A/N: This story was a bonus offering in the Support Stacie Author Auction. VoylCJ wanted a Emily/Richard story, but gjoni tends more toward the Lorelai/Luke stories. Enter Mags, with her incessant need to poke her big nose in where it doesn't belong, and her tendency to whore herself out to earn a little extra cash for the cause. Katelai teamed up with VoylCJ when Mags mentioned an idea she had been kicking around for a R/E story which could be altered to work for L/L too. gjoni and Mags joined forces to tell a tale of two couples, VoylCJ and Katelai bit (suckers), and the rest is, well, this. Thank you to VoylCJ and Katelai for their generous donation, and thank you to Jewels12 for her incredible beta skills. Without Jewels, you would bear witness to unbearable levels of comma abuse and repetitive sentences.

gjoni wanted me to add: "Credit Mags from concept to writing and anything in between and after; add on some awesome Jewels' editing and encouraging and you get this moving piece. Thank you, Mags, for taking me along for the ride."

Like how she threw Mags under the bus? Nice.

Siren Songs

July 6, 2007

He hardly knew the man at all. To be perfectly frank, he hadn't wanted to know him. For the life of him, he couldn't begin to fathom what they could possibly have in common. Aside from Lorelai, that is. But now he was beginning to see. Now, he actually saw a little bit of himself reflected back in the man's troubled blue gaze.

Richard sat back in his chair, straightening the fine linen napkin in his lap, and then reaching for his glass of wine. He took a small sip, his own blue eyes darting from one side of the table to the other, trying to verify that he had actually seen what he thought he had seen. Lorelai speared a tiny glazed carrot disinterestedly. To be truthful, Richard couldn't fault her for her disinterest; the new maid had cooked the hapless vegetables until they were practically mush.

Luke made a better show of rearranging the food on his plate, having long ago established his practice of eating everything in moderation. It was all Richard could do to keep from lifting his glass in salute to his future son-in-law's forethought. He had concocted the perfect excuse for dealing with whatever gastronomic delight Emily was inclined to foist on them. For the first time in the nearly two years since Lorelai had first seated this man at their dinner table, Richard Gilmore envied Luke Danes.

That flash of envy was gone as suddenly as it appeared, chased away by another worried frown from the man on Richard's left. It was aimed directly toward the woman seated on Richard's right. Richard knew that worry. He also knew what was troubling Luke. He'd seen it himself; the overly bright smiles, the hollow laughter, the dull sheen in his daughter's usually expressive eyes. He'd watched the light behind those eyes slowly fade, only sparking to life when they gathered around the speakerphone to talk to Rory, or when she met Luke's steady gaze. But now, the younger man's gaze wavered with worry.

Richard knew the symptoms. He had seen all of the signs before, long ago, reflected in his own bathroom mirror. He picked up his fork, studiously making all of the right noises as Emily prattled on and on about the charity auction she was chairing, all the while letting the details drift past him. He watched Luke, trying to gauge how far gone he was, and wondering how the man would react if he were to be told he was not alone. Wondering how he would respond if he knew that Richard knew.

The moment Emily paused for a breath, Richard carefully placed his fork on the side of his plate. Resting his elbows on the table, he laced his fingers together and turned to this stranger he knew better than either of them could possibly believe. "Luke, perhaps you would care to join me for a brandy after dessert?"

June 9, 2007

Luke stood back, watching as Lorelai set forth to achieve the goal they had discussed on the ride back from Hartford the previous evening. He was moving in. At least, he thought he was moving in. Now he wasn't quite sure, but as far as he was concerned it was neither here nor there. At that particular moment, he was busy trying to make heads or tails out of the mixed signals she was sending.

"This can go," Lorelai muttered as she tossed a t-shirt over her shoulder, catching Luke in the face with it.

He stooped to scoop the wad of cotton that fell to the floor and held it up. "You love this shirt," he reminded her as he stared at the cartoon drawing of a B-52 bomber on the front.

"It's old, I never wear it anymore," Lorelai murmured distractedly.

He stood back and watched as she rose from her knees, a tower of shoe boxes teetering precariously in her arms. "Let me get those," he said as he lunged for her.

"I've got them," Lorelai answered, and began stacking the boxes on the shelf she had just cleared them from not thirty minutes before.

Once each box was put back almost exactly where she had found it earlier, Lorelai turned to survey the empty hangers hanging from the rod. She moved her pants and skirts from one side of the closet to the other, and then gathered the forlorn-looking hangers, placing them at the front so that they would be ready to be pressed into service again.

"There," she said with a satisfied nod. Lorelai stepped back, a proud smile of accomplishment curving her lips. Her heel landed on the toe of his boot, and Luke quickly shuffled backwards, reaching to steady her. "Oops," she giggled.

"I was in the way," he said gruffly, his fingers tightening around her arms.

Lorelai turned to him, her smile widening as she tipped her head back. "Never," she whispered, lifting her lips for a kiss.

Luke happily obliged, closing his eyes and savoring the taste of toasted coconut lip gloss - a flavor that he never in a million years would have guessed he'd miss. But he had. He had missed it so intensely that he'd tossed out every ounce of coconut in the diner. The mere scent of it was enough to keep him away from the lake for one entire summer for fear that he'd catch a whiff of someone's sunscreen. It was the memory of that scent that lingered with a long forgotten bottle of her shampoo that languished in the cabinet beneath his sink. A bottle that he had never quite brought himself to part with, no matter how angry, hurt, and disillusioned he had been.

Her eyes danced as she gazed up at him, patting his chest softly as she pulled away. "Now, the bathroom," she said with a decisive nod.

"We don't have to do this right now," he said as she slipped from his arms.

"Yes, we do. You are back in my life, back where you belong. All I have to do is make room for your stuff," she said as she walked into the bathroom.

Luke turned and stared into the bathroom they had renovated for a life together that never quite got off the ground. There were two sinks, two mirrors, and enough cabinet space for his seldom used can of shaving cream. Two sets of drawers, two towel rods, and two soap dishes waited beyond that door.

He pressed his lips together, resting his hands on his hips as he peered into the closet once more. She had called it her dream closet, with two rods, two sets of shelves, and two built in cubbies to hold his and hers shoes. But even in this fevered rush of motivation, and despite the ruthless purging of her wardrobe, he couldn't help but notice that she had somehow lost sight of the ultimate goal. Sweaters crowded the high shelf on 'her' side. Blouses, jackets, and dresses hung from the rod, and every space in the shoe cubby was claimed by what appeared to him to be the same pair of black high-heeled shoes.

Turning to 'his' side of the walk in, he saw that more skirts, pants, and jeans than any one person should own claimed the space on the rod. Even more high-heeled shoes in a variety of colors filled the grid of the shoe organizer, with two neat rows of boots standing by. He scowled up at the boxes that had reclaimed his shelf just minutes before, and couldn't help but wonder if maybe Lorelai felt like they were rushing things a bit. After all, it had only been three weeks since he pulled her into his arms again.

