Author's Note: It's been a long time, friends. I thought I would start with something simple to get me back in the habit of posting again. This is, I guess, almost a character study. It takes place in Season Three. It is undoubtedly a little less than up to par because of how long I have gone without writing.

Rating: T, but it probably should be M, just because of swearing.

Disclaimer: Nothing.

Enjoy :]

"'I have long waited, mother, for that word:
But wherefore now?'

'There is a man to die;
You have the heaviest arm under the sky.'

'I only ask what way my journey lies,
For He who made you bitter made you wise.'"

- W. B. Yeats

He's not surprised.

The news catches him in the middle of reheating some delicately aged mashed potatoes, which involves cursing at the microwave Luke just bought that probably saw – and could have been an active participant in – the Watergate scandal, when his uncle lumbers in from closing up and unceremoniously shoves the blinking red button on their answering machine.

No, he's not surprised. Not even disturbed really, although that might come later, who knows? His first knee-jerk reaction is a poisoning, body-filling vindication that floats on the top of his blood like oil. He grips the counter until his knuckles turn white and then he finally manages to turn the dial to an appropriate setting on the microwave.

She died from an intentional overdose. The medicines are rattled off: anti-depressants, antibiotics, over-the-counter cold pills, maybe ecstasy. She threw together everything she could find and washed it down with a cocktail of alcohols. The body was mutilated; apparently, she tried to slit her wrists first and failed. Leave it to Liz to screw up the last fucking thing she could. He can see her hacking into her skin with a nicked Bic razor, mascara dripping, crying in frustration and confusion as the linoleum floor whose patterns he spent a lot of time memorizing is splattered with her blood. He can see her throwing the razor away, see her shaking hands ransacking the medicine closet as she starts anew on a second attempt with the one thing that turned her life to shit anyway: drugs. It is so Liz, so incredibly goddamn Liz, that he nearly laughs.

He wonders if it was everything she thought it would be.

The man on the machine is from the police department, and he is looking for Jess Mariano, not Lucas Danes. There's no mention of Luke at all. He wonders how they tracked him down. He had to register his car, he guesses, and there are always school records, but it seems sketchy at best.

The microwave clangs reminiscent of a cow bell from hell, so he moves to open it, and then he stops.

Luke makes a noise that sounds like strangulation. He stumbles for something to hold onto, an anchor, and finds an armchair, his chest heaving as if he's about to vomit.

Jess doesn't say anything. He isn't sure what there is to say. He stands there for a long moment, staring at nothing, before he crosses the kitchen, walks into his bedroom, and slams the door shut.

Fucking selfish bitch, his mother is.


- - - - - - - -

When he walks out into the kitchen an hour later, Luke is sitting at the table with a manilla folder spilled open in front of him His cap lies on the floor and his fingers trip over themselves in their haste as he pulls out old insurance claims, credit card numbers, everything he's ever helped Liz pay for. A whole screwed up life in numbers and letters.

"Gotta cancel these," he says gruffly. "And make plans for the funeral."

Jess stares blankly. "Funeral?"

"I'll get 'em to bring her body here. We have a family plot."

Ah. He sees. The prodigal daughter finally brought home at last.

He wonders if they're planning on doing that to him someday. He knows Liz would have rather been left in New York, but hey, beggars can't be choosers.

It's hot even inside the apartment, with the bladed ceiling fan gently thwacking in heavy air and the constant hum of late spring sitting heavy on his nose-lips-face, but he feels suddenly cloistered here, suddenly unable to breathe, pressed in on every direction, and he needs a much higher ceiling.

"I'll be back in a little while," he mutters as some kind of offering before shoving his feet into scuffed Converse and slipping out the door like a shadow.

The sun is hidden behind dank clouds which remind him of dirty laundry. He wishes he could see the sky.

He walks aimlessly for awhile, and for the first time in a long time, he feels like he can't breathe.

- - - - - - -

He sits on a chair with his arms crossed, his feet wrapped around the legs of a desk. It's sunny outside but the classroom windows are smudged with dirt and grime and dust so it looks like an underwater world, complete with chalkboard. His teacher stands by the door, her skirt long and rippling, her thick braid of black hair pulled back severely.

