Regrets and Reason
Disclaimer: This is AU, so don't complain that it veers from canon. It's supposed to.
Summary: Set during and after "Nag Hammadi is Where They Found the Gnostic Gospels." Jess has stunned Rory with his declaration of love, but things go differently this time around.
Feedback: Yes please! It will keep me writing if nothing else.
Rating: At the moment it's tame, but I make no promises at all that it will remain that way.
Rory nervously brushed her hair and assessed her outfit. Rethinking it, she went to her closet and changed it again. Paris watched her pace, aggravated. "You're not seriously getting precious about your outfit for Jess."
Rory shot her a withering stare. "Shut up."
"Come on, Gilmore. He broke your heart. Time to move past that sob story and find a new one," she told her roommate as she leafed absently through a magazine.
Rory didn't respond, and slipped a different sweater over her head. "Is this okay?"
Paris appraised Rory's conservative jeans and hooded navy blue sweater. "Are you looking to score with a random Gap employee? I think you're safe in that outfit, Hermione."
"Well I'm not looking to…score," Rory told her haughtily. "So this should be fine."
"Whatever, lust bunny."
Her nerves were dancing in her body, doing a tango alongside the butterflies in her stomach. A date. With Jess. Was it a date? Was it friends? Would her heart stop slamming in her chest before he arrived? Knocking at the front door to their suite made that answer clear. One of Rory's four roommates, Janet, answered the door. "Hey," she greeted Jess. "Help you?"
"Hey," Jess nodded. "Rory here?"
"Yeah, one sec. Come on in."
Jess walked in, glancing around the common room, dressed casually in jeans and a black sweater. "Hey," he said to Tanna, whose eyes widened. She didn't respond but instead stared at him, her mouth working but no sound coming from it. Jess eyed her curiously.
"Rory," Janet called, opening Rory's door a crack. "Company." Wow, she mouthed with a grin standing where Jess couldn't see her face.
Rory blushed. "Thanks." She opened the door and allowed Jess to come in. "Hey, hi."
"Hey yourself." His gaze traveled to Paris. "Paris," he nodded.
"Deliquent," she snapped.
Resigned, he nodded. "Charming as ever."
Rory shrugged. "Jess, this is my roommate Janet, and that's Tanna in the common room."
"Nice to meet you," Janet grinned. "Ignore Paris."
Jess smirked. "Already a habit."
"I like him already!" Janet told Rory with a smile.
Jess gave Rory a quick grin. "Shall we go?"
"God yes," she sighed, putting on her jacket. "Let's."
They headed outside and Rory stopped. "Um…where are we going?"
He gestured toward the campus. "Show me Yale," he instructed. "Simple as that."
"Okay," she smiled and they started walking as she pointed out things of interest around the campus. "Stop me when you're bored," she instructed as they strolled in the crisp March air.
"No, it's good. You love it."
She grinned. "I do. I love it here. I love everything about it. I love the air. I love the trees!" she gushed giddily.
"It shows," he smiled.
Her head tilted slightly as she looked at him. "Do you miss it?"
"What, this?" He looked around. "Can't miss something you never had."
She frowned. "Do you miss the opportunity, I mean. Not that you don't still have the opportunity, but you know. Do you want any of this?"
He shrugged. "I don't know…like I said, I've never really thought about college. I couldn't take high school."
"Totally different," she told him. "Not even the same thing. It's like two different worlds, Jess."
"This place is nice," he admitted.
"And that's just the award-winning campus," she grinned. "You haven't even seen the professors or the library, or the newspaper office, or the dining hall."
Jess chuckled. "You join their marketing department yet?"
"I know, I know," she smiled. "I'm a little over the top."
He took her hand casually. "It's nice."
She glanced down at their entwined fingers. "It is," she said finally.
"This okay?" he asked, indicating their hands.
"Uh, yeah. Yeah, it's fine," she said shyly.
They strolled a moment in silence before she asked, "So, tell me about California. Or wherever you were."
Jess shrugged. "It's warm. There's sun…beach…waves."
"They asked you to write their next tourism slogan, didn't they," she said, knowingly.
He laughed. "My dad's okay…Jimmy's not really going to be dad of the year. He's got a girlfriend, live-in, Sasha. She's got a kid who lives inside a closet, nose in a book."
"The kid lives in a closet?"
Jess chuckled. "All voluntary. She's a pre-teen hermit. I never saw her without a book. I never really saw her, period. I didn't spend much time at their house."
"How long were you there?"
"Couple weeks. Picked up some odd jobs, cruised the book stores and music shops on the pier. Enough to live on."
"Did you see anyone famous?" she teased.
She stopped and her eyes widened. "Really?"
"Yup. The name is no accident. He was an ass."