Stepping back, Luke craned his neck around the corner of the closet door to peek into the bathroom. He saw her tuck her hair behind her ear, he heard her humming softly under her breath, and then he noticed a familiar can of Barbasol sitting on the counter. Luke walked slowly into the room, watching as she gathered stray hair bands and clips from what used to be his drawer. Resting a hip against the vanity, he picked up the can of shaving cream, testing the weight of it in his palm.

"I still have your shampoo," he confessed.

Lorelai's head popped up and she turned to look at the can in his hand. "I hid it," she admitted sheepishly. "I missed it when I was cleaning out your stuff, and then when I found it, I just couldn't get rid of it."

"Yeah, me either," he said, lifting his gaze to meet hers.

"I'm so happy, Luke," she said softly.

"Me too," he answered.

Luke pulled her back into his arms again, pressing the cool can against her back as he rubbed his cheek against her soft hair. Closing his eyes for a moment, he tried to squash the niggling doubts that gnawed at him. Setting the can aside, he spread his fingers across her narrow back, needing to feel as much of her as he could. "We don't have to do this right now," he said quietly. "Come on, I'll make you some dinner and we'll watch a movie."

"I get to choose?" she asked warily.

"Sure." Luke nodded, knowing that at this point he would agree to anything and everything that she wanted. The only problem was that lately, Lorelai didn't seem to be quite sure what that was.

July 6, 2007

Emily made no effort to mask her surprise as Lorelai and Luke exchanged puzzled glances across the table. Richard almost had to smother a smile, easily translating the silent communication the younger couple shared. When, at last, Luke turned to look at him, Richard simply raised his eyebrows to prompt an answer.

"Uh, sure, Richard. That would be, uh, that would be nice," he stammered at last.

"Good." With a nod, he picked up his fork again and continued with his meal. Within moments, Richard found himself drifting far away from thoughts of overcooked carrots and fears of undercooked pork. Instead, he saw himself as he was over twenty years before, standing at the drinks cart in a tuxedo, mixing a pitcher of martinis, and trying to pretend that he wasn't listening to every word of his wife's telephone conversation.

"Well, surely she gave you some idea of what her plan could possibly have been, after all, she took your child with her when she packed her little hobo bag and left!" Emily snapped into the phone.

She was talking to Christopher again. Richard carefully placed an olive in each martini glass and tried to decipher if this was the third call she had placed to the Hayden residence, or if she was still working the poor boy over on the second call.

"Well, perhaps you can tell me which one of her friends may know," she said snidely.

Richard saw Emily stiffen, her back stretching as if her spine had been replaced with a broomstick, even as one of the puffy sleeves of her evening gown slid from her shoulder.

"Of course not! What responsible parent would let their child associate with a child who has a child?" she retorted. "You had no idea that she was leaving?"

Apparently, whatever answer Christopher had given her was unsatisfactory as far as Emily was concerned. Her eyes widened as she hissed, "Rory is your child! It doesn't bother you that your daughter and her mother are missing?"

Richard poured the chilled gin and vermouth from the shaker into the too thin glasses. He worried about handing one to her whilst she had worked herself into such a state. As he stared at the bottles neatly arranged on the drinks cart, he wondered if there was enough gin in the world to help him make it through this night.

"A note that said nothing!" Emily exclaimed, capturing his attention once more.

Whatever Christopher said next must have struck home, because Emily sucked in a sharp breath and then disconnected the call.

Richard felt a stab of ache in his heart. Over the years, he had been alternately the buffer, the referee, and the punching bag when it came to Emily's dealings with their only daughter. Admittedly, he had distanced himself from his only offspring. Years of rebellion and retribution had led them to this night and its unfathomable turn of events. Miles of distance separated him from the acute pain his wife and daughter inflicted on one another with almost gleeful abandon. He had simply stepped aside, staying carefully out of the fray.

It was a blessing and a curse, this cool objectivity he used as a shield when it came to dealing with the women in his life. A blessing, because he knew he didn't have the stomach for their blood sport. A curse, because they had no inkling of the deep, heart-wrenching love he felt for them both. He was afraid to show it to them, fearing that they would attack like a school of piranha. All these years he stood back, thinking that he was doing the right thing by staying out of their way. Now, he sees that he was simply a coward.

He carried the delicate stemmed glass to the desk where Emily sat flipping through her rigorously maintained address book. He placed it near her hand, but the martini stood untouched, its contents bracing effects as futile as Richard felt at that very moment. He watched her dial, the receiver pressed to her ear, fingers wrapped around it in a death-grip. Only the way she fidgeted with the single earring she had removed prior to placing the first call belied her anxiety as she waited for this call to go through. "Surely she must have told one of her friends where she planned on going. I'm calling Marjorie Hargrove. Perhaps Allison will have some information," she said stubbornly.

"Marjorie?" she asked brightly. "Emily Gilmore." She paused for a moment and then nodded. "Fine, fine, thank you for asking. And Gregory? Wonderful," she chirped as if she hadn't a care in the world. "I saw the most gorgeous sweater at Nordstrom's today and I simply had to tell you about it because I thought it would look stunning on Allison."

Richard scowled, oddly disturbed by his wife's ability to mask her distress at such a time. He wasn't sure what he had expected; Emily had always been a virtuoso when it came to putting on a brave face, but this time even he wondered at her astounding abilities

"She is? The American School? Oh, yes, Lorelai did tell me that. It must have slipped my mind," Emily too quickly. "Well, we always said that Allison had 'the ear' for languages, didn't we?" Richard watched as she gnawed her bottom lip, blinking rapidly to keep her tears at bay. "You are? Well, I'm sure that you'll have a wonderful time. Christmas in Paris," she added with a forced laugh that must have sounded just as shrill to her own ears because she cut it off abruptly. "Well, be sure to give Gregory my best, and Allison too when you speak to her. Goodbye, Marjorie.

She turned and looked up at him, lost and bewildered, her confusion etched into her every feature. "Allison Hargrove is studying in Paris this year," she said flatly.

Richard cradled his martini in his hand, the ice-cold liquid seemingly seeping through the too thin glass that held it, chilling his fingers to the bone. He knew that what was troubling Emily in that moment was more than their daughter's disappearance. He knew in a way that his beloved wife had never truly embraced, that what she had just realized was the disappearance of Lorelai's entire future. He had long since bid those hopes and dreams adieu, allowing them to be buried in their own rubble the moment the words, 'I'm pregnant,' came out of his fifteen year old daughter's mouth.

But Emily, in her stubborn, indomitable, quintessentially Emily way, had never let go of those dreams. Through pregnancy, delivery, and even the first tumultuous year of little Rory's life, Emily had clung to the belief that somehow, some way, they could get Lorelai back on track. Now, not only did he have to bear witness to his only child's humiliating fall from grace, but also the complete disintegration of his beloved wife's carefully crafted plans. Now, he stood idly by while Emily was crushed by the certain knowledge that Lorelai would never study in France, she wouldn't marry her child's father and allow their paths to be steered by the adults who so obviously knew better, and that child - that angelically beautiful little girl who in such a short time managed to capture both of their hearts - that child was taken from them.

