It was the night before Christmas, and all through the lab, not a creature was stirring save for the quiet tap-tap on the keyboard as Rodney hammered code into the computer. It wasn't his fault that everyone else was incompetent when it came to the Ancient code in the database. It only meant that Rodney was stuck in the lab when everyone else was gathered in the mess hall for Christmas pudding.
Everyone except for Zelenka, because Zelenka had gone and gotten himself knocked out by a twitchy exploding power circuit and was down for the count. Dr. Keller had promised them that Radek would be up and around in a week, with no burns, only a nasty concussion. Because Rodney was the head of the Science Department, he had responsibilities that didn't end when subordinates ended up in the infirmary. Even if it was Christmas Eve.
Soft footsteps on the floor pulled Rodney's attention away from his computer for a moment. Rory stepped into the pool of light shining from the desk lamp, carrying two steaming mugs. "I brought you some Christmas cheer," she said, placing one cup beside Rodney's keyboard.
Rodney eyed the drink dubiously. "Isn't citrus a key ingredient in most forms of Christmas drinks?"
"I'm not going to kill you through anaphylaxis after working so hard to get here," Rory told him. "It's apple juice and some cinnamon, mixed with the wine the botanists have been brewing out in the East Tower greenhouses."
Warily, Rodney lifted the cup to his lips for a taste. The alcoholic kick made him wince, but once the burn mellowed, he found himself taking a second sip. "This isn't horrible," he said, mildly surprised.
"I know," Rory said. "Dr. Keller wouldn't let them serve it until she'd made sure we wouldn't go blind from it, but it all worked out okay." The girl hesitated before leaning against Rodney's work table. "Why are you hiding in here?"
"I'm not hiding," Rodney muttered, setting the cup firmly on the table. He had never been one of those people who worked well when drunk. "With Zelenka in the infirmary, there isn't anyone else who knows enough about the Ancient systems who can make sure this code is up and running by the time the next scheduled scan of the city takes place tomorrow."
Rory kept looking at him.
"So it needed to get done," he finished lamely.
"The scan isn't scheduled until tomorrow night," Rory pointed out. "Plenty of time for you to come to the office Chrismahaunakwanzsolistica party for an hour and watch the Marines make asses of themselves while Chuck tapes it all for posterity."
"Chrismahaunakwanzsolistica. Puts the best parts of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and the Winter Solstice together into one raucous party. I'm just glad Ramadan was earlier this year or else that would just get totally out of hand."
Rodney started typing again. "I want to make sure the work is done."
"I could help you finish it tomorrow," Rory said. Rodney wasn't well versed in the emotional nuances of other people's words, but he thought he detected a slight hint of wistfulness in her voice. "If you wanted to come to the party now."
Rodney's hands came to a complete standstill on the keyboard. He had only known Rory for about a month, but he had already come to realize that in some things she was more stubborn than Jeannie. Now sounded like one of those times. Still, he tried to hedge. "With Zelenka unconscious for most of this week, there isn't the time."
"Oh." Rory's voice sounded very small. "Okay. I shouldn't bother you then."
Rodney's heart sank. She sounded sad, and it was most likely Rodney's fault. But how was he supposed to know how to deal with a daughter? He'd had a hard enough time dealing with a little sister over the years. He didn't know how to handle someone who wanted to spend time with him just because
And of course, there was no one here he could ask. No one he could talk to had kids except for Teyla, and Torren was too young to be a viable comparative subject. Rory was too old for the usual 'getting to know you' questions, and she was too devastatingly smart for Rodney to make himself seem important with science. Everything he gave her, she took in and worked over and came right back with another idea. It was like dealing with himself, and that wasn't exactly an comparison that made Rodney feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
But now, Rory was moving to leave. "Hold on," Rodney burst out. "You don't have to leave. You could..." What was the opposite of leaving? "You could stay."
Rory's smile brightened the whole room. "I don't really know what you're working on," she cautioned.
"I know," Rodney said. "But you'll figure it out eventually."
Rory hoisted herself up on the nearby work station, fiddling with her mug of Christmas cheer as she watched him work. Just as Rodney was beginning to be concerned about how quiet
she was being, Rory said, "Do you ever miss your family at Christmas?"
