DISCLAIMER: The characters used in this story are not mine and belong to various people I have to contact with.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I realise I keep making promises about when I'll get around to updating this so I won't do that this time. I'll only say that is my favourite story to write (when the pesky novel is taking a backseat) so it may not be as long as you expect. And, again, thanks for reading and for the people who have emailed me to say they're enjoying it.
SPOILERS: Up to S2 for The 4400, round about S1 for The Gilmore Girls.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To lucyvictoriabrown[at]gmail.com
3459: Lorelai Gilmore
On the appointed day Diana sat on the bench at the bus stop, waiting for a certain returnee. Gary had taken the most long-winded route possible to Stars Hollow, crossing half the country in his bid to escape without leaving a trail behind him. It seemed to have worked. All the Internet sites she'd scoured had brought up no leads in the enquiry into his disappearance which had begun right after Maia's kidnapping. Evidently, the powers that be had decided that having a potential security risk on the loose was too important to keep quiet.
The last few weeks in Stars Hollow had been... turbulent. She and Lorelai were okay when they were in the house with only Maia for company, but outside their little cocoon they came into contact with the gossips and Taylor Doose who was close to beating Nina Jarvis off the top of Diana's most obnoxious people list. A lot of it wasn't malicious, it was just small-town gossip. The trouble was, as far as Lorelai was concerned, any publicity was bad publicity. Thanks to Rory's reaction she was overly critical of everything she did and said, scared that someone else was about to reject her.
So far that hadn't happened. Sookie had done more than enough to atone for her brief sins, Luke had been fantastic, and other townsfolk such as Miss Patty had expressed happiness at Lorelai's happiness. They couldn't have asked for more really; aside from the obvious Rory problem. She had been staying with Richard in Hartford and hadn't made contact at all. Richard himself had seemed eager for Lorelai to pay a visit but perhaps sensed the tension between mother and daughter and didn't press her on her reticence to take up his offer. However, once he'd found out from Emily, no less that Diana and Maia were in town he'd taken up the baton again. As a result they were to dine with him and Rory the next night.
'A return to Friday night dinners,' Lorelai had groaned. 'Except this time it'll be Rory shooting the withering glares and not my mother.'
Hmm, Diana wasn't exactly looking forward to it. At least Emily wasn't going to be there. Her moving back into the main house apparently didn't mean she was invited to meals. She and Richard essentially led separate lives, but considering the alternative Diana was sure Emily would rather be in the house than not. The divorce proceedings had fallen by the wayside for the time being.
Seeing the bus approach Diana stood. When it halted it took her a moment to distinguish Gary amongst the disembarking passengers. When she spotted him she couldn't mask her smirk. His scruffy beard had morphed into a real face-hugger and his clothes looked more like a hobo's than anything else. The ratty rucksack he had slung over his shoulder didn't help matters.
'Diana, hello,' he said nervously.
'So now you're trying out the terrorist look?' she quipped.
He smiled and ran his hand through his lengthening hair. 'You can mock all you want but no one's even looked twice at me.'
'I'm not surprised, they probably think you're crazy.'
'Wouldn't be far wrong, would they?'
Glancing around at the rest of the bus passengers dispersing, Diana indicated for them to start walking in the direction of the inn. Once they'd covered a fair amount of distance, and she had recognised Gary's intense anxiety, she felt obligated to break the silence.
'So you'll be staying at The Independence Inn. It's the most the town gets to touristy but I doubt there are any NTAC personnel taking holidays there. We've got the quietest room for you anyway. I don't know how long we can keep this up but for the foreseeable future you're covered.'
Gary nodded. 'Is there anything I can do to help out around there? Pay my way or something?'
Diana looked sideways and half-smiled. 'I'll see what I can do.'
'How's Maia doing?' Gary questioned after a pause. 'Where is she?'
'Oh, she's taken to helping Lorelai out around the inn. She's a real hit with the guests.'
'Yeah, I'd say she is. Diana, I'm really '
'We don't have to go back to that,' she interjected. 'I understand why you did what you did. I don't agree with your methods but I know you don't agree with ours either.'
'You're not part of NTAC anymore,' he replied. 'You're not the enemy.'
'Does that mean Tom still is?' she questioned shrewdly.
Gary shook his head. 'Baldwin proved who he is. Does it scare the hell out of you, not being an NTAC agent anymore?'
'Yes,' she said without hesitation. 'But I'm here. It makes up for it.'
It wasn't wise for Diana to stick around while Gary checked in. The less association she had with the newbie in town the less likely anyone was to smell a rat. She dropped him at the entrance to the inn. Gary Rowland, as he would now be known, was checked into the inn by Lorelai herself. Diana got the full tale when her partner brought Maia home at lunchtime.
'He's on the right side of everyone. Well, the wrong side of Michel but that's the logical place for him to be. Everybody thinks he's the charming hobo.'
Diana glanced towards the kitchen were her daughter was eating a sandwich then asked, 'Did Maia see him?'
Lorelai smiled softly. 'I think this is what she's been working towards. She's spent so much time running after guests recently that no one thought anything of her taking a shine to Gary. She spent most of the morning playing cards with him in the dining room.'
'Not sure I completely like the sound of that,' she admitted honestly.
'He's not a bad man, Di.'
'I know that. I mean, that's why I let him come here.'