Reaching out to her, he brushed his thumb gently over the deep furrow that had formed on her once-smooth brow. Instead of comforting her, though, his tender touch seemed to trigger an eruption inside of her. He watched in astonishment as her face crumpled, fighting back the enormous sob that wracked her entire body. Pulling his hand away, he gaped in horror as she convulsed with a pain so raw, so overwhelming, that he could barely comprehend what was happening to her.

When she covered her face with her hands, he snapped out of his stupor, breaking through that invisible shield that had kept him safe for far too long, shattering it like the fragile glass that shattered at his feet as he pulled her from the chair and into his arms.

"I'll find them," he promised hoarsely. Her body shook, quaking with a power he could not understand and he had no earthly idea how to contain. "I swear, I'll find them," he whispered desperately, holding her closer in an effort to still her rattling sobs.

"Emily," he murmured. Running his hand over her hair, he dislodged one of the jeweled combs, freeing a cinnamon-colored swath that curtained her face. Frantic fingers scrambled to restore order to her painstakingly arranged coiffure as he subconsciously tensed for the scolding he was sure was to come.

Instead, she looked up at him, her eyes dark and awash with tears. "Find them," she whispered.

"I will," he said, his voice breaking under the weight of the unflinching trust he saw in those bottomless brown eyes. "I'll call Paluso. He's a private investigator that the firm keeps on retainer," he told her, grasping at the first straw that came to hand.

"Yes, yes," Emily said breathlessly, swiping at her eyes as she took a step back. "Yes, call him."

When she turned toward the telephone, Richard took a moment to catch his breath, praying that his hands wouldn't tremble as he reached for the receiver.

Trying to still the tremor that shook his hand; Richard carried a tiny piece of meat to his lips, concentrating on holding the fork still as he prayed that he could manage to choke it down without drawing attention to himself. Emily asked a question about Rory, and his head jerked up, his attention torn between Lorelai and Luke as he tried to decide whose reaction he needed to see.

As it was, Luke visibly flinched as Emily repeated her question with exaggerated care. Richard turned to look at his daughter and saw a pink flush tingeing her cheeks as she shifted restlessly in her seat. She mumbled something about being unsure and then tried to play her discomfiture off by promising to ask Rory that very question when she spoke to her after dinner. Richard heard Luke slowly release the breath he had been holding, and offered the younger man a bland smile.

"So, Luke, business is going well?" he asked, scarcely giving a damn that the topic of Luke's business had been exhausted in the first two minutes of the cocktail hour.

June 18, 2007

Luke followed Lorelai into the house, carefully closing and locking the front door behind them. He began to unbutton his flannel, but froze when he heard her yell, "Arrgh!"

He rushed into the living room. "What's wrong?"

"Damn it, damn it, damn it!" she said as she jabbed the playback button on the answering machine.

Rory's voice seeped from the speaker. "Hi, Mom. Hi, Luke, if you're there. Sorry I couldn't talk earlier, Mom. Things were crazy. I'm, uh, somewhere in Virginia. Just outside of Washington, D.C.," she said. Her voice sounded reedy and tired, and she sighed heavily. "We just got in and I haven't had more than three hours of sleep a night for days. I'm going to go to bed, but I promise I'll try to call tomorrow. I, uh, I miss you. Tell everyone hi for me."

"No!" she wailed, dropping her keys onto the desk. Lorelai jabbed at the rewind button and replayed the message.

When the machine beeped again, Luke grimaced. "Sorry," he offered gruffly.

"Why did we have to go out tonight?" she asked plaintively.

Luke prudently refrained from reminding her that they had stayed at home every night that week waiting for the phone to ring. "You haven't talked to her?"

"No, I haven't talked to her," she snapped. "Well, I have, but not for more than a minute. I've talked to her long enough to have her tell me she doesn't have time to talk," Lorelai grumbled.

"I'm sorry," he said again.

"God! I mean, it's getting to the point where I talk to my mother more than she talks to me," she pouted. "She always has a fundraiser, or a press conference, or drinks with the freakin' Dalai Lama," she muttered as she threw her purse down on the desk, violently kicking the sandals from her feet. "Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There's no good time!"

"You guys send those phone message things back and forth all of the time."

"Texts," she informed him. "But a text isn't the same as a phone call."

"Well, we knew she would be busy," he said slowly. "I mean, that's good, right? She's busy and making friends and living her life, just like you said you wanted her to," he reminded her of one of the many conversations they'd had just after Rory's departure.

"Yeah, but she had time to call before," she protested. "I want scared, home-sick Rory back."

"No you don't."

"Yes I do!"

"Well, maybe things have been picking up a little, but I'm sure it'll slow down again. The election is still over a year away."

Lorelai glared at him, crossing her arms over her chest. "It's like she doesn't want to talk to me."

"Of course she wants to talk to you," he scoffed, heading for the refrigerator.

"Why did we have to go out tonight?" she whined. "Stupid new restaurant."

Luke frowned, hearing the note of censure in her tone. "Hey, you're the one who wanted to try it."

"You're the one who said you wouldn't cook!"

"You're the one who decided that we should go out."

"Or starve."

Luke rolled his eyes. "You wouldn't have starved. I could have made sandwiches, or ordered pizza, or even Al's; but you didn't want that."

"I'm sick of pizza and Al's."

"That's because all we've been doing is sitting here waiting for Rory to call. You have a cell phone, Lorelai."

"Yeah, but she didn't call my cell, did she?" Lorelai said snidely. "She called here, and I wasn't here to answer it. See? She didn't really want to talk to me."

Luke twisted the cap from a bottle of beer and tossed it toward the trash. "So, what? We're going to sit at home every night on the off chance that Rory dials the house phone instead of your cell phone?"

"You like sitting at home! Besides, you aren't sitting at home, are you?" she demanded.

"What? I've been here every night," he retorted.

"But you don't live here," she hissed. "I cleaned out the closet and the bathroom. There are shelves for your books and even a place for your trophies, but I don't see any of that stuff here! As a matter of fact, the only proof I even have that you've been here is a pair of your underwear that was accidentally kicked under the bed!"

"You cleaned all of that stuff out and then put your stuff right back in there!" Luke said angrily. "I didn't know what to think. Last week, you're pushing me to move in, but then you make sure there's no room for me!"

"I don't want to push you into anything," she said snidely. "You don't have to do a damn thing. You're good at that, not doing anything, aren't you?" she muttered under her breath." Brushing past him, she stalked back into the living room.

"What the hell?" Luke stomped into the living room after her. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Oh, I think you know what it means," she answered snidely.

"So we're going to do this now," he said, his tone flat and cold.

"You just stand still, waiting for things to happen. For a guy who likes to let his actions speak, you're awfully quiet." Luke clenched his jaw, trying to rein in his temper so that this argument wouldn't escalate beyond his control. "See? Not moving, not speaking," she said pointedly and started up the stairs.

"Where are you going?"

"I'll give you three guesses."

Luke stared after her in disbelief. "Aren't we going to talk about this?"

"I keep waiting for your interpretive dance, but nothing is happening," she called back over her shoulder.

