Title: The Scenic Route

Summary: After about two seconds with her mouth open and her eyes fixed, though, she recognized him. The ski-jump nose, the long face. Oh, God. Dean Forester. She'd just checked out Dean Forester.

A/N: So! This is the sequel of sorts to my first Dean Forester fic called "A Shocking Turn of Events." This one is a two-parter and focuses on Dean and Lorelai. However, some people may be interested to know that this fic does not conclude the journey of Dean as my cohort sendintheclowns and I currently are working our way up to an entire verse dealing with Dean after his disappearance on the show. Our working title? The Redemptive!Dean verse, which is not so creative but apt enough :)

A/N 2: This fic was beta'ed by geminigrl11 who is still to blame for all of this and sendintheclowns who is definitely culpable in her own right. And wow. I just realized how LONG this fic is. It's a two-shot, but a long two-shot. I suppose I should say that if people hate Dean this isn't the fic for them...

Disclaimer: So not mine. Though, I got to say, I wouldn't mind having Lorelai's brain for awhile because it's way fun to write.


Lorelai Gilmore was alone.

Not completely alone, of course, because this was Stars Hollow and she was Lorelai Gilmore. Alone wasn't a concept that truly corresponded to either of those facts. Because Stars Hollow didn't seem to believe in recluses and shut ins, which she was sure was hell on little old agoraphobic women, and seeing as she wasn't capable of sitting still for more than five seconds...

Make that sitting still or shutting up. Because there was always something to say and always someone to say it to. Though these days, her empty walls were getting more and more of her attention, not that she would admit that. Quickly, anyway.

The fact of the matter was that she was a social creature with social habits in a social town. But, despite all that, she was, for many intents and purposes, alone.

Because alone by definition meant the lack of constant companionship. While she had her friends (thank goodness) and her parents (whether she liked it or not) and she technically had a boyfriend (which was rather amazing), but she was missing a daughter (which was really what hurt the most).

Friends were friends, and in the end it was impossible to figure out who was truly friend or foe. Everyone from the paper boy to her great aunt once removed considered her a friend, so the word had almost lost its meaning. Of course, Sookie mattered, as did Lorelai's associates at the inn, and there was always someone to call if things got lonely.

Her parents were her parents; an unchangeable constant, for better or for worse. They never seemed to change, and their critical nature was as important to her life as their understated love. Dinners were still common; being subject to their scrutiny was a given. They made life interesting, to say the least.

Men were a mess. Difficult and hard to manage, up and down. True, she and Luke were making it work, sometimes better than others. They worked so well as friends, so she was never quite sure why they seemed to struggle so much as a couple; there were times when she just wondered if their stars were crossed or something equally ridiculous. Really, in the end, she supposed she didn't even need a man. Not that she didn't like them. Men were fantastic in many ways and Luke was pretty much the cream of the crop since despite all the ups and downs, all the ons and offs, he was still there.

But unnecessary. Her on and off relationships had taught her that, even if she was currently on again with Luke. Her world had enough clutter. Her mind had enough clutter and bringing someone else into the mix really was just one disaster waiting to happen. She was just glad she figured that out before she put on the wedding ring and subjected Luke to the horror that would have been their life together.

So men, okay. She could do without men. She loved Luke, she did, but if push came to shove, she'd done it alone before and she could do it again. But this whole daughter thing? Much harder to cope with.

She had known men in general longer than she'd known her daughter. That, really, was kind of a given, when she thought about how Rory had been brought into the world in the first place. But no man--not Christopher, not Max, not Christopher again, not even Luke--could compare to what she gained from knowing Rory. Sure, being a mom had its stresses and difficult moments. Trying to help her daughter not have a nervous breakdown by the age of 18 was certainly a trial with an overachiever like Rory, and helping Rory navigate her own romantic messes was nerve-racking in its own right (and really, just reinforced why men in general were so totally overrated to begin with).

Rory was the constant. What kept Lorelai grounded, if she could ever call herself grounded to begin with. Rory was her stability, what kept her from totally going off the deep end like so many people in Stars Hollow seemed prone to do (which, she really had to wonder, was it a coincidence? Something in the drinking water? Or just the slow insanity that comes from only knowing the same group of people throughout life?).

Of course, Lorelai knew that this was the 21st century. Yes, there were fantastic modern devices like cell phones and computers which she could employ to keep in touch with her daughter and her daughter's burgeoning career. And of course she used every one of them. Learning to text message had been a trial, but she was an old pro at it now, and she had the phone bills to prove her consistent and stalwart efforts to remain constant in Rory's life.

But still. It was different. Texting meant keeping words to a minimum, a talent she had never possessed. Email was okay and it allowed her a much higher word quota but the run-on sentences even gave her a headache when she was the one writing the email (and Rory, despite her journalistic expertise, was not all that concise herself when it came to personal emails). Phone calls were their best bets, but getting ahold of Rory these days was a bit of a trial. Because, while Lorelai seemed to be settling into her life, Rory's was just beginning.

Lorelai remembered times like that from her own youth. Times of excitement and the promise of meeting people and going out. With Rory so hard to track down, she was beginning to realize a terrible fact: she was getting old.

She wasn't an overly vain person, but she was a woman, a sometimes-single woman who was rapidly approaching the days when the concept of beauty would be a fleeting memory. She was becoming the age of the woman she critiqued: actresses past their prime, super models in the magazines who were turning pruny and pinched as their bodies wore out. She was getting ma'am-ed more often than not and she was starting to tell stories about when she was a child.

It was positively wrong. Reprehensible. Yet a slow decline that she couldn't prevent. Perhaps she had been harsh on Joan Rivers and the extensive plastic surgery. Lorelai wasn't running out there trying to cling to some notion of her youth that was gone, but it damn well wasn't fun realizing just how far away it was.

Normally, it wasn't that bad. When she was sane and not feeling melodramatic (which really did happen more than Luke ever liked to admit--it wasn't her fault that he was the epitome of mundane when it came to emotions), she coped quite well with being older. She wasn't walking around in skimpy clothing, she hadn't whaled out from a lack of activity. She was still with-it enough to pass as a normal person (most of the time) and she was steady enough with Luke that she didn't look like a pathetic old maid.

Now if she could just find someone to talk to, someone to connect with, someone like Rory, then she'd be all set.

Too bad having another daughter was kind of out of the question. Even if it wasn't, it wasn't like she was looking to get knocked up. Not that she didn't want to from time to time. But she could only imagine what kind of conniption fit Luke would throw. The poor man struggled enough to be a father; she didn't need to splice their jointly defective DNA together to create a new life. She was almost afraid to imagine what that would entail.

Besides, having a child now would make her practically decrepit by the time the kid was old enough to really enjoy. Rory hadn't gotten past the needy and difficult stage until she was well into her teens, and even then, it was hit or miss. By that time a brand-new kid hit that age...well, by that time the kid would have to visit her in a nursing home, with Lorelai struggling to remember his/her name.

And really, Lorelai didn't want another child. She wanted Rory. She could never begrudge her child's success, but she had to admit, it would have made her very happy to see Rory successful right there in Stars Hollow.

But it wasn't what Rory wanted. And even before what Lorelai wanted for herself, she wanted what was best for Rory.

Damn being a mother and the altruistic current that came with it!

