Author's note: Guys, it's finally happening...the final instalment of this fic has arrived. I hope you're ready for some serious fluff! Chances are you've given up on me, but if you've managed to hang in there until this point, THANK YOU! Sorry for the massive delay. Real life has been kicking my a$$!
Quick recap: Luke and Lorelai fiiiinnnallly reconciled in the last chapter after eight(ish) months apart. If you don't remember why they broke up in the first place and can't be bothered re-reading the last few chapters, I recommend checking out the brief story recap at the beginning of chapter 27. It'll bring you somewhat up to speed. It's also worthwhile reminding everyone going into this chapter that a big part of Luke and Rory's bond in this fic has been the time they've spent reading together (or more accurately, the time Luke has spent reading to Rory — something he began doing when she got the chicken pox many moons ago).
For anyone who has forgotten, this is a pre-series fic. Rory has not long turned 13 as we start this epilogue.
Happy reading! X
One year later...
"That's on the other side of the country!" Luke grumbled exasperatedly, fast losing his patience at Lorelai's incessant prodding about their mystery destination.
"Well, who's to say you're not driving in this direction just to throw us off the scent?" she retorted, taking pleasure from his pointed eyeroll.
Eager to push him closer to rant mode, Lorelai shot Rory an impish grin over her shoulder before exclaiming, "I've got it! Woonsocket."
"Woon what? Now you're just making up town names," Luke growled, his fingers tightening on the steering wheel.
"I am not!" Lorelai gasped, feigning offence. "It's in Rhode Island. Tell him Rory!"
"Sorry Luke, she's got you there," Rory confirmed apologetically, shrugging her shoulders from her position in the back seat of the Jeep.
"Who in their right mind would want to live in a town named Woonsocket?" Luke mumbled.
"I hear you babe. Why choose that when you've got options like Bumpass or Mudbutte or Slickpoo?"
"Lorelai!" Luke scolded, catching Rory's half-hearted attempt to stifle a giggle in the rear-view mirror.
"What? These are all legitimate places in the US. Don't shoot the messenger Burger Boy!"
An idea coming to her, Rory clapped her hands delightedly and squeaked, "I hope we're going to Ketchuptown!"
"Yeah or Candy Kitchen!" Lorelai suggested.
"Nuttsville seems appropriate," Luke muttered darkly.
"Awww, look at you getting in the road-tripping spirit and playing along Lukey!" Lorelai gushed gleefully.
He merely scowled, keeping his eyes focused on the stretch of highway ahead.
"Nuttsville is probably a step up from Suck-Egg Hollow," Lorelai smirked, her eyebrows rising above her sunglasses.
"That cannot be real like the others Mom!" Rory giggled, her jaw dropping open.
"I swear on Belinda Carlisle's life, it's true! Check your atlas babe; it's in Tennessee."
"If you're willing to risk the future of The Go-Gos on it, I'll take your word for it," the 13-year-old conceded, turning her attention out the window, a smile plastered across her lips.
They'd been travelling for the better part of an hour and were still no closer to determining where Luke was taking them. He'd been decidedly tight-lipped about the expedition, their location on the I-91 their only clue so far.
Rory suspected her mother wasn't as hellbent as finding out their destination as she claimed. As always, Lorelai simply seemed to enjoy capitalizing on any opportunity to rile up Luke. And flirt with him.
Underneath the gruff exterior, Rory suspected Luke didn't seem to mind an awful lot.
Grown-ups, she thought with an internal groan.
The crackling of the radio sounded throughout the cabin as Lorelai scanned the airwaves for a suitable road tripping soundtrack. Deciding on an Air Supply ballad from years gone by, she settled back into her seat and took a moment to survey Luke through her sunglasses.
Sensing Lorelai's gaze on him, he threw a questioning glance in her direction and asked bluntly, "What?"
"I like lookin' at ya," she grinned, her hand snaking across the center console to grasp his.
He flashed her a fleeting smile, giving her hand an affectionate squeeze as her thumb ran over his calloused knuckles.
Since their reunion, they'd both become noticeably more tactile. Granted, Lorelai had never been one to shy away from PDAs, but even she had registered a shift in their behavior. It hadn't been a conscious decision; rather, it was something that had come naturally, as if they both felt the need to assure the other of their presence and to remind themselves those dreadful months apart were now long past.
As Luke turned his attention back to the road, Lorelai took a moment to marvel at how far they'd come over the previous 12 months. It hadn't been easy, and unpacking the baggage and heartache following their estrangement had been nothing short of excruciating. Amidst the shouting and crying and questioning, they'd talked. Really talked. So much so that even Lorelai's motor mouth had eventually run dry and there were no more tears left to shed. They'd laid all their cards on the table, shared their fears and insecurities, expressed their frustrations and learned what it was to truly trust and forgive.
When there was nothing left to say, they'd been left with the unequivocal knowledge that they should be together. Their penance had only served to make them stronger as a couple, and Lorelai had never felt more connected to Luke or more secure in their relationship.
Above all else, Lorelai had learnt she was capable of surviving without him. The simple truth was she didn't want to, and that realization had been the push she'd needed to relinquish the last of the stone walls around her heart.
The recollection prompted a smile to tug at her lips, and it grew wider when she noticed Luke shoot another quizzical look in her direction.
Buoyed by the feeling of warmth in her chest and determined to trigger the grouchy, grumbly persona she loved so much, she adopted a mischievous grin and declared, "I've worked it out! You're taking us to Gaylordsville!"