"I've heard that, actually." She pointed out her dining hall as they strolled, then turned the conversation back to him. "So you stayed there a few weeks…and then what?"
He was uncomfortable talking this much about himself, but it was why he was here after all. "Caught a bus, then a train. Zig-zagged around a bit. Saw the Grand Canyon."
"I hear it's big. Grand, actually."
"Your source is correct," he confirmed. "There's not much to tell. When I needed money so I could get to the next point I worked. There's always someone willing to pay you to do a crap job for them. Bus tickets and train tickets are cheap. I can live on crackers if I have to."
She shook her head at him. "That's so stupid, Jess. It doesn't have to be like that at all."
He shrugged. "And…now I'm here. I was in New York, Liz told me Luke had stowed my car, I came here to get it."
"Did you…I wish you would have told me, Jess," Rory told him honestly, her tone full of regret. "You owed me that much."
His eyes immediately went to the ground, ashamed. "I know," he said, shifting his gaze up to her face. "I should have. I really am sorry."
"Did you read anything good on your travels?"
He laughed suddenly. "Leave it to you to ask me about books."
She grinned back as they came around to Vanderbilt Hall. "Let's cut through here. There's a giant quad that's pretty to walk through."
"Oh yeah?" he asked.
"Yeah, it's historic, and beautiful, and…" she spied something and did a double-take. "What's Kirk doing here?" she asked suddenly, seeing the Stars Hollow native seated on a blanket under a grouping of trees. "Kirk!" she cried, striding over to him. "What are you doing here?" She looked around at the food laid out over the blanket. "And why do you have all this food?"
Kirk stood abruptly. "Hi Rory. Bye Rory." He turned to Jess. "Nobody touched anything, but I did get several lucrative offers for the fried chicken bucket." He made a motion with his hand, extending it to Jess. "Twenty bucks. Cough it up."
"I'm a man of my word," Jess told him, and handed Kirk the bill.
Rory's mouth dropped. "You did this? Are you serious?"
He gave her a shy smile. "I seem to remember you like eating more than most homo-sapiens."
She crinkled her nose in delight. "I do!"
"Then let's eat," he smiled back at her, and they plopped down on the blanket.
"I can't believe you did this," she said, digging through the bags of food. "You even brought those special bags that keep the hot food hot and the cold food cold."
"I figured it wouldn't be really impressive if I served you luke-warm picnic fare."
She popped a chocolate chip cookie in her mouth. "This might seriously bump you up on the list of my favorite people."
"I'll never get above Christiane Amanpour."
"If that's mashed potatoes and there's gravy somewhere, it's a distinct possibility," she told him, grabbing several containers with enthusiasm.
The early evening air was cool, but not uncomfortable, and the blanket he'd unearthed from Luke's apartment was clean and fairly comfortable. People walked around them, a few tore across the grass in the midst of a game, throwing a ball or Frisbee, some studied under trees in the dying light of day. Rory and Jess grazed on the food for a minute or two before Rory swallowed a mouthful of garlic bread and looked at him. "This is great, Jess."
He tilted his head. "Thanks." Their eyes held for a moment and she was sure he was going to kiss her again. Instead, he ripped off a piece of the bread she held in her hand and popped it into his own mouth. "I hear you went to Europe."
She hid her disappointment that he hadn't kissed her, surprised at herself for wanting him to. "You've been real attentive since you got back, haven't you?" she teased.
Jess made a noise. "Everyone always thinks I'm not listening to what's going on around me."
"Can't imagine where they'd get that," she said pointedly, eyebrow raised.
He speared a meatball in red sauce and stuffed it into his mouth whole. "So how was it?" he asked after swallowing.
"It was fantastic," she gushed, unable to help herself. "Really. My mom and I hit everything. London, Paris, Ireland, Prague, Italy, Spain… All the things you'd expect us to see, a bunch of stuff you probably wouldn't…well, you might, but people like my grandparents wouldn't. My mom stalked Bono for like two days straight."
"I bet he appreciated it."
Her eyes shone in the fading light of the Yale campus. "You'd love it, Jess. The history is just…inspiring. And to see it up close, right in front of your face…I can't even describe it."
He smiled at the awe in her voice, the true sincerity of her words. Rory was one of the most honest, open people he'd ever met, and those traits were some of his favorite things about her. She wasn't cynical, she wasn't jaded; she was just Rory, undiluted by the anger and discouragements of the world.
"Maybe someday I'll get to see it."
"And when you do, I'll tell you all the off-the-path places to go."
"And then I came home…and suddenly it was time to go to Yale. That was fun," she smirked. "We got back and I'd written the date down wrong for orientation. I had two days to get everything together and move onto campus."
Jess licked chicken grease from his finger. "You'll never get me to believe you wrote the date down wrong."
