Spoilers: post-ep for Hammers & Veils (spoilage vague)
Rating: PG
Pairing: Lorelai/Luke (unrequited)
Disclaimer: I am not queen of these characters. That would be the WB
and Amy Sherman-Palladino.
Summary: That's all it was, after all.

After All

by gaityr

He takes a sip of the rapidly cooling coffee, glad that he has
something to hold in his hands. Otherwise he wouldn't know where to
put them; he had been on the bench for half an hour, occasionally
placing his palms flat on his thighs, at other times twisting his
fingers together in a complicated steeple. Now he has coffee, and
although he doesn't really drink it often, the sharp black taste on
his tongue makes him feel... better. Closer, somehow, to the madness
around him.

Because that's what it all was: the tinsel, the food, the little
girls dancing in clouds of lace and ribbon, the pavilion, the gifts,
the sparkling fairy lights strung in and through the trees... all
madness, and utterly incomprehensible to him.

It was just Stars Hollow, after all. And it would remain Stars Hollow
after they swept up the tinsel and vacuumed the square (Taylor would
insist on it), bringing home the leftovers to feast on for the next
week. It would just be... Stars Hollow. The town they all lived and
worked and played in, the town they grew up in, the same old town,
same old people, same old life.

He looks up at the sky, because he is sick of watching people dance,
and he sees the stars. So many of them, more than you could ever
expect to see in a town any bigger than this. Buildings elsewhere get
too tall and they block out the stars, but here in Stars Hollow, they
are the main attraction. They're what the town is named for. And he
realises that they are out in full force tonight. After all, the
whole town has turned out to help her celebrate. It wouldn't be
perfect if it was a cloudy night.

The stars will still be there, he thinks, after the presents are
brought home and unwrapped and arranged to fit their owners' new
lives together. Everything would just... go back to being the same.
Miss Patty would stop bursting into tears every time the
words "Lorelai" and "wedding" were uttered in the same breath; Kirk
would put his damn camera away before he was forever banned from
eating at the diner; Taylor would grump around for weeks that the
clean-up was an unnecessary expense... and he... well, Luke would go
back to running Luke's Diner. As it had always been, as it was, as it
always would be.

"Hey," she says it quietly, and he looks down from the stars and
realises she's coming over to him.

He wonders briefly when his breath was taken away: was it the stars,
shining prettily on them all in the black night sky? Or was it, as
always, her? Then he awkwardly gets to his feet, just as she makes a
gesture indicating that he should stay seated. So he's there, half-
standing, half- squatting, and she laughs as she draws nearer to him.

God, when did he grow to love her laugh? And how did Rachel figure it
all out before he did?

"You're a life-saver, Luke," she grins, as she places a friendly hand
on his shoulder and pushes him back down on the bench. Grabbing the
cup of coffee from his hands (he'd forgotten he was holding a cup),
she sits down next to him. "Sookie went all out with the punch
tonight, but I think she forgot that certain unnamed people here
would expire without their 24/7 IV intakes of java." She takes a sip,
and turns to him with a smile on her face.

He doesn't smile, not really. It's not something he does. Maybe it's
genetic, maybe his facial muscles are just.... tighter than other
people's. But when she smiles at him, with that certain something
that speaks of starlight and sunshine in her eyes, he smiles back.
It's tentative, but he smiles. Then he realises that his hands are
empty, without a cup to hold, or a pot of coffee to control, or a tea-
towel to wring and wipe down a counter with. So he clasps them
together, then he untangles them, and places them on his thighs.

"So, what's up with you?" She flops back against the bench and
glances at him out of the corner of her eye. He would answer, except
that he can't get over the fact that she's suddenly sitting so close
to him he can feel her hip against his. He folds his hands under his
armpits, and doesn't say a word, just shrugs.

They sit in companionable silence for a while, as she slowly drains
all of his coffee. It hits him that this is maybe the last time (is
it the only time?) that they've sat alone together on a starlit
night, on a bench, just Lorelai and Luke. Not Mrs. Max Medina and the
guy who gives her coffee. And it makes him sad. Inexplicably,
unnecessarily sad.

"I really appreciate your coming out here, Luke," she suddenly says,
all serious and straight-faced--not the Lorelai he knows at all. "It
would be weird without you." It sounds so simple coming from her: a
statement of friendship, of gratitude. That's all it is. He's the guy
who gives her what she needs-so here he is again, bearing coffee, and
with it the strength and confidence to get through the day, to get
through life. Nothing more.

"I didn't think you'd notice if I stayed behind the counter," he
replies, watching Kirk scurry after Miss Patty with his megaphone
apparently welded to his lips. "This..." He sort of gestures widely,
pointing out the pavilion and the music and the thrones piled high
with gifts. "...this really isn't my scene."

She smiles at him again, and he thinks, maybe it won't be so bad
after all. Because even if she's married, even if she's not Lorelai
Gilmore anymore, she would still smile at him that way, and she would
still be Lorelai. Maybe.