All this meant was that Lorelai had more time on her hands, as scary as that was. There was a Rory-sized hole that was pretty hard to fill. So she had taken to developing some hobbies.

Her attempt at knitting had been a disaster from the start. She had thought it would be a wise choice considering her affinity for the sewing machine.

She was wrong.

Her mother had been more than a little befuddled at her request for yarn, and Luke had been downright afraid of her with those knitting needles (and true, she did have a habit of leaving them in inconvenient places--the bathroom, the kitchen drawer, between the couch cushions with the pointy end up). Her first and only project had been a dilapidated scarf that Luke had worn for approximately five minutes before Lorelai was so ashamed that she made him burn it. Truly. Right there in the fireplace.

Then, there had been rose mauling. Honestly, she had just liked the name; mauling roses certainly sounded like something she could get into. When she discovered it involved paint and precision and patience, her interest had waned, and she was left with a stock of paints and brushes that she wasn't quite sure what to do with.

There had been the guitar after that (until her A string broke and now the poor instrument sat collecting dust in Rory's old room), her fanciful notion of writing a novel (until she realized that Rory's literary talents surely came from Christopher, not her mother), her jewelry making, her coin collecting--and the list could go on, if she could only remember the rest of it.

Her current effort was something that was time-consuming, good for the environment, and beneficial to the town. Perhaps with all these positive qualities, Lorelai thought, she might be able to stick with it. It did require a little bit of getting dirty, but that was all the more reason to go buy some new "work" clothes. And a hat. A big one. Floppy, with a bow.

Because she was going to garden.

Plants, of the floral variety. She had considered vegetables and other produce, but those required more manual labor--tilling ground and whatnot. She just wanted some pretty flowers--she could live off pizza and Luke's cooking for the rest. So, just flowers. In pots and along the walkway, that kind of thing. Which was how she ended up in her overalls, hat on her head and trowel in her hand, outside, that afternoon.

There was nothing special about it. Just another afternoon in a long line of afternoons that had no particular distinction. Luke was at work because Luke was always at work. The inn was running fine. And all Lorelai had to do was sit around and garden.

Her plants, though, despite her best dutiful efforts, were struggling. They were withering and turning brown and looking positively sick. She couldn't figure out why. She watered them and talked to them (and they liked that, she was sure) and even plucked the weeds from their vicinity. Yet the things seemed determined to up and die. Which was about the worst thing ever. She didn't really like playing in the mud and knowing that she'd done all this to end up with a brown-filled front yard? Was positively mortifying.

Anyway, that was when Lorelai saw him.

She'd seen him before. Many times. But at first, she didn't recognize him. Because if she had, her first thought wouldn't have been damn, he's attractive.

He was. Tall and lean but with muscles packed on hard beneath the t-shirt. Floppy brown hair, sun-streaked and curled at the edges. A long gait, his hands stuffed in his pockets. Though he was fully dressed (damn), she could easily see that his arms weren't the only parts of him that were well-muscled. It didn't matter what age she was, what age he was, she knew how to appreciate the goods when she saw them.

Okay, so she was becoming a dirty old woman. Gawking at the attractive young hunks from her front yard. It was possible that this gardening thing wouldn't be a complete loss after all.

After about two seconds with her mouth open and her eyes fixed, though, she recognized him. The ski-jump nose, the long face. Oh, God. Dean Forester.

She'd just checked out Dean Forester.

Her daughter's first boyfriend, Rory's first love. Nearly twenty years her junior. She'd just ogled and gotten a bit turned on by Dean Forester.

"Dean Forester!"

So she hadn't really meant to say it out loud, and she wasn't sure if it was the shock of seeing him or the shock that she'd just checked him out, but it was out of her mouth before she could stop it. That was sort of the way her mouth and brain worked. They didn't like to confer before either decided on any action. She wondered if that could be perhaps some kind of cognitive disassociation, but then again, she wasn't sure she wanted to know.

The brown-haired head jerked up, startled, then sheepish. He smiled.

It was so familiar. The dimples, the curves of his mouth. The same Dean that Rory had first brought home, the same Dean that Rory had first fallen in love with.

Not exactly the same, of course. He was older now, and his face had filled out some. He didn't look like a bean-pole that could be snapped by a strong wind anymore. His skin was more tanned, his hair even more untamed than ever. Lorelai had to admit, he looked good. Not just in the way that dirty old women looked at young boys and thought they looked good but he just looked good. Healthy, happy.

He slowed at her sidewalk, lingering at the end. "Lorelai," he said, digging his hands deeper into his pocket. "It's good to see you."

She wiped her hands on her overalls and put her hands on her hips, moving toward him and squinting in the sunlight. "It's good to see you, too," she said. "Surprising, but good. I heard you were in college."

Dean nodded. "It's summer," he said. "I took a few classes but I've got about a month before I have to go back and I figured my parents would want to see me."

"Parents usually do," she concurred. "They like to know that their children are still, you know, alive and well and remember who they are. It makes us feel better about ourselves."

Dean laughed. "Yeah."

"So, where are you off to?" Lorelai prompted, noting again his casual clothes. Walking around the streets wasn't illegal or unusual or anything, but usually it meant someone had someplace to be. Otherwise, such a person would be inundated with speculation and questioning, much like Dean was now.

She had lived here too long.

If she couldn't beat them, join them, and let common decency and respect for privacy be damned!

Besides, she'd already asked the question.

"Just heading to town," he said, shrugging noncommittally.

It sounded like a fine answer, but going to town didn't usually mean wandering around neighborhoods in the opposite direction. Maybe he was hoping that this was just polite chitchat. Or that she had forgotten basic geography. Poor kid. Forgot who he was talking to. "Taking the scenic route?"

A hint of blush colored his cheeks. "Well, walking lets me think," he admitted. "Sometimes it's hard being at home."

"Ah, yes," she said, the pieces clicking. "You come home for your parents, but there's only so much parenting a kid can take. I feel your pain. Just don't settle close to them. You'll be dealing with them the rest of your life."

"Somehow I don't get the sense you really believe that."

She shrugged. "Maybe not. But it's still good advice even if I would never want to follow it myself. One of those things that really makes sense in theory yet when we try to do it, our emotions get all tangled and in the way and make a generalized mess of things. Very typical, I'm afraid."

"Yeah, the human condition," he agreed. "We all end up doing stupid things because they seem right. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't."

It had been casual, if awkward, up to that point. But that just sounded sad. Regretful. Well, the kid wasn't stupid. He did know who he was talking to--someone who knew all about his mistakes and regrets and probably didn't feel like he'd made many choices right at all. Which, really, he hadn't. This was the kid who had taken her daughter's virginity, which was never an easy thing for a mother to really deal with. And it wasn't so much the whole virginity thing (because God knew he did love Rory and that daughter of hers, despite her perfection, was going to lose it sometime), but the fact that he'd done it while he was married. Not exactly the epitome of responsibility. Needless to say, she hadn't expected it of him, but she'd watch the kid self-destruct after Rory. She shouldn't have been surprised.

