Knights in Shining Hair Gel
Standard Disclaimer applies
First off, thank you to Djinneya, Sailor-Lit, 5-STAR and Imperial Dragon for your reviews to the last part of Fire and Ice! It feels good to be able to say it is finally finished and I really appreciate everyone who stuck with it till the end
Just a short interlude with Jess, Luke and Lorelai, set in the same universe as Fire and Ice and Watching the Watchers but you don't necessarily need to have read those to understand this – just know that Jess and Lorelai have been building a slightly more affectionate relationship than they did in the series and that this story will be exploring that in a little more detail.
April had started out as a somewhat dreary month. Ten days in and winter snow had given way to early spring drizzle. The heel on her trusted pair of empowering shoes had snapped as she had hurtled down the stairs that morning. Thanks to a week-long school trip to Washington State, her equally trusted daughter had neither been present to commiserate with, help her select a new pair or offer to drop her shoes into the menders on her way to Chilton. The pair of shoes that she had grabbed at the last minute now, in retrospect, made her look like an empowered hooker. She couldn't even imagine where they had come from.
Lorelai glanced down at her watch as the front door slammed shut behind her. Her potential clients were flying in from Norway in less than two hours with the budding prospect of a week-long conference on the table and she knew what that kind of business could mean for the Independence Inn. Suky, of course, would be having conniptions by now because the catering wouldn't be up to her impeccable standards and Michel would have alienated half of the serving staff with a few ill-placed remarks and this would have to be the day when she herself was running late.
She swore rather too loudly to herself then gave an embarrassed wave to the mailman as he passed her by with an odd look for her. "Hey there," she called. "It's okay – they let us out Monday to Wednesday on a day-release programme. I'm fine if I've had my Wheaties." The man shook his head as he hurried on to the next house.
Taking a few deep breaths, Lorelai took a moment to collect herself. The light rain actually made the air quite fresh and cool. It was invigorating and the promise of a warm day was always just within reach. When she opened her eyes again, the young woman once again reconsidered her decision to grab a coffee at Luke's. Loathe as she would normally be to skip her coffee and Danish, today was cutting it fine. But, she reasoned, not only would coffee fortify her for the day ahead but when Luke had spoken to her the previous day and actually asked her if she was coming by tomorrow morning, it had piqued her interest.
It could have just been a casual enquiry but the perceptive woman couldn't help but feel there was something more underlying the simple question. And she wanted to find out.
So, negotiating the slightly slippery sidewalk in wholly unsuitable heels, Lorelai hurried over to the diner. The breakfast crowd was steadily filling up the tables but she managed to find one free in the corner and flopped down into a waiting chair. No sooner had she done this when a cup of steaming coffee was placed in front of her, causing her to start.
She looked up in surprise to see Luke standing over her with a smile on his face. And it wasn't his usual 'mentally preparing himself for a Gilmore witty greeting' smile, it actually looked a little nervous.
"Hi," he greeted her, softly. "I didn't think you were going to make it."
Lorelai had just opened her mouth to reply that she had been thinking the same thing and that she really couldn't stay for anything longer than a coffee when Luke suddenly signalled to Caesar. Immediately a freshly baked pastry was brought to her and was set by her coffee cup while Luke handed her a menu.
"Have a Danish while you look at the menu," he suggested, "Specials are on the board. Where they usually are. Um, I'll be back to take your order in a minute."
"Actually, Luke…" she began but was soon talking to a retreating figure as her friend quickly wove his way to the counter, grabbed a coffee pot and began furiously re-filling empty coffee cups like the beverage was going out of fashion.
The young woman shook her head in confusion, her naturally suspicious and overly curious nature going into overdrive. There was, most definitely, some odd a-foot with her usually predictable friend. Deciding the Inn could afford to wait a few more minutes for her, Lorelai tucked her brown curls behind her ears and took a sip of her coffee while she waited for the mysterious Luke. Damn – he'd made it exactly the way she liked it! She took a large bite of her Danish – baked to perfection. She closed her eyes as she savoured the heavenly delicacies, wondering what toll awaited her at the end of this self-indulgent pleasure. Indeed, the god of pastries demanded a weighty sacrifice and as for the goddess of Java? She shuddered to think.
