and she beams as she blushes and he smirks.

"Wow," she eventually exhales, trying to pretend she is not exhilarated and scared all at the same time.

He would like to tell her that he is scared too and being scared is where the thundering rush in your veins by your wrists comes from.

"It's nice to know my services are appreciated."


He glances at her again, a shaded silhouette against the webby silver of nighttime, pressed into the seat of his car with her seatbelt twisted from his hand and her hair mussed and everything about her very bright. He likes it, her sitting next to him like this. His fingertips loosen on the steering wheel while his free arm remains propped against his door.



"I like you as a slow driver."

He swallows a grin. "Yeah?"


His eyes dart over to her. "We care enough to send the very best."

"I'll be recommending you all around town."

"Going to rent out an ad space on the bathroom wall?"

"Or the janitor's closet."

"Much more classy."

"I know."

"Nice to know that school of yours is teaching you something."

She falls silent, smiling, glowing, far too happy in this clunking death trap that doesn't have heat and is cold even in the early April weather; she is a radiant study in oil pastels or stained glass or holy sacraments. He forgets that he hates his damn dress shirt and he hates his shoes that are too tight and he had to almost lethally fight her so that she would consent to allow him not to wear a tie. He forgets that he's irritable and he is about to be shut up in a room with the two elder Gilmore women who would like to send the banquet's dinner forks all the way through his head.

It is just her. And it is okay.

She bites her lip. "I don't know how to get to the committee hall," she laments, but she's still smiling.

He feels for a cigarette in his pocket. When he lights it, she says nothing, but her eyes follow in rapture the curling dance of his exhaled smoke.

"We'll get there."


He shrugs. She laughs.

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

It is half an hour and many amusing stops asking for directions later when they finally (kind of) know where they're going and at last (sort of) have a solid destination. She sips absent-mindedly at the cherry Ice-e she insisted on getting at the 7-11 (watching her walk up to the burnout behind the counter and saying, "Excuse me, do you know how to get to the Hartford Social Committee Hall?" was actually pretty entertaining).

"Okay, turn left here."

"No," he argues, "the last fucked up gas station attendant said to turn left here, and I don't trust him. The Wendy's guy said to turn right instead."

She crosses her arms and looks at him menacingly from over the tip of her plastic straw. "You're going to trust the Wendy's guy?"

"Over the guy who asked if I would watch his parakeets while he and his girlfriend go skiing in Vegas? Yeah, I think so."

Her fake fury dissipates and she giggles instead. "That was good."

He rolls his eyes as he, very deliberately, turns right. "Hilarious."

"You should have seen the look on your face."

"Sorry, I'm not a parakeet kind of person."

"I gathered that when you told him, and I quote, 'I'll show you where you can stick your damn birds.'"

"Hey, I was in feminine company. It was the cleanest of the many disgusted responses that appeared in my head."

"And then when he told you they were endangered-"

"Which is a load of bullshit, by the way."

"-you looked like you were about to-" She breaks off suddenly and excitedly points at a blue sign just as they finish weaving their way out of downtown Hartford, into oh-so-wonderful Hartford Suburbia.

Goody. Suburbians.


As if she has seen some oasis in the Sahara or a glimmer of the Promised Land above the desert of Egypt, she begins to wildly wave in the general direction of the windshield. He shakes his head and almost (but not quite, he has dignity, dammit) smiles a little bit.

"It's a sign for the HSC!"

"Help, Stuck in Connecticut?"

"Hartford Social Committee! It's two miles down the road! We did it! We made it! We're going to get there and hopefully my grandparents won't kill me and you won't have to face any parakeets!"


He will not lie; he was kind of hoping they would end up on the border near Tijuana.

He leans his head back against the seat and sighs, his free hand playing with the tattered pack of cigarettes in his pocket. She sends him a look that says quite plainly smoking is not okay anymore, with the estimated arrival time so close at hand. He already smells like nicotine from before but he decides that it's not worth it to point this out, just not worth it, friend; he frees his lighter and strikes it on, off once (a habit) before sighing heavily and leaving both the carton of Camels and the Bic alone.

