Pairing: Luke/Lorelai (possible future Rory/Logan subplot)
Rating: R, for later chapters
Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Part Five
She can only hold onto fragments of thoughts as she listens to Luke rant. She sees Rory’s face flash before her eyes, first as a baby, and then as an unrecognizable woman, simultaneously hurting and furious about it. Yet, that picture flicks and fades away, only to be replaced by her parents, a black-and-white image that she remembers having glimpsed at briefly once or twice in the past. They are young in this picture, taken a year or two before Lorelai was born, and they are merely looking into each other’s eyes. No smiles, no warmth, not even a glimmer of recognition. She sees them this time in her mind, only they’re not looking at each other. Instead, they are looking at Lorelai and yet, at the same time, they don’t really see her. She quivers under their unwavering gazes, forcing herself away from the scorn as she brings herself back to reality.
All she can see now is Luke. His face is turning redder with each shuddering breath he takes, pacing slightly as his plan becomes increasingly, impossibly elaborate. She smiles when she realizes that, unlike the others, he’s not merely a hologram in Lorelai’s mind. No, unlike the others, he’s there, with her; body, soul, beautiful blue baseball cap, and all. Suddenly, she feels a rush of emotion, unidentifiable, but not at all unwelcome as Lorelai baths in its newness. She knows that, whatever this feeling is, it is bigger than her unexpressed, but wholly felt love toward this man. It is something more – like an acceptance of some sort; an acceptance of his presence, weaved tightly within every grain of her being.
"What?" he demands.
And so, she ignores the wagging finger in her mind, the faceless voice (sounding suspiciously like her mother’s) that warns, You’re not thinking, Lorelai; you never think! In retaliation, she says it, “Luke, will you marry me?” The words leave her mouth like all the others – hurried, impulsive, and, to the untrained ear, utterly ridiculous. This is, without a doubt, the mother of all non-sequiturs, even for Lorelai’s standards. And yet, as always, the thought-process behind these words has been churning in her mind for days, distracting her from her activities by day and haunting her dreams at night. With the short-lived, but intense panic at the possibility of pregnancy, Lorelai had begun to really think of what a future with Luke would entail - a future of bright promises and new beginnings; Lorelai’s first forever. The last word echoes in the unbearably silent diner, reverberating off the walls of her rapidly swimming mind.
“What?” he finally manages. His voice is soft this time, lacking that usual edge that accompanies Luke’s every word – a tone, she presumes, he has picked up after years of unabashed defensiveness, a mechanism against the world that has more often than not left wounds so deep he is unsure they will ever heal.
For an obscenely immeasurable amount of time they stare at each other, blue eyes gleaming under the yellow glow of the unnatural streetlights. Their gazes speak the impossibly blunt words of their innermost fears, and Lorelai wants to look away, cry out against the obvious doubt she sees etched within his features. But she is silent, and unnaturally so, because speech seems utterly inappropriate during this unusually intimate moment. The silence, coupled with the weight of Lorelai’s earlier question, creates a tension so thick, so palpable, that she struggles not to choke on the tainted air as it fills her lungs. Instead, she focuses on the familiar diner smells – burnt oil, stale coffee, and, above all else, that impossibly rugged scent which, in her mind, only signifies one thing – Luke.
Slowly, Lorelai’s body fills with an impatience that she does not mindly recognize, and so she fiddles with her purple cardigan, momentarily focusing on the last time she has worn this outfit. Or, more specifically, she remembers with a sort of fondness of brighter days, the last time she hadn’t worn the dress, when the sweater had instead been impatiently pushed off her shoulders as Luke’s large fingers fumbled with the zipper of her dress. This is not the right thing to focus on, she realizes, but she doesn’t know what else to think about. All she knows is that she can’t take another second of Luke’s suddenly haggard features as the gears in his mind go into overdrive.
His hesitation begins to make her nervous. Although they had not officially discussed any plans for the future, she thought he would snatch at the prospect of marriage as soon as she dangled it over his head. After all, he is Luke and Luke has made it obvious time and time again that he would do anything to salvage any sort of relationship with her – be it friendship, romance, or just a sort of casual exchange of niceties. As much as it pained her to admit it, that sort of reasoning was the one platonic aspect of their relationship that she felt she had any nuance of control over. Luke had dictated the rest, the beginning and progression of their relationship, as well as the painful rift that had settled between the two of them for that dark month. That looming cloud always hung over their relationship; he just couldn’t say no to her.
Finally, knowing that the allotted time for the expected answer had long since slipped away into the cool spring night, Lorelai wraps her arms around herself. With the absence of possibility, she is left feeling only insatiably cold and vulnerable. So, she does what she does best in these types of gut-wrenchingly awkward situations and cracks her infamous Flirty Lorelai Smile. However, Luke still looks stunned. In fact, the usage of The Smile has merely given him the air of one who has, just moments ago, gotten the wind knocked out of him. Propelled by an outright defiance similar to before, she moves closer to him, preparing herself to whisper witty words of distraction into his ear – rile him up to the point of frustration, causing him to forget their situation, at least momentarily. However, her mind is suddenly and unexpectedly wiped clean, leaving behind only remnants of phrases, which, pieced together, form jumbled-up nonsense. With that revelation, The Smile vanishes from her pouting lips and she stops in her tracks, looking much like a teenage culprit caught in the act of vandalism.
