The Last Thing You Say
By Vega

Rate: PG-13
Spoiler: General second season.
Summary: Self-imposed blindness can last only so long. A Dean story.
Disclaimer: Not my characters, but only having some fun with them. I promise to return them in good health.
Note: I like Dean, I adore Dean, and the way he's been degraded on the show lately got me riled enough to do this. ;)

1: Pros, Cons, and Tolstoy

How many times can a man turn his head,
and pretend that he just doesn't see?
- Bob Dylan "Blowing in the Wind"

There was something odd about Tolstoy that made him think about the concept of willful blindness.

The enlightenment came to him, of all places, at the school. To be more specific, just after his English Lit. Class, en route to his locker. Dean stared down at an old copy of War and Peace with irritation that almost bordered on contempt. The class had been going just fine until Mr. Jones brought in a box full of War and Peace as their next text to read. Why Tolstoy, dammit? Tolstoy, one of the first books he had read for Rory's sake. He had no intention of devoting hours of his time to it again. What had he gotten out of it anyway other than the fact that War was bad and Peace was good, and Russian names were too excruciating to remember? He would never have ventured into this part of literature if it weren't for Rory; she could make him do just about everything. This week, she was going to make him read The Sun Also Rises.

The copy handed to him was almost antique-old. The cover page was ready to be ripped off, wrinkle and discoloration becoming permanent features. It also had the particular scent of paper and dust that was partial to old books, something he, to his amazement, did not find unpleasant any more. If he were to be honest, yes, he would confess that he had actually enjoyed the book. After a painful hundred pages or so, he had discovered something more in this Russian saga, something that Rory had made him admit after a particularly nice kiss all so long ago.

So it wasn't Tolstoy he had a problem with. It was something else entirely.

A few weeks ago, any kind of Rory-related memory would bring out a smile on his face. Now, he felt as if the collar of his shirt was suffocating him. Since when had he begun to feel this way?

He did not know the answer. Of course he didn't. This was the benefit of suffering from willful blindness.

"Hey," someone spoke.

Dean didn't look up to see who was talking to him, because it didn't matter, because he didn't care. He threw a dismissive "Hey" to the general direction and proceeded directly to open his locker.

Tolstoy was thrown into, and Algebra text and a calculator made out from the small locker space to the world. When he turned around, he saw that the person who had spoken to him was still waiting for him to turn to her.

"Dean, right?" she asked with a grin.

"Yeah." He regarded the girl for the first time. The first thing he noticed was her height. She was tall, supermodel-tall, which explained why he didn't have to crank his neck to look down like he had to do with Rory and almost every other girl in the school. And that she was quite pretty, with long blond hair and the attitude that went with it. Ah yes, this was the new girl Todd had been talking about. Adrinana? Amanda? Ashley? He couldn't recall.

"Amanda," she supplemented, noticing his dilemma. "It's Amanda."

All right, so Amanda it was. "Hi," he replied out of courtesy than anything else. "What do you want?"

She arched her eyebrow as if that wasn't quite what she'd expected. Dean knew the type; she had expected him to throw himself at her feet, entranced by her 'beauty' in a matter of second. Well, too bad. He wasn't interested.

"Yes, as a matter of fact," she said with a faint, confident smile, "there is something I need to ask you. You seem to be the only one in this whole town who I can dance with while wearing high heels. And I really like my high heels." He blinked, and she smiled. "So, come to the Dance with me next week."

First thought: there's a dance next week? Second thought: she's asking me out? He'd been stamped with the word "Taken" on his forehead for so long in this town that this sort of thing had reached extinction. Dean stared, unsure how to formulate a 'no' answer to her direct request. "I have a girlfriend."

"I heard. Goes to Chilton, real brainy. This doesn't have to be a date," she said in the manner that could only be described as 'coy'. "And your girlfriend doesn't have to know."

He met her gaze, but not because he was tempted. He was remembering how nervous Rory had been when she asked him out to the dance last year. Rory would never be like this, he thought, never this coy, never this direct. He remembered the sweet tension that always seemed to radiate from her whenever she was near him, the way her face lit up when she saw him, the way she babbled on with no period in between. The things that he hadn't seen from her for a long, long time. The things that he now had begun to suspect that he might never see again.