He bites his lip and takes a peek inside his desk. His second grade reader is there, but those stories are boring. There was one book he found in the teacher's lounge that he likes a lot and he wonders what Miss Ellenbaum would say if he took it out now. He feels stupid just sitting here, waiting.

The big black hand on the clock continues to creep forward. It's three forty-five now. Three forty-seven. He rubs his eye with his fist as Miss Ellenbaum begins to pace.

Time's running out. It's always running out.

He knows he told her about this yesterday. He said, "My teacher wants to talk to you," and she said, "Okay." She even picked out a dress to wear this morning. She said they'd go out for ice cream afterwards, baby, and you can get whatever kind you want.

He remembers.

He didn't even really believe her, though, he guesses. He was waiting to believe her fully. It's a good thing he held back because now it's three fifty and his teacher is coming over toward him.

"You gave your mother the note, right, Jess?" She asks, her midnight face close to his.

He nods.

"Can you tell me your phone number so I can call her?"

He shakes his head. His face feels hot.

"Why? Do you not know it?"

For a teacher, Miss Ellenbaum can be pretty stupid. How hard would it be to remember a few numbers? He knows that the sun is ninety million miles away from the Earth and that there are over six billion people alive and that Abraham Lincoln was shot in 1865 and that you always steal the heaviest piece of jewelry and that if you add water to milk it will last longer and that to delay the rent you have to –


He doesn't say anything. His fingers ball into tight fists. He doesn't know how to tell her that their phone was taken away from them.

Miss Ellenbaum sighs. "Do you want to color while we wait?"

Really, really stupid.

"No," he says clearly.

She sighs again. Then she straightens to go stand behind her desk.

At three fifty-five, almost an hour late, he hears her coming down the hall. Her footprints are messy and sloppy and the bottom of his stomach falls out. He stands up. To do what he's not sure. Maybe to stop her. Maybe to run away. Because he knows.

"I am so, so sorry," Liz slurs. Her stockings are ripped. Her hair is matted. He turns to stare wildly at his teacher and he's angry that his secret is now in the open.

"Mrs. Thayer? Would you kindly –"

"Oh God, no," Liz dramatically pleads, her fingers clenched around the flag pole. "Not that piece of shit. I signed those damn papers two weeks ago."

His teacher blinks. He is so ashamed he feels like he might burst. He hates her then, hates her so much he knows it will always be in him, and he feels his chest squeezing to make room for so much hate. It makes him tired and mad. She turns to him and calls him Jessie, and he stares at her.

Miss Ellenbaum turns to him, too, but with a much different look in her eyes. He wants to throw up.

He grabs his second grade reader from his desk and moves out the room so quickly no one does anything. The hallways are empty but he can hear her voice everywhere. The posters on the walls are brightly colored and they hurt his eyes and he's so mad, so mad he wants to hit something. He doesn't. He walks out the school, down the front steps, past the chainlink fence. He walks and walks and then he sits down and reads.

The words are dumb. They're for little kids. He doesn't feel like a little kid. But at least they're something and at least no one notices him when they pass him on the street.

- - - - - - -

Luke closed up early today, probably the only thing on the face of the planet disrupted by Liz's binging marathon, so even though it's hardly past six there's no one around when he picks up the old phone and stares at it for a minute. He's not sure what he's expecting, but there's a pressure in his chest that's very nearly killing him and he knows of only one thing that has ever relieved it. Maybe he's nothing better than a damn druggie as well, except he needs shots of a person instead.

Oh yes, he's well aware of how pathetic he is.

She's not in town this weekend. There's a thing up at Yale, a trial by ordeal, as he refers to it. She's staying with some ex-Chilton alumnus in the dorms for a couple of days to try and get a feel for the Forbes 500 Haven that he's secretly far too proud of her for getting into. And he really shouldn't bother her.


But he finds himself dialing the familiar number anyway, because he's a selfish bastard. It rings a couple of times and when she finally picks up and says hello he takes in a grateful breath of air.