Closing his eyes, Luke dragged in a deep breath, telling himself over and over again that this wasn't about him or them. He heard her banging things around up in the bedroom and slowly counted backwards from ten. He didn't dare peek at the front door because he knew that it absolutely was not an option. Instead, he took a long pull of his beer and then placed his booted foot on the bottom step.

He trod heavily, figuring it would be best to give her fair warning of his approach. When Luke stepped into the bedroom, he heard Lorelai angrily shoving hangers aside in the walk-in closet.

"Lorelai," he said quietly as she lifted a handful of hangers holding pants and skirts from the rod.

She sniffled softly and shook her head, keeping her back to him as she transferred the garments to the other side of the closet. She placed a handful of unused hangers on the now empty rod and squatted to pull shoes from the cubby holes beneath.

Staring down at the curtain of dark curls that shielded her face from view, Luke freed the last few buttons on his shirt and pulled a hanger from his side of the closet. The blue and green plaid flannel swayed back and forth as he hung it in the closet, capturing her attention.

Lowering himself next to her, he gently removed a pair of pink pumps from her hand. "I only need three or four spots," he told her quietly.

"Good," she said as she shoved them into one of the slots on the second row, cramming them in on top of a pair of tennis shoes she seldom wore.

"Hey," he whispered, brushing her hair back so that he could see her face.

Lorelai pressed her lips together as she turned to look at him, her blue eyes bright with unshed tears. "Why did we have to go out tonight?" she asked in a mournful whisper.

"Because I'm an idiot," he answered, and then pulled her into his arms.

July 6, 2007

Emily tapped her fingernail against her wine glass as she waited with barely concealed impatience for her maid to clear the dinner plates. The action set Richard's already frayed nerves on edge. "Why don't you ring the bell, Emily," he suggested, clearly annoyed.

"I shouldn't have to ring the bell. If the woman was paying even the slightest bit of attention to her work, she would be aware that we've been finished for over five minutes," Emily replied stiffly.

Richard smothered a sigh and turned to Lorelai. "Things are going well at the inn?"

Lorelai nodded, and then made a concerted effort to muster some interesting tidbits for their amusement, but Richard could see that her heart wasn't in it. His normally effervescent daughter spoke slowly, the sharp edges of her wit dulled and the timing of her delivery decidedly off. Emily sat back in her chair, clearly perturbed. Throughout the anecdote, she stared at the kitchen doorway, as if trying to summon the maid by sheer force of will. Richard half-expected it to work, for no one was better acquainted with Emily Gilmore's force of will than he.

He knew that she would be waiting for him when he got home. She had been every night for a week. When he was young and foolish, he had wished that his ever-efficient and socially adept wife would simply allow him to come home and relax, rather than partake in the endless round of social engagements that seemed to be de rigeur in their social set. Hell, he had been grumbling and complaining about attending the symphony fundraiser that they failed to attend on the very night that Lorelai left. Now as he pulled into the driveway, Richard found himself wishing with all his heart that they had someplace, anyplace else to go. Anyplace but here.

He looked up at the home he had so proudly purchased for his bride and wondered when it had made the transformation from castle to prison. He dropped his gaze to the dashboard in front of him and cursed his misplaced bravado. What could have possibly possessed him? How could he have made such promises? One thing that he had always been extraordinarily vigilant about, ever since he was a young boy, was the sanctity of his word. And now he had to walk into that fortress of a house and tell the increasingly distraught woman he had vowed to love, honor, and cherish that he hadn't kept his word.

Inhaling deeply, he reached for his briefcase and climbed from the car, slowing unfolding his aching joints until he stretched to his full height. The front door opened before he even reached the portico, and he stifled a sigh of impatience. Shaking his head slightly, he pushed past Emily, depositing his briefcase in the entryway and unbuttoning his suit coat.

"He hasn't been able to locate them," he said before she could even ask.

"Hasn't been able to locate them? She's a seventeen year old girl with an infant. How difficult can it be?" she demanded.

"Now, Emily," he began.

"No! Don't you dare 'Now, Emily,' me! I want to know where my daughter and granddaughter are! They couldn't have gotten very far; she has no money, no skills for making any money. Christopher said that she hadn't asked him for anything. How hard can it possibly be to locate a penniless young woman with no viable job skills and a baby on her hip?" she demanded, her voice rising with hysteria.

"Emily, please!" Richard interjected.

"But no, that imbecile that you hired couldn't find his nose on his own face!" she shouted. "Each day that goes by means that she has moved that much farther away! Do I need to spell that out for you along with that Phillip Marlowe knock-off that you hired?"

"Emily Gilmore, stop that this instant!" he bellowed. Richard's own eyes widened as she shied away from him, stunned by the vehemence in his tone. His chest heaved as he looked down at her, trying to get a grip on his rapidly dwindling self-control. "I assure you that we are doing everything that we possibly can to find them," he said, his voice low and tightly controlled.

"What? What are you doing to find them?" she demanded, clinging to the very edges of her anger.

"He has a lead, but to be perfectly honest with you, I think that the odds of it turning out to be Lorelai and Rory are slim," he said cautiously.

"What kind of a lead?"

"The woman that works the service counter at the Stop & Shop said that a young woman with dark hair and a little girl in a stroller bought a pass for the Enfield-Somers Express bus service, but that route only goes as far as Thompsonville."

"Thompsonville? That's almost to the state line," Emily said, her brow puckering with worry.

"He was heading up there this afternoon to see if anyone recalls seeing her in the area," he told her.

"They could be anywhere! Springfield, Boston… They could have gone to California by now!" she pointed out, her voice rising again.

"She's still a minor. We notified the authorities, the airports, the bus terminals," he said weakly.

"But she got on a bus!"

"A city bus," he pointed out.

"A city bus that took her out of Hartford!"

"Emily, we're doing the best that we can…"

"That's not good enough!" she snapped. Covering her forehead with her hand, she closed her eyes, squeezing them tightly. "I can't talk about this anymore. You tell that man that I want results. You tell him that I want my daughter back!"

"Emily, you're being unreasonable," he said sternly.

"Unreasonable? I'll show you 'unreasonable,' Richard Gilmore! I'm going to go upstairs, take some aspirin, and put a cool cloth on my head. When I come back down, that man of yours had better have some answers for me, or so help me God I will go looking for those girls myself!"

With that, Emily turned on her heel and stormed up the stairs. Richard stood in the vestibule staring down at the briefcase he had carried into the house just moments before. He examined the brass lock on the attaché before letting his eyes travel to the solid wood door that was meant to ward off intruders while keeping his family safe, and Richard found himself wondering exactly when it was that he had become the enemy.

Jumping slightly when the maid removed his plate, Richard tried to cover his surprise with a forced cough. Emily glanced at him worriedly, and he forced a small, reassuring smile. "Ah, dessert," he said, rubbing his hands together.

"My favorite part of any meal," Lorelai concurred, forcing a little enthusiasm into her voice. "Of course, I always hope that it'll be pie."

"It's chocolate mousse with fresh raspberries," Emily said as she lifted her water glass.