There is a sliver of ragged spring moon on the horizon. He glares at it.

"Here we go," she whispers as the damn social . . . house . . . club . . . thing . . . edifice looms into sight. He chews on the inside of his lip and moodily shifts his eyes as he decelerates and stares. It is a massive stone building set smack down in the middle of a godforsaken field that looks like it belongs in freaking Kansas, not Hartford, except for the illuminated fruit trees on the lawn and penguin-suited people squeezing through the front doors.

He feels more dread than he ever did in Brooklyn. That's kind of sad.

Her hands are twisting in her lap again. He glances at her and he would like to kiss her but he doesn't.

"Hey Jess?"

He inclines his head toward her in a response as he swings into the parking lot and dodges three valets that try to meet him, telling them all quite bluntly that he will park his own damn car, thankyouverymuch.


"Rory, I'm listening. What do you want, a thought bubble?"

She gives him a razor-sharp look. So much for sparing him from her withering stares. "Or a few verbal indicators would be helpful," she snaps, or at least attempts to snap, but Rory-snapping is not an extremely dangerous thing and he manages to escape unscathed.

"I have difficulty forming sentences while mulling over my impending doom."

She all but rolls her eyes, although he sees a glimmer of fear there, too. "I know that my grandma may not . . . well, last time . . . but that was just a bad and unfortunate situation, when you . . . and she's . . ."

"Not exactly part of the Jess Fan Club?"

He eases into a parking space and shifts gears but does not take the key out of the ignition (there is still some small amount of escape as long as he can feel the vibrating rumble and roar of an engine, no matter how falling apart it/he is).

Rory lifts her head pristinely. "Of which I'm president," she says with a tinge of fake-but-not-really pride. He scoffs.

"And the only member."

"Not true. Haven't you seen the way Miss Patty and Babette and even little Clara stop to stare at your-"

"God, Rory," he interrupts, looking at her in disgust (and he is blandly glad that he didn't eat before he left or else he'd have just puked all over his satanic offspring of a girlfriend). "Why do you have to go and say that?"

She remains composed, and only the slightest giggle escapes from her lips when she answers sweetly, "To see what color you'd turn."

He shakes his head. "And?"

"White, very, very white."

"Not my color."

"No, I wouldn't say so."

There's a moment of silence, a pregnant moment, heavy and hesitant and some other word that starts with an "h." Holy, maybe? No, not holy. He studies the barely blooming flowers of fragile pink and white that edge the sidewalk like frosting (Jesus.) and takes a deep breath before turning back to her, looking very nice, soft, pliant, carefully curved on the edges.

"Rory . . ." He runs a hand through his hair and fumblingly unbuttons his shirtsleeves to roll them up, despite a dank chill that lingers in the air.

She looks at him questioningly.

"You're late."

She nods.

"You're with me."

She nods again. He sees no comprehension in her eyes so he sighs in frustration and traces the edge of the steering wheel with his fingers. The engine continues to crackle.

"I don't . . . it's just that you . . ." He tries again, this time reaching for his pack of cigarettes without slipping one out. Her face changes as she almost sees what he is attempting to say. "You know the shit's gonna hit the fan when I walk in there, with you, late, don't you?"

She says nothing about his distasteful use of expression but only looks down at her hands like she always does when she is afraid he is about to slip from her grasp, helpless and small and breakable. For some reason he thinks of his mother and he inhales so sharply it hurts.

"You promised you'd come with me if I asked you," she reminds him quietly, her hair pooling in the hollows of her neck. He feels violated because he breathes in the scent of her perfume mixed with the smoke that permeates his car (he is ten, and Liz is sitting at the kitchen table with bruises on her arm and smeared mascara) and he snaps a little.

"Dammit, I'm here, aren't I?" When she doesn't answer, a pang of guilt bubbles through his chest and he has to speak the truth, lowly, so that she (hopefully) will not hear: "I just want you to know what you're getting into." He pauses and stares at the dashboard. "With . . . with me."

There's a rustle of fabric as she turns to him minutely, her eyes glinting silver in the darkness. For a moment she weighs her words, but she's never been good at that.