Rodney gave a twitch of his shoulder, never breaking his typing. "My parents are dead. When I started working on the Stargate program, I didn't have a lot of time to spend with Jeannie."
Rodney's typing slowed. What was the 'Dad' thing to do here? Ask her if she missed her family? But Rory didn't ever really mention her family, outside of vague hints in the background. Which, come to think of it, wasn't exactly all that normal. People talked about their families all the time? John Sheppard might not, but then Rodney knew better than to use John Sheppard as his gauge of normal social interaction.
Throwing caution to the wind, Rodney asked, "Do you miss your mother?"
Rory nodded slowly, her eyes downcast. Something about her posture made Rodney wonder if she was about to start crying. The mere thought that his daughter might start crying was enough to make him want to panic. It wasn't like she was five and a cookie would fix things. "This is the first Christmas I've ever spent away from my mom," Rory said after a minute. She took a long swig from her cup. "Stupid, isn't it? I'm in Atlantis with this amazing stuff all around me, and I'm getting upset about this."
Oh god, were those tears in her eyes? Think, Rodney, think!
He was the smartest man in two galaxies, and he should be able to find something to comfort Rory. "What do you normally do at Christmas?"
For a moment, he thought he'd asked the wrong question, because Rory suddenly looked as if she really might break down. She set down her cup, breathing hard for a minute. When she spoke, the waver in her voice was under control. "Mom always came in to wake me up at an ungodly hour to open presents, usually about two hours before dawn. Then we'd have the traditional Gilmore Christmas Poptarts for breakfast and head off to Sookie's for Christmas dinner or something."
Rodney's head whirled. This was the most Rory had spoken of her mother in the month she'd been in Atlantis. Rodney had a hard time reconciling the wild, carefree teenage Lorelai he had known, with being a mother to this strange child.
"Even as far back as I can remember, when we were at the inn, we always spent the whole day together, watching bad movies on TV or hanging out." Rory wrapped her arms around herself, bending over as if she were in pain. "I sent Mom a long letter for Christmas, but it's not like I can talk about anything that I'm doing, is it?"
Rodney pushed himself to his feet. In spite of only knowing Rory for a month, he had seen that physical posture in Jeannie and his mother and other women over the years. He might not be that great with people, but he wasn't totally insensitive.
"It's, um, she'll understand," Rodney said, moving to Rory's side and putting an arm around her shoulder. It should have been awkward, because Rodney McKay wasn't a hugger, but it wasn't too bad. Rory leaned her head against Rodney's shoulder. "It's just that you don't talk much about your mother so I wasn't sure if you got along or you just didn't want to bring her up or what."
Rory patted Rodney's hand, gently pulling away to sit straight. "I didn't know how to talk about her," she confessed, looking at Rodney with pain-filled eyes. "Everything's changed so much over the past year that I don't know what to do."
"With the paternity thing?" Rodney guessed. He hated having to ask when he wasn't sure of the answer.
Rory shook her head. "I used to tell myself that was it, but it's not. Not really. I found out about Chris in January, but this whole mess started last December when I quit my job and moved home." She pressed her hands to her face. "Sorry, I'm rambling when you're trying to work."
"It's okay," Rodney said. "I can do it all tomorrow morning, I just didn't want to go to the Christmas party."
Rory sighed. "You're not supposed to tell me these things."
"What? I don't exactly relish the idea of mingling with the minions."
"It's best not to call them 'minions' in their earshot."
"They're not here, are they?" Rodney waited for Rory's annoyance to fade. "Why don't you talk about Lorelai?"
Rory shrugged. "She's always been my best friend, until I lost track of who I was."
Rodney frowned at the phrase. "What are you talking about?"
"It's hard to explain."
"Well, I'm very smart, so try me."
That brought a tiny smile to Rory's lips. "Do you really want to hear this, or are you just trying to make me feel better?"
"I do want to know." Rodney tried to come up with a logical reason, failed, and so settled on, "I should know something about you since you're my daughter." His voice caught on the last word, when the incredulousness of the situation hit him. He, Rodney McKay, had a grown daughter. Was that ever going to stop sounding strange?
A shade of happiness seemed to break through Rory's mood. "Do you like knowing you're right?" she asked, seemingly out of left field for Rodney.