Presently, Lorelai glanced up from her coffee when she heard a chair scraping away from her table and Luke seat himself opposite her. She blinked then smiled at him. "Hey there, stranger. Nice of you to come down to us mortals and join us." Her eyes held him fast in a question and from the way Luke was shifting nervously in his seat, Lorelai guessed he wasn't going to keep her hanging for long. Luke's eyes, unfortunately, had just fallen on her shoes. Immediately, Lorelai narrowed her eyes and growled:
"Yes, they're red. Yes, they're that shade of red and yes, the heels really are that high. I have nearly twisted my ankle three times this morning and my day is not shaping up to get any better so please, for the sake of our everlasting friendship, make no comment."
"Uh…right. Thanks for stopping by this morning," he began, rather awkwardly. She gave him a smile and a nod though his mannerisms were starting to make her nervous, too.
"That's okay. But I can't stay long. Thank you for the delicious coffee and pastry though –they're my favourite."
He let out a short, quiet laugh. "You know I had wondered." He cleared his throat and finally fixed her with a steady look. It felt like crunch time and she unconsciously held her breath. "Lorelai, I actually wanted to talk to you for a reason."
"Uh-huh." Her mind was starting to reel with the possibilities but she forced herself to bite her tongue and stay quiet.
Luke folded his hands together on the table looking for all the world like a man about to beg a loan from a bank manager. "I have to go away for a few days."
"You do? Where to?"
"Orlando. I need to sort out some of the stuff from my uncle's estate. I thought the people down there could deal with it but apparently not. I shouldn't be more than three or four days at the most."
"I'm sure you'll get it sorted out, Luke. But, uh, why do you need to talk to me?"
Her friend hesitated and took a deep breath. He was starting wring his hands too. Lorelai took discrete refuge behind her coffee cup, just in case a storm was heading her way. "I need to ask you a favour." Lorelai narrowed her eyes and steepled her fingers.
"You may proceed, Lukas though I must warn you that once in my debt, I may claim my boon at any time and in any place."
Luke winced. "Please don't mock – it may come to that."
Scoffing lightly, Lorelai waved away his unease with one hand. "Oh please, Luke. After all the things you've done for me and Rory over the years! Whatever it is, consider it done. What? Do you want me to keep an eye on the diner while you're gone? Carry out on the spot coffee inspections to make sure it's all up to standard? I will need an official badge, I have to warn you but other than that, we're good to go."
The young woman smiled warmly at Luke as she reached across the table to pat his hands.
"Actually," Luke began, then glanced about the diner quickly, "it wasn't the diner I was going to ask you to keep an eye on." He withdrew his hands gently from under hers and then waited. It took a good few seconds of blank staring and the distant clatter of coffee cups before Lorelai's eyes widened in surprise.
Luke's smile was painfully awkward. "I know!" he hastily cut in. "I know it's a lot to ask but I can't take him with me – he has school and everything and normally I wouldn't mind leaving him alone but he's still on so much medication from the hospital and although he's doing much better I just don't want to leave him entirely to his own devices for so long."
"Luke," Lorelai began, nervously, wondering how quickly a person could back-pedal without physically falling over.
"He wouldn't be any trouble!" Luke cut in but he was wincing even as the words left his mouth. "I promise, Lorelai, he's doing much better – you know he is. I just worry about him when he's not fully recovered. And he's still hobbling so there's only so much trouble he can actually get in to!"
"I know that, Luke, but…"
"And I'm not asking you to move in here or for him to stay with you. Not unless it was easier for you and you wanted it that way because you would be in charge. I mean, you say 'jump', he'll say 'how high?'"
"Luke it's just that…"
"Actually," Luke swept on, as if he hadn't heard her plaintive interruption, "he'd probably just laugh because he can barely manage the stairs, let alone jump but you know what I mean. But you would be lord and master – I'd make sure he knew that."
He watched, eyes imploring, as she took a steady breath and tried to smile. "Wow," she began, slowly, carefully trying to choose her words. "And while that prospect both excites and terrifies me…like rally racing or lion-taming…I just don't know if this is going to work, Luke."
A sharp pang of guilt stabbed her square in the chest as she watched her best friend's hopeful expression start to crumble. After all he'd done for her, all the times she'd snapped her fingers and he'd come running, now she was going to do this to him when he actually needed something from her.
Hastily, Lorelai did what came naturally when she was nervous: she kept talking. "It's not that I have anything against, Jess. I don't." Off Luke's dubious look she insisted more emphatically. "I really don't! I know we didn't get off to a great start but you also know I've grown fond of him over the last few months. But I just don't know if I'm the right person for the job."
Luke's incredulous expression made her pause, mid-ramble. "I would honestly like to know who else you think I could leave him with?"