There's a lot of noise in the background. It sounds like the mall on Black Friday.

"Jess!" He can hear the surprise and the smile in her voice. "Hi!"

I –

I need to tell you –

I need –

I need you

"What's going on over there? Are you at a wild frat rave again, Miss Gilmore?" He asks dryly, folding and unfolding the cord in his hand.

"Oh, yes," she answers sarcastically. He almost grins. "My fourth today."

"Remember what I told you about the keg funnels. Forty-five degree angle for optimum performance."

"I remember. I took notes." There's a pause like she's trying and failing to get somewhere quieter. He bites his lip.

"Is there something wrong?" She asks. Someone is calling her name. "It's not a party, it's this orientation thing. There's going to be a student panel and all that and then some kind of dinner."

Right. He is happy for her and his face softens as his chest splits open because this is just the first of her steps towards her glorious future, and she's leaving him behind. There is no place at Yale for a boy whose mother tried to slit her wrists and failed. But there's a place for Rory. He wants to push her into the school gates and lock her here with him all at the same time. He has no idea what to do.

Come back, he wants to plead. Come back come back come back. I seem to be losing my center of gravity now and –

He licks his lip. "Uh, nothing. Just seeing how you were doing. Making sure you didn't need me to come rescue you from yonder ivy-covered walls."

She laughs. "Are you my knight in shining armor?"

He doesn't respond to that. He doesn't know how. He figures she will figure it out some day all on her own, and he will barely keep his head above water until then. He has no right to do this to her, to tangle his fingers in her hair and pull her downward. He still wants her anyway and he's faintly disgusted with himself. He holds his forehead in his hand.

"Okay, so . . . I gotta go. My shift's not over yet."

She pauses, as if she's trying to detect something off in his voice. But he's lied for a long time, Rory Gilmore, and he doesn't even really register it anymore. It's an automatic defense mechanism.

When he looks out the window at the road, something inside of him shifts. A magnetic force draws his stare to the blacktop. It scares him.

"Okay," she finally answers. "I'll see you when I get back. Right away. You better be where I can find you."

He tears his eyes back to the countertop. "No sudden trips to Mexico, got it."

The same someone is calling her name again, but she takes the time to say, "Jess?" It makes him wonder if she somehow caught onto the only half-joking note in his voice.


"I miss you."

His hand tightens convulsively around the receiver. A pang of longing surprises him with its intensity: he wants to see her. Not necessarily touch her, but just see her. And it's not fair to her at all. He tries to think of something to say, something equal, but instead all he tells her is, "Yeah."

"I'll see you Monday."

He hangs up.

- - - - - - - -

It's an hour later when he climbs up to the apartment.

Luke is still sitting where he left him. A cheap plastic photo album is spilled open on his lap, with Polaroids tucked at random inside the ragged pages. Most of them are of some little blonde girl with braids and bright orange clothes, both of which scream seventies. She's roasting a marshmallow; she's advancing on the high dive; she's dancing in the street; she's in a euphoria that will eventually ruin her.

He tosses the now-icy potatoes in the trash and, without saying a word, jogs back down to the diner. It's dark. He stubs his toe on a damn frying pan Caesar left on the floor before he finds the light switch.

When he climbs back up to the apartment with two burgers and a bag of carrot sticks, Luke glances up at him blankly.


His uncle doesn't protest as he grabs two beers out of the fridge and keeps one by his side for himself. He doesn't get chastised even after he slips a Camel and a Zippo out of his pocket and lights up.

"That," he says finally, gesturing vaguely at the photo album as smoke pirouettes around his face, "that girl wasn't Liz anymore. Not for a long time."

Luke clears his throat and pops open his can of Bud Lite. He says, "I guess you're right." There's a pause.

"I was supposed to take care of her," Luke says, and his voice is toneless. He's looking anywhere but at Jess, running a grimy thumb over his knuckles again and again, his cap on his knees.

Jess shrugs. "Yeah, well . . ." He leaves the rest of his sentence unfinished, but it goes something like, "She was supposed to take care of me."

He figures life doesn't always follow a Cosby Show plotline.