"Do you like knowing you're right?" Rory repeated. "Knowing that at the end of the calculations, or research, or whatever you're doing, you will know instantly if you are right or wrong?"
Rodney didn't know what Rory was going for, but he couldn't see the harm in answering truthfully. "A little. Okay, yes," he amended to Rory's look. "Why?"
"For the longest time, I didn't have any answers. I was writing, but there wasn't any right or wrong, just opinion."
Rodney couldn't help himself. "I thought that was the whole point of an arts degree."
"It is. Or was, I guess." Rory turned her head to look out the window at the rising moons. "Last December, I realized that I was sick of needing other people's opinions to validate my entire existence."
Rodney frowned. "Isn't twenty-four a little young to have a midlife crisis?"
"Maybe. But it turned everything I was
upside down and I didn't know how to explain to my mother. One day, I found myself quitting my job and moving back to Stars Hollow, taking odd jobs for money and trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me."
Rodney fidgeted, wondering if it would be rude to call a break in the conversation to retrieve his drink. "Did you ever figure it out?"
Rory shook her head. "I was trying to, but then I found out about you and I started looking into physics and I didn't have the time to think about that any longer."
"But, you found an answer of sorts, right?" Rodney asked. "You found something that worked for you."
"You mean the math?"
"Of course I mean the math," Rodney said quickly to Rory's dubious look. "Look at what you've done so far in Atlantis. You'd have been wasting your brains writing the gossip column in the Hartford Daily--"
Rory sat up straight, eyes flashing dangerously. "I never wrote the gossip column!" she protested indignantly.
"Whatever, it's all the same," Rodney said dismissively. "My point is, you're doing amazing work in physics. You're smart, really smart. One day, you'll be almost as smart as I am--"
"And I can't see why your mother would have a problem with that. If she liked you fine when you were writing things for a two-bit paper no one's ever heard of, why wouldn't she like you when you're working on physics to save the world?"
"I don't know!" Rory exclaimed, startling Rodney to silence. "I don't know why I didn't tell her any of this, or about Chris, or about you. Okay? I just don't know why!"
She hopped off the desk and crossed to the window, to stare out the glass at the sea.
"I'm not being fair to her and I don't understand why
," Rory said to the ocean. "But the longer I don't tell her, the harder it's going to be to finally explain. If I ever can."
Rodney sank back into his chair, wondering what kind of woman Lorelai had become. "Do you think it would bother her that I'm your..." He wasn't able to finish the question.
"Not like you're thinking," Rory said. "It'll bother her that she didn't know, and I don't know if she'll ever forgive me for not telling her. After all that, the biological fact that you donated half my genetic code won't seem like that big of a deal."
Rodney spent a few minutes churning through Rory's revelations. Finally, he asked, "Why haven't you told your mother? About me?"
Rory rested her head against the window. "I honestly do not know," she admitted. "I tried to tell her when I went back to Stars Hollow before I came to Atlantis, and the words got stuck in my throat."
Rodney wished he had some sort of advice to give Rory, but the issue of unknown paternity had never factored into his life before Rory had stepped through the Stargate. He cleared his throat. "I know I'm not your mother..." And what sort of a stupidly idiotic thing was that to say? "But if you ever want to talk about stuff, I'm good at listening. Or multitasking while listening and working on things."
Rory turned from the window, her hair catching faint hints of moonlight in the darkness. "As long as you know that you can ask me anything you want."
"What do you mean?"
"I haven't been talking about my life, and you haven't been asking. Just... if you want to ask me anything, you can. It's okay."
The lab door whooshed open, saving Rodney from having to respond to that. In sauntered John Sheppard, looking suspiciously jolly. "Hey, there you two are," he said. "Why are you hiding down here?"
Rodney rolled back to his workstation. "We're not hiding. We're having a serious conversation."
John waved that protest away, leaning against a convenient wall and beaming his most genial smile at Rory. "Christmas Eve is no time for serious conversations, it's time for expedition bonding. Come on, Teyla's using the baby to get all the best chocolate and Keller even let us roll Zelenka in from the infirmary."
"We'll be up in a few minutes," Rory promised, not bothering to consult Rodney. "I promise."
