A/N- There is now a playlist for this song on Playlist. com, with a breakdown by chapter. The link is in my profile. Feel free to check that out, and thank you all for your support!

This fic in its entirety is dedicated to my beloved aunt. R.I.P. Lorraine, we love you and miss you!

5. Speak

Three Weeks Later...

Jess pressed his face deeper into his pillow and debated getting up. From the angle at which the sun was hitting him, he could tell it was already well into the morning, and Luke's habitual early rising had rubbed off on Jess. Lying around in bed wasn't his style (well, not anymore, at least; his teenage years were another story). And anyway, it looked too much like moping. He was determined to convince his severely overprotective roommates that he was well enough to go back to "regular" work.

In the two and a half weeks since he'd been released from the hospital, Jess had been on "forced leave" at Matt's behest. He was supposed to be writing. "You said writing The Subsect helped you get over your teenage angst, right?" the neurotic young man had reasoned. "Maybe writing some short stories or starting a new book will help with... well..."

That was, perhaps, the most infuriating part of the whole debacle, in Jess' opinion. Everyone was tiptoeing around him as though he were going to shatter at any moment, and no matter how many times he assured them that he was fine, they didn't seem to believe him. He understood why, obviously, but it was still irritating. Because he was fine. He wasn't good, but he was okay. He wasn't about to go slitting his wrists or anything. He'd told the truth about that much- the suicide attempt was a drunken, one-time deal. It seemed incredibly surreal to him. At times, Jess couldn't believe he'd actually done it.

He was still feeling depressed, though. The hopelessness and loneliness he had been feeling that night were still very much present with him. A whole lifetime without Rory was too long. Yes, he had Matthew and Chris and even Luke. Friends and a father-figure, though, still left this empty place in his life. They couldn't fill the hole she had left in him.

It sucked.

Jess kept replaying their last conversation in his head, and he did again as he got up and slouched in the bathroom to take a shower. She had looked shocked and broken and small. He had pushed her away yet again. He didn't regret that- it was self-defense. But she had left, and that was that. Nevertheless, she had given him a look as she walked out of the cramped hospital room that said that maybe that wasn't that. He didn't know what that look had meant, but it had shaken him (more than he already had been).

All he was sure of was that, once again, they hadn't said goodbye. It was becoming a pattern with them. The only time he had ever said goodbye to her, and vice versa, he had already been planning on going back to Stars Hollow, so it hadn't really counted. That was actually the thing he had held onto in the hospital, when he was still struggling to pull himself back together; the fact that once again, they had left themselves an opening for the next time.

Holding onto anything of her was foolish, and he knew it. He was just setting himself up to have his heart smashed to pieces yet again. But he couldn't stop himself.

Jess was just pulling a clean T-shirt on when a loud knock resounded through the apartment. Curiously, he headed for the door, wondering who could possibly be up here at this time of day. Matt or Chris would have just used their key, and they likewise would have intercepted any deliveries intended for Truncheon. He pulled the door open.

Rory stood in the doorway, staring at him. She was turned half-away, as if she'd been planning on making a break for it before the sudden opening of the door halted her in her tracks. Her blue eyes were huge as she looked up at him. The phrase deer in headlights drifted across his mind.

For a very long three seconds, she stared at him. Then letting out a little breath halfway between a gasp and a sigh, she launched herself at him, seizing his face between her hands and kissing him fiercely. Shock rolled through him and he responded automatically, hands tentatively finding her waist and lips moving with hers. But as the reality of the situation sunk in, he knew he had to stop or it would break him.

Hands on her shoulders, he pushed her gently away. "Don't do this to me, Rory," he said, hearing the roughness of his own voice. "Don't make me think you're here for me and then take it away. I can't--"

"No!" she interrupted quickly. "I... I had intended to talk to you, to explain, but then I saw you and I just... couldn't help it."

"Okay," he responded warily, not sure what she was talking about. "Come in." He stepped aside to allow her into the apartment.

She looked around as he shut the door, a little smile on her lips. Then the expression fell, giving way to a worried frown and she nibbled on her bottom lip nervously. "I'm not really sure how to begin," she said quietly. "I've had the entire drive from Hartford to figure it out, and I still don't... know how to say this."

"So just say it," he advised, more irritably than he'd intended. Couldn't she just spit it out and go and leave him to his misery?

"Logan almost died," she blurted out. What? What did that have to do with anything?

"Two weeks ago," she continued. "His parachute didn't open, and apparently it was a really tall cliff and there were rocks and things and... um... well, I was fine. I mean, obviously I was worried. I'd be the most awful person in the world if I wasn't, you know, worried about him. But in the back of my mind, I knew I'd be fine if he d-died. Well, obviously not fine fine, but I'd survive and I'd be able to get on with my life."

