(tra la la)

kind of a big dumb douchebag since 2006

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Sawdust and Ashes, 6b
Third Man - the end
finnigan_geist wrote in fcgeist
When he finally came out of the diner hours later, Luke was glad that it was getting dark. It helped obscure his face, now embarrassingly red and puffy from crying. He felt hollowed out and tiny. The one benefit was that he felt about humble enough to adequately apologize to Lorelai. He knocked on her door and stuck his hands in his back pockets. He hoped she wouldn’t be angry, but he had a guilty suspicion that she would let him off easier than he deserved.

“Hey, Lorelai,” he said with an awkward little half-wave.

“Luke,” she replied, stepping out of the way and gesturing for him to come in. He walked in, head bowed, running the palm of his hand over the knuckles of the other and glancing around everywhere in the room that wasn’t directly at Lorelai. She closed the door and turned to him, tucking her arms close to her body. They stood there silently for a long moment before Lorelai gestured to the living room. “You can make yourself comfortable.”

He caught her eye for a second before ducking his head away again. “Thanks, I think I’ll just – I don’t know. Are you busy?” He rubbed his jaw absently.

She shook her head. “Not at all.”

He nodded and swung his arms, making no move out of the entrance. “And, um,” his voice lowered, “is Rory here?” He felt guilty even saying her name.

“No, she’s out with Dean. Date night.”

“No date for you?” he asked without thinking about the words, trying to make his tone light but feeling largely idiotic.

Lorelai shook her head again. “Haven’t really been up to it.” He thought it was fairly generous of her not to sound offended. He knew she was hurt and upset, and he hadn’t meant to imply that he expected her to go back to her life like nothing was wrong.

“Is it all right if I come in?”

Lorelai took a step closer to him, leaning down to catch his eye. He looked at her and she straightened, putting a hand on his arm. She nodded, rubbing his arm gently. He exhaled harshly and scratched at his temple, but remained otherwise stationary.

Eventually Lorelai took the initiative and walked into the living room, calling back over her shoulder, “You want something to drink or eat?”

Luke took a tentative step after her. “Um, I don’t think so. I think I’m fine.”

“That might be a good thing. I’ve got some coffee going, but apart from that, there’s not actually a lot in the house right now except for stale pretzels and water. I could get you some water.”

“No, I don’t need any,” he said, trudging behind. The mention of food reminded him that he had meant to make her something as a lame form of apology, and he cursed himself silently. He lingered in the archway of the kitchen, palms pressed against the small of his back. Lorelai was pouring two glasses of water.

She glanced up at him. “Take a seat, Luke, really.”

He slid into a chair, clasping his hands together on the surface of the table. Lorelai put a glass of water in front of him and sat down to his left, pulling her chair close and angling toward him. “Sorry, couldn’t help it,” she said, indicating the water. “I’m too much the consummate hostess.”

Luke nodded.

“Lorelai, I’m sorry,” he started, but she was already shaking her head.

“No, please don’t apologize. I get it, really.”

He rubbed his hands over his face, feeling almost disappointed that she wasn’t going to give him a harder time. “I really shouldn’t have done that, though, it was completely unjustified and -”

“Luke, come on.” He looked up at her, dropping his hands back on the table. She tilted her head at him, expression serious. “I understand.” She leaned closer, wrapping her hands around one of his. “You have so much more to worry about, and I don’t want you to be sorry to me.”

Luke was feeling pretty numb, but he was aware of her fingers over his and the gratitude he felt that he even knew this woman. Lorelai snorted and smiled wryly. “Believe me, I understand. You should have been there for the fight I had with my mother last night.”

“Yeah?” was all he had the wits to offer.

She nodded, thumbs twiddling against his knuckles. “I’d say this one goes down in the hall of fame. If not for sheer volume – and some words that have not been uttered in that house for lo these last seventeen years – then for the fact that it really was all my fault.” He smiled and Lorelai jutted her chin thoughtfully. “Just – completely out of nowhere. Yelling. I was very impressive.”

