A/N: With this chapter, I wrap up Family Matters. Thank you so much for reading and for your kind reviews!

A Passion for Reading

Luke rubbed the towel over his head vigorously and then hung it back on the towel rack. He reached for the clean pair of boxers he had carried into the bathroom with him and pulled them on before running a comb through his damp hair. He switched off the light before opening the bathroom door and stood blinking into the darkness as he waited for his eyes to adjust to the dim glow provided by the nightlight in the hallway. When he was able to make out the shapes of the furniture, he carefully and quietly made his way to the bed. As he eased his weight down onto the mattress, Lorelai asked in a groggy voice, "You have fun?"

"Yeah, sure, go back to sleep," he whispered.

Lorelai rolled over to face him as he settled back onto his pillow and said, "Can't really sleep without you." She wrinkled her nose and said, "You stink."

Luke grimaced and said, "I showered. Shampooed twice."

"I know. It's just me," she said as she draped her leg over his. "I'm glad you're home," she said with a contented smile.

"Lorelai?" he asked softly.

"Yeah, Babe?" she answered.

"I wasn't trying to keep it a secret. It's just that I know logically that he didn't mean it," Luke tried to explain. "I didn't want to tell you because, well, I didn't want to have to say it, and I didn't want you holding it against him. I know he didn't mean it," he said again.

"I just wish you would have talked to me about it," she said softly.

"I did. I just didn't tell you specifically what was said," Luke said defensively. "I'm sure Rory has told you. It wasn't that bad, you know, it was true. It's just that he hit where he knew it would hurt," Luke said gruffly.

"Like someone else I know," Lorelai murmured as she rubbed her nose against his bare chest.

"Yeah," Luke admitted softly.

"I get it," she assured him. Luke turned his head and kissed the top of her head as he said, "We had a good talk tonight. Or I talked," he added with a chuckle.

"So do you feel better about things? About them?" she asked.

"Well, I really don't want to know the details," Luke said dryly as he ran his hand up and down her back. "Yeah, yeah I do," he said finally.

"You want to know the details?" Lorelai asked as she lifted her head to look at him in surprise.

"No! I mean I feel better about them," Luke said quickly. "No details."

Lorelai smiled as she pressed her cheek to his chest again. She rubbed her leg slowly over his as she said, "As much as I love what we are now, I kind of envy them."

Luke smiled into the darkness as he said, "Yeah, I do too."

"We're just an old married couple," she said with a sigh.

"Yeah, yeah we are," Luke said with a smile as he began to roll over, pushing her onto her back.

"What are you doing?" Lorelai asked with a laugh.

"Exercising my marital rights," Luke answered as he lowered his lips but kept them a whisper from hers. "That okay?" he asked as he ducked his head and nuzzled her ear.

"Hang on," Lorelai said as she shifted slightly beneath him and then wrapped her arms around his neck. "Okay, I am ready. Let me cleave unto you, my husband," she said with a sly smile.

"No cleavers, though," Luke said as he kissed the corner of her mouth softly, smiling that cocky smile as her lips parted slightly in anticipation.

XXXX

"Hey," Jess said when she answered her phone in a sleep groggy voice. "You said to call when I got home. I'm home. Go back to sleep," he whispered.

"Did you have fun?" Rory asked.

"Four dollars and seventy six cents worth of fun. I'll call you tomorrow," he promised.

"Did you talk to Luke?" she asked as she sat up a little in bed.

"Yeah. We're okay," he assured her.

"Good," Rory breathed a sigh of relief.

"Study hard tomorrow. I'll call tomorrow night," he told her.

"Stupid Saturday finals," Rory grumbled.

"Only seven more days," Jess said with a smile.

"I want that ice cream soda," she warned him.

"I'll collect a few more pennies," he promised. "Goodnight."

"Night," Rory said before she closed her phone and placed it on the nightstand.

Jess tossed his phone onto his bed and stood up. He walked into the living room and braced his hand on the window frame as he looked down at the sleeping town below. He turned his neck to the side, feeling the tension that had plagued him for the past week pop and release. When he turned back to the window, he stared at the big house with the columns just across the square. Slowly, he lowered his hand and walked over to the computer. This time, instead of opening his documents, Jess clicked the envelope to open his email account and stared at the message that had arrived the day before from . As he opened the message, his eyes were automatically drawn to the words, 'I'm your father' and his lips curved as he mumbled, "Say it for me." Jess, I am your father, James Earl Jones intoned obediently.

"Thank you," Jess answered with a smirk. He hit the reply button and typed: Congratulations, your boys can swim. I'm not exactly sure what you want from me, or how you even found me, but I guess it would be safe to assume you have been in contact with Liz somehow. I appreciate you trying to make an effort by stringing three whole sentences together, but I feel the need to point out that I am 20 years old, and the time when I needed a daddy has long since passed. You don't need to worry about me, I'm fine. My life is good, great actually. I have everything that I need right here. I'm not trying to be overly rude, although I do think that after receiving your message out of the blue after 20 years, I am entitled to a touch of sarcasm. Let me just say that you don't have to worry about me needing you, or anything from you. Have a nice life, I plan to. Jess.

Jess cleared the message telling him that his mail had been sent, and then deleted the original message from Jimmy. He clicked on the open document that had been minimized at the bottom of the screen, and re-read the words he had written earlier. Jess began to type slowly, picking up speed with every word.

