He wasn't too surprised to come face to face with Lorelai once again as he emerged from the ICU. She was alone and she definitely looked ready for a fight. With narrowed and unfriendly eyes, she watched him closing the distance. "I don't believe you. Rory wouldn't have kept such a thing from me."
No, she probably wouldn't. Then again... "Are you so sure about that? She knows perfectly well what you think of me." He shrugged. "No games, Lorelai. You and I both know very well that you don't like me, never have. And that you've always disapproved of my relationship with Ace. So why should she tell you before anything was definite?"
Her mouth thinned. "That doesn't matter. We talked almost every day. She would have told me had she been seeing you again."
"Not when we agreed mutually that we needed to see first if we could make our relationship work again. Not when we both thought it best to wait telling anyone this time, instead of everyone having their noses in our relationship again. Last time, everybody wanted a say. You, my parents, our friends, the Gilmores… you all had opinions, pushing us in this or that direction." It was true enough. He had had a lot of time to think this past year and, often, he had wondered if things would have been different had they not involved everyone into their relationship all at once. "We don't need either discouragement or wedding plans from anyone this time around. Like it or not, this is our life, not yours, not anyone's, but ours."
"If you really think you can have Rory without all of us then you don't know her at all," Lorelai immediately countered, not taking her eyes off him.
Tired, he sighed. "Believe me, I know. And as long as we will not be living together under one roof, I have no problem with that. Actually, I admire and respect you very much, Lorelai. Without you, Rory wouldn't be the person she is. Your courage when you were sixteen, your values and your beliefs formed her; they were imprinted on her. I can only imagine what you went through raising her by yourself, the strength it took, and for that alone, I respect and admire you. But she'll be twenty-four next week. I know you love her, I know how important it is for her to be on good terms with you; but, you still need to let go of her, if only a little. Let her be her own person. Let her make her own choices. Let her love the man she chooses and not you making the choices for her."
"I always let her do what she wants!" she protested, outraged. Not that he had expected anything else.
"Yeah, that's what you tell her. But she knows you. She sees what you really think and has always in mind what you would say on any situation she finds herself in and mostly, she does what you would want in the end. And it doesn't help that she gets an 'I told you so' from you whenever she does not do what you expect from her, against your wishes." Okay, he may have sounded a little bitter there, but damn it, he was almost sure that in some way, she had convinced Rory to say no to him. Probably not outright but he had learned enough of their interaction to suspect that Lorelai, without any explicit advice, had influenced Rory's decision about marrying him and moving with him to Palo Alto. Sure, she may have given her permission when he had gone to ask for Rory's hand in marriage but he was no fool. She hadn't been happy about it.
"What do you even know about what's going on between my daughter and me? You never cared much about it and you've been gone from her life this past year," Lorelai countered.
"I know enough, believe me," Logan simply answered. There was more he could say, a lot more. True, he had never really been very eager to go with Rory when she went home to visit her family and friends. But she talked a lot about them and he saw on many occasions how Lorelai affected her or any opinion she had. "I know more than you can imagine."
Logan already opened his mouth, though thought better of it, stopping himself in time. "No. I won't betray her trust like this. Just remember that there has been quite a long time when you refused to talk to her. Who do think she talked to when she needed to talk to somebody so she won't go crazy? Richard? Emily?"
He had been glad that she had opened up to him back then, letting him in a bit. Not enough for him, though. Aside from her moments of weakness when her situation had gotten too much for her to bear, she did refuse to talk about how she really felt. She did, however, tell him more about her past life, most of it naturally involving Lorelai, considering how close they've always been. So he knew that there were a few things and thoughts Rory never had shared with her mother because of different reasons. It made lying now all the more easier. "This past year, she never mentioned me, did she? Not because she was over me. But because she was still hurting, just like me. But I guarantee you, there hasn't been one single day she hasn't thought of me. She missed me just as there has been not one day that I haven't missed her. I know this because we've talked about it." With this, he was almost sure he wasn't even lying here. True, they hadn't been able to talk much, but with the little words they said to each other and what they had seen in each other's eyes, he believed that what he expressed to Lorelai was what they wanted to say in their hearts. Besides, he knew his Ace, even if it had been a year since they've last talked. "That's the reason why we decided to give us another chance. Why this time, she said yes," he added quietly, hopefully.
