Author's Note: Originally part two in the series, it is now part three. Really, you'll see why when/if you read "That Tragic Morning."

~*~*~*~*~

A Simple Question



"I can't believe this is happening to me."

"Mom, calm down," Rory sighed. "You're blowing this way out of proportion."

"I am not!" Lorelai exclaimed as she fell back against her couch. "Five weeks of my life—down the drain! I loved him. I cherished him…I spent time with him everyday. I even shared my coffee with him every morning. And what did it get me? Nothing. Absolutely nothing." She sniffled. "I'm cursed."

"You're not cursed," Rory tried to assure her as she neatly folded a pair of jeans and laid it in a large black luggage.

Lorelai went on, as though her daughter never spoke. "I even played music for him. I did some of my best work as a disc jockey. I didn't even make him listen to any angry fem rock. Well, unless he was ornery, which he often was, then he just had to deal with my particular music craving…"

"It was just a fichus, Mom."

She gasped. "How can you say that? Mr. Darcy was more than just a fichus. He was a friend, a, a pal. We discussed our hopes and dreams. I even held his…his leaves when he felt threatened by Luke. Just a fichus indeed."

Rory stopped packing and sat down on her bed. "You can't keep getting upset every time a 'Mr. Darcy' dies. You have a black thumb. Accept it and move on."

"I can't. My mother can make plants thrive, so I should be able to as well. I mean, this kind of thing should be genetic, shouldn't it?" Lorelai asked, her exasperation evident.

"Maybe it is. I can't keep a plant alive either."

Lorelai grumbled. "You're not helping."

Rory threw her free hand up in the air. "Maybe it is a curse. Maybe you should stop naming every plant 'Mr. Darcy.' Maybe there's a bad stigma associated with the name."

Another gasp. "I am not hearing this from the girl who sat through two consecutive viewings of the fabulous A&E presentation of Pride and Prejudice, interrupted only by a Bridget Jones's Diary intermission," Lorelai said with a healthy dose of melodrama. "Take it back."

"As much as I love Mr. Darcy, I can't ignore the evidence. What's the death count so far? First it was the jade plant, then the orchid. Um, the cactus and the spider plant," Rory said, ticking each fatality off as she went. "And don't forget the goldfish."

"Must you have such a good memory? I blame this on your father. You certainly didn't get something so useless from my side of the family."

"I'd take it as a sign. You must come to terms with the fact that you are simply not meant to sustain life unless it is yours or mines, and even then, only barely."

"Traitorous child. I should have sold you to the gypsies when you were naught but a babe," Lorelai said, affecting an ambiguous European accent.

"Probably would have been better for the both of us."

"Never."

Rory sighed loudly. "I fear it's true."

"You think so?"

"Mmhmm."

Lorelai paused. "It's not too late. I read on a flier that they were passing through town four days from now. Join their caravan, see if I care."

"Are you sure it's called a caravan?" Rory asked.

"Of course. And, and, and if you miss them," she laughed, "the circus will be hot on their tail in a matter of a month. I'd be proud to say my daughter joined the circus, abandoning her lonely mother to the mercy of the wild beasts."

Rory frowned. "Have you been reading again?"

"What?"

"I think that last bit was from Hamlet."

"Are you certain?"

"Ninety-six percent," Rory said.

"Hah! That's still four percent unaccounted for. I win."

"You're incorrigible, mother."

"Did you just call me 'mother'?"

Rory wrinkled her brow. "Maybe."

"Oh my god, it's official. I'm old," Lorelai said dramatically.

"Don't start with that again," Rory groaned.

"Well stop calling me 'mother' then."

There was a knock on the door, making Rory stand. It could only be one person, she thought happily as she ambled to the front door. "I'm about to open the door for someone in about ten seconds, so we're going to have to wrap this up."

Lorelai gasped. "You're jilting me for some unidentified person on the other side of your apartment door? How could you? What if it's an axe murder? Or a door-to-door salesman? It could even be a Jehovah's Witness! You're going to leave me for one of those unsavory characters?"

"It could also be a girl scout," Rory suggested.

That gave her mother pause. "Damnit, foiled by the promise of thin mints and samoas! I can't even fault you for that."

"Besides, I have a peephole," she said, as she looked through the glass hole. A smile grew on her face as she laid eyes on the blonde boy.

"So who is it?"

"Tristan," Rory said giddily, as she opened the door and gestured for the boy to come inside.

"Ahhh. So it's an altogether different type of unsavory sort."

