Title- Devil Take The Hindmost
Characters/Pairings- Full ensemble, with JavaJunkie undertones like you wouldn't believe
Rating- Just assume that it's exactly like the show, but probably more four-letter words.
Summary- Gilmore Girls, re-imagined from the very beginning. A pair of custody issues pre-series alter the dynamics of Stars Hollow. How does our beloved show look from just a little different angle?
A/N- I hate myself. No, I seriously, seriously disgust myself. Do you have any idea how many WIPs I have? Two others in the GG fandom, three for Les Miz (or is it four?), two and a half for Phantom (plus one I really want to write but haven't posted yet), some permanently-on-hiatus pieces in the Doctor Who fandom... I suck. I really do. I have great plot bunnies and absolutely zero follow-thru.
...oh my god. I am TJ. *hangs self*
Anyway, the point I have to make here is that this is a complete re-imagining of the series right from the very start. Most of the characters will be as you recognize them. However, there are two very, very significant differences. And those differences names are Rory and Jess. These opening two chapters are made to deal with/explain the differences in their life stories, giving some backstory as it were, and then we'll proceed with chapters that correspond with episodes from the pilot onward. I'm not sure how far I'm going with this, probably at least the first season, maybe more. We'll see.
Prologue 1: Gaining a Son
"Dark lit streets are no place for kids
But it gives us more of a home than you ever did
We're the silentist's left to our own demise
You're still our last chance to get out of this place alive"
"But... but where is she?" Luke asked, sinking heavily into the chair behind him as he felt his legs give out a little. Detachedly, he took notice of the uncomfortable orange upholstery; it was the same kind of chair they had in the offices at the bank. "I mean... where has she gone?"
The woman in the cheap suit- Alice Wimbly, her nameplate read- smiled sadly at him. "Who knows? It happens sometimes, Mr. Danes. Sometimes women like your sister, young mothers living below the poverty line... sometimes the pressure of trying to support their children becomes too much. Or it's possible she was in some kind of trouble. It's a difficult call in cases like this."
Luke was pretty sure some part of her statement should offend him on behalf of his family, but unfortunately he knew Lizzie too well to actually argue with any of the case worker's insinuations. He rubbed his hands over his eyes tiredly, sitting forward to rest his elbows on his knees.
God, it was all such a mess. That morning, he had received a call from the New York Child Protective Services, informing him that he needed to meet with his sister's case worker- namely Ms. Wimbly- immediately. Upon arriving at the office just a few minutes before, he had received the stunning information that his sister, like her scumbag ex-husband before her, had bailed on her son. The day before, she had dropped him off at kindergarten as usual, and hadn't been heard from since. The only evidence that her defaction was in fact a defaction instead of something more sinister was the farewell note she had left on the table of her apartment, and her next-door neighbor's account that she had seen Liz around noon, carrying several full boxes down to her car before driving away.
He sighed. "Can I... do you have the note she left?" he asked.
Ms. Wimbly nodded, a slight look of sympathy crossing her prematurely lined face. She rifled through the (very thick) file on her desk, extracted a few pieces of stationery with a letterhead from a Motel 6, and handed them across to him. "It was addressed to you, in the first place," she informed him.
Luke looked down at his errant sister's missive.
I'm sorry, big brother. I know I'm letting you down again and I'm really sorry. Worse, I know I'm letting Jess down. But you know what? He's gonna be better off without me. I'm no good. Everybody thinks I'm oblivious, but I'm not. I see the way people look at me, twenty-two years old and carting around a five-year-old kid. I know what the neighbors think, I know what the cops told me when I got busted for possession again, I know I'm this close to losing him anyway. And I can't handle them taking him away from me. Isn't that selfish of me? I know he'd be better somewhere else, probably anywhere else, but I can't bear to watch them take him away from me.
God, I can imagine your face reading this, knowing I'm gone off again. I remember what you looked like when we figured out Jimmy left. You were so mad. I bet you're gonna be mad at me, too. You probably should be. But I gotta tell you... I get where Jimmy was coming from now. The day you realize your kid is better off without you in his life is a horrible day. You gotta understand, I'm gonna screw him up so bad if I stay. I don't know why I'm so fucked up, but I don't want him to be.
I'm babbling, I'll stop now. Luke, just promise me something? Make sure he's ok. Tell him that this is for the best. Tell him I love him, I really do.
See you around,
He didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The letter, and the sentiment, were so typically Liz.
"What, uh, what now?" he asked. "I mean... what about Jess?"
Ms. Wimbly looked down at the file again, more, Luke thought, to avoid his eyes than because she actually needed to consult the file. "It's the usual policy, in cases like this, to place the child with a close family member."
Unable to handle the implications of that statement just yet, Luke instead muttered, "There's a "usual policy" for stuff like this? Christ, how often do mothers just run out like this?"
She forced out a sad smile. "More often than I like to think about, Mr. Danes."
"It's a sad world we live in."
"That it is."
"You are your sister's next-of-kin. At present, you are Jess's only close family."
Luke chewed his lip. "You think I should take him."
"I don't think anything at present," Ms. Wimbly said coolly. "At least for now it's best that someone Jess knows take temporary custody of him while we explore all possible options."
