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I AM SO SORRY! You guys have NO idea how much I HATE that it took me from September until February to update this story. (My Logan!muse was being fickle, silly richboy. ^_^ ) I promise *knocks on wood* never to take that long again! And, EVEN IF it takes me forty years in space, xD, I will never abandon this story. Now that's true love. ^^

Now. That does not mean that this chapter is all sunshine and roses. It's been a generally happy-go-lucky little saga so far, so expect some conflict. Danger, Will Robinson. ^^

Author shutting up now. ^^ (Oh: and this takes place 'round about September 2011; Ellie's about five months.)

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You'd think it'd be difficult to fix the strap of your heel and walk at the same time, but Rory did it anyway. She didn't have time to stop moving. She had to be to work in twenty minutes, she was already running late, she couldn't find her edits and there was a wierd stain on the kitchen floor that she kept stepping in no matter which way she went. 'Crappy morning' didn't begin to cover it. There was no time to cover it. How could she be expected to cover the crappy morning when she was supposed to be covering the Dubai piece? It was one or the other, people.

"Joanna, hon, there's soup in the fridge---and pie, have some pie, okay?"

'Joanna' was Joanna Walters, the sitter they'd hired to watch Ellie from eight to six. Which translated, most often, into 'eight to whenever someone got home.' It wasn't the ideal situatuion, and Rory could have sworn and slightly resented the fact that the twenty-four-year-old kept flirting with Logan, but with his schedule and her schedule it was impossible to do it any other way. They couldn't reasonably ask anyone from Stars Hollow to drive up and watch her every day, right? And it was just as unreasonable to drive her down there. Plus everyone they knew in the city had jobs of their own. At this point, it was either hire someone from a babysitting service, or bring the baby and her thirty pounds of supplies to their offices on a rotating basis. As 'Cheaper By The Dozen' as that might've been, it wasn't an option.

Unaware of just how much of her employment she spent on thin ice, Joanna smiled and nodded her understanding, and Rory ran-walked over to her and kissed the top of Ellie's feathery yellow-white hair. "Bye sweetie, be good, okay?" Snatching her purse, she added to her list on the way out. "If Mr. Huntzberger gets home early, he won't, but if he does, tell him Ellie's checkup got rescheduled---I left him a note but in case he doesn't read it---okay, have a good day you guys, bye!" And Rory shut the door behind her.

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"And a-one, two, three, four."

"Dude, could you not do that?"

"Do what?"

"Sound like a Bee Gee."

"How could doing the countdown make me sound like a Bee Gee?"

"It's all peppy and bouncy. Countdown's gotta be angstier than that, man. It feels like I'm gonna play Britney Spears."

"Fine, how 'bout if I hold up a revolver while I do it, that'll help, right?"

Lane still held her sticks poised above the drums. There was no way of telling how long these arguments would last---some days it was two seconds, sometimes an hour---or who would be involved in them. She was surprised Brian hadn't chimed in yet: he was occupied at the moment with his bass strap and his inhaler. Wasn't he always. "Gil, get over it. Zach, just do the countdown and try not to sound too excited about it." The boys were only going to be with Mrs. Kim for another measly two hours, and Lane was not about to waste that by spectating an argument about a countdown for a song they hadn't even started yet.

Zach rolled his eyes, and made sure his voice had extra 'I-don't-give-a-crap' in it. "Fine: one, two, three, four." On 'four,' he started to play the opening riff, and after Lane's downbeat Brian and Gil filtered in too.

"London calling, to the faraway towns / Now war is declared, and battle come down / London calling, to the underworld / Come out of the cupboard, you boys a---"

"We need new covers."

"Oh, my God." Zach's hand dropped from his guitar and he let his head roll toward the ceiling.

"Brian!"

"I'm sorry, I just think, we've been playing the same covers for like seven years, maybe it's time for a little variety."

Gil shrugged. "I'm good with a sound change."

Zach: "We been together seven years?"

Lane: "Keep up, Zach."