They were close together on the couch still Maia's makeshift bed and Lorelai reached out absently to tangle their fingers together. 'You weren't keen.'
'No, but I've had a while to think it over. Gary's an invaluable asset to the government but they wouldn't think twice about eliminating him if he threatened them. Stars Hollow is the best place for him.'
Lorelai nodded. 'So you think Maia knows something we don't?'
'Oh, I don't doubt it. But it's nothing bad, remember?'
She gave a mock salute. 'Correct, captain.'
'Less of it,' Diana warned. Kissing her cheek, she rested her head on Lorelai's shoulder. 'Want me to cook tonight?'
'Like every other night?' she queried. 'Sure, love it. I'm getting quite a taste for your cooking. Can truthfully say I'll miss it.'
That was an opening for a conversation if ever there was one. For the last few weeks Diana had skilfully managed to avoid talking about her plans, about returning to Seattle or any of the other things she was so unwilling to discuss. The truth was, in the last few weeks she'd felt she was... home. Yes, there were kinks and, yes, she'd much prefer it if she was currently working a worthwhile job somewhere, but she was contented. More importantly, her daughter was happy. The school break she'd taken for Maia couldn't last much longer. If she was going to start school in Stars Hollow she might as well do it quickly.
Still, for all that, Diana didn't want to say anything definite. Her last conversation with Rory loomed large in her head. For all her faults, the teen did feel displaced from her home, and maybe with good reason. If prolonging the feud between mother and daughter was what her staying in Connecticut meant then maybe... She couldn't even finish the thought internally. Perhaps she'd see what the Friday night dinner brought with it.
Clearing her throat, she changed the subject abruptly. 'You've got yourself a free handyman if you want it. Gary wants to help out.'
Lorelai blinked then the hurt was gone. 'Sure I can find something for him to do.'
Apparently that something was gardening for the time being. He proved himself handy with a set of garden shears and Lorelai immediately had him helping prepare for a forthcoming wedding at the inn. If anyone thought it was odd that a guest was helping out then no one mentioned it. Michel was just happy to be relieved of his dreaded extra-curricular activities.
However, Gary was pushed far from Diana's mind as she stood on the doorstep of the Gilmore mansion with Lorelai and Maia flanking her. They had yet to knock.
'I feel like I'm six,' Lorelai muttered.
'What happened when you were six?' Diana asked.
'Broke into Mom's beauty cabinet, covered myself in the most make-up you've ever seen on a beauty pageant queen. Dad caught me. He was more disappointed than angry. I was so lucky Mom didn't catch me.'
'Your father's not disappointed in you now,' Diana reminded her.
'We'll get there, don't worry.'
'It's going to be rough,' Maia said. 'Brace yourselves.'
Lorelai glanced sideways. 'Kid, creepy much?'
Maia just grinned and reached forward to knock before either of them could stop her. Lorelai squelched her groan as the maid opened the door.
'May I help you?'
Diana flashed her best smile. 'Yes, we're here for dinner.'
'Mr Gilmore's just finishing a phone call. Would you wait in the living room?'
The three of them were left to arrange themselves as they pleased. It was a matter of tactics. When Rory arrived if she did then she wouldn't sit quietly next to her mother. Diana had no doubt that Rory could, if pushed, ruin the entire evening and she was well aware that Richard finding out in a less-than-controlled environment would be a disaster. So with that in mind, Lorelai and Maia took the sofa closest to the drinks trolley and Diana took the opposite sofa. That left the two chairs free for Richard and Rory.
While they waited Diana cast her eye towards the dining room. The table was set for six. 'Do we have a mystery guest do you think?'
Lorelai followed her gaze. 'Maybe Mom, I don't know, wormed her way in or something.'
'No,' Diana said thoughtfully. 'I don't think she'd risk stirring things up right now.'
'Maybe the maid's frazzled,' Lorelai philosophised. 'Wouldn't be the first time.'
'Ah, ladies, nice to see you,' Richard suddenly boomed, striding into the room. 'And Maia, of course.'
Diana stood on impulse to shake his hand. 'Hi, Richard.'
He smiled and took it. 'It's wonderful to see you again. Please, don't stand on ceremony on my account. Can I make you some drinks?'
'Martini for me,' Lorelai piped up.
'Sodas for me and Maia,' Diana added. 'I'm driving.'
'Sensible, I respect that,' Richard commented as he searched the drinks trolley. 'I'll just fetch some ice from the kitchen.'
'Er, Dad,' Lorelai said quickly, 'is there someone else joining us for dinner? Table's set for six.'
'Oh, it was Rory's idea. They're just in my study looking at a rare book I managed to get hold of. They'll be right through.'
'They?' Lorelai hissed when he was out of earshot. 'They who? Is he finally having me psychoanalysed?'
'Too late for that. Maybe it is your mother,' Diana went on doubtfully.
Lorelai was looking towards the study and her face abruptly fell. 'Or not.'
'Lore! Hey, good to see you.'
Diana tried to control her grimace as the owner of the voice came into view, alongside his daughter. Christopher Haydn was wonderfully clean-shaven, neatly-dressed, and wearing the largest fake smile she'd ever seen. Lorelai's jaw-drop had been controlled with remarkable dexterity. She arose to greet them just as Richard returned with an ice bucket.
