Then and Now

A/N:About three weeks ago, just after the holiday author's auction, I was asked to fill in at the last minute for the Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda Ficathon. So I sat down to write a quick one shot. Instead I ended up with this 12000 + word epic. The story is complete so I will be posting a chapter a day for the next several days.

This story is dedicated to my incredible beta Jewels12 who took the time to read through this massive tome in its entirety and offer her expert opinion and edits despite this busy season. Jewels, you make me a better writer. Oh, and my New Year's resolution this year is to master the comma. Think I can do it?

I'd like to thank Filo for her tips and feedback on the final chapter. I'd also like to thank those of you who gave me feedback on this story through IM's and writing sessions.

Now, without further ado, here is my take on The Ins and Outs of Inns.

Confliction

xxxxx

Luke gazed at Lorelai, mesmerized by the sparkle in her eyes. He took a step toward her and wrapped his arms around her back, tucking her snugly against his body. He leaned in, his warm breath dancing across the luminous skin of her cheek. Their eyes met as he caught her lips with his and tasted her mouth. He explored slowly at first, then as she wrapped her hands in his hair and pulled him closer, he kissed her with more urgency, his desire for her evident with every press of his lips, every flick of his tongue.

Lorelai swayed slightly, loosing her balance as she was swept up in the passion of his kisses. Luke tightened his grip on her and led her over to the porch swing. He grasped her hands and slowly lowered her delicate frame onto the swing before easing his own fragile body down next to her. He took her hand in his and traced gentle circles over them, smoothing the wrinkles. He smiled as he traced the ring on her left hand and he remembered the day, many, many years ago when he had first bought it for her.

Luke turned back toward his wife, amazed that after all these years she still looked at him with such love and adoration. Lorelai smiled at him, her face as vibrant as it had been on their wedding day 45 years earlier. He reached for her and she came to him, resting her head on his shoulder as he began to rock the swing gently. That sat like that for several moments before being interrupted by the high-pitched squeal of a 6 year old.

An impish waif with dark brown hair, bright blue eyes and the telltale sign of chocolate smeared across her face, came tearing around the corner and launched herself at Luke and Lorelai.

"LaiLai! Grumps!" she screamed as she climbed onto Lorelai's lap and flung her arms around her great grandmother. Lorelai smiled at the nicknames Rory's eldest child, Genny, had given them years ago.

"Melody!" Lorelai hugged her great granddaughter tightly, then passed her over to Luke. Melody promptly planted a huge, sloppy kiss on his cheek and settled into his lap.

"Tell me the story," she ordered sternly.

Lorelai laughed and Luke shook his head in disbelief. "But we just told it to you when you were here for dinner last Friday," Luke grumbled.

"But I want to hear it again this Friday, Grumps. It's better than Cinderella," Melody insisted.

"Wow, that's high praise coming from a six-year old," Lorelai teased. "Guess we better tell her."

Luke pretended to sigh, then gathered Melody in his arms and launched into the well-known family story. "I knew I was going to marry your LaiLai after a particularly memorable day in the diner…"

He looked at Lorelai, waiting for her to interject. She smiled at him and obliged. "What day in the diner? There were so many."

Luke chuckled. "The day we were discussing the logistics of opening your own inn."

"Oh, that day." Lorelai laughed.

"The diner was crowded, but I had Caesar take over so I could help Lorelai." Luke closed his eyes, remembering the scene vividly, as though it had happened yesterday.

****

They were sitting at one of the tables along the side of the diner that now bordered Taylor's Soda Shoppe. Piles of paper were spread over the table as Lorelai bent over a note pad, trying to take in all the things Luke was telling her.

"So, the first thing you and Sookie should do is incorporate." Luke told her, smiling encouragingly.

Lorelai looked up from her pad, "Wow. Sounds so big time."

"Not really. It just means you're a single business entity. You'll both be officers and shareholders, and you'll get to make up a name for your company and everything." Luke met her eyes, offering his silent support of the daunting task that lay ahead of her.

Lorelai's heart skipped a beat as she became aware of Luke's gaze. She tried to ignore it and smiled teasingly as she said, "Mmm, I'm terrible at coming up with names. When we first bought our house, Rory and I wanted to name it, you know, like Jefferson named his place Monticello, but all we could come up with was The Crap Shack." He was still gazing at her intently and she shifted uncomfortably. She looked back at her notepad for a second, hoping he couldn't see that she was blushing slightly. That was weird, she thought.