"No, no, wait, I got it, I got it!" Zach was afire with inspiration now---funny how he could turn it on and off like that. His attention span was...well...it sucked. Completely ignoring the other two, he whirled around to face the drumset. "Lane!"

Of course, that didn't help her figure out why. "Yeah, remember me? That chick you married that one time?"

"You can take the mic."

"What, like...sing?"

"Yeah! I mean not like full-time or anything, you're a sweet drummer, but for a couple of singles or somethin'...."

"A couple of singles?" Lane stood up from her stool. Some people had to be sitting down when they heard ridiculous things. Lane had to stand. "No, no no no no. Less than a couple. Less than one. Equal with none, or less than none if that is in any way possible which I realize it isn't. I am not going to sing lead."

"Oh, come on! You should totally do it."

"No no no. I am not Joe Strummer, I am Terry Chimes. I'm Maureen Tucker, not Doug Yule! I'm Ringo, not John! Or...Paul; however you wanna look at that. I'm not Joan Jett, I'm a Blackheart! Is any of this painting a picture? I drum. That's it."

"Oh, like Ringo didn't do lead on like ten songs."

"How would you know?"

"Is anyone else thinking we should totally play Helter Skelter now?" Brian's little interjection was less than appreciated. Lane and Zach turned to glare at him. Brian turned to adjust his amp. "Just saying."

"Okay, fine," Zach tried again, and Lane crossed her arms and looked at him. "What about Meg White, huh? You're totally like Meg White."

"Well..." Crap. He had a point there. "I guess so, yeah."

"If she can step out from behind the skins on Passive Manipulation then you can definitely do a single."

"Passive Manipulation was like thirty seconds long."

Zach wasn't perceptive often---or ever, actually---but he could tell he was wearing her down, and he put his hands on her shoulders and made her look him in the eye. "Come on. Just give it a shot."

Lane shuffled a little in his grip, glanced down at the floor, looked back up again. It would be pretty cool, if all went well...she could have a singing credit on their new album.... Well, that was if it ever came out, but that was a whole different issue. Finally, with a tiny little smile, she spoke. "Meg White, huh?" Surrender.

"All right!" Zach pulled her into a hug. "You rock, babe. You won't be sorry."

"Yeah, sure. You guys might be, but whatever."

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"...So, anyway, obviously you're not home, but maybe give me a call when you are, okay? I don't wanna spill to your voicemail, but I'll leave you with this little tidbit: Meg White. Hooked, aren't ya? Okay. Call me." A beep filled the apartment, followed by a robotic voice. "This message was received at: Ten. Twenty. Three. P. M. To delete, press seven. To save to the archives, press four."

Logan hit the 'four' as he passed the end table without so much as breaking stride.

"This message will be saved for: Fourteen. Days."

He'd hoped it would be a different message, honestly: one from Rory, preferably left within the last twenty minutes or so. She'd had to catch a big meeting this morning, and Logan had been missing her for...about a week and a half now. Not that he would have had time to call her back. His deadline for tying this tie correctly had passed about five minutes ago, about the time he'd been wiping coffee off the kitchen floor. An action which, by the way, made him question just how Luke-like he was actually becoming and who would ever choose to be in that profession.

Luckily, it wasn't Rory---that saved him from having to abandon the tie, trip over the couch and bash his foot into the table just to get back to the phone. This way, there was no tripping, no bashing, and he was free to fail at the tie again. Logan had spent enough time around Lane by now to know her voice over the phone, and for any non-Rory person at the moment, he was perfectly content to let the machine hang onto it. Again, not that he had a lot of choice either way. Six a.m. used to be his bedtime, for God's sake. Now, it was twenty minutes away, and he had that many to get to work or there'd be problems.

Finally. You'd think he was Rain Man for how long this stupid thing had taken him. He slid the knot up to his throat, only to realize he'd made it too tight and pulled it back again---no, no, wait, that wasn't the tie. The vague feeling of being strangled had already been there: huh, well, might as well tighten it back up then.