"Why does everyone say that?" she asked, exasperated, and glared at him as she picked up a piece of apple pie and carefully peeled back the plastic wrap covering it. "Enough about me. You've been in Stars Hollow a couple weeks. You passed the Luke test apparently, more than once, so what now…any plans?"
Jess shrugged. "I'm still working that out."
"You don't have any ideas? You've got to be going crazy in Stars Hollow."
"It's wearing thin, yeah," he admitted with a laugh. "But it's okay. I can't ever tell Luke this, but it beats being on a bus or sleeping in a park."
She stopped dead, for halfway to her mouth. "You slept in parks? You did not sleep in parks. Like a hobo?"
He was amused by her shock. "When you have no money and you're a thousand miles from anywhere you might consider calling home, yeah…homeless is about it. It's no big deal."
"That's crazy, Jess. You know you could have called. Me, Luke, your mom…"
He snorted. "Yeah…that wasn't really an option at the time."
"Why? Because you were so angry and cool?" she grumbled.
Jess shrugged. "Something like that."
"You're an idiot," she declared.
He raised an eyebrow. "Probably."
Shaking her head in disgust, she continued with her pie.
"I think Luke's getting a divorce," Jess said suddenly.
Rory stopped again. "What? Are you serious? For real this time?"
He nodded. "Yeah. I've never met her, Nicole, but I've walked in on some pretty intense phone conversations. Last time he quit trying to hide that they were fighting so I got an earful before I bailed."
"That sucks," she said sadly.
"Yeah. But it doesn't sound like either of them is very happy. And Luke's never at their place. He says he lives there, but I'm not even sure he's got a spare change of clothes over there. He's only spent one night over there since I've been back."
"Wow. Mom said he wasn't there much, but I had no idea it was that bad."
"Probably no one does. He's more closed off than I am."
"Not possible," she teased.
"I'm an open book," he countered. Rory snorted. "Did you just snort?" he laughed. "You totally snorted."
"It was a snort-worthy comment!" she cried defensively. "I mean, I'm forever saying how you can't shut up that Jess Mariano."
"Go ahead, ask me anything. I'll prove it."
"Hmm, okay," she considered. "Tell me why you won't get your GED."
"I didn't say I wouldn't."
"So you will," she pounced with a grin.
"I'm thinking about it."
Rory brushed her hair back from her face, tucking it behind her ears. "Oh come on. You're smarter than that, Jess. Even you know there's no way you're going to do much with your life without a high school diploma."
"Probable," she countered.
"Fine," he pouted. "I'll consider it."
"I'd come over to help you study, but that sounds like a bad idea."
His eyes flew wide. "You know I swerved to hit that dog-cat-rodent-of-unusual-size."
She laughed. "I know, I know! Jeez. You're so sensitive. That's another thing I'm always saying about Jess Mariano. He's such a sensitive guy."
He rolled his eyes. "You know, for hating me so much, you certainly talk about me enough."
"I don't hate you."
"How are you feeling right now?" he asked casually.
She considered. "Luke-warm."
His mouth fell open and she laughed. "Oh…that's it," he grunted, and began gathering the food, stuffing it back in the bags.
"What are you doing?" she gaped.
"Hoarding the food until you warm up to me," he told her casually, putting the fried chicken inside the warmer bag.
"Hey! No!" she protested, reaching over to snag a platter of garlic bread, but his fingers snagged the plate seconds before hers and he unceremoniously dumped the bread into the larger tote, plate and all.
"Not until I feel you've earned a reprieve," he told her, standing up and dancing agilely out of her reach.
"Jess!" she cried, lunging for him again as he snatched the other bag of cold foods and backed around the tree.
"You can't resist the food, I know you haven't changed that much," he chided and she rounded the tree.
Rory stomped a foot with exasperation. "I'm not chasing you over some food."
"Lies," he retorted as she reached for the bags again.
In response, Rory dashed back to the blanket and scooped up the remaining containers. "No more apple pie for you," she threatened.
"Which is no good without the ice cream," he countered, jiggling the cold bag.
"In a cone?" she blurted out before she could stop herself.
He froze for a moment before grinning. "Yeah. In a cone."
Then you will be a perfect student for the rest of the night?
I could not believe you less. Here, you drive, I'll read you Othello. Won't that be fun?
You have no idea how much.
The memory surfaced quickly for both and they were grinning at each other before it dawned on either of them.
Finally, swallowing, Rory asked, "Did you really bring cones?"
Jess snorted. "There is no other way to eat ice cream."
Putting it in a dish, eating it with a spoon?
What is wrong with people?
"We seem to be at an impasse. I have the ice cream. You have the pie."
She swept her arm over the blanket, grabbing silverware. "And I have the forks. So unless you want to be training for the next pie-eating contest and going it face first…"
"You make a convincing argument," he conceded. "Truce?" Jess asked after a moment.