Finally, she tells him, "I know." Her breaths are labored all of the sudden, a little more ragged, or maybe those are his, or maybe his-and-hers, one being, but he doubts it. "I know what I'm getting into." She looks down at her hands in her lap when she whispers, "It's scary but I don't think I have much of a choice. Because I already made my choice. And it's you."

He has never been told that before.

All of the sudden he is being suffocated (he needs to smoke) and he stares at her for a moment, sitting there in his passenger seat with her head bowed like shadow and her hair hanging around her face and he feels as if he is going to explode from the overflow of some emotion he can't understand. He turns the key, pockets it, and struggles to shove his car door open without saying anything (he doesn't know what to say), almost stumbling in his haste to get outside and suck in fresh air away from the stifling cloister of his car.

It is in that second when the redemptive gratitude hits him, hissing over him silently in aching, undulating waves.

Someone believes in him?

He has never been the kind of guy to open a door and he doesn't do it now. She slips cautiously out, her eyes apprehensive and wide, as though she thinks she might have chased him away with her admission. He says, "Okay," and that is enough for both of them. She inhales.

"Just protect me from any flying silverware," he whispers to her solemnly (he can't tell if he is joking or not).

She smiles at him and finds his fingers with her own, intertwining them. "No promises."

He sighs melodramatically as they begin to walk across the parking lot together, his free hand in his pocket and hers linking across her front to touch his forearm. He's just indifferently comprehending that she was right, he does look rather underdressed next to everyone else (what the hell is this, a funeral?), when a car door slams nearby and the sound of heels like daggers (poor pavement) occurs to his right. He leans close to her ear.

"And ladies and gentlemen, Sylvia has appeared."

She looks at him, confused. "What?"

"Your mother."

Her eyebrows furrow and she is just about to berate him for comparing the woman who bore her with a woman who stuck her head in an oven when the unmistakable piercing note of an annoyed Lorelai Gilmore cuts out, "Where the hell have you been?"

Rory's look of sincerity turns to one of surprise. "My mother?"

He rolls his eyes in an I-told-you-so and suddenly Lorelai materializes in front of them, his height and rather intimidating, but he doesn't back up an inch and refuses to divert his stare. Rory senses a Clint-Eastwood-type standoff about to occur between them, and starts to trip over herself in explanations.

"There was . . . a light . . . on Route 21 . . . and you went through it but Jess got stopped because he wasn't speeding, nope, was strictly abiding by said federally appointed speed limit . . ."

Lorelai crosses her arms and yanks her glare from him to her daughter. "So you were stopped at a red light for half an hour?"

"Not . . . exactly . . . we didn't know where to go . . . so we had to get directions . . ."

"And an Ice-e," he mumbles under his breath. Rory gives him a look and he shuts up, albeit still smirking.

He can see Lorelai's anger fading, now that the fear of her precious offspring procreating in the back of a car or being laid up in a hospital is relieved. He gives her a long, low stare and he wants to yell or leave or something because she thought he would do anything to intentionally hurt Rory. Doesn't she understand how that fear haunts him all the damn time, how he feels like he's holding a butterfly every once and awhile, or something so terribly fragile that he has to cover his eyes while her glory passes by?

But of course, she doesn't understand, so he says nothing.

"Why didn't you just call me?"

Rory's eyes widen a little. "Yes, well, that does seem like it would have been the most convenient thing to do, doesn't it?"

"You go on dates to bookstores, and you couldn't remember how to use your cell phone?"

She fiddles with his hand. "Oh, common sense. I forgot."

He almost laughs at how those words, coming from anyone else, would sound completely sarcastic, but coming from Rory Gilmore they are the portrait of sincerity.

Lorelai turns back to him. "Hmm. Is it a coincidence that you're around every time we suffer a slight seizure and lapse in judgment?"

His eyebrows rise. "Guess so."

"Fascinating, don't you think?"

"Oprah's doing a piece on me next month."

There's a slight pause. He notices a valet watching them with a look on his face, one that identifies him as beaten brethren, a child of misfortune perhaps (it's the dark amusement in his eyes). He almost offers him a smoke, but then again, that might be rather taboo.