To say the girls looked underwhelmed was an understatement, and Luke had to mask a snicker when Lorelai asked hopefully if he needed directions when they came to a stop on a seemingly inconspicuous suburban street in Vermont.
He pretended not to notice the skeptical look that passed between them as they stepped out of the Jeep, instead taking a moment to subtly slip the flat, rectangular item he'd kept hidden beneath his seat throughout the journey into the waistband of his jeans as the girls rounded the vehicle.
Shooting them a reassuring smile, he gestured for Lorelai and Rory to walk ahead of him on the tree-lined sidewalk, cocking an eyebrow as he murmured pointedly, "a little faith please."
It didn't take long for the ornate, Victorian-style building to capture Lorelai's attention and she eyed the granite and yellow-brick exterior curiously as Luke directed them toward it.
"Oh it's a library!" Rory gushed, catching sight of the words Haskell Free Library embedded in the gray façade.
"Not just any library," Luke informed her matter of factly. "It's the only library in the US with no books."
His words brought her up short and Rory unconsciously released a sort of strangled cry, grounding to a halt in front of him.
"A library with no books?" she exclaimed, her eyes bugging wide. "Why would anyone do such a thing?"
Luke couldn't help but chuckle as she eyed him incredulously, her anguish apparent.
"Oh, there are books, Squirt," he shrugged. "You'll just have to walk to Canada to get them."
"I'm sorry did you say Canada?" Lorelai clarified.
"Yeah, you might have heard of it," Luke drawled casually, relishing having the upper hand for once. "Big place. Hockey mecca. Bucketloads of elk. So cold even the damn polar bears are campaigning to move south."
"Smartass," Lorelai huffed, bumping her shoulder against his as he gestured for them to resume walking and directed them through the entryway.
"Lucky for you two couch potatoes, Canada's not too far away," Luke explained, walking a few more paces inside the building and gesturing at a black line that snaked across the wooden flooring.
Lorelai and Rory shared a puzzled look, before Lorelai took his hand in both of hers and declared, "Okay babe, this is great and all but I think it might be time we took you for a visit to see the nice men in the white coats."
Luke rolled his eyes and stepped closer to the floor marking, pointing to miniature flags on either side and stating simply, "USA. Canada."
The girls took a moment to consider his words, Rory's brow furrowed deep in concentration as she murmured uncertainly, "Are you saying that this...this is the border?"
"Bang on, kiddo. That's exactly what I'm saying. That and you have the rare opportunity to read in two countries at once today. Not bad, huh?"
"Oh my god, Luke!" Rory squealed, immediately cupping her hand over her mouth when she registered her volume in the quiet room. "This is so amazing!"
"Figured our resident bookworm might get a kick out of it," he replied nonchalantly, inwardly pleased at her excitement.
As Rory found herself being drawn toward the rows of books nearby, Luke felt the warmth of Lorelai's palm press against his arm.
"Babe," she said softly, her eyes sparkling and conveying how touched she was by his sweet gesture. "You officially just made her day. Actually, make that month. She's going to be on a high from this for weeks."
He simply took hold of her hand and pressed a kiss to it, offering her a modest smile in the process.
"How is this even possible?" Lorelai asked.
"Historical anomaly," he shrugged. "The trucker who mentioned this place to me said it was donated to the two towns on either side of the border close to a century ago. The building's apparently got heritage status in both countries so I think they'd have a hell of a time trying to change the setup."
"Huh, no kidding."
"Yeah. You want to know what else is cool?"
"Hit me with it, Burger Boy."
"Come here a second."
Pulling lightly on her hand, Luke led Lorelai over to one of the many windows lining the walls, making sure not to stray too far from Rory.
Lorelai's gaze settled on several groups of people scattered around the lawn outside, all seemingly oblivious to the cold wind blowing around them. The smiles on their faces were contagious and she felt herself breaking out in a grin of her own.
"Luke?" she asked, unsure of what he was attempting to show her.
"This place...it's er...they call it a transnational space, because residents from either side of the border can enter it without a passport. So, it's become this sort of...I don't know...meeting place for a lot of immigrants who have family spread across America and Canada, but otherwise might not be able to travel to see one another with immigration restrictions and all. I've heard it's packed with families having picnics in the summer."
Lorelai welcomed the arm he slipped around her waist, leaning her head against his shoulder as she watched the families interact happily. She giggled when she spotted a toddler running on unsteady feet across the lawn and squealing delightedly when what appeared to be a grandparent gave chase and scooped him up in her arms.
"This is just...wow," she said softly.
"Yeah," he agreed, giving her side a gentle squeeze. They watched on for a few more minutes before Luke glanced at his watch briefly and said, "I've got something lined up for you too."
"Ooooh, is this the part where Michael J. Fox springs out from behind a bookshelf and asks me to ride off into the sunset with him?" she asked eagerly. "'Cos you said there were Canadians here, right? And between you and I, Marty McFly's got that kind of sexy awkward-but-endearing vibe working for him, and..."
"I'm sure he's a regular dreamboat," Luke deadpanned, rolling his eyes.
"So that's a no?"
"That's a firm no," he grunted.
Catching sight of Rory adding to the already substantial stack of books cradled in her arms, Luke sighed and added, "Lucky for you, it should keep you entertained for a while. Safe to say we're not coaxing Rory out of here until closing time, so we've got hours to kill."
A mischievous glint appearing in her eye, Lorelai made a show of twirling her hair around one finger before flicking it over her shoulder enticingly. "Hours huh? You want to find a nice transnational cupboard somewhere and see what else we can do in two countries at once?" she flirted.