- - - - - - -

He's sitting in the town square at night. Stars glitter above his head, cold and distant, so many miles away it's an eternity. They might have already exploded. Sometimes he gets that feeling when he looks at himself in the mirror.

His mother brought him to the children's museum once. She was in rehab then, one of her two-second stints that she often took when she got bored. He must have been eight or so. They had one of those heat sensors that you pressed your hand against so it could measure the temperature of your body in white, red, and orange prints which tapered to cooler blue on the edges. They stayed on the black screen for a few seconds, and then you had to press again.

She had a ridiculously bright hand, flaming with color.

He had no color at all.

He slides a cigarette out from behind the shell of his ear and spins his lighter. The embers glitter in the darkness and fall onto the concrete.

He remembers, without any real emotion, that she met a maintenance guy on that trip. Some guy in a blue uniform. Some guy who was cleaning out the ball pit.

Liz told him to go play with three or four other little kids that were putting together a big wooden puzzle on the floor. She pushed him towards them, but he refused to join in with their damn yelling and shoving and fighting over the bright pieces. He put them together in his mind while he wandered away from them, trying to find word patterns in the exhibit descriptions. Thirty minutes later, he was upstairs by himself buying a ticket to a showing of some documentary about Mars. Thirty minutes after that, he was sitting on a park bench on the sidewalk a few blocks down, retying his sneaker before disappearing into Washington Square Park to read a book he had swiped from an outdoor stand.

The whole time, Liz was fucking the maintenance guy in the janitor's closet.

She told him one time that she hated him because of what he had done to her. She was drunk and confused and hurt, and he was working under the table at fourteen to pay for their rent. She had met his father in a grocery store. Not a bar, she said, spitting, not a fucking one night stand, but in the dairy aisle. And he had bought a crib, read books, and then left. So she was alone, and she could never do the things she had planned, never live because of the baby strapped to her ankle like a cannonball. Jess ruined her, she said.

Her eyes grew remarkably clear and sober for half a moment. "I haven't forgiven you," she said.

And he answered, without blinking, "I haven't forgiven you, either."

She groaned, tried to lie down in her bed, fell into a drunken sleep. He took off her heels and set a glass of water with a couple of aspirins next to her lamp.

At three in the morning, she came into his room, sobbing and sniffling and calling him Jessie baby, promising things would be better, that she was sorry.

He shakes his head now. Silver smoke escapes when he exhales. And he half wishes the hate he felt for her hadn't deadened into some encrusted, black thing, that he could still feel some kind of strong emotion one way or the other.


His head throbs. It's only ten or so.

Because he has always had to move, he rises from the bench unceremoniously and begins to walk in a random direction. It's suddenly gotten a little cold, so he buries himself further in his jacket. He drops the cigarette on the ground and crushes it under his heel (he wonders vaguely if it will strike him on the foot).

This isn't a Denver night where all he did was die, and his heart isn't dripping like tar onto the pavement.

He's almost back to the diner when he sees Lorelai's Jeep parked out front. It's Friday, he supposes, and she's just getting back from dinner. He hopes it's too late for her to call Rory. He hopes Lorelai will stay the hell out. He decides to go around the back, finding it highly symbolic of the eighteen years of his life.

The bells above the door clang, and it's too late, she's spotted him. He keeps moving anyway.


Dammit. The new soft note in her voice is something he cannot stand.

He doesn't turn around. He fumbles for a new cigarette. "What?"

"Luke told me." She begins to walk towards him, but stops.

"During pillow talk?"

"I'm sorry about . . . Liz. I know it must be hard for you."

The final straw breaks resoundingly in his veins, glass shattering into his blood. He will swallow any medicine but pity. He wants to tell her to get fucking away from him. He wants to tell her she doesn't know a damn things about him.

Instead, he lets his venom poison himself only. He buries his hands in his pockets and walks around the corner, past the dumpster, and through an alley.

She doesn't call after him.

- - - - - - -

Screw it, he thinks as he stares into the black water. The moon does a ghostly dance by his feet. Screw it all to hell.