'Christopher, hey. Wow, this is a surprise.' As he leaned forward to kiss her, she inclined her head away so he hit her cheek instead of her lips. Diana appreciated the gesture, particularly when added to the glare Lorelai shot Rory. The returnee cleared her throat and stepped back. 'What are you doing here?'
It was Richard who answered, 'Oh, Christopher was in town on business and Rory thought it would be pleasant if he joined us for dinner. That is okay, isn't it?'
'Of course it is,' Lorelai replied. 'I just... I'll be right back.'
Watching Lorelai flee Diana caught the satisfied smirk that crossed Rory's face and stood. 'If you'll just excuse me a minute,' she said, squeezing Maia's shoulder as she passed. 'We'll be right back.'
She found Lorelai in the kitchen banging her head against the counter, precariously close to a knife block. The raven-haired maid was standing by the cooker with her mouth open. Diana tried to smile at her.
'Can you give us a minute please?'
She seemed happy to escape. 'Yes, Ma'am.'
Diana waited until the door had swung closed before she ventured touching Lorelai's shoulder. 'Will you stop that?'
'I'm trying to wake up,' was the muffled reply.
Forcibly grabbing her partner, Diana tilted her chin. 'You're not dreaming, more's the pity. We've got a Rory/Christopher tag team about to hit us. You think she told him?'
'Di, I told him,' Lorelai murmured.
'The day you left me at the hospital,' she said uncomfortably. 'When I got home and you weren't there I needed to confide in someone. Christopher was there, and I thought I could trust him.'
'Well, what happened?'
'He laughed, said it was the drugs talking, and walked out. He came round a few more times but he wouldn't talk about it. It didn't seem important or I would've told you.'
Diana didn't like this: the way they were constantly justifying their decisions to each other. It was something they'd have to set right at some point. She wasn't keen on justifying every conversation she ever had about Lorelai with Tom, for instance but there was a balance between truth and honesty overkill.
'Okay,' Diana said finally, 'he's obviously not here to wish us well. But I didn't expect Rory to do something this underhand.'
Lorelai smiled grimly. 'It's straight out of the Emily Gilmore handbook. I never thought Rory had that kind of malice.'
'I'm past using that as an excuse, Di. This isn't upset, this is manipulation.'
'Alright,' she agreed. 'But being angry or annoyed at her doesn't solve the problem right now. What are we going to do?'
'Well, we're leaving,' Lorelai said bluntly. 'I'm not staying here to be treated like a piece of meat.'
'No, we can't. What would your father think? Besides, that's handing Rory a victory.'
'So what do you suggest?'
Diana reached for her hand. 'We go out there, eat an expensive meal, talk about inane rubbish, and show Rory just how together we are.'
A soft grin settled on Lorelai's lips. 'You're tricksy.'
'I learned from the best.'
'Do you think this was what Maia was talking about? Rough seas and all that?'
Diana exhaled. 'God, I hope so. You ready?'
They walked back into the living room, comfortably close. Richard and Rory had taken the seats expected of them and Christopher had sat on the sofa Diana had occupied before. After a millisecond of debate Diana charged forward to sit next to him. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Rory's smile slip briefly. Her first point of attack was having her mother next to her father. Well, it wasn't going to work out that way. Lorelai plopped down defiantly next to Maia and turned her attentions straight to her father.
'Sorry about that.'
Richard shook his head. 'Is everything alright?'
'Of course. I've just... I left someone in charge at the inn for the first time and I'm a little nervous about it.'
'I completely understand,' he replied.
'I wouldn't worry, Lore,' Christopher piped up, 'anybody who's been trained by you can handle it.'
'Mmm, thanks. So, Dad, how is everything?'
'Oh, well, I'm enjoying having Rory's company. I admit, I didn't understand why she was staying here but, of course, I see now that you needed the space. How long are you and Maia in town, Diana?'
She exchanged a quick glance with Lorelai. 'I'm actually not sure. After Maia's disappearance I re-evaluated my life. I decided that I'd rather devote my time to living my life and raising my daughter than dealing with hypocritical bureaucracy. So at the moment I'm living a little day-to-day. In fact, I'm thinking of relocating to Connecticut permanently.'
As Lorelai's face broke into a radiant smile, Rory choked on her soda. Richard obviously mistook the sound for happiness on the part of his granddaughter and said, 'That is a wonderful idea. You can keep my daughter here in check.'
'I don't think so,' Christopher said softly. Diana heard him and perhaps Lorelai but Richard was oblivious.
'Yes, I do think that's an excellent idea. Maia, would you like to live around here?'
She grinned bashfully. 'Yes, sir. I like helping Lorelai at the inn.'
The elder returnee wrapped an arm around her shoulders. 'Indeed she does. She's quite the little tourist attraction, aren't you, sweetie?'
'What's Rory, a potted plant?' Christopher asked, again only audible to a select few. Diana got the feeling he was deliberately trying to wind her up and it certainly wasn't going to work.
Instead, she smiled affectionately at her daughter across the room. 'We both really love Stars Hollow, don't we, Maia?'
'It's a lovely little town,' Richard agreed. 'I spent some time there when Lorelai was missing.'
Lorelai looked up abruptly. 'You did?'
He held his daughter's gaze and nodded. 'Of course I did. I wanted to know your life, understand why you disappeared if I could.'
'I didn't know that.'