"So, um, Mom . . . have you been sitting in your Jeep waiting for us the whole time?"


"I'm sorry. You had good music, right?"

"Only the Doobie Brothers. I left the rest of my CDs in the silverware drawer at home, so I was forced to listen to the Doobies again and again and again . . . Do you see me turning green? Is there an unfamiliar brand on my forehead? Do I seem to be losing my mind from Doobie and Doobie?"

He says lowly to the pavement, "Oh, believe me, Doobie and Doobie have nothing to do with your insanity."

Lorelai's dramatic face fades to one of the most pure annoyance as she turns to her daughter. "I'm sorry, do you like him or something?"

Rory shrugs helplessly in a "yes" kind of answer.

He hides a grin and stares at the stone walkway in front of them, meditating specifically on the water fountain shaped like a nymph, all of the rocks black and glistening with reflected lamplight. He thinks about filling the spout with rubber cement so that the pipes burst, and then he shakes his (criminally filled) head imperceptibly to ward off evil conniving.

Lorelai glances warily at the front door. "Come on, Bonnie and Clyde," she finally says, swinging her purse over her shoulder. "That which does not kill you makes you stronger."

As they follow her, he scratches the back of his neck and mutters, "Or just maims you for life."

Rory glares at him.

"What? I hear there's great pension for legless people these days. If I end up losing all four limbs, I could be set."

She continues to glare.

"There we go. That's a solution to my college problem. Why search for higher education when you can just be mutilated by a Gilmore and get Social Security for sixty years?"

She's opening her mouth to give some haughty reply when her mother turns around. "I can't go in there."

He raises his eyebrows in amusement (a Lorelai Gilmore meltdown is the most entertaining thing in Stars Hollow next to switching the street signs) as Rory lets go of his hand in order to lend moral support.

"Yes, mom, come on."

"We're late."

"You didn't have to be late. You could have gone in half an hour ago and left us to take the fall. You chose to be late."

"Don't spin this. I couldn't leave my poor, defenseless daughter and her hoodlum to face the wrath of Emily Gilmore alone. Stalin, yes. Lenin, yes. The whole Roman army, yes, but not Emily Gilmore."

"It'll be fine. Grandma will be happy to see us."

"Not in less she's already taken a bath with Jack Daniels, she won't."

"Mom . . ."

"Shouldn't we call back up before we go in there half an hour late? Giuliani, maybe, or Al Pacino or someone? Robert de Niro?"

"That's a great idea, but in case you haven't noticed, we look like idiots standing here outside."

"Oh no, no. Rory. Rory, Rory, Rory. I do not look like an idiot. I look like a hesitant woman standing by the front door. You look like an idiot. You look like a teenager trying to push her mother into the yawning abyss."

"Mom, Jess is getting tired of standing here."

"I'm sure he much prefers it to going in there and having his head cut off and then getting cold little appetizer shrimp shoved into his decapitated body."

"You don't know that. He really likes seafood."

"Fine. But I'm telling you, if we walk in there, you are taking your life - and your sanity - in your own hands."

"It's just a dinner. We go in, we eat, we leave."

"We get bombarded by mindless insurance lectures or caught by Bunny and Foo-Foo to engage in chit chat and namedropping of laundry cleaners."

"Mom . . . the sooner we go in the sooner we leave . . ."

"I wish I could take a swig of something with alcohol before I go in there."

She looks at Jess expectantly, and his hand twitches, but he doesn't carry flasks with him anymore. At least not usually. Rory rolls her eyes.

"There's an open bar inside."

"How do you know?"

"There always are at these things."

"You play dirty."

"I know what works."

"Fine, let's go."

"Let's go."

And then the tirade is over. He is grateful that it shaved maybe two minutes off of his sentence, but two minutes is not enough and he prepares himself like a soldier at Gettysburg before pressing his lips together and following his girlfriend inside the haven of Hartford's richest inhabitants, most of which, he will soon realize, think he is an escaped convict from San Quentin or Alcatraz.