"Can't say getting arrested for public indecency in both America and Canada is high on my list of priorities," he responded dryly, shooting her an exasperated look.
"You never let me have any fun Duke."
"You have nothing but fun at my expense," he countered, prompting her to smile and shrug with mock innocence.
"So what's this mystery activity you've got on the agenda?" Lorelai circled back, her eyes staring up at him with intrigue.
"Maybe I should keep it to myself and make you wait to find out," he mused, despite knowing the half-hour wait would only result in incessant badgering.
"Luuukkke," she whined immediately, confirming his suspicions.
"Alright, alright," he conceded. "You would have worked it out soon enough anyway. Check out the posters on the wall," he instructed, waving vaguely at the room at large.
Lorelai's eyes zeroed in on a poster that read, 'Dinosaurs didn't read; now they're extinct. Coincidence?'
Smirking, she turned her attention to the next poster which featured a striking red dress and details of a fashion exhibition running throughout the month.
"Valentino? The Valentino?" she asked, her jaw dropping. "You have got to be kidding me."
Relieved at her positive reaction, Luke offered a half smile and pointed above his head. "They've decked out the old opera house upstairs with a heap of dresses. I guess that's why there were guards on the staircase when we walked by it on the way in."
"Some of the designs are here? God Luke, this is incredible!" Lorelai exclaimed. "How did you even know about this?"
He had the good grace to look abashed, confessing, "Er...more good luck than good management to be honest."
At Lorelai's inquiring look, he added, "When I heard about this place, I thought it would be somewhere Rory would like to go. I put in a call to find out their opening hours and they told me about the exhibition. I checked with Mia and she said it was probably something you'd like."
"Like? More like love!" she squealed.
He smiled at her warmly, pleased to see her bubbling over with excitement.
"I've got a guide lined up to lead you through in about a half hour. Think you can sit tight until then?"
"Oh my god, I am going to lose it!" she declared happily, leaning forward to peck his lips. "Thanks hon. Forget Marty McFly; you are officially the best boyfriend a girl could ask for!"
Luke hovered anxiously behind a shelf of books, angling his gaze above various volumes of The Life and Letters of Washington Irving to catch sight of Rory enthralled in an Austen classic. She sat on a bean bag surrounded by a fortress of books, her legs curled beneath her and her brow set in concentration.
Glancing at his watch restlessly, Luke reminded himself that time was fast running out and he needed to take action soon or risk losing his window of opportunity. Lorelai had been touring the fashion exhibition for close to 40 minutes and he wasn't sure how long even the most beautiful of gowns could hold her attention.
Lost in his internal battle, he didn't notice the kindly librarian approach until she was right beside him and asking if he was in need of assistance. Startled, he jumped visibly before offering an awkward chuckle and retreating down the aisle, mumbling something about having everything he needed, and inwardly wondering why his voice sounded so high pitched.
Get it together, he sternly reminded himself. Geez, she probably saw you peering at Rory through the shelves and thinks you're some kind of creep.
Forced into action, Luke reached beneath the back hem of his flannel, his fingers closing over the book he'd tucked into his waistband when exiting the Jeep earlier. His hands seemed to have developed a slight tremor, so he was grateful when the novel opened easily on one of the pages he'd marked up the day prior.
With Rory just steps away from him, Luke squared his shoulders, took a deep breath and closed the distance between them.
Completely absorbed in her book, Rory didn't notice his presence, prompting Luke to clear his throat in an attempt to capture her attention. Still lost in the novel's alternate universe, Rory read on, finally registering the third call of her name.
"Hmm?" she asked absentmindedly, failing to draw her eyes away from the page.
"Er...hey, you got a second, Squirt? I've found a book you might be interested in," Luke managed to ground out, trying his hardest to sound nonchalant.
Apparently, he was a little too successful, as Rory didn't so much as glance in his direction as she waved absently at a stack of books in front of her and replied, "Sure, put it right on top and I'll take a look."
Luke did as instructed, hovering awkwardly as she continued on reading. A few more minutes passed, with Luke nervously glancing at the stairs every few seconds. When Rory showed no signs of relinquishing her regency drama, he cleared his throat a second time and stressed, "Er...Rory. I think...I think maybe you might wanna look at this book before your mom comes back."
It was when Rory shot him a bewildered look, he realized she must have practically smelled the desperation on him.
"Go ahead, take a look," he encouraged nervously, retrieving the book from the top of the pile and holding it out toward her once again as he crouched down in front of her.
She eyed him cryptically for a moment but seemed to brush off any concerns a second later as she turned her attention to the copy of Love in the Time of Cholera, recognition flashing across her face.
"This is one of the books we read together last summer!" she exclaimed, offering him a genuine smile.
"That's right," Luke agreed with a nod. "But this copy...someone seems to have written some kind of message in it."
He gestured to the open page, prompting Rory's eyes to open as wide as saucers.
"Someone wrote in a library book?" she gasped, aghast, her blue orbs landing on him before she glanced sideways warily as if expecting a police officer to materialize from the rows of books and arrest them for vandalism.
He couldn't help but chuckle at her response, feeling some of the tension inside him dissipate. The reaction was just so Rory.
"You know, I don't think we're gonna get pinned for this one," he reassured her. "But why don't you take a look at what it says."
Still skeptical, Rory lowered her eyes and read aloud a line from the book that had been highlighted in yellow ink.
"Very well, I will marry you if you promise not to make me eat eggplant," she recited, her eyes then darting to the three handwritten letters underneath: P.T.O.