It was the first time anyone had ever really cared about him. The first time that anyone had actually given enough of a damn about him to push him into a lake and then buy out the smoking cessation aisle at the pharmacy. "I am not letting you just fall off the face of the earth. You will not drift, I won't let it happen. Now I don't know if this is the right way to handle this, but this is the way it's being handled, and that my friend, is the end of this discussion," Louie had said as he tossed nicotine patches and herbal remedies at him. And he had made good on that promise. Maybe not in the most orthodox ways, Jeff could admit, but never once had he doubted that Louie would be there. Trying to do the right thing, trying to be a better person, and trying to make him into one too. All Jeff knew was that the last thing he ever wanted to do was to let Louie down, and yet, he did it. All it took was a precisely timed swing below the belt, and everything that he had wanted, but would never admit to needing, hung in the balance. That was why he played penny poker with a bunch of guys twice his age or more. That was why when Dirk mentioned how he wished his father could be there for his big day Jeff couldn't help but look across the table at Louie. It was unthinkable. He couldn't imagine how he would ever be able to face the milestones in his life without knowing Louie was there to back him up. That was when he knew he had to do something. This was too big. There were too many questions, too many feelings, too many possibilities waiting for him. For them. He had to know that Louie would always be there. If for no other reason than to kick his ass so that he wouldn't fall off of the face of the earth.

XXXX

Lorelai perched on the edge of Rory's bed as she watched her daughter unpack. "Are you glad to be home?" she asked leadingly.

"Well, it's not like I had a choice," Rory said with a nonchalant shrug.

"Oh! Wounded!" Lorelai cried as she pressed her hand to her heart.

Rory smiled and said, "So glad to be home."

Lorelai watched as Rory carefully arranged her socks in the top drawer and asked, "Because of Mommy, right? You've missed Mommy?"

"Yes," Rory said with a sober nod.

"I love it when you humor me," Lorelai said as she flopped back onto the pillows. "So, you think maybe you and your guy would want to double with me and my guy tomorrow night?" she asked as she twirled one of her burls around her finger and stared up at the ceiling.

"You have more than one guy," Rory pointed out as she picked up a stack of t-shirts and carried them to the dresser.

"I was thinking of the tall one. I'd fix the two short ones up with a call girl," she said with a nod.

"A call girl?" Rory asked as she shirted things around in the drawer to make room for the shirts.

"You know, one of those girls you call, and then come over and hang out with you for money," Lorelai said with a shrug.

"I will never look at babysitters the same way again," Rory said sadly.

Lorelai smiled and said, "I don't care if you look at them, but Luke had better not, or I'll cut something off."

"Mom," Rory groaned.

"What? A hand, a foot! What were you thinking?" she asked with a devilish grin.

"I wasn't thinking anything, but you should know that in my mind Luke is built about like a Ken doll," Rory answered as she carried an armload of toiletries into her bathroom.

"You are so wrong," Lorelai said with a laugh.

"Okay, stop," Rory called from the bathroom.

"You were the one that went right to the dirty place," Lorelai pointed out as a loud howl sounded from the kitchen.

Rory stepped out of the bathroom, glanced at her bedroom door and then back at Lorelai as she asked, "Don't you want to see if he's okay?"

Lorelai shook her head and said, "Josh likes to protest the baby jail. It's a thing he does, a bit. Luke's in there, he's fine." She pushed herself up against the headboard and asked, "Why? Do you want to get rid of me already?"

"No, but that's quite the blood curdling scream he has developed," Rory said in a low admiring voice.

"I know, he's honing his skills in drama, it's his new calling in life," Lorelai said with a nod.

"You feel okay?" Rory asked with a concerned frown.

Lorelai nodded happily and said, "Almost barfed when I tried to eat my eggs yesterday morning."

"Wow, uh, good for you," Rory said with a laugh.

"I was never so happy to feel nauseated. I was beginning to miss Spain," she said with a grin.

"You are sick and twisted," Rory said with a shake of her head as she started to unpack a box of books.

"Twisted, I have always been, and yes, now I am a tad sick," Lorelai said with a grin. "It can go away again, though. I feel much better about things now," she said firmly.

"I don't think it works like that," Rory said as she began to slide books into their proper order on the already packed shelves. "You know that you should be careful what you wish for," she warned.

Lorelai covered her stomach with her hand and said, "Honestly, I don't care if I puke three times a day every day as long as everything is okay. I feel like this baby is here now for a reason, or meant to be, or something," she said with a shrug.

"You might change your tune if that actually were to happen," Rory said with a wry smile as she sat down on the other side of the bed and pushed back to sit next to Lorelai.

"You're probably right. That's why I haven't put anything in writing," Lorelai said as she looked over at Rory. "I am glad you're home, though. If you want, I'll put that in writing. Sky writing even," she offered.

Rory smiled and said, "I believe you." She leaned over, resting her head against Lorelai's shoulder as she said, "I'm glad to be home too."

"Luke's making you lasagna," Lorelai said softly as they listened to the clamor of pots and pans in the kitchen.

"He's sweet," Rory said with a contented sigh as Lorelai wrapped her arm around Rory's shoulders and pulled her closer.

"My baby," Lorelai said softly.

Rory glanced up at her uneasily and asked, "You aren't going to get all weepy are you?"

"Maybe," Lorelai said with a watery smile.

"Mom," Rory said with a sigh.

"Damn hormones," Lorelai whispered.

Rory sat up and turned toward Lorelai as she reached to hug her mother, burying her face in the crook of Lorelai's neck as she whispered, "My Mommy."

"Mean!" Lorelai gasped in a choked voice as she stroked Rory's silky hair and held her daughter close.

Rory smiled contentedly and said, "Well, it is fun to prod the preggo."

