Summary: She needs someone to point the way home; he remembers what it feels like to be lost. Rory and Jess redefine a friendship. A sequel to "U-Turn," set during "Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out" and following.

A/N: Many thanks to adina for the beta and for always being on the same wavelength.

1: This Is Your Life

It's like herding cats. Pointless. Rory doesn't even know why she tries anymore—it hits the breaking point about two drinks into the night, which, these days, comes earlier and earlier. After that, it's just not fun anymore. After that, she cringes and sinks deeper into her seat with every drink they take, wishing the whole time that, just for once, someone else could be the designated driver. How she, the one without classes or responsibilities, ends up as the sober one every single time is beyond her. More than anything, it's a testament to the guys' combined powers of persuasion.

So she ends up trying to stuff them into the car and keep them there long enough to drive away. If anything, she thinks, wrestling with all of them burns off the calories from her one drink, much earlier in the evening.

It's the same thing, week after week. Fridays, Saturdays, most Thursdays, some Tuesdays, she drives them to their respective apartments, always in the same order. Colin first, then Finn, and finally Logan. It's the most logical route home, and if she ends up staying over, it makes the most sense.

Lately, though, she's been dropping them all off and then heading back to her room in Hartford. Sleeping in the same bed as a drunk Logan isn't on the top of her list of "ways to get a good night's sleep." He flops, he snores, and in the morning, his breath stinks, and even with all that, morning is the least of her worries. He wakes up from his stupor with a surprising absence of a hangover, so at least she doesn't have to worry about him being a baby because of his pounding head.

No, the real problem in sleeping with a drunk Logan is just that—sleeping. He gravitates towards her during the night all the time, but when he's drunk, it's a heavy, sweaty… glomming, for lack of a better word, onto her. He thrashes, keeping her awake, and when he's still, he's right on top of her, glued to her with sweat.

So, these days, she stays at his apartment on the nights when he has class the next morning. Sunday, Monday, most Tuesdays, Wednesdays, some Thursdays. As often as she can, really, without raising her grandmother's suspicions.

Those nights, they curl up close, wake up entwined, and it's anything but smothering. Those are the nights when Rory sleeps best, when she catches up on all the sleep she misses over the weekend. Those mornings, he wakes up relatively early, and most of the time, she wakes alongside him and heads straight to the DAR office. It's refreshingly normal, and it makes her forget how much she hates the other nights.

When she sleeps, really sleeps, on those nights, it erases the frustration and futility of the weekends and gives her the stamina to last through another few days. Not just another few days of a drunk Logan, but also of the inane chatter at the DAR office, Emily's not-so-subtle attempts to control her life, the lack of mental stimulation that comes with a "break" from school, and the nagging feeling that she should be somewhere else. Most of all, the nights that she sleeps with him, it puts her into a deep enough sleep to be uninterrupted by the constant tossing and turning and restlessness that plagues her nights in her own bed.

That kind of sleep is still a few nights away, though. Tonight, she gets the distinct privilege of dealing with all three of the boys in their usual Friday-night state. Juliet and Rosemary are, as usual, no help—they never stick around long enough to get the boys home. They stay for the drinks and the beginning of the Rory Show, and then they leave halfway through, leaving her alone with a grand total of five times her own body weight to manoeuvre into the car and get home safely.

"Rory Gilmore, this is your life," she thinks, herding a stumbling drunk Finn into the back seat. As she pushes Colin in behind him, he turns a little bit green and sucks in a sharp intake of breath. "No, not again…" she thinks. For guys who can supposedly hold their liquor, she (not to mention the interior of her car) has had more close calls than she cares to admit.

The look on Colin's face passes, and she pushes him in, thankful for another averted crisis. Driving them is one thing; being the designated puke-mopper-upper is quite another.

"Thank goodness for childproof locks," she mutters, watching Finn jiggle the handle as she chases after Logan, who drapes himself all over her as soon as she touches him.

For the thousandth time this month, she tries to picture her life without him—without this literal weight draped across her shoulders—and all she sees is quiet. Silence. Without her mother's constant banter and jokes, without the ongoing rhythm of a professor's lecture, without the soundtrack of Stars Hollow's festivals and life playing in the background, her life is already too quiet. If she takes away Logan's voice, there will be nothing left to fill the deafening void, and that's a thought that scares her more than the thought of dragging him to the car, night after night.

Her life reminds her of that nursery rhyme: "And when it was good, it was very, very good; and when it was bad, it was horrid." On nights like tonight, she doesn't think things can get much worse, but three days from now, when she and Logan are having a their version of a movie night (one that doesn't quite live up to the original Gilmore Movie Night, but it's a close second), she'll be convinced that it can't get any better than that. When the whole group is out some evening, eating dinner and planning some elaborate, good-natured prank, she'll be glad that there are people like this to fill her life and be there for her in a pinch.

Logan's feet start to drag, and she almost doubles over from the weight of carrying him. She wraps an arm around his waist and nudges his feet forward with hers, prodding him one step at a time towards the car. It's slow going, but at least it's easier on her back, and maybe she can delay being a hunchback for a few more years.

It's a constant cat-and-mouse chase, this game that they play, and she isn't surprised in the least that Colin and Finn have left the car by the time she stuffs Logan into the front seat. Most of the time, she's convinced that they're more cognizant than they pretend to be—this is all one big joke to them, and she's the only one dumb enough to play along for so long.

"Colin! Finn!" She runs after them, leaving Logan muttering about Omaha. She'll deal with him later, once she drops the other two of. Right now, she just wants to keep them all in the same place at the same time. She'd be tempted to just leave the others behind, but that usually ends with bailing them out of some police station or jail cell or another, and she's learned from experience that it takes much less time to just get them all home in the first place.