Yes, that was the problem, wasn't it?

"Sorry," he said, trying his best not to sound rude, "I don't do dance."

She looked stung, which added up his guilt, but she shrugged away and forced a light voice, "I'll be around if you change your mind." Dean watched her walk away, and he, too, turned away.

By the end of the day, the whole school knew what happened. Todd: "Heard you blew off Amanda McCall. You've some guts. Rory that sweet?" Lane: "Of course I knew Amanda had it for you, everybody knew. She's been orging on you ever since she got here. I pay attention -- sorry, the best friend obligation." He brushed them off with absent nods and good-byes, and headed back home.

Back home, walking past the bus stop bench where he had waited for Rory so many times before, where he was supposed to meet her today, where she was supposed to convince him to read The Sun Also Rises, knowing she was not waiting for him.

He didn't have to go to Luke's Diner. It wasn't like Luke's was the only place with coffee. But of course, it was the only place with decent coffee that he had come to like, thanks to Rory and Lorelai. He looked through the window of the diner. Jess was nowhere in sight, and only Luke was working behind the counter. There was a line-up, and Luke seemed extremely busy.

What the hell. Dean turned the knob and entered.

"Hey," he greeted Luke, approaching the counter when his turn arrived.

The only acknowledgement he'd gotten from Luke was a brisk nod at his direction. Right. Luke was never big on him, Dean knew. He remembered the blow-off's they had before. Luke was never happy about Dean going out with Rory. Dean had thought it was understandable, Luke trying to play a protective father to Rory. It had been rather irritating, yes, but Dean had accepted that. Now, though, Dean wished Luke was doing a better job. If Dean was Rory's father, he wouldn't let a guy like Jess anywhere near her.

But then again, Jess was Luke's nephew, wasn't he?

"Coffee, please," Dean asked, trying to sound cheerful. "How's it going?"

"Just peachy."

Well, at least Luke was in his old sarcastic self. While Luke was getting his coffee, Dean turned around, glancing across the diner. And that was when he saw Jess coming down the stairs. Oh crap.

Their gazes met. Dean could feel his face literally stiffen, but Jess betrayed no emotion. Jess leaned against the wall, and only seemed to consider leisurely whether to acknowledge Dean or not.

This was ridiculous. Dean bit back his temper. "Hey."

"Hey," Jess replied coolly, just as expected.

They stood like that for a moment, awkward air thick between them. Dean was about to go 'To hell with damn coffee' and walk out, but just then, his eyes caught something Jess was holding in his hands.

A book. It looked strangely familiar.

Before Dean asked Jess where he got it, Luke handed him a cup of coffee in one terse gesture. "Here," he spoke briskly, already ready to move onto the next customer, "You got what you want, now get out."

So what if this was just regular grouchy Luke, saying what he said to everyone (save for Lorelai), treating Dean like he did to everyone (save for Lorelai)? Dean felt unreasonable anger overwhelm him, and when he spoke, he no longer cared about appropriateness or manners of any kind.

"I know you don't like me, Luke. I know you're only looking out for Rory, and I get that. But, tell me one thing, just one thing, that I ever did to hurt her and you know that it wasn't me who broke up with her the last time. You know that. So tell me, have you ever seen me do something intentionally to hurt her? Do you think I ever will?" Even before surprise was registered in Luke's face, Dean grabbed the coffee, whirled around, and walked out of the diner.

He grabbed the cup so tight that the hot coffee popped out of it and almost burned his hands.

He didn't feel a thing.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Dean. I was supposed to meet you at the bus stop today, wasn't I? Were you waiting for long?"

Dean stood up, brushing dust off his pants. An hour of sitting on Rory's porch did that to his jeans. "No, I didn't," he lied.

Rory's face lit up with a smile. God, she was beautiful. "I'm a terrible girlfriend, aren't I?" she came to his side and took his arm, "It was just that Paris set up a paper meeting at the last minute. Everybody was starved and wanted to go home for dinner, but then she made us eat this god-awful casserole instead of..."