Still in the dark about how any of this pertained to him, Jess gave her the blankest expression he could muster up. "Good for you," he said dryly. "What does that have to do with you turning up in Philadelphia out of the blue and kissing me?"

Rory gave him a sad smile, the one that never failed to break his heart because of all the looks she ever wore, it was the one that betrayed the most pain. "Jess, when you were in the hospital, I was terrified," she explained. "After I heard the news, I cried all the way to Philadelphia, and again while we were waiting for you to wake up, and after you fell asleep, and all the way back to Stars Hollow, and a little bit at Lane's wedding, too. I haven't been that scared or that worried ever. If you had died, I don't know what I would have done!

"But when Logan got hurt, I was okay. I didn't cry. It was awful, of course, but... I could still breathe. That made me take a really hard look at myself." She took a deep breath, as though steeling herself for something. She drummed her fingers nervously against her thighs and avoided his gaze. "It made me realize that... well, the truth is, I've been scared, for a really long time. I've been finding guys who don't really have the power to break my heart, because that's not something I want to ever have to go through again. But there's a problem with that- even if I can fall in love with men like that, I can't also love them. Do you see the difference?"

Jess thought maybe he did, but he was too busy trying to figure out where the hell she was going with this rambling monologue to do more than give her a cursory nod, anything to keep her talking so that she'd just get to the point already! Against his will, a bloom of hope had been created in him, and he would rather that it be killed now, instead of drawing it out over several minutes and allowing it to grow that much more painful when it finally was crushed.

"When I left you, that night at the open house, it was just supposed to be my heart I was breaking, don't you see?" she said. "It wasn't supposed to mean anything to you! I guess we all know that was wrong, but... I thought you were over it. I thought I was the only one who was too stupid to let go of whatever this absurd thing between us is."

He was flabbergasted- that was really the only word for it. He still didn't know where she was going with this, and he wasn't sure whether he should be joyful or depressed, but either way she was standing here, saying things that made no sense to him. Jess reacted the only way he knew how. "You have a boyfriend, Rory," he said, coldly indifferent.

She shook her head, brunette curls swirling about her shoulders. "Not anymore," she said. "Why do you think it took me three weeks to come here? Maybe drawing it out was cruel, but breaking it off with Logan when he was in that condition would have been much worse. I knew that no matter what happened with you and I, I couldn't stay with Logan anymore. It wouldn't have been fair to him."

Lost for words, Jess just nodded.

"The truth is, Jess, no matter what I try to do, moving on isn't helping me get over it. Nobody else compares to you, no one ever has. I'm done closing my eyes and pretending that everything is fine with my life when it's so obviously not. I'm done running from what I want because it's scary. Yes, you broke my heart once, but I guess I broke yours, too... You'd think we'd figure it out by now that all we ever do is hurt each other. But, I don't know. I kind of think maybe it's because neither of us has the guts to be honest about what we're feeling, because rejection would hurt too much. So this is me, pouring out my heart and saying that if it's not too late, if I haven't messed up too badly... I want to give us another shot. "

Was it too late? There was a lot of hurt and history between them. There had never been anyone who had put him through the kind of emotional pain that Rory had, and that was saying a lot, considering his childhood. But he had also never experienced moments as beautiful as the time he'd spent with her. There was no question- he wanted this. It was all he'd ever wanted.

"I really hope you mean that," he said slowly, hands finding her waist again, "because I'm going to kiss you now."

Rory beat him to the punch and pressed her lips to his. As her arms twined about his neck and her fingers buried themselves softly in his hair, he could feel her smiling against his lips, and felt his own lips twitch upward in response. After an endless moment, they broke apart, foreheads resting together and both of them breathing a little more heavily than normal.

"This is a good thing," Rory said quietly.

"Yeah," he responded, equally softly. "We'll get it right this time."

Even though he knew that there were still issues- and lots of them- to work through between them, somewhere deep inside him he knew that this was what they'd always left that opening for next time for. This was what it had all been building up to. Years of neither of them being ready at the same time, years of heartache and anger and not speaking to each other... it was all for this. This was their last, best chance. And despite the problems they'd have to face to make it work, Jess was going to try his damn hardest to finally get it right. And if the look of tentative joy on Rory's face was any indication, she would, too.

A/N2- Thank you all for your continued support! I have loved hearing your feedback. I have a sequel for this planned, but I don't know when I'll begin posting. In the meantime, I have a couple of short stories planned for the near future.