He has nothing.

He is nothing.

This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whisper.

- - - - - - -

Around two in the morning, he finally supposes that he's at another fork in the yellow wood, Frost.

He is, by all regards, an orphan. He answers to no one. There is nothing tying him anywhere. He is not of New York, not of fucking Stars Hollow. He has no responsibility anymore and no barriers. He has the road, a few thousand that he's pretty sure the life insurance Luke took out ten years ago will shuffle to him, and a car.

He could leave now.

He could.

He doesn't have to stand here in this goddamn cracked town, doesn't have to face the scandalized gossip and eyes filled with that poison – fucking pity – he knows he will be confronted with in the morning. He doesn't have to watch Luke bury the shell of what used to be his sister, doesn't have to carry her true identity with him alone while all the rest mourn the girl with the blonde hair.

He's always wanted to go to Nevada.

Because why the hell not?

Freedom is a bitter draught. He half wants to spit it out. His world has been spinning and spinning and spinning and now his head is trying to race along beside it and he can't breathe and he just wants to smoke.

The charge of the Light Brigade.

The flinging of oneself into a holy void.

He has no name, no past, no future everywhere else but here.

For some reason, he's reeling with vertigo. His muscles ache. He has a sudden desire just to run his fingers through her hair. He hates that she's nailed him down as he fights valiantly to run. He thinks of her in that ivy-covered tower, where he will fade from her mind as surely as a bad dream dissipates in the sunlight.

Maybe it'd be best for her, too. But he'd have to be pretty goddamn blind to think he knows what's best for anyone.

Like a Band-aid. Do it quick. Leave?



His hands are steady as he lights up, tipping his figurative hat to a silver sky that holds no answers.

Liz had said she was coming to Stars Hollow this Thanksgiving, to see him. Said she'd signed up for rehab, was dating a good guy.

He scoffs. Like that's a new one. And he kind of hates himself, because he could sense the dark storm clouds gathering again and he did nothing.

After a few pulls, he stands and slips off the bridge. Dead leaves snap under his feet like bones.

- - - - - -

He hopes Luke didn't move the key. A few nights ago, a sleepwalking Kirk had somehow ended up in the storage room, meticulously folding and refolding paper napkins. After a scare like that, you tend to rethink buying a security system. Of course his uncle is too goddamn cheap for that. But maybe he hid the key a little better.

Doesn't really matter, anyway. It's not like Luke's exactly the Riddler, here, and finding anything he's stashed should be as easy as pinning the one gay guy in a mosh pit. Besides, even if he doesn't feel like calling out the bloodhounds, the back window's as easy to slide open as any. Of course . . . the key would be less painful . . . and like any true modernist, he tries to avoid pain. It's meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.

There is nothing new under the sun.


Thank you, Kurt Vonnegut. Or Solomon. Or Charlie Rose. Whatever. Whomever.

So, since he's expecting his biggest obstacle to be an ineptly hid key or a rusty hinge that squeaks a bit too loudly, he nearly falls over and has a heart attack when he's greeted with five-feet-seven-inches of ethereal innocence folded in a web of gleaming hair that is sitting on Luke's doorstep.

"Christ!" He hisses, his body tense, his brain pulsating with breaking stress, ready to spring. But the moonlight glow fades a little when she turns, and she morphs from an otherworldly creature into Rory, Rory with jeans and a purple shirt that has a stain on the front.

He blinks. He thinks he might be going crazy. "Rory?"

Her eyes are buoyed up by immense black shadows; she looks exhausted; she says his name and he feels like someone suddenly righted him.

"Is everything okay?" He asks lowly, his voice falsely casual as he thinks of drunken frat boys and perfect porcelain skin. His fists tighten as he tries not to stare at a new bruise blossoming on her elbow.

"Is everything . . ." She trails off, seemingly confused, and stands up. "I'm fine, Yale's fine. It's good. Well, they had this student band playing during our social thing tonight and they kind of sucked, like Ryan Cabrera meeting Disney's version of Smells Like Teen Spirit, but . . ."

She bites her lip. There's a pause.

"Was Yale good?"