Promise you'll stay… no leaving again.
Those had been her last words. Words that were said with immense strain on her because of her wound. It may not be an 'I love you and I want to marry you' but it could as well be. She wanted him to stay which meant she wanted him in her life. And she didn't want him to leave her again which meant forever. Right? So when he had promised her that he won't go anywhere, that he'll be with her always, wasn't that in a way an engagement? Maybe she still didn't want the ring, but that wasn't important anymore. With or without a ring, he was hers and he was never again leaving her unless she asked him to. But, she had asked him to stay. "You can think whatever you want. Once she wakes up, she can tell you herself." She had to wake up. That was all that mattered. What would happen when she wakes up, he had no idea. Probably his Ace was going to give him hell about all the things he had said. For once, he was looking forward to whatever hell she would give him. God, he had missed her rants, her fire. In the end, if they could come out of this nightmare together once again, then, hell was worth enduring. "I'm not going to leave. Not ever again. So you better get used to my presence."
"You've always been good at big words, Logan," Lorelai said as he walked past her. "But when it came to following them through, you've always disappointed her. Hurt her. You say you love her, yet, all you do is hurt my baby like she's never been hurt before. Has it ever occurred to you that she's simply better off without you? That if you really love her, you should leave her alone?"
Her words hurt. They hurt a lot. Probably because he recognized a grain of truth in them. Then again... "Has it ever occurred to you that even if that is the truth, sometimes, love has to hurt to be real and true? She isn't the only one hurting. When she said no, she hurt me. Her rejection hurt a lot. But a year without her taught me that while I resolutely intend to never have anything to do with her, my heart thinks differently. My heart wants Rory and only Rory. Without her, I'm never going to be happy. With her lying in there, fighting for her life, nothing else really matters. I want her to live. And I have every intention of making her happy the rest of her life." He turned to look at her straight in the eyes. Her eyes were different and yet so similar to his Ace's that he ached just by looking into them, simply because the blue eyes he wanted to see were still closed. His voice trembled when he continued to speak. "I have reasons to believe that she thinks exactly like I do. The fact is she asked me to stay. Before she lost consciousness, she asked me not to leave her. And I gave her my promise that I'd be with her. Always. So do you really think you can say or do anything that will make me break this promise I made to your daughter?" He shook his head, turning away. "No, Lorelai. I'm keeping my promise. You cannot make me do otherwise. Be it in this life or the afterlife. When she wakes up, I'm going to be there. I won't ever leave her again."
He managed ten steps away from her, almost reaching the corner with the thought that she would let him walk away after that final statement. But apparently, much like her daughter, she too wanted to have the last word in, and boy, did she have a good one ready. "You want to know why I know that you lied and that you two have never gotten together after all this time, let alone made up? Because she may have never mentioned you even once but I'm her mother and her best friend. She doesn't have to tell me that she's not happy and miserable, nor does she have to tell me the reason for her wretchedness despite her great career, despite making new good friends, despite living an exciting life on the road, seeing the world like she always wanted to. Each time we talked, every damn single time, I heard the despair she tried to hide from everyone, even herself. I can sense her sadness, her unhappiness. No matter how hard she tried to lie to me about how well she's doing, how she loves her job, how much she enjoyed all these new experiences, I knew. I didn't call her on it, but I knew. Boy, did I know." She had caught up with him and was now in front of him, looking at him pointedly. "I know you lied because when I talked to her yesterday, she's as heartbroken as she ever has been since you turned your back and walked away from her, on her graduation day, nonetheless. Because if you are telling the truth, I would have known, I would have sensed and felt my baby was happy again for the first time in over a year."
"Here you are! I already thought that really hot future mother-in-law of yours had you deported to Siberia."
"Not yet. Can still happen any moment though," Logan sighed, not bothering to look up. The view of his feet on the sandy ground was good enough right now.