"Nice." Luke noticed the hint of red on her cheeks as she stared at the pad in front of her. He wondered what it meant. Had he embarrassed her? He wracked his brain, trying to figure out what he could have done.

Jess came over to offer Lorelai coffee. There was a brief, very stoic exchange between the three of them before Jess headed off to school, and their attention turned back to talk of the new inn.

Luke silently admired the way her silver necklace dipped toward her cleavage. He immediately looked up to her face again, berating himself for his inappropriate thoughts. He seemed to be having such thoughts quite frequently lately. "So, you guys have a site in mind for the inn?" he asked, trying to turn his mind to more neutral topics.

Lorelai smiled brightly. "Yes."

"Great, where?" Luke was relieved to be back to the easy banter. It took his mind off of how adorable she looked with her hair tucked behind her ears like that.

"You've seen pictures of it. The Rachel property." As soon as she said it, Lorelai winced, wishing she'd thought more carefully before speaking.

Luke froze mid-smile, as his stomach dropped to his knees. He hadn't thought of Rachel in months, and hearing her name now felt like a swift kick in the gut. "Oh, right."

"Sorry," Lorelai said quickly.

"It's okay," Luke muttered uncomfortably.

Noticing his discomfort, and mentally kicking herself for it, Lorelai quickly babbled, "I just meant, Rachel took the pictures, and the pictures kind of got us into the place, so we started calling it the Rachel property 'cause it made sense at the time, and then it became a habit." She shifted restlessly, realizing that she was making it worse. Why do I keep saying her name? She tried to move on, "But now out of respect for you, I'm gonna stop repeatedly using her name and uh, think of another name to call it. Let's see, The Crap Shack's taken."

While she rambled on, Luke reflected on why he felt so uncomfortable with the mention of Rachel. It certainly wasn't because he was still in love with her. He'd been over Rachel long before she'd come back last year. Somewhere around the time Lorelai first entered my life, he realized. He had thought that Rachel had planted the seed for his current feelings for Lorelai when she'd left last year, but now he saw that she'd only watered a seed that had already been growing. Oh God, I've been in love with her all this time. Luke stifled a groan and tried to push the thought from his mind. He made himself focus on the conversation instead. "It's okay. Call it what you want."

Lorelai quickly changed the topic, noticing the forced quality of his tone. "So, who taught you about all this business stuff? Your dad?"

Happy for a distraction from his sudden epiphany about Lorelai, Luke smiled and slipped back to their easy banter. "Please. My dad didn't even have a checking account until I finally grew taller then he was. He bought this land with cash from working construction, built this place himself. Didn't have a bookkeeper, accountant... anything."

"Wow, so you had no one showing you the ropes." Lorelai glanced around the diner, impressed at what he'd managed to build for himself.

"Nope, I figured I had to just dive in on my own, fail if that was my destiny, and forget what the experts say." Luke chuckled, drawing Lorelai's attention back to him.

"That is exactly my philosophy. Exactly. Except I'm not diving in on my own, I'm diving in with Sookie, and, uh, failure is not even an option, and I'm consulting any expert who will listen to me. Otherwise, it's identical." She grimaced at the thought of failure, her heart rate rising as she fought hard to prevent herself from panicking. Lorelai cringed, imagining how much her mother would gloat if she failed. She couldn't let that happen, she wouldn't. She began breathing heavily as her panic burst forth.

Luke noticed the change. "You won't fail," he said, hoping she couldn't hear the concern in his voice.

"But what if I do? What if I let everyone down? Sookie, Rory… you?" She whispered it so softly, he had to strain to hear her.

Luke reached across the table as she blinked furiously, unsuccessfully willing the tears in her eyes to disappear. He took her hand and gently rubbed the back of it with his thumb. "Listen to me," he said gently, "you are the most intelligent person I know, besides Rory."

"Well sure." She smiled, despite the silent trail of tears now sliding down her face.

"You can do this, Lorelai. You can do anything you set your mind to. I'll be here to help you along the way. You're not alone in this." He leaned in closer, trying to gain eye contact and reassure her.

She was silent for several moments as she gazed down at their joined hands, embarrassed by her tears. His hand felt warm and solid in hers and she was surprised at how comforting she found it. His thumb continued to glide gently over the soft skin of her hand. Gradually, the feeling of security was replaced by another feeling, one she couldn't quite put her finger on, but it made her feel warm and tingly all over.