Rory was looking between her mother and her grandfather, an uncertain expression on her face. 'Sorry, I should've told you.'
Lorelai glanced to her. 'It's okay.'
There was a brief silence. Then Richard checked his watch and said, 'Dinner should be almost ready. Shall we move to the table?'
They did so, taking up much the same positions as they had on the sofas. Richard and Rory took the table heads, Lorelai and Maia took the left side and Diana accompanied Christopher on the right hand side. Again, she shot Lorelai a reassuring glance across the table which was reciprocated with equal warmth.
As soon as they were settled and the starter of duck and orange pate had been served, Rory spoke, addressing her father primarily. 'Did I tell you my finals begin next week?'
'You mentioned it a few times I think,' he replied. 'What about it, Lore? You think our girl's got what it takes?'
'Oh, definitely. Rory could major in things they haven't even invented yet.'
'Will she be staying here until the end of term, do you think?' Richard asked. 'Of course, she's more than welcome.'
'Well, it is convenient for school, Grandpa,' Rory said smoothly earning a snort from her mother. 'What?' she challenged.
Diana silenced Lorelai with a half-smile. 'Rory, you know that me and Maia could stay at the inn for a few days if you want the house back. I mean, I know it's easier to relax and study in a comfortable environment.'
Rory tried to sound polite as she said, 'I'll see how I feel.'
Richard added, 'That's a very kind offer, Diana, thank you.'
'I'm just happy to help.'
They descended into a brittle silence. As predicted, the food was expensively gorgeous and close attention to it seemed to keep all of them occupied for a while. However, Christopher kept half-coughing ominously. Lorelai, it seemed, had the same reaction to that fact and after the starter was cleared away she made a conscious effort to engage her father in conversation.
'How's work, Dad?'
'Mundane. It distracts me from my golf.'
'Nothing new there then,' Lorelai replied warmly.
'You know, I do have a yearning for... something. A new challenge, Does that make sense?'
'Definitely. Any idea what it is yet?'
'Not a damn clue. If it gets past the yearning stage I'll let you know.'
Lorelai smiled. 'I'm glad to hear it. That starter was beautiful by the way. What's for the main course?'
'Oh, I'm not actually sure. Your mother planned the...' Richard trailed off uncomfortably.
Diana held her breath. Clearing her throat, Lorelai asked, 'How is Mom?'
Rory choked on her drink as Richard glanced to Diana nervously. She nodded slightly at him before he answered, 'Well enough, I believe. We don't see that much of each other to be honest.'
Thankfully, the main course arrived to avoid further discussion on that point. Diana couldn't mask her admiration as she shot Lorelai a smile across the table. The look she received in return was more than intimate. Christopher muttered under his breath and looked away.
A tense silence seemed to descend on the table. Lorelai sped through her roast at record speed, probably trying to keep herself busy. As a consequence she cleared her plate long before anyone else. Lost for something to do she finished her glass of water then looked around anxiously.
Finally, she stood, 'I'll be right back.'
Diana watched her leave then returned her eyes to her own plate. A few moments later, however, Christopher scraped back his chair. 'If you'll excuse me...'
A triumphant expression passed over Rory's face as her father followed her mother out of the room. Diana resisted the urge to jump out of her own seat and instead remained focused on her faith. She trusted Lorelai completely she wouldn't be here if there was ounce of doubt.
Her resolve crumbled when Emily Gilmore's head popped around the corner, visible only to her and Rory. The paranoia usually attributed with the mere mention of the matriarch's name reared its ugly head but the look on Emily's face was concerned. She beckoned Diana over and, after seeing how that idea negatively affected Rory, she obeyed.
'Won't be a minute,' she said to Richard who just looked bemused by the desertions.
Emily grabbed hold of her arm the second she was close enough. 'Come on.'
'What's going on?' Diana hissed but Emily just shook her head.
They halted outside Richard's study door which was slightly ajar. A light was on inside.
'Christopher, for God's sake, get up,' Lorelai was saying.
'Lore, I'm serious.'
'Yeah, that's the scary part. Get up.'
'I want you to at least think about it. You, me and Rory. We can be a proper family. I've got a steady job, I can do this.'
'It's about eighteen years too late for that!'
'No, it's not, it's not. You just have to say the word and this whole thing goes away.'
Lorelai let out a frustrated sigh. 'How much of this is you and how much has been brainwashed into you by our girl out there?'
'Rory wants what's best for you and so do I.'
'Chris, you don't do this! I'm here with my girlfriend my girlfriend! That's not a hint to propose.'
Diana couldn't mask the smile that slipped onto her face at that firm confirmation of their relationship. Even Emily's lips twitched, she noticed. Why had Emily brought her to hear this because she thought this would happen or because she was hoping Lorelai would melt into Christopher's arms?
The man himself ruined her ruminations by yanking the door open and charging past both of them without a glance. Diana hesitantly peered into the room. Lorelai was stood motionless in the middle of the study with a glazed expression on her face. She jumped when her mother muttered her name and, spotting Diana, opened her mouth to speak.
Diana was too quick for her. Moving forward, she kissed her deeply. She barely heard Emily close the door on them as she pulled back.
'You heard that, huh?' Lorelai muttered.
'Most of it. '
'God, they've got nerve. What were they expecting me to do? Walk back in and announce I was getting married during dessert?'