After Lorelai had left him standing utterly speechless, he had regained enough strength to overcome the stupor her last words had thrown him in. He had turned the other way, in desperate need of some fresh air and most of all, some alone time. After Lorelai's revelation to him, he feared going back into the waiting room. He couldn't argue very well against her logic after all, could he? Not when it sounded so true. And despite having suspected it himself, hearing from Lorelai how hard Rory had taken their separation had been like a blow to his gut. It hurt like hell. Sure, he too had a hard time and he too had been unhappy, still, the thought of causing his Ace so much pain... it was unbearable. And had he not been so damn proud, maybe a lot of their heartaches could have been avoided. If he had talked to her, listened to why she really had said no... If he had asked her in a different way, making clear that he didn't want her to give up her dreams. That he simply wanted to be with her, at every step of her path...
Of course, she could have fought more for their happiness, too. If she had been so damn miserable as Lorelai had insinuated, then why had she let him go in the first place? Why had she never called, came to see him, made him take her back? Heaven knew she wouldn't have had a hard time convincing him to give them another shot.
So many 'what ifs'. All irrelevant in the end.
"Lorelai knows I've lied."
"Duh, I wonder why..." Finn replied sarcastically and slouched down besides Logan on the garden bench. "You confessed or did she figure it out on her own?"
"I still stand on what I've claimed," Logan answered quietly, watching how the ants busily ran around and over his shoes. For him, the ants had it easy. Born knowing exactly what they had to do their whole lives without having to deal with the craziness of love, unlike humans. Each and every ant would go about their specified tasks without any emotions involved, even in their breeding process. No complications in their lives, no drama. Yeah, they had it very easy.
"Good for you." Finn made a pause. "Is she going to bust you?"
Logan shrugged. "Dunno. Did she say anything to you guys?"
It didn't matter. He had made a promise to Rory and he would keep his word. Sure, he preferred that he wouldn't need to fight his way to Rory's bedside, but he would, if necessary.
"Nah. She looked mighty upset though when she came back from her 'trip to the bathroom'," Finn answered, gesturing quotations marks with his fingers. "Strangely enough, she told me to go look for you. Apparently, she got the impression you could use a friend right now. I wonder why?"
Logan stopped looking at the ants to face his friend with a frown. Why would Lorelai send Finn after him? "Rory is alright, right? You're not here to tell me..." his voice gave way. Probably his concern was ridiculous but why else should Lorelai send Finn to find him? It wasn't as if she cared about him. Not after what he had said and Rory...
"Logan, relax man. Your Ace is fine… well, there hasn't been a change anyway," Finn squelched his worries and Logan took a deep breath. Good. Good. His friend though didn't look happy. Actually, he looked as if something irked him. "Okay, mate. What exactly went down between you and Lorelai?"
He could evade the question, sure, but he was too tired to even try. And besides, Finn would have been able to make him talk, one way or the other anyway. So with a sigh, he gave a short recap of his confrontation with Lorelai, including the promise he made to Rory and the warnings Lorelai gave him. He had thought he'd get some sympathy and was a little offended when all he got was booming laughter from his best friend. "Finn!"
"God, that woman is so hot," the Australian said dreamily, giggling afterwards.
"Glad my shitty life amuses you so much," Logan muttered darkly, returning his gaze back to the ants. They may not know his pain but they for sure seemed a lot more understanding than his best friend.
"Oh, come on, mate, it's not every day that I get the pleasure of seeing someone from the female gender not falling for your bullshit. I think the last time that happened was when you met a certain blue-eyed reporter girl." Finn chuckled, slapping his back. "Now here we are, four years later, and once again a blue-eyed, dark-haired vision is putting you to your place instead of buying your best crap ever. It is hilarious. And it has some touch of all that circle of life thing going, doesn't it?"
"Are you on her side?" Logan accused, incredulous. Et tu Brutus...
Finn grinned widely. "Nah. Well yeah, where she's right, but other than that, I totally have your back." Reducing his grin to a smile, Finn became serious suddenly. "Logan, that Rory's been hurting and unhappy shouldn't be a surprise to you. Look at the mess you've been ever since our dear love turned you down."