Intrigued, Rory turned the page, finding more handwritten words had been scrawled over the top of the printed text.
Her jaw dropped the moment she took in the message, her head whipping up toward Luke and tears immediately pooling in her eyes.
Rory, if I promise not to make you eat eggplant, will you consider becoming my stepdaughter?
"Luke?" she choked out, still processing the information and not daring to believe the words in front of her.
He swallowed nervously, and cleared his throat in an attempt to dissipate the ball forming there.
"Rory, I've got a big question to ask your mom...the biggest one there is," he explained earnestly, his voice cracking a little. "Your happiness means so much to me kiddo, so I can only do this if I know you want it too. You know I love you as if you're my own, and it goes without saying that I want you in my life forever. Nothing would make me happier than to call you and your mom my family. So what do you think, Squirt? Should I ask her the big question and try and make this official?"
The weight of Rory's body hit his chest at warp speed, knocking him backwards as her arms wrapped around his waist in a vice grip.
"Is that a yes?" he asked with a breathless laugh, recovering his balance.
He couldn't make out the response she choked out – the word coming out as a muffled sob – but he felt the bobbing of her head against his skin as she pressed her face into his neck and allowed the tears to fall. It was enough to prompt moisture to pool in his own eyes, and Luke found himself burying his face in Rory's hair and clinging tightly to her.
When she finally drew back, she offered him a tremulous smile and whispered earnestly, "I can't believe it's finally going to happen. You're really going to be my stepdad."
He beamed back at her, reaching out one hand to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
"Your mom's gotta say yes first," he reminded her.
"She will," Rory assured him, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. "I know she will."
"I think so too," he confided quietly, unable to wipe the smile from his face. "I sure hope so anyway."
"Are you going to ask her today?" Rory inquired eagerly, her eyes immediately scanning the room for any sign of her mother.
Luke shook his head. "Nah, today's all for you, Squirt. It might be a little while before I put it to your mom. Do you think you can keep it a secret?"
"Until when?" Rory pressed, excitement practically emanating off her in waves.
"Until your mom's best pal decides to pay us a visit."
"Sookie?" she asked, puzzled.
"Snow," Luke corrected, prompting Rory's eyes to light up.
"Oh Luke!" she squealed, clapping her hands together delightedly. "This is so great! My lips are sealed," she assured him, offering up her pinky finger as if to swear it.
He laughed as they linked fingers, shaking his head as he said, "It'll be a miracle if she doesn't wheedle it out of one of us this afternoon."
Welcoming one last hug, Luke couldn't help but groan when Rory added opportunistically, "Hey Luke, do you think we could extend the whole eggplant deal to include broccoli too?"
Luke threw down the TV remote in frustration, cursing Jimmy Mountain in Accu-Chopper One and the myriad of other numbnut weather presenters who had assured him for the third week running that snow was most certainly not on the cards in the foreseeable future.
"It's December for Christ's sake!" he growled, his irritation increasing by the second.
"Babe, you okay in there?" came Lorelai's concerned voice from the Crap Shack's kitchen.
"Peachy," Luke muttered, hitting off the TV at the set with a loud thud.
Lorelai's engagement ring had been burning a hole in his pocket for weeks on end and his patience was wearing thin. Ever since receiving Rory's blessing, he'd been itching to ask his girlfriend the all-important question. He wasn't sure how much longer Rory could contain her excitement either.
In a moment of weakness, he'd almost thrown his carefully crafted plans out the window and proposed on Christmas Day, but a voice in the back of his head that sounded remarkably like Maisy's had warned him he'd worked too damn hard to throw his existing plans out the window.
He'd had to remind himself that he was only planning on doing this once in his lifetime, and he owed it to Lorelai to do it right. So, he waited, willing Jack Frost to get a move on so he could finally rid himself of the nervous tension plaguing his days.
"Hey, if you're gonna rage out at any of the appliances, at least make it that god-awful table lamp my mother gave me for Christmas," Lorelai instructed, materializing in the doorway, the remnants of a slice of pie cradled in her hand.
"Would it kill you to use a plate and spoon?" he sighed, watching as she lifted the last bite to her mouth, a mass of crumbs falling from her hand.
"Have you learned nothing from Rory and me since you moved in?" she asked through a mouthful of pastry. "Fewer dishes means less washing up. Keep up Burger Boy."
He gestured at the crumbs covering the floor pointedly, prompting Lorelai to shrug and say, "Eh, I'll kick those under the couch later."
Before Luke could chastise her further, she angled her head toward the TV and asked, "So what'd poor old George do to invoke your wrath?"
"George?" he asked blankly.
"The TV," she clarified, as if it was obvious.
"Of course, why wouldn't the inanimate object have a name? Makes perfect sense," he mumbled sarcastically, rolling his eyes. The slight smile tugging at his lips didn't escape Lorelai's notice and she grinned smugly.
"He get stuck on the Lifetime movie channel again?"
"That's your doing, not the TV's," Luke pointed out. When he realized she was waiting for an actual answer, he added, "Er...Yankees beat the Red Sox".
The lie rolled off his tongue convincingly, but he could only hope Lorelai's lack of interest in sports kept her from registering that baseball season had wrapped up months earlier. To his relief, she appeared to accept the comment without question.
"Aw, my poor baby! Wanna head upstairs and commiserate? If you're lucky, I'll wear your Sox jersey and let you steal third base," she flirted, grabbing hold of his worn flannel and batting her eyelids exaggeratedly. "As it happens, our resident shortstop's sound asleep already, so the house is all ours."