"Mother!" Rory exclaimed.

"That terrible word again!"

"I can't believe you said that," she said through gritted teeth even as she hustled back into her room, knowing that Tristan would follow without a need for an invitation.

Lorelai sniffed. "Fine. Leave me for that Lothario. I understand."

Rory smothered a giggle when she saw Tristan trying to carefully shift around her piles of clothing for a place to sit on the bed.

"Oh be quiet. You like him; don't even try to deny it."

"Hey, it takes a stronger woman than me to resist the Devil when he brings me coffee and danishes," Lorelai pointed out.

Rory smiled at the memory of Tristan's first official meeting with her mother. He had taken her words to heart that day in the library, guessing that the Gilmore ladies were susceptible to the same sort of bribery. Nothing pleased her more than the image of Tristan on her doorstep at nine o'clock in the morning, facing her mother (who was not yet fully awake and still in her pajamas) with a box of pastries in one hand and a double stack of coffee trays bearing eight steaming cups of Gilmore ambrosia in the other.

He had naturally been welcomed into the house, taking not more than two steps inside before he was relieved of both beverage and food by a gleeful Lorelai.

"I fully concur," Rory agreed. "So I'll see you tomorrow?"

"Mmhmm. Until then I think I'll go shopping."

"No more plants," Rory tried to say firmly.

"Oh, but you don't understand. See, the only way to fix this Darcy dilemma is to buy dozens and dozens of plants and try all over again. I've decided that it was just loneliness."

"Mom…"

"I devoted all my attention to one plant, when I should have just bought a lot and let them keep each other company."

Rory sighed. "Goodbye, Mom."

"Bye, Squirt."

*

"What was that all about?" asked Tristan, now fully laid out on her bed.

Rory rolled her eyes as she placed the phone back in its cradle. "Nothing. My mother is just being my mother. She killed another plant."

"Neglect?"

"Death by coffee drowning," she explained, placing some more clothes into her luggage.

"Further proof that not every living thing likes coffee."

"Perish the thought," she said with a measure of admonishment.

"You had to come to terms with it some time. The endless varieties of alternative liquids alone should have been your first sign. Just think of all those energy shakes. Someone out there would rather chug down a confounding concoction of wheat grass, soy and carrot juice than carefully sip a steaming grandé Starbuck's house blend."

"I'm going to tell my mother you said that. Then she'll tell Sookie how twisted and cruel you are. And then you'll never against taste the chocolaty goodness of her special soufflés," Rory threatened. "You'll get yours."

Tristan smirked. It was highly unlikely that the perpetually giddy chef (and Lorelai's best friend at large) would deny him anything by way of sweet delights. All it took was one meeting for her to fall victim to his charms.

All during their spring break Sookie had showered the Gilmore house with one culinary masterpiece after another—knowing that Tristan would spend the greater part of his vacation there. She had said that he needed some flesh on his lean (but muscular, of course) frame. And who was he to deny the infectiously likeable redhead? Her white chocolate soufflé was by far his favorite, a veritable slice of heaven.

"First of all, don't make threats you know are useless. The woman loves me because I worship the very wooden spoon she uses to make me gastronomical wonders. We exchange recipes over e-mail," he said, referring to the cooking short-course he had taken.

He sat up and promptly took one of her busy hands, yanking her onto his lap. "And second of all, that was bad form. Resorting to petty tattletaling when you've just lost an argument," he said, gazing up into her smiling eyes. "For that, you must be punished."

Rory grinned. "Well if I must, I must."

"That's a good sport," he rumbled even as his lips fell upon the graceful column of her neck.

As much as Tristan wanted to be the aggressor, the role soon slipped from his fingers as Rory pushed down on his chest with both hands…into a towering pile of previously neatly folded shirts. They went toppling onto the kissing couple, abruptly ending their amorous embrace amidst cotton, polyester, and other synthetic and natural materials.

Rory kissed Tristan's chin before sighing. "I knew you would do nothing for my productivity. Ten minutes of folding out the window," she said, shoving the now-messy pile backwards and away from his head.

His hands bracketed her small waist, holding her as close as possible. "All the better. You don't want to go home anyway."

"Oh but I do. My mother has promised to sell me to the gypsies," she grinned. "And I can't possibly miss out on that experience."

Tristan rolled his eyes. "I'm sure Lorelai can delay the transaction for a couple days…months, even."

"Highly unlikely. Hey, but if you start packing now, maybe she can sell you off too, and we'll have a grand adventure for summer. Better gypsies than interning, right?" she asked.