She was talking energetically as usual, her smile bright and her voice even brighter. But he heard nothing of what she said.

"Rory," he abruptly cut her off, "Did you mean what you said?"

Rory looked puzzled. "About the casserole? Of course, I mean"

"What you told me last summer."

Rory stopped and stared. She was smart. He knew she would figure out what he meant.

And she did. He could read her expression as realization slowly dawned on her. "Of course I did. Dean, what brought this on? If this about last night? Because I told you, the article was due today and--"

He shook his head. This was pointless. "You know what, Rory? It doesn't matter. I'm just here to pick up the book."

Rory blinked. "The book?"

"The Sun Also Rises? You wanted me to get a taste of Hemingway, remember?"

"Oh god, I totally forgot." She looked startled, suddenly becoming jumpy like a rabbit in the Wonderland. "Oh god, I totally, totally forgot. It's...well, I mean, uh, Lane came in the other night and she said she needed it, because her English teacher suddenly turned all 'Death and all those things Hemingway,' so I just, you know, gave it to her. I'm so sorry." Rory made a bad liar. She always did.

Frustration was so overwhelming that he felt like he was choking on it. "So Jess just happened to have the same copy that you have, and Jess just happened to read The Sun Also Rises the day you were supposed to give it to me." Rory's eyes were big as Lake Ohio, with what he could read to be surprise and guilt. He couldn't stand this. "Why do you have to lie to me, Rory?"

Guilt was still there in her face, but there was something else in her face, something that resembled resignation. "Because I knew you would be angry, knew you would be like this. I let him borrow it because he really seemed to love Hemingway, that's all. Come on, Dean, don't be like this."

Don't be like what? he almost yelled, but he bit his lips and swallowed the words. Had to put his emotions in check. Angry outbursts weren't going to help anyone. "I love you, Rory," his voice was calm, just the opposite of how he felt. "And because I do, you've always been my priority. Not my mom, not my sister, not my family. It's always been you. You, on the other hand..." he took a deep breath, "What am I to you, Rory? You have Lorelai, Harvard, and now Jess. Do I even come in as one of the top five?"

"This is not fair, Dean. You can't say I don't appreciate you just because I have other priorities. I cannot love you the same way you do, Dean, but that doesn't mean you can judge it and say it like that, like, like..."

He felt a weary grin on his face. "Like you don't love me?"

She looked stung. "Dean..."

"Rory, I don't want to be like this any more, like a stupid jealous prick. I don't want to stand in your way. I...I can't just wait around for you to hurt me again."

A pause, then: "Are you breaking up with me?"

There it was, the final question. Her lips quivered, and her huge, beautiful eyes began to tear up. He remembered the first time he'd seen her, a girl with amazing concentration, the girl who stole his heart at the first glance. He remembered every moment, every taste of her lips, every leap of his heart when he saw her smile. He wanted to say no. God, he wanted to say no.

But he was no longer blind, was he? He would liked to have stayed blind, but it was no longer possible. Damn Tolstoy.

Dean shut his eyes briefly, then opened them again. "No, you are breaking up with me. The town people would scream 'bloody murder' if they think I dumped you for the second time," he managed a tired smile, "Let's just keep the story this way, Rory. You're breaking up with me."

"But I'm not," she protested, "I love you."

She really was a terrible liar, not because she was lying, but because she was forcing herself to completely, surely, whole-heartedly believe she loved him. He would laugh if he had any strength. "No, you don't," he reached out and touched a streak of her hair. It smoothly slipped between his fingers. It never stayed. "And you know it."

She tried to speak, she really did, but nothing seemed to come out. "Dean," her voice trembled, "I..."

She was never going to be able to say it. So, this was it. The end.

He kissed her on her forehead, looked into her eyes for the last time, then turned away.

"Goodbye, Rory."

He walked away, like how he was supposed to do. This was the right thing to do, for both of them. Someone had to end this, right?

It wasn't the last thing he wanted to say. What he wanted to say was - oh hell, what was the use?

Damn Tolstoy. Damn it all.

Because, goddammit, he still loved that girl.