"You don't say," Luke responded slyly, hooking an arm around her waist and leaning forward to kiss some residual apple pie filling from her lips. Lorelai wasted no time deepening the kiss, her palms coming to rest against his chest as his slipped down into the back pockets of her jeans.
"What are my chances of scoring a home run?" he asked playfully.
Lorelai shrugged, giggling when he leaned in to nibble at her neck.
Snaking her hand downwards, she grazed her fingers over the front of his jeans and teased, "Well somebody's batting 1,000 so who am I to get in the way of a good innings? You're not a one-game wonder are you Butch?"
"You're mixing your metaphors," Luke laughed, shaking his head. "And you of all people should know I'm not a one-game wonder, Gilmore," he added, arching one eyebrow pointedly.
"Why don't you put your money where your mouth is," she goaded, winking as she gestured for him to ascend the stairs ahead of her. Tapping his ass lightly as he passed in front of her, she teased, "A backdoor slider's where I draw the line, Slugger. I'm no Baseball Annie."
The beam of moonlight streaming through the gap in the bedroom curtains later that evening was enough to draw Luke from his slumber, and he blinked blearily several times before squinting toward the glare.
It took him a few moments to register the almost-full moon, but it was the swirling flurries of white that prompted his heart to thud wildly in his chest.
Forget Jimmy Mountain and his useless Accu-Chopper...it was time.
Rolling over on his side to face Lorelai, he drew her back against his chest and tucked his knees up behind hers.
"Lorelai," he whispered, trailing his hand across her bare stomach lightly. "Sweetheart, wake up."
Still deep in sleep, she mumbled some incoherent words in response, two of which sounded suspiciously like 'donut' and 'sprinkles' as far as Luke could tell.
"Lorelai," he cajoled, drawing her hair back over her shoulder and pressing a kiss to her neck to pull her from her dream.
"Rory 'k?" she mumbled sleepily, half waking.
"Rory's fine," he confirmed, offering her arm a reassuring squeeze.
She seemed to take that as permission to go back to sleep, snuggling back against him and entwining one leg with his.
"Lorelai," he wheedled again. "You have a visitor."
"Tell Little Luke to come back during opening hours," she murmured, not bothering to open her eyes.
He couldn't help but laugh at that, a low rumble escaping his throat.
"Opening hours?" he clarified, running a teasing hand over her thigh. "That's what you're going with? Surely that deserves a 'dirty'."
His words prompted a firm elbow to the abdomen from Lorelai, which only served to broaden the smirk on his lips.
Undiscouraged, he plied a trail of kisses across her shoulder and neck, ending by her ear.
"I was talking about a different visitor," he whispered, knowing it would pique her curiosity.
She seemed to contemplate his words for a moment before popping one eye open skeptically and finally flipping onto her back to stare up at him.
"This better be good, Burger Boy," she huffed.
"That magical nose of yours is failing you," he informed her sagely, tapping it softly with one finger.
He watched her brows knit in confusion, and relished the moment when she inhaled the scent of her beloved Jack Frost, her eyes immediately lighting up with glee.
"It's snowing!" she exclaimed, shooting up in bed to catch a glimpse of the flakes through the window.
"That you wake up for. What am I? Chopped liver?"
"Ohhhhhh Luke! My old friend's finally here!" Lorelai squeaked delightedly, giving his wrist an excited squeeze. "We go back, snow and me."
"I know," he replied softly, his lips curling up at the edges.
"Good things happen when it snows."
"I know," he said once again, the staccato beat of his heart reminding him of the magnitude of what he was about to do.
He wasn't entirely sure how he was going to enact his plan in the middle of the night, but as luck would have it, Lorelai practically handed him the perfect opportunity on a silver platter.
"Hey Luke, wanna go for a snow walk?" she asked, with all the wonder and excitement of a small child.
He realized too late that to avoid attracting scrutiny, he should have put up more of a fight before conceding. His casual "sure" prompted Lorelai to do a double take, and she eyed him suspiciously.
"Sure? Really? Have you been drinking Butch?"
"Gotta take the edge off dealing with you somehow. Did I mention you're a lot of work?" he countered dryly.
"You're seriously not gonna fight me on this? No grumbling about the cold? No rants about all the shoveling that's in store this winter? You're gonna come outside, in the middle of the night, just like that?" she asked incredulously.
He sighed as if she was exhausting him. Even threw in a scowl to really ham it up.
"Lorelai, this offer's good for about another seven seconds before I..."
"No, no! A snow walk is good; a snow walk is great!" she backtracked, bobbing her head enthusiastically and tugging on his hand as she rose from the bed.
"Geez," he grumbled for effect, inwardly congratulating himself on his superior acting skills.
As Lorelai began pulling on the clothes she'd shed hastily the evening before, Luke registered he needed to get his hands on his wallet, as well as the jewelry box and key stashed in his night stand. Waving her out the door as soon as she was dressed, he mumbled, "Gotta find my jeans. Go leave a note for Rory in case she wakes up while we're gone and I'll meet you in the foyer."
Lorelai skipped down the stairs gleefully, anticipating just how riled up he'd be when he discovered her detour via the coffee machine.
Ten minutes, one thermos and one coffee-will-stunt-your-growth rant later, Lorelai found herself staring up at the night sky, both of her arms curled tightly around one of Luke's as they strolled through the deserted streets.
"This is nice, huh?" she asked serenely, giving the crook of his arm a gentle squeeze with her gloved hand.