XXXX

"We paid a babysitter so that we could go see that?" Luke grumbled as the four of them walked out of the bookstore the following night.

"No, we paid a babysitter so that we could get out of the house for a few hours," Lorelai said pointedly. "I'm so sorry you're missing Sports Roundup, or whatever it is."

"Sports Center, and it's not on until later," Luke answered. When he caught Lorelai's glare, he quickly said, "Not that I planned to watch it. It's date night."

Rory laughed and said, "Man, just the threat of a meltdown makes him cave. Quick, tell him that you demand ice cream," she told Lorelai.

"I need ice cream," Lorelai said with a stubborn lift of her chin.

Luke rolled his eyes and glared at Rory as he said, "I thought you liked me."

Rory laughed and turned toward the Soda Shoppe as she said, "I do like you, it's just that I like ice cream too. Plus, somebody owes me a soda," she said as she gave Jess a playful nudge with her elbow.

"I guess we're having ice cream," Jess said to Luke as they fell into step behind the girls.

"Your finals go okay?" Luke asked him as they walked.

Jess nodded and said, "Yep." He smirked as he caught sight of Lulu and Kirk walking across the square hand in hand and asked, "You ready to suit up to play on Kirk's team?"

Luke shot his a hard glanced out of the corner of his eye and said, "Don't mess with me. I have more power than you think."

Jess smiled as he said, "You're right. I guess I should watch my step."

"And your hands," Luke added as the girls came to a halt in front of the Soda Shoppe. When they looked at him expectantly, he shook his head in confusion and asked, "What?"

Lorelai rolled her eyes and said, "This is a date," as she looked from him to the door.

"Sorry," he grumbled as he opened the door and stepped back to allow them to enter ahead of him. As Lorelai followed Rory and Jess into the store she smiled at Luke flirtatiously. Luke released the door handle and stepped in just behind her and whispered, "I'm hoping to get lucky," in her ear.

Lorelai smiled as she glanced back at him and said, "Try harder."

Luke simply shook his head as Rory pointed to the table she thought they needed and the girls hopped up onto the stools. "Chocolate and peanut butter?" he asked Lorelai.

Lorelai thought for a moment and then shook her head. "Fudge ripple and butter pecan."

"Cone or cup?" he asked.

"Waffle cone," she said with a nod.

"God help us," Luke muttered as he turned to see Jess heading to the counter to place their order. As the girl behind the counter placed one chocolate soda on the counter, Luke frowned and asked, "Don't you want anything?"

"We're sharing," Jess said as he reached for his wallet.

"I've got it. Order something," Luke told him as he pulled his wallet form his back pocket.

Jess turned to look at him as he handed the girl a ten and asked, "You trying to make me look bad?"

"Well, I didn't know if you had enough money, you only ordered one thing," Luke said in a low voice.

"We're on a date, we're gonna share," Jess said in a harsh whisper.

Luke leaned back and looked down at him in surprise and as the smile refused to be suppressed spread over his face. "Aren't you just precious?" he teased.

"Shut up," Jess grumbled as he plucked two straws from the dispenser.

"Oh my God. I hope Lorelai has her camera with her," Luke laughed.

Jess stepped a little closer to his uncle and whispered, "Keep laughing and I shove my tongue down her throat right here and now."

"Hey!" Luke admonished as the smile flew from his face.

Jess smirked and said, "She'd like it too."

"That's not funny," Luke said with a scowl.

"I'm not kidding," Jess answered. "Truce?" he asked. When Luke hesitated, Jess glanced over at the table where the girls sat chattering away and said, ""I've seen you and Lorelai kiss lots of times. I never really commented on your technique," he added thoughtfully.

"Truce," Luke said quickly.

Jess jerked his chin at the counter and said, "Your waffle cone is ready," as he turned and sauntered over to the table.

Luke tossed his money onto the counter and waved away the change as he took Lorelai's cone and his cup of vanilla and stomped back to the table. "You okay?" Lorelai asked softly as he handed her the cone with a fierce scowl.

"Nothing a little bleach on my brain won't help," Luke muttered as he watched Rory smiling at Jess as she unwrapped both straws and dropped them into the tall glass.

"Babe?" Lorelai asked worriedly.

Luke simply shook his head and said, "Nothing. I had her put hot fudge and sprinkles on for you, does that count for points?"

"Totally counts," Lorelai said with a grin as she dug into the sundae cone with her spoon. "The best thing Taylor ever did in here," Lorelai began as she rolled a bite of ice cream around on her tongue. "No plastic spoons," she said with a nod as she looked up and spotted the two straws in the glass that sat between Rory and Jess. "Oh my God! You're adorable!" she said with a laugh.

"Don't go there," Luke warned darkly.

"Aren't we?" Rory asked with a cheeky grin as she leaned forward and took a sip of the chocolate soda. She pulled the long spoon from the glass and fished the maraschino cherry from the top of a mound of whipped cream. "Want the cherry?" she asked as she offered it to Jess.

Lorelai gasped loudly and covered her mouth with her hand as Luke growled, "If you say it, I'm leaving."

"Mom!" Rory said in a shocked tone as she laughed nervously.

"Oh!" Lorelai said as she waved her free hand and wriggled on the high stool, trying to bite back the commentary that would surely send Luke scurrying from the shop.

"Lorelai," Luke said as he shot her a look.

"Oh, let her say it, we all already know what she's thinking," Jess said with a laugh.

"Fine," Luke relented as he turned his head to look at the menu board.

"Dirty!" Lorelai cried, the word bursting from her forcefully.