Looking away, Logan shook his head. "Knowing it for sure is different." He was quiet for a moment. "This isn't a game, Finn."
"Rory may still die in there. And even if she's pulling through like they say, she could still be hurt in some permanent way we don't know yet," Logan continued, his voice barely audible.
Finn grabbed his shoulder. "Logan..."
"But before she lost consciousness, there had been this moment and it felt as if in that moment, we didn't just reunite. It felt as if we made a bond that goes far beyond life, deeper than any ring and any signature on some paper can ever give us. It was as if we connected and knotted together on some so basic and primal way that we will never be separated ever again. I didn't lie, Finn. Okay, I haven't been honest about the time frame and we hardly said anything to each other… but we had this moment and I know how I felt. I know that it happened. I don't really understand it, but I know that it's real." Shaking, he took a deep breath, his eyes gazing as if she was in front of him. "We made a promise to each other and it's so much more than a proposal or even a wedding."
The pressure on his shoulder increased. "Logan..."
"No. I know it sounds crazy. I would laugh to my face, too. But Rory's still unconscious, lying in there. I can feel her, Finn. She's afraid and confused. She's lost, stuck somewhere. It drives me crazy that, left and right, people and circumstances are trying to keep us apart. Tell me that I have no business in being with her, that it's for the best that I simply leave her alone, like what Lorelai told me straight out." Lorelai was blunt about her opinion. But, no matter how much he tried to tell himself he didn't care, he did care. And the rational part of him listened. And, the worst part... What if she was right? It hadn't been the first time he had deeply hurt his Ace. Maybe, she really was better off without him. Yet, every time he allowed his insecurities to show, there was this other part of him who screamed his protest, even now. And this part of him was oh so much more powerful. "They are wrong, though. She needs me, as much as I need her. Especially now. I should be in there, wherever she is now, holding her hand, talking to her, leading her back to… I dunno, life maybe. I promised, Finn, and I just know that above all, I should keep that promise. It's killing me that I'm forced to stay away or waste time by picking fights with Lorelai. Something I shouldn't do if I want to be in my Ace's life, but damn, someone has to tell this woman once and for all that she's not the only one who loves Rory and who wants her to be happy!"
He could hardly believe that he was saying all this out loud. Most importantly, he had realized that he was able to verbalize everything that was in his mind and meant it. And he was able to express what he felt about Rory to someone else. But then, this was Finn who somehow had the ability to make him realize the fundamental truths about himself, without having any idea about those very truths prior to his saying them.
And at that moment, the Australian who would otherwise be making a joke (or a leer) out of everything had turned dead serious and not made any judgment, not even one syllable, on what he had just confessed. He simply believed. "Mate, I think it's time you remember something very important."
Blinking, Logan couldn't follow him. "What?"
Slowly, a grin sneaked back onto the handsome face of the Australian, his green eyes starting to sparkle with mischief. "That you are a Huntzberger, fool. And we all know that Huntzbergers always get what they want. Don't we?"
Logan took a moment to grasp the meaning, but when he did, he too started to grin with a hint of tomfoolery. "Oh yeah, Finn, we do. Thanks, man!" And he got up, running back towards the entrance.
Damn right he was a Huntzberger. He was going to see Rory now and he was going to stay with her until she was awake. Screw anyone who'd try to stop him. They'd learn first hand what it meant to stand between a Huntzberger and what he wants and they would regret it deeply.
It was dark. And it was cold. Yet strangely, she could also sense something like a blazing fire that was not emitting any heat at all, not radiating even the smallest amount of light but burned and hurt, nonetheless.
She wasn't sure where this was, where she was, but she hated it, she wanted to be away from this. But she couldn't. Something in this sickening darkness kept a tight grip on her, barely allowing her to move. To breath even. Every gulp of air she took burned her throat, her lungs, and her whole body. And God, her stomach. The pain there was horrible.
Despite all this excruciating pain, it was the loneliness of this awful place that scared her the most. The loneliness was more painful than the physical pain she felt. It felt wrong, oh so very wrong, that she was utterly alone in this pit. She couldn't remember why, but she felt like there should be someone else with her.