Sheppard continued to smile in such a way that Rodney wondered if the Colonel had partaken of a little too much of the botanists' special brew. "I'm going to hold you to that, Gilmore. McKay works too much for his own good." With a tip of the hat to Rory, Sheppard spun in a circle and walked out of the room.
A faint suspicion crossed Rodney's mind, that Sheppard might actually have been flirting
with Rory... but no. He rid himself of that thought immediately. Rory was just a kid. John wouldn't flirt with a kid, especially Rodney's kid.
Meanwhile, Rory asked, "Was he wearing an elf hat?"
"All the better to go with his pointy ears," Rodney said as he closed down his work station. If he was going to be dragged to the office Christmas party, he'd better make sure that nothing could possibly break in his absence.
"Where would someone get an elf hat in the Pegasus galaxy?"
"I have no idea." Rodney grabbed his mug and headed for the door, Rory hurrying to follow him. "It's usually best to blame the Marines."
"I blame the linguists, myself," Rory said, matching Rodney's hurried pace. "Half the time they have a hard time switching back and forth between languages and forget what you blame them for." She caught his arm. "Come on, have you seen what they've dressed Torren in?"
Rodney let out a groan. "It's going to be adorable, isn't it?" he asked. "They'll give him to me to hold and I'll have to pretend I like children."
Rory managed the difficult task of taking a drink while rounding a corner. "You like Torren."
"He's not bad," Rodney admitted. "Of course, he can't talk yet, and he's not very mobile."
"Play nice for Teyla. Mothers always enjoy a baby's first Christmas."
"She doesn't get
Christmas. Last year she came very close to throwing Sheppard off the balcony as he tried to explain roasting chestnuts over an open fire to her." As father and daughter were about to enter the mess hall, Rodney hesitated. "Is everyone in there?"
"I think so. Why?"
"That probably means Katie's in there." Rodney's heart sank. "I think I should go back to the lab."
Rory held onto Rodney's arm, preventing him from leaving. "Katie Brown? From botany?"
Rodney coughed, not wanting to answer Rory's question in any way. The muted roar from the other side of the mess hall door was deafening.
"In answer to your question, everyone is in there now," Rory said. "Now that you got your wish and we can't send anything through the Atlantis gate until you check out the city for any more hidden Trojans, the personnel heading for Earth have to wait until next week for the Daedalus."
"So this is all my fault?"
Rory whapped Rodney's arm. "So are the rumors about you and Katie true? That she thought you were going to propose and you never did?"
"That might be the case," Rodney prevaricated.
"Why did she think that?"
This was why Rodney didn't like conversations about his life, because he always came off looking like the bad guy. "I was thinking about proposing but it just... it wasn't right."
"So it was good that you didn't do it then," Rory said. "Stop being such a grouch about things you can't change and enjoy the party." She hauled him bodily through the door into the melee. The Marines had set up camp in the corner around the food, while various scientists chattered in various states of mild intoxication. By the balcony, Sam Carter was having a grand old time talking with Major Lorne, while a woozy Zelenka was set up in wheelchair with Dr. Keller hovering nearby. Katie Brown was nowhere to be seen, although Rodney had to admit he didn't look very hard.
Rory let Rodney go just in time for him to crash headlong into Sheppard. "Easy there, buddy," Sheppard said, manhandling Rodney into a chair beside Teyla. "The party's just started."
"That's what I'm worried about," Rodney said, but no one listened. It was only then that he saw what Rory meant about Torren. Some deluded soul had wrapped Torren in a bath towel and placed him in a straw-filled box beneath the fully lit Menorah, which in turn was draped with holly. "This is just not the sort of thing we wish to encourage!"
Torren burbled happily, waving his little fists while Teyla kept her hand on his back to prevent him toppling to the floor. "What is wrong with it?" she asked.
"It's the baby in the manger... thing," Rodney finished lamely. He had no real desire to explain to Teyla the origins of Christianity, mostly because the whole thing sounded like more mumbo-jumbo than most Earth customs.
"I think it's cute," Rory gushed, placing a small round object onto the present pile beside the manger. "Torren even has his three wise guys."
Rodney looked at John in his elf hat and Ronon slumped over a plate of food, and sighed. "I didn't know there were supposed to be presents."