“I’m sure you were.”

Lorelai curled her lip and leaned in closer, like she was telling him a secret. “It felt really good, though. Not, you know, that I probably did hurt her, because I didn’t mean to do that. And Rory’s disappointed in me and we’re fighting now, too, so that basically blows. But I don’t really regret it. I needed to rage at someone, and Emily Gilmore is certainly good for that. I never would have thought I’d be thinking of her as a form of stress relief.”

“Lorelai, I don’t want to use you as stress relief. That’s not fair to you.”

She shrugged a shoulder. “I know, but I understand.” He nodded. He really would have to figure out a way to make her a bouquet out of nachos. He could probably craft the petals from chips and use the cheese as the center. Lorelai gave his hand a small squeeze and he came back to himself. He watched her for a while, his head throbbing with a dull thrum. She looked at the table, where her hands were folded over one of his. She lifted one hand and slid it under his, so it was sandwiched between hers.

“Are you OK with this?” he asked.

She looked up, eyebrows ticking together. “With what?”

Luke cleared his throat. “With – being a part of all this. You don’t have to be, you know. It’s not yours to have to handle. I mean – I don’t mean to say that you’re not appreciated, or that I think you don’t want to help, it’s just that you have the option. I mean, if I had the choice, I wouldn’t know any of this. Because it wouldn’t have happened, not just because I’d be ignorant about it, of course, and probably you feel the same way, because naturally you’d never want this to have happened, but if you could not know about it, then you might want to.” He rolled his eyes, trying to recollect his thoughts. He sighed and started again. “What I’m saying is, I think, that you have the choice.”

Lorelai rubbed the back of his hand. “No I don’t, Luke. Like you said, it happened, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. But, Luke. You don’t have to do this by yourself.” She sighed and turned her head to the side, then snapped it back to look at him. “No, that’s not even right. I don’t want you to do this by yourself.”

“Really?”

“I won’t let you.”

Luke felt a rush of relief so intense that it surprised him. He had to press the fingers of the hand she wasn’t holding against his eyes to hold back the sting of tears. It was ridiculous; he wasn’t even sad. He blinked and sniffed and rubbed at his nose. “Thank you.” She squeezed his hand, nodding.

“I don’t know if this is obvious,” he said, lacing his words with self-deprecating sarcasm, “but I have – no idea – what to do.” He slashed his hand through the air to emphasize his point. “None.”

“Oh, Luke,” she murmured. “No one would know what to do.”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. I was hardly pulling this whole guardian thing off before – this – happened. I don’t know. I’ve got nothing. I can’t even relate to teenagers in the first place, and now, Jess…” Luke didn’t even know how to finish the sentence, his thoughts derailed as he pictured Jess, sitting in the hospital, cradling his head in his hands and crying. He blinked and was back to reality, looking at Lorelai, who was watching him with overbright eyes. “I’m not a parent. I’ve got no experience, and I…”

“What would you do if this happened to Rory?” He asked it more as a rhetorical question, and, in fact, he hadn’t even meant to say it out loud. Lorelai breathed in sharply, pulling her hands back and clasping them into fists.

She swallowed hard and looked away. “I can’t even think about what I would do if this happened to Rory.”

Luke leaned back slowly. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. That was stupid.”

Lorelai shook her head, expression drawn. “No, it’s OK. I mean, it actually happened to you. And Jess.” She looked down at her fingers, now open and curled loosely around nothing. “Jess.”

They were both quiet for a moment. She met Luke’s gaze again. “I have no right to get squeamish.”

“I think this is an instance where it’s all right to squeam. It was thoughtless of me to suggest that, and I don’t mean to – make you feel guilty or I don’t even know what. I’m not thinking most of the time, Lorelai.” His face scrunched up. “Is that a word? Squeam?”