She nods vigorously. "Yes, very good."

With the sudden pain of epiphany that hit Buddha and Bukowski alike, he knows she knows.

"I didn't want to bother you," she says quietly, toying with her belt loop. "I thought you might be out there. I wanted to let you . . . think about stuff."

The enormity of his sin crushes his shoulders. He drew her out of her future, her dream, and somehow reeled her back here, to a flunking high school student who works overtime at Wal-Mart. He watches her silently for a moment.

"What happened to your arm?"

Her brow furrows. "My arm?"

With a jab of his head, he motions to the bluish splotch.

"Oh! I was in the library and I tripped."

Despite everything, he scoffs. She looks indignant. "What? Libraries can be very dangerous places."

He nods, conceding her point. "It's hard for you to walk across a flat surface even on a good day."

Her smile deepens, and then fades. She looks at the ground before her eyes drift up to him hesitantly.

"I came as soon as my mom told me," she murmurs. He figures he should have shoved Lorelai in a closet. He doesn't let himself think about the hissing waves of relief that are breaking across his chest just from seeing her. "Why didn't you say anything when you called?"

He shrugs. He thinks about lighting another Camel. "What was I supposed to say, Rory?"

"But she's your mom," she says quietly. There's nothing presumptuous in her voice. He sighs and runs his hand through his hair.

"No. She wasn't."

Her eyes fill with unbearable sadness. It's not pity, he decides. Actual grief, empathy he can't feel. He wonders how the hell she can do that when she has no idea what he's talking about.

He does take a cigarette out when he realizes that it might be because she loves him.

But maybe not.

"Come inside," she says. A little key glitters in her hand. "It's kind of cold."

"Aren't you tired?" He asks lowly. "Does your mom know you're here?"

She doesn't answer, not exactly. "I took a train. I want to be with you." The doorknob twists and he holds open the door for her. She locks it behind them, her hair stuck on her lip. He slides two chairs off of a table and flips them over, and then he goes to make coffee.

It's while he's turning on the machine that she comes up to him and touches him. She cups his elbow and rubs his arm.

He doesn't respond at first, his nimble fingers flipping on the switch. But she is insistent, a force of nature, unwilling to be denied. She slips between his body and the counter, pressing her forehead against his, and she's so warm, so incredibly warm, that he stops shaking.

"The rare manuscript library has part of the original scroll of On the Road," she whispers. "It made me think of you."

Her eyes are closed, and he watches her in rapture.

"I want you to be able to talk to me."

His muscles tense. "There's nothing to talk about," he tells her, almost truthfully.

She nods. "I know. But there will be, one day, and I want to be the one you tell."

He takes a rattling breath as the machine beeps. He thinks of neon lights and lipstick and groans and sweat and overdoses and a little boy sneaking down a fire escape. He thinks of the thin white scar in between his ribs from a knife and the circle on his forearm from where a cigarette was put out on him over six years ago. He thinks of private schools, Ivy League colleges, dreams that can't fit in this town. And then he focuses on her, the hollow behind her ear, the shape of her neck, the smell of her skin.

For now, somehow, this is enough. This is consummation.

"I'm so fucking tired of this," he says, or he thinks he says, unsure of whether or not his confession had a voice.

For a long time she weaves her fingers in and out of the spaces between his own, and then she gives him a book she bought in a New Haven shop. Her story about the lengths she endured in order to obtain it is long and animated. He watches her as he pretends to flip through the pages, and when he kisses her in the middle of a sentence, her fingers tangle in his hair.

The coffee, she insists, is the best she's ever tasted. He rolls his eyes and gives her his copy of Jitterbug Perfume. They sit and read in amiable silence until dawn, and when Luke doesn't come downstairs by six thirty, Jess opens for him. She works the cash register.

When he moves past her, he hesitates for just a second too long, trying to smell her shampoo.

"It's then that what I want is to speak to you your silence
in a speech as clear as lamplight, as plain as a gold ring.
You are quiet like the night, and like the night you're star-lit.
Your silences are star-like, they're a distant and a simple thing."

-Pablo Neruda