"It's Christmas," John said, frowning at Rodney. "You didn't make a present for the baby on Christmas?"
"Christmas isn't until tomorrow," Rodney protested. "What did you get him?"
"I made him the outfit."
"You wrapped him in a towel and put him in an allergen-filled box?"
"Teyla thought it was cute," John said defensively. "Didn't you?"
Teyla smiled benevolently at them. "It was an interesting idea," was all she said.
A Marine-shaped whirlwind swept up to the table. "Hey, Gilmore," exclaimed Staff Sergeant Herrera. "How's your aim?"
Rory backed away. "What would I be aiming at?"
"The traditional Atlantis piñata."
"We have a piñata tradition?" John asked from the depths of his cups.
"We will in about five minutes, sir." Herrera held out his hand to Rory. "Come on, I'll spot you a couple of blows."
"Why don't you whack the piñata on your own?" Rory asked.
"I've got a few years of sniper training," Herrera said, failing miserably at appearing humble.
"What he means is, he could shoot out the middle of a coke bottle in the dark from five clicks away in a dust storm," John added. "No one's going to let him anywhere near the piñata."
"I don't know..."
Herrera looked at her with wide eyes. "Please?
Rory wavered for a moment, then let herself be pulled towards the Marine crowd. "You're going to regret blindfolding me and setting me loose with a bat!" she exclaimed, then the crowd swallowed them up.
Rodney stared after them. Was this supposed to be a Father moment? Was he supposed to give Rory the lecture about not taking candy from strange Marines?
John nudged his arm. "Stop it."
"Stop glaring at Herrera like he's dragging Rory off to a shotgun wedding."
"You were," Ronon interrupted. "What's a piñata?"
The inevitable description of odd Earth customs took several minutes, hampered by Sheppard's alcoholic cheery air. Only in the Pegasus galaxy could they find someone who knew what a shotgun wedding was, but was ignorant of piñatas. Rodney turned it all out after the first sentence.
Christmas carols drifted through the air, almost drowned out by the cheerful voices raised in celebration. Rodney mused that maybe he should have sent an email to Jeannie for Christmas. Things had been so hectic that he hadn't gotten to it. And now he was going to have to explain about Rory, he realized, his heart sinking. After all the grief that Rodney gave Jeannie about having a kid in grad school... his sister was going to kill
Glancing at the Marines, Rodney could just make out Rory whacking a stick against the piñata shaped like the flying lizards on the mainland. This was his daughter
that was about to put someone's eye out. His child, someone who as just as smart as he was.
Sheppard nudged his arm. "Don't worry about Herrera," he said in an undertone too low for anyone else to hear. "She's not his type."
"Why not?" Rodney protested, suddenly angry that someone might not think his kid was good enough.
John rolled his eyes. "She is not his type," he said again, this time laying the emphasis on the first word. Then he waggled his eyebrows in a Groucho Marx manner.
Rodney blinked. "I thought you weren't supposed to ask about those sorts of things."
"I didn't ask. He didn't tell." John's hand landed heavily on Rodney's arm in a reassuring pat. "She's fine."
"I know," Rodney said.
"Come on, what are you going to make Torren for a belated Christmas present?" John continued.
"I haven't thought about it."
"I have." John beamed, his elf hat slipping lower on his head. "Let's make him a trike."
"A tricycle?" Rodney repeated. "He can't even stand! How is he going to get the necessary gross muscle coordination to pedal a trike?"
"He'll grow into it. Have you got a better idea?"
"How do I know what kids need? Why not just make him a little remote-controlled four-wheel off-roader and be done with it?"
He had meant it as a joke, but John's face lit up at the suggestion. "We could cannibalize one of the broken MALPs for wheels, right?"
"We could outfit it with a little crash cage and a remote control and we race him down on the ramps where we race the cars, how does that sound?"
Teyla leaned into the conversation. "You will not be putting my son into anything that includes a 'crash cage'," she said archly.
John's face fell. "Fine." He glanced over at the piñata party again. "I don't think Carter would like us misappropriating the MALP, anyway."
"How about a wagon?" Rodney suggested. "A little red one?"
A smile spread across John's face "There is a good idea, McKay. I knew we kept you around for a reason."