'I think that was probably the plan. Thanks for not going along with it.'
Lorelai chuckled. 'Never was a task more simple.'
Diana took her hand. 'Let's get back to Maia.'
'And then can we leave?'
She didn't answer that. When they returned to the dining room, however, they found Richard and Maia alone.
'Where's Christopher?' Lorelai asked.
Richard looked troubled. Standing, he said, 'An early start so he claimed. Rory rushed out of here like she'd been bitten. What's going on, Lorelai?'
'A misunderstanding, Dad, that's all,' she said smoothly. 'Can we take a rain check on dessert?'
'Of course, of course.'
Maia obediently hopped off her chair and went to shake his hand. 'Dinner was very nice, thank you for inviting us.'
He looked charmed, despite his confusion. 'And I hope to see you again soon, young lady.'
'You will, Dad,' Lorelai said, 'you will. Goodnight.'
All three of them had collapsed on the sofa when they got back to Stars Hollow. Lorelai kept reiterating that Christopher had finally lost his marbles but, in truth, Diana was barely listening. When she found that Maia's breathing had regularised into a pattern, she indicated to Lorelai they should move into the kitchen.
Once there, the returnee said, 'You look serious.'
'I'm worried, that's all.'
'Di, you don't think I'd '
'No,' she interrupted, 'I'm past that. I just don't know how far Rory's going to go with this. She's determined to split us up. She could tell your father about us; who knows how he'd react?' Another thought suddenly occurred to her. 'And she did all that research on the 4400 after I told her you were back. If she recognises Gary '
'Di, Di,' cut in Lorelai, 'please, you're sounding familiar. Calm. Breathe.'
She smiled faintly as she was forcibly sat down at the table. 'The scene's playing backwards.'
'Tell me about it.' Sitting down herself, Lorelai reached across the table for her hand. 'Look, I know we have to tell my Dad but we can't let Rory rush us. You know, if she wanted to drop that bomb she could've done it already. She hasn't for a reason, maybe she thinks he'll accept us.'
Diana met her eye. 'And what do you think?'
'That I'm not in Kansas anymore,' her partner quipped. 'Dad's been great these last few months. I can't guarantee his reaction to anything anymore. I do know he'd be horrified at Rory's behaviour, whether he thinks her in the right or not. It's a pride thing. Maybe she realises that at least. As for Gary,' she went on, 'I think we're safe on that score. She's not exactly in a hurry to come running back to town, is she?'
'Well, she's still got a boyfriend here,' Diana argued.
'Honey, stop looking for problems. We've got enough of them already.'
Sighing, she nodded. 'Point taken.'
Diana sat in Luke's about eleven on Monday morning with her nose deep into the brochure she'd just received from the head of Stars Hollow Elementary School. It wasn't going to be winning any prestigious awards anytime soon but it was a steady school and, best of all, the head had been unfazed when Diana had candidly asked him whether Maia's special abilities or her status as a 4400 would impede her in any way. After the various incidents in Seattle she thought it best to be upfront about the situation. He was a mild-mannered man, slightly surprised by the questioned, but more offended than anything else: they would take Maia regardless.
The door clanged open and instinctively she looked up, even though she wasn't waiting for anyone. She didn't want to be disturbed by Lorelai until she'd made a firm decision. However, the new arrivals proceeding to the counter were astonishing. Pulling out her cell phone, Diana dialled the inn.
'Independence Inn, Lorelai speaking.'
'Where's Maia?' she asked without ceremony.
'Um, dusting the books, I think. Why?'
'Just looking for an explanation as to why she's in Luke's holding Gary's hand, that's all.'
Lorelai groaned. 'Sneaky brat.'
'Yeah, I wonder where she picked up such habits.'
'I'm sorry, Di. Do you want me to come get her?'
'No, I've got it. I'll see you at home later.'
It occurred to her as she ended the call that she'd now constantly begun referring to Lorelai's cosy little house as home. She wondered if Lorelai had picked up on that also.
Luke greeted Gary with a nod. 'You new in town?'
'Deciding whether to stay.'
'Uh-huh.' Luke leaned down to Maia. 'Do you know this guy? Does your mom know you're with him?'
'I know him,' Maia said uncertainly.
But Luke was persistent. 'And your mom knows you're with him?'
Eventually, she shook her head.
'Well, she does now.'
Both Maia and Gary nearly gave themselves whiplash as they turned around. They both guiltily approached the table as Luke looked on.
'Didn't see that one coming, huh?' Diana muttered to her daughter. 'What are you doing?'
'Getting a drink,' her daughter said softly.
'Okay, I'll deal with you later,' she said, turning her attentions to Gary. 'What's your excuse?'
He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. 'Hey, your daughter tells me to do something I jump to it, alright? There's always a reason.'
She couldn't argue with that. From the look on Maia's face she knew that too. Her daughter's eyes had already landed on the school brochure.
'What's that, Mom?'
'Don't pretend you don't know.'
Grinning, Maia sat down. After a moment of hesitation Gary did too. Luke came over with his pen poised.
'Everything okay over here?'
Diana tried to smile. 'Yeah, thanks. This is Gary, he's staying at the Inn. Maia shouldn't have come out with him without telling me but it's okay.'
Luke absorbed the explanation and cleared his throat. 'So long as everyone's safe. What can I get you?'