"Mmm, Chocolate," Lorelai hummed.

"These were the first decent looking berries I've seen all summer," Emily commented.

"Jackson had some good boysenberries this year," Luke chimed in.

"Mmm, that was the best boysenberry pie ever," Lorelai murmured, meeting Luke's eyes across the table.

"I'm glad you liked it," Luke replied.

Richard leaned forward, watching his daughter and Luke interact under the guise of attacking the dessert that appeared in front of him. Suddenly it was glaringly obvious what Luke had become to his daughter, or possibly had always been. In Rory's absence, Luke was now Lorelai's touchstone; the one person she could turn to for what validation she may need. Gratified to see that they both seemed determined to make an effort, he picked up his fork, hoping that the talk of sweeter things could somehow thin the dense air in the room.

June 23, 2007

"Hey, how about a movie?" Luke asked, turning to study her profile by the light of the television.

"Nah, there's nothing playing," she answered, flipping from station to station.

"We could take a walk, maybe go down by the lake."

"Too hot."

When she paused at one of those home improvement shows that always seemed to be on, Luke found himself glancing around the room for something, anything to distract them from the silent phone on the coffee table. He wracked his brain for a potential project, but came up empty. Desperate, he took a bracing breath and then offered his baby as a sacrifice to her happiness. "You know, I was thinking... The diner is looking a little run down," he began.

"You think?" she asked with a puzzled frown.

"Well, you know, the paint and stuff," he said with a shrug.

"Didn't you just paint it when Kirk drove Taylor's car through the window?"

Luke winced as her casual question brought back a flood of memories best forgotten. "Well, yeah, but I don't know. Maybe I picked the wrong colors."

"They're the same colors we used before."

"Forget it," he said dismissively. "Maybe I just need new, uh, blinds or something."

"Window treatments can change the look of an entire room," she said encouragingly, gesturing to the flowered curtains the host was sewing with her victim of the day. "I think that fabric looks familiar," Lorelai added with a slight smirk. "Nice and flowery, kind of like yours."

"I live here now," he reminded her, shifting in his seat as he crossed his arms over his chest.

"That's what that big hairy thing in my bed was."

"I'm not that big," he protested automatically and then grimaced when her smile widened.

"Yes, but you are hairy."

"I'll shave," he said dryly.

"Everything?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.

"Or I can move back to my old apartment. I kind of miss the curtains," he said darkly.

Lorelai chuckled as she pulled his arm free and ducked under it, holding his hand as it dangled over her shoulder. "I like having you here."

Turning to plant a soft kiss on her temple, Luke caught sight of his watch, suddenly all too aware of the sluggish passing of time. He knew he needed to do whatever he had to do to get her out of the house. "Oh! There's a town meeting tonight," he told her.

"There is? It's Sunday night."

"Emergency meeting. Something about the Fourth of July thing."

"Oh," Lorelai answered with a nod, settling back against his shoulder.

Luke scowled as he tucked his chin to his chest, trying to get a good look at her. "Don't you want to go?"

"No, we don't have to," she said with a dismissive wave of her hand.

"You love emergency meetings. You always say they pack more punch that just the usual craziness."

"I just don't feel like getting up."

"But I need to go," he blurted, a bit desperate to get her off of that damn couch.

"You need to go? Why would you need to go?"

"I, uh, Taylor…" he said, shaking his head as if that should be enough explanation.

"Taylor, what? Has pictures of you with a sheep? Luke, we said that the bad choices we'd made in the past were past, remember? I don't want to know about you and Dolly."

"Very funny," he said dryly. "No, he, uh, wants to put some display thing on the roof. Some fireworks thing," he improvised.

"On the roof of the diner?"

"Or the Soda Shoppe. I wasn't really listening," he added with a wry smile.

"Ooh! Steel Magnolias," Lorelai said as she settled on a channel and dropped the remote into her lap.

"We should go," he prompted.

"We both don't have to go, do we?"

Luke blinked, startled by her response. "Uh, no, I guess not," he said slowly.

Lorelai nodded. "You go. I expect a full report on the Luke/Taylor smackdown, though. Tell Kirk to take pictures if that vein in your neck starts popping out," she said as she leaned toward the opposite end of the couch and stretched out.

"No pictures. You wanna see the vein, you have to do it in person." When Lorelai only answered him with a vague smile, he really started to get antsy. "Uh, I think there may have been some kind of vague dirty in there..." he said leadingly.

"Hmm?" she hummed, glancing at the darkened display on her cell. "Oh. Yeah, maybe."

Frustrated and knowing that he was trapped, Luke pushed himself up from the couch, momentarily displacing her feet. "This could be a pie opportunity," he warned.

"Oh! Would you bring some pie back with you?" she called after him.

"You want pie, you have to come with me," he bargained, all but stomping toward the door. He pulled it open and clung to the knob for a moment, waiting for a sign of capitulation. "You coming?"

The drone of the television filled the silence that hung heavy between them. At last, Lorelai answered, "Nah, I have ice cream here. That'll do."

Luke closed the door behind him and stood on the porch staring out into the dusk shaded yard and biting the inside of his cheek. "Crap," he muttered as he moved toward the steps. "Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap."

July 6, 2007

Richard savored the combination of tart and sweet with a nearly hedonistic pleasure. Dark chocolate and fresh raspberries, he inhaled slowly as he let the mousse melt on his tongue. While Emily engaged Lorelai in a conversation about an upcoming committee meeting she was holding at the Dragonfly, he watched as Luke speared another plump raspberry, surreptitiously wiping the cloyingly sweet sauce on the edge of the plate before popping it into his mouth. He found himself fascinated by the unguarded expression of pleasure on the younger man's face as he bit into the perfectly ripened morsel of fruit, and wondered if he looked the same way. Returning his attention to his own dessert, he found himself envious once again. This time, it was of Luke's apparent ability to appreciate simple pleasures in the face of a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Richard tried in vain to recall if he had ever felt a moment of that bliss during those dark days that passed without word of Lorelai.

"I won't be here when you get home this evening," Emily informed him.

"Oh?" he asked, watching as she clipped an earring into place.

"I have a meeting for the Children's Hospital benefit committee."

"Isn't that benefit next week?"

"Yes, and it's a good thing that I have a week. The whole thing is in shambles and the silent auction items were laughable. How they expected to raise a dime offering half-day spa packages at the local beauty salon, I'll never know."

"I thought you turned that committee down. You said that it was too time-consuming ," he said with a puzzled frown.

Emily pursed her lips tightly and then turned from the mirror. "It seems that I have nothing but time now, doesn't it?" she said tautly.

A warm rush of relief flooded through him as he reached for her arm, his fingers closing tightly around startlingly delicate bone and sinew. "Perhaps this is the best thing at a time like this," he said quietly. "It will help to keep busy."

"Perhaps it is. Maybe if I can keep myself busy with doing some good, that investigator of yours may actually uncover something good as well," she replied. Pulling away from him, Richard's pleasure remained undiminished as she swept from the room with a purposeful stride.