"Thanks." Rodney was already drawing up mental plans for the wagon, wondering where they might be able to cage the rubber for the wheels and if the chemists could be bribed into making some red enamel paint.
Rory emerged from the crowd, arms full of candy and trinkets. She almost tripped as she sat down, spilling her armful across the tabletop. "Who wants chocolate?" she asked, her smile for everyone.
Sheppard, proving once again that he was part magpie, immediately went for the shiniest piece of candy. Teyla gathered Torren onto her lap and held a small wooden toy in front of him to play with.
Rory scooted her chair close to Rodney. "Thanks for coming to the party," she said, giving him a sideways hug.
"It's okay," Rodney said, which was his secret code for I'm not having a terrible time
Rory picked a piece of chocolate from the pile on the table. "Not a bad first Christmas Eve with a daughter, is it?"
Rodney shook his head, wondering anew at the strange turns his life took since coming to Atlantis. He had a daughter, and he had his team, and while nothing was perfect, they were trying to make things better.
All in all, not a bad first Christmas Eve at all.~~~
Lorelai stared at the dark corner where a Christmas tree should be, and wondered if the gaping pit of pain in her stomach would ever go away.
The gnawing worry about Rory, her little baby girl, had been eating away at her for over a year, the helplessness at watching Rory disintegrating a little more every day. The previous winter, Rory had grown increasingly fragile, until Lorelai was convinced that one day she'd fall to the ground and shatter into a thousand pieces.
Then Rory had gone to Colorado, leaving Lorelai behind.
Paul Anka raised his head from his place on the floor, listening intently to some secret sound only dogs could hear. Lorelai wasn't sure if he could see in the dark, any more than she could, but something had attracted his attention. So Lorelai wasn't too surprised when someone knocked on her front door. She sat still, waiting for whoever it was to take a hint from the dark house and lack of noise. Unfortunately, no one in Stars Hollow had the sense given to little green apples, and the knocking came again.
Paul Anka could take no more. He leapt to his feet and padded to the front door, barking the whole time.
"Lorelai?" someone called out as the door handle rattled. "Is everything okay?"
With a resigned sigh, Lorelai struggled to her feet and went to let Luke in. "Hey," she said after opening the door. "What's up?"
Luke frowned at her, then at the dark hallway, then back at her. "Your jeep was here but the lights weren't on and Paul Anka was going nuts."
"So why are you sitting in the dark? Is everything okay?" The minor irritation on his face changed. "Is Rory okay?"
The pain chewed out from Lorelai's stomach. "She's fine," Lorelai said. "I got an email from her this morning."
"Oh." Luke put his hands into his jacket pockets. "That's good."
When nothing else was forthcoming, Lorelai rested her head against the door. "Why are you here?"
Luke shrugged. "You weren't at Miss Patty's Christmas Eve party and I wanted to make sure everything was okay."
"I'm fine," Lorelai said automatically, wondering if there was anything she could do to make Luke go away.
But Luke just looked at her, and all the frustration and confusion and pain bubbled up in Lorelai's stomach, threatening to overwhelm her. "You don't look fine," Luke said in a quiet voice.
All Lorelai could do was stand there, letting the heat out of the house. Luke gently took her arm and walked her into the living room, turning on lights as he went. Without a word, he sat Lorelai on the couch, wrapped an old blanket around her shoulders, and vanished into the kitchen. Very soon, the familiar smell of coffee drifted down the hall. He reappeared, holding a cup of coffee liberally dosed with milk and, when Lorelai tasted it, sugar. The drink was fortifying, and by the time she'd downed half the cup, Lorelai almost had control over her emotions again.
"What's going on?" Luke asked, sitting on the couch beside Lorelai.
Lorelai rested the coffee cup on her knee. She knew better than to lie to Luke, and frankly at this point she was too tired and too sad to try. "This is the first Christmas ever that I'm not going to see Rory," she said. "Every year, she'd be here
, wherever here was, and if it wasn't on Christmas day, like when she went to London, then I knew she'd come back soon and we'd have Christmas later. But now she's god-knows-where and I don't know when I'm going to see her again."
"You'll see her again," Luke reassured her.