Half an hour later, Logan is finally the only one left with her, and the car has, once again, miraculously avoided any damage from any unidentified body fluids. She puts the car in park, prepared to just let Logan out and then leave, but he reaches over and turns the key.

"Come in, Ace," he says, pulling the key out of the ignition and putting it in his pocket.

"I can't stay tonight. You know that. You're leaving in the morning." She reaches across and tries to pull the keys out of his jacket.

He grabs both of her hands, holding them out of reach. "Just for a few minutes."

"Fine." She follows him up the stairs, which, by this time, he's pretty much able to navigate on his own, and lingers a step behind him as he unlocks the apartment. He takes her hand, pulling her inside the door and across the room, and they collapse onto the couch in a heap, her legs draped over his lap and her head resting on the back of the sofa beside his shoulder.

"I don't wanna go," Logan mutters into her hair, pulling her tighter. Rory leans into him. This isn't the usual Drunk Logan; this is a Logan that she's only seen once before—the night after the yacht incident and her revelation of his father's part in all of it. This is the Logan that appears when even alcohol isn't enough—when reality is too sober to withstand a night out with Colin and Finn.

"I know you don't," she replies. "You've made that very clear—I think the whole bar knows that you don't want to go to Omaha."

He leans back, flopping his head dramatically against the back of the sofa, spreading his arms wide across the top. "No, Rory, I ireally/i don't want to go."

"Can't you just go and make him happy, appease him for a few days, and then come back and forget the whole thing?" Even as the words come out of her mouth, she knows it's not an option, but she has to try, and it's getting harder and harder to come up with ways to encourage him.

He rolls his head from side to side in a defeated shake and closes his eyes. "It's not that simple. This isn't just a one-time deal; this is the rest of my life. It starts with these two-day weekend trips across a few states, and by the time I graduate, he'll have a position lined up for me somewhere, most likely in some backwoods town like Omaha or Topeka or somewhere. For all I know, this trip will be spent scouting an apartment in Omaha where I'll spend the rest of my life, only flying back to appear at his pre-approved social engagements." He wraps himself around her again, folding inwards as if he's trying to be his own shield against whatever Mitchum throws at him. "I can't do this, Ace."

"Yes, you can," she sighs, tired of being his babysitter and cheerleader tonight, wanting to go home and get some sleep. They can pick this up in the morning. They'll talk while he's in Omaha, or they'll talk when he gets home; either way, this is better dealt with later. Right now, her brain goes on auto-pilot, reassuring him with the same words she's used a thousand times before. "You're good. You've got what it takes to prove it to him."

And that's what makes this whole thing so damn unfair. He idoes/i have what it takes—she's seen what he can write, and she knows that he's got the leadership skills and charisma to do the job. When he has those moments of transparency, he confides that he loves to write, and that if his father was anyone else, he would probably be chasing down this exact career path, in much the same way that Rory is. Was. She doesn't even know what tense she should be thinking in anymore.

So she transfers her energy to his path, hoping to live vicariously through his journalistic successes, trying with everything in her to make him see that if he would just embrace it, he could finally do something with the potential that everyone keeps haranguing him about.

"You know you can do it, Logan. I know you can do it." She runs a hand through his hair, and leans on his chest, choosing to inhale the smoke that lingers in the fibers of his shirt rather than the beer that's still on his breath.

A sad smile crosses Logan's face and he rests his forehead against her shoulder. "If only, Ace." He kisses her lightly and stands again, pulling her up with him. "You should go home," he says. "I have to be on a plane in a very few short hours, and you have some gala or another that desperately needs planning."

Rory wrinkles her nose at the DAR reference and wraps her arms around his waist, leaning her head on his chest briefly. "Try to have a good trip." At his single snort, she modifies her statement. "Well, try not to have a completely miserable trip. We'll do something when you get back," she says, reaching up to kiss him once more, lightly, before she leaves the apartment, closing the door softly behind herself.

Driving home, she turns up the music, trying to drown out the competing voices in her head. She loves him, and right now, that's what matters—she needs to be there to help him through it, just like he's been through this hell of a six months. A few days apart will do both of them a world of good, and when he comes back, she'll have missed him enough to be carried through another week.

"Soon," she thinks, pulling into her grandparents' driveway. "This won't last forever."

As she parks the car, gets out, and checks the lock, a motion catches her eye. She pauses, but it stops, so she turns around, heading towards the front door. The second time, the noise is unmistakeable—footsteps crunching on the cobblestone driveway.

This time, as she turns, she sees the figure detach from the individually indistinguishable shadows of the trees and move towards her.

A running commentary in her mind tells her that she should be, at the very least, cautious, if not afraid, but some innate sense overrides that, and even before she knows who it is, that sense keeps her from being frightened. And then he steps into view, out from behind the trees.

Rory recognizes him instantly, yet her mind takes a few seconds longer than her gut to react. She stands, dumbfounded, taking in the dark hair and eyes (they always matched, but the hair is longer than she remembers), the jacket (it's new), the stance and gait (still the same), the time and location (what's he doing in the driveway in the middle of the night?). His expression becomes more and more amused as he watches her process his presence, and the longer she stares, the softer his features become.

Finally, she blinks a few times to clear her vision, and wills her mouth to say something.

"Jess?" Brilliant, Gilmore. How about, how are you? It's been a while. What's new? You look well. What the hell are you doing showing up in my driveway after two years?