He is not at all surprised to find Emily Gilmore waiting for them not two feet inside the front door. In fact, he finds himself wondering blandly if she had cameras installed on the lamps in the parking lot. Wal-Mart does. Sometimes, in the winter, he entertained himself by throwing snowballs at the lenses so they were blocked. He supposes that's a misdemeanor but, hey, he did procure his first library card illegally.

"Do our social functions need to take place during the day, Lorelai?" She asks, a dangerously sickening smile on her face.

"Hello, mom."

"I just thought that maybe you still tell time with a sundial and lose track of the hour once it becomes dark outside."

Rory shifts uneasily on her feet (he sees guilt flickering in crystal blue irises) and slides closer to him so that the outlines of their bodies are fuzzed and blurred together. He swallows heavily.

"No, mom, evenings are fine."

"We don't mean to inconvience you with our little get-togethers."

Lorelai's eyes flash. "Oh, really? Well, then, now that you mention it, I did turn up a night at Hooters to be here, so if you feel that way maybe I'll just go."

Emily distastefully examines Lorelai's strapless gown. "You're dressed appropriately for a Hooters, I see."

And that's all poor Rory can take. Her words come out in a spill to divert attention from her mother as his eyes rake the hall (tables all covered in red satin, flowers, candles, he thinks he's going to be sick with all the cliché attempt at Margaret Mitchell in this room).

"Grandma, no, it's my fault we're late, I was just -"

"Rory! You look lovely this evening. I just adore that dress. Where did you get it? Where did she get that dress, Lorelai?"

Lorelai, however, seems unperturbed by the rocky start to the evening. "Salvation Army."

"Mom made it for me, Grandma."

"Well, it's lovely."

He's thisclose to rolling his eyes when the spotlight is suddenly focused in and narrowed on him (although it is extremely unwelcome). Emily studies him with a certain amount of disgust he has only applied to drug dealers on a middle school playground or Taylor Doose.

"Grandma, you remember Jess?"

The look of disgust on her face does not dissipate and he does not blink as he sees her retracing the now-healed black smear around his eye and checking for a number tattooed on his forearm. "I suppose I do."

Lorelai takes Rory's purse and hands it, as well as her own, over to a guy bound in a starched white dress shirt to be checked in and kept underneath a counter. "He has that kind of effect on people."

He wonders if a nuclear bomb could destroy Emily's hair. Probably not. It's modeled in a Joan River's fashion and it would take more than annihilation to ruin that.

"How are you, Jess?"

His voice is very dry when he answers, "Jolly."

"Ah, yes, I recall."

There's an awkward pause. Rory fidgets for half a second before rambling, "Jess had to get off work tonight. He was slated but I begged and Luke gave in and, well, here we are, although the diner is probably in chaos with no one to serve coffee or watch Kirk to make sure he doesn't smuggle all the creamers and sugar packets. He does that a lot. His mom only buys Splenda. So Luke will probably go bankrupt on sugar packets but Jess came anyway."

He hides a lop-sided grin (he likes it when he rambles although he pretends otherwise and they both know it). Lorelai doesn't bother to hide hers, while Emily looks supremely confused. He looks only at his girlfriend when he says, "It was no big deal."

"Yes it was."

"No, Rory, it was no big deal."

The Gilzilla, as he thinks he might like to mentally refer to her as, waits a beat before poisonously commenting, "So you can say more than two words at once."

His eyes snap over to her and darken. "On occasion."

"How fascinating."

"Feel free to make a recording."

Gilzilla continues to try to stab him with her eyes and he does not back down (he backs down for (almost) no one, the sooner it is learned the better for all parties involved). It is Lorelai who finally cuts the tension cleanly in half.

"Hey, mom, no gladiator fights until after the function."

"I'll have the kitchens cleared."

He sees Emily grasping for her perfect hostess glean, and she finds it in two and a half seconds. "No sense in just admiring the general splendor of the doorway. Our table is by the windows. Your grandfather won't even think about eating until he sees you, Rory. We left the best chairs open for our guests of honor; come this way."

Lorelai gasps. "Really? Who? The Beatles?"

"Or the Adams family?" He whispers into Rory's ear. "Oh wait, too late."

She bites her lip to keep from smiling. Emily does not hear and suddenly seems very tired.