When he remained silent and averted his eyes, Rory became suspicious. She put her hands on either side of his face and forced him to look into her eyes. "You did get the internship with Clark, Fielding, and…all those other names, didn't you?" she asked worriedly, knowing how much he wanted the position with the prestigious law firm.

His fingers flexed against her body. "Not exactly."

"Oh Tristan, I'm so sorry," she said, resting her cheek against his. Rory kissed the soft skin behind his earlobe. "I was sure they'd beg for you to work for them."

He hesitated a beat before saying, "They did. I turned them down."

"I don't understand," she whispered, unwilling to move, trying to figure out what he wasn't saying.

Minutes passed where they did nothing but listen to each other's heartbeat.

"I have to tell you something."

"Don't say it."

Tristan squinted his eyes, his expression one of puzzlement. "You don't even know what I was going to say."

"I don't need to know. Nothing good has ever followed the words, 'I have to tell you something.' And while I know you're a great advocate of not following the status quo, I don't want now to be the moment you start," she said, using his chest as leverage to push herself up to a seated position.

"You're being mule-headed," he sighed, making no move to rise.

"And this is new how? You've always known that."

"Just hear me out," he said gently. The determined-to-be-pouty set in her lips remained. "The news isn't that bad. Really. You're probably not going to like it, but there is a bright side…"

"Oh, just what I want to hear. That's like telling me, 'Well, all your books and CDs got swept away in the terrible monsoon, but we did manage to save your broken toaster…" Even as the words left her mouth, her brow wrinkled in distaste.

"The mind boggles at the wrongness of that statement. We don't even have monsoons in New York, or Connecticut for that matter…"

"I know, I know. My mind's still on Southeast Asia…and they have monsoons… I blame this entirely on the Vietnam War and Henry Kissinger. Wiley old bastard."

"Cold War politics?"

"Indeed."

"Successful exam?"

"Not bad. Though I think my essay on the diplomatic genius of Tricky Dick was a true stroke of brilliance. Comparing it to Iran Contra may have taken it to a whole new level, even."

"I'm sure your professor can respect the Jimmy Carter mention."

"I sure hope so. I wrote for six pages, and was even considerate enough to write neatly. I think I should get extra credit for that alone…"

"I'm leaving for Europe the day after tomorrow."

Rory gaped. "I thought I told you not to say anything!"

"Rory…" he sighed, this time sitting up so he could hold her hands. But she jerked them away as she scrambled to her feet. She flew out of the room before Tristan could say another word. Her heart was jumping out of her chest. Her chin was wobbling. She could feel the tears burning behind her eyes… Rory knew she was probably overreacting, especially since she hadn't heard the rest of his explanation, but she was in no state to hear anything remotely distressing. She'd gone the last thirty-eight hours without sleep, and…and…and now this!

He was going to leave her! The jerk!

Without thinking, she ran into the bathroom and slammed the door, locking it just as he reached for the knob. She crossed her arms over her chest and backed into the opposite wall, just staring as he tried the lock.

"Let me in, Rory."

"I'd have to say the chances of that are highly unlucky right now," she said with a nervous laugh.

"C'mon…you're being irrational."

She growled. "How did you manage to be a player? Rule one, Tristan, never tell a girl she's being irrational! Especially if you're currently dating her!"

"But you are being irrational. And besides, if you get mad enough, you might come out to kick my ass."

She lifted a brow. "You want to get beaten by a girl? Because I'm sure I can accommodate your death wish."

"I'm hoping I can arrest the girl with my wiles and charms before she can lay a finger on me," Tristan said. "Unless it's in a good way, of course," he added.

Any other day, and his words would have garnered a smile. But not on this day. Not when he wanted to leave her. But was he really leaving her? Rory's rational mind flew the coop before she could ask him about his trip. Maybe it was to see a sick relative? Maybe there was some honorable explanation behind it all.

Rory took the two steps to the door and sat down with her back to the bathtub. "Why are you leaving?"

She heard him sigh, probably with relief. "It's a program I applied for with the history department. Two months of traveling through Europe, learning the history through photography. My professor just confirmed my acceptance yesterday."

"Two months? But what about our plans for the summer? The trips? The concerts? The being with each other because we're desperately in love?" she asked.

"I know, I know. I was really looking forward to the summer. But…I really wanted this, Rory. The professor's awesome, and this is the last summer he's holding the trip before he leaves the university. I couldn't pass it up."

"You never even told me you applied for the program," she said softly.