Her heart pounds unmercifully in her chest until she finds herself unable to focus on anything else. The walls around her begin to throb and pulsate, closing in on her as the world spins rapidly out of control. She sees the tables and chairs in front of her, but they quickly become blurs as she feels the dreaded prickling at the corners of her eyes. Her body begins to tremble, and she sinks deeper and deeper into this hell – a world of ruthless defeat. She wants to be angry with all of the people she loves, but the disappointment in herself rears its ugly head instead, cackling as her willpower crumbles into a heap of despair. If only she had not pushed Rory so hard (or, perhaps, pushed her harder?); if only she had not asked her parents for help; if only she had given Luke reason enough to love her baggage as well as her essence… and she’s lost in a world of uncharted possibilities, watching as her lost potential floats by, just barely out of reach.
Lorelai lets out a sob – just a single, unanticipated cry for mercy – and finds herself thrust back into the current world. Luke’s features have morphed from shock to genuine concern and, in a flash, she feels his hands grasping hers tightly. Her first instinct is to yank them away, too conflicted to feel connected to him at the moment. But she resists, knowing how deeply she would hurt him if she did that. As she feels his calloused hands against hers, she remembers the feel of coarse stubble against her soft cheek, sweet words dripping in a rough, biting tone. He’s an oxymoron, but, more than that, he’s a living, breathing paradox of everything she’s ever felt. He’s a symbol of her innermost conflicts. Love and hatred, as well as success and failure, go hand-in-hand in Lorelai’s world. It scares her to see the proof; to love the proof.
“Hey,” he says finally, and, as the last semblance of reality clicks into place, she realizes with a hint of astonishment that it has only been a minute or so since the last time he spoke. “Are you okay?”
His thumb rubs gentle circles against her hand and it becomes impossible to concentrate on anything but his rough skin. If he is everything that she is not (hot while she’s cold; rough while she’s smooth), then how can they be so utterly alike? They both are stubbornly independent when it comes to their own lives, but want, more than anything else, to be a part of each other’s lives; and, often, they each feel the unbearable ripples of failure as it wraps its hands around their necks in a classic struggle between life and death.
“Uh-huh,” she manages to croak, unsure whether she wants him to stop touching her or to never let go. “You know, about what I said, I mean… it was… I didn’t…” She takes a deep breath, gathering her thoughts in a desperate attempt to stop tripping over them as they are carelessly strewn about her mind. “I wasn’t serious. I mean, marriage?” she asks in an unnaturally high tone. “That’s completely bizarre! I mean… isn’t it?”
Luke squints, regarding her carefully, with that same guarded look he always gives her, as if he’s expecting her to pop out at any second and scream, “Gotcha!” Maybe he has a point, she muses fleetingly. She is not exactly the most serious of people. “Okay,” he replies slowly, deliberately choosing his words. “It’s only bizarre if… you don’t really want it. Do you want it?”
His voice carries an accusatory tone, a swift slap in the face. She shudders under his unwavering gaze, focusing her eyes instead on his flannel-clad chest. It did not, however, lessen the presence of the intense look in his eyes. He wants to hear the truth and she has no choice but to give it to him. He’ll know if she’s lying; his gaze can do that to her – see through her. “Yes, I do.”
He nods. “Okay, then.”
“Okay then?” She blinks a few times in rapid succession as she stares up at him, dumbly. The air is driven from her lungs in one huge explosion of breath and then she whispers, “That’s it? We’re getting married?”
“I think so. I mean, you asked, I said yes. We both want it…”
“Yes,” she states, even though he had not been asking a question. She knows, somehow, that he wants a confirmation. Or perhaps it is her that wants the confirmation. She can’t be sure, with his eyes still fixed on her, intense, unwavering…
This admission fills the diner, breaking the tension up into little ringlets of relief, tinged by anxiety. Lorelai chances a smile in his direction and is relieved to see him return it, even if it is much smaller than her own. They move closer to each other, and Lorelai’s heart begins to pound again as his hands find their way to her hips. This position is so familiar, and yet, it seems so foreign. Suddenly, she is no longer standing in the diner, but she is flying along another plane in a whole other dimension, sailing through the air with only Luke’s strong arms to ground her; to remind her that this is real, she is here, and he is whole.
Their lips meet and she is sure that nothing has ever felt so surreal before. But it isn’t, by any means, the mind-blowing engagement kiss she has forced herself not to expect (yet could not help but imagine, every once in a while). Instead, laced tightly within this embrace are traces of guilt, fear and, above all else, a dwindling sense of self-worth. She isn’t sure of anything, can’t stop the questions as they flood her mind, driving her farther and farther away from Luke’s soft lips against her undoubtedly chapped ones (and the paradox continues!). Tears prick at the corner of her eyes. She knows that, even as he draws her body closer to his, relishing in the warmth and wholeness that he provides, neither can avoid remembering the Independence Inn lobby, bursting at the seams with one thousand yellow daises.