Title- Blizzards and Broken Hearts
Author- Kàra
Rating- T
A Family Matter... with a twist. Because of the snow, Luke doesn't check on the car, and Jess ends up walking back to Stars Hollow... with some unexpected consequences.

A/N- Apparently, in addition to being an ACT goddess, I am also a weathertrix! I know all too well that it didn't snow in A Family Matter but you know what? My universe (well, ASP's universe, but she dropped and ran just in time for Paul Anka so I'm claiming ownership *ducks to avoid copyright violation lawsuit subpoena thrown at my head*), my rules. So now it's snowing. A lot.

It was snowing light, fluffy flakes when she left her dorm at Yale. By the time she reached the highway turnoff to Stars Hollow, it was a storm to be contended with. Even the heater in her car wasn't sufficient to keep her from feeling the cold outside radiating through the glass of the window. Rory hissed in irritation as her tires skidded on the slick road, causing her to momentarily swerve a little.

When she had regained control of her steering, she looked intently ahead, trying to see through the thick curtain of snow as far as possible. The Welcome to Stars Hollow sign was faintly visible a short ways ahead, and between her and the sign...

A huddled figure was stumbling through the snow at the side of the road, clearly having a rough time of it. Quite suddenly, the figure appeared to trip and slumped down face-first in the snow; he or she didn't get back up again. Lorelai's childhood warnings of Stranger Danger warred briefly with her innate tendency toward compassion, then Rory slammed on the brakes. She pulled over next to the prone figure, opened the door and stepped out, rushing over to where the young man lay in the snow.

The first thing she saw was the leather jacket. Her stomach dropped out from beneath her. The second thing she saw was the unruly mop of dark hair, longer than she remembered it, spilling out from beneath his knit ski cap. Her stomach suddenly returned, twisting itself happily into knots. The third thing she saw was his deathly pale face. Forget her stomach. Now her heart was going a thousand miles a minute, leaving her breathless and terrified for a thousand different reasons, one for each heartbeat.

"Jess?" she gasped. "Oh my god, what are you doing here?"

His eyes opened blearily, and she felt her panic increase when he stared blankly around, not focusing on her, not appearing to recognize her. There didn't seem to be a mind behind his gaze, and it shocked her, because one of the defining things about Jess Mariano had always been his sharp, analyzing stare.

"Jess, can you hear me?" she asked, shaking him a little.

"Cold..." he mumbled through stiff lips.

"Yes, I know it's cold," Rory said, channeling her mother for strength as she desperately tried to hide her fear. "Come on, we need to get you someplace warm." Quickly, she looped his arm around her neck and heaved him to his feet, staggering a little as she miscalculated how much of his own weight Jess could support. Gilmores didn't exercise, but after tonight, Rory was seriously considering taking up weightlifting, because Jess was heavy.

After a bit of a struggle and great deal of slipping around upon attempting to ascend the low embankment beside the road, Rory finally managed to get him into the car. Once he was settled into a semi-upright position in the passenger's seat, she hurried around to the driver's side, threw herself into the car, and cranked up the heaters. Then she put the car in gear and peeled away from the spot, going faster than was strictly safe on the slick roads as she hurtled over the last three miles to home.

As she drove, she talked to Jess. His frighteningly blank eyes were trained dully on her, with no sign that he actually understood anything of what he was saying, but at least he was focusing on something now. At least he was conscious. In some twisted kind of logic, Rory made up her mind that the sound of her voice would keep him that way, and so she talked about whatever she could think of for the four minutes it took her to reach the Crap Shack.

It felt much longer than four minutes to her; it felt like an eternity as, in her peripheral vision, she saw Jess' head sway dizzily while he continued to slump further and further down in the seat. Consequently, by the time they reached home, Rory was feeling more than a little hysterical. The first time she saw Jess Mariano in eight months, and she was afraid he might actually die on her! She hauled him bodily out of the car, pulling his arm over her shoulder again, supporting him with her arm around his waist. She pulled him up the steps and got him clumsily inside the house, only to be greeted by The Hollies blaring through the living room.

"Mom!" she screamed, partially to be heard over the music and partially because she was freaking out. "Mom, I need help!"

Panicked, Lorelai flew down the stairs, not knowing what to expect. Her eyes might actually have fallen out of her head when she saw her daughter supporting a barely-conscious Jess Mariano, who was soaked to the skin and shivering. She immediately reached over to turn off the stereo.

"Oh my god!" Lorelai exclaimed, hurrying to catch Jess up on the other side before his weight grew too much for Rory. "Come on, let's get him to the couch." Together, the maneuvered Jess to the sofa, his leaden feet impeding the process more than he actually helped. Once he was seated, slumping exhaustedly against the armrest, Lorelai turned to her daughter. "What happened?" she asked.

Rory shook her head. "I don't know... I found him on the side of the road. He's sick or something, I don't think he even knows who I am."

Jess chose that moment to slur, "Yes I do." He reached out to touch the sleeve of her coat; his hand shook. "Rory." His voice was hoarse and weak, barely audible, but he spoke her name a little more firmly, almost reverently.