"You just dirtied your daughter and my nephew," Luke muttered under his breath.

"It begged for a dirty," Lorelai said indignantly.

"Eat your ice cream," he said darkly.

"Yes sir," Lorelai said in a mockingly contrite tone as she scooped up a huge bite and shoveled it into her mouth with a twinkle in her eyes.

"We are never double dating again," Luke told Jess sternly.

"Wasn't my idea, man," Jess answered with a shrug.

"Oh yes we are," Rory said with a laugh. "Next weekend, as a matter of fact," she said with a nod.

"That's right, the wedding," Lorelai confirmed.

Luke looked at Jess and said, "Soon, you are going to have a whole new appreciation of me and what my life its like. Good luck with that," he added with a smirk.

"Looking forward to it," Jess said with a nod. He turned to look at Rory who was happily slurping away at the soda and asked, "Do I get any of that?" as he pointed to the already half empty glass.

"No," Luke said with a laugh.

"Doubtful," Lorelai said sympathetically.

"Oh, did you really want some?" Rory asked innocently.

As Jess gave her an exasperated look, Luke straightened on his stool as he scooped up another tiny bite of his vanilla ice cream and said with a smug smile, "Welcome to my little corner of the world."

XXXX

"That wasn't so bad," Lorelai said as Luke crawled into bed later that night.

"No," he agreed. "At least they weren't pawing each other and stuff," he said gruffly.

Lorelai frowned and said, "They didn't even hold hands. What kind of a date is it if you don't hold hands?" she asked him worriedly.

"One with your mother and step-father and your aunt and uncle, I imagine," Luke said as he settled back onto his pillow and lifted one arm up over his head.

"You think they're making out now?" she asked him curiously.

"No I don't think that! I don't want to think about that. Would you stop putting that in there?" he asked as he gestured to his head.

"You really don't want them to be?" she asked with a concerned frown.

"It's not that, I just don't wanna think about that," Luke tried to explain. When she continued to stare at him quizzically, he sighed and said, "As a guy, if I were not related to either of them in any way, shape or form? Yeah, I'd hope they're making out, okay? Geez," he groaned.

"I love it when I can make you say stuff like that," she said as she hugged him, resting her chin on his chest and looking up at him. When he sighed heavily and rubbed a hand over his face, she smiled and asked, "Wanna make out with me?"

"Not anymore," he grumbled.

"Yes you do," she said as she gave him a squeeze.

"I can't now," he complained.

"Let me see if I can blank that out for you," she said as she pushed up and flung one leg across him. She leaned down over him, tickling his neck with her hair. "Eyes on me, Luke," she whispered.

"You're bad girl," he said as he reached up and gave her hair a tug.

Lorelai's smile was feline as she leaned down to kiss him and whispered, "Do it again. Harder."

When they broke for air, Luke whispered, "So bad," as he buried his hand in her hair and pulled her back down, crushing her lips against his.

XXXX

"Okay, stop, stop," Jess panted as he flung himself away from Rory.

"Don't stop," she corrected as she followed him across his couch.

"Rory," he said, his voice cracking with need as she pressed against him and nipped at his neck.

"Don't play hard to get, I know how easy you really are," she teased as she slipped one hand up under his shirt and felt his muscles clench.

"It feels weird," Jess said helplessly.

"What? This?" Rory asked as she frowned down at his stomach.

Jess shook his head and said, "No, the whole double date thing and now this."

Rory looked back up at him and asked, "It does?"

Jess rolled his eyes and asked, "What do you think they're doing right now?"

"Ew, Jess!" Rory said as she jerked her hand out from under his shirt.

"Well," he said helplessly.

"That's what you're thinking about?" she asked incredulously.

"No, well, kind of, but not that specifically," he stammered.

"That's sick," she told him.

"Tomorrow. Come back tomorrow when I haven't just spent the whole night looking at your mother and knowing that Luke would gladly chop my hands off with granddad's old pocketknife," he pleaded.

"They're always going to be there, Jess," she said worriedly.

"I know, but geez, this is weird," he said as he ran his hand through his hair. He reached up and touched the soft brown hair that spilled over her shoulder and said, "I want to be with you, but I really want to be with you, but I want it not to be weird. I want it to be right, but right now it feels weird."

Rory narrowed her eyes and asked, "You're one of those sensitive new age guys aren't you? I should have known it, you poseur."

Jess smirked and said, "I'll buy you one of those crystals on a leather necklace."

Rory kissed him softly and said, "We went out on a date, here in town. Let me read your story," she said coaxingly as she kissed her way along his jaw.

"Pulling out the big guns," Jess said with a chuckle.

"You said that I could when we went public," she reminded him.

Jess shook his head and said, "A movie and ice cream with your Mom and Luke isn't going public, it's a family outing."

"You're the one who wouldn't touch me," she pointed out.

"Did I mention the hands and the pocketknife?" he asked as he ran his hand along the column of her spine.

"Jess," she whined.

"Next weekend. After the wedding. Give me another week to work on it and then you can come back up here and read it," he said with a nod.

"Promise?" she asked.

"Promise," he answered as he cupped her cheek, drawing her in for a slow, soft kiss.

"Walk me home?" she asked in a whisper.

"Definitely," he said with a slow nod.

As they walked hand and in hand around the deserted square, Jess said, "I got an email from my dad last week."

"Your dad?" Rory asked in a stunned tone.

"Jimmy Mariano," Jess said with a nod.

"What did it say?" Rory asked.

Jess shrugged and said, "Basically it was a 'Hi, I'm your dad. Sorry about forgetting you existed for the last twenty years,' kind of email."