"Sure, if you like a lethal combination of frostbite and hypothermia, it's a real hoot."
At her exaggerated pout, he rolled his eyes and capitulated. "Okay, you're right. This is nice."
She made a point of coming to a dramatic stop, whipping her head to face him as she exclaimed, "Sorry, did you just say I'm right? How did those words taste coming out of your mouth Burger Boy?"
"About as good as Patty's punch," he grimaced.
Her laughter echoed across the quiet street, making Luke smile despite himself.
He subtly began steering her in the direction of the Independence Inn, grateful she didn't seem to mind which direction they headed.
They walked along in a comfortable silence for a few minutes, Lorelai's head resting against his shoulder as the flickers of white swirled around them and settled on the locks of her hair not covered by her knit cap.
Her expression pensive, she quietly confessed, "You know, there was a long time when I never thought we'd make it here."
"You and me both," Luke admitted grimly, offering her a reassuring squeeze.
"Some nights when we were apart, I'd walk around the town like we are now, when everyone else was in bed. It looks different in the dark. There weren't as many painful memories," she explained.
Luke's mind warred between sympathy and concern, the latter winning out by an inch.
"Lorelai!" he chastised, worry filling him. "That can't have been safe. What if something had have happened to you?"
She shrugged. "Spoiler alert: It didn't. Past tense babe. And besides, it's Stars Hollow. The only criminal activity to happen here in the last decade involved someone stealing a rose from Taylor's garden to give to a certain blue-eyed Gilmore girl before her school dance. And while I might have an inkling as to who the perpetrator was, it seems like an awful lot of effort to turn him into the cops, even though he would look particularly sexy in a prison jumpsuit."
"Lorelai!" he growled.
"What? I can't even get an 'aw geez'?"
"Aw geez," he let slip before he could stop himself.
She released a giggle, delighted by the blush that fell over his cheeks.
"You're going to be the death of me," he muttered, shaking his head.
He seemed to consider Lorelai's earlier words, and pulling her against him more tightly as they entered the grounds of the Independence Inn, he murmured, "Those horrible months apart were just..."
Unable to find the words, he simply shook his head. "If I'm ever that stupid again..."
"You won't be," she interjected firmly. "We won't be. We've learned our lesson babe, and neither of us is giving up without a fight. We talk through anything that's worrying us. I hate to break it to you but the only way out at this point is body bags."
"Maybe then I'll get some peace," he mused, shooting her a teasing wink.
"I wouldn't hold your breath, Butch."
Shaking his head again, Luke bumped her shoulder with his and said, "Who would have thought we'd get so good at this talking thing, huh?"
"Well let's not forget I was born a champion gabber. Gold medal-worthy, I'd say. Mr. Monosyllable on the other hand..." she began, but was promptly silenced by Luke's lips pressed firmly against her own.
They broke apart a moment later, Lorelai shooting him a quizzical look.
"Just checking if it's still possible to shut you up," he teased.
She gave him a playful punch to his arm but reciprocated with a kiss of her own.
When they drew back, Lorelai registered they'd come to a stop in front of the potting shed. She didn't think much of it until Luke approached the door and, digging a key from his pocket, proceeded to unlock it.
"Luke?" she asked, watching in confusion as he pushed the door open and bent to snag a newspaper from the front step.
He simply extended his free hand to her in reply, inviting her to follow him through the doorway.
"What are you doing?" she pressed, accepting his proffered hand and stepping inside.
He fumbled around in the dark for a moment until he located the light switch, their eyes taking a moment to adjust to the sudden brightness.
"Helps to have friends in high places," he winked, tucking the key back into his pocket.
She watched as he walked over to a portable heater – clearly a new addition since her time living there – and switched it on. Returning to her side, he slipped off his gloves and placed them in his coat pocket, then gestured for her to do the same.
Despite being somewhat dubious, she followed his lead and also removed her knit cap, her brow furrowed as she said, "Don't get me wrong; I'm all for the late-night adventure, but if you want me to help you hide a body later, you're gonna need to fill me in babe."
Luke simply raised his eyebrows cryptically before proceeding to bustle about the shed, pulling an assortment of items from various drawers as well as his back pocket.
Growing impatient, Lorelai huffed, "Hey! Secret Agent Danes! What's with the cloud of mystery?"
At her words, she noticed Luke pinch the bridge of his nose, the way he often did when he was mid-rush at the diner and she insisted on overcomplicating her order just to get a rise out of him.
He seemed to take a moment to consider his next move, and she discerned a hint of nerves when he finally turned to her and sighed.
"Lorelai, I'm trying to do something nice here, but I'm just...I suck at this. So, could you maybe give me a minute, close your eyes and pretend you haven't been paying attention to what I've been doing for the last 30 seconds?" he pleaded.
She immediately softened at his words, offering him a small smile as she closed her eyes and declared, "Call me Ray Charles."
She sneaked the occasional peek as he worked, but found her efforts were soon thwarted when Luke switched off the main light, plunging them into temporary darkness.
A few minutes later, she registered a soft kiss against her forehead and a plastic cup being pressed into her hand.
"Can I look now?" she asked eagerly.
"Like you haven't been peeking already," Luke scoffed. "Go on then."
It took a moment for Lorelai's eyes to adjust to the dim golden light streaming from a single string of twinkle lights that Luke had draped between two rafters. Blinking several times, Lorelai's gaze finally settled on the pink Disney princess tumbler in her hand.
"Aw, Rory's old princess cups!" she noted happily, a goofy smile on her lips.