When he disappeared from Rory's life for good, it wasn't like Lorelai was surprised. Rory hadn't loved him, not at that point, anyway. She loved the idea of him, she loved the stability and dependability (after Jess' spontaneity burned her--Rory should have seen that coming), and damn it, all of that was as much Rory's fault as Dean's because it was so clearly obvious that he was nothing but goo around her. Always had been, even from the very start. Every mother's dream for her daughter's mate. Which was why Lorelai had liked him so much to begin with. But when that guy is bonded to another girl, when that guy is married...well, it made him a little less likeable. A lot less.

Complicated. That was all. Complicated, and Dean may have loved Rory but he had too many issues of his own to work out at that point. Lorelai knew that. She understood it. And while she hadn't talked to him since he walked away that last time, she never really hated him. A little, probably, because of that whole virginity and adultery thing that wasn't so cool. But she wasn't blind enough to see him as solely responsible, just solely screwed up in the head. She pitied him more than anything, and from the look on his face, he pretty well knew it.

So, she smiled. Years had passed. Rory had made more mistakes (did she even need to think about Logan?) and had more successes (an Ivy League degree was rather substantial, by anyone's standards). And Dean--well, Dean was a man now, and Lorelai could only hope that he'd grown into that role. "That's what they say. Stupid is as stupid does."

His brow furrowed. "I never understood what that means."

"Me neither," she said. "But really, it doesn't matter. Sounds wise and all. And if it worked for Tom Hanks, then I figure it would probably work for us since he is an award winning actor and all."

"And a stable one at that," Dean agreed. "Doesn't seem nearly as flighty as most."

She nodded sagely. "Yep, no 21 day incarcerations for him. So he's probably pretty trustworthy."

"You still do movie night?"

"Eh, sometimes," she said. "There's a plethora of horrific movies to entertain, but I'm sorely lacking in viewing partners. Somehow critiquing it to myself just isn't as much fun. No one to laugh at my accent, and really, if there's no one to laugh at the accent, then you're just talking to yourself with an accent. And it makes you look far more insane. Not to mention the calories wasted on downing the entire bag of popcorn by yourself."

The sunlight ducked behind a cloud and her eyesight eased, focusing in on his face. "That's right," Dean said, crossing his arms across his chest. "Rory's moved. To...?"

"Oh, everywhere and nowhere all at once. She was on the campaign trail for a while."

Remembrance flitted across his face. "Right, right," he said. "Seems like her kind of thing."

Lorelai smiled, a little forced and made a grand motion with her trowel. "You know kids, they want to see the world, or at least the fifty states. Be crazy. Go places. Following the dream."

"Well, if there's one thing true about Rory, it's that she gets what she wants," Dean said. "She doesn't know how to settle."

There was something wistful in his voice, something almost sad, and suddenly he was 18 years old again and sitting on her front porch saying, She likes Jess, doesn't she? If anyone knew about Rory and her tenacious grip on her dreams--at any expense--it was Dean. Dean who had given Rory her first kiss, her first love, her first time, her first everything it seemed.

But Rory was her daughter. Dean was just the boyfriend who hadn't quite made the cut. She had to pick her daughter over him, not that it was a contest, but offering him sympathy almost seemed damning. Betrayal.

And Lorelai was many things and had probably betrayed many people (she would never ask Luke about that) but never Rory. Not her Rory.

Still, it seemed wrong not to cheer the kid up. He looked practically like a kicked puppy and she was the type to help kicked puppies. Assuming, of course, that they were cute and small and friendly. And potty-trained.

Dean was surely potty-trained. He had the cute thing down. Not so much the small, but friendly, probably. And did she mention cute?

"So what about you?" she asked, realizing she had yet to really ask him about himself. "I heard you got into UConn. You know, after that whole electrocution thing."

He smiled meekly, the flush returning to his cheeks. That flush wasn't shame, though, not to her oh-so-discerning eye. It was embarrassed pride. He just seemed sorely out of place with it, like he wasn't used to people caring. "Yep."

"What are you studying?" she prompted, a little over-zealous. She could be zealous under normal circumstances and when the person she was talking too seemed to be lacking in that area, she went into overdrive. She had to compensate, of course. Because every conversation needed to be zealous or it just didn't feel right and if one person was decidedly un-zealous, the other person had to make up for it. It was surely some unwritten rule. Probably some obscure type of etiquette her mother could lecture her about, should Lorelai desire such a lecture.

Funny that she was never the un-zealous one. Nor was that a lecture her mother ever felt compelled to give her, and her mother had felt compelled to give her just about every other lecture imaginable.

Un-zealous wasn't even a word.

"Engineering," he replied.

"Right!" she exclaimed. "You always did have that thing with cars. Fixing them and building them. Even impressed my dad with that one."

Impressed might have been an exaggeration, but it didn't matter that much. Considering her father's first impressions of Dean, the begrudging admission that he'd been too hard on the boy was quite a feat for the kid to score.

A shy smile crept across Dean's face and Lorelai sensed victory. People liked compliments. Compliments were good. Compliments made him look less like a kicked puppy and more like the strapping young man he surely could be. That would be a sight to see. Dean in full form. He had the form and the figure and the looks--now he just needed the self-confidence. She couldn't give him that, but she certainly wasn't going to leave him as the kicked puppy. What kind of dirty old woman would she be if she did?

"It's a lot of work," he admitted, and she noticed a shift in his voice. It got deeper, strong. His shoulders straightened, almost timidly though. Like he wasn't sure it was okay to be proud. "But it's been good. I'm already looking into internships for next year. Something with a major auto company. I might even get in with GM."

"GM--good American brand," she said. She tapped her trowel on her overalls thoughtfully. "I always thought it was a shame they got rid of Oldsmobiles. Not that I ever had one, but I never thought they were so bad. I think it was the name. Oldsmobile. Who wants to buy a car with old in the name? Much less mobile. I mean, it's like they're marketing it specifically to people who miss the days of no seatbelts and glass that shattered."

"They could have called it the Newsmobile," Dean suggested.

She made a face. "But then people might expect it to deliver newspapers or something."

"That'd be their marketing ploy," Dean suggested. "Comes with a daily subscription to your newspaper of choice."

"Ooh, I like it," she said. "Very modern. Very journalistically-minded. Rory would love it."

At that, his smile faltered slightly, but stayed strong. "At least they could count on one buyer."

"Two," she jumped in quickly. "Because of course I'd need to have one to follow Rory's writing. And I'll bet my parents would get one, too. Maybe two or three. They like to have cars to sit around and do nothing with. I guess it makes them feel rich."

Dean chuckled a little, looking down. When he looked back up, his bangs over his face, she realized suddenly how much he'd grown. He wasn't the same kid--not the one who had fallen for Rory, not the one who had clung to her so hard, not even the one who'd made a mess of his marriage. He was someone else, someone stronger--not quite self-confident, but someone who knew how to make it. Someone who was making it, only without the flash and flair.

"Well," she said. "You have quite the future in the auto business. Be sure to pitch the Newsmobile in your classes."

"I will," he said. "And don't worry, you'll get some of the credit."

She snorted a little, feeling herself relax. She remembered this. The joking. The camaraderie. Why this kid was so lovable to begin with.

"So you're...gardening?" Dean asked, noting for the first time her overalls and trowel.

"Yeah," she said. "It was either that or try to find animals in the clouds and since it's a clear day, I guess my eyes are earthbound. Not that it's doing any good. They all seem to die. My yard looked better before I paid attention to it."

"Well I can tell you right now if you move your pots off the porch, they'll do better."