“It sounds like it should be,” she replied. “And no, Luke. This one isn’t about me. I don’t need any coddling or comfort. Let’s just – never think of or mention that possibility again. I might throw up and faint at the same time and then choke on the vomit and die, so.”

Luke half-smiled. “I know how you feel.”

Lorelai’s eyes were wet as she whispered “yeah,” and took his hand again. She flattened it out, pressing his knuckles against the table, and ran her fingers across his palm.

“Do you have any ideas?” she asked. “About, I mean. Are you thinking about getting him therapy?”

Luke snorted. “Yeah. He’s not really receptive to the idea.” He’d managed to avoid thinking about that argument almost all day, distracting himself with the diner and being a jackass and the pictures. But now that was all so stupid and trivial. The important thing was, and had always been, Jess. He tried to swallow and practically choked. Lorelai titled her head at him, concerned, and he was almost afraid to share it all with her, to admit how scared and lost he felt. “Ah, God, Lorelai. I know I need to get him help, but he’s not going to let me. He won’t even – he didn’t even -” Luke cut himself off.

“What?” she asked, kneading his hand softly.

“I think he might have lied to the police,” he said, all in a rush, feeling like he was vomiting the words.

She sat back, shaking her head in disbelief. “What?”

“His statement – I don’t know. I mean, he wouldn’t tell me one way or the other if he lied to them, but he was trying to tell me that it – what happened – wasn’t that bad and I was so angry with him, Lorelai, I can’t even tell you how much, but I couldn’t get him to tell me what he told the police.” His breathing was irregular and heavy and he felt scared, unsteady, getting it out in the open.

Lorelai looked stunned, her brow furrowed and expression far off. Her fingers tightened around his almost painfully hard. “Not bad,” she mumbled, and he could see his own horror reflected in her face. After a moment, she refocused on Luke. “But I thought he consented to the rape kit.”

“He did,” Luke blurted, reeling in surprise at hearing her mention it. He didn’t remember telling Lorelai anything about that, and it seemed unlikely that he would have, given that it was more probable he would puke his heart out of his mouth than speak the word.

“Oh,” she said, still confused.

“Why?” Luke asked, rubbing his thumb over her fingers.

She shook her head. “No, I guess I just assumed. It just seems very odd that someone would consent to a rape kit and then tell the police nothing happened. I’ve heard it’s a pretty harrowing experience. The rape kit.” They both seemed to connect Jess to that statement – a pretty harrowing experience – at the same time. Lorelai looked away, and Luke felt his lungs get tight.

“But I don’t know,” she continued. “I mean, there’s nothing to say that – a person in that position would be thinking rationally.” She stumbled over her words where she would have said Jess’ name. It was much easier to consider things like harrowing experiences and a person’s mental state after them if it related to a generic hypothetical than Jess, sitting hunched in a dim hospital room. Luke took in a shaky breath, suddenly remembering what the nurse had said at the hospital when she’d mentioned Jess not wanting to do the rape kit – something that would feel like another violation. Luke was definitely going to be sick.

“At least you have that officer’s number,” Lorelai muttered, concentrating.

Luke looked up at her, confused, and she sat back, pressing her hands to her temples. “Oh! Oh my God, I forgot!” She stood from her chair so quickly she almost tripped over it and jogged out of the room. Luke blinked after her, then looked at his hand, still laying knuckles-down on the table and feeling cold now that Lorelai wasn’t holding it. He wiggled his fingers. He didn’t really like that he was getting used to feeling lost and stupid all of the time.

Lorelai came back digging through her purse. “Oh, Luke, I can’t believe I forgot. The police stopped by the inn yesterday to talk to you, but you and Jess were out and I didn’t know how they could reach you. They said to call.” She paused, her head and arm almost entirely lost inside her bag. “Here!” She emerged, holding out a business card. “I’m so sorry. I was going to give it to you – this morning, actually, but I -” she stopped and grinned tightly. “Slipped my head.”

He leaned forward to take it from her, chuckling dryly. “But I freaked out and yelled at you.”