"What happened, Jess?" Rory asked softly, ducking her head so that she could see into his eyes.

"Stupid car stalled..." he mumbled. Suddenly, a violent shiver ran through his body and he let out a pained moan.

"Are you hurt at all?" Rory asked.

He shook his head, and another heavy tremor wracked his thin frame. Worried, Rory reached out and brushed aside his too-long hair to feel his forehead. She pulled her hand back quickly, turning to stare at Lorelai. "He's burning up!" she said in a low voice. "What do we do?"

Lorelai took approximately two seconds to stare at the boy on her sofa. For a second, she wanted to kick him right back out into the snowstorm to fend for himself for having put in place the hollowness she had sometimes sensed in Rory since his abrupt departure. Then, despite her dislike for him, Lorelai went into Mom Mode.

"We need to get him out of those wet clothes," she said decisively. "Then he needs to take some aspirin or ibuprofen or something to take the fever down, and then he needs to sleep. Kid looks exhausted."

Rory nodded, then placed a hand on Jess' arm, trying to get his attention. He looked at her blearily. "Jess, Mom's going to take you to my room and we're gonna get you some dry clothes, okay?"

He blinked slowly a few times, which might have indicated that he was acknowledging her, or it might have just been reflexive. Either way, Rory would take what she could get right now. She helped him to his feet and turned support of him over to Lorelai, who guided him towards Rory's bedroom.

"I was just doing some laundry," Lorelai said, "I think one of your Yale sweatshirts is in the dryer; it should still be warm. Grab that, okay?"

"But if we're trying to get his fever down, shouldn't we avoid more heat?"

Lorelai shook her head. "You'd think so, but he's been out in the cold. It's more important to keep him warm right now than anything." Rory took that as her cue to sprint through the kitchen to the washing machine.

She returned a moment later, bearing the sweatshirt and a pair of Yale sweatpants, to find Jess lying on her bed, staring blankly at the ceiling. Lorelai had managed to remove his shoes, socks and shirt. The leather jacket was hanging over her desk chair. "Thanks, babe," Lorelai said distractedly. "Here, his jeans are soaked. Help me get them off."

Rory flushed scarlet, but complied. She glanced up at Jess' face and couldn't help but feel irrationally angry at him for causing all this trouble. "Never thought the first time I took your pants off would be when you had a zillion degree fever," she muttered irritably.

Lorelai snorted. "Grab some Tylenol from the cabinet in the kitchen, will you? And some water."

Rory did as she was told. Then, with some effort, the two of them managed to coax Jess into a sitting position. His expression was one of sheer exhaustion, but he obeyed when Rory told him to open his mouth. He swallowed the offered pills mechanically, then slumped back against Rory's pillow. His burning hand wandered, finding Rory's arm; he stared at her intensely for a few moments, and she met his gaze, encouraged by the recognition she found there. It was the first time since finding him by the side of the road that even a hint of his old, sharp gaze had shown itself. But then the awareness receded, and his eyes slid mostly closed as he slipped toward unconsciousness.

As was the norm, however, Jess Mariano always had to have the last word. "Love you, Rory," he whispered. "Always... love you..."

And then he fell asleep. Or possibly passed out. She wasn't sure.

Lorelai looked at her daughter, wondering whether she should address what had just been said. "Did he just...?" she asked softly.

Rory nodded. "He did." Her expression was stricken, and Lorelai decided not to press just yet. They could talk it over once Rory had.

"So..." Pause. "What now?" Another, longer pause. "In case you forgot, it's Friday night. What do we do?"

Rory continued to stare at Jess' pale face. "You go have dinner with Grandma," she answered firmly. "I'll stay here and take care of him."

"You sure you don't want me to stay, too?" Lorelai asked, both because she was desperate for an excuse not to have to tell her mother about her relationship with Jason, and because she was loathe to leave Rory alone with Jess Mariano, even when he was unconscious.

Rory shook her head. "No, you go. We'll never hear the end of it if we both call off at the last minute."

"What do I tell Stali- er, your grandmother?"

"Just... give her the edited version of the truth," Rory answered. "A friend is sick, I'm taking care of him."

"Okay," Lorelai agreed, resigned. "I'll drop by Luke's on the way, let him know what's going on. He should know, right?"

Rory nodded. "Yeah, he should," she said. Her eyes had yet to leave Jess' face.

Concerned, but unable to do anything about it, Lorelai slid her feet into her shoes, pulled on her coat, and marched out the door, all the while mentally preparing herself for the tightrope walk that was weekly Friday night dinner. But first, a pit stop at Luke's...

A/N2- Okay, so I really suck for publishing this instead of working on Paperthin Hymn, but I'm not really in the mood for Jess taking care of Rory right now. Instead, my brain is giving me all these scenarios in which Jess needs Rory's help/love/support in one way or another. This is the end product. New updates of Always, PH, and TMF will be forthcoming, I promise. Maybe I'll even work on Glittery, if I get inspired. In the meanwhile, I don't plan on this being longer than maybe seven chapters or so, so at least I'm not embarking on a major project here...