Brow furrowed, Lorelai looked at him quizzically. "And you know this how? Some almighty connection with the plant world?"

He laughed a little. "My grandmother gardened a ton," he said. "Every time I visited her, she spent hours out there and would just talk and talk and talk about flowers and how to make them grow. You've got sun plants in a shady location. Never a good mix."

"There are sun plants?" That was news to her. Did the plants simply speak a language she wasn't listening to?

"Did you even read the tags when you bought them?"

"The tags? The thing that said the price?"

"And the name and the care instructions. Just turn them over."

She considered that for a moment. "I was really more concerned with what color they were."

"Well, I'm pretty sure brown wasn't what you were going for."

"Hey," she said with mock indignation. "Brown is a universal neutral. It goes with anything."

There was a twinkle in his eye now, subtle and withdrawn but there. The kicked puppy was receding. "The wilting look isn't quite in, though."

"Awww," she said and reached out to shove him backwards. "I thought you were an engineer--"

She was going to say not a gardener. That was the joke, or the line, really because there was no real punch line to it. It still would have been cute enough, funny in that friendly way of two pals bantering. Not that they were necessarily friends, but old acquaintances, and who was to say that friendship was out of the question? She was accepting that she was a dirty old woman and Dean hadn't been Rory's boyfriend in years and surely there was some kind of statute of limitations on how long she had to distance herself from Rory's exes. Not that she wanted to see most of them. Jess had been a self-absorbed, angst-riddled degenerate most of the time and Logan had been far too pure-blood for Lorelai's tastes, but Dean had always been more her kind of people. Down to earth. Marginally sane, except for the whole temper and cheating on his wife thing, but she was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt at this point.

So it would have been the perfect thing to say, were she not so busy talking with her hands. It wasn't a totally uncommon problem for her, but Dean apparently had forgotten that about her. He hadn't dated Rory in, well, years, so Lorelai supposed that part of her was forgettable. Or perhaps she merely underestimated her own shock.

Because, clearly, it was not going to be her day. Or his for that matter. Coincidence was working against them. Casual conversations were nice and all, but what happened next--

Well, you had to see it to believe it. And Lorelai did see it and she still wasn't sure she believed it.

Because Dean took one step back. One small step--hardly anything. And it was that exact moment that a bike came by.

Not some little kid on a trike or something. But a bike. A big one. Going pretty fast. And straight. Right into Dean.

It was almost comical: Dean pinwheeling, the bike plowing. But the collision was nothing like she could have imagined. Not that she had often imagined bike/human collisions, because really, who did? She had heard of cars hitting bikes and deer hitting cars, but bikes hitting people? On the sidewalk? In Stars Hollow?

Well, if it was going to happen anywhere, figures it'd be there.

Dean took the brunt of the impact in his legs, the front wheel careening into him and tangling his ridiculously long legs. The force jarred him to the side, knocking him totally off balance and he barely even teetered before being propelled by the bike's force to the pavement.

The collision looked like it hurt. Bike wheel to the leg didn't sound pleasant (metal and rubber moving at a high velocity slamming into flesh and bone, after all) and Lorelai couldn't be sure that something else more vital didn't get nicked. But the impact with the ground? Looked vicious.

Falling wasn't fun under good conditions, and this happened so fast that Dean didn't even have time to brace himself. He went down hard and graceless and in the spinning of wheels and sound of metal thwacking, Lorelai couldn't miss the resounding crack.

At first, she thought it might be a broken bone. Arm or leg or something. Unpleasant but not uncommon. But it was much worse than any broken bone--it was Dean's head.

Dean smacked his head against the pavement, lying prone as the bike's momentum churned it forward. The rider was rapidly losing his balance, entwined with the bike, falling hard on top of Dean's already flattened figure.

It was like something from a movie. Maybe even the Three Stooges. It was just that ridiculous. Dean on the ground, sprawled, and the bike and rider on top, wheels spinning free and the rider grappling to stand.

Only in Stars Hollow, Lorelai had to admit. This was exactly the kind of thing to happen here. Forget drive-by shootings and gang violence. They had runaway bicycles and freak collisions with pedestrians. What could make it better?

The bicyclist wasn't just some random kid. Nope. It was Kirk.

"Kirk!" she said. "What are you doing?"

The man was looking for his bearings, trying to find a way to get himself up and off the ground--or up and off Dean, as it were.

She winced as he rocked, any movement he made impacting hard on Dean.

"I...I..."

Reaching down, she pulled at the bike, tugging it until it cleared Dean's legs. "Get up!"

"I'm trying!"

He was trying, in the uncoordinated Kirk way in which effort never meant success. "Try harder!"

She yanked again, harder now and Kirk yelped. "Careful! That's a prototype!"

It pulled free and she tossed it aside, looking at it for the first time. It had the look of a bike, more or less, with the wheels, the seat, and the handlebars. But it had something strapped to it, some kind of weird contraption oddly placed where a water bottle should have been. In fact, it looked rather ridiculous, like someone had had way too much fun with duct tape. Which really, she was pretty sure Kirk had. Kirk and duct tape was a scary combination. Though it also gave her a pleasant image in her mind of him taped to a chair with a strip over his mouth.

Focus. She needed to focus. "A prototype?"

"My latest invention!" Kirk exclaimed, rolling off to the side. "My attempts to develop a motorized bicycle."

"Yeah, it's called a motorcycle," she said, looking disdainfully at the thing again.

"Does that look like a motorcycle?" Kirk accused.

He had a point on that one. It looked more like an inept geek's attempt at a science experiment. "I'm still not getting the point," she said. "Motor plus bicycle equals motorcycle."

Kirk would not be dissuaded. "No, no," he said. "Still run partly on manpower which charges a battery to give the bike extra periods of zest for long distance travel. It's quite ingenious. The perfect mix for exercise and travel, not to mention environmentally-friendly in these days of oil woes."

She just looked at him for a moment, a bit perplexed, a bit annoyed, when she remembered Dean. He was far less difficult to deal with than Kirk was. "Dean," she called. "Hey, Dean."

The kid was still sprawled on the ground, looking rather limp. He was mostly on his back, though his legs were askew from being tangled with the bike. His head was tilted to the side and his eyes were closed.

"Oh, God!" Kirk exclaimed. "Is he dead?"

She scowled at him, squatting. "Dead people usually don't breathe," she said, noting the steady rise and fall of Dean's chest. "Your ingenious motorcycle wannabe isn't that powerful."

"It's a motorized bike!"

"Whatever," she muttered, reaching a hand out to rouse the kid. All that maturity she'd seen before, all the age and growth, seemed to shrink away in his unconsciousness. He didn't even look like a kicked puppy. He simply looked like he was five, and that made her heart tighten in her chest. Because if there was something worse than looking at a kicked puppy, it was looking at a wounded five year old.

"Is he okay?" Kirk asked suddenly, as if he'd finally realized there were people in this world outside himself. Moreover, not that there were just people, but people that he had apparently run over with a bicycle. Running over pedestrians was probably not a good launch for any prototype.

Lorelai ignored him (for now, anyway, she'd deal with him and his damned bike when she had time to thoroughly chastise him) and touched Dean's shoulder. "Dean," she said. She shook the shoulder lightly (not noticing how firm it was, of course not, that would be entirely inappropriate at a time like this, at a time like ever). "Hey, Dean."