She nodded, her heart rate having quickened with this exchange, and they regrouped on the blanket.
"So you brought ice cream, and apple pie, and cones? Are we supposed to put the cone on top of the pie?" she asked, crossing her legs as she settled back on the ground.
"You crumble the cone over the pie and ice cream. It's one of the few exceptions to the cone rule," he told her obviously.
"Duh," she grinned.
"I question your intellect sometimes, Gilmore."
"Hopefully Yale beats some into me."
"Hopefully this exchange with ice cream and cones doesn't end with you and a broken wrist," he said lightly.
She smiled ruefully. "Yeah…I can skip the broken bones and car crashing again."
"I think it was a bear that ran in front of the car," he said defensively.
Rory nodded. "A Grizzly," she agreed. "Totally unavoidable in the wilds of Connecticut."
"They oughta post signs."
"God, don't tell Taylor, he'll really do that."
The mood lightened, they sat down and dove into the pie, foregoing plates in favor of eating out of the pie plate, scooping ice cream on top of the entire pie, and then crumbling several sugar cones over that.
"You know, this concoction would make my mother proud."
"I'll have to remember that," he told her between bites.
"It's one of our biggest weaknesses."
"Gluttony?" he asked, grinning.
"Delight in food," she shot back with a glare, then laughed. "This is great, Jess. Really. So…not what I expected."
"What did you expect?" he asked, licking a spoon of ice cream.
Rory shrugged, picking her fork at the pie. "I don't know. A diner or something. Listening to a band. Wandering around aimlessly."
He nodded slowly, surprised that his feelings were slightly hurt. "So, low expectations."
She shrugged again uncomfortably. "Picnics aren't really your style."
"We've done a picnic before," he pointed out.
A single eyebrow raised. "Because you were doing your best to tick off Dean."
"Well…yeah, that's true," he chuckled.
"And don't think for a moment I've forgotten what we were talking about earlier."
"What were we talking about?" he asked innocently, shoving a gigantic bite of pie and ice cream in her mouth.
She chewed laboriously and swallowed. "You and a future plan."
He sighed and set down the pie plate. "I'm still working that out. I can't give you answers I don't have."
"Just promise me you're going to think about it. And that it doesn't involve Wal-mart."
"I can assure you it doesn't."
"And?" she asked pointedly.
"And?" At her glare, he nodded. "I will think about it. Okay?"
"Jeez! Yes," he cried, but with little heat. "Yes. I promise. I swear on a copy of The Fountainhead, I will think about what I'm going to do," he finished, causing her to giggle. "But you have to promise me something too."
Her grin dropped and she looked at him suspiciously. "What?"
"That you won't disregard whatever this," he indicated themselves and the food around them, "is."
"Don't be dumb, Rory," he said quietly.
She swallowed hard. "I don't know how I feel about us, Jess. It's been a long time."
"Too long?" he asked hopefully, half afraid of the answer.
She shook her head. "I don't know…honestly."
"Are you willing to try?"
Rory considered. "Let's take it one step at a time, okay? On everything. School, a GED…us."
Disappointment tinged his emotions, but he nodded. "That's fair. But I have another condition."
"Another one?" she asked with a sigh.
"Hopefully it's not one you mind," he murmured, and reached for her, his hand cupping her check as he pulled her lips to his.
The kiss shocked her system with its power, electricity that ran through them both. It was tender and needy at the same time, and without conscious thought her hands found his hair, delving in to the thick locks as she greedily returned the kiss. Without a break in contact, Jess moved the pie plate from between them and scooted closer to her, his arms leaning her back gently until she lay on the blanket, his body positioned half over hers.
He kissed her thoroughly, as energy pulsed through her system. "Jess…" she murmured, putting a hand to his chest. To his credit, he backed off immediately. "Sorry," he whispered, planting one final kiss on her lips.
"No…it's fine…I just need to catch my breath."
Jess eased back, scooting up to lean against the tree. With only a moment's pause, she followed him, settling next to him, their hands finding each other.
"That was…" she murmured.
"Nice," he finished softly, trailing lazy fingers over her arm. "Right?"
She smiled gently at his nerves. "Yes. It was nice."
"And it was okay? I mean…you…wanted to?"
"I wasn't saying no," she admitted softly, a blush creeping over her cheeks.
He seemed satisfied with that response. "Good, because I kinda missed that."
She smiled to herself, pleased. "Me too."
"Think I could talk you into a normal date-type thing sometime? A movie?" he asked, playing with her hair.
"I can probably swing that."
As they sat, nestled in the crook of the tree, night settled over the campus.
**AN: Sorry for the long delay in posting. I had a hard time finding the rest of this story, but I think I'm back on track now and should be posting with more regularity. Thanks for sticking with it!**