"Congratulations, you're a financial success, you're never home, and you're talking to a mirror. You are two secretaries and a comb-over away from your father."

"Did you say something, Mr. Huntzberger?"

Logan jerked his head over his shoulder to find Joanna in the middle of the living room, like ten feet behind and to the left of him---that must have been why he hadn't seen her in the mirror. Either that or she was well-enough alone, he turned and walked through the room. "Nothing," he dismissed. Don't call me that. Never---don't you ever call me that. Call me Logan, call me Hey You, call me George, just don't put that on me---I swear ot God the next place you pop up'll be the bus stop.

Not that they could afford to get rid of her, or actually would. In all truth, she was great with the baby---after all, who else would agree on no notice to show up two-and-a-half hours early?---and really, did they have any other choice? No. They didn't.

Where was the line between claiming responsibility and letting work control your life? Yeah, he got along with people at work; sure, he was doing great, closing deals, earning the respect his name had been getting him all along, breaking out from the life his father had set up for him; so what, fine, he actually enjoyed his job. It was still just a job. What did any of that matter if he missed his daughter's first words? Her first steps? What if Rory did? How had they gotten like this?

The baby, that's how. The tiny little person they'd created, totally dependent on them, totally deserving of college and healthcare and food and a roof. This was responsibility, on the real world's terms, and it was a circular trap. No wonder he'd avoided it for the first twenty-four years of his life.

Okay, no getting existential before the third cup of coffee. Speaking of twenty-four years, Joanna was still behind him. Good God. "Is there anything you need before you go, Mr. Huntzberger?"

Logan gave her a practiced smile, about the same kind he give any other perfectly nice and slightly needling person who he logically knew was just trying to help. "No, Joanna, I'm fine. I'm better than fine; in fact I'm actually a little spoiled."

The sitter laughed harder than she should have at that. Wasn't even that funny. "You crack me up."

"Yeah, I was thinkin' of changing my name to Carlos Mencia," he said dryly. "My lawyer does not advise it." He wasn't even looking at her, he was working on cufflinks, and still he could tell she was just hovering there. Probably going to talk some more, too.

"Well, if you need anything, just let me know. And hey, I like your suit."

What do you know, right on the money. Grabbing his briefcase from behind the couch---God knows how it got there---Logan managed a tight smile and a brisk nod. He never claimed to be a master of discretion when it came to not giving a crap. At least he'd made it successfully to the door---wait....

"What's the matter? Forget something?"

"Just...I'll be right back."

It only took a second to get to the bassinet on the other side of the room. The blue-eyed little belter had made it knows two hours ago that she needed a bottle, and she hadn't gone back to sleep since, so he didn't need to worry about startling her or waking her up. She was docile, content and currently fascinated by a plastic block when Logan reached in and carefully picked her up. "Hey, sweetie, c'mere. Yeah, there we go."

He almost had to laugh. Before this little thing, if some cousin or other had asked him to hold their baby, he would have held onto it like a football at arms' length or something. At least the first few times. Now, it was like he couldn't get her close enough to him. At that moment Logan would have given twenty thousand dollars just to stay home, stay here, just for one day.

But he'd have to earn that twenty-thousand first.

Ellie had her big blue eyes fixed on him---there was no doubt in the world that she was part Gilmore. She hadn't quite gotten ahold of any words yet, but the word-like cooing noises she made as she reached a chubby arm out at him were cute anyway. Watching her put a smile on Logan's face, taking the 'bitter' out of 'bittersweet' for the moment being.

"What's that? Oh, yeah---I knew I could successfully work a tie, you're right, thank you."

Ellie giggled. Logan grinned.

"You're laughin' at me now? Okay, so it took me five minutes; I blame your mildly stalkerish babysitter, what about you, you good with that?"

"Mr. Huntzberger?"

Startled, Logan turned halfway. Oh, that, she hears. What do you wanna bet....

Joanna pointed toward the clock on the side table. "You're five minutes late leaving."