And there it was. A groan. A fluttering of eyelids.

Sitting back on her heels, she smiled as he came to, relieved. Because while Kirk may have been the idiot riding some sort of motorized bike, she was the idiot who had accidentally knocked Dean into Kirk's wayward path. Not that she was about to admit that to Kirk by any stretch of the imagination, but she couldn't deny it to herself. Not yet, anyway. If she gave it a few days, she was pretty sure she could rationalize anything, but first things first--she needed to make sure the kid was okay.

Dean's hand went to his head and he used the other to slowly prop himself up, still blinking slowly. So he no longer looked five, but still only looked about ten, which was better than five, she supposed, but her maternal instincts still went into overdrive when it came to wounded ten year olds. "Dean?" she asked again, trying to get a look at his face.

He squinted, looking up at her, more than a little dazed. That probably made sense. After all, that thunk had been rather meaty. Hello, pavement, meet Dean's head and all that. Not to mention that it had rendered him unconscious. She'd seen a lot of fluke accidents in her time, but very few had resulted in anything serious, and really, a loss of consciousness was quite serious. In fact, it kind of freaked her out--all that absence of awareness where the mind just shuts down. She didn't want to experience it herself, and so of course she wasn't about to wish it on anybody, especially not Dean Forester, no matter how he took her daughter's virginity and cheated on his wife.

Those were other issues for other times. She needed to focus. Dean. Motorized bike. Head injury. Because he still wasn't saying much and that confused look in his eyes took him back down to the age of eight.

"Dean?" she tried again. "Say something there, kiddo."

"Lorelai?"

Well, he knew who she was, which she figured was pretty good. She couldn't be high on his list of essential things to remember, so his memory was probably pretty intact. She smiled again. "The one and only. How are you feeling there?"

He fingered the side of his head, and for the first time Lorelai could see the abrasion and trickle of blood coming from around his hair line. "My head hurts."

A bit concerned, she reached out and turned his head so she could see. Sure enough, road rash, and a nice gash. Didn't look too deep, but it didn't look like fun. "Yeah, that happens when you hit your head."

He pulled away a little. "What happened?"

Okay, so much for the memory thing being an all-clear. "You don't remember?"

His brow furrowed (oh, come on, he looked five again) and he shook his head slowly, almost cautiously. "Uh, I got hit?"

So it was a guess, but a pretty good guess, and perhaps it all happened so fast that he didn't really have time to process it. "Yeah," she said. "Kirk mowed you over with his bicycle."

"Motorized bike!" Kirk interjected, huffing angrily. "And I did not mow him over! He stepped in my path!"

"They're called brakes," she said.

He knit his brows. "I haven't gotten that far in the technology yet."

Lorelai rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to Dean. "You think you can stand up?"

Pressing a hand to his forehead, he managed to nod, shifting his weight as he tried to get his legs beneath him.

She hovered, her trowel-less hand out as if to steady him, though she didn't touch him. It was kind of a moot point--after all, if he fell, there'd be very little she could do to actually stop his descent, short of getting squashed by a massively large freak of nature. Incredibly good-looking freak of nature, of course, but that didn't change how squashed she'd be and just how hard Dean would fall regardless.

Dean, however, didn't seem to be having the same train of thought.

For a horrible moment, he wobbled, swaying noticeably as his long arms flailed out to compensate. Despite the whole getting squashed thing, her mothering instinct still made Lorelai grab him, holding his arm and hoping to help steady him. "Easy there," she said. "The whole point was to stay off the ground."

Luckily for all of them (even Kirk, who had to be thinking about the dangers of a lawsuit from running over a kid with a motorized bike), Dean stayed on his feet, though he still looked a bit like the Leaning Tower of Hotness from her perspective.

Dean blinked hard again, and his eyes rose to meet hers. "Lorelai?"

"Yeah, we've been here and done that," she said. "You going to be okay? You look a little pale."

A little pale was an understatement. The color had fully washed from his face. She could only hope he wasn't about to hurl. She wanted to take care of kicked puppies and wounded five year olds and dazed hot ex-boyfriends of her daughters, but she did not want to deal with puke.

"Yeah," he said slowly, tentatively. "I...I think so."

Reluctantly, she released his arm, still watching him carefully (for puking or for falling, it didn't matter). "You sure?"

He nodded, his eyes clearing some. "Yeah," he said. "I just got a little dizzy there. I got hit...with a bike?"

Kirk's shoulders slumped and he rolled his eyes. "Motorized bike," he said emphatically. "It's a motorized bike. Can't you people tell the difference?"

Dean still looked confused, which he probably had a right to be. Because getting run over, smacking his head and passing out was enough to worry about.

Lorelai decided to intervene. For all their sakes. "Motor or not, Kirk, you still ran him over," she said. She moved a little closer to Dean, inspecting his face carefully. "We probably need to get you looked at."

"But it was an accident!" Kirk wailed.

"That you were responsible for!" Lorelai fired back.

Before Kirk could respond, his voice higher and more dramatic than before, Dean held out a conciliatory hand. "I'm fine," he said. "Really. It was just an accident. I don't need to get checked out."

Lorelai was skeptical. She wasn't a doctor, but the kid had been out cold and fully dazed when he came to. His color still wasn't great and the bruise on the side of his head was looking progressively worse. "Just to be safe--"

"He said he's fine!" Kirk interjected. "He's fine. See? Fine. Which is more than I can say for my bike."

They both watched as Kirk leaned down to examine the bike, stroking it lovingly. "All my hard work," he moaned. "I'll probably have to rewire the motor."

"Is that even safe?" Dean asked, squinting at the contraption. His confusion seemed to flicker and refocus not on what had happened but at the engineering mystery in front of him.

Which was another thing she didn't need. Or want. She only had so much patience for true engineering geekery and for Kirk and his stupid bike and she really just wanted to make sure the kid was okay before she let him investigate the ins and outs of Kirk's less-than-proficient craftsmanship.

"I hardly think safe means running people over," Lorelai said, putting a hand again on Dean's arm. "Come. Inside. You. Now."

"I told you, I'm fine," he said, more insistently.

And, to his credit, his voice sounded stronger and more certain. But he'd been knocked out. He'd wobbled. She couldn't just let him walk away if he had a concussion. She needed to make sure he was okay. Kids that age tended to not realize the seriousness of some things. Like Rory and her broken arm. Like Rory sleeping with Dean. Like Rory moving in with Logan.

Enough with Rory. Dean was the concern now. Rory was off on her own making her own mistakes on her own time and there was nothing Lorelai could do about that except hear all the juicy details later. What she could do, however, was make sure that Dean Forester didn't die from Kirk's misguided attempts to make money or her own over-zealous way of talking.

"Just come inside," she said. "Sit down for a bit and let me get you a glass of water. I just want to make sure you're okay before you go off traipsing down the sidewalk in this heat."

"Traipsing?"

"Walking, skipping, jumping, I don't care," she said. "I don't want you passing out again."

"I didn't pass out."

She raised her eyebrows. "Then what do you call that limp routine you pulled a few minutes ago on my sidewalk? Had a sudden need to sleep?"

Dean seemed to deflate a little.