She looked up in surprise, suddenly comprehending what the feeling actually was. Her mouth formed a shocked 'o' shape, as she became conscious of the fact that she was practically face to face with Luke, who had shifted closer in his concern.

She stared at him, her heart beating wildly as she noticed what she thought was heat in his eyes. Her attraction to him was growing by the second and it terrified her. Part of her was tempted to close the distance between them and satisfy her curiosity about what it would be like to kiss him. Another part of her wanted to run, and find Sookie, and analyze everything about this moment until she figured out what the hell it all meant.

Luke was startled by the look of desire in her eyes that was evident when she looked up from her trance. His thoughts abruptly shifted back to his earlier revelation, and he stared at the fascinating shape of her lips. She tightened her grip on his hand, and inched her head closer to his. The pounding in his chest was deafening as he anticipated her kiss. He was surprised everyone in the diner couldn't hear it.

Their lips were barely a centimeter apart when a loud beeping sound caused them both to jump. Lorelai lost her balance and nearly fell off her chair, but Luke's grip on her hand held her up as she dug the offensive cell phone from her pocket.

"Oh crap! I'm late for a meeting with Sookie." She looked at him regretfully, disappointed that she hadn't been able to discover what he tasted like. Where are these thoughts coming from? she asked herself.

She stood up and gathered her things. "Well, uh, I should um… go." She tripped over her chair as she walked toward the door. She caught herself on the table, somehow managing to knock her half empty coffee mug onto the floor in the process. "I'm sorry, Luke, I don't know what is wrong with me today."

"It's okay." Luke shrugged, trying to suppress his own frustration at the interruption. "You go. I'll take care of this." He gestured to the mess on the floor.

"Are you sure?" Lorelai looked at him doubtfully.

"I'm sure." Luke growled. He needed her to leave before he lost his last shred of self-control and gave into the temptation to pull her into the back and ravage her.

She moved toward the door, slipping on the spilt coffee. "Lorelai, watch out!" he yelped, as she nearly plunged to the floor for the third time in less than 5 minutes.

She caught herself again, and carefully stepped over the rest of the mess. She managed to make it to the door without further catastrophe, and Luke breathed a sigh of relief. She opened the door, turning back to give Luke one last look. "See you later," she said, though it sounded almost like a question.

"Later," Luke said firmly, giving her a little wave as she exited the diner.

xxxxx

Melody giggled, squirming on Luke's lap. "Eww. I'm glad you didn't kiss him, LaiLai. Kissing is icky."

Lorelai laughed. "One day you'll change your mind on that, Squirt."

"Nuh uh." Melody shook her head vehemently as she scrunched up her nose in disgust. "I'll never kiss boys."

Luke hugged her tightly. "Amen to that."

Melody frowned. "We're not in church, Grumps!"

Luke chuckled. "It's just an expression."

"Oh." She was getting bored of the conversation so she looked up at Lorelai and asked, "What happened next? Is that when Mia came?"

Lorelai smiled. "Not quite. Sookie and I decided to have a meeting with Fran."

xxxxx

That afternoon, Lorelai sat at a table in Weston's, waiting for Sookie to arrive. They had discovered that Fran held the deed to the property they wanted to purchase for their inn, and they had agreed to meet today so they could try to talk to Fran about selling it.

Lorelai tapped her foot impatiently, as her thoughts drifted to her conversation with Luke at the diner that morning. Her sudden attraction to him, and her inability to get him out of her mind, puzzled her. She felt like she'd known Luke forever, and until now, she'd really only ever viewed him as a coffee dealer, a Mr. Fix-it guy, and a good friend.

A memory from the time she'd helped him pick out paint samples for the diner popped into her head and she realized she had been lying to herself. She'd felt an attraction to him that night. They'd been on their hands and knees behind the counter, their shoulders touching, and in the moment before they'd been interrupted, she'd felt herself inexplicably drawn to him. As she reflected back on that moment now, she was pretty certain that they would have kissed that night, if they'd had the opportunity. The moment had passed, and even though she'd admitted to her mother of all people, that she might have feelings for Luke, she'd never acted on them. Then Christopher had shown up, and that was that. Or so she'd thought.