"Oh, crap." Logan kissed the baby's forehead, whispering, as he sat her back down with her toys, "Bye kiddo. Remember, hit her with the good loud crying." Long strides, half jogging, four steps to the door, left hand briefcase, right hand doorknob, and he was gone. It would be another four hours before he uselessly realized his watch was still in the kitchen, but really, what did it matter anyway?

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She'd pay Joanna later.

That was Rory's only justification. She was sure, with more time, with a good amount of thought and maybe a pro-con list, she could have come up with something better, but for now that was all she had. She needed some kind of justification for what she was doing, but she didn't want to think too hard about it, either. Thinking straight was something she wasn't doing right now, and in the few moments she was thinking straight, it usually led to guilt that, instead of going home after work, she was on the highway.

Rory flicked on the windshield wipers, but they didn't do any good. She tried blinking a few times instead---huh, what do you know, that one worked. She turned on the radio and turned it off again. She couldn't get comfortable. Nothing was how it was supposed to be. Vaguely, she realized she wasn't thinking that because of the Prius.

As soon as her second draft had been submitted, she'd walked out the door. Numbly she'd gotten in the car. She found herself turning left instead of right, taking the interstate instead of the road uptown, knowing exactly where she was going, but without thinking or knowing why.

Listening to the faint click of the turn signal, Rory took the exit marked 'Stars Hollow, two miles.' Everything seemed desensitized, everything was automatic---it felt, to her, like she was walking through her own life in a monotonous walking coma.

Thinking was dangerous right now. She cut off the thinking, as best she could anyway, for the next two miles, then for the turn and for as long as it took after that until she was driving past the gazebo again, slowing from eighty miles an hour to twenty and picking up her cell phone from the passenger seat.

It was a good thing she didn't have to dial manually at the moment; she was pretty sure she didn't have the focus for individual button-pushing. She hit the speed-dial for Lorelai. It rang. Then it rang. It rang and it rang, and just when it must've thought it would be funny to ring some more, she heard a click.

"Hi, you've reached Lorelai 'The Governator' Gilmore-Danes, so if you leave your name and number, don't bum out---'I'll be back.' ...Aaaand, wow, was that a terrible impression. Okay. Talk please---"

Rory forcefully pressed the 'end' button and tossed the phone back onto the passenger seat. There was nothing she could say to a recording that would do her any good. She needed her mom. She needed all of them. Not yet another person's voicemail.

Without really thinking about it---maybe now she was finally catching on---Rory pulled the Prius up in front of Luke's Diner, let it roll to a stop, shifted the gear into park. She unclipped the belt and de-tangled herself from it, let it wind back into the socket. In her haze, she wasn't even sure whether she'd turned off the engine or not---she might have left it running, who cared---and she got out, slammed the door behind her, folded her arms against the world, found her way to the door.

It opened with a jingle; shut of its own inertia. Luke looked up from the register. Between the force on the door and the look on Rory's face, it only took him a good four seconds to lay down his stack of order receipts. Wiping his hands on his shirt, he came around from behind the counter. "Rory...!"

She tried not to give any ground. Crossing her arms again, she shifted from one foot to the other. Her eyes darted unsteadily around the diner before landing on Luke's face. "Is, uh...is my mom here? Is she around or...?"

"Whoa, whoa, Rory...what's going on here? Talk to me." He laid a hand on her shoulder, did his best to look her in the eye, but she kept averting.

"Do y---do you know where she...?" She couldn't even make herself finish that sentence.

"Rory, hey, hang on now." If he hadn't already gotten the hint---he had, for the record---Luke knew by now beyond a doubt that something was clearly not right. He knew, too, from years of experience, that no one could cure it quite like Lorelai, but he'd be a failiure if he didn't do all he could to be the next best thing. He kept his voice gentle, his caring blue eyes trying to discern the problem from out of hers. "I don't know where your mom is right now, the inn, probably...what's wrong?"