"Come on," she cajoled now. "Just humor me. I have so few people in my life to hover over that it'll do me good."

That was the right approach. Don't appeal to common sense or logic or anything else that was supposed to work with guys. All she needed to do was guilt trip him, and he folded just that fast. She should have remembered that about him--always eager to please, almost to a fault. "Okay," he relented. "Just for a little bit."

"There you go," she said, grinning broadly now. Fault or weakness or whatever, she'd exploit it now. She didn't want to have to worry about him getting home without another face plant to the sidewalk. Because Lord only knew what kind of predators who come across him if he did? She may be getting to being a dirty old woman herself, but she was one with restraint. Some restraint since this was Dean Forester, after all. "You ready to go?"

He nodded slightly, as if the movement still hurt him, but she could tell that he had his senses about him enough to at least downplay that. Clearly, he wasn't looking for her sympathy, even if he was willing to let her play her mothering game. She could only count that as an improvement.

"Great," she told him, putting a gentle hand lightly on his arm. "Let's get out of this sun."

She began walking, slowly, and to her relief, Dean followed, albeit even more slowly. The walk up to the house wasn't long by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly felt longer today. Perhaps it was his unsteady gait, maybe it was the snail's pace, maybe it was the fact that she suddenly felt oddly conspicuous in her overalls in the scorching summer sun. There was no one around, but that didn't mean that no one would know. That people wouldn't somehow know by tomorrow that she'd had a part in knocking Dean Forester out and then had tried to play nursemaid to him like some sort of demented Florence Nightingale.

Yes, this was better than the ambulance. An ambulance would have attracted a crowd instantly. The rumors would have been fierce. This was there'd be little proof to substantiate them. Of course, she wasn't taking into consideration Kirk's mouth and his propensity to tell ridiculous stories.

Wait, that was her who told ridiculous stories. Although, at least hers were usually accurate. On some level.

That was all beside the point.

At the stairs, she climbed cautiously, watching him attentively as Dean dragged his feet up the steps. He did look steadier--which could only be good--but still not up to par. After all, he was a young, athletic-looking kid and he was tackling those stairs with the agility of an aging old man.

When he reached the top and she was satisfied that he wouldn't tumble back down them, she opened the door, making sure his hand gripped the open screen behind her before she stepped in. The inside was cool and dim, from the air conditioning and the lights being off.

"It's not exactly the Ritz," she said, putting her trowel down on the table by the entryway. She'd have to clean it later, but really, like that mattered. What else would she be doing? Another hobby she couldn't sustain? Knocking more of Rory's ex-boyfriends into oncoming bikers?

Gingerly, Dean shut the door behind him. "I'm sure it's fine," he said, smiling lightly as he looked around. "Looks just like it used to, and, if I remember, you have pretty comfortable couches."

She narrowed her eyes. "You spent far too much time on my couch," she said. "Only watching movies, of course."

His head dipped. "Of course," he said. "And eating popcorn."

"Yeah, don't look in the cushions; it's probably still there."

"Still as meticulous as ever."

She led him into the living room. "I'd hate to start cleaning now," she said. "No sense picking up any good habits to waste my time on. I have to use my free time on all my bad habits."

"Like killing plants," he noted.

"Killing plants takes quite a bit of effort," she agreed. "I think you'd be surprised."

"At the Gilmore house? Very little surprises me."

"Touché," she said. "Now sit."

He looked like he wanted to protest, but he also looked like he wanted to fall asleep standing up. No matter how lucid he was, no matter how straight he was able to walk, that thwap to his head clearly was still lingering with him. "Maybe just for a little bit," he said gingerly, lowering himself into the couch.

"You know you miss it," she said. "That couch and you go pretty far back."

"Yes, I developed quite a bond with that couch," he said. "Don't even get me started on that VCR."

"Ooh, we upgraded to DVD," she said. "But we kept the old fella just for kicks."

"And to view all the countless VHS tapes you still own," he said.

"But of course," she said. "Because really, VHS is the way to go."

He nodded, sinking lower into the couch cushions. "The grainy quality, the quick film degradation."

"A very authentic experience. DVDs are all clear and easy to use, but the rewind is not nearly as convenient."

"Which is definitely problematic when you want to rewatch the same scenes fifteen times."

"Fifteen? Try twenty. Thirty. Forty! You can never see the same scene too many times."

"How else are you going to memorize it?"

"See, that's why we got along so well," she said. "You very much understood some of the basic Gilmore values."

"You have to love them or hate them," he said, his smile dimpling his cheeks. He was looking up at her through the fringe of bangs and he didn't look five anymore, not even ten. He looked like the twenty-something that he was, but still--young. Somehow innocent, though she knew he was far from it. He had no reason to be in good humor. To act like being here wasn't the most awkward thing in the world. Because the memories, the bad vestiges of the past, were all around him. And yet--he was smiling. He was joking. She'd seen him laugh and she'd seen his heart break in this house, and if she were him, she wasn't sure she'd be quite so genial.

"So, water," she said. "You probably could use a little."

"Since hitting your head makes you dehydrated."

Eyebrow quirked, she cocked her head at him. "You still look awfully pale there," she said. "I'd prefer to think that I did more for you than just throw you back onto the streets improperly hydrated. They say that most people don't drink enough water anyway, so really, it can't hurt you. You want ice with that?"

"In the water or for my head?" he asked, reaching his hand up to rub absently at his head.

The area was reddening and a trickle of blood was making its way down his cheek. "Maybe both," she suggested, feeling a twinge of sympathy. "And maybe a wet washcloth before you bleed all over the place."

He drew his hand away, examining the blood that speckled it. "Sorry," he said and he made to move. "I'll go clean this up."

"Sit, sit!" she said, putting her hands out to stop him. "You are my patient and I am your nurse. Just humor me, okay? You're not going to bleed too much and I'd prefer to have you sitting than risk you having another little attack of vertigo."

Sinking back, Dean rolled his eyes. "I'm--"

"--fine, sure. Also macho and in denial. I can still call that ambulance if you'd rather not be cooperative."

The grimace on his face said enough.

"Just like I thought," Lorelai commented. "Now, sit still."

He raised his hands uselessly. "I'll do what I can."

"You always were rather obedient," she said with a smirk as she made her way to the kitchen. "Is that a habit you still cling to now that you're all big man on campus?"

His snort was audible from the living room. "Obedient, maybe. Big man on campus, hardly."

"Aw, come on," she said, rummaging through the fridge for a bottle of water that wasn't half-drained and a year old. "Cute kid like you, studying engineering, has to get all the girls."

"I've got other things to focus on," his voice drifted back to her. "I'm trying to get caught up. You know, make up for lost time."

Plucking up an adequate bottle, Lorelai turned to the sink, pulling a wash rag from a drawer and wetting it slightly. "Very ambitious of you." She rung out the cloth so it didn't drip. "When did you get so career-oriented? I mean, not that you weren't ever looking ahead because you've always been a worker, and you always seemed to be a good enough student, but I seem to remember your days of junior college fixation. Of course, you did get into Southern Connecticut State, if I remember, but you--well, you know--"

Stupid, she thought. Stupid. The kid was beyond that now. He probably didn't want to relive his formative years. Most sane people didn't, but for him, she had to imagine it was even worse. What with losing Rory like that and marrying Lindsay and then giving up on Rory and Lindsay and school--it couldn't have been a fun time. All the more reason to swear off relationships and to go to college away from home. Made life easier. Easy was good.