She opened her mouth to reply, but on scouting ahead with every scenario she came up with, they all ended in carnage, police reports and a suspiciously well-fertilised flower-bed in the coming years.
"Exactly!" Luke concluded. "Believe me, I hate imposing on you like this but I have no-one else to ask. I know Rory's away for the week so…"
"So? This is not like replacing one teenager with another, Luke! We're not going to fix each other's hair and make-up and sit up all night giving a mocking commentary on the Godfather II!"
"You could do," Luke cut in eagerly, "Jess loves to mock! You just pick a topic and he'll be there."
With a frustrated sigh, Lorelai threw her hands up into the air but already Luke could sense that the tide was turning in his favour.
Still, he gently pressed the point home, taking her hands loosely in his own. "Apart from me, you're the only adult in this town that he trusts. Hell, you're the only adult who will give him the time of day! I know he'll listen to you because, though God knows I realise he doesn't show it, but he cares about what you say – you've helped him through some difficult times. I know the two of you can drive each other crazy sometimes, but it's only for a few days." He gave her hands a light squeeze. "Please. It's not for long."
Finally, Lorelai let out a heavy sigh and squeezed his fingers back. "Okay. You win. I'll watch him. But you'd better take a thorough inventory of him before you leave because I can't guarantee what condition I'll be returning him in."
Luke grinned in relief and leaned over the table to kiss her on the cheek. "Thank you so much, Lorelai! It's such a weight off my mind."
"I'll bet," she muttered, ruefully.
"My flight leaves this afternoon – if you could just stop by in the evening and see that he's okay, he's done his homework, taken his meds – that would be great." Sighing again, she gave him a small smile before taking another sip of her coffee.
"You'd better make me a list of what he needs to take and when just so the teenager and I are singing from the same hymn sheet." Luke nodded.
"I'll leave you the number for the school as well."
Lorelai, however, shook her head. "I know the number for the school, unless they've created a hot-line just for Jess." Luke winced.
"Hey," a voice suddenly intruded on their conversation. Instantly, both adults drew apart and looked to the dark-haired teenager who had just emerged from behind the curtain. His school bag was slung over one shoulder and he stood, resting on his crutches and regarding both adults suspiciously and even though they were sure Jess couldn't have heard them, Lorelai still felt her face flushing.
"What's with the clandestine coffee rendezvous, Uncle Luke?"
"I thought you were going to school," Luke started, his tone a mixture of accusation and warning.
Jess just shrugged. "I'm getting there. It'll happen." But still Jess lingered, staring at the guilty parties. It was like he could smell the suspicion in the air and it was making Lorelai a little nervous. Teenagers could be so damned perceptive when adults were talking about them.
"But seriously," Jess pressed, "why are you looking so shady?" Luke's back stiffened immediately and he rose to his feet in preparation for a show-down.
Lorelai felt like backing her chair up an inch or two. Jess and Luke show-downs could sometimes involve patrons and she wasn't taking any chances.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Jess. We were just discussing the specials."
However, Jess' eyes suddenly trailed down to rest on her vibrantly red shoes and a smirk tugged up the corners of his mouth as his eyes twinkled devilishly. "Hers or yours?"
Luke sputtered once before flinging open the diner door and pointing a ramrod straight arm out into the street. "Go to school!" he barked and with another chuckle, Jess did so, moving much faster than most people assumed he could with his leg in plaster. As Luke resisted the urge to kick him while he passed by, he shut the door firmly behind him and swung back round to Lorelai, his face burning.
He winced at the tight-lipped, dangerous smile his friend was wearing and could only hope, as she rose from the table and threw her bag over her shoulder, that she wasn't reconsidering her offer of Jess-minding.
Her voice held an edge to it as she said, shortly: "I'll talk to you later, Luke. I have to get to work."
Luke nodded and quickly held the door open for her as she walked by. But as she moved, he gently caught her arm and pulled her close for a moment. "If it helps," he offered helplessly, "you have my permission to smack him."
Lorelai paused, carefully removed his hand from her arm and smiled tightly at Luke. "It might," she said, before patting his hand and releasing him.
A/N – Thanks for reading this far. There is a slight liberty taken with the GG timeline as I don't think the episode with Uncle Louis has been fitted in to exactly the right point in the year so I hope it doesn't bother people too much.
I'm not sure if anyone wants to read a Lorelai and Jess bonding story so I'd be curious to see what people think. There will, of course, be some Luke/Jess moments as well.