They ordered, then endured ten minutes of silence until the food arrived. Maia had edged the brochure over to her and was reading it intently while Gary played with the rim of his coffee cup. Diana could've forced conversation but she didn't want to. She still didn't quite trust herself where Gary was concerned.
When Luke dropped the plates off he glanced quizzically at her but she shook her head. Then, a scuffle out on the street grabbed both their attentions. Taylor Doose was arguing with Kirk. Finally, he raised a baseball bat threateningly and, after ascertaining it was serious intimidation, Kirk ran like a girl across the road.
'What the hell was that all about?' Luke asked.
'Beats me,' Diana replied as Taylor came inside, still brandishing the baseball bat.
'Can you believe that man?' Taylor announced. 'Do you know what he did? He suggested that instead of using legally certified balls he'd use foam ones. And you know why, hmm?'
Luke sighed. 'Please. Enlighten us.'
'Because he's scared of them! Some rubbish about a traumatic experience in school. I told him, I said that if you can't handle some trumped-up incident with the baseball team then you shouldn't be working on my watch!'
Sniffing, Luke asked, 'You paying him now?'
Taylor looked appalled. 'Of course not, Luke. This relies on community spirit, volunteering. Now who are we going to get to coach the team?'
Diana suddenly glanced at Maia, just in time to see her kick Gary. To his credit, he didn't miss his cue. Standing, he cleared his throat.
'You need somebody to help out here?' he asked.
Taylor eyed him suspiciously. 'Who are you?' His gaze slipped to Diana, a little condescendingly. 'Is he with you?'
'He's Maia's new friend,' she answered smoothly.
'He looks like a hobo; is he a hobo?'
'I'm passing through town, staying at the Independence Inn. I like travelling, that's all. But I like the town, thought I might stick around for a little while. If I'm allowed,' he added as an afterthought.
'Hmm,' Taylor murmured, 'we'll see. Do you really play baseball?'
'I've had a little experience.'
Though evidently unsure, Taylor questioned, 'Can you make a bunch of hoodlums want to hit things?'
Gary smiled. 'Call it a speciality.'
'When can you start?'
'God, our kid's good,' Lorelai commented as they ate noodles at the kitchen table later that evening.
Diana raised an eyebrow. 'Our kid?'
Lorelai paused with the fork aloft. 'Sorry, slip of the tongue.'
'I hope not,' replied Diana.
Dumping the fork into the box and setting it on the table, Lorelai smiled. 'Guess we haven't got round to talking about that, huh?'
Leaning back into her seat, Diana shrugged. 'Yeah, I've been meaning to bring it up.'
Lorelai nibbled on her lip. 'Time for the big chat, right?'
'Wait here,' she instructed.
Going into the living room she located her bag at the side of the staircase. Maia was fast asleep on the couch, looking remarkably peaceful. Dropping a kiss onto her forehead Diana returned to the kitchen with her bag and pulled out the school brochure. She tossed it onto the table and Lorelai raised an eyebrow.
'Am I missing something here?'
'She could start as early as Monday,' said Diana.
Digesting that, Lorelai asked, 'Why didn't you tell me you were thinking about this?'
'I wasn't sure,' she admitted. 'We both know there's a lot to consider.'
'But you want to stay?'
'Do you have to ask?'
Lorelai shook her head. 'It's polite on occasion. What about Maia, have you talked to her about it?'
'She already knew, and she's hardly going to argue about it.'
'Wouldn't Tom flip out?'
'Yes. But honestly? I'm past caring. If Gary's here, it makes sense I should be too, right?'
'He might accept that for now but what happens when Gary leaves?'
'It's no use trying to predict the future.'
Lorelai chuckled. 'Try telling that to Maia.'
Diana smiled along with her. 'As much as I'd love to use her like a magic eight ball, I can't. I'm trying to give her a normal life.'
'And for that you're bringing her to Stars Hollow?'
'Where better to bring up an eccentric kid?' she shot back.
Lorelai acquiesced to that with a shrug. 'So you want to stay?'
'Of course we do.' Diana sighed. 'But there's Rory to think about.' When Lorelai winced, she reached for her hand. 'I'm sorry, but it has to be considered. I don't want to stand in the way of you two and if there's any chance you could reconcile by me leaving I'll do it straight away.'
'And go back to what?' questioned Lorelai seriously. 'There's nothing for you in Seattle, is there?'
'No,' she admitted, 'not a thing. My life's here.'
Lorelai chewed on her lip. 'So maybe Maia could start school Monday?'
'Okay, okay, but I have a condition.'
Diana grimaced. 'She can't live on the couch for eternity. We need to persuade her into Rory's room and the only way I can see to do that is by clearing it with Rory first.'
Lorelai was silent for a long while. 'Couldn't we just buy her a pony?'
Diana turned the newspaper over and found the end of the job advertisements. She sighed and folded the paper up before leaning back and looking out of the window of Luke's Diner. It was Saturday and the town was in full bustle mode. She'd left Maia under Sookie's protection at the inn and Lorelai was due any minute. Rory had agreed to a meeting on two conditions one, that it wasn't anywhere near her school or grandfather and, two, that it was in a public place. Perhaps she was counting on the town still being on her side. Diana guessed she'd be disappointed that most people while whispering were content to let them live their lives in peace.