She continued to sit there, sipping her coffee, eating her second piece of carrot cake and reflecting on her history with Luke. It dawned on her that there had been other times, especially in the last few years, when she had thought that maybe, there could be something more than friendship between them. Her brain flitted from memory to memory as though a filmstrip of her life were playing on fast forward inside her head: Luke coming with her to the hospital when her dad was sick; Luke helping her look for Stella; Luke almost asking her out on the night of the torturous double date with Rune; Luke bringing ice at the exact right moment; Luke making her the beautiful, hand carved Chuppah for her wedding to Max. Luke, Luke, Luke, Luke. She couldn't stop thinking about him, and each memory made her aware that the attraction she was feeling for him was not new. It was something she'd felt for a long time, but had obviously suppressed.

She could see it now. Her jealousy over Rachel. Her fight with Max after the stare down with Luke in her foyer. Her intense desire to call him on the night of her bachelorette party. Her reluctance to include Max, fully in her life. All, had been a direct result of her repressed feelings.

Her heart thumped rapidly as she thought of him. Her palms were sweaty, and she couldn't focus on anything else. Oh my God. I like Luke, she thought, trying to calm herself down with a bite of the carrot cake that sat in front of her. How did that happen? What now? Could I really have a relationship with him? How does he feel about me? Would he even want to date me? Dating? I'm thinking about dating Luke? Oh my God. She popped a rum ball in her mouth and chewed rapidly, trying desperately to collect herself. She failed miserably and instead began to daydream about kissing him, touching him, loving him. Maybe I should have tested the waters. Damn, I should have kissed him this morning.

It was at that moment that Sookie finally burst through the bakery door. "Honey, I'm so sorry. Am I late, late or just late?"

Lorelai frantically pushed all thoughts of Luke to the outer corners of her mind, and gestured to the empty plates and wrappers in front of her. "Two pieces of carrot cake and a rumball."

"Ah, I am so sorry! I swear I meant to be on time, but I was prepping the raspberry glaze for tonight's dessert special, and it struck me. I made a blueberry glaze for the soufflé I prepared last Tuesday, and this is Tuesday, and a lot of locals come every week on the same night, and I just didn't want to serve them a similar dessert even though it's a completely different berry. . ."

As Sookie rambled, Lorelai's thoughts began to migrate over to Luke again. Not now! she shouted internally. She groaned aloud. "I need another rumball."

"Ah, I'm sorry," Sookie squeaked.

Lorelai sighed, using every ounce of her will power to remain focused on her friend. "No, you're a perfectionist, and that attention to detail is why people call you the Maestro."

"Really? Who calls me that?"

"The people who eat the rumballs." Lorelai smiled, thrilled that the banter was effectively distracting her.

She was just thinking that she could use another pastry to nibble on, when Fran wandered over to their table. Lorelai and Sookie shared an excited look, knowing that this was their opportunity to discus the inn.

"Buy the Dragonfly?" Fran asked incredulously, after they awkwardly expressed their intentions.

"Yes, we'd like to buy it and make it beautiful again, and we're prepared to make you an offer right now." Lorelai smiled, hoping that Fran would take the news well.

"Oh my, well this is a surprise." Fran shifted in her seat as she digested this. Lorelai and Sookie exchanged another look, this time one of concern that maybe Fran would be more hesitant than they'd thought.

"See, Sookie and I are gonna start our own inn and we've been searching for the perfect place," Lorelai explained cautiously.

"Your own inn?" Fran's smile was genuine.

Lorelai felt hopeful once more. "Yeah."

"Oh, how wonderful! You are going to be so successful," Fran gushed.

"Thanks, sweetie." Sookie gently patted Fran's hand as she beamed at Lorelai.

Lorelai beamed back, relieved that the conversation was coming out in their favour. "That means so much, Fran."

"But I can't sell you the property."

Lorelai's hopes plummeted, as her dream crumbled in front of her. She desperately blinked back tears and searched for something positive to cling to. She heard Luke's words, ringing through her mind: You can do this,Lorelai, you can do anything you set your mind to. She latched on to them and her panic subsided slightly.

Sookie nearly fell out of her chair as she burst out, "What?"

Lorelai's voice was miraculously calm, "How come?"

"I just couldn't. You know, I have no siblings and no children, and in a way, that place is really the only family I have. I'm the last Weston left, so I plan to own it forever." Fran's words sent Lorelai back into panic mode. This is it. We're ruined. Our vision is gone before it even starts. I knew something like this would happen. What do we do now?

Lorelai and Sookie tried to find out what would happen to the Dragonfly once Fran died, but their attempt at subtlety failed, and they left Westons feeling dejected and defeated.

TBC