For the following week, he scarcely saw her. Her days were filled with planning lunches and meetings with various contributors. Her evenings were spent on the telephone, making call after call to ensure that Hartford's finest turned out in droves to support the needs of their city's smallest citizens.

That Friday evening he had tried to leave the office early, knowing that she would be anxious to get to the venue to check on preparations for the all-important platinum donor cocktail party.

"Emily?" he called as he closed the front door behind him. Richard handed his briefcase and jacket to the maid that appeared as he strode for the stairs. "I'm sorry that I'm late. I tried to get away early, but a call came through from Hong Kong and I had to take it," he explained, loosening his bow tie as he mounted the stairs. "I promise, I won't take long," he vowed as he turned into their bedroom and stopped dead in his tracks.

Spotting his wife lying curled on her side, he crossed to the bed. "Emily?" he asked. "Emily! Are you all right?"

She shifted slightly and then rolled over onto her back, revealing the large manila envelope that had been crushed beneath her. Staring up at him blankly, she pulled the envelope out from under her and handed it to him.

"A messenger delivered it this morning," she said, her voice raw and raspy.

A trickle of trepidation ran down his spine as he cautiously reached for the envelope. Sliding one finger under the open flap, he found himself wondering what incriminating evidence it could contain. His mind raced, veering off on wild tangents that included cocktail waitresses, sleazy roadside motels, and almost every other cliché a married man was conditioned to fear. Shaking his head slightly, he reminded himself that he had nothing to fear, for he had done nothing wrong.

Reaching into the envelope, he withdrew a series of standard four by six inch prints and a business card printed with the name of Stephen Puloso's agency. He stared at the photograph of a dark-haired young woman who appeared to be grocery shopping as if it would contain all of the answers that they needed. Shuffling from one picture to the next, Richard paused only when the scene changed to the same young girl holding a child in her arms as she waited at a bus stop.

"Who is this?" he asked under his breath.

"It's not Lorelai," Emily said flatly. "That's who it is. Not Lorelai." With that, she rolled onto her side once more, curling into a tight ball.

Richard's fingers curled into his palm, subconsciously mimicking the protective pose his wife had adopted so long ago. The rich chocolate turned to dust on his tongue and he reached for his coffee, desperate to wash the lingering aftertaste of failure from his throat. He drained the cup, barely registering the shock of pain he felt as the hot liquid scalded his tongue.

Emily's eyebrows jumped when the empty cup rattled against his saucer. Her brow puckered for a moment, and then immediately smoothed as Luke looked up curiously.

"More coffee for Mr. Gilmore, Matilda," she called out to the maid.

June 30, 2007

"Lorelai?" Luke called as he walked through the front door.

When she didn't answer he assumed that she was sleeping, and walked directly to the kitchen, placing the bag he had carried from the diner on the counter. He then headed back through to the stairs where he sat down on the landing to remove his boots. His sock-clad feet slipped on the stairs as he crept quietly up to her bedroom. Their bedroom, he corrected himself, envisioning the row of plaid flannel shirts and hangers heavy with jeans that now hung next to her skirts and pants. His two good suits hung on the back of the rod, nestled up against her dresses, waiting for another Friday night of service.

Luke sighed, recalling the roller coaster ride the previous Friday night had turned out to be. When they'd left Stars Hollow, Lorelai had been on a roll. She chattered animatedly as he drove them toward Hartford in her rebuilt Jeep. She'd been like that for days, barely drawing a breath, scarcely lighting in any one spot long enough for him to be able to pin her down with a kiss. He wasn't even sure that she had slept. He tried, struggling valiantly night after night to keep his eyes open just a little bit longer, waiting to see if she'd drift off, and failing the challenge miserably every single time. The manic energy that practically seeped from her pores disturbed him on a number of levels.

First, he found it bothersome because it simply wasn't natural for Lorelai to be this energetic. Not the way she was now. Mentally energetic, yes, but the Lorelai Gilmore that he knew jealously hoarded physical energy. She wouldn't get up to refill her coffee cup if she even thought that there was a chance that he'd move from the couch first. It was a game that they used to play, and one that they fell back into easily, more easily than most everything else in their newly rekindled relationship. But lately he felt like one of those guys that stood on the ground trying to grab onto one of the ropes that dangled from the Hindenburg.

Second, there was nothing driving her. No one knew better than Luke that Lorelai led a purpose-driven life. Survival, determination, ambition, and passion were all essential in her world. But those qualities were not what were driving her now. She had proven that she could survive no matter what life threw at her. She faced every obstacle in her path with determination so fierce, it was almost frightening. Ambition battled with caffeine for the top spot as her fuel of choice, and passion was her currency, giving and taking it in any denomination she could. At the moment, though, it seemed that her boundless energy was created in a vacuum. There was no quest for survival, no obstacle to hurdle, nothing to conquer, and no need to satiate. She should have everything that she needed to be happy. But she wasn't. He could see that she wasn't, despite her toothy smiles and tinkling laughter.

The third, and admittedly most selfish level, was that he was afraid that now that all of the pieces of the puzzle were finally in place, she seemed slightly dissatisfied with the picture that had formed. Sometimes he caught her staring at him and he couldn't help but think she was mentally comparing the reality of their new togetherness with a much softer image. He could see her looking from the puzzle to the picture on the box, and then back again as if she were trying to figure out where she had gone wrong. Maybe it was an image of what they would be that existed only in her head, or perhaps it was one of those long-forgotten, seemingly inconsequential moments that had come and gone without him noticing. Maybe it was a mental snapshot she had stored away from before. Or worse, some completely unattainable, highly-filtered image of him she had conjured up in the time that they were apart.

He tiptoed into the bedroom, cocking his head as he studied the slight bump she made under the rumpled blankets. Luke frowned as he approached the bed, spotting the cell phone clutched in her hand, the laptop that sat idle on his side of the bed, and the portable phone from the living room tucked between their pillows. Suppressing a sigh, he lowered himself to the edge of the bed, twisting at his waist, and leaned down as he reached to touch his fingers to her sweat-dampened forehead.

Lorelai stirred and blinked at him blearily. Luke smiled, allowing his fingers to trail down her cheek as he pulled back. "You don't feel warm, but I don't know how you can stand to be under all those covers. It's hot as hell in here."

"Says the guy in the flannel shirt," she croaked.

He saw her let go of the cell phone as she pushed herself into a sitting position. "How are you feeling?"

"Okay," she answered, smoothing her damp hair back from her face.

"I brought you some soup."

"Too hot for soup."

"Not when you don't feel well."

"What kind of soup?"

"Chicken."

"Carrots?"

"A few, not a lot," he said quietly.

"Are you lying to me?"

"I'll go get it."

As he trudged back down the stairs, there was no doubt in his mind that she wasn't feeling well. The problem was, as good as his chicken soup was, he didn't think that it was going to do the trick in this particular case. Pulling the container from the bag, he removed the lid and then placed it in the microwave to warm. The seconds ticked by, much as they had the night before, each one moving them a little closer to that moment when her smile would light the room and her eyes would sparkle again. Sadly, Luke knew as he opened the microwave's door that these seconds would probably end up like those seconds that had passed with agonizing slowness the day before. These seconds were probably not going to give her what she needed. Only those seconds held that promise, and that promise was quashed the moment Emily opened the front door and announced that they had just missed Rory's call.