Lorelai shook her head. “It’s not important. What’s important is that you call them.” She dropped her purse on the floor and sat down next to him again, propping her head up in the palm of her hand. She rubbed her eyes and laughed hollowly. “Not bad,” she repeated, and he felt a guilty gratitude that she seemed to be as upset at he was. It was terrible – he was still having trouble getting his head around how disoriented and sick he felt, and he wouldn’t have wished the feeling on anyone – but knowing Lorelai understood helped.

Luke tucked the card in his back pocket. He would call them tomorrow, and then he would call that nurse from the hospital. Too bad if Jess wanted to sabotage himself in every possible way, and too bad if that’s what he was used to doing. Luke would do everything he could think of – no matter how idiotic or unlikely it was to accomplish anything – to keep Jess together. The determination exhilarated him, but his confidence was immediately chased by a fear and self-derision so powerful he lurched forward with it. He reached for Lorelai’s hand this time, closing his fingers around hers in a grip that was probably painful.

She leaned closer, expression serious and concerned. It was coming on him in waves, the understanding he had started to glean in the diner. Luke had unknowingly stepped into the shoes of every adult who had let Jess down before now. And if Luke couldn’t do this, there wasn’t anyone else.

“I’m afraid,” he said, looking her in the eye. He opened his mouth to keep going but instead he simply repeated it: “I’m afraid.” He bowed his head, staring at the table. Lorelai’s fingers drew light, absent circles on the back of his hand.

“Luke,” she prompted softly. He looked at her again, feeling heavy everywhere. He wanted to say it, to tell her everything, if only so she could laugh at all of his fears and he could laugh, too, both of them laughing until tears poured down their cheeks and their jaws unhinged, because it was hilarious how terrified Luke was. That whenever he looked at Jess’ bandages he thought of bloody messes on tile floors, that the image was on the back of Luke’s eyelids when he blinked sometimes, surprising him. But it was more than that – it was the dark look in Jess’ eyes, the feeling that Luke would never be able to reach him, the apartment with nothing of Jess’ in it except a deflating air mattress, the impression that Jess was hardly there.

“I’m afraid of losing him.”

Lorelai dropped her gaze, hooking her fingers through his. It looked like she was working up to say something, and part of him wanted her to tell him there was no way he would lose Jess, that of course he could do it. Luke could save him. But a larger part of him thought he would be angry with her for lying if she did.

“Well,” Lorelai said at last. “I know it’s not much, but I’ll do whatever I can to help you. You just have to promise to ask me.” He nodded, feeling oddly deflated that that was all the comfort she was offering, and angry with himself for it. “But I think – I think that, in all of this shit, Jess having you is like – the one lucky part of his life. If there’s anyone in the world who can help that kid, it’s you, Luke. You have just about the best heart of anyone I know.”

He immediately scoffed, waving it off, but Lorelai cut him short with a sharp squeeze of his hand and a look so hard he momentarily worried she was angry. “I mean it,” she said.

Luke felt the bizarre urge to chide her, to tell her to stop flattering him, but he knew she was being serious, and that frightened him, too. He dropped his gaze and breathed shallowly, unexpectedly humbled. He looked back to their joined hands, watching her fingertips track gently back and forth across his skin.

“I should get back to him,” Luke mumbled, suddenly embarrassed that he didn’t even know if Jess had come back to the inn. Lorelai nodded and sat back, sighing, pulling her hands back to her lap. Luke stared at his hand, old and work-worn, splayed by itself on the table.

“Thank you,” he said, catching her eye again. She offered him a weak smile. He stood stiffly, awkwardly, and she walked him to the door in silence. They said subdued goodbyes and she made a move like she wanted to hug him, but turned the motion into a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder.

Luke walked out into the darkness, feeling a strange mixture of calm determination and absolute fear. I’m all he has now, he thought again, allowing himself a dry chuckle. We’re probably both screwed.


Chapter 7

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