"Remember the last time we drank out of these?"
"Our first unofficial date in the storeroom...how could I forget?" she laughed, tapping her cup against his in cheers. Pausing as it reached her lips, she added, "please tell me this is real booze this time."
"Doose's finest," Luke grimaced, taking a swig and scowling at the taste. "I would have gone for something a little more upmarket but Zima is all Taylor's stocked for the last month."
Tickled by the gesture, Lorelai took a sip and offered him a broad smile.
"So what's with the secret middle-of-the-night rendezvous, Mr. Mysterious? Is this when you tell me you're actually an undercover agent who's been posing as a diner owner all this time to try and catch Taylor spiking the town water supply in an attempt to brainwash everyone, but you've since discovered he's actually just plotting the downfall of his arch nemesis, drug lord Kirk, and importing truckloads of lawn trimmers packed with cocaine, and…oh my god, please tell me the baseball cap and flannel ensemble wasn't all an act," she finished with a dramatic gasp.
Realizing she'd stopped to draw breath and appeared to be waiting for some kind of response, Luke stared at her, perplexed, and stated, "Your mind is a deeply disturbing place."
"Flattery will get you everywhere Burger Boy," she grinned, tipping her cup in his direction before taking another swig.
As she lowered the tumbler, she surveyed the strand of twinkle lights with childlike curiosity, noticing he'd pegged various items in the gaps between each light.
"Alright, get over here," Luke instructed, gesturing for her to put her drink aside and gently tugging on her hand.
Lorelai wasn't sure what she'd been expecting, but it certainly wasn't what was in front of her.
"Luke?" she asked quizzically, scanning the series of photos and newspaper clippings hanging at eye height. "What did you do?"
Her smile was infectious and he grinned despite himself, lifting one shoulder in a shrug and murmuring, "Quick trip down memory lane."
Unable to temper her curiosity, Lorelai settled her gaze on the photocopied Stars Hollow Gazette newspaper article he'd set her in front of, feeling a flutter in her stomach as she took in the bolded headline – 'Teen Mom Loralai Gilmore Arrives in Stars Hollow, Takes Job at Independence Inn'.
"Wha...how did yo...I've never seen this before!" she exclaimed, dumbfounded.
"I didn't see it when it was originally published either, but Mia gave me the heads up and old Bernie Roundbottom dragged it out of the archives for me," Luke explained. "You and Rory were front page news," he smirked.
"Just as well," Lorelai asserted. "I would have had to demand a reprint if Bernie had dared upstage us with the seasonal poem."
"Never mind he spelt your name wrong," Luke laughed, prompting a pout from Lorelai.
"Hey, he spelt it right on page three!" she declared happily, skimming the second part of the article.
As she read over the printed words in greater detail, Luke noticed her grow more pensive.
Feeling the welcome weight of his palm pressed against the small of her back, Lorelai offered him another smile and murmured, "How is it that arriving in Stars Hollow somehow feels like forever ago and yesterday at the exact same time?"
He simply pressed a kiss to her crown in response, allowing her a moment to ponder memories from years gone by.
Luke knew the second she turned her attention to the next item on the string as her million-watt smile practically lit up the room.
"Mini Rory," Lorelai cooed, eyeing the photograph of a baby Rory settled on her hip in front of the potting shed. "God, I look so young there. Check out my perm!" she laughed.
"Yeah, Cher called and she wants her hair back."
"Oh my god! Did I just hear Butch Danes make a pop culture reference?" Lorelai exclaimed, looking at him over her shoulder and clapping her hands gleefully. "I can't believe Rory missed it!"
"Yeah, yeah, don't go getting used to it," he replied, rolling his eyes good naturedly. Lowering his voice, he gave her a squeeze around her waist and added, "And for the record, you still look sexy in the photo...even with that miniature poodle on top of your head."
Lorelai couldn't prevent the laughter from spilling from her lips, but she nonetheless took the opportunity to elbow him in mock offence.
"I'll have you know that's a 17-year-old girl you're ogling, Butch" she retaliated, eyebrows raised. "But hey, if jailbait's your thing..."
"Don't even," Luke warned sternly, his cheeks flushing red.
Chuckling triumphantly, Lorelai turned her attention to the next few photos, which showed Rory attempting to walk on unsteady feet inside the potting shed, both girls relaxing on the grass with Mia, Lorelai's 21st birthday and Rory's first day of school. Some of the photos had come from Lorelai's own collection, but there were others she didn't recognize that she suspected Luke had sourced from Mia.
They smiled proudly at a newspaper clipping announcing Rory as the winner of the elementary school spelling bee, and once they'd finished chuckling over a photo of both Gilmores holding wooden spoons in the Independence Inn kitchen – the girls' faces covered in Sookie's signature chocolate cake batter – the couple turned their attention to a familiar weathered scrap of newspaper.
"The horoscope," Lorelai observed, her tone filled with warmth.
"The day Hurricane Lorelai blew into my life," Luke affirmed with a smile, wrapping his arms around her waist and resting his head on her shoulder.
"If only you knew then what you were in for in the years ahead," Lorelai teased. "You probably would have run away screaming."
"Not a chance," Luke countered, and Lorelai was struck by the sudden solemnity in his tone.
He nuzzled the curve of her neck and pressed a soft kiss to her skin, causing her heart to do that strange skipping sensation she had become accustomed to in his presence.
She welcomed his ministrations, running her hand over the strong arms that encased her waist and eventually turning her head to the side to capture his lips with her own.
They kissed softly, conveying the depths of their feelings for one another.
