It still nags at him a little, the feeling that he should have done something different that night. Sat the kid down, maybe; given him a good, manly talking to about marriage and pitfalls and lives changing, and how much of a pain in the ass divorce is. But it's been two weeks, and Dean and whatshername are still on their honeymoon, and most of the time, he doesn't think about it too much.

Actually, the only time he ever thought much about Dean was when Rory was dating him, and that was mostly resisting the urge to follow the kid around every hour of every day to make sure he never, ever, made Rory cry again. For any reason.

If he was a Good Person (and he can hear the little Lorelai in his head capitalizing the words, probably even drawing those stupid quote marks in the air), he would have talked to Dean. Would have forgotten that he's never really liked the kid much, and really hates talking to pretty much everyone, and would have made Dean face up to what he was about to do, and how many lives could get seriously screwed up in the process. Marrying one woman while you're still completely hung up on another.... It's not like this is something he knows nothing about, although he doesn't like to think about it too much.

But all he could see was Rory's face, and what it would have looked like if Dean had called the wedding off, the confusion and worry and sadness that would have filled her big blue eyes if she'd found out it was because of her. And, since this is Stars Hollow, she would have found out; the Almighty Gossip Machine, and its dedicated directors Miss Patty and Kirk, would have unthinkingly seen to that.

But she'll never find out from him.

It bothers him, sometimes, how paternal he feels towards Rory. It's not like he can take any credit for how amazing she is -- that's all Lorelai, even though he'll never quite understand how she did it. And he shouldn't feel this proud/protective/scared/happy about a kid who's not his, never was, never will be. Even if he can remember cleaning up her skinned knees when she was nine and thought roller blading in the street with Lane was a good idea; remember baking cakes for every birthday; remember feeding her almost every morning and most nights; remember the way she smiled at her graduation for him. For everyone, at least once -- but once, just for him.

He shouldn't feel this way and he knows it, but he's never been rational about any woman named Gilmore. It's his job to take care of them the best he can; it's just the way it is, and has been ever since they burst into his life. The fact that no one gave him that job, that he has no right to it, doesn't matter. They're his, even if he'll never have them, so he just does what he does, and doesn't think about it too much.

It makes the issue of what he should have done with Dean a lot more straightforward. Dean's life is not his responsibility. Rory's is. Talking to Dean, trying to straighten him out, had the potential to make Rory unhappy, so he didn't. And he'll always be grateful that Rory didn't question him when he told her not to go to the wedding. She just accepted he wouldn't ask her to do anything that wasn't best for her, and moved on.

Sometimes, he thinks that no one else in Rory's life beside him and Lorelai want that for her, want only what's best. He knows her grandparents try (no matter what Lorelai says), but he's heard enough from both the Gilmores to know that Richard and Emily's idea of "what's best for Rory" doesn't bear much resemblance to Rory's or, frankly, to his. And if Rory's father cared about what was best, he wouldn't have taken off 18 years ago and never quite managed to come back. He's polite to Christopher, because Rory would get upset if he wasn't, but the need to repeatedly pound the guy's head into something hard is almost too strong to resist sometimes, so he tries not to think about it too much.

He thought for a while, reluctantly, that Dean might have wanted what was best for Rory. But then the kid backed off, just quit the game when Jess started making it hard on him, and as much as he isn't proud of Jess for that, he can't help but think it was good riddance. Rory should have someone who loves her enough to fight for her.

Jess did fight, for a while, but for the wrong reasons, since Jess is still too young to think about anything but what's best for himself. Which is the way it should be, no matter how many times he wants to go to California and drag Jess back home, to make him stay or at least say a real good-bye. The hardest thing in his life so far has been the juggling act of Jess and Rory, trying to balance what's best for both of them, and always feeling as though he's coming up short. Because, unquestionably, Rory was what was best for Jess, but Jess best for Rory? Not so much. And he feels disloyal to his nephew for feeling that way, because Jess is family, and he honestly cares about the little punk.

But he cares about Rory, too, and caring about Rory is so much easier that it worries him a little. He tries not to think about it too much.

He missed Rory as much as he missed Lorelai when they were in Europe, and he was equally glad to see both of them come home. This college thing is a little better (Rory's gone for days at a time, instead of months), but it's much longer term. Rory doesn't live in Stars Hollow anymore, probably never will again -- she's got bigger and better things to look forward to in her life. He knows that, tries to feel happy for her, tries not to chalk her up (yet) on the list of all the people who've ever left him for bigger and better things. Which is everyone.

That sounds pathetic even inside his head, so he doesn't really think about it too much.

He checks on Lorelai more often now that Rory's gone away. He knows how much she misses her daughter, how empty her house seems, because the diner feels that way, too. He's used to seeing two heads at the Gilmore table, not one; to the sound of meaningless chatter filling up the room at least twice a day; to a quick smile and a shared roll of the eyes when Lorelai is being unreasonable even by her impressive standards.

He suspects Lorelai might know how much he misses Rory; she shows up at the diner more often (although it's hard to see how that's possible), and lingers over that last cup of coffee a little longer. But that could just be Lorelai avoiding going home, staying away from the empty rooms like he avoids his empty apartment. (It's emptier now that Jess has gone away, too, and is it too much to ask that he could have kept one of them?) His cynicism tells him it's the second, his heart tries to tell him it's the first, and mostly, he just pours more coffee on demand, and doesn't think about it too much.

Lorelai tried to find out why he told Rory not to go to the wedding, but she didn't try very hard -- her whining and pouting didn't have that persistent, give-in-because-I-won't-stop-until-you-do-or-I-drive-you-insane edge he's used to. He figures she was worn out from her struggle with Taylor (he's thinking about a way to make Taylor's life hell for that, which he probably shouldn't do, but it's not like torturing Taylor is either hard or unpleasant), and he works hard at not letting her bring the subject up again. He could probably tell her about it now -- he'd had every intention of telling her when he tried to find her that morning. Tell it all, he'd thought, then back off and let Lorelai decide what to say to Rory, decide what would be best for her. But Rory was right there, so he took a deep breath and did it himself, and he's still almost sure that it was the right thing to do. That it was the best thing for Rory.

He's not really sure that "right thing" and "best thing" are the same thing here, but he doesn't think about it too much.

He thinks, sometimes, that what he does -- putting what's best for the Gilmores ahead of almost everything else -- is probably not what's best for him. But he's tried to stop a few times (after the stood-up-for-painting incident, after the accident and the screaming fight about Jess, during the cruise and god, what had he been thinking?) and he always winds up reverting back to his old ways. One tearful apology from Lorelai, one unhappy-but-brave smile from Rory, and suddenly, he's Good Old Luke again, there to be whatever they need/want/wish him to be.

What they need him to be will probably never even come close to what he needs to be for them -- for Rory at least as much as for Lorelai -- but he doesn't see any real options anymore. So he just keeps doing what he's doing, what he's always done since the day they crashed into his diner and his life, and if there are things he'd change if he could?

Well, he just doesn't think about it too much.



How surprised was I to find Luke Danes in my head? Talking, even, to someone who's never seriously written Gilmore Girls fic. But since I hadn't written anything in months, I shrugged, grabbed the man and ran with it. Luke's always been my favorite, anyway; partly because I'm a dedicated L/L shipper, but also because I adore those wonderful (and far too few-and-far-between) moments when we get to see him being incredibly cute with Rory.

Thanks to Mom for the beta-read; to the KikiDee entity for the encouragement and title help; and to Bruce for going in blind and still liking it.

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