"What? How?" Lorelai had asked plaintively.

"She said that she had a last minute conference call with her editor, and then she had to rush out to cover a fundraising dinner Senator Obama was due to attend," Emily had answered with a shrug. Looking back over her shoulder as she led them into the living room, Emily waved her hand and said, "Rory said to tell you that she'd call you later tonight."

But that call had never come, and the light that lit Lorelai's bright blue eyes grew dimmer and dimmer as each second of that interminable evening slipped past.

Carrying the over-filled bowl of soup with care, Luke slowly climbed the stairs once again, only to find Lorelai sitting up in bed pecking away at her laptop. "Here, I'll eat your carrots for you," he said as he slid the bowl onto the nightstand and then presented her with a spoon.

She smiled up at him. "It must be love," she said in a breathy voice.

"Something like that," he answered, rubbing his fingers over the stubble that covered his chin. He nodded to the laptop as she set it aside. "You hear from her?"

"Not yet," she answered dully, reaching for the bowl.

"Did you call her?"

"She said she'd call."

"Yeah, but maybe you should just call her," he persisted.

"She's busy; she'll call when she has time," Lorelai said, repeating the phrase that seemed to have become her mantra in the past few weeks.

Luke nodded and settled back against the headboard next to her, wondering if he should point out the slice of bright orange carrot that had slipped onto the spoon when she dunked it, but choosing to keep his mouth shut as she carried it to her mouth, eating mechanically. That was the most disturbing development of all. The Lorelai he knew never ate to live, she lived to eat.

July 6, 2007

"Have a seat," Richard said as he gestured to the richly upholstered club chairs in front of his desk.

"Thanks." Luke stepped into the dimly lit room and unbuttoned his suit coat as he sat in one of the chairs, trying to take it all in.

"I don't suppose you'd care for a cigar?" Richard asked as he poured brandy into snifters.

"Uh, no thanks."

"Certainly you wouldn't deny me mine," Richard said, his jovial tone laced with shreds of tension. "I'm only allowed one after Friday night dinner."

"Go ahead," Luke replied as he took the glass that Richard offered.

Richard cradled the bowl of the glass, warming the amber liquid as he swirled it gently. Taking the seat across from Luke, he raised his glass in a toast, smiled wanly and said, "To drowning men," as he nodded in Luke's direction.

Luke looked at Richard sharply, but then shook it off. He took a tentative sip of the brandy and allowed a rare smile as it rolled smoothly down his throat. "Very good."

"The best," Richard said smugly as he clipped the end of a cigar. "You know, I've been where you are," he began casually. Holding the lighter steady, he drew on the cigar gently, making sure that each hand rolled leaf burned evenly.

"Excuse me?"

"You are in over your head, my boy," Richard asserted as he sat back in his chair.

"What are you talking about?"

"Lorelai. I'm talking about Lorelai, Luke," Richard said patiently.

"Listen, I know you don't like me, but Lorelai and me, this is it," Luke started as he scooted to the edge of his seat, preparing to defend his relationship.

"That isn't what I mean," Richard said with a dismissive wave of his cigar.

"And I'm sorry if I'm not what you pictured for her, but Lorelai loves me, and I love her," Luke continued.

"That much is painfully obvious," Richard answered with a wry smile.

"I'm not goin' anywhere. You can say what you want to me, treat me like dirt, try to fill Lorelai's head full of crap, but I'm stickin'," Luke asserted as he began to rise.

"Sit down, Luke, no one is attacking you," Richard said calmly. "I'm trying to help."

"Help?" Luke asked suspiciously.

"She's grieving, Luke."

"Who?"

"Lorelai."

"Grieving? Grieving what?"

"Rory, of course."

"Rory's fine. Lorelai got a text thingy from her on the way here."

"You're being far too literal," Richard sighed impatiently.

"And you're being… The Riddler," Luke managed to stammer, frustrated.

Richard chuckled as he stared into his snifter. "I suppose I am," he murmured. Taking a bracing breath, he looked up at Luke and said, "After Lorelai ran away, Emily crawled into our bed and wouldn't get up for a month."

"A month?"

"Well, twenty-nine days to be exact. Seemed like thirty or thirty-one, though."

"Wow." Luke slowly lowered himself into his seat once more. "What did you do?" he asked.

Richard shook his head as Luke winced, realizing he was giving himself away. "What did I do? I begged. I pleaded. I demanded, cajoled, threatened, and bribed her with everything under the sun. It didn't matter. I couldn't give her what she wanted."

"Lorelai."

"And Rory," he added with a nod. "We missed them terribly, though we were too angry to admit it. This house… I bought this house expecting that we would fill it with children. That didn't happen. We were lucky to have Lorelai," he murmured. His hand trembled as he raised his glass and took a sip. "When she left, I thought that Emily would never recover."

Cradling his glass in both hands, Luke nodded and stared down at the toes of his black dress shoes. "That must have been very hard for both of you."

"I was desperate," Richard whispered, lost in the memory. "I was afraid of what I'd have to do if she didn't snap out of it. I couldn't tell anyone what was happening, I couldn't ask for help. Emily's parents were gone, and her only sister lived in Paris. My own mother had just moved to England… We had no one."

"You had each other," Luke offered weakly.

Richard looked over at Luke pityingly. "You have a child now. Do you really think that having Lorelai in your life could cushion you from the blow of losing April?"

"No," Luke admitted gruffly.

"Your partner is supposed to be your comfort and your support, the rock that you cling to when life threatens to sweep your feet out from under you, but what do you do when it happens to both of you?" he asked rhetorically. "I remember thinking about those statistics one hears about divorce rates skyrocketing when a couple loses a child, but they tend to refer to the death of that child. It's assumed that the loss is caused by something beyond your control: illness, accident, crime," he said quietly. "You never hear anything about those parents who lose their children through rejection."

"I'm not sure that Lorelai reject…"

"Lorelai rejected everything that we were and everything that we wanted for her," Richard said, cutting Luke's polite protest off abruptly. "You have hopes and dreams for April, just as Lorelai has them for Rory. That's what a good parent does, dreams of a better life for their child."

"Lorelai knows that now," Luke assured him.

Richard nodded. "I'm sure that she does." Clearing his throat, he met Luke's gaze. "I see what's happening."

"What do you mean?"

"I see Lorelai fading away. Perhaps she hasn't taken to her bed, but she isn't living her life, either," he said flatly.

Luke flinched and then looked away. "She's doing better," he said at last.

"Because she has you." When Luke's head jerked up in surprise, Richard smiled. "You may just be strong enough to handle her now."

"Gee, thanks."

"Well, I think we both can agree that you weren't before. You have more at stake now. You know the cost of losing her."

"I do."

"I didn't know anything. All I knew was that I was desperate. I tried everything, and when everything failed, I clung to Hope."

"Well, you always have to have hope," Luke said encouragingly.