"Will I?" Lorelai demanded. "She went to Colorado in March and I only saw her three times before she suddenly ships off to some top-secret war zone or something. She says she's coming home in six months, but will she?"
"She'll come home," Luke said. "She always does."
Lorelai shook her head. "It's different this time. Things have changed and I don't know what to do."
Luke carefully put his arm around Lorelai's shoulders. Not caring what this meant, if it meant anything at all, Lorelai put her coffee cup on the side table before leaning against Luke's side. He was warm and fuzzy in his flannel shirt, smelling of the diner and coffee, and he was Luke
and he was there.
"Why do you say everything's changed?" Luke asked.
"Rory used to talk to me about everything, but last year when she quit her job and came home and started working diner jobs, she just stopped talking. About everything." Lorelai closed her eyes against the memory. "She wouldn't tell me what was wrong, what had happened, any of it. And then Chris got sick and Rory flipped out over that for a while, then all of a sudden she started going to the library all the time and then she went to Colorado and stayed there."
"Did she ever tell you why she started working on... what was it? Physics?"
Lorelai shook her head against Luke's shoulder. "She just said that she was good at it. I don't even know what she's doing."
"Is it complicated?"
"Probably. But I don't know, because she won't talk to me about it. And I have no idea what I did wrong."
Luke ran his hand over Lorelai's hair, such a familiar gesture that she wanted to cry. "You didn't do anything wrong," he said. "You helped her out in every way you could, and when she found something to focus on, you supported her all the way."
"Did I?" Lorelai asked. "All I can think is that I should have tried to understand more, but I was just confused."
"Sometimes the best thing you can do is not to get in someone's way," Luke said. His arm tightened around her shoulders, holding her close.
Lorelai felt tears pricking at the edges of her eyelids. "I don't understand what's happening to my little girl and it's freaking me out."
"She's doing good things, isn't she?"
"She says she is. She can't talk about any of it, but her email said that she's in the best place she could possibly be for her work."
"How does she sound in her emails?"
"Like there's something she's not telling me."
"More than the top-secret military stuff?"
"Like what? A guy?"
"I don't know!" Lorelai exclaimed, sitting up. "I don't know why she'd hide anything from me, it's not like I haven't seen every tiny part of her life since she was born." Something occurred to her from out of left-field. "Oh my god, what if she's gay?"
Luke stared at Lorelai. "When would she have been gay? What about Dean and Jess and that Logan character?"
"Right. So not gay." Lorelai chewed on her lip. The sugar in the coffee had hit her bloodstream like a sledgehammer and it was hard to think. "Maybe it's an older man. Or what if he's married?"
Luke caught Lorelai's flailing hands and held them steady. "Maybe," he said once Lorelai quieted, "You should ask her."
"What if she thinks I'm prying?"
"You're her mother. You always pry into her life. It's expected."
"But what if--"
Luke squeezed Lorelai's hands, cutting her off. "You won't know until you ask. Now, are you going to sit home all night, or are you going to come to Miss Patty's with me?"
Lorelai looked at Luke, so stable in her life for so long, even when she didn't deserve him at all. "Would you have dinner with me next week?" she blurted out.
"Dinner. Like every night when I come into the diner and have food, only maybe more like a date than that because you would sit and eat too." Lorelai felt her cheeks redden. "Or not. I don't know what I'm saying, it's got to be hypoglycemia--"
"Yes," Luke said quietly. Lorelai stared at him, open-mouthed. "Yes, I'd like to have dinner with you next week."
"Oh." Lorelai looked down at their hands, still joined.
"Now, you should come to Miss Patty's, because everyone in town is worried about you." From the background, Paul Anka barked. "See? You're outnumbered." Luke helped Lorelai stand. "Hurry before all the food is gone."
Lorelai squeezed Luke's hand. "What am I going to do about Rory?" she asked, unable to let the worry go.
"You tell her that you're there for her, and you worry about her. What else can you do?"
"But what if that's not enough?"
"It'll be enough until she comes home."
"What if she doesn't?"
"She always comes home to you." There was such belief on Luke's face that Lorelai couldn't speak. "This time won't be any different."
However, Lorelai's stomach churned with the gnawing, soul-crushing worry that she might never get her daughter back to the way Rory had been before this whole mess started.To be continued