"Did you respond?" She asked.

Jess nodded and said, "I did."

Rory stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and stared at him dumfounded as she asked, "Aren't you going to tell me what you said?"

"What do you think I said?" Jess replied.

"I have no idea. How do you respond to that?" Rory said indignantly.

Jess draped his arm over her shoulders and pulled her along toward the house as he said, "I said thanks for thinking of me, but I'm fine. I have everything I need," he said as he gave her shoulders a squeeze.

"Did you tell Luke?" she asked as they approached the house.

"I'm a little afraid to. Things have been, you know, weird," he finished lamely. "I don't want him to get the wrong idea."

"Do you want me to mention it?" she asked.

Jess shook his head and said, "No. I'll tell him. Maybe just not until things get a little more back to normal."

"Okay," she said worriedly.

"It'll be fine," he said as he stopped on the darkened walkway and then pulled her over to the side of the steps.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"I want to kiss you goodnight, but I don't want Luke to start flashing the porch light," he told her with a smirk.

"They're probably asleep," she said with a laugh.

"Light was on in their room," he told her.

"Checking for bogies?" she asked.

"Gotta know where they're firing from," he said as he bent his head to kiss her. When she started to make a remark, he shook his head slightly and whispered, "Just wanna kiss you."

XXXX

To say Luke was in a bit of a compromising position when the front door closed and would have been an understatement. "Mom? Luke? You still up?" Rory called up the stairs.

"Crap," Luke hissed as Lorelai scrambled away from him and he began to root around under the blankets for the sweat pants that were tangled around his ankles.

"Uh, yeah, hang on. Luke's just getting out of the shower," Lorelai called back. She turned to him and whispered, "Quick, go get wet."

"I need a cold shower," Luke muttered as he jerked his sweats up roughly and hurried toward their bathroom.

Lorelai plucked his shirt up off of the floor and carried it over to the bathroom door, opening it and tossing the shirt in before closing it firmly behind her. When she heard the shower come on, she walked over to the bedroom door, straightened her Marvin the Martian pajamas, smoothed her rumpled hair and tried to look sleepy as she opened the bedroom door. "Hey, Sweets," she said with a tired smile.

"Were you asleep?" Rory asked contritely.

"No, just in bed. I had to make Luke take a shower because I could still smell the, uh, onions on him, and it was driving me nuts," she said thinking quickly.

"Poor Luke," Rory said with a laugh.

Lorelai shrugged as she heard the water shut off and said, "He's used to it now." She studied Rory for a moment and then asked, "You okay?"

Rory nodded and said, "I'm fine. I just wanted to talk to you guys for a minute. Both of you," she said nervously.

Lorelai nodded and stepped back to let Rory in as she said, "Hang on, let me make sure Luke knows you're in here so he doesn't come strutting out like he usually does." She tapped on the door and called, "Hey, Luke? Rory's in here, so don't be running around naked."

"Stop that," he called back to her.

"I'm just warning you," she replied.

"I don't run around naked," Luke said loudly.

Lorelai turned back to Rory with a smirk and said, "He usually walks."

"Mom," Rory said as she squeezed her eyes shut.

"I don't walk and I don't strut around naked," Luke called back to them.

Lorelai grinned and said, "I just got you to say naked to Rory, not once, but twice."

Luke opened the bathroom door, his hair slicked back with water as he pointed to Lorelai and said, "I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you."

Lorelai smirked at him and said, "That doesn't work here, and no more PBS for you."

"That was an interesting show," Rory said with a nod.

"Yeah it was," Luke agreed.

"You're still married to me," Lorelai said as she poked him in the arm.

"For the moment," Luke said as he looked down at the offended arm and then back up at her.

"Uh, guys, not to break up this very serious discussion on your marital status, but can we talk for a sec?" Rory interrupted.

Luke frowned and said, "Sure, Rory," with a shrug.

Rory wrung her hands a little, and then gestured to the bed as she asked, "Can you sit? I feel kind of, uh, weird," she said with a nervous laugh. She waited until both Lorelai and Luke perched on the edge of the bed and looked up at her curiously. "Listen, I know that things are a little awkward right now," she said cautiously. "And I want you to know that I appreciate how, um, understanding you have been about this whole thing with me and Jess," she said sincerely.

"Of course," Lorelai said quickly as she patted Luke's leg, trying to get him to unclench his hands.

"I guess, um, here's the thing. I think we all need to just get over that, you know?" Rory said quickly. "Yes, it's gonna be a little strange for a while, but soon, it'll be old news, right? Soon it'll be like it's never been any other way, just like it is with you guys," she said as she gestured to them. "I mean, you've only been together, together for a few years. It's just that you were friends for so long before that…" she trailed off. "It just seems like longer," she finished lamely.

When she finished, Luke cleared his throat and said, "Rory, its fine."

Rory shook her head and said, "It's not fine, Luke. It's made us all uncomfortable. It caused this big thing between you and Jess, which I know had to hurt you because it was killing him, and now he's afraid to talk to you about stuff. Not about me, but about other things," she rambled. "And tonight, we shouldn't have tried to do this tonight. I know that Luke felt weird. Jess felt weird. The only ones who didn't really feel weird were me and Mom, and that's probably because we are weird," she said desperately.

"Rory," Lorelai tried to interrupt.

"No, Mom, it's not fine. I know it isn't bad, but it's not fine," she said adamantly. "Luke, Jess needs you. I know that he doesn't want to admit that, and I know that what he said to you hurt, but you know it wasn't true. We both need you," she said plainly. "We need you just the way you are and what you have been to both of us, that's why I don't think this double dating thing was the best idea."