There was no reply from the other room and she braced herself as she gathered her washcloth and bottle of water once more. Undoubtedly, her choice of conversation had worn thin on him. She needed to refocus. On things that made Dean happy. Like his coursework. He liked to talk about that, or at least he seemed to. It was the only part of their conversation that had had any substance and managed to avoid truly awkward levels.

"Right, so, your classes," she started again, moving back toward the other room. "You get to take anything fun? Like how to rebuild a car engine without a screwdriver?"

Lorelai wasn't sure what she'd expected. Perhaps some melodramatic sulking, which would only seem appropriate for a kid his age and in his position, or a lesser version of it. Because he didn't sulk necessarily, not like a little kid, but perhaps like the kicked puppy again. But he looked rather--blank. Staring. Empty.

"Dean?" she prompted, holding out the bottle of water. "You with me there?"

He jerked a little, blinking rapidly and she could see his pupils dilate some. "What? Yeah," he replied quickly, a little breathless.

"You zoned out on me," she said, worry spiking through her. "You feel okay?"

He took the bottle of water, a little shaky. "Yeah," he said. "I'm fine."

"Uh-huh. You know, saying you're fine is usually a dead giveaway to not being fine."

He merely blinked at that, looking a bit confused. "Uh. Right."

So much for the witty banter. The ambulance might have been a better idea after all. "Maybe you should let me get another look at that head of yours," Lorelai suggested gently. "Make sure you still have a brain and all. I'd feel pretty crappy if you lost it on my watch."

Looking at the water, the kid seemed to be sort of clueless as what to do.

Nervous suddenly, she sidled next to him, trying to get a better look at the damage. "You're supposed to drink the water there," she advised him. "Hence the whole being in a bottle thing. I promise you, it's safe. No poisons, no expiration dates. Though I don't think water expires, but you still get the point."

Dean seemed to focus on that, studying the bottle with the utmost concentration, like it took all of his brainpower to compute what to do next. To her relief (and her trepidation), his long fingers started to fumble with the cap. Fumbled once, twice, and then the cap was off and the bottle was jerking, splashing water all over him.

And the five year old was back. Little line between his eyebrows and a small, concentrated frown tugging at his lips. "Sorry," he mumbled, trying to pat himself dry uselessly. "I shouldn't have spilled."

"Hey, no big deal. It adds personality," she said. Because she wasn't worried about the couch. It was just water and really, the mere fact that the kid was suddenly a natural born klutz was more distressing than the thought of another wet spot on the couch. "You sure you're feeling okay there?"

"Yeah," he said, a little breathy. "My head just hurts."

Plausible reason. Dean must have a killer headache. "Well, let me check you out here and then maybe I'll get you some pain relievers. Ibuprofen, the only stuff worth getting. I tried Tylenol for awhile but it just doesn't do anything for me. After so many years, I think I may have an immunity. Which is kind of scary because what if I get an immunity to Ibuprofen, too? Then what will I do for pain relief?"

He turned his head toward her, his expression somewhere between total confusion and utter blankness.

Cautiously, Lorelai brought the cloth up to his temple, brushing his hair away gently.

Hissing in pain, he pulled away, his eyes wide and surprised.

This was not good. Dean may have let Rory see a softer side of him, one that read books and discussed literature with her, but he was a guy's guy. Had that macho thing down with the muscles and chiseled features. Temper to back it up even. So while Lorelai didn't doubt that it hurt, this wasn't the kid she'd been talking to before. This wasn't the college student who might have an internship at GM and could battle her wit for wit until the day was done.

Pulling her hand away, she studied him carefully. "Dean, do you remember what happened?"

He blinked, and she noticed just how hazel his eyes were. And how they were filling with tears? "I...hit my head."

Not good. Sure, the right answer technically, but he knew more than that. He should know more than that. His dizziness, his sudden spaciness, his lack of coordination, his emotionality. Now, his lack of memory. Her stomach flipped, churning uneasily. "Do you know where you are?" Her voice was hesitant, reluctant. She wasn't sure she wanted to know the answer.

Eyes flicking, he seemed to take in the room. "Rory's," he said, and there was a distinct slur this time. "Rory always had the nicest house."

Technically, the kid was two for two, but she was not reassured. "Do you know who I am?"

This time, Dean's eyes turned back to her, still wide and wet. "I'm sorry, Rory," he said, the words tumbling over each other. "I was so unhappy and I loved you so much and I screwed up. I screwed up and let you screw up with me. I loved you, and I never should have let you do that to yourself."

Okay, now that answer was way in left field.

Any doubts she may have had were more than confirmed when he continued, his voice heavier and faster. "I was so lonely, you know, lonely without you. And Lindsay didn't make that better. And you couldn't make that better because I was never the one for you. I wanted to be, and I tried to be but I was nothing but a failure and a screw-up and I'm sorry. You're better off without me and I just want to go home. I just want to get away from here, from the people, from everything, because I'm better away from here. I'm someone else, I'm not just Dean Forester. They don't know just how messed up I am."

She should have stopped him. Should have done something. But it was all too stunning to make a move on. Five minutes ago, they'd been catching up and remembering the good old days. Now, Dean was clearly concussed and divulging every emotion he had buried inside of him. It was startling to hear, because the confessions were so real--everything Lorelai had guessed about him, but a level of self-reproach that hurt to hear. And terrifying, because she shouldn't be hearing this. This was private, this was Dean's, and here she was trying to nurse his head injury and having complete access to everything.

Not even a dirty old woman could feel good about that.

Oh and she couldn't forget the fact that it was all her fault.

"Okay, you know what?" she said. "I think we need that ambulance, okay? I mean, it'll be fun. A nice, fast ride, flashing lights. The whole nine yards. If you have to travel, you might as well do it in style, right?"

Patting him on the arm, she moved to stand, her actions rushed with an air of urgency. Nursemaid, okay. She'd done that before. Raising a daughter pretty much guaranteed that. But maternal instincts only went so far. The kid was delirious and sitting on her couch with what could only be a concussion. Concussions weren't supposed to be this serious, as far as she knew, but the slurring words, the lack of knowing who the heck he was talking to--those were bad signs, she was pretty sure, and she didn't think she needed an MD to figure that out.

No, what she needed as an ambulance.

Unfortunately, Dean wasn't exactly in the most cooperative mood. She'd chalk another one up to his head meeting the pavement after the bike fiasco. He tried to follow her up.

Even worse than Dean's lack of listening skills at the moment, was his utter lack of coordination. He tried to follow her, and the next thing she knew he was a mess of limbs, pitching forward precariously.

Caught off guard, she sought to catch him, stupidly positioning herself underneath his tall, lithe frame. It was instinct, really, because no matter how squashed this could make her, she didn't like the idea of the kid she was supposed to be taking care of smashing through the coffee table, something that would be good neither for him or the coffee table.

"Hey, easy there," she said, bearing his weight for a moment. "You should be sitting."

That was an understatement, and worse, she wasn't sure he had enough coherency left to really make sense of it. But he righted himself a little, easing off of her and collapsing back toward the couch. "Dizzy," he muttered. "The whole room's dizzy."