Richard chuckled at the misunderstanding. "No, Hope, Emily's sister. I called her and begged her to come. One first class ticket from Paris to New York later, I had someone on my side. Well, she was on both of our sides," he amended. "She helped me. Coaxing Emily to wash her hair, bullying her into getting dressed, and sitting on the bed chattering on about everything and nothing to fill the silence in the room. Hope was strong for Emily, and she taught me to be strong. She really is the most extraordinary woman."

"It's good that she could be here for her. For you both."

"It probably didn't hurt that Lorelai and Hope were very much alike. Emily always admired her sister's joie de vivre. Funny how that same lust for life was what drove Lorelai away from us," he said quietly.

"But she didn't stay away," Luke pointed out.

"No, she didn't. Days after her eighteenth birthday we received a postcard with a picture of a charming inn on the front and a message that read only, 'We're fine, don't worry about us.' It never occurred to either of us that she was actually living there until the second postcard came, and then a note on the inn's stationary with a picture of Rory enclosed," he recalled. "By that time, we had no recourse in bringing her home, and she seemed to be managing perfectly well without us."

"She worked hard."

"Yes, I know that she did," Richard murmured as he tipped the ash from his cigar. "That same determination is what will pull her through this time, too. You just need to give her time."

"Time," Luke repeated.

"It's the only thing that helps." He turned to look at Luke and said, "I don't know how much help that I can be, but I want you to know that if you need us, Emily and I will be here."

Luke reared back slightly as he digested Richard's words. "Thank you."

Richard raised his glass again, swirling the remains of his brandy as he waited for Luke to do the same. "To drowning men everywhere, and the sirens that call to them. Let's hope you don't end up dashed against the rocks."

"I'll drink to that," Luke muttered, and then downed the contents of his glass.

****

"So, what did Dad want?" Lorelai asked the moment they turned out of the driveway.

"Uh, nothing, he just wanted to have a cigar and a glass of brandy," he answered, glancing over at her nervously.

"You're a sucky liar."

"I'm not lying. We drank brandy and he smoked his cigar," Luke said too quickly.

"Yes, and he wanted to talk to you about something," she persisted. "Did he ask what your intentions were?"

"No, but I'm pretty sure he figured that out already."

"Did he have a hot stock tip to share?"

"No."

"Luke! It's driving me crazy," she said between clenched teeth. "Tell me!"

"There's nothing to tell. We talked about Rory, April a little… Hey, I didn't know your mom had a sister," he said, turning to look at her curiously.

"Aunt Hope. Hopie," Lorelai answered with a nod. "She lives in Paris, doesn't come back to the States very much."

"We just talked about a lot of things," he told her, shrugging his shoulders. "He's still crazy about your mom."

"No surprise there. They've always been a tight little unit," she said with an edge of bitterness.

"There's nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact, I hope that we have that."

"You want to grow up to be just like my parents?" she scoffed.

"No, I just, they've made it work for over forty years. You have to respect that level of devotion, to look at these people who have been together forever, but they're still all wrapped up in each other. They are partners, in every sense of the word."

"Especially in crime," she added with a smirk.

Luke shot her a look out of the corner of his eye. "I want that with you."

Lorelai's smirk faded as she nodded slowly, absorbing his meaning. "I want that, too."

They lapsed into companionable silence as she stared out at the road that stretched ahead of them. "I miss Rory," she said quietly.

Luke's hands gripped the wheel so hard that his knuckles turned white. "I know."

"I know this is how it's supposed to be. She's off to live her own life," she said with a pensive frown. She shrugged off his understanding glance, tearing up a little as she said, "I always knew that she probably wouldn't live and work in Stars Hollow. We both always knew it."

Luke reached across the seat and took her hand, pulling it into his lap and holding it fast against his leg. "It's what she wanted." Lorelai paused, biting her lip to keep the tears at bay. "It's what I wanted for her, really," she concluded.

"I know you did," he reassured her.

Lorelai turned away from him, her lashes fluttering as she beat back the tears that threatened again. Luke squeezed her hand, trying to force the strength from his fingers to flow into hers. To his surprise, it seemed to work. Lorelai sat up a little straighter in her seat and sniffled softly, her lips curving into a rueful smile as she turned to look at him.

"I want to send her a huge care package. Who knows what they feed their reporters there, even their star reporters. She's not eating well enough, I know it," she insisted.

Luke bit back a laugh. "Okay," he drawled. "I never thought you'd worry about Rory eating well."

"Hey! I made sure she ate a vegetable once a week," Lorelai said indignantly.

"Lettuce essence doesn't count, Lorelai."

"Yes, it does," she said, lifting her chin stubbornly. "You could bake her some cookies or brownies. She'd really like that. Maybe I'll pick up some fun travel games and stuff," she added. "She has to be sick of everything she took with her by now."

"Great idea. I'll make cookies and brownies."

"Kiss up," she muttered. Lorelai leaned over in her seat, resting her head on his shoulder for a moment. "Ow, crick," she groaned as she pressed her hand to her neck and sat up again.

"I'll rub it."

She flashed a brilliant smile and asked, "What else can I get you to rub?"

"Anything you want."

"That's good information to have," she replied with a nod. "Oh! I guess I'll need to find out where their next stop is to know where to send the package..."

"We'll find out," he assured her, lifting her hand to his lips for a soft kiss. "Maybe I'll send her one of those message things on the phone."

****

"Here you are, Emily," Richard said as he presented her with a glass of sherry.

"Thank you." Emily sat back in her chair, her fingers wrapped around the delicate stem of the glass. "What did you want to speak to Luke about?"

Richard shook his head and shrugged the question off. "Nothing in particular, I just thought that it was time that I made more of an effort to get to know him."

Emily traced the rim of her glass with her fingertip. "I suppose so. It appears that he is the one that she chooses. Her final rebellion," she said, lifting her glass in a tiny salute to her absent daughter.

"I don't know, Emily," Richard said slowly. "They seem to have a good partnership. They support one another, they understand each other," he mused.

"He broke her heart."

"I dare say that she broke his too," he countered. "I think that perhaps they are stronger for it. They've taken a relationship which has been tattered and torn and even destroyed at one point, and they have rebuilt it. There's something to be admired in that."

"Possibly," she conceded.

Savoring a sip of her sherry, Emily stared into her glass pensively. "I'm worried about Lorelai," she admitted softly.

"I know."

"She seems so lost without Rory."

"She isn't lost. Luke will keep her grounded."

"You seem to have a good deal of faith in Luke all of a sudden," she said sharply.

Richard sipped his drink and then nodded slowly. "I think we understand one another a little better than we did before."

"I see."

He offered her a small smile and said, "Don't fret; I won't be inviting him to the club again anytime soon."

"I have a sneaking suspicion that Luke would also be relieved to hear that."

Richard chuckled. He placed his glass on the end table and stood up, extending his hand to her. Setting her own glass aside, she placed her hand in his and allowed him to pull her from her seat. Once she was cradled safe and secure in his arms, he pressed a soft kiss to her hair and murmured, "I suspect that you are right, my dear. As always."