"What do you mean?" Luke asked with a frown.

"I mean that it's hard for you not to think of us like that, and that is absolutely fine," she told him. "I think that when the four of us spend time together, Jess and I need to set the dating thing aside and just be as we have always been. I think we need to keep the dating thing to ourselves."

"Can you do that?" Lorelai asked incredulously.

"I think we can try, just until things get easier for everyone," Rory said with a nod.

Luke sighed as he let his head fall forward spun his wedding ring on his finger, staring at the three vines that wove into one another in a complete circle. "I don't want you to do that," he said quietly.

"What? Really, Luke, it's no big deal," Rory said quickly.

Luke shook his head and said, "Yes it is, it's a very big deal. If you try to do that, you guys won't be, uh, you," he said as he looked up at her. "I'll admit I'm not a big fan of the jokes and the insinuations," he said as he shot Lorelai a quelling look.

"Innuendo," Lorelai supplied helpfully. "The word you're looking for… Uh, right," she said with a nod.

Rory smirked and said, "Yeah, well, shocker, Jess isn't either."

Lorelai nodded and said, "Okay, I will try to watch it, but you guys have to be careful with the dirty stuff." When Luke turned to look at her, she held her hands up defensively as she said, "Try to tell me that you weren't thinking it too!"

"I would never have said anything if I was," he replied.

"Fine," Lorelai grumbled. "It's all my fault," she pouted as she crossed her arms over her chest.

"I'm not saying that, I'm just saying that maybe we have to look at this the same way it was when we first started dating, with the flirting and stuff," he reminded her.

Lorelai nodded slowly and said, "I will be more careful about keeping my dirty mind to myself."

Luke nodded and turned back to Rory and said, "And I'll try to, uh, lighten up a little." When Rory smiled in relief, he lifted his eyebrows and said, "But you tell that little punk nephew of mine that if he threatens to shove his tongue down your throat again, I'll shove it back down his for him."

A giggle escaped Rory as she nodded and said, "I think you may need to tell him that yourself. It may lose something in translation."

Luke nodded and said, "You're right, I will."

Rory looked from her mother to Luke as she asked, "Are you both okay with me and Jess going to the wedding, uh, together next weekend?"

Lorelai looked at Luke and shrugged as she said, "I'm fine."

"No problem," Luke said as he nodded slowly.

"Okay, well, I guess I'll let you guys get back to bed," she said cautiously.

"Oh yeah, I'm beat," Lorelai said as she glanced over at Luke with a small smile.

"Okay, goodnight," Rory said as she leaned over and hugged Lorelai. She turned and gave Luke a slightly awkward hug and then said, "Huh. You're right, he does smell like onions. Must be in your skin," she said as she wrinkled her nose and headed for the door. "Night," she called as she pulled the door closed behind her.

"Night, Sweets," Lorelai answered.

Luke turned to Lorelai with a puzzled frown and said, "I didn't chop any onions today."

"Huh, mystery," Lorelai said as she cocked her head and stared at him. "You really okay?" she asked.

Luke turned his wedding band with his thumb as he said, "Yeah, I am. Or, I will be."

"Ready for bed?" she asked coyly.

"Haven't you caused enough trouble for one night?" he asked as the corners of his lips twitched into a smile.

"Babe, I haven't even started," she said as she grasped his shoulders and pushed him back onto the mattress.

"Such a bad girl," Luke said as he ran his hands lightly up and down her arms.

XXXX

Rory squeezed Jess' hand lightly as they strolled across the square to the diner and said, "That was a nice wedding."

Jess chuckled and said, "For Kirk and Lulu, yes it was."

"Anyone say anything to you?" she asked him as he unlocked the diner door.

Jess nodded and turned to her as he said solemnly, "Yes. Luke is going to kick your ass if you break my heart."

Rory smiled and said, "Duly noted," as she stepped into the darkened dining room. As Jess locked the door behind then she said, "Grandma caught us holding hands in church."

"Uh oh," Jess muttered under his breath as he took her hand again and led her toward the stairs.

"Mom talked her down, and I guess since you weren't drawn and quartered before the cake was cut, she must be okay with it," Rory said as she followed him through the curtain.

"And your grandfather?" Jess asked.

"I'm not sure if she told him. He seemed kind of oblivious," Rory said with a shrug.

"He seemed kind of drunk," Jess answered with a smirk.

Rory grinned as they walked up the stairs and said, "It was kind of funny to see him trying to dance with her as she was pouring him into the car."

"No one else seemed too surprised," Jess commented as he unlocked the apartment door.

"No, I assume Mrs. Cassini must have said something after all, because the only thing Babette said was that you were as tasty as your uncle," Rory told him with a grin.

"Great, just want I needed to hear," Jess grumbled as he turned on the lights and dropped his keys on the table.

Rory stopped just behind him and said, "I'm ready."

Jess turned to her with a crooked smile as he reached out and pulled her to him. "Me too," he said as he tilted his head and brushed his lips over hers.

Rory laughed as she pushed lightly at his chest and said, "No, I'm ready to read."

Jess groaned and held her tighter as he said, "No, no reading, we're all alone."

Rory fixed him with a stern look and said, "It's still early and we'll still be all alone when I'm done. You promised," she reminded him gently.

Jess sighed as he loosened his hold on her and asked, "You really want to do this?"

Rory rolled her eyes and said, "Are you kidding? I've been dying to read it."

"Okay," he acquiesced. He turned toward the table and asked, "You want to read here or somewhere else?"