"Oh, Lorelai, Lorelai, how am I going to put up with all of your jokes this evening?"

"Become great friends with the bartender. That's my plan."

As they are led through the hall, he momentarily disappears behind the counter when the bound-in-a-white-shirt kid isn't looking, and seamlessly slips a narrow handbag into his back pocket, snug against a copy of Ask the Dust. All of this goes unnoticed as he falls back into step behind Rory.

A portly man he does not recognize with a bowtie on that Walt Disney would be proud of is talking animatedly to a thinner, narrower Version 1.0 of the average businessman. When the portly man sees Rory out of the corner of his eye, he drops the conversation like one of Liz's man-whores and almost materializes by their side.

"Rory! It's so wonderful to see you! You grow lovelier every day."

"So we've heard," Lorelai mutters.

"Thank you, Grandpa. You're looking rather dapper yourself."

"I feel dapper."

And then, just like before, when the initial Rory-radiance fades, Richard Gilmore notices Jess. He chews on the inside of his lip while he waits for the bigger, wider, more generously built, etc. man to make the first move and begins to mentally stake out the rules. There will be no handshakes. There will be no calling of 'son' or 'my boy.' And God forbid, there will be no mentioning of golf or fishing.

"I . . . uh . . ."

"Oh, sorry. Grandpa, this is Jess."


"My . . ."

He feels Rory struggling for some type of term to aptly describe him without throwing her grandfather into a meaningless fit of rage and rabid-dog-protectiveness. Lorelai attempts to come to the rescue.

"Her gentlemen caller."

His stomach lurches. "Oh jeez."

"My boyfriend. This is Jess, my boyfriend. Um, Luke's nephew. You've met Luke."

There's a beat in which he sees many things clicking in Richard Gilmore's head (fractured-wrists-and-desertion-to-New-York-City-and-black-eyes-and-Rory-tears). He has an explanation burning holes in his tongue (I-need-her) but his mouth won't work and his hands are clenched and he wants to smoke.

"Ah, yes, I see."

He knows he has been rejected before Richard even opens his mouth. His chest unnoticeably heaves as he gives a frustrated exhale because he knows he deserves it.

"Rory, Lorelai, would either of you like a drink? You can have a martini in the back, Lorelai, by the potted palm near the dance floor, do you see? And Rory, there is a quite delectable punch that I think you should try."

He sees the way Rory's eyes cloud over and he wants to tell her, he really does, he wants to say that it's okay, he expected this, just breathe, Rory, breathe, what were you thinking would happen, a frolic through the meadows?, it'll be better this way, he's not offended, dammit, really, just stop looking so damn hurt -

Lorelai notices the disappointment that makes her daughter's shoulders slump. "Hey, dad, do you think Jess is thirsty?"

Richard looks at her dangerously, the large bull that has been penned in a corner when he sees his granddaughter holding the hand of the trash that broke her, and Jess feels defiant when he realizes this.

"If the boy is thirsty, he can get a drink himself."

"Or just crazily assume that you might offer him one like you did to the other two members of his party."



Richard takes a deep breath and stares at Rory for a moment before turning to Jess and, without so much as meeting his eyes, asks sarcastically, "You wouldn't happen to be thirsty, would you, Jess?"

"Nope. I'm fine."

"See, the boy is fine, and his voice box seems to be in splendid order, so if by any chance he would happen to be anything other than fine, I am sure he is perfectly capable of alerting random passerby. Now, if you would excuse me, I see some people I have to greet."

Lorelai looks stunned at her father's retreating back. Rory turns to him with something akin to mortification and gritted decision (she is not leaving his side, even after that, and it is this more than the encounter with her grandfather that has his hands shaking).

"I'm so sorry-"

He interlaces their fingers closer together and counts flecks of silver in her eyes. "You look really nice tonight, did I tell you that?"

She shakes her head no, and the trembling smile she gives him as a tear materializes and then vanishes on her eyelash just destroys him.

"Well, you do," he says.

She clutches his arm.

Alright, there you have it, the first installment. If it's just a boring mesh of nothing, I'll let it die here (better dead than feebly kicking). If you liked it, I should have the next part up soon.