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** Stars Hollow. Twelve days ago…
Margaret Forester sat in her kitchen at the far end of the table, a tall mug of black coffee cooling between her hands.
She’d forgone her heart meds last night for this, they often made her drowsy and lethargic and unable to get out of bed in time. It was bad enough she’d developed the habit of staying up late to make sure Dean slept the whole night through, or if he started to sleepwalk, she’d know it and be able to call ahead. But that also meant she had a lot of trouble waking up in the mornings.
So here she was, waiting downstairs for about half an hour now, dead intent on catching her son before he left. Marge was not going to miss him again, not today.
Footsteps came bounding down the stairs, light and swift, considerate of the hour (too late, too early) as always. Over the past ten months, Dean had mastered the art of floating in and out of this house like a ghost.
He frowned as soon as he spotted her, path diverting towards the table instead of the back door.
“You’re up early. Are you okay?”
“I’m alright, sweetie. It’s you I’m worried about.”
Dean halted mid-step. Marge watched as he sighed and looked back longingly towards the door. She knew this was going to be difficult, but she hadn’t even begun and already the lost look on her baby’s face was shattering her resolve.
“Luke told me. Last night when you left and I called… he-he told me everything.”
Now he really looked miserable. Dean adjusted the lapels of his jacket as if to have something to do with his fidgeting hands.
“Dean, I am your mother. You know I will always love you and support you in whatever you do, no matter where it takes you.”
“And if that means –”
“I’m not going anywhere, mom.”
“But, sweetie, if that is what you want –”
“I made my choice.”
Dean’s eyes hardened with a bitterness she’d never seen before, not even when George left, leaving the weight of the world on his young son’s shoulders.
“And even if I wanted to take it back, I… I can’t. It’s too late for that.”
He didn’t wait for her to ask anything more after that. Abruptly he turned around and made for the door.
“I’ll see you tonight.”
Marge waited for the door to close before she gasped and set the mug down on the tabletop with a loud thump. She pushed her instinctive (and selfish) reaction of relief down, wondering what she could do, what she could say to convince Dean that it was okay. That she didn’t want him to sacrifice every single shred of happiness for this stupid house. She’d never liked it all that much anyway.
But something told her it was not in her hands anymore. It probably never was.
They once told him no Stars Hollow story was complete without a Gilmore (or two) playing a pivotal role in it. They didn’t have to be in every frame, of course, even though sometimes that’s what it felt like and annoyingly so. But even a cameo by a Gilmore, apparently, went a long way, so they said.
They weren’t wrong.
Rory offered to drop him home, but Jess refused, he could take the subway and get back much faster anyway.
She grinned coyly. “Guess that means Seth is available now, huh.”
Jess grinned back, recognizing it as only half a jibe. “Only if you grow a dick sometime soon.”
Rory sighed. “For him, I almost wish I could.”
“Haha.” Which reminded him - Seth. Jess winced, feeling guilty for ditching him like this, though not quite enough.
“Um, Rory, could you…?”
“I’ll let him know you had to leave. You do the explanations yourself tomorrow, or whenever.”
“Fair enough. Thanks.”
“You do realize what you’re giving up, right? The man’s about as perfect as they come.”
Jess kissed her on the cheek and lingered for as long as was appropriate. “I never was much for perfection, Gilmore. You know that better than anyone.”
Rory couldn’t decide if she was offended or amused. Instead she just waved him goodbye and watched him leave with a strange yearning in her eyes that she didn’t quite understand herself.
It was nearly eleven when Jess finally made it back to Queens and to his beloved car. And then he drove like a madman. Traffic was thin this time of the night and he might as well floor it all the way. The only thing stopping him was the fear of getting pulled over for speeding. And he couldn’t take that risk – nothing could stop him from getting to Stars Hollow tonight.
He plugged his hands-free into one ear and dialed the diner’s number.
“Took you long enough,” were the first words out of his uncle’s mouth. Jess couldn’t have regretted ignoring him more if he tried.
“I’m so sorry, Uncle Luke.”
There was a huff and a grunt on the other end of the line and Jess smiled. No other words were needed. He could hear the older man’s forgiveness in the sounds alone.
“You on your way back, then? Rory called. She told me you guys talked.”
“I’ll be there in about an hour. Is… Is Dean…?”
“Marge hasn’t called yet. He’s been sleepwalking for three nights straight now and starting to look like death warmed over. I’m thinking he’s going to be sleeping through the night tonight.”