Shifting to face Luke fully, Lorelai rested her palms on his hard chest and invited him to take the kiss deeper. "Let's get out of here," she breathed when they finally broke apart, wanting nothing more than to curl up together in the cocoon of their bedroom.
"Not yet," he countered, tucking a wayward curl beside her ear dotingly.
She let out a strangled noise in response – part whimper, part question.
"Not done yet," he whispered, gesturing his head towards the last few items pinned to the strand of fairy lights.
His reminder anchored her back to reality, and she nodded with uncharacteristic patience, her curiosity piqued once again by his sweet gesture.
Luke gently turned her in his arms once more so her back was pressed to his chest, and they pored over photos of their time together: Rory's Daddy Daughter Dance; their indoor camp-out complete with matching flannel ensembles; various birthday celebrations; one of the girls' many bagel hockey matches featuring a disgruntled Luke; and Christmases spent with Maisy, Buddy and Mia. Much to Luke's dismay, Lorelai took great pleasure at the sight of the diner menu she'd doctored years prior, Duke's plastered across the top in glittery pink ink.
Finally, Luke drew Lorelai's attention to the last item – a small, inconspicuous clipping torn from the day's newspaper. Beneath a heading that read 'Taurus' was some simple black and white news print with a handwritten message over the top in Luke's loopy scrawl, much like the one Lorelai had penned on their first meeting.
But the words were different and they caused the air to immediately evaporate from her lungs.
Your coffee supplier will ask you an important question today. Say yes and he'll never go away…
Tears welled in her eyes and for possibly the first time ever, Lorelai couldn't manage to formulate words as the reason for his elaborate setup sunk in.
She released an involuntary sob from her throat when she felt his right hand slip past her waist and within her line of vision, revealing a small velvet box open in his palm.
The ring was breathtaking: a modest diamond set between two sapphires, elegant in its simplicity. It oozed vintage charm and Lorelai vaguely wondered if it had belonged to his mother, the thought spreading warmth down to her fingertips.
He cradled her close, his free arm still wrapped around her waist, and his nerves forcing his carefully prepared speech completely out the window.
Clearing his throat, Luke gathered his courage and murmured, "Lorelai, I made a decision years ago that I'd never get married unless I could find someone I loved the way my dad loved my mom. For the longest time, I didn't think that was possible, but then you came barreling into my life in this crazy, coffee-induced haze and I knew pretty well straight away I was a goner."
He took a steadying breath and continued determinedly. "It's taken me a while to realize that what we have is far from what my parents had...it's so much more. As horrible as our time apart was, I think...I think we're stronger for it. I know I'll never make the mistake of letting you go ever again. I want the whole package with you Lorelai; I've never been more certain of anything in my life. I want to raise Rory with you, build a family with you, build a life with you, make a million more memories with you. I love you, beautiful girl, more than you could ever know.
"You told me the first time you brought me to the potting shed a few years back about some of the special memories you've made in this place, and I'm really hoping this will be the next one. That day you brought me here...I don't know if you remember, but it was the first snow of the season and we came to hide Christmas presents for Rory. We were standing right here when it hit me that I was going to ask you to be my wife someday. I knew then and I know now that you're the woman I want to grow old with, and I swear I will do everything in my power to make you and Rory happy. You're everything I ever could have hoped for and so much more. So, what do you say...will you marry me Lorelai Gilmore?"
She stared at the ring, at his weathered hands and the cuffs of his flannel shirt for what felt like an eternity, unable to form a coherent sentence as her mind whirred and a flurry of emotions swelled inside her.
This man, this loving, kind man had asked her to spend her life with him. Wanted to spend his life with her. Wanted to have a family with her. Not only accepted her daughter but cherished her. And...
"Rory," Lorelai blurted, the name flowing from her lips without conscious thought.
She felt him tense momentarily, then he gave her waist a gentle squeeze and whispered, "She's fine with it. Ridiculously excited at the thought actually," he assured her.
"You asked her?" Lorelai sniffled, suddenly realizing she was crying as she turned to face him.
"Well, yeah," he replied softly, gently brushing a tear from her cheek. "I mean, this affects her too. There was no way I could ask you without her blessing. That's why I planned that day at the library. I know I was technically supposed to ask your dad but..."
"Yes," Lorelai said resolutely, her water-filled eyes locking with his.
"Yes...?" he clarified, scarcely daring to hope.
"Yes, I'll marry you Luke," she sobbed, her heart exploding as she cradled his whiskered face in her hands. "God, I love you."
He kissed her then. Hard and joyful and unrestrained, her toes lifting from the ground as she clung to his flannel shirt fiercely and he spun her around like one of those damn Lifetime movies she loved to mock.
When her feet finally returned to solid ground, Lorelai waggled her finger pointedly until Luke slipped the ring securely in place, both of them sporting ear-to-ear grins. Shifting her hand so the diamond sparkled in the dim light, Lorelai squealed excitedly and declared, "God knows I don't exercise but we are gonna look so cute in matching jogging suits!"
Final note: Huzzah! You made it to the end. Thanks for persisting with my story and reading all this way. This was my first foray into fanfiction and it has been a wild ride! I would love to hear your thoughts, so please hit the review button...the good, the bad, the ugly...I can take it, I promise!
Lastly, I think I've mentioned previously that I had an idea for a oneshot that is set after this fic ends, but it's a standalone piece that anyone could follow, even if they haven't read More Than Enough. I've made a start on it, so follow me if you want to be alerted when I finally get around to posting it. Thanks everyone!