Rory chewed the inside of her cheek as she said, "Well, I won't be able to concentrate if you're staring at me, so why don't I take it in your room."

"Fine," he said as he unplugged the laptop and carried it toward his bedroom. He waited for it to boot up as she arranged his pillows to her satisfaction and got comfortable. "I can think of better things to do in here," he grumbled.

Rory smiled and said, "I'll come and get you when I'm done."

"It's only really three chapters that are fully fleshed out. Four is mostly done, and I have some notes on five, but the rest are mainly just outline stuff," he explained as he opened the 'crap' folder and handed the laptop to her. "This is nuts," he said as he shook his head sadly.

Rory smiled and asked, "Can I leave comments on it?"

Jess smirked and asked, "In the margins?"

"Wherever," Rory answered with a sassy smile.

"Knock yourself out, but I warn you, red this my do the trick," he muttered.

Rory tipped her face up to him and said, "Kiss." Jess kissed her softly at first, and then tried to deepen the kiss in a last ditch effort to distract her. Rory laughed as she ducked away from him and said, "Later. No go away."

Jess walked toward the door and asked, "You want this closed?"

"Open is fine," Rory said as she clicked on the first chapter, and then focused as the words appeared on the screen.

"And she's lost," Jess murmured as he turned toward the living room and scanned all surfaces in a hunt for the remote control.

Two and a half hours later, Rory closed the last of the outlined chapters, and sat back against the headboard as she let what she had just read filter through her mind. Slowly she became aware of the drone of the television and then caught the sound of a soft snore. She smiled, closed the folder, and was about to set the laptop aside when she thought of one more note she wanted to add to the outline of the final chapter. She frowned at the icons on the screen and then remembered Jess saying that it was 'nuts' that she wanted to read. She clicked on the icon and frowned in confusion when fewer chapters appeared in the folder.

She double clicked the first chapter and when it appeared on the screen she read, He tried to tell himself that it was simply the allure of forbidden fruit; that you always want the one girl that you couldn't and shouldn't have. He tried to tell himself that, but he never believed his own lies.

I suppose it is possible that I loved her the moment I saw her, Jeff mused as he watched her walk away from him that night. You couldn't help but love her, she was beautiful, inside and out. Physically, it wasn't much of a shock. Her mother was beautiful too, but in a much more brash, 'Hey look at me' kind of way. Lori was so much like her, but so very different. Quieter, that's for sure. She seemed more intellectual, although Lauren's personality masked a brain that was a force to be reckoned with in its own right. Her hair was not as dark and striking as her mother's, but it had a sheen of gloss that made a guy itch to touch it, just to see if it could possibly feel as silken as it looked. It did. It does. And the eyes… Was there a man alive that could resist the bright blue eyes of a Gillman girl once they focused on him?

Rory blinked in confusion as she re-read the paragraph again. Her eyes quickly dropped to the paragraph below.

Despite her cautious nature, Lori's mind was quick and facile, grasping information, processing it quickly, and storing it away for future reference. Very little escaped her interest, and even topics that didn't particularly fascinate her, were kept, just in case they were ever needed. This is what most people missed when they met her. She was shy, self effacing, and a tad bit unsure of her beauty. These things were easy to see by the way she held herself. But if you took the time to scratch the surface, you would find a backbone forged by strength of character, confidence borne of a willingness to work hard, and ambition that drove her to reach beyond the tiny town that she loved as home. This, the whole incredible package, is what drew Jeff to her like a moth to a flame. She was irresistible, and she didn't even know it. To him, that was the most entrancing thing of all.

She read the word 'flashback' in italics and couldn't resist going on.

Jeff didn't expect the pain. The ache was almost physical as he stared out of the bus window, watching Connecticut disappear behind him. He tried to tell himself that he never belonged there. He reminded himself that he never wanted to go there in the first place. Why did it hurt so bad to leave, Jeff wondered as he stared morosely at the scenery whipping by. Because they didn't understand that he would have gladly have broken his own wrist rather than hers. Lori was his friend. The first true friend he had ever had; the first person who had ever bothered to look beyond the attitude, the first person who had ever accepted who he was, and the first person who had ever expected more from him. She was the first person he had ever felt remorse for disappointing. But the second followed closely on her heels. As he boarded the bus heading for New York, he had been careful not to look back. He couldn't bear to see the pain etched around his uncle's eyes, it was too much. For as much as Lori meant to him, Louie was the first person in his life who had ever truly gave a damn, even if he didn't understand.

Louie seemed to know that his arrogance and detachment was just a shield. He was probably well acquainted with the concept, having kept his own feelings masked behind a gruff exterior for so many years. It was the downfall of the Duke men. This misplaced pride that made it almost impossible for them to share their feelings with those that mattered most. And other than the a few well placed jabs at one another, it was an unspoken rule that they would cover each other's backs when it counted. When Louie had finally broken down and exposed his feelings for Lauren, Jeff still stayed quiet, never quite letting on how much he knew about the depths of his uncle's feelings, unconsciously helping him hang on to one last shred of that stubborn Duke pride.