"Someone he knows?" Luke scoffed. "I've seen him maybe twice since he was born!"
"Are you saying you won't take custody of your nephew?" she asked in a challenging voice.
"Hell no, I'm not saying that! He's family, of course I'm gonna take him!" Luke said, rising sharply to his feet, beginning to pace the cramped office. "But God, he's five! What the hell do I know about taking care of a five-year-old? I live in this tiny damn apartment above my dad's old hardware store! Well, it's a diner now, or it will be when I open in two months, but still... Christ, where can I possibly put a kid in that place? It used to be an office. And he'll need to go to school, right? I guess Stars Hollow has a pretty decent school system, it's not great or anything but I got through it alright. But he's already been in school for months, he's already started making friends... But then, who the hell cares about friends you make when you're five? Chances are half of them move away by the time you're eight anyway, and the rest you won't even remember you used to be friends with even if you see 'em everyday..."
Abruptly, the wind went out of his rant and he stopped pacing, dropping back into the chair. "God, look at me. How am I gonna take care of him?"
Ms. Wimbly studied him over the top of her cats-eye glasses, then said, "May I say something here?" At Luke's vague wave of a hand, she continued, "Mr. Danes, I have been working with your sister since CPS first took her case three years ago. If you are half the man she seems to think you are, you will do just fine with Jess. And frankly, even if you're not, I think you'll still be just fine, if for no other reason than that you want to do well enough that Jess does not have to go into foster care."
"That's a possibility?" Luke asked, suddenly very attentive.
She nodded. "It is always a possibility in cases such as this."
"I don't want that. Family takes care of family."
"That is ideal, yes. Alright, Mr. Danes, let me tell you what we are going to do now. Jess stayed in our facility here last night, so he is on-site. Once we've settled matters here, you can take him home with you tonight."
"It's in his best interests to settle him into a new home as quickly as possible."
"Because, uh, it would be bad for him to feel... unsettled, right?"
Ms. Wimbly gave him a rare genuine smile. "Precisely. As I was saying, you will take him into custody immediately, and he will remain in your care while we review the case. We'll coordinate with the Connecticut offices to evaluate your living situation, your suitability to be Jess's long-term guardian, et cetera. Once the evaluation is complete, depending on the outcome you will either be named Jess's permanent legal guardian, or we will consider other options."
"Other options like, like foster homes?"
"Wow. Okay, yeah."
"Do you have any questions?"
"Not right now. I probably will," Luke said, feeling completely overwhelmed.
"Alright, then. I have some paperwork here that I'll need you to fill out before you can go see Jess..."
Luke's head was spinning. This was all happening so fast. "Dammit Liz..." he chanted internally as he walked down the apparently interminable hallway, following Ms. Wimbly to the room where Jess had been housed since the police had brought him to the CPS building the night before. He was being thrust abruptly into the role of instant father... again. Well, not really. The last time he'd been in a pseudo-parental role, he had been nine and his mother had just died. His father had been a zombie for months, and it had fallen to Luke to take care of seven-year-old Lizzie, a role he accepted with willingness, albeit not capability. He had felt just as dizzy and overwhelmed then as he did now, maybe more so, and he couldn't help but think that if he had been better able to care for his sister during her formative years, perhaps this situation would never have been created in the first place.
God, how the hell was he supposed to do this? He didn't know a damn thing about raising little kids. He followed Ms. Wimbly blindly into the little room at the end of the hall, and found himself abruptly faced with his nephew. The sight shocked him out of his dazed state.
Jess had grown a little since Luke had last seen him, but he was still very small for his age. He was dressed in a ripped up pair of tiny jeans and a red t-shirt that had more than one unidentifiable stain around the collar. He was perched on the little cot in the room, sitting on his hands with his head down, staring intently at his dirty sneakers.
"Jess?" he asked softly.
The little boy looked up at him, and Luke had a feeling as if he'd had the wind knocked out of him. The child's eyes were huge and dark in his tiny face, and despite how young he was, glittered with awareness and intelligence. What he had known for more than an hour now but hadn't fully understood until he saw his nephew suddenly clicked with him.
This child was depending on him. It was up to him to look after this innocent little boy, to make sure he was kept safe and happy.
"Do you remember me?" he asked, still in that same soft voice. "I'm your Uncle Luke."
Jess nodded slowly, studying him as closely as he had been his shoes just minutes before.
"I'm here to take care of you," Luke told him.
Jess slid off the cot and looked up at his uncle from his place much closer to the ground. "She's not coming back, is she?" he asked quietly.
Luke's heart broke a little at the awareness that no little boy should ever have. He knelt down to put himself on eye level with his nephew. "I don't know, buddy," he confessed.
Jess's lower lip trembled just a little. Acting on instinct, Luke opened his arms and pulled him into a fierce hug. He heard a soft sniffling beside his ear and held his nephew all the tighter for it. After a minute, Jess's tiny arms went around his neck. Luke knew in that instant that he could do this. It terrified him, and he wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't screw up the boy just as much as his sister would have, but he could do this, because Jess needed him to. He needed a constant in his life.
"It's gonna be okay, Jess," he said, and strangely, he meant it.