Jess was relieved to hear that. “Good. Good. When did… uh, since when?”
“Since when do you think dumb-ass?”
Jess’ hands gripped the steering wheel so tight the veins under his alabaster white skin started to bulge.
“Keep talking to me. Please…”
It always did seem to calm Jess down, someone’s voice (preferably a loved one) filling the void, even if it were nothing but absurd and pointless rambling. Luke sighed, Jess heard a chair shifting and then the deep voice on the other end began.
“The first time it happened was, I think, two days after you left. Around midnight, Marge heard the door open in the middle of the night and like she’s done every night that she’d heard that noise before, she picked up the phone and called me. I, as usual, went downstairs and waited for Dean to show up, only he didn’t. Guess I dozed off in my chair and when I woke up, it was already four in the morning. Figured maybe Dean woke up on his own sometime on his way and turned back – that happens sometimes – when he stumbles up hard enough against something or someone.”
Jess bit the inside of his cheek and forced himself to concentrate on the road. The thought of Dean wandering alone, in a cold dark night, completely oblivious of his surroundings and potential dangers, vulnerable… it still made his blood boil like nothing else.
Meanwhile, Luke continued. “I didn’t want to disturb Marge, but just in case, decided to text her asking about Dean. Marge didn’t see the text until she woke up much later. She went to Dean’s room to check, but he was back by then. Face down on his bed but his clothes were damp, and there were muddy footprints on the carpet, that clearly meant he’d been out and back.”
Jess frowned. “So no one figured it out?”
“Not until it’d happened three times in a row. I got sick of getting out of bed and waiting for the boy who never showed up. And I was starting to suspect something was wrong. So one night I got out of the house soon as Marge called and started walking down the path that Dean would ordinarily take to get to the diner. Ten minutes later, I found him.”
“Yeah, only he deviated from his usual course right in front of my eyes and started walking towards the…”
Luke stopped suddenly, suddenly sensing Jess’ distress from over the phone. “Jess? You okay, kid?”
Jess bit his lip, for fear he might just start bawling.
“You know why he goes to the bus station, don’t you?”
It took Jess more than a few seconds to bring himself to respond. “I told him it’s a three hour bus ride tops. To Queens.”
Luke didn’t respond.
Jess stared at the winding I-95 ahead, it was the same road he’d taken three months ago to come back to the city. The familiar sensation of going home hit him then, calming him, the thought of seeing Dean again bringing a tiny smile to his face.
Even if it’s for a little while, even if Dean sends him packing all the way back to Queens all over again.
“What does he do? I mean… there?”
“Think he just… sits there. Like he’s waiting for morning, for the first bus to take him someplace away from his worries. Until something or someone wakes him, or he snaps out of it himself. Usually it happens at the first light of dawn, and then he runs all the way back home.”
Shaking himself apart and not just from the cold.
Jess remembered, those early few nights Dean would walk into the diner, into his bedroom, unaware that he had company. The nights he wouldn’t stop trembling from the cold dank night outside long after they’d tucked him into bed. Most of all, he remembered the crestfallen look on his face each morning when he’d realize where he was, and couldn’t wait to get away from it all.
“A cop car does the rounds there pretty much every night now, thanks to him. Some days they pick him up and bring him back. But they’re getting sick of it, I think. One of those idiots suggested to Marge that her son be institutionalized.”
“Fucking bastard, whoever that was I’m gonna…”
“Maybe he’s right, Jess.”
Jess lost it. “How can you say that?!?! He’s sleepwalking, not hurting anyone for God’s sake!”
“Yeah but he might end up hurting himself one of these days.”
Jess squeezed back his tears desperately.
“Don’t give up on him, Uncle Luke. Heck you never gave up on me. And Dean happens to be a nice guy. Surely he deserves a break more than I ever did!”
Luke exhaled heavily, making Jess feel even guiltier for making Luke feel like shit over this. “I’m not giving up on anyone, kid. It’s just…” He suddenly paused mid-sentence. “Hold on, I’m getting another call.”
Jess sat up straighter in his seat, throwing caution to the wind and really stepping on it. Half a minute later, Luke came back on and he sounded in a hurry.
“That was Marge. Dean’s heading for the bus stop again.”
“I’m going over now. Jess, you there?”
Jess’ hands shook along with his voice, even as his foot on the gas took on a whole new life of its own.
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
There was a soft pause on the other end. “Alright. Drive safe, Jess. He’ll still be there, waiting.”
Like he’s waited for three months, five days and… thirteen hours now.