Yes, it was the first time anyone had ever really cared about him. The first time that anyone had actually given enough of a damn about him to push him into a lake and then buy out the smoking cessation aisle at the pharmacy. "I am not letting you just fall off the face of the earth. You will not drift, I won't let it happen. Now I don't know if this is the right way to handle this, but this is the way it's being handled, and that my friend, is the end of this discussion," Louie had said as he tossed nicotine patches and herbal remedies at him. And he had made good on that promise. Maybe not in the most orthodox ways, Jeff could admit, but never once had he doubted that Louie would be there. Trying to do the right thing, trying to be a better person, and trying to make him into one too. All Jeff knew was that the last thing he ever wanted to do was to let Louie down, and yet, he did it. All it took was a precisely timed swing below the belt, and everything that he had wanted, but would never admit to needing, hung in the balance. That was why he played penny poker with a bunch of guys twice his age or more. That was why when Dirk mentioned how he wished his father could be there for his big day Jeff couldn't help but look across the table at Louie. It was unthinkable. He couldn't imagine how he would ever be able to face the milestones in his life without knowing Louie was there to back him up. That was when he knew he had to do something. This was too big. There were too many questions, too many feelings, too many possibilities waiting for him. For them. He had to know that Louie would always be there. If for no other reason than to kick his ass so that he wouldn't fall off of the face of the earth.

"Louie," Rory whispered. "Oh my God," she said as she continued to scroll down the page, her eyes darting back and forth, lines jumping out at her, paragraphs making her breath hitch in her chest as Jess' story, the story of how they came to be sprang to life on the page. She skimmed along, as he chronicled the romance of Louie and Lauren, and the evolution of their unique family, glancing up at the door nervously when she heard him shift on the old leather couch. She held her breath until the soft snores began again and quickly read on.

Jeff had never been a hearts and flowers kind of guy. The Lifetime Network wasn't going to be beating down his door to become their leading man d' jour, Hallmark wasn't hiring him to come up with sappy sentiments to round out their Sweetest Day line of cards, and if De Beers really thought that two month's worth of his salary was a reasonable price to pay for a hunk of minerals, he had a few choice words for them. The truth was, up until the time that he met Tara, he pretty much saw women as being pretty much interchangeable. If that one didn't work out, you simply moved on to the next accommodating candidate. When that one became a little too demanding, you found another with less stringent needs. Of course, he had met Tara after bearing witness to Happy Hollow's own epic love story. Maybe it was something in the water, or perhaps it was just time, but he had been ripe for a fall. And he had thought that he had fallen hard. There were times just after he learned of her betrayal, that he thought he'd never claw his way back up to the surface. But he had. Sometimes with a helping hand. And, most of the time that hand belonged to Lori.

"Oh, Jess," she breathed as she read of the growing awareness of the special bond Jeff and Lori shared, the jealousy and Jeff's desperate need to bury the feelings he had for Lori deep inside of him. She read about the kiss and run, she read about the sleepless nights and worried days that had plagued Jeff as he tried to put it behind him, and until finally she read about the spark of hope that ignited in his heart when he and Lori were finally able to admit that neither one of them wanted to ignore their feelings any longer. She was enthralled as she read of the depth of Jeff's emotions, staggered by the language Jess used to describe his 'characters' and moved to tears as he committed his love for her to the page.

She was perfect. Not in that Hollywood idealized version of airbrushed beauty that the world bought into. She was perfection incarnate. She was warm, soft skin that radiated heat beneath his touch, sweet words that sang in his head, and quiet laughter that filled him with a joy he hadn't realized existed anywhere other than the printed page. If Jeff was once awed by Lori's ability to make his heart race with a single look, he was now completely lost. Nothing and no one would ever compare to her perfection. And he knew that he would never feel as happy, as complete, or as perfect as he had felt in her arms.

Rory pressed a trembling hand to her lips as she stared down at the blank space below the last sentence. "You still reading?" Jess asked in a raspy voice as he hovered in the doorway.

Rory looked up and saw him standing there, his dress pants wrinkled, his shirt half untucked, and his hair standing up on one side and completely flattened on the other. "I'm sorry. I opened the wrong one," she confessed as she lifted the computer from her lap and held it out to him.

"What?" he asked as he reached for the proffered laptop.

"I closed the file, and then I wanted to add something," she explained and she saw his eyes widen as he looked at the screen. "I thought you said it was the 'nuts' file," she said nervously as she tried to read his expression.

"No, it's 'crap'," he murmured as he pressed the power button to shut down the computer.

"Jess," Rory said as she swung her legs from the bed.

"Did you, uh, read it?" he asked as he set the laptop on the dresser without looking at her.

"Yes," she whispered.

Jess nodded, his cheeks flaming as he bit his bottom lip and looked anywhere but directly at her. "Should I ask what you think?" he asked finally.

"I think you are perfect," she said quietly as she moved to stand in front of him. When he looked up to meet her shining eyes, Rory smiled softly and said, "I think you are perfect, and when I am with you I feel happy, complete and perfect too." She wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly, pressing her cheek to his shoulder as she said, "It's a beautiful story."

"Beautiful girl," Jess said gruffly as he ran his hand over her silky hair.

Rory raised her lips to his and kissed him soulfully, her lips clinging to his even as she pulled away gently. She pressed her forehead to his and whispered, "Luke would flip if he knew you called him Louie."

Jess brushed his knuckles over her soft cheek and then caressed her gently as he lifted her head again. "Yeah, well that was just an added bonus," he told her with a crooked smile.

Rory's eyes danced as she stepped back and then tumbled back onto the bed, yanking him down with her. She laughed as he tried to balance catch his balance and then crashed down on top of her. "That, right there, is why I love you," she said as her laughter filled the room.

"Well, I have skills," he said with a modest shrug.

"Yes, you do," she agreed as she pulled him down and kissed him again. The kisses heated quickly as he parted her lips with his own and claimed possession of her mouth. When he broke away to trail heated kisses down the side of her neck, Rory gave a husky laugh and said, "And, you can write too."

Their Beginning