"That's because I wasn't sure I'd get a spot. It's only for six students, and there were over thirty applicants. And I didn't want to upset you over a long shot."

She scoffed. "Instead you pop this on me two days before you leave? Thanks."

"C'mon Rory, what was I supposed to do? We'd been planning this great summer together for half the semester. Was I supposed to tell you point blank that I wanted to screw up all those plans with a trip I wasn't even sure I was going to get to go on?" he asked.

"Yes! I'm not saying I wouldn't have been upset, but at least it wouldn't feel as terrible as it does now," she said.

"I'm sorry, Ror," he whispered.

She sighed. "I know I'm being selfish. But is it so wrong to want you all to myself?"

Tristan chuckled. "Never."

"If I asked you to stay, would you? Do you love me that much?" she asked in an incredibly small voice, knowing it was a terribly unfair question. Rory closed her eyes and held her breath.

He hesitated. She heard it, and let her heart drop into her stomach. He was going to say no.

"I'd stay," he said, his voice unwavering. Those two words sent the damnable organ soaring. "If that's what you want, I'll stay."

Rory reached for the doorknob and turned it, throwing the door open. Her blue eyes met his. Seeing the honesty in his eyes, she launched forward, knocking him to the hardwood, her arms around his neck, her lips kissing him for all she was worth.

And when she managed to pull herself away, Rory rested her cheek against his and whispered, "I'll miss you. Promise me you'll write once a day, and e-mail me twice a day."

Tristan jerked her back so he could look into her eyes. "What? But…"

Rory shook her head. "I can't hold you back. I can see how much you want this trip, and I'd be the worst girlfriend in the world if I made you stay with me," she told him. "I love you, and I know you love me. It'll hurt, but that knowledge, and your five e-mails a day will keep me company."

He grinned. "I thought it was two."

She grinned back. "No, you must have heard wrong. I definitely said five."

"If you're certain."

"Oh, I am," she said, rolling onto the floor to lie beside him. He took her hand in his as she tilted her cheek to rub against his shoulder. "I'm sorry I was being so stupid. It's just that…lack of sleep and emotional news do not mix well for me."

Tristan brought their joined hands to his lips. He absently kissed her knuckles. "I'll be back by mid-July. And I'm still going to work for a law firm, just not the same one I planned on."

"That's good. I'd hate for you to not get to work as an office lackey."

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," he said with a slight smile.

"Oh god, I just had the worst thought."

"What?"

"Who's going to bring me coffee every morning? It's not as though I have a coffeepot anymore…since someone broke it," she said accusatorily, glaring sideways at him.

He had enough grace to look ashamed. "I said I'd fix it."

"Last month."

He sighed. "You'll get a new one by tonight."

"An extra-large one that makes at least twelve cups, please."

"Whatever the lady wishes."

"That's right. And if the new machine's not up to snuff, I'm liable to hunt you down in whatever fabulous locale you're at and beat you with it," she threatened with little heat.

"Do you promise?"

"Absolutely."

"You'd come all the way to Europe for little old me?" he asked softly.

"In a heartbeat."

"So why don't you?"

Rory held her breath again. Did he mean what she thought he meant? "What?"

"Come with me."

"To Europe?"

"Yes."

"But…you said the program only had six spots. And as a journalism major, I doubt I'd be qualified enough to knock a more deserving student from their spot."

He shook his head. "I'm doing this for credit towards my major. You wouldn't be doing the same thing. You could just…come travel with us," he said, obviously making it up as he went along. "You always wanted to go to Europe anyway."

"But…that's insane. I already said I'd do my internship with the paper, and…I don't have the money to fund a trip like that."

"Your grandparents could help you out. Or I can lend you the money. It'll be fine."

"I don't know. How can we make arrangements in such little time?"

Tristan squeezed her hand as he rolled onto his side and hovered over her. A gentle smile played on his lips, as his eyes came alive with hope. "All minor technicalities."

"Tristan…"

"I love you, Rory Gilmore. And you love me. Right here, right now, I have one simple question for you: will you come with me?"

Time froze and nothing existed in her world except the two of them. He was asking her to go on a grand adventure. He wanted her to run away from all her responsibilities, from everything she had painstakingly planned for nearly three months.

She loved him, they both knew that well enough. But everything was so new. Was it too much of a risk?

Rory gazed up at him, and she let out a soft sigh. The answer was on the tip of her tongue, but it refused to leave her lips. One word would change everything, for better or worse.

"Will you run away with me, Rory?"

The End. For Now.