Luke came to refill her coffee. 'You waiting for someone?'
'Lorelai and Rory, if you can believe it.'
He cleared his throat. 'I'll keep the coffee coming.'
She smiled. 'I think we'd all appreciate it.'
After five minutes she caught sight of Rory stomping across the square. At first she was apprehensive of speaking to her without Lorelai there but she could hardly refuse to talk to her until her mother arrived. Besides, this may be a moment they needed. Rory entered the diner, saw her alone and gathered a cup of coffee from Luke before sulkily falling into the chair opposite her.
'Your mother's running late,' Diana said.
'I guessed that.'
Inwardly wincing at the tone, Diana nevertheless stuck to her guns. 'That trick you pulled, Rory... It was beneath you.'
'You don't know me.'
'I thought I did,' she answered. 'I thought the smiling teenager who was over the moon that her mother wasn't dead after all was the real you. Not this malicious kid who can't understand anything she doesn't want to.'
'That's not true,' Rory said quietly.
'No? Then why push your dad to propose?'
'That was all his idea.'
'Come on, Rory, we don't believe that.'
The teen clenched her fist on the table. 'Can you stop doing that? Stop saying you and her are like some joint entity. You're not.'
Diana shrugged. 'It's just the way I think. The way she thinks as well, as much as you don't wanna hear it.'
They fell into an uncomfortable silence. Diana knew she should carry on pushing but she really didn't want to do anything without Lorelai's consent. Luke kept throwing concerned glances over to their table, some of which she returned with a wry smile. After five minutes or so Lorelai burst through the door and collapsed into the chair between Diana and her daughter.
'Sorry, sorry, Michel got his hand jammed in a plant pot.'
Despite her anxiety, Diana felt herself smiling. 'Excuse me?'
Lorelai's lips twitched. 'Alright, I put it there in the first place but he was annoying me.' Slowly, her gaze slipped to Rory. 'Hey.'
'Hi,' Rory said shortly. 'Can we get on with this? I want to do something useful with my Saturday.'
'How are your studies going?' Lorelai asked, ignoring the statement.
'Any word back from your college applications?'
'Are you still seeing '
'None of your business,' Rory interrupted. 'What is it you want, Mom?'
Lorelai glanced nervously at Diana before focusing back on her daughter. 'Diana and Maia are sticking around. I know you won't like that but can you please try and think of it from Maia's point of view? She's found somewhere she wants to be, somewhere she feels safe with people that she likes.'
'Don't try and pin this on Maia,' Rory warned. 'You're hiding behind her because it's what you want.'
'It is what I want,' Lorelai answered, 'but that doesn't change the fact that it's what Maia needs.'
Rory just shook her head. Diana, despite her eagerness to push into the conversation, kept silent. If this was going to be won then Lorelai had to win it.
'I know you're not this person, Rory,' Lorelai said carefully. 'And I know you've done your research on the 4400. You must know about the bomb threats, about people hating what they don't understand. They're scared of us. Me, I can deal with that, but Maia shouldn't have to. The thing about this crazy town is that no one cares what you are or what you've done. If you're willing to pitch in with the garage sales and the festivals and whatever then you're welcome to stay. Hell, the news about me and Diana made the gossips happy for maybe two days and then it was over.'
That was an exaggeration on Lorelai's part but Diana was more than happy to believe it. Rory apparently couldn't or wouldn't deal with grey areas at the moment she'd jump on anything smelling of condemnation.
'So you're trying to look after Maia and not me,' Rory said finally.
Lorelai snorted. 'I know you're not that petty.'
'What do you want me to say?' Rory snapped. 'You've told me, you can tick that box.'
'Not quite,' Diana said, seeing Lorelai's anger building and wanting to keep it at bay. 'You see, Maia's refused to sleep in your bedroom since we got to Stars Hollow. She's been sleeping on the couch. If I want her to start school here then I can't let her sleep there forever. She needs a bed, she needs to get proper sleep.'
An uncomfortable expression settled on Rory's face. 'I don't have a problem with Maia. She's great.'
'Does that mean she can sleep in your room?' Diana asked, needing to be sure.
'Will you tell her that? Because she won't believe it coming from anyone else.'
The teen shrugged. 'Fine. Where is she?'
'Sookie's got her at the inn,' Lorelai supplied. 'We can walk over there now if you've got time.'
Rory nodded her assent and the three of them got up to leave, Diana lingering to pay for the coffee. Lorelai and Rory waited outside the diner in silence, looking in opposite directions. When they began walking it felt like a funeral procession, even other town members seemed to notice the tension. Miss Patty waved looking extremely uncertain but everybody else just ducked their heads and pretended they weren't looking when they plainly were.
They found Maia in the lounge at the inn. She jumped up from her game with Gary and ran across. Diana, feeling her stomach constrict, gestured for Gary to make a swift exit. He didn't hesitate but the idea that Rory had caught a look at him wouldn't disappear easily.
Rory kneeled down in front of Maia. 'I hear you're starting school here.'
Maia nodded hesitantly. 'Is that okay?'
'Of course it is. You'll love it. And you'll make a lot of friends, I know you will. But your mom tells me there's a bit of a problem. She says you won't sleep in my room. Is that right?'
'It's your room,' Maia muttered.