Rory looked down at the floor. She sniffed back a round of tears that she did not want to let out, but something in Luke's tone, the obvious concern written all over his kind, scruffy, familiar face...something about it broke all her best intentions, and she lost it.

Immediately Luke pulled her in, and before her first tear had even finished its trip he had her in a hug, and it landed on flannel.

Rory hugged back, clinging to Luke like the father figure he'd always been, and the words poured out of her between sobs. "It's just.... Everything's falling apart. I can't do it, I can't handle it! It wasn't supposed to go this way. I n-never get to s-see her or be with her, every time I'm home there's something else that needs doing, it seems like I'm only around when she's s-sleeping, o-or, she...she has a doctor's appointment.... I never get to see my own daughter, what if she starts walking or says 'mommy' and I'm not there?" Letting out a particularly wracking sob, she wiped her cheek with the back of her hand. "And mom, I never get to see mom anymore or even talk to her, or you or Will or anybody.... And I know I'm n-not the only one, I know n-none of this is f-fair to Logan, but I haven't seen him or talked to him in days, it's like we don't even live together, and I miss him, I need him there, and I know he's doing his best too and I'm proud of him but---I can't do this! I can't, I'm failing...!"

"Hey," Luke interjected, softly, but firm. "You are not failing. You hear me?"

"I am, I can't do it..."

"Rory."

"I'm failing."

Luke let out a sigh. He knew, right then, that there was nothing more he could say. Not now. What she needed most right now was probably exactly what she was doing: a good rant, and a good cry. So he tightened his arms around her, and he let her.

"It's okay," he assured quietly. "Everything's gonna be okay."

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Well. Nothing like a meltdown to really wear a girl out.

The door to the apartment opened, giving way to the same living room, the same couch, the same konked-out babysitter. The same mess. No magic wands, no fairy dust...nothing had magically changed.

Completely listlessly, totally exhausted, Rory dropped her purse and keys and laptop case by the door. Like a zombie, she used the back of her hand to wipe a little bit of her stupid non-waterproof mascara off her cheek---most of it had come off on the napkins Luke gave her, but it was stubborn stuff, like its owner---and she shuffled her feet forward until they walked her to the blinking machine.

She pressed the button. Robo-voice came on. "You have. One. New message."

Beep. "Hey, it's me. I've gotta work late tonight---there's a big presentation on the fifth that we gotta be ready for, so we're pulling a few late-nighters this week. Hope that doesn't screw with any plans, I know Ellie's got that appointment on Friday.... Ah, anyway, they're callin' me in, I'll catch you later. Don't wait up. And call me whenever you get in. Bye."

Beep.

"This message was received at: Seven. Thirty. One. P. M. To delete, press seven. To save to the archives, press four. End of messages."

Rory pressed nothing. She did nothing. Turning off the light, she rotated toward the direction of the bedroom. And went to bed.

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"Hi, it's me. Sorry I missed you...again...I guess I...got home late, or something? Well. I, uh, I left you a note about the appointment, I guess you haven't gotten it. So. I'm just gonna go to bed now, I'd wait up anyway but it's been a very Francis Farmer kind of day for me. Give me a call when you can. I love you. Bye."

The disappointment was obvious on his face as he snapped his phone shut, but he didn't have the neccesary moment to dwell on it.

"Logan."

He looked up.

"C'mon man, Gutierrez is waiting downstairs for the update pitch. With any luck he'll have a check signed by night's end."

With one nod and without another word, Logan stood, re-buttoned his suit jacket. Turning his phone off, he followed Vick out the door.

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Toldja. Trouble in paradise. ^^ Rogan keep missing each other, they had to get a nanny, their successful careers are turning them into the kind of workaholic people they wanted never to be...will all this resolve itself? How or when will that be? Will it take me under five freakin' months to update again this time? XD You'll just have to tune in and see.

THANK YOU SO MUCH to all the people who have favorited and are loyally watching this story. Especially those of you who give specific reviews, because that really helps me. You have NO idea how cool that is of you guys. 3 Next chapter's on its way.

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