That there wasn't anyone with her broke her heart, over and over again.
Why did this hurt so much?
She tried to remember. Why was she in this dark hell? Why did her body hurt so much? Why was she seeing images? Hazel eyes pleading with her. Why was she hearing a voice? A faint whisper calling for her. Why was she upset when she realized they were not real?
She tried to remember, but all she got were flashes. Of a crowded room which she longed to be in right now instead of this frightening isolation. Of something loud and frightening which ripped through the silence she wished she still had. Of those hazel eyes which made her heart ache. Of an Ace of Hearts which made her wondered why the image made her smile and cry at the same time. Of a soft but urgent voice which she wanted to listen to but had difficulty doing so.
Flashes that were not making any sense at all, only aggravating her overwhelming confusion and causing her more despair.
Why would she struggle? Why endure this senseless pain? The more she fought, the more she hurt. Why bother? She should just relax, let go...
Wait. Was that that voice again?
Didn't matter, the voice would fade away like before. She needed to not let it fool her again. Not now when she had finally found a way out of all this pain.
There! It definitely was the voice.
She hesitated. It wasn't as faint as the whisper that had haunted her. This time, the voice was more audible, stronger. More real. Could it be real? No, not in this place. Nothing else existed here but her pain and her.
The voice was saying something again, growing louder, more insistent… calling her, she realized.
Slowly, she turned towards where the voice was coming from. She felt pulled towards it. Should she give in? Was it safe to follow this strange voice, having no idea what it was saying? It didn't sound so strange, though. No. It sounded very familiar and made her feel good.
Again the voice spoke, by now loud as bells ringing through the darkness, desperately searching for her.
The despair in the voice was heart-wrenching. She suddenly felt that she had to understand in order to lessen this terrible despair. She strained to understand.
At last, one word crystallized, humming within her.
Ace! The Ace of Hearts!
She couldn't understand, but suddenly she started to struggle, fighting with all she had against the grip that kept her in this bottomless hollow. Pain and joy equally resounded in her heart at that word and she knew that the voice was searching for her, calling for her, trying to guide her to be free.
With a shuddering snap, the chain on her right hand broke and instantly, warmth replaced the cold gripping her, spreading from her fingers to her entire body. It hurt, oh, it hurt so much, but it was a good pain, she knew that now. She felt as something, someone pulled at her hand, trying to haul her out of this hellhole, back into light.
Back into life, she realized.
Come back, Ace.
She fought. She clawed. She wanted out, wanted to be back in the light. Back with him. She wanted to live.
The voice she heard was still calling and the hand that held hers was still pulling. With the voice and the hand guiding her, she broke through the surface at last, leaving the darkness deep beneath her as she climbed into the light.
Yes, Ace, that's it. You're almost there. Just a little bit more. Please, Ace.
Pain exploded once again all throughout her body but this time, she welcomed it. Pain was good. Pain was life.
The light dimmed, took on shapes that formed and crystallized. She was seeing, she realized with a thankful start.
Soulful, hazel eyes wide with fear and relief stared at her.
"Rory, thank God!"
Warmth pressed against her forehead. A kiss, she grasped.
Warm air stroked over her face, her jaw line. A whisper into her ear, full of emotion, full of something else. "I promised. It took me a while, I'm sorry, but I'm here now. I'll never let go. I'll stay. Always."
Another kiss pressed against her clammy skin spread fire throughout her body.
With a rush, everything came back to her and she let out a sigh that nearly choked her, suddenly making breathing impossible for her.
She felt soothing hands over her face. "Shhh, calm down. You're still intubated. I already called the nurse; she'll be here any moment."
She hoped so. His name burned in her throat, on her tongue, longing to be spoken.
Pain again. This time, a different pain. This time, pain was love.
(Author's note: I am glad you like this story so much. Sorry for the break, but with the fic exchange, it just wasn't avoidable. But like I promised, I'm back to give you this chapter. I hope you enjoyed reading despite its chaos. For this though, I needed just that. Two more to go! Soon, hopefully.)