'It was, a long time ago.' Rory's voice took on an edge which she tried valiantly to battle away. 'But, you see, I'll be going to college in a few months. Even if I was living at home, I wouldn't be for much longer.'
'You might come back.'
'No. No, I won't.'
'Because it's better this way.'
Maia looked unconvinced. She cast a look at Lorelai, perhaps Diana thought suddenly, referring to that private confidence between them about what the future might hold for Rory. She still wondered what that was all about. And her curiosity about Emily Gilmore's impending marriage wouldn't go away either. Coming back to the matter at hand, she touched Lorelai's arm. Rory acknowledged that with an eye roll.
'Do you have to do that?' she asked tightly.
'Rory, you shouldn't be mean,' Maia said softly.
That had the biggest impact on Rory yet. Real unabashed guilt washed over her face. 'I don't want to be mean,' she answered in an equally low tone.
'Then why are you? There's nothing wrong with any of this.'
'Maia, sweetie, you're too young to understand.'
'No, I'm not,' she said firmly. 'And I know this is what's supposed to happen.'
'You can't know that.'
Maia opened her mouth to answer but Lorelai cut in, 'It's what we all feel.'
Rory's coldness was back as she stood. 'Well, that's the end of that then. Bye.'
She was out of there like a shot, Diana noticed. She saw the pain zip across Lorelai's face but the returnee put a brave mask on and wrapped an arm around Maia's shoulders, leading her back towards the kitchen. Diana hesitated then decided to take a risk. She chased Rory out onto the drive.
'What do you want?' the teen asked when she grabbed her arm.
'I'm gonna tell you a secret, Rory.'
'I don't want to know any secrets.'
'The 4400 abilities you've read about? Maia has one. She sees the future, she has since the minute she got back from wherever the hell they took her. That's why her foster families didn't work out, that's how I ended up adopting her. That was the way it had to be, the way it was meant to be. That's what Maia means when she talks about fate. She knows about fate, she knows how things are meant to be because she knows how they're going to be.'
Rory stared, her mouth hanging open. 'Are you joking?'
'No joke,' she replied, iciness twitching at her stomach. She dearly wished she could recall the words. She'd placed an awful lot of trust in Rory's innate goodness and she didn't want to be disappointed.
'Most things,' Diana said with an attempt at a smile.
Rory seemed at a loss. 'Why are you telling me this?'
'I don't know,' she admitted. 'I want to trust you. I want you to know what's at stake here.'
'It can't change anything.'
'Can't? I didn't think Chilton allowed you to use that word. Look, Rory, please just think about this for a minute. Think about what Maia said in there if you don't want to believe me.'
'You're hiding behind Maia,' Rory muttered. 'You're hiding behind her to get what you want.'
Diana sighed. 'Can I trust you with her secret?'
Rory turned away. 'I'm not going to do anything to hurt Maia.'
'Thank you,' Diana called after her.
Come Monday morning Diana was more nervous than Maia was. Lorelai insisted on taking them both to Luke's for an early breakfast, reasoning that she couldn't exactly feed them in a house full of no food. Luke made a fuss of her, something which warmed Diana to see, then Lorelai talked non-stop through mouthfuls of eggs in a bid to keep them all occupied. Although she was grateful, Diana wasn't fooled. Lorelai hadn't slept well the last few nights and now she was overcompensating. It was one of the first things she'd added to the Gilmore handbook and it was proving sage advice.
They took Maia to school together, Lorelai waving at people who recognised her then muttering about them behind their backs. That one was bitchy, that one was robotic. Stars Hollow moms were apparently as dysfunctional as the rest of the world, which was no great surprise. The principle had obviously heard of their relationship and didn't bat an eyelid. He was gentle with Maia and she took an immediate shine to him, much to Diana's relief. It probably meant nothing bad was going to happen at school. She felt a pang leaving her daughter there but Lorelai took her hand and walked her home, making herself late for work in the process but the thought was there.
After examining the jobs section of the newspaper, she resorted to tidying the kitchen. Without Maia or Lorelai around she felt a little lost and more like she was intruding on Rory's territory than ever. She wandered into the downstairs bedroom she still couldn't call it Maia's room and looked at it as an impartial observer. They'd taken down the Harvard paraphernalia, dusty as it was, and all of Rory's posters that had lasted the years. The desk was clear, the dresser only had only a few particular items that Maia had remembered to stuff in her suitcase. The rest of their things were in Seattle, something Diana tried not to think about. She hadn't spoken to Tom for a few days and she certainly hadn't told him Maia was starting school. She was dreading that conversation.
Sitting down on the bed, she stared out of the window. This was such a gorgeous house, maybe one day she'd get Lorelai to put in a path so she didn't break her ankle trying to get to the car every morning. She was so lost in thought that she didn't register that the home phone was ringing until maybe the third or fourth ring. Then she rushed to answer it.
'Di, thank God.'
'Lorelai, what is it? You sound out of breath.'
'Well, yeah, I left my cell at the inn and had to beg Luke to let me use his '
'Why?' Diana interrupted. 'What's wrong? Is it Maia? Did the school call?'
'No. Listen, you're not gonna believe this but '
Her voice was drowned out by the knocking on the door. 'Hang on,' Diana said, 'there's someone at the door.'
'No, no, don't '
'One minute,' she interrupted. Opening the door she saw a familiar woman on the porch. 'N-Nina? What are you doing here?'
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