Again, they sit as minute after minute slips by. Sinatra gives way to
Billie Holiday, and back again, and she still doesn't move, or speak.
He doesn't want to move either, or do anything that would end this.
But he sees Rory talking to Max on the other side of the square, and
Dean heading over to them, and he knows that Dean will ask Rory to
dance, and Max will look for Lorelai, and then it would end anyway.
So he clears his throat, and she looks at him, and he almost loses
his nerve to say anything. Let Max come over. Let this last as long
as it can.

But he speaks, and the words sound pained to him, because he's
forcing them out, "Shouldn't you... be, you know, dancing? I mean, I
don't know about these things, but... dancing with the guy... the
groom... I mean, your fiance... isn't that what you should be doing?"
If he could blush (and it was another one of those genetic things he
couldn't do), he would have turned purple.

"Max is talking to Rory," she answers him easily. "But you know,
you're right. I should be dancing." She gets to her feet, and he is
struck by how empty his right side already feels. Just seconds, and
he's already missing her warmth and her life and... her.

But he doesn't get to brood, as he would do if things went the way he
saw them in his head-he never watched her glide across the dance
floor towards Max, he never crumpled up the empty cup and threw it
away, he never walked back to his diner and sat to watch
Worcestershire sauce drip slowly into bottles. He never gets to do
any of those things.

Instead, she grabs his hand, and pulls him to his feet. He protests
wildly, though probably not coherently, something about how she
should be dancing with Max and not with him, never with him. But she
ignores him, and pulls him out onto the dancefloor, and although he's
never danced properly before, he finds her in his arms in seconds,
and he's moving her around easily and naturally as if he'd done it
ten, fifty, a hundred times before.

He's too stunned to think of anything other than the ridiculous
picture they must make: him in his trademark checked shirt and
scuffed sneakers, baseball cap pulled backwards over his hair; her in
that beautiful gray evening gown and slippy sandals that he thinks
are completely not sensible for the cool night. But he's doing it,
they're dancing, in a fashion, and her arm is around his waist and
her face smiling up at him, all light and life and.

"Lorelai," he tries again to protest, but she shushes him.

"Just one dance, Luke."

And that's all it is. Just one dance, after all.

So he stops thinking so hard, stops remembering how much he hates
dancing, and how Rachel tried to make him slow-dance with her once,
and he ended up stepping on her feet six times before pushing her
away and growling that he would never dance again, that rhythm wasn't
his thing and it was embarrassing. Somehow, he just knows that it's
different like this, different with her, because he knows he's bad at
it, and she's being nice when he steps on her feet, but it still
feels right. He's dancing: in Stars Hollow, of all places, on a
romantic moonlit night with tinsel and lights and laughter in the air
around him, and her head next to his so he can smell her hair.

For the first time since she told him she was getting married, he
doesn't feel funny inside. (Not sick-funny-he doesn't do the nausea
thing. Just... funny. As if something was missing, maybe a spleen or
a kidney or something, something he never noticed, but would miss if
it was gone.) And he wants to tell her so much: why Rachel left, and
why she, Lorelai, should have said 'no' to Max. Why he thinks he kind
of loves her, maybe, and why he should be the one she doesn't tell
about the coupon drawer, why he's the one who should get to kiss her
awake in the morning, cup of coffee in hand, and order pizza for her
when she's down. There are so many words, so many things to say, but
he swallows them. Saying them would only spoil it, spoil the one
dance. And that's all it was. Just one dance, after all.

He should have expected it, because suddenly she's pulling away from
him, and the smile on her face is... wistful, but she's pulling away.
The song is over, the dance is ended, and it isn't the best night of
his life anymore. It's just any other night in Stars Hollow, except
there's tinsel and light and laughter, and she's getting married.

Max is coming towards them, to claim her for another dance, so he
shyly backs away from her, his feet feeling clumsy and heavy as he
does so. Her hand is still in his, and she says, wonderingly, "Thank
you", and he wonders if she would ever know, if she would ever guess.
Max is here, and he takes Lorelai's other hand, and Luke, just
briefly, just once, squeezes her hand, then lets her go.

And he looks after them, as she turns into Max's arms and they twirl
away from him. Over Max's shoulder, he sees her face, and she's
watching him too, he thinks, then the couple turn, and turn, and melt
away into the crowd. He shakes his head, scoffs at himself (the
sudden wild hope that maybe, maybe she felt something?), and heads
back to the diner. That's where he belongs, that's where he was when
she called him out, that's where he always would be. And tomorrow,
Stars Hollow would be the same again, life would go on and she would
come in demanding her coffee every morning as usual.

The dance... he walks behind the counter, and pulls out the sauce
bottles. The dance was just nothing, after all.


Author's Notes: This was my first Gilmore Girls fic, and I'd love to
hear what you think of it, if you've made it this far.