There was a complete lack of logic in that statement but it didn't seem to be the time to critique that. "You need to stay seated," she said, more sternly now, not because she was angry but because he was scaring the crap out of her.

He didn't try to get up, which was good, which was progress, but his body seemed to go flaccid, slumping back against the cushions, head lolling to the side.

"Oh, hey," she said, panic surging again. She leaned over him, shaking his shoulder. "You got the no standing thing down pretty well there, but we need to do the staying awake thing, too. Awake. You know, eyes open, mouth moving, talking. I don't even care if it's coherent. You can think I'm Rory and tell the room it's dizzy and goofy and anything you want. Just stay awake."

Dean's eyes opened slightly, barely slits. "...can't change it," he slurred. "Tried but I can't...never will."

"Well, you stay awake and we'll try to, okay? We'll try anything you want. We'll paint the room, cover the couch cushions, invest in Kirk's really powerful bikes. Anything you want."

There was no recognition in his eyes as the lids slid over them once again.

"Dean," Lorelai called, shaking him anew. "Dean!"

This time, she got nothing. Zilch, zip, nada. And wasn't that just the way her day was going. She was finally having a conversation with someone to drag her from her pathetic existence and he passed out cold on her couch. Granted, after being harassed by her on the street, getting run over by a motorized bike, and then being dragged into her house. Still, between the two of them, they didn't have enough luck to give a go at penny slots.

So help. It was time for help. It had probably been time for help when it all began, and Lorelai sort of wished she'd listened to her gut instead of her desire to avoid a larger scene than she'd already started. Because now Dean was unconscious on her couch and she didn't even have Kirk around to conveniently draw attention from herself in the entire situation.

Focus! Ambulance now! Unconscious kid on the couch! Head injury! Delirious talk! Unable to rouse!

Standing, she moved to the phone, snatching it off its base and dialing quickly. At least the numbers were easy enough, but she was shaking so badly at the moment that she wasn't sure she could be asked to remember basic information.

Which, coincidentally, was exactly what she was asked next.

"9-1-1, what is your emergency?"

Funny, she'd never called 9-1-1 before. Well, she'd called it but not for an emergency. There was the time she'd accidentally dialed it and really, that time, someone asking her what her emergency was had made her realize her mistake, which was pressure in and of itself, but not the same kind of pressure of actually having an emergency.

"Uh, hi," she said. "I have this kid here--I mean, not that I have him or anything but it's my daughter's ex-boyfriend, you see, and he stopped by and was talking to me--"

"Ma'am, what is the nature of your emergency?" the voice interrupted, sounding mildly exasperated.

"Oh," Lorelai said, slightly taken aback. She was trying to tell her that much. "Well, he sort of got run over."

"By a car?"

"A bike! Well, a motorized bike--"

"A motorcycle?"

"No, a motorized bike."

"Is he hurt?"

That seemed like a dumb question, yet oddly one like she should have answered already. "Yes," she said, looking back at him again. Dean hadn't moved, he was still lolled against the cushions, looking as limp as ever--all the way back to the wounded five year old. "He was knocked out but he came to right away and when I brought him inside to make sure he was okay he passed out again and I can't wake him up."

There. She said it. Job done. Now, there'd be help and she could stop worrying like the kid was her own.

"You address, ma'am?"

Score--easy question. Lorelai answered that one without much consequence.

"Okay, help has been sent to you. Now, the victim--"

"Victim?"

"Daughter's ex-boyfriend?"

"Oh, Dean!" she exclaimed, feeling suddenly ridiculous.

"Is he breathing?"

Concentrating (which was work), she made out the even rise and fall of his chest. "Yes," she said. "He just hit his head."

"Is he bleeding?"

"Well, some," she admitted. "I mean, there's a large bruise and a bump and a cut--well, more of a gash, I guess, but I looked at it and it didn't look too deep. It's bled some but head wounds are supposed to bleed a lot and it's definitely not bleeding a lot."

If it were possible to hear someone rolling his/her eyes, Lorelai was pretty sure that the operator probably just did it to her.

"Have you applied pressure to the wound?"

"I tried," Lorelai admitted, looking back at Dean woefully. "But it hurt him. A lot. I didn't really want to inflict any more pain on him, and like I said, it's not bleeding a lot or anything. Not like I would have expected at least."

"Help should be there soon," the operator said wearily. "Do you need me to stay on the line?"

Lorelai couldn't be sure, but it sounded like the operator was hoping she'd say no. Which really wasn't all that encouraging. After all, the operator was supposed to help her, make sure Dean was okay, tell her what to do, right? Unless there wasn't anything to be done, in which case, maybe Lorelai was just annoying. Well, Lorelai was probably annoying anyway, but Dean was unconscious. Did the woman not comprehend that? "Is there something I should do? Put his feet up? Wait, that's shock," Lorelai muttered, beginning to pace back and forth. "I'd make him drink something but I think right now he'd probably just drown."

"Ma'am."

"What?" Lorelai snapped back. "I mean, I guess I could just for the response of his pupils, right? To light? But I really don't know what that's supposed to look like."

"Ma'am, really, the paramedics can handle that."

Right, the paramedics. "But where are they?"

"They're in route."

"But they need to be here."

"Ma'am, there's only so fast they can go."

"Are you trying to be frustrating?"

"I'm just trying to do my job."

"Because you're really good at it," Lorelai said. "At being frustrating. I'm not really sure about your job."

There was a weary sigh. "Is he still breathing?"

Lorelai's eyes darted back to Dean. To her relief, he was still breathing, in and out, just like he was supposed to be. At least she hadn't screwed things up that badly. "Yes," she said.

"Is it labored at all?"

"Labored? As in, hard? Difficult? I don't know," she said, moving closer to Dean. "I mean, he's not panting or anything if that's what you're talking about. I guess it looks normal, though I can't say I often sit around and watch people breathe, much less Dean, so I can't tell you for a fact that this is totally normal."

"You can't hear it, can you?" the operator asked, and that exasperated tone was back. Like she had anything better to do. And this was her job. She couldn't really expect people to be perfectly rational when talking on the phone about someone's breathing, labored or unlabored, because it was an emergency, and there were head injuries and delirium and loss of consciousness involved. Right?

Lorelai leaned closer, close enough to smell him, and she had to admit that he smelled pretty good. Clean, not that she expected him not to be clean, but really fresh. He had a good choice in shampoo, at least, because it didn't smell strong enough to be cologne, nor did he seem the type to waste time with that kind of thing.

Breathing. Right. "Uh, no," she said. "Not unless I get really close. But I don't assume that you mean can I hear it if I rest my head against his chest. Because that would be ridiculous. And entirely inappropriate at this point."

"Ma'am--"

There was a noise in the distance. Distinct. A relief. "They're here!" Lorelai exclaimed, moving from Dean's lax form to the window. Outside the day was warm and bright. "I can hear them."

"Good," the operator said all too quickly. "They can help you from here."

Before Lorelai could reply, or explain anything else, the line went dead. She looked at the phone, surprised, mouth opened, but closed the mouth and put the phone down as she saw an ambulance pull into the drive.

Well. So much for professionalism. But really. About stinkin' time. She'd been fond enough of Dean as Narcolepsy boy, but coma boy?